A Resource Guide to the Cold War

The Cold War occurred from 1946 to 1991, and is described as a period when there was tension between the powers of the Western world and the Communist world. In addition to the military tension, there was also political conflict, economic competition and proxy wars. The Communist world consisted mainly of the Soviet Union, along with its allies and satellite states while the Western world consisted of mainly the United States and the NATO allies. The war was called the Cold War because there were no weapons that were actually used. Although both sides were armed with enough nuclear weapons, neither used them to engage since it would have resulted in mutual destruction.

The conflict during this war was expressed through a wide variety of means. Some of the expressions came in the form of military coalitions, espionage, nuclear and conventional arms races, sporting event rivalries and competitions within technology. This behavior created a higher risk in a nuclear exchange that would have destroyed both sides of the war. In an effort to avoid this mutual destruction—whether by accident or mistake—both sides agreed to deter a direct attack and relieve the tensions in the political form by seeking détente. Détente is the French word that simply means “relaxation.”

Both sides of the Cold War saw each other as superpowers that each had extreme political and economic differences. This war began after a successful alliance was formed against Nazi Germany. The Eastern Bloc was developed by the Soviet Union and the Marshall Plan was developed by the United States. Additionally, NATO was put together by the United States as a military alliance whose main strategy was to contain communism. On the other side, the Soviet formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Proxy wars were fought in other locations outside of the Western world and the Communist World. These other locations included Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Throughout the Cold War, there were periods of high tension and relative calmness that went in a cycle. The most intense periods included the Able Archer 83, the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Korean War and the Berlin Blockade. The Cold War ended in 1991 and left the United States in a position of the dominant military power. The reason for the Cold War ending was due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The War and the events that occurred during the War are often referred to in modern culture, referencing the nuclear warfare threats and the themes of espionage.

After the Cold War ended, the military spending in Russia was cut dramatically. When this spending was cut, it created an adjustment in the amount of people who were employed. Initially, one out of every five adults in the Soviet was employed; afterwards, millions were left unemployed. Russia experienced a recession and financial crisis that was worst than what Germany and the United States had experienced during the Great Depression. The economy in Russia did not begin to resume its growth until 1999.

Other after-effects of the Cold War include the United States being left as the sole superpower. By 1989, the United States had 526,000 troops spread throughout Europe and Asia; Europe had 326,000 while Asia had 130,000. Most of the troops that were located in Europe were in West Germany while the majority of the troops in Asia were in South Korea and Japan. There were also military alliances that were held between the United States and 50 other countries.

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