cold war superpower blocs northern hemisphere.

Cold War: Arms Race, Effects, Allies, Third World, Nuclear Weapons, Space Race, Cuba, Vietnam, Etc.

The Cold War

 Border of NATO and Warsaw Pact in contrast to each other from 1949 (formation of NATO) to 1990 (withdrawal of East Germany) cold war
Heitor Carvalho Jorge/CC BY-SA 3.0/Source.

The Cold War was a geopolitical confrontation between two opposing blocs which lasted from just after World War 2 ended to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The two opposing blocs had different political and economic systems in their countries. The capitalistic bloc was led by the USA and the communist bloc was led by the USSR.

Even though there was no direct confrontation during the Cold War, the superpowers engaged in many proxy wars mainly in the Third World Countries.

The two superpowers tried to establish their superiority in all fields throughout the World.

The Arms Race

Soviet missiles are shown in the May Day parade in 1964.  cold war
Soviet missiles are shown in the May Day parade in 1964.
Thomas Taylor Hammond/CC BY-SA 4.0/University of Virginia Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

World War 2 ended with the USA dropping two atomic weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This threatened the supremacy of the USSR on the World Stage. The Soviets accelerated their nuclear bomb program and by 1949, were able to successfully test their first nuclear weapon.

The country which had the most powerful nuclear weapon and delivery systems could dominate another one militarily. This led to the nuclear arms race. Both sides also tried to develop high-tech conventional weaponry. The development of missiles and rockets was also significant.

Military spending was extremely high. The astronomical costs of keeping the military were one of the reasons the Soviet Union lagged behind in development and its eventual collapse.


The end of the Cold War and its effects

 Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev pose for an official portrait during their meeting in Helsinki, Finland,

09 Sep 90. cold war

The Cold War has a tremendous impact on our World structure politically, economically, and in many other factors. The Cold War ended with the collapse of the communist giant Soviet Union.

The end of the Cold War gave independence to many Eastern Bloc countries which were under Soviet control. Germany was reunited after many years and the Berlin Wall was demolished. World military spending was drastically reduced.

There was cooperation for the first time in space programs. International Space Station was built together by Russia, The USA, and a few developed countries. The number of nuclear weapons was drastically reduced. NATO which was formed to counter the Soviet Union still exists and has increased its membership with Eastern European countries joining.

The Soviet influence hampered the economic development of the Eastern bloc countries. East Germany remained economically less developed than West Germany. The Soviets lagged behind in many technologies such as computers.

Cold War abroad

Child refugees during the Korean War (1951). cold war
Child refugees during the Korean War (1951).

Both the superpower blocs tried to exert their influence on the developing countries of the Third World. The term Third World was first used to describe the countries which had not joined any superpower blocs. It was then used to describe developing countries in the Global South.

Both Superpowers got involved in many proxy wars. The first major conflict that was supported by both superpowers was the Chinese Civil War. Some of the important Cold War Proxy wars that were a point of rivalry between two superpowers were Iran, Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Kenya, Suez Crisis, Sudan, Latin America, Congo, Bangladesh, Yemen, and Afghanistan, Angola, Namibia, Cuba, etc.


From Allies to Adversaries

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1943. cold war
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1943.

The United States and the Soviet Union were allies in World War 2, together defeating Nazi Germany. However, just after World War 2 misunderstandings started to appear between the two superpowers. The dropping of atomic weapons on Japan and the complete control of Japan by the USA after World War 2, enhanced Stalin’s suspicions.

Stalin thought that one of the reasons for dropping atomic weapons on Japan was to intimidate the Soviet Union from taking over Japan. The rivalry between these two nations was nothing new. Even during the Russian Civil War, the USA supported the Whites against the Bolsheviks, ruining relations from the very beginning.

The USA was one of the last nations to recognize the USSR having done so in 1933. The ideology of Communism was regarded as a threat by much of the Western world. And the control of the Eastern bloc countries and half of Germany was the point of serious contention. Thus, once allies turned into adversaries.

The Cold War: The Atomic Age

Mushroom cloud due to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. cold war
Mushroom cloud due to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

The Cold War was characterized by the threat of nuclear war looming on the horizon for the two superpowers. Both sides tried to enhance their nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. The strategic positioning of nuclear weapons was also highly important.

The best example is the Cuban missile crisis. The strategic location of Cuba w.r.t. the USA was the most efficient position for Soviet nuclear missiles aimed at the USA. Americans also had missiles in Turkey which were so close to the Soviet Union.

Nuclear Submarines were also highly developed by both sides. The advantage of the submarines was that nuclear weapons could silently penetrate any part of the World and launch nuclear weapons. The nuclear power powering the submarine meant that the submarines could be hidden in the water for months.

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The Worldwide Cold War

The leaders of the Non-aligned Movement, Nasser of Egypt, Nehru from India, and Tito from Yugoslavia. cold war
The leaders of the Non-aligned Movement, Nasser of Egypt, Nehru from India, and Tito from Yugoslavia. Stevan Kragujević / Tanja Kragujević/CC BY-SA 4.0/Source

The impact of the Cold War was felt worldwide. The development of Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) made it possible to strike any part of the World in a matter of minutes.

All the countries of the World were pressured to join either one of the superpower blocs. However, many developing nations didn’t want to be a part of superpower bloc politics and wanted to remain independent in their foreign policy.

These nations formed the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other prominent nations joined the NAM. The NAM worked not only for an independent foreign policy, it also worked for the economic and social development of the developing countries. The legacy of colonialism had made their economy poor.

Origins of the term

The term Cold War referring to the geopolitical confrontation of the superpowers is attributed to George Orwell, an English Journalist who first used the term in 1945, in the British magazine Tribune. He used the term to describe the ideological and the nuclear threat of the Soviet Union to the Western Powers.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Reconnaissance picture of Soviet nuclear missile launch sites in Cuba taken by an American spy plane. cold war
Reconnaissance picture of Soviet nuclear missile launch sites in Cuba taken by an American spy plane.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was the most dangerous event and confrontation during the Cold War. It took place in October 1962. This was the closest point the superpowers had come to an all-out nuclear war.

Cuba, being so close to the U.S. mainland was always under the threat of an American invasion after Fidel Castro seized power. Fidel Castro looked to the Soviet Union for help. Soviet Union to make up for the U.S. missiles in Turkey and Italy agreed to send Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) to Cuba to deter an American invasion.

An American U-2 spy plane found missile launch sites in Cuba. U.S. President John F. Kennedy decided to quarantine the island of Cuba, with every ship coming in and out of Cuba searched by the Americans. Initially, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev did not agree to remove missiles.

Ranges of Soviet missiles were deployed in Cuba. cold war
Ranges of Soviet missiles deployed in Cuba.

However, after tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between the two superpowers. The Soviet Union agreed to remove missiles from Cuba and U.S. agreed to not invade Cuba. The U.S. also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey but this was not publicly announced.

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The Cold War and the Space Race

Yuri Gagarin first man in space. cold war.
Yuri Gagarin.
bilderkombinat berlin/CC BY 2.0/Source

Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in the field of Space Technology led to the Space Race. Each of the superpowers was trying to be ahead of the rest in space.

The Soviet Union secured many space firsts, with the launching of the first satellite Sputnik in 1957 and the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin in 1961. The Soviet Union also achieved many more firsts during the early days of the Space Race.

The United States succeeded in putting two men on the moon in 1969. This was a great achievement for the Americans and they had an edge on the Soviet Space program from that point onwards.


Both the superpowers tried to put their influence on different countries of the world. The conflict in Vietnam was a large-scale military confrontation between socialist and capitalist states in Vietnam. Vietnam was a former colony of France. The Vietnamese waged a colonial war against the French to secure their independence.

Vietnamese pilots walk near Mig-17 fighter aircraft. cold war.
Vietnamese pilots walk near Mig-17 fighter aircraft.

The French were supported by the Americans. When Vietnam gained independence it was divided into two states, the communist North and democratic South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese tried to conquer the whole of Vietnam.

Initially, Americans sent their advisors to South Vietnam. During the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, there was a large-scale military escalation by the United States who strongly believed in the Domino theory, which states a communist country in a region could quickly lead to other countries in the region becoming communist.

The war lasted until 1975 when the whole of Vietnam fell under the communists and the Americans had to be evacuated.

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The Cold War and the Red Scare

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. cold war
U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy.

The Red Scare was a widespread fear of the spread of Communism and other extreme left political organizations in the United States and the Western world. Even though this scare existed during the first half of the 20th Century, it was more pronounced during the Cold War.

Many prominent people and government officials were charged with supporting communism and spying for the Soviet Union. This was due to the fact that there was a lot of spying going on in support of the Soviet Union.

The most prominent individual advocating for the suppression of potential communists was U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. The U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee was created to investigate potential communists.

Many people were caught and tried for spying on the Soviet Union. A famous example of this was the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Kennedy and Cold War

President John F. Kennedy in 1961. cold war.
President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

During the presidency of John F. Kennedy in 1961-63, there was a tremendous confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The major crisis during his administration was the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, involvement in the Vietnam war, the creation of the peace corps, disarmament treaties, the space race, etc.

He also followed the policy of Containment of communism. During his campaigning for Presidency, he promised to close the Missile Gap between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union.

He drastically increased the number of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. He greatly enhanced the number of U.S. military bases in different countries. He also had failures with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. The construction of the Berlin Wall was also started during his tenure.

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The Cold War: Containment

Containment was a geopolitical strategy followed by the United States after World War 2 to counter the spread of Communism and Soviet influence in the world.  cold war

Containment was a geopolitical strategy followed by the United States after World War 2 to counter the spread of Communism and Soviet influence in the world. This policy has been attributed to have originated by George F. Kennan, a U.S. diplomat in Moscow. This policy originated in his famous Long Telegram which analyzed Soviet geopolitical thinking.

The official U.S. policy of Containment is said to have started with the speech of President Harry S. Truman before Congress requesting funds to fight communism in Greece and Turkey.

This was also caused due to the weakening of the British Empire, which made the former colonies and British interests fall prey to Communism and Soviet influence.

The Bay of Pigs

Fidel Castro. cold war.
Fidel Castro.

The Bay of Pigs invasion was the failed covert military operation of the United States which took place in April 1961. It used Cuban expatriates living in the United States to invade Cuba and topple the Castro regime.

There was a lot of mistrust between Cuba and the U.S.A. when Fidel Castro came to power after a revolution in Cuba. He nationalized all American-owned businesses and started having friendly relations with the Soviets.

However, this invasion was stopped by the Cuban armed forces. U.S. aircraft were also used to attack Cuba. The invaders were defeated in 3 days. This was one of the biggest failures of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. The relationship between the Cubans and Soviets with the Americans worsened and caused the Cuban Missile Crisis during the following year.

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Iron Curtain

Iron Curtain is a term used to represent the boundary between the Western bloc countries and Eastern bloc countries during the Cold War. It was also used to represent the physical barrier between the Soviet bloc and the Western bloc countries.

Winston Churchill. cold war.
Winston Churchill.

The term regarding the cold War was first uttered by Winston Churchill when he spoke in 1946 in Fulton, Missouri. He said of the Soviet domination in Eastern Europe

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

Winston Churchill, March 5, 1946.

Wartime conferences regarding post-war Europe

During the Second World War, three big conferences were held among the big powers relating to the war and post-war Europe. They were held at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam.

Yalta Conference. cold war.
Yalta Conference.

The Tehran Conference was held on November 22-26, 1943 in the Soviet Embassy in Tehran, Iran. The major outcome of this Conference was the agreement of the Western Powers to open the Western front against Nazi Germany.

The Yalta Conference was held on February 4-11, 1945 in Crimea, Soviet Union. The main outcome of the conference was to shape postwar peace and security in Europe.

The Potsdam Conference was held from July 17 to August 2, 1945, in Potsdam, Occupied Germany. The main outcome of the conference was how to administer postwar Germany and postwar Europe.

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Emblem of K.G.B. cold war.
Emblem of K.G.B.

Both superpowers used espionage as a way to gather information about the other bloc. CIA and KGB, the intelligence agencies of the USA and the Soviet Union respectively during the Cold War conducted their operations extensively throughout the globe.

Soviet espionage was already well present in the United States during the World War, with the Soviets penetrating the American nuclear program and gaining extensive information.

Russian Revolution

Russian Revolution was a political and social revolution that happened in 1917, during the First World War, when Bolsheviks seized power in Russia defeating the monarchy. The Russian Revolution consists of two revolutions. One was the February Revolution and another was the October Revolution. The time between these revolutions was chaotic.

American, British, and Japanese Troops parade through Vladivostok in the armed support of the White Army. cold war.
American, British, and Japanese Troops parade through Vladivostok in the armed support of the White Army.

The aftermath of the October Revolution led to the Russian Civil War, with the Communists defeating the White Russians. The United States was involved in the Russian Civil War by sending troops on the White Russian side.

This soured the relations between the Soviet Union and the USA from the very beginning. Some historians think this point was the earliest instance of a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the USA.

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