U2 Crisis
Berlin Wall 
 Cuban Missile Crisis


Cold War

This little chunk of history is probably the most terrifying of all... Because of the USA and USSR, we could all have been destroyed.

Key Dates Here are a few dates for your diary...

1945  February  Yalta Conference.
  July  Potsdam Conference.
1946 March  Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech.
1947 March  The Truman Doctrine speech and Marshall Plan.
1948 24th June  Berlin Blockade began.
  26th June   Berlin Airlift
1949 May  Stalin ended the blockade.
  April  NATO (North Altlantic Treaty Organisation) formed.
     China became Commuist.
1950 June  North Korea invaded South Korea.
1953 March 5th  Stalin died.
    China became Commuist.
    Cease-fire in Korea.
1955   Warsaw Pact formed.
1956 October  Hungarian Uprising.
1959    Fidel Castro took control of Cuba. 
1960  May 1st U2 Crisis 
1961 April  Bay of Pigs 
  August Berlin Wall built
1962 October  Cuban Missile Crisis
1963 August  Test Ban Treaty
  October UN resolution banning nuclear missiles in space.
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Communism vs. Capitalism

At the end of the Second World War in 1945, Russia and America were the best of friends, celebrating the defeat of Germany. However, even as they celebrated, in the background, these suspicions and divisions were beginning to grow...

The main reason for this, and the entire Cold War, where the political policies of the USSR and the USA. Capitalism and Communism are vastly different. If you need reminding, here are a few key differences:

Capitalism Communism
Private-owned businesses.  State-owned businesses. 
Vast differences between rich and poor.  Equality. 
Democracy  Dictatorship 

The USA feared that the USSR were trying to spread communism across the world, while the USSR feared America wished to destroy them. These fears fueled the Cold War.

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Things get cold...


After Germany was defeated, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin came together at Yalta, in February 1945, to decide what would happen about the defeated countries.

They decided to carve Germany into 4 sectors, a British, a French, an American and a USSR sector. Berlin, the capital was in the Russian sector, though, so the four countries decided to split this likewise. Russia had suffered greatly during the war, so it's understandable they wished to extract everything they could from Germany.

They also decided that though Stalin would have influence in the eastern countries, these new countries were to be given free elections to decide who governed them.

Poland presented a problem though, for Stalin wished for a 'friendly' government to control it. He saw it as a buffer between Russia and Germany. However, Roosevelt and Churchill took this to mean a Soviet government, and they disagreed. They tried to persuade Stalin that a free election should be held, including anti-communists, and as soon as possible. Stalin, though, chose to ignore them, and democratic elections never took place.

Only the framework was set out at Yalta. Many of the things were confirmed in a second conference, the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.

Things had cooled down greatly between the three 'allies'. Both Churchill and Roosevelt had been replaced, (Attlee and Truman) and it seemed Stalin and Truman didn't get on. While they had originally agreed to keep Germany weak, the Western countries now realised a weak Germany was easy pray to communism. Therefore, they began strengthening their sectors. Stalin watched in suspicion.

In Eastern Europe, these 'free elections' didn't happen. One by one, countries fall to communism, becoming satellites to Russia, with the Soviets using force if necessary. This, to the Americans, proved that Russia was trying to spread communism over the world.

The Iron Curtain

***The rest of the information on this page was supplied by the brilliant Victoria! Got some stuff you want to add to Revision-GCSE? Email it now!***

The Soviet Red Army had been advancing through areas of Eastern Europe whilst they were driving back the Germans. A year after the war had ended, the troops were still there. This had been agreed at Yalta and Potsdam but everyone didn’t really agree about it and Stalin’s motives were questionable. At first, the liberated countries were known as ‘Peoples Democracies’ but gradually other parties were frozen out and this just left the Communist Parties. Elections were held in the liberated countries but it seems that these were rigged, allowing the Communist parties into power. In Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Romania and Hungary, the people that opposed Communism were either beaten, murdered or frightened into submission.
There was now a clear division between the East and West in Europe. Churchill named this division the ‘Iron Curtain’. In his speech, Churchill said;

“From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of central and Eastern Europe … and all are subject to a very high measure of control from Moscow.”

The Truman Doctrine

The USA wanted to contain the spread of Communism in Europe – this was known as the policy of containment.

Greece – Greece looked to be next in line for Communisms. Greece was divided into two movements – the royalists, who wanted the return of the King and the Communists. After the German war had ended the King had been restored with the help of British forces. Then, in 947, Greece came under attack from the Communists forces. The British forces had withdrawn and Greece asked the USA to help. Truman was already worried about how Communism was spreading and he provided Greece with arms, supplies and money. In 1949 the Communists were defeated.

Turkey - Stalin demanded partial control of the Dardanelles (a strategic passage between the Black Sea and Mediterranean which belonged to Turkey at the end of the Second World War. The USA dispatched military aid to ensure that Turkey would remain in chief control of the passage.

These events convinced Truman that Communism would continue to spread unless he acted.

The Marshall Plan

Truman thought that poverty and hardship were a breeding ground for communism, meaning he wanted to make Europe prosperous again. He also wanted to make sure that America would have trading partners in the future (Europe’s economies were in ruins after the events of the war).

George Marshall, who was the American Secretary of State, visited Europe and came up with the Marshall Plan, which would help Europe recover. The Marshall Plan had two main aims which were;

  • To stop Communism from spreading (Truman didn’t admit this).
  • To help the economies of Europe, this would eventually provide a market for American goods.

Billions of dollars were poured into Europe, providing essential help to the European Economy. However, only 16 countries accepted it and all of these were Western countries. Stalin refused Marshall Aid for the USSR and also banned the Eastern Europe countries from accepting it.

Stalin saw the Marshall Plan as an attempt to try and buy the West of Europe and as an attempt to dominate business. This made him all the more determined to control East Europe with his Red Army and Allies.

Cominform, 1947
This stands for Communist Information. This was the USSR’s response to the Marshall Plan. It was an alliance of Communist countries with the aim of spreading the communistic ideas, It also helped to tighten the hold of Stalin on the Communist allies as it restricted contact with the West.

Comecon, 1949
This was set up by Stalin to help co-ordinate the production and trade of Eastern European countries. Comecon favoured the USSR.

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The Berlin Blockade/Airlift 1948-1949
Germany and Berlin had both been divided into four zones at the end of the Second World War. Both the economy and government of Germany had been shattered by the war and the Allies were face with the question: Should they try and rebuild Germany?

Britain and the US wanted Germany to recover because they were unable to afford to carry on feeding the people and they believed that punishing Germany wouldn’t help with future attempts to keep the peace. The French were unsure as to whether to rebuild Germany. The USSR didn’t want to rebuild and Germany and the fact that Britain and the USA did made them suspicious.

The French, British and American zones combined in 1948 to become one zone, this was known as West Germany. Marshall Aid was helping West Germany to recover. Many East Germans were leaving for the West because the East was filled with poverty and hunger and the West seemed like a more appealing place to be. To Stalin, it seemed like the Allies were building up West Germany so that they would be able to attack him. When they introduced the Deutsche Mark in 1948 as a new currency, this was the last straw.
Stalin cut off all lines of supply – rail and road connections - into the Western zone in an attempt to try and force the Western Allies out of the city. War seemed to be a possibility. The USA and Britain had to choose what to do. They had various options:

  • They could let Stalin take control of West Berlin but this would mean that Communist Influence might spread even more.
  • They could have used military force but this may have provoked a war.
  • There was also the option of supplying West Berlin using aircraft which would provide people with food and supplies but on the other hand, would be a massive task to sustain.

In the end the Allies chose to airlift supplies into West Berlin. The airlift lasted for a long time, until the following spring in 1949. At its peak, 1,398 flights landed in Berlin, providing nearly 13,000 tonnes of supplies. The airlift was a great success and a major victory for the West. But it also meant that relations with the USSR hit rock bottom. Co-operation in the future seemed very unlikely and it became apparent that Germany would remain divided. The French, British and American zone became the Federal Republic of Germany in August 1949 and the Soviet zone became the Democratic Republic in October 1949.

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NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This was set up in 1949. It was a military alliance that contained many of the Western European states as well as Canada and the US. The main purpose was to help defend each of its member’s e.g if one member was attacked then all the other countries would help to defend it. When the USSR developed its own Atomic bomb in 1949, NATO seemed even more important because none of the Western European countries had atomic weapons.

NATO was important because it proved that the US was committed to protecting and defending Western Europe. Stalin didn’t see NATO as a defensive alliance; he saw it as a direct threat to the USSR. The formation of NATO meant that the US was able to have air bases in Western Europe where planes that were armed with nuclear weapons would be ready to use in the case of an attack.

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The Korean War
Stalin had been supporting the Communists in Asia. The USA believed that they were seeing the same events that had happened in East Europe take place in Asia and were determined to stop the spread of Communism.

At the end of the Second World War, North Korea had been taken over by the USSR and they had set it up as a Communist state. In South Korea the Americans had also set up a government, this was supposed to be a democracy but relied mainly on military backing. Syngman Rhee (South Korean President) and Kim Il Sung (North Korean President) both claimed the right to be president of the whole of Korea. North Korea invaded the South in June 1950.

  • The North Korean forces pushed the South Koreans into a small corner in the South which was known as the Pusan Pocket. Truman asked the United Nations to help and the permanent members of the Security Council agreed (normally the USSR would have vetoed this but they were boycotting the meetings as a protest due to the fact China had not been allowed to join).
  • The UN forces (who were mad up mainly of Americans) drove the Communists back up near to the borders of the Yalu River.
  • China became worried as they didn’t want a non-Communist country near to them that was supported by US troops. So they joined in the war.
  • The UN forces were driven back. The commander, General MacArthur called for the use of the atomic bomb. He was later sacked by Truman.
  • The UN troops began to push back the Communists again. In June 1952 most of the fighting was taking place around the 38th parallel.
  • In 1953, a truce was signed at Panmunjom, which was located on the 38th parallel.

When China became Communist in 1949 the Americans were very worried. They believed in the domino effect which meant that if one country came under communist rule then surrounding countries were also likely to fall to Communism. The US was pleased with the results of the Korean War. They regarded the results as a success but there had been massive damage to Korea in general.

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The "Thaw"
Joseph Stalin died in 1953. After his death there was a power struggle to decide who would become leader of the USSR. The winner was Nikita Khrushchev. He appeared to be less aggressive than Stalin had been and spoke of ‘peaceful co-existence’ which meant living in peace with the West. He criticised Stalin for being a dictator at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party. The West saw signs which looked hopeful from Khrushchev. He seemed to be encouraging more freedom for the people in the USSR. When he visited Warsaw in 1956 he also indicated that the Poles should have more freedom, Khrushchev appeared to be a lot less hostile toward the West than Stalin had been.

The Warsaw Pact 1955
The main aim of The Warsaw Pact was the idea of collective security. It was a military alliance for a mutual defence. It was set up to oppose NATO. The USSR took the lead role and the forces of involved countries were placed under the control of a Soviet commander and troops were placed in the countries. It was used to the USSR’s advantage and meant that the Soviets would be able to prevent the Soviet satellite states from leaving Soviet Control. The Warsaw Pact showed that there was still tension between countries even though there had been a thaw in the Cold War.

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The Nuclear Arms Race

  • From 1945-1949 the USA had a monopoly of atomic weapons.
  • In 1949, the USSR successfully tested their first atomic bomb.
  • In 1952, the USA detonated their first hydrogen bomb.
  • In 1953, the USSR tested its own hydrogen bomb.
  • In 1953 the USSR seemed to be catching up with the USSR regarding the development of arms. This was balance was tilted more to the USSR when China turned Communist in October 1949. Stalin and Mao Zedong (Chinese Communist Leader) signed a 30 year friendship treaty in 1950.
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All text copyright © 2006 to EJ Taylor. Page Template created by James Taylor. Site created: 10 April, 2006. Last revised: 2 August, 2015