The Cold War: A Comprehensive Overview

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1. What Was the Cold War?

The Cold War was a period of permanently tense international relations between 1945 and 1991. During this time, the world was divided into two opposing blocs:

1.1. Western Bloc

Led by the USA, these countries had a political system based on democracy and a capitalist economy.

1.2. Eastern Bloc

Led by the Soviet Union, these countries had a totalitarian regime and a centrally planned economy.

2. Characteristics of the Cold War

A. Bipolar Order: The two superpowers had similar military and destructive capabilities. They maintained international tensions based on distrust and threats.

B. The Arms Race: Rivalry between both superpowers to have the greatest weapons: atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs, and chemical weapons.

C. Areas of Influence: Each superpower intervened to maintain its authority in countries within their area of influence.

D. Propaganda: They used extensive propaganda on countries in their area of influence to convince them of the dangers of the opposing bloc.

E. Regional Conflicts: Were directly or indirectly resolved by the corresponding superpower.

F. Espionage and Secret Service: The CIA and the KGB spied on each other to obtain scientific and military secrets from the enemy.

G. United Nations Ineffectiveness: The UN was ineffective as an intermediary because the USA and USSR had control of the main UN organs, like the Security Council, and they had veto power.

3. The Western Bloc

The United States had a strong influence on most of Western Europe. The Western Bloc countries received political, military, and economic assistance from the USA.

A. Truman Doctrine (1947): Worried that communism might spread to Western Europe, the US administration implemented a foreign policy known as the Truman Doctrine. President Harry S. Truman offered a program of financial help.

B. Marshall Plan (1948): The US government decided to give $13 billion in aid to reactivate the economies of Western Europe and help these countries resist the threat of communism.

C. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) (1949): Several countries signed this treaty in Washington. It established an international military alliance against possible attacks on the Western world.

4. The Eastern Bloc

Countries in Eastern and Central Europe turned into satellite states of the USSR. They were economically and politically under its control. In these countries, one-party dictatorships were imposed. The USSR used economic and military strategies to strengthen Soviet control over all these countries.

A. COMECON (1949): Formed in response to the Marshall Plan, its goal was to coordinate the economic plans of the member countries and set up a system of mutual help.

B. Warsaw Pact (1955): Established in response to the formation of NATO, the Pact was a military alliance between the countries of the Eastern Bloc, offering protection against attacks from the Western Bloc.

5. The Beginning of the Cold War (1947-1953)

A. Greek Civil War: At the end of World War II, Greece was immersed in a civil war between communist insurgents, supported by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, and the Greek government, supported by Britain. Following the Truman Doctrine, in 1947 the USA sent financial and military aid to Greek government troops. They expelled the communists from the country.

B. The Berlin Blockade: The London Conference (1948) decided to create a West German single economic area controlled by the Western powers. The USSR saw this new division as a threat and blocked all land and water transport coming into Berlin from the West. However, the Western allies kept West Berlin supplied through a massive airlift. As a result of the crisis, in 1949 Germany was partitioned into two: the Federal Republic of Germany, with a democratic political system, and the German Democratic Republic, supported by the Soviet Union and having a communist regime.

C. Korean War: After Japan's defeat, Korea was divided into two different countries at the 38th parallel: North Korea had a communist regime, and South Korea had a pro-western regime. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The UN forces, led by the USA, recovered the territories and invaded North Korea. Then, China decided to support North Korea. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953. It established two separate states, divided by the Korean Demilitarized Zone under the control of the UN.

6. Peaceful Coexistence (1953-1962)

In 1953, Stalin died, and Nikita Khrushchev was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party. In the United States, General Dwight D. Eisenhower became the new president.

A. The Hungarian Revolution (1956): People began to criticize the regime. Hungarians took to the streets demanding freedom, supported by the army. In response, Soviet tanks entered Budapest and crushed the Hungarian Revolution.

B. The Suez Crisis (1956): The Suez Canal was an essential route for trade navies. The Egyptian president nationalized the Canal. In response, Israel, Britain, and France occupied the Canal. This put the Soviet Union on alert and forced the UN to expel European troops from Egypt.

C. The Berlin Wall (1961): After Berlin was divided into two zones, many East Berliners escaped to West Berlin. In 1961, to end this mass migration, the communists built the Berlin Wall.

D. The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962): In 1959, Fidel Castro established a communist government in Cuba. In 1962, Khrushchev placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. In response, John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and threatened to attack the island. Both superpowers were armed and ready to use destructive weapons. The USSR ordered the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba in exchange for a US commitment to end the blockade.

7. The Cold War (1963-1975)

A. The Prague Spring (1968): The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia introduced liberal reforms. The USSR opposed these reforms and invaded the country. The Czech government was forced to re-establish the regime directed from Moscow.

B. Yom Kippur War (1973): The Arab countries (Egypt, Syria), supported by the USSR, invaded Israel. Israel, backed by the USA, recovered its territories and invaded the Suez Canal. As a result, the oil crisis began (1973), causing an international economic crisis.

C. The Vietnam War: The country was divided into two at the 17th parallel. North Vietnam had a communist regime led by Ho Chi Minh, and South Vietnam had a dictatorial regime supported by the United States. South Vietnam was threatened by a communist guerrilla movement called the Viet Cong. In 1965, the US sent troops to Vietnam. However, it was unable to achieve a military victory. In 1973, a ceasefire was agreed, and American troops withdrew.

8. The Later Stages of the Cold War (1973-1991)

A. Détente: After the Vietnam War, there was less tension between the two superpowers. This period concluded with the Helsinki Accords (1975), which were designed to improve cooperation between the two blocs.

B. Renewed Tension: New events changed the relationship between the two superpowers. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the hope of expanding its influence. They supported a communist revolution in Nicaragua (Sandinista Revolution) and increased their nuclear arsenal. As a result of these events, Ronald Reagan spearheaded the Strategic Defense Initiative program to develop an anti-missile system in space, capable of shooting down Soviet missiles (1983).

C. Mikhail Gorbachev: In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. The USSR faced economic problems and political tensions with the Soviet Republics. Gorbachev carried out a series of reforms to democratize the Communist Party. Gorbachev and Reagan met at the Geneva Summit (1985) and at the Washington Conference (1987) to discuss the elimination of nuclear weapons. Changes in the Soviet regime favored the end of the Cold War. Communist regimes of Eastern European countries fell and began their transition to democracy. In November 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall led to the reunification of Germany in 1991. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union. This marked the breakup of the USSR and the end of the Cold War.

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