Maybe you’re one of the ones who wonder “WHAT WAS THE COLD WAR?” If so, this White Paper is perfect for you. Our “facts” answer that question and more — like “How Did the Cold War Begin?” We also have a section on Cold War Definitions, Cold War FAQs, and Cold War Treaties.
Overall, this White Paper provides a COLD WAR SUMMARY that is perfect for trivia lovers and serious students alike. If you want to impress people with your knowledge without putting in tons of effort, this is for you!
But we’re not always serious. Each White Paper is totally different because our readers know that the Cold War was more than just a half century confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Our White Papers are also a good match for those of you who are nostalgic for the 1950s, those of you who are interested in political propaganda or the Red Scare, and those of you who are intrigued by mid century modern, spy novels, or James Bond movies.
Now let’s get started on some Cold War FACTS!
PRE COLD WAR TIMELINE (1917-1945)
1917: Bolshevik Revolution
1919: Versaille Peace Conference
1920s: US distributes over $60 million in aid to starving Russians
1921: England begins trading with Russia
1922: Russia & Germany sign a treaty of cooperation
1924: Lenin dies & Stalin takes charge
1928: Stalin announces 5 year plans for rapid economic development
1931: Japan rampages through Manchuria
Nov. 1933: FDR formally recognizes Russia
1934 & 1937: America rejects Soviet requests for joint policies against Japan & Nazi Germany
1938: Stalin’s relationship with the West disintegrates
Sept. 1938: Munich Conference
Aug. 1939: Stalin signs a nonaggression pact with Hitler (Nazi-Soviet Pact). The Baltic States along with parts of Poland, Finland, & Rumania are claimed by Stalin
Aug. 1939: Hitler invades Poland
Nov. 1939: The Soviets invade Finland
June 22, 1941: Hitler invades the USSR
Aug. 1941: Atlantic Conference takes place off Newfoundland
1944: Opening of a second front
1944: Bretton Woods Conference creates the World Bank & the International Monetary Fund
1944: Churchill deserts FDR & goes to Russia to make a deal. He promises to recognize Soviet domination in Rumania & Bulgaria. Stalin agrees that England can control Greece
Feb. 1945: The Big Three — Russia, the US, and Great Britain — meet at Yalta
1945: The US accuses Stalin of Breaking the Declaration of Liberated Europe re Rumania & a crisis breaks out over Poland
April 12, 1945: FDR dies and Harry Truman becomes President
Sept. 8, 1941 – June 27, 1944: Siege of Leningrad
Spring 1945: The UN is founded at a conference in San Francisco
July 1945: Potsdam Conference
Aug. 6, 1945: The atomic bomb obliterates Hiroshima, Japan
Aug. 10, 1945: The Japanese emperor overrules his military and begins peace negotiations preventing the Soviets from moving onto the main Japanese home islands
COLD WAR TERMS
Appeasement: a diplomatic policy aimed at granting concessions to potential enemies to avoid war; generally considered a synonym for weakness.
Article 51 of the UN Charter: allows for collective self-defense through regional organizations to be created outside the UN but within the principles of the charter. Enabled regional organizations to escape Russian vetoes in the security council.
Article III of the Atlantic Charter: after the end of World War II, all peoples should have the right to choose the form of government under which they will live.
Article IV of the Atlantic Charter: all states should enjoy access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for economic prosperity.
Atlantic Charter: a joint declaration issued at the Atlantic Conference on August 14, 1941. The conference took place on warships off the coast of Newfoundland and was attended by Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The document detailed the goals and aims of the Allied powers concerning the war and the post-war world. It had eight principle points:• no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;• territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;• all peoples had a right to self-determination;• trade barriers were to be lowered; with respect to international trade, both “victor [and] vanquished” would be given market access “on equal terms;”• there was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;• the participants would work for a world free of want and fear;• the participants would work for freedom of the seas;• there was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a postwar common disarmament.
Atlantic Conference: took place on warships off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941. Codenamed Riviera, the conference was attended by Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
American Grand Strategy: an integration of military and economic objectives in the war against communism. The military component was concerned with repelling the Soviet threat through a policy of containment. The economic component was concentrated on protecting America’s desire for open markets. At first, the two prongs could be separated. By the end of the Eisenhower administration, however, the two were intertwined.
Bretton Woods: international conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944; created a World Bank (the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The US hoped that these two agencies would reconstruct, then stabilize and expand world trade.
Capitalist Encirclement: Russian fear of foreign encroachment and perception that the Western powers were attempting to isolate the Soviets by creating such buffer states as Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe.
Competitive Grand Strategy: the rivalry between the individual grand strategies of the two superpowers as they competed for power and influence in the less developed world.
Declaration of Liberated Europe: a proposal by FDR at Yalta in February 1945 that provided that each of the three powers — Great Britain, Russia, and the United States — would pledge cooperation in applying the self-determination principle to newly liberated nations. The Russians amended the declaration until it was virtually meaningless.
First Red Scare: a fear driven anticommunist movement that emerged following the Bolshevik (Russian) Revolution of 1917 and the intensely patriotic years of World War I. Nationwide hysteria gripped America in 1919-1920 provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent that would undermine America’s way of life.
Grand Strategy: see American Grand Strategy, Soviet Grand Strategy, and Competitive Grand Strategy.
International Monetary Fund: established at Bretton Woods with $7.3 billion to stabilize currencies so that trade could be conducted without fear of currency depreciation or wild fluctuations in exchange rates.
Iron Fence: an early term for what later became known as the “iron curtain;” physically, the Iron Curtain took the shape of border defenses between the countries of Western and Eastern Europe, most notably the Berlin Wall, which served as a longtime symbol of the Curtain as a whole.
Manifest Destiny: in terms of the Cold War, a sense that America’s mission was to spread its values and economic system across the globe.
Munich Conference: the French and British appease Hitler by giving Germany part of Czechoslovakia.
Potsdam Conference: the West recognizes a new Polish-German boundary. Allows Russia to take reparations out of its occupation zone of eastern Germany (primarily agricultural). Permits Russians to have 25% of reparations from the three Western occupation zones; the Russians are to pay for these reparations with food from the Russian zone. This laid the basis for eastern and western Germany.
Russian “sphere”: a geographic area (Eastern Europe) that would serve as a strategic buffer against the West.
Open Door: an open international marketplace where all states enjoy access on equal terms to the trade and raw materials that are necessary for their economic prosperity.
Second Front: the idea that the Allies would open another combat zone against the Germans in Western Europe to take the pressure off the Russians who were battling the Germans on the Eastern Front.
Soviet Grand Strategy: focused on combating the threat of ‘capitalist encirclement’ and on acquiring the resources necessary to develop economic and industrial prowess as a preparation for the war that was “inevitable” as long as capitalism existed.
Versailles Peace Conference: the meeting of the the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for Germany and other defeated nations, and to deal with the empires of the defeated powers following the Armistice of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 29 countries who met, discussed and came up with a series of treaties (“Paris Peace Treaties”) that reshaped the map of Europe and the world, and imposed guilt and stiff financial penalties on Germany.
World Bank (the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development): established at Bretton Woods with a treasury of $7.6 billion (and authority to lend twice that amount) to guarantee private loans given to rebuild war-torn Europe and for building up less industrialized nations.
Yalta: the Russian Black Sea resort where the Big Three — Russia, the United States, and Great Britain — met in February, 1945, to shape the postwar world.
COLD WAR FAQs
What was the Cold War?
The Cold War involved 45 years of constant confrontation between the 2 superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Permanent nuclear confrontation was based on the assumption that only the fear of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) would prevent the end of the world.
Was there actually a danger of world war?Probably the most explosive period was the time between the formal announcement of the Truman Doctrine in March 1947 and April 1951 when Truman dismissed General MacArthur. Once the USSR acquired nuclear weapons (the atomic bomb in 1949 and the hydrogen bomb in 1953), both superpowers abandoned the idea of war. However both used the idea of a nuclear threat on several occasions.
How did the Cold War transform world politics?According to Eric Hobsbawm:1.) It eliminated or overshadowed the rivalries and conflicts that shaped the international scene before WWII.2.) The Cold War stabilized an unfixed and provisional state of affairs. Stabilization did not mean peace. There was hardly a year between 1948 and 1989 without a fairly serious armed conflict. But conflicts were controlled by the fear that they might provoke an open war between the superpowers. The combination of power, political influence, bi-polarity, and anti-imperialism kept the divisions of the world more or less stable.3) The Cold War filled the world with arms. Socialist economies and some declining capitalist states like Britain had little else to export that was competitive on the world market.
The end of the Cold War removed the props which had held up the international structure. It was not the end of international conflict, but the end of an era.
THE COLD WAR IN A NUTSHELL
(A COLD WAR SUMMARY)
HOW DID THE COLD WAR START?
Lines of demarcation between the Soviets and the West were drawn at Yalta. Animosity escalated with the partition of Germany, the withdrawal of all ex-belligerents from Austria, and the unilateral US occupation of Japan.
More friction surrounded the new post colonial states in what was then called The Third World. This was the zone in which the 2 superpowers continued, throughout the Cold War, to compete for support and inflluence. This was the area where armed conflict was most likely to break out.
Even though most of the new post colonial states were hostile to the US and its camp, they were not communist. They were mostly anti-communist in their domestic politics, and they were outside the Soviet military block — non-aligned — in international affairs.
Despite post WWII differences between the West and the Soviets, the world situation soon became reasonably stable, and the communist camp showed no signs of significant expansion. The period between the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and the mid 1970s has been called the Cold Peace.
CAUSES OF THE COLD WAR
While the US was worried about the danger of Soviet world supremacy at some time in the future, Moscow was worried about the actual hegemony of the US all over the globe. Only areas that were occupied by the Red Army were risk free.
Americans believed that their country represented an ideology that should be a model for the rest of the world. The US believed in world capitalism and thought that their liberal society was in danger. But, in fact, the postwar plans of the US government had more to do with preventing another Great Depression than with preventing another war.
Washington expected that postwar challenges were likely to weaken both capitalism and the US. They were worried that the USSR would become stronger even though the Soviets demobilized their troops, reducing the Red Army from a 1945 peak strength of 12 million to 3 million by 1948.
Both superpowers adopted policies of no compromise.
In 1946, the American diplomat George Kennan formulated the “containment” policy that became the framework for America’s Cold War strategy. His policy was not based on fear of communism. Rather, it was centered on the threat of Russian expansionism.
The issue was not really the threat of communist world domination, but the maintenance of a real US supremacy.
“Containment” was everyone’s policy, the destruction of communism was not.
THE ARMS RACE
In 1954, the US announced an aggressive strategy of massive retaliation. Potential aggressors were to be threatened with attack by nuclear weapons, even in the case of a limited conventional attack.
Both the US and the Soviets became committed to an insane arms race and to a “military-industrial complex,” an increasingly vast agglomeration of men and resources living by preparation for war.
After the 1960s, there was a period of slackening tensions known as detente. In 1963, a hot line was installed linking the White House with the Kremlin.
The 1960s and 1970s saw significant steps to control and limit nuclear arms: test-ban treaties, attempts to stop nuclear proliferation, a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), and some agreement about each side’s Anti-Balllistic Missiles (ABMs).
In practice the two superpowers retained a nuclear monopoly. But, over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, some other countries — Israel, South Africa, India — acquired the capacity to make nuclear weapons.
Still, nuclear proliferation did not become a serious international problem until after 1989.
The most obvious face of the Cold War was military confrontation and a frenetic nuclear arms race.
Nuclear powers were involved in 3 major wars — Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. But they did not fight each other.
EUROPE AND THE MARSHALL PLAN
The political consequences of the Cold War on Europe were important.
The world was polarized into two camps.
Direct Soviet control was firmly clamped on all of Eastern Europe except Finland. Stalin was also unable to impose Soviet control on Tito’s Yugoslavia which broke with Moscow in 1948 without joining the other side.
Europe was important. The Western European situation in 1946-1947 was so tense that Washington felt that the development of a strong European (and soon a strong Japanese) economy was the most urgent priority.
The Marshall Plan, a massive design for European recovery, was launched in June 1947 in the form of grants rather than loans. So far as the US was concerned, this project depended on a strong Germany.https://youtu.be/Xyoviiavusk
The US soon dominated the international behavior of Europe. Still, as the Cold War lengthened, there was a growing gap between the overwheming military and political domination of the Western alliance by Washington, and the gradually weakening economic predominance of the US. The dollar, the keystone of the post WWII economy, grew weaker.
One effect of the Cold War on the international politics of Europe was to create the European Community, a permanent arrangement to integrate the economies and to some extent the legal systems of a number of independent nation-states: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg. The community was created both by and against the United States.
THE SECOND COLD WAR: PART I
By the mid 1970s, the world had entered a Second Cold War. This coincided with a major change in the world economy.
Two inter-related developments now seemed to shift the balance of the superpowers. First, Vietnam. Second, the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Through OPEC, the Arab states of the Middle East had done what they could to impede support for Israel by cutting oil supplies and threatening oil embargoes. In doing so, they discovered that they had the ability to multiply the world price of oil. There was nothing the US could do.
Vietnam and the Middle East weakened the US but did not alter the global balance of power.
Between 1974 and 1979, a new wave of revolutions surged across the globe. It was the coincidence of this third wave of world revolution with the moment of public American failure and defeat in Vietnam which produced the Second Cold War.
This phase of the conflict was waged by a combination of local wars in the Third World fought indirectly by the US and by an extraordinary acceleration of the nuclear arms race.
THE SECOND COLD WAR: PART II
Detente had given Nixon and Kissinger (1968-1974) the opportunity to score two major successes: the expulsion of the Soviets from Egypt and the informal recruitment of China into the anti-Soviet alliance.
The new wave of revolutions, all of which were likely to be against conservative regimes which the US defended, gave the USSR the chance to recover the initiative.
While the Soviets had already begun to bankrupt themselves by embarking on an overly ambitious armaments program which raised defense expenditure by an annual average of 4-5% in the 20 years after 1964, the US felt threatened.
Moreover, the USSR had moved into Afghanistan convincing the US that western supremacy would end if not reasserted by a show of power.
Washington was not realistic.
In real terms, US power, as distinct from US prestige, remained much greater than Soviet power.
The hysteria had the effect of convincing the Soviets that a pre-emptive nuclear attack by the West on the USSR was possible or impending.
The policies of Ronald Reagan, elected US President in 1980, can only be understood as an attempt to wipe out American feelings of humiliation by demonstrating supremacy.
Actions included the invasion of Grenada, a massive air and naval attack on Libya, and the invasion of Panama.
REAGAN AND THE EVIL EMPIRE
Reagan crusaded against the “Evil Empire” abroad and the memory of FDR at home. The enemy was liberalism and the welfare state as much as communism.
There is no sign that the US government expected the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Reagan actually believed in coexistence, albeit in a world without nuclear arms.
The Cold War ended when one or both superpowers recognized the absurdity of the nuclear arms race and when one or both accepted the other’s sincerity in wishing it to end.
Gorbachev took the first step.
THE END OF THE COLD WAR
Did the end of the Cold War mean the end of the Soviet system?
The Soviet type of socialism had claimed to be a global alternative to the capitalist world system. Since capitalism had not collapsed, the prospects for socialism depended on its ability to compete. It was evident that after 1960 the USSR was falling rapidly behind. It was no longer competitive.
Both superpowers overstretched and distorted their economies by the arms race, but the world capitalist system could absorb the cost.
By the end of the 1970s, the European Community and Japan together were 60% larger than the US economy. They were not a drain.
On the other hand, the USSR’s allies and dependents remained a constant and vast annual drain of billions of dollars.
Geographically and demographically, the underdeveloped countries of the world whose revolutionary mobilizations Moscow supported, represented 89% of the world.
It was the interaction of Soviet-type economies with the capitalist world economy from the 1960s on that made socialism vulnerable.
What defeated — and in the end wrecked — the USSR was not confrontation but detente.
The real Cold War ended at the Washington summit of 1987, but it could not be recognized as being at an end until the USSR had visibly ceased to be a superpower.
The collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989 and the dissolution of the USSR in 1989-1991 made it impossible to pretend that nothing had changed.
NO NUKES: TREATIES
Over the course of the Cold War there were many attempts to control nuclear weapons. Here are a few:
August 1963: Limited Test Ban Treaty || Prohibits nuclear testing or any other nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.
January 1967: Outer Space Treaty || Prohibits sending nuclear weapons into earth’s orbit or stationing them in outer space.
July 1968: Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty || Prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons to other countries and prohibits helping countries without nuclear weapons to make or obtain them.
May 1972: Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty || Bans space-based defensive missile systems and limits the United States and the Soviet Union to one ground-based defensive missile site each.
June 1979: Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty || The first formal strategic arms treaty sets an initial overall limit of 2400 intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched missiles, heavy bombers, and air-to-surface missiles.
December 1987: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty || Provides for the dismantling of all Soviet medium- and shorter-range-land-based-missiles and establishes a system of weapons-inspection to guard against violations.
The Start Treaties, of course, came in the 1990s, after the Cold War had ended.
July 1991: Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – START I || Brings the number of Soviet long-range nuclear warheads down from 11,012 to 6,163, and the number of US warheads down from 12,646 to 8,556.
January 1993: Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – START II || Reduces the superpowers’ arsenals to one-third of their current size, limiting them to 3,000-3,500 warheads and bombs.