Cold War 1. Marshall Plan (1948-1951) – the U.S.-backed assistance plan that sent $12.5 billion to war-torn Western European countries following WWII. Spectacularly successful. Food, machinery, etc., helped Western Europe recover and staved off efforts by Soviet Union to spread communism there. This plan was a noteworthy extension of the Truman Doctrine, which pledged aid to countries (initially Turkey and Greece) for resisting communism. The policy of containment – limiting the spread of communism – was at the heart of these assistance efforts.
2. NATO (1949) – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; a defensive military alliance consisting of the United States, Canada, and 10 other western European countries, which came together following the Soviet blockade of Berlin and vowed that an attack on one country was an attack on all of them. The Soviet Union saw this alliance as a threat to its security and put together a countervailing alliance known as the Warsaw Pact, which included Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Albania and Romania.
3. Iron Curtain (1946) – Europe was divided between East and West, with the Soviets controlling the former and democratic Western European countries, aided by the U.S., controlling the latter. Germany itself was split into two sections, with the Soviets controlling Eastern Germany. This figurative “iron curtain” division of Europe got its name after a 1946 speech by Winston Churchill, in which he said “an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”
4. Space Race (1957-1975) – An extension of the battle for air supremacy, the Space Race was a feature of the Cold War that flowed from the capability of both the U.S. and Soviet Union to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Soviets were the first to put into space a manmade satellite (named Sputnik) in October 1957 – a development that caused much angst in U.S. policy circles and led to greater funding for science education. Both sides eventually put men (and later women) into space, but the U.S. was the only one to ever land a man on the moon (the first time in 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission). In 1975, the two superpowers began collaborating in space as Cold War tensions began to cool off.
5. nuclear arms race (1945-1991) – The race by both superpowers to stockpile thousands of nuclear warheads. The only use of nuclear weapons was the U.S. bombing on Japan at the end of World War II, but by the early 1950s both the U.S. and Soviet Union had developed hydrogen bombs that were far more deadly. Testing was done on isolated atolls in the Pacific Ocean and underground. This arms race led to the concept of mutual assured destruction (MAD) – the idea that if one side were to use a nuclear bomb against the other, it would be inviting its own suicide because the other side would surely respond in kind.
6. Brinkmanship (1953) – A policy of John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s secretary of state, to threaten swift and overwhelming retaliation if the Soviets or their supporters attacked U.S. interests. This willingness to go to the brink of war contributed to the nuclear arms race.
7. nonaligned nations – While the superpowers tried to reach out to Third World countries around the world for their support in the Cold War, some chose to remain independent, or nonaligned with either side. Some of these countries, such as India and Indonesia, at times tried to play one side off the other.
8. Détente and its collapse – Détente is the term for the easing of Cold War tensions, a policy pursued by Nixon, who was the first U.S. president to recognize and visit communist China. Détente collapsed, however, after Carter boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games (held in Moscow) because the USSR had invaded Afghanistan and then the strongly anti-communist Reagan was elected in 1980. Reagan pursued the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that was to be a space-based way of shooting down ICBMs aimed at the U.S. SDI never got off the ground, but its threat (which implied the Soviets would need to pursue a similar – and similarly costly – program) contributed to communism finally failing in the USSR by 1989.
9. United Nations – The United Nations was created in June 1945. It contained the United States, the Soviet Union and 48 other nations. The organization was made to protect members from aggression. It was a new peacekeeping organization; it was a step up from the League of Nations because of U.S. involvement and armed troops to implement its policies as “peacekeepers.” There are five permanent members: Britain, China, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. Each member can exercise veto power to keep other members from voting as a bloc.
10. Chinese Revolution (1949) – Although put on hold during World War II when Japan invaded China, the decades-long struggle for power following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty re-erupted into civil war between Nationalists and Communists. The U.S. backed the Nationalists, but under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the Communists were able to prevail. Zedong named the country the People’s Republic of China.
11. Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) – The most critical flashpoint of the Cold War when the U.S. and USSR were closest to nuclear war. The crisis was triggered when American spy planes detected in Cuba the presence of Soviet-made missiles capable of reaching U.S. cities in minutes. It was peacefully resolved when the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles in return for a U.S. promise not to invade communist Cuba (and a secret U.S. agreement to remove missiles in Turkey aimed at the USSR). This crisis in part was precipitated by the Soviet belief that the U.S. was too weak to intervene in Latin America. This belief stemmed from the earlier failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, when U.S.-trained Cuban exiles attempting to spark an anti-Castro uprising were easily defeated.
12. conflicts in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1957-1973) – In carrying out the policy of containment, the U.S. embraced the so-called domino theory, which held that if a state in a region of the world were to fall to communism, then bordering states were likely to also fall to communism, much as dominoes fall in succession. This led to undeclared wars first to Korea and then in Vietnam. In both cases, the U.S. assisted the south from communist-backed invasion from the north. The Korean conflict was fought to a stalemate, with North and South Korea having roughly the same borders after the war as before. In the case of Vietnam, when U.S. forces finally pulled out, the south fell to communism within two years. The ultimate domino the U.S. was hoping to prevent from falling to communism was Indonesia.