Cold War

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The Cold War (Russian: Холодная Война Kholodnaya Voina) was the protracted economic and ideological struggle from about 1947 to 1991 between the two global superpowers - the Soviet Union and the United States - supported by their alliance partners. Although World War III was a constant threat, full-scale hostilities (which would likely have included nuclear weapons) never occurred. The major clashes were never directly between the two main protagonists, but between one and a proxy, an ally of the other. They were localized to Asia and Central Asia: the Korean War of 1950-53, the Vietnam War of 1965-75, and the Afghanistan War (1978-92)‎. Armed conflicts on a much smaller scale took place in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It ended with the collapse of East European and Soviet Communism in 1989. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the final end of the conflict.

Consistent allies of the Soviet Union during the Cold War period were East Germany Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria together with Mongolia, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba further afield. Former close Soviet allies, the China, Albania, Yugoslavia and Romania promoted their own versions of Communism, and either opposed or adopted alternatives to many key Kremlin policies from 1960 onwards.

Major allies of the United States during the Cold War included Britain, Canada, West Germany and other members of NATO (the "Western Alliance"); and the nations of Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Saudi Arabia and Israel were important informal allies.

Beyond these broad groupings, many other countries—including such strategically-important states as the Yugoslavia, Switzerland, India, Sweden and Finland—conspicuously maintained their neutrality during the conflict; some of them tried to form a third bloc, the "Non-Aligned Movement."

The struggle was called "cold" because there was no direct armed conflict, although there was always a fear that large scale nuclear warfare could erupt and devastate the world. The Cold War was prosecuted by varied means that included proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, diplomatic maneuvering, economic pressure and selective aid, economic and technological rivalry, intimidation, propaganda. The Cold War witnessed the largest and most expensive arms race (both conventional and nuclear) in history.


In 1945-47, London repeatedly warned Washington that Moscow was no longer a friendly bear but a dangerous adversary. Former Prime Minister Churchill warned Americans about the "Iron Curtain" in 1946. His Labour Party successor, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, was dedicated to both socialism and anti-communism. Even more than Churchill his government urged America to take the lead to stop the expansion of Communism.

For Americans at the time, and for historians since, the question was whether the Soviet Union was expressing traditional Russian national policies, which were expansionist but were not anti-capitalistic and which could in theory be reconcilable with American and British goals. Or did the Politburo really believe in its Communist rhetoric which depicted capitalism as the perpetual enemy, and western nations as stooges of capitalists. Post-Communist scholars in Russia point out that the intellectual framework used by Stalin and his inner circle was "extremely primitive" and will not sustain deep analysis in the first place, and suggest that the terror Stalin induced in even his highest officials has to be emphasized. The dictator himself was a tired old man by 1949, deeply suspicious of everyone around him, more arbitrary than ever.

To the extent that Communism drove Moscow's policies, coexistence was impossible. Some commentators[1] vigorously insist that Stalin, Molotov and associates were just ordinary Russians interested in protecting the motherland, with no real commitment to Communism. If that were true, the critics reply, Stalin and his Politburo made one of the greatest and most sustained mistakes in world history by repeatedly talking up Communism, denouncing capitalism, and supporting Communist movements in countries far from mother Russia. There is no doubt that Stalin always wanted control over the western border regions, including Poland and the Baltics. Was the goal a buffer against German militarism or against western capitalism? If Stalin could have enhanced and protected Russian interests by accepting capitalism and democracy in Eastern Europe, ask the critics, why did he reject that option and instead engage in a military confrontation with the one nation in the world, the United States, that was stronger? The refusal to allow the satellites to participate in the Marshall Plan was undoubtedly predicated on a fear of capitalism, and more generally of western liberalism that involved freedom of speech and democracy. If German rearmament had been the true fear, then it perhaps would have been possible in the late 1940s to strike a deal with Washington, London and Paris to keep Germany disarmed. But Stalin rejected such proposals because the quid involved capitalism and freedom in Germany.


By March 1947, the insurgency in Turkey and the civil war in Greece were becoming so tense that the White House began to fear losing either or both to the communists. Secretary of State George Marshall had said that "Truman Plan" aid was for humanitarian reasons and clearly could not be used towards violent ends. Nonetheless, President Truman urgently warned that the U.S. had to provide financial, political, and military aid to Greece and Turkey to fight Communism, and he proposed that the United States should "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." He sent to Congress a proposal for up to $400 millions for the Greek and Turkish military to suppress Communism internally. Marshall's deputy, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson convinced Congress that a Soviet threat to American security had to be countered immediately. Most importantly, Acheson persuade Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg who repudiated his earlier isolationist past and shepherded the necessary legislation through a Republican-controlled Congress. The policy became known as the Truman Doctrine.

In 1949, the US helped create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a defensive military alliance against the USSR, and Moscow responded six years later with its own alliance (the Warsaw Pact). The opponents then became "The West" (or "the Free World," NATO, or "first world") versus "The East" ("Communism," "Soviet bloc," "Warsaw Pact," or "second world"). Before the 1960s, the confrontation was "bipolar," since it was assumed in the West that the Communist nations were in lock-step agreement, presumably because of Stalin's control, and taking orders directly from Moscow. After 1960, however, the West came to see deep fissures in Communist movement, especially when China sharply attacked Stalin's successors for losing the revolutionary fervor of Marxist-Leninism.

Communists had already seized most of eastern Europe (including Czechoslovakia, which fell in 1948). Like London, Washington began to visualize a replay of the late 1930s, with an equally evil Communist dictatorship playing the Nazi role. Above all it seemed necessary to avoid another "Munich"--the 1938 deal that encouraged Hitler to try to take over Europe. The danger now was that Moscow seemed to have a grand scheme to take over the world, step by step, slice by slice. Washington would have to act.

Soviet policy

Vyacheslav Molotov, the long-term foreign minister who enthusiastically carried out Stalin's policies, ruminated years later about Stalin's actual motivations and western reactions:

They were of course bitter about us; but we had to consolidate our conquests, create our own socialist [East] Germany. Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia--they were feeble, we had to restore order everywhere. Squeeze out capitalist regimes. That's the "Cold War." Of course, you have to know when to stop.... I think Stalin observed strict limits.


The pro-Stalinist interpretation of causes of the Cold War blamed the USA entirely.[3] It argued that monopoly capital (big business) controlled Washington, that American militarists without provocation encircled the Soviet Union with hostile alliances, and that the West had undertaken a hopeless effort to stay the inexorable movement of mankind toward socialism. Some observers (on both sides) noting Russia's horrible experience with two German invasions, felt that Stalin was trying to create a friendly buffer zone to protect the homeland. The pro-Stalinist interpretation became defunct with the collapse of Soviet Communism and the disappearance of the USSR in 1991, but it still appears in older books. The opening of the Kremlin archives shows that Stalin and his associates, who ran every facet of life in the U.S.S.R., did hate and fear capitalism for ideological reasons quite detached from the interests of Russia.[4]

American views

Americans reluctantly accepted the Cold War--a war fought with huge defense budgets, global propaganda campaigns, hard- bargaining diplomatic missions, entangling military alliances, and deadly serious training for a real war. On the home front, US did not leverage its industrial resources into military might until 1950. Psychologically, however, the nation armed itself. Actual or supposed supporters of Communism were ousted from the military, federal state and local government, labor unions, political parties, colleges and schools, and even from Hollywood. A large internal security system, headed by J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation, closely monitored the potential for sabotage and espionage. The discovery that Stalin's spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project and that its technological discoveries had been given to Russian bomb builders, sent a shock through the West, and played ,a part in the rise of Richard Nixon to prominence (1948) and the election of Eisenhower to the presidency (1952).

There was no dispute between Stalin and the U.S. in the mid 1940s about the need to keep Germany demilitarized. Finland (a Nazi ally) and Austria (a part of the Third Reich after 1938) were permanently neutralized after the war by mutual consensus, and became democratic, capitalistic nations. Neutralization of all of central Europe was not acceptable to Stalin, because of the risk the people would choose democracy and capitalism. Stalin believed in the goal of world Communist revolution--only he redefined it to emphasize the central role of the Soviet Union. He motivated leftists across the globe--and frightened rightists- -by the theme that the expansion of Soviet power was the same as the expansion of the workers' revolution. As Stalin said in 1927: "An 'internationalist' is one who unreservedly, without wavering, without conditions is ready to defend the USSR, because the USSR is the base for the world revolutionary movement."[5]

Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program or ERP) was a system of American economic aid to Western Europe after World War II that played a major role in the economic recovery, modernization, and unification of Europe. In 1948-51 the ERP gave away $12 billion (1% of US GDP) for rebuilding the industrial, military and human capital of war-torn Europe, including Britain, Germany, France and Italy. The money was not a loan and there was no repayment. Washington spent such vast sums because it thought it was cheaper than the rearmament that isolationism or rollback would entail. In the long run, the logic went, a prosperous Europe would be more peaceful, and would make its main trading partner, the US, more prosperous.

Early crises

The crisis finally came in 1947, when the bankrupt British Treasury could no longer continue to help Greece fight a civil war against Communism.



In 1948 Mao Zedong's Red Army drove Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists off the mainland; they held tenuously to the island of Taiwan (Formosa). The victory of intensely anti-western Communists in China, despite a decade-long American effort that had cost billions of dollars, underscored the urgent need of the Truman Administration to come up with a strategy that would stop Communist expansion. Democrats and liberals, fearful of the political damage that would accrue to being seen as "soft on Communism," took increasingly strong anti-Communist positions. Henry Wallace (Roosevelt’s Vice President 1940-44) argued in 1946 for friendly relations (what later would be called "detente") with Moscow. The left tried to defeat Truman in 1948 by running Wallace as a third party candidate and promoting friendship with the Soviet Union. State by state, city by city, union by union the Democratic regulars isolated and defeated the Wallaceites and forced them out of the Democratic party and out of the major labor unions. To everyone's surprise, Truman won defeated Dewey and won reelection; Democrats concluded that they needed a hard-line anti-Soviet foreign policy to win elections.[6]

Crisis and Escalation (1950-1962)

Korean War

The Korean War (1950-53) was a major Cold War military clash fought up and down the peninsula of Korea, finally leading to a stalemate in 1950 that restored the boundaries to nearly what they were at the start, along the 38th parallel. The Communist states of North Korea, China and the Soviet Union were arrayed against South Korea, supported by the United States and a multinational United Nations force. The war began with an invasion by North Korea in June 1950, followed by an unexpected American entry. North Korean forces had pushed the South Koreans and Americans back into a small perimeter when, in September 1950, an amphibious landing at Inchon turned the tide. The North Korean army disintegrated as the allies moved north, with UN approval, to unify the country. Unexpectedly the Chinese then sent in large numbers of infantry, and in the bitter cold of November-January 1950-51 pushed the UN forces out of the north. Communist supply lines were fragile, especially in the face of heavy American bombing, so the lines stabilized close to the 38th parallel in 1951. Two more years of static warfare followed, with the issue of returning reluctant Communist prisoners of war held by the UN the major sticking point. In the U.S. political reverberations helped cause the fall of the Truman administration and his Democratic party in the landslide 1952 election of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican candidate who promised to end the war. Once elected he threatened to use nuclear weapons against China, and quickly an armistice was reached in summer 1953; the prisoners were exchanged and fighting ended in an uneasy truce that continued long after the Cold War itself ended.

The war was limited in size and scope, but casualties were heavy on both sides.

NSC 68

NSC-68 (1950) stated the Truman Administration policy for the Korean crisis. It was drafted by Paul Nitze and approved by President Truman as official national strategy, It called for partial mobilization of the U.S. economy to build armaments faster than the Soviets.[7] The assumption was the takeover of China, invasion of South Korea and threats to Vietnam demonstrated a drive for world dominance by the Soviet Union and its Communist allies. A three-part response was needed to strengthen Europe; weaken the Soviet Union economically; and to strengthen the United States both militarily and economically. The NSC-68 economic strategy was a tripling in U.S. military spending to be maintained as long as necessary. The short-term effect would be to greatly strengthen U.S. military capabilities and force the Soviets to strain its weaker resource base in order to follow suit. NSC-68 predicted the Soviet Union would soon fall behind the United States in military preparedness, because its output capacity was half or less that of the United States. The United States was sure to win the armaments race because of its greater ability to produce. Eisenhower thought the program was too expensive and shifter reliance away from expensive Army divisions to inexpensive missiles.


The Central Intelligence Agency, was created in 1947 out of remnants of the OSS, a World War II operation. Americans, still mesmerized by the intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor, welcomed the new spy agency because it seemed to promise the nation would always stay on alert. Congress supported covert action, even though Directors of Central Intelligence Roscoe Hillenkoetter (1947-50) and Walter Bedell Smith (1950-53), both military men, showed little interest and the CIA did not actually have a covert action capability until 1952.

The CIA's budget was minuscule ($5 million) until NSC-68 in 1950 provided blueprints for an active role for covert operations. Up to that point, the covert action capability was in the semi-autonomous Office of Policy Coordination. Smith insisted it be brought under the Director's control. President Eisenhower demanded more covert activities and Allen Dulles (director 1953-61) obliged. Congressional support for more aggressive policies increased throughout the 1950s.

Allen Dulles (head 1953-61) became the trusted adviser on what was going to happen in the world to President Eisenhower and to his brother John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State. The CIA gathered information and provided written assessments of the capabilities and intentions of all world leaders. Its regular briefings gave each president the sense that he knew exactly what was happening across the globe.

They failed to predict any of the major surprises of the postwar era. On the other hand, estimates of the performance of the Soviet economy proved much more accurate than the information Moscow itself possessed. The CIA had a few spies in the Kremlin, but decided to rely more on high technology. It used the Lockheed U-2 jet, which could fly at very high altitudes, to take good pictures and collect electronic signals. One was shot down in May 1960, which led to the cancellation of a summit between Eisenhower and Khrushchev.[8]

Covert operations

Dulles devoted 80% of his much enlarged budget ($82 million) to covert (secret) operations to contain Communism. CIA money subsidized anti-communist intellectuals and strengthened liberal political parties across Europe and the Third World. Striking low-cost successes early on reinforced the CIA's mastermind image. CIA-supported political parties defeated the Communists in Italy and France in the late 1940s. A handful of agents provided assistance to opposition groups which forced anti-American prime ministers out of office in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).


In Guatemala in 1954 the CIA operation was marked by chronic lapses in security, the failure to plan beyond the operation's first stages, the Agency's poor understanding of the intentions of the Guatemalan Army, the local communist party (the Guatemalan Labor Party), and the government, the hopeless weakness of invasion leader Carlos Castillo Armas's troops, and the failure to make provisions for the possibility of defeat. Just as the entire operation seemed hopeless, and before there were any significant violent attacks on it, the leftist Guatemalan government suddenly, inexplicably collapsed and a pro-American government took over.[9]


In 1960-61, the CIA sensing that Fidel Castro's new Communist regime in Cuba was fragile, organized and trained 1400 Cuban exiles to invade. They inadequate military support but were too few in number--and Castro's hold was too strong. The military planners warned that air power and tanks would be needed; no tanks were available to the CIA and at the last minute the White House removed the air cover, allowing free play to Castro's small air force. The invaders miscalculated, thinking they would be supported by the Cuban population, and they underestimated the preparedness of the revolutionary government. The invasion in April 1961 at the Bay of Pigs Invasion was a total fiasco and the U.S. had to suffer the humiliation of world opinion.[10] The CIA explored ways to assassinate Castro (using an exploding cigar, for example) and other opponents, but never actually assassinated any leading figure anywhere.[11] Castro turned to the Soviets for more help, and Khrushchev in 1962 sent medium-range nuclear missiles capable of hitting much of the U.S., which led to the major Cuban Missile Crisis,

Soviet KGB

On the other side was the Soviet KGB; CIA counterintelligence tried to neutralize it and other hostile agencies, like the GRU (Soviet military intelligence), East Germany's Stasi and Cuba's DGI. As the retired head of the K.G.B.'s First Chief Directorate, Leonid Shabarshin, responsible for foreign intelligence, later explained:

"The essence of the KGB's active undertakings was to inflict political and moral damage on our basic opponent, the United States. . . . [so] We compromised political figures, organs of the press, and Americans whose activities were in some way unwelcome [to the Soviets]."

The KGB veteran revealed that every "active measure" against the enemies of the Soviet Union abroad was submitted by KGB to the Politburo "and was implemented only with its permission. The results of the action were also reported to the Politburo."[12] Which side performed better remains an open question.

Arms Race

Stalin began a small nuclear program in 1943, under the direction of secret police chief Lavrenti Beria. After the Americans used atomic weapons against Japan in 1945 Stalin greatly increased the priority of his program. Russian scientists took the lead, aided by many Germans scientists and engineers who had been captured in 1945. In 1949, using high-quality blueprints of the American bomb provided by Klaus Fuchs and other spies, the Soviets exploded their first bomb--and exploded as well American complacency about a nuclear monopoly. The US responded by turning [13] its hand-crafted bomb construction system into an assembly line, and by examining the possibilities of a vastly more powerful nuclear weapon, the hydrogen bomb.

Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who ran the science part of the wartime Manhattan Project, strenuously tried to stop the H-bomb project. He matched wits with physicist Edward Teller, who insisted the H-bomb could and should be built. Teller won and Oppenheimer was forced out of the AEC after he was charged with being a security risk. By the early 1950s the Soviets had a nuclear arsenal plus long-range bombers, though lacking the sort of overseas bases the US possessed, it remained weaker in global capabilities.[14]

By 1957 when American Strategic Air Command (SAC) was finally up to speed, and an air defense network or radars and fighters was in place to defend American cities from Soviet bombers, an entirely new challenge appeared. The Soviets launched Sputnik, the first earth satellite, thus demonstrating a stunning technological leap to a frightened world. Some of the Russian success was due to the work of captured German scientists, (true also for the US), but Moscow had built up enough rocket, satellite and nuclear expertise of its own to challenge the US on equal terms in space. By 1960 the USSR was building intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with hydrogen-bomb warheads that could not be intercepted. Americans (notably Senator John F. Kennedy) warned of a "missile gap." Before Sputnik the US had underrated the intense Soviet effort to build their own nuclear weapons, and intercontinental bombers and missiles to deliver them. A strong commitment to the tradition of human pilots in the cockpit diverted the Air Force from developing of its own long-range missiles. Nevertheless it used its claim to control the "aerospace" mission to inhibit the Army or Navy from building long-range rockets. Finally the Air Force saw the need for rocketry, and working closely with civilian aerospace firms it gave President Kennedy a more powerful arsenal of ICBMs than Khrushchev could command. A space race ensued--with both nations directing all their resources to scientific achievements with obvious military implications. In 1969 American astronauts landed on the moon, proving conclusively that American technology had regained a decisive lead in space. Indeed, in almost all areas of science and technology, especially computers, the US totally dominated the globe in the 1960s. [15]

NATO nuclear strategy debates during the Cold War oscillated between two main themes: the theme of pure nuclear deterrence, to dissuade the Soviet Union from launching any attack whatsoever on NATO territory, and the theme of a mixed conventional and nuclear deterrence, whose proponents argued that a conventional defense against minor or even medium-sized aggression was necessary as an all-out nuclear response was not credible in such circumstances. Western planners increasingly doubted that the USSR would deliberately start a world war. Moscow might, however, start a war with the aim of a limited conquest, in the hope that NATO would not dare respond with nuclear escalation. NATO found a compromise between the two strategic themes by mainly focusing on how to convince Moscow that it had miscalculated: in case of a Soviet attack, NATO planned to use sub-strategic nuclear weapons to force the Soviet Union to terminate the aggression, unless it wanted all-out world war.[16]

By 1960, many American opinion leaders came to believe, mistakenly, that the Soviet Union had larger stockpiles of intercontinental ballistic missiles than did the U.S. This "missile gap" thinking climaxed during John F. Kennedy's campaign for president in 1959 and 1960, when he undercut Richard Nixon by charging the U.S. was falling behind. The fear ended in October 1961 when Kennedy officials, having already decided on a major defense buildup, declared that there was no gap.[17]

Maintenance (1962-1969)

Cuban Missile Crisis

For more information, see: Cuban Missile Crisis.


For more information, see: Vietnam War.

Vietnam (and neighboring Laos and Cambodia) became a major battleground in the Cold War as early as 1946, when the French reestablished control and drive out the Communists under Ho Chi Minh. The Communists gained a secure base to the north in 1949 when China became Communist. The French military efforts were ineffective and, after the fall of the major outpost at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a new leftwing French government came to terms with the Communists at the Geneva Conference in 1954, and pulled out. Ho and the Communists took over the northern provinces, North Vietnam, while an anti-Communist government under the Catholic Diem family took over the Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam. Communist guerrilla attacks threatened to destabilize South Vietnam,

so the Eisenhower administration sent in 900 advisers and large sums of economic aid. Kennedy drew the line more firmly. Tolerating the assassination of Diem, he sent in 16,000 advisers who tried to retrain and use the ARVN (South Vietnam's army), with scant success. With the Communists on the verge of victory, Lyndon B. Johnson sent in American troops in large numbers--over 500,000 by 1968, plus many more in nearby airbases, especially in Thailand. Containment policy forced Johnson to stop Communist expansion, despite the heavy cost. When Communists attacks (called the Tet Offensive) in early 1968 discredited Johnson's policies, he was forced to drop out of the presidential race. Republican Richard Nixon came to power with the goal of downplaying containment, retraining the Vietnamese so they could fight their own war and the US could leave. He removed the American ground troops, while keeping air power in operation, and achieved a peace agreement in early 1973. The US withdrew but in 1975 North Vietnam invaded and quickly conquered the South.

Indonesia, 1965

A major turning point in Asia came in 1965 when Indonesia threw off the Sukarno regime, which was pro-Communist; the new Suharto regime destroyed the Communist party, killing tens of thousands of members. The CIA had sponsored a failed uprising in 1958,[18] but the U.S. had no hand in the 1965 events. US covert action was either ineffective or only hastened the inevitable.[19]

Détente (1969-1979)

Richard Nixon, the US President 1969-74, adopted a détente strategy after he became President in 1969. He and his chief adviser Henry Kissinger were "realists" who deemphasized idealistic goals like anti-communism or promotion of democracy worldwide, because those goals were too expensive in terms of America's economic capabilities. They realized that Americans were no longer willing to tax themselves for idealistic foreign policy goals, especially for containment policies that never seemed to produce positive results. Instead Nixon and Kissinger sought to downsize America's global commitments in proportion to its reduced economic, moral and political power. They rejected "idealism" as impractical and too expensive; neither man showed much sensitivity to the plight of people living under Communism.

US Economic troubles

The American economy suffered a series of rude shocks in the 1970s-- external events that forced a radical readjustment of economic priorities. The most serious shock came when most of the oil exporting countries banded together as "OPEC" and forced the price of crude oil to double, triple and quadruple levels in 1973. Since oil was so basic to all economic activity, this shock caused inflation, a vast redirection of financial resources (into Mideast bank accounts, especially) and cast grave doubts on the ability of Washington and New York to control the American economy. At the same time the US released the dollar from its postwar role as the dominant currency in the world. The dollar would now have to float up or down in competition with the German mark, the Japanese yen and currencies of other economic powers. As a result the US voluntarily relinquished its dominant role in the world economy. Détente meant that no one seemed to care much whether little countries went Communist or not. Indeed, a soft "Euro- Communism" became popular in Italy and other NATO countries. Communist parties seemed to be independent from Moscow (which was largely an illusion), and became politically respectable-- they no longer seemed so threatening. It did not matter anyway, said Nixon and Kissinger, for the US has finally come to a realistic understanding of its role in the world. Détente meant that China and Russia were treated like friends--so there was no need for an aggressively anti-communist foreign policy.


Annoyed that NATO allies had not supported the US in Vietnam (for they only wanted America to defend Europe), Nixon brought home 35,000 soldiers from Europe. Congress (controlled by antiwar Democrats) threatened to withdraw half of the remaining 300,000 unless Germany started paying a share of the cost; it finally did so. While the US kept in place the heavy armored divisions of the Seventh Army (redesignated Seventh Corps), its combat effectiveness had been stripped away to support Vietnam, and it suffered severe morale declines and racial tensions.

Détente was not just an American policy; all the American allies practiced it as well, which gave them an opportunity to pull away somewhat from Washington's heavy hand. Of special importance were the new trade and diplomatic agreements with Communist countries other than the Soviet Union itself. These agreements suggested the world was multifaceted, rather than just a stark black-white divide. Thus Japan came to terms with China, and resumed trade relations. France pulled its military out of NATO in 1966 (though it did not actually leave NATO itself, and though it continued to secretly coordinate military plans with NATO commanders.)[20]


The "Ostpolitik" initiated by the Social Democrat government of Chancellor Willy Brandt in West Germany (and accepted by the conservative Christian Democrats) involved friendly overtures to East Germany in 1969, the acceptance of the 1945 revision of German boundaries, and a somewhat freer flows of family members across the Iron Curtain, accompanied by a flow of West German marks to the much poorer East. In 1973 East and West East Germany were finally admitted into the UN. West Germany donated over 14 billion marks to East Germany, much of it used to ransom emigrants at the rate of 96,000 marks per person. The Communist governments of Eastern Europe took out tens of billions of dollars of loans from western banks (mostly West German). They used the money not for urgently needed industrial capital or computers, nor for military hardware, but to provide consumer goods to fend off popular unrest. By allowing the satellites to postpone the modernization of their industrial base, the new money locked them into economic backwardness. The consumer goods were shoddy--like the little plastic Trabant automobiles produced in East Germany--and failed to generate any love for the totalitarian regimes. Although the consumer goods produced an illusion of political stability and economic prosperity, it was all false, and the mounting debts owed to the West effectively destroyed the ability of the satellites to control their own destiny. Since the Soviet Union was increasingly hard pressed financially, it was less and less economic help to its satellites with high quality machinery or technology or attractive consumer goods. In the late 1970s, however, as world oil prices soared, Moscow did subsidize its satellites and allies with cheap oil. This postponed the day of economic reckoning until the mid 1980s, when the overextended, undercapitalized, badly managed Soviet economy itself went into crisis.[21]

Arms control

The US and USSR signed several treaties in 1972 that slowed the tempo of the nuclear arms race, and prohibited anti-ballistic missile systems that might frustrate the mutual deterrence represented by the thousands of intercontinental ICBM missiles each side pointed at the other. Trade increased and cultural exchanges became frequent.

End of détente

Arbatov (1993) dates collapse of détente to 1975, with Brezhnev ailing and Castro demanding a more aggressive role for Cuba in Latin America and Africa.A key factor was basic commitment of Kremlin to international Communism rather than Russian interests, plus the unrestrained power of the Soviet military-industrial complex.[22] The Cuban intervention in Angola seemed to go well at first, leading the Kremlin to further adventures in the Third World in the late 1970s--in Ethiopia, Yemen, and numerous other peripheral states and, finally, Afghanistan. With the USA preoccupied by Watergate and a paralyzed presidency, Moscow interpreted the weakness of its great foe as the signal to expand aggressively. In retrospect a much better strategy for them would have been to continue détente and concentrate on restructuring the tottering Soviet economy. That might perhaps have staved off collapse a few more years. But a basic flaw in the Communist political system--the inability to change leadership when needed--blocked reform efforts. As internal problems mounted, the Kremlin ignored them and embarked on an unprecedented anti-American propaganda campaign designed, as a senior official of the Central Committee of the Communist Party explained, "to militarize the mentality of our people."[23] More than any episode, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 marked the end of détente and the beginning of the harshest stage of the Cold War.

Afghanistan War, 1978-1992

The Afghanistan War (1978-92) was a civil war in Afghanistan that matched the Soviet Union and its Afghan allies against a coalition of anti-Communist groups called the mujahideen, supported from the outside by the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The war ended the détente period of the Cold War, and ended in a humiliating defeat for the Soviets, who pulled out in 1989, and for their clients who were overthrown in 1992. Following a new rollback strategy the Reagan Administration tried and succeeded in creating "another Vietnam" for the Soviets, that is an endless expensive quagmire that drained their military, hurt their prestige, and caused a sense of pessimism or even despair in the Soviet Union, forcing a radical change of policies. see Afghanistan War (1978-92)

The Second Cold War (1979-1985)

Soviet estimates

The CIA began systematic estimates of the Soviet economy during Max Millikan's tenure as the founding director of the Office of Research and Reports (1951-1952). The strategy was to start with an "inventory of ignorance" and then reduce the list of unknowns through successive approximations. Soviet military expenditures were estimated by the "building-block method," which began by estimating the number ships, planes, jeeps, barracks and even soldiers in use, then estimating the procurement and operating costs of each, and adding them up using estimated prices. The building blocks had advantages in that published data on physical units seemed accurate and in any case were easier to verify through covert means. The elaborate reports of the 1990s included almost 1800 such categories.

Since the Soviets lacked computers and had rudimentary accounting procedures, the CIA had a better overall picture of Soviet military spending than did the Kremlin. The reports emphasized physical units, realizing that expenditures alone could not predict what sort of military threat in the future would be presented by the Red Army. To estimate costs the CIA used analogs--using Soviet trucks or American tanks, for instance, to estimate the costs of Soviet tanks--and then adjusted for differences in weight and performance. Analog-based data, far shakier than direct-cost data, accounted for over half of earlier estimates, dropping to about one-third by the late 1980s. In the 1960s the CIA increasingly used quantitative techniques, of the sort promoted in American business schools.

A crisis in the mid-1970s was caused by as a combination of external pressures, new data (some from a key Russian who defected to the West) and internal works forced a major revision of the defense burden, showing the proportion of of the overall Soviet economy devoted to the military. The crisis sparked heated public debate when the CIA announced that their earlier estimates of Soviet defense spending at 6-8% of GNP was too low by as much as half; the revised estimated burden ranged from 11-13%, indicating a severe economic burden that slowed Soviet growth.[24]

By the 1983 the U.S. realized that the Soviet economy could not sustain very heavy spending, and was unable to compete in high technology and computers. Reagan then announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (called "Star Wars" by the media)--a multi-billion dollar investment in space-based weapons that would intercept hostile missiles. The Soviets realized immediately they could never compete with this new weapon system--indeed, they were unable to say whether it would work or not, Congress began funding it, and in 2008 it is still under development.[25]

The End of the Cold War (1985-1991)

Fiction, film and popular culture

Cloak and dagger stories became part of the popular culture of the Cold War in both East and West, with innumerable novels and movies that showed how polarized and dangerous the world was.[26] Soviet audiences thrilled at spy stories showing how their KGB agents protected the motherland by foiling dirty work by America's nefarious CIA, Britain's devious MI-6, and Israel's devilish Mossad. After 1963, Hollywood increasingly depicted the CIA as clowns (as in the comedy TV series "Get Smart") or villains (as in Oliver Stone's "JFK" (1992). Leftists around the globe routinely blamed the mysterious CIA for events that displeased them, putting the image of the USA as a champion of freedom and democracy in disrepute.

Russian science fiction emerged from a prolonged period of censorship in 1957, opened up by de-Stalinization and real Soviet achievements in the space race, typified by Ivan Efremov's galactic epic, Andromeda (1957). Official Communist science fiction transposed the laws of historical materialism to the future, scorning Western nihilistic writings and predicting a peaceful transition to universal communism. Scientocratic visions of the future nevertheless implicitly critiqued the bureaucratically developed socialism of the present. Dissident science fiction writers emerged, such as the Strugatski brothers, Boris and Arkadi, with their "social fantasies," problematizing the role of intervention in the historical process, or Stanislaw Lem's tongue-in-cheek exposures of man's cognitive limitations.[27]


Despite the rapid collapse of Communism in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe in the period 1989-1991, several countries retain Communist identities to the present day, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and Laos.


  1. Georgi Kornienko, in May (1993), 125-28
  2. ..Albert Resis, ed., Molotov Remembers. Inside Kremlin Politics: Conversations with Felix Chuev, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993, p. 63.
  3. Sivachev & Yazkov
  4. Alexander O. Chubaryan and Vladimir O. Pechatnov, "Molotov, 'The Liberal': Stalin's 1945 Criticism of His Deputy," Cold War History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (August 2000), pp.129-140.
  5. R. Craig Nation, Black Earth, Red Star: A History of Soviet Security Policy, 1917-1991 (1992) p 37; Robert C. Tucker, Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 (1990), 46.
  6. Robert Divine, Foreign Policy and Presidential Elections: 1948
  7. May (1993)
  8. Michael R. Beschloss, Mayday: The U-2 Affair: The Untold Story of the Greatest Us-USSR Spy Scandal (1987)
  9. Nick Cullather, Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. (1999)
  10. Howard Jones, The Bay of Pigs (2008) and Trumbull Higgins, The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. (1987) are standard scholarly histories. James G. Blight and Peter Kornbluh. eds. Politics of Illusion: The Bay of Pigs Invasion Reexamined (1998) has primary sources and commentary by participants and experts. Excerpt and text search
  11. Congress has never passed a law forbidding assassinations, but every president since Ford has issued executive orders that prohibit direct (or indirect) attempts at assassination.
  12. See Herbert Romerstein, "Divide and Conquer: The KGB disinformation campaign against Ukrainians and Jews," Ukrainian Quarterly Fall 2004 online edition
  13. Holloway 1994
  14. Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2006)
  15. Deborah Cadbury, Space Race: The Epic Battle between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space (2006)' John M. Logsdon, Robert William Smith, Roger D. Launius, Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (2000); Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic thinking in the United States Air Force: 1907-1960 (1989); Walter A. McDougall, The Heavens And the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (ebooks 2001)
  16. Beatrice Heuser, "The Development of Nato's Nuclear Strategy." Contemporary European History" 1995 4(1): 37-66.
  17. Christopher A. Preble, John F. Kennedy and the Missile Gap. (2004)
  18. Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, Feet to the Fire: CIA Covert Operations in Indonesia, 1957-58. (1999)
  19. H. W. Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn't Topple Sukarno." Journal of American History 1989 76(3): 785-808. in Jstor; Frederick Bunnell, "American 'Low Posture' Policy toward Indonesia in the Months Leading up to the 1965 'Coup'", Indonesia, Vol. 50, (Oct., 1990), pp. 29-60 in JSTOR
  20. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (2005), part 3
  21. Timothy Garton Ash, In Europe's Name: Germany and the Divided Continent (1993), pp146-62; M. E. Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, DÄtente, and Ostpolitik, 1969-1973 (2000) excerpt and text search
  22. Georgi Arbatov, The System: An Insider's Life in Soviet Politics (1993) pp 194-201.
  23. Georgi Arbatov, The System: An Insider's Life in Soviet Politics (1993) pp 194-202.
  24. Noel E. Firth and James H. Noren, Soviet Defense Spending: A History of CIA Estimates, 1950-1990. (1998)
  25. Sandford Lakoff and Herbert F. York, "Why SDI?" Journal of Policy History 1989 1(1): 44-79. ISSN: 0898-0306
  26. Katy Fletcher, "Evolution of the Modern American Spy Novel." Journal of Contemporary History 1987 22(2): 319-331. in Jstor
  27. Patrick Major, "Future Perfect?: Communist Science Fiction in the Cold War." Cold War History 2003 4(1): 71-96. Issn: 1468-2745 Fulltext: in Ebsco