Cold War

World War II ended with the rise of two Allied nations- The United States and the Soviet Union, as the superpowers. Between 1946 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union, along with their allies, were involved in a long and tense conflict. This was known as the Cold War. The Cold War was the war of ideologies. The US followed the ideology of liberal democracy and capitalism while the USSR backed the ideology of socialism and communism.

Though both the sides were technically at peace and didn’t indulge into a full-scale war, the period was characterised by an aggressive arms race, proxy wars, and ideological bids for world dominance. Americans had long been in opposition to Soviet communism and their tyrannical ruler – Joseph Stalin’s rule. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, resented Americans for their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians.

After the war, Soviet’s expansion in Eastern Europe rose Americans fear of a Russian plan to control the world. Similarly, USSR feared America’s arms buildup and its interventionist approach to international relations. This built a hostile atmosphere between them.

The term ‘Cold War’ came into existence in the 1930s. It was used to describe the increasingly tense relationships between European countries.


The Cold War: Logic of Deterrence

After the end of WWII, most of the Americans agreed to containment being the best defence against the Soviet threat. The Logic of Deterrence hence came into being. It means when both sides have the capacity to respond against an attack and to cause so much destruction that neither can afford to initiate war. The two superpowers and their allies were expected to behave as rational and responsible actors. The Cold War was also an era that saw major arms and nukes build-up, especially in both the superpowers. After the immense destruction caused to both of the countries by WWII, both of them wanted to avoid another full-scale war, that may involve nuclear explosives at a large scale.

The Arms Race

The Logic of Deterrence did not keep both the sides from the suspicion of attack. Thus, both of the sides saw unprecedented arms buildup during the Cold War. The American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons like the ones that had ended World War II.

By 1962, both the countries had missile defences pointed at one another. That year, the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tense 13-day political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores, brought both countries closer to the possibility of launching a full-scale war. The Cuban Missile crises received the attention of the whole world. It was the highest point of tension in the Cold War. Most of the countries even believed that a full-scale war was inevitable then.

Cuban Missile Crisis|LearningHistory

Though the Cold War was devoid of a full scale war, multiple proxy wars stood in for actual conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Korean War, Vietnam War, and a number of other armed conflicts, during which both sides either funded one side of the war or fought directly against a communist or capitalist force, are all considered Cold War proxies.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact


The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949. NATO then was an association of twelve states which declared that armed attack on any one of them would be regarded as an attack on all of them and each of them would be obliged to help each other. The Treaty of Brussels, signed on 17 March 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom, is considered the precursor to the NATO agreement. During most of the duration of the Cold War, NATO maintained a holding pattern with no actual military engagement as an organisation.

NATO member countries|WorldMap

Warsaw Pact

Warsaw Pact was eastern alliance, led by Soviet Union, created in 1955. It was created in 1955 with principle function to counter NATO’s forces in Europe. Warsaw Pact, formally Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, (May 14, 1955–July 1, 1991) treaty establishing a mutual-defence organisation (Warsaw Treaty Organisation) composed originally of the Soviet Union and Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. (Albania withdrew in 1968, and East Germany did so in 1990.) The treaty (which was renewed on April 26, 1985) provided for a unified military command and for the maintenance of Soviet military units on the territories of the other participating states.

Warsaw Countries|Wikipedia
Warsaw Countries Europe

The Cold War Abroad

The two superpowers i.e. the US and USSR wanted to expand their spheres of influence in different parts of the world. Hence, they decided to take the help of the smaller countries. Superpowers had military alliances with smaller states who were helpful for them in gaining access to vital resources as oil and minerals, territory from where the superpowers could launch their weapons and troops, locations from where they could spy on each other, economic support to pay their military expenses. These smaller states got the promise of protection, weapons and economic aid against their local rivals, mostly regional neighbours.

The Korean War, in 1950, was the first military action of the Cold War. It began when the Soviet-backed North Korean People’s Army invaded its pro-Western neighbour to the south. Many Americans feared of this war being a step of a communist campaign by the USSR to take over the world. In response, Truman (33rd President of the United States) sent the American military into Korea.

In 1955, The United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) made capitalist West Germany a member of NATO and permitted it to remilitarise after the restrictions from the World War II. The Soviet, in response, came up with the Warsaw Pact.

But the fight was nowhere more apparent than in Vietnam. Since the 1950s, the United States had been supporting the survival of an anticommunist government in the region. By the early 1960s it seemed clear to American leaders that if they were to successfully “contain” communist expansionism there, they would have to intervene more actively on Ngo Dinh Diem’s (South Vietnam’s President) behalf. However, what was intended to be a brief military action spiralled into a 10-year conflict.

The Cold War: Non Aligned Movement

The Non-Aligned Movement was formed during the Cold War as an organisation of States that decided not to align themselves with either of the superpowers, but sought to remain independent or neutral.  NAM was founded by three leaders-Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Indonesia’s Sukarno and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah strongly supported them. The first NAM summit was held in 1961 at Belgrade.

Leaders of NAM-(L to R) Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sukarno, Josip Broz Tito|IndiaToday

The basic concept for the group originated in 1955 during discussions that took place at the Bandung Conference held in Indonesia. During the cold war era the NAM played a vital role in stabilising the world order and preserving peace and security. Non alignment of NAM doesn’t mean the neutrality of state on global issues, it was always a peaceful intervention in world politics.

Towards the end

The Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc in the 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In November of that year, the Berlin Wall–the war separating the communist North Germany from the capitalist South Germany and the most visible symbol of the decades-long Cold War–was finally destroyed. As the last remaining superpower, the U.S. retains wide-reaching alliances, high weapons investments, and international military outposts. NATO brokered at the outset of the Cold War and still wields political power. Today several scholars refer to the increased tensions between Russia and the West as a second Cold War.

Breaking go the Berlin Wall|TheNewYorkTimes
Breaking go the Berlin Wall|TheNewYorkTimes


Quiz Time!

  1. Define- (i) Cold War   (ii) the logic of deterrence
  2. What is NATO and the Warsaw Pact?
  3. Name the founding leaders of NAM along with their countries.
  4. How did the Cold War end?
  5. Define the arms race during the Cold War.
  6. Why did the superpowers need help of the smaller countries?
  7. Fill in the blanks-

a. The Cold War was an era that saw major ___________ build up.

b. The Cold War was the war of ________.

c. _______________ was a tense 13-day political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed missiles by _____ in Cuba.

d. The Cuban Missile crises received attention of the whole world. Most of the countries even believed that ______________.

e. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was signed on ____________. It was as association ____(number) states.

f. ____________ was created in ______ with principle function to counter NATO’s forces in Europe.

g. ___________ in 1950, was the first military action of the Cold War.

h. The basic concept for NAM originated in 1955 during discussions at the___________ held in Indonesia. The first NAM meeting took place at _________ in 1961.

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