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When and Why Did the Cold War End?

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    Cold war was the struggle for power and influence that began at the end of World War II between the Communist nations led by the Soviet Union (the East) and the Western allies headed by the United States (the West). Cold War tensions began to moderate in the 1960’s, and a “thaw” was said to be setting in. By the 1970’s, the phrase “Cold War” (coined by Bernard Barruch in 1947) generally had fallen into disuse, but the East-West rivalry continued, as did the conditions that caused it.

    The origins of the Cold War and the motives of its antagonists are the subject of much controversy among historians. There are three principal interpretations:

    • According to the so-called orthodox historical interpretation, the basic cause of the Cold War was Communist expansion–the attempts (some successful, others not) by the Soviet Union and later China to take over other countries. Communism was a monolithic, totalitarian, force bent on world domination. The role of the West was primarily defensive; virtually every step initiated by the West (such as the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was made in response to an aggressive move by Communists.
    • According to what is termed the revisionist interpretation, the Cold War was an inevitable result of the Western powers’ implacable hostility to Communism, which they viewed as a threat to the expansion of capitalism. The leading capitalist nation, the United States, had long sought to extend its influence throughout the world by commercial, political, and cultural expansion. The Soviets’ actions were primarily the result of their fears of the West.
    • A third point of view, often referred to as the moderate interpretation, holds that the Cold War had as its basis the opposing ideologies and the conflicting interests of East and West. National fears and ambitions motivated both sides. To western leaders, the totalitarian nature of Communism was a threat to the democratic values of the West. They believed that the Communists were determined to establish their system throughout the world. Communist leaders, on the other hand, held that Western nations were controlled by imperialistic capitalists resolve to crush Communism by any means. Each side sought security and viewed the other as bent on aggression.

      The intents of this paper are to:

    1. know how the Cold war is waged
    2. learn about its history.


    Two “superpowers,” the United States and the Soviet Union, emerged from World War II. The two had long had incompatible ideologies and national interests, and their wartime alliance against Nazi Germany had begun to crumble even before the fighting ceased (see “Cold War”. Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, Vol. 3, pp.145-146).

    During the war, the Soviet Union had annexed three formerly independent countries—Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—and after the war it set up puppet regimes in the eastern European countries occupied by its troops. China, which became Communist power in 1949, sought dominance in eastern Asia. Both nations also promoted Communism throughout the world.

    The United States and its Western European allies felt that their national interests and security were threatened by an expansion of Communism, and attempted to “contain it’—that is, prevent it from spreading—on all fronts. To further the policy of “containment,” a number of anti-Communist alliances were formed in various parts of the world. Many of the countries of the world eventually became allied or aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union. Those that did not become known as the “neutralist” or “third World” countries, and their support were courted by both sides (see “Cold War”. Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, Vol. 3, pp.145-146).

    The armed forces of the major antagonists, the Soviet Union and the United States, did not confront one another directly in battle during the Cold War period. However, both sides were at times drawn into—as supporters, suppliers, or participants— “brushfire” wars (fighting limited in scope or area) or more sizable conflicts (such as the Korean and Vietnamese wars). These were considered part of the large worldwide struggle between Communist and non-Communist powers (see “Cold War”. New Standard Britannica, vol. 2, pp.119-121).



    At the end of the World War II, parts of Europe were occupied by Soviet and Anglo-American (later, also to include French) forces. The Soviet Union, in violation of agreements made with the Western powers, continued its occupation of Eastern Europe in the postwar period. At the Yalta Conference of 1945, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had indicated that there would be free elections in Eastern Europe, but elections were not held. By the end of 1947, six nations— Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Albania, and Yugoslavia—were Communist-controlled. The Soviet-occupied zone of Germany also came under Communist administration.

    Winston Churchill, alarmed by Soviet expansionism, warned in a 1946 speech, “From Stettin… To Trieste… an iron curtain has descended across the European continent.” Neither the United States nor its allies, however, were ready to go to war over Eastern Europe. Instead they attempted to halt further Communist expansion through a policy of containment.

    Early in 1947, President Harry S. Truman announced the Truman Doctrine—the United States would help non-Communist peoples preserve their independence. Congress voted funds for economic and military assistance to Greece and Turkey, both of which were in danger of a Communist take-over. Soon after, the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, was begun to promote Western Europe’s postwar economic recovery.

    In June, 1948, Yugoslavia was expelled from the Communist bloc for being too independent. In the same month, the Soviet Union closed all road, rail, and canal links between Western Germany and West Berlin (located deep in the Soviet zone of Germany), in an effort to force the Western allies out of that city, (Under the Yalta agreement, the Western allies were to share administration of Berlin with the Russians).

    The United States rushed economic and military aid to Yugoslavia, and the Western powers thwarted the Berlin blockade by transporting supplies by air. Earlier in 1948, the Communists had taken over the government of Czechoslovakia (see Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the End of the Cold War. Oxford University Press, 2002).

    In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created to protect Western Europe from military aggression. That same year, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. Until then, the United Stated had been the only nation that possessed practical nuclear weapons. By the end of the 1940’s, the European continent had been split two mutually hostile blocs.

    In 1949, the Chinese Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists from the mainland Taiwan. China the most populous country in Asia had become Communist, allying itself with the Soviet Union.

    In 1950, troops from Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations—during a period when the Soviet Union was boycotting that organization—voted South Korea military support, the bulk of which came from the United States. After UN forces had retaken lost ground, and occupied almost all of Korea, Communist Chinese forces invaded the peninsula. The Soviet Union gave aid to the Chinese and North Koreans. The conflict was in effect stalemated in 1951, when armistice continued until; talks were begun, but fighting continued until armistice was signed in 1953.

    Communists joined nationalists in French Indochina following World War II to drive out the French. After years of fighting, the French were decisively defeated in 1954. At war’s end, Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam were created. North Vietnam became a Communist state. Later in 1954, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was organized to prevent further Communist expansion (see “Cold War”. Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, Vol. 3, pp.145-146).

    In 1955, the Soviet Union began major efforts to win the support of African and Asian countries, some still British and French colonies, others newly independent. Most of these countries wanted to remain neutral in the Cold War, but also wished to reduce the influence of the West on their affairs.

    The Soviet Union became especially active in the Middle East, supplying military equipment to the Arab nations. At the same time, the West sold arms to Israel. In 1955, an anti-Soviet defensive alliance popularly called the Baghdad Pact was organized with Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Great Britain as full members and the United States as an associate member. When Iraq withdrew in 1959, the alliance was reorganized as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO).

    At the United Nations, the growing group African and Asian nations (the “Afro-Asian bloc”) often supported Soviet resolutions and voted against the West. The Soviet Union, however, received general condemnation for crushing an uprising in Hungary in 1956 (see Kent, John. British Imperial Strategy and the Origins of the Cold War. Leicester University Press, 1999).

    In the late 1950’s, a slight thaw seemed to occur when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev claimed that his country’s goal was “peaceful coexistence”— a peaceful struggle for world leadership. The Soviet Union scored a propaganda and technological success in 1957 when it orbited the first man-made satellite, Sputnik.

    During the 1950’s, the Western European democracies were greatly strengthened economically as a result of joining together in the European Community, through which they coordinated their economic policies and lowered trade barriers among themselves. The early 1960’s were years of severe tensions. Cuba, located only 90 miles from the United States mainland, became a Communist state under its revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

      In April, 1961, the United States gave support to an invasion attempt by anti-Communist Cuban exiles, but failed. The Soviet Union began to send aid to Cuba to counter an American imposed economic boycott of the island. In June, 1961, East Germany erected a wall separating West Berlin and East Berlin to prevent East Germans from escaping to the West. The Soviet Union renewed its demand that the Western allies withdraw from West Berlin. Later in the year, the Soviets broke a moratorium on nuclear-weapons testing, in effect since 1958; by exploding a large hydrogen bomb (see Hills, Ken. “Cold War”. Visual Fact finder. P. 26).

    In 1962, the Soviet Union attempted secretly to place guided missiles in Cuba. American reconnaissance aircraft detected their presence, and the United States demanded that missiles be removed. Nuclear war between the two superpowers threatened before the Soviets agreed to remove them. However, the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis led to a new understanding between the two nations and, eventually, to improved relations. In 1963, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union signed a treaty banning all nuclear tests except those underground.

    In Southeast Asia in the early 1960’s, guerrilla activity by Communists increased markedly in Laos and South Vietnam. This situation brought expanded military aid from the United States. In 1965, the fighting in Vietnam developed into full-scale war, involving large numbers of American troops.

    By the mid-1960’s, disagreement between the Soviet Union and China over the goals of Communism had turned into a bitter dispute that split the Communist bloc. Western unity was shaken in 1966, when France withdrew from NATO’s military command.

    Cold-war tensions moderated despite the continuing Vietnamese War, a crisis in the Middle East (where pro-Western Israel was confronted by Communist-aided Arab states), and the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to remove an increasingly liberal government there. A treaty for the peaceful use of outer space was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, and other nations in 1967. In 1969 Soviet- American cooperation led to agreement on a nuclear nonproliferation treaty (see Hills, Ken. “Cold War”. Visual Fact finder. P. 26).

    Several major steps were taken in the 1970’s to promote East- West détente (relaxation of tensions). In 1920, the Soviet Union and West Germany, long bitter foes, signed a pact renouncing the use of force and accepting postwar German boundaries as permanent. In 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and 33 other countries signed the Helsinki Accords, in which they recognized all borders in Europe as inviolate and agreed to respect human rights. Continued Soviet violations of the human rights provisions, however, remained source of strained relations with the West (see Attwood, William. The Twilight Struggle. New York: Harper & Row, 2001).

    The United States and the Soviet Union were able to achieve some progress in nuclear arms limitation during the decade. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) I was signed and ratified in 1972, limiting the number of each nation’s ballistic missiles. The SALT II agreement, designed to place further limits on each nation’s strategic nuclear strength, was signed in 1979. Although the United States did not ratify SALT II, both countries abided by its terms.

    Meanwhile, the United States withdrew from the Vietnamese War in 1973. In 1975 the North Vietnamese conquered South Vietnam. In Cambodia and Laos, regimes backed by the United States fell to Communist insurgent forces. Having failed to prevent Communist expansion in the region, SEATO disbanded in 1977. CENTO collapsed in 1979. After a decade of growing rapprochement, the United States and China established diplomatic relations with one another in 1979 (see Hills, Ken. “Cold War”. Visual Fact finder. P. 26).

    Relations between the Soviet Union and the West worsened after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981. After the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, the United States built up its military and economic aid to nations and groups fighting Communism. In 1983, the United States ended Communist influence in the Caribbean country of Grenada by direct military action, an invasion by soldiers and Marines.

    How the Cold War is waged?

    The tactics of the Cold War are, for the mot part, the traditional ones used by rival powers in trying to gain an advantage over their opponents during peacetime. These tactics involve, in addition to diplomatic maneuvering, the following:

    Economic and Military Aid

    The United States aids its allies on the theory that nations militarily secure and economically prosperous will be stable— safe from external aggression and internal subversion. The Soviet Union gives military and some economic assistance to its satellite nations, but at the same tries to keep those countries dependent on it. Both blocs also try to win the support of nonaligned nations by providing them with economic and military aid.


    Each side tries to persuade uncommitted countries that its way of life is superior and that the opposing system is deeply flawed. The Soviet Union portrays itself as a peace-loving nation and the United States and its allies as warmongering imperialist powers. Communist China calls itself the champion of Asian, African, and Latin American peoples in the struggle against the political and economic imperialism of the West (see “Cold War”. New Standard Britannica, vol. 2, pp.119-121).


    Spies are employed to obtain facts about military, political, and economic development in rival countries. In addition to secret agents, monitoring activities are conducted by high-altitude reconnaissance planes, offshore intelligence ships, and space satellites. Diplomatic personnel are also used to gather intelligence.


    Attempts to weaken or displace unfriendly governments are part of the Cold War. In some countries, Communists have directly attempted to overthrow governments; in others, they have attempted to get control of political parties or labor unions and use these organizations to secure support and power. In some underdeveloped nations, guerilla wars called “wars of national liberation” have been launched by local nationalists with outside Communists support (see “Cold War”. New Standard Britannica, vol. 2, pp.119-121).

    Military Force

    All the major nations involved in the Cold War have used military force at one time or another to maintain or advance their interests. Some actions, such as that of the Soviet army in Hungary in 1956, were attempts to squelch a revolt by forces perceived as being hostile to the intervening power; others, such as the United States action in Korea, 1950-53, were efforts to defend an ally against attack.

    Military potential also plays an important role in the Cold war. A nation prepared to fight and capable of fighting effectively is considered less likely to be attacked than one that is weak. Following the end of the World War II, the major Communist and anti-Communist nations began a vast buildup of armaments—the arms race. Nuclear weapons of devastating power have been developed and stockpiled. These weapons came to form the so-called nuclear deterrent, or “balance of terror”—with neither side daring to attack the other for fear of a devastating reprisal (see “Cold War”. New Standard Britannica, vol. 2, pp.119-121).


    Both of the United States of America and Soviet Union are responsible for the Cold War because these two nations joined together to start a Cold War. However, relations between the United States and the USSR deteriorated in the late 1970s, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This revival of Cold War continued in the early years of the Reagan administration, fueled by Soviet support for the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and by America’s declared intention to develop an antinuclear Strategic Defense Initiative.

    With the rise to power of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, however, the situation began to change dramatically. Gorbachev’s policy of reconciliation with the West, which led to self-determination for the satellite countries of Eastern Europe and the symbolic abandonment (1989) of the Berlin Wall, finally brought the cold war to an end.


    1. “Cold War”. Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, Vol. 3, pp.145-146
    2. “Cold War”. New Standard Britannica, vol. 2, pp.119-121
    3. Hills, Ken. “Cold War”. Visual Fact finder. P. 26.
    4. Attwood, William. The Twilight Struggle. New York: Harper & Row, 2001. Perceptive anecdotal view of the Cold War.
    5. Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the End of the Cold War. Oxford University Press, 2002. Uncertainty in American foreign policy following the Cold War.
    6. Kent, John. British Imperial Strategy and the Origins of the Cold War. Leicester University Press, 1999. Scholarly study.


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