9.3 The Cold War

4 min readjanuary 16, 2023

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook

AP European History 🇪🇺

335 resources
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The global balance of economic and political power shifted during and after World War II and rapidly evolved into the Cold War. Although the United States and the USSR previously fought as allies, their relationship rapidly deteriorated as they disagreed on how Europe should be rebuilt and how to implement post-war order. The democracy of the United States and the authoritarian communist Soviet Union emerged as superpowers, which led to ideological conflict and a power struggle between capitalism and communism across the globe. ❄️
Although the United States and USSR never engaged in combat directly, the Cold War was primarily fought through proxy wars, espionage, and economic and diplomatic means. Despite the lack of direct military confrontation between the two superpowers, competition led to a nuclear arms race and the development of new technologies, such as the hydrogen bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which increased the risk of nuclear war and sparked global tensions. Military alliances formed through NATO and the Warsaw Pact, influencing European nations to pick sides in the conflict.

Changing Foreign Policy

Despite efforts to maintain international cooperation through the newly created United Nations, deep-seated tensions between the USSR and the West led to the division of Europe through the Iron Curtain. United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) did his best to maintain relations with the USSR.
However, after President Harry Truman took over, he issued the Truman Doctrine with a policy of "containing" communism. Truman is also well known for his decision to bomb Japan near the end of WWII. He was motivated to end the war in the Pacific theatre but almost more motivated to keep the Soviet Union out of the war against Japan. The atomic bomb solved both issues by demoralizing the enemy and barring the Russians from influencing the Pacific theatre. 
Relations between the United States and the USSR soured.

Conflicting Ideologies

The first to take over Germany, specifically Berlin, after WWII was the Russians. When the United States, France, and Great Britain arrived in Germany, the Allies each took up a zone of occupation due to an earlier agreement made at the Yalta Conference.

Germany was divided into four zones at the Conference of Yalta. However, Berlin, despite being within the Soviet zone of influence, was also divided among the United States, France, and Great Britain.

However, Berlin was also divided among the powers, which created a huge problem geographically. Berlin resided well within the Soviet zone of occupation, and the Soviet zone of occupation was under the influence of communism. However, the British, French, and American zones of occupation within Berlin, and Germany in general, all practiced capitalism and democracy. See an ideology issue?
Historically, it was England’s role to keep Russia in check, but WWII had directed all their attention to restoring their nation. As a result, the U.S. stepped up as the new policeman for Russia. They opposed Russia’s puppet governments in Eastern Europe and any attempts by the USSR to extend its control into Central Europe, the Balkans, or the Middle East. Growing communist parties in France and Italy convinced Americans that Stalin was planning to overthrow capitalism worldwide. Stalin’s public declaration of viewing democracy as an enemy in 1946 only emphasized these fears.
The French, English, and American zones eventually merged into West Germany and West Berlin while the Russian zones became East Germany and East Berlin. Winston Churchill referred to Soviet control over Eastern Europe as “the Iron Curtain." It was a metaphorical ideologic divide between communist Eastern Europe and democratic Western Europe.

Indirect Conflict 💣

The Cold War was not a war in the traditional sense of the word. The United States and the Soviet Union never directly engaged in conflict with one another. With nuclear weapons, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as a military doctrine created a strategy of nuclear deterrence. It is based on the idea that a country's possession of nuclear weapons will prevent an attack by another nuclear-armed country because the potential attacker knows that retaliation with nuclear weapons would result in the destruction of both countries.
Instead of MAD, the Cold War became a collection of different global conflicts that involved propaganda, “hot wars” where there was actual fighting, a space race, and an arms race that threatened nuclear war
Below are some major global conflicts of the Cold War!
US Sided with
Russia Sided with
Vietnam War
South Vietnam
North Vietnam
North Vietnam wins despite US/South Vietnam winning most battles
Korean Conflict
South Korea
North Korea
An agreement is made to separate the two countries at the 38th parallel
Yom Kippur War
Egypt/Arab Coalition
No conclusive result
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
Pro-Soviet regime in Kabul
Military stalemate but USSR removes forces
Cuban Missile Crisis
No missiles are fired and nuclear missiles are removed from Turkey and Cuba
Chinese Civil War
Nationalist Party
Communist Party
Communist Party wins and the Nationalist Party flees to Taiwan
Berlin Blockade of 1948
Themselves and People of West Berlin
Russia fails to keep Western Europe out of West Berlin due to airlifts & the West keeps West Berlin
Berlin Crisis of 1961
Western Bloc
Eastern Bloc
Berlin Wall is built to prevent escapees
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