Published on 15 May 2013
The end of World War II heralded te Cold War, war of paranoia and potential nuclear catastrophe. In the wreckages of missile sites, secret cities and crumbling nuclear facilities, search for clues to understand how this war was played out and the secret structures that were constructed to arm the nation against attack.
The Cold War, often dated from 1947 to 1991, was a sustained state of political and military tension between powers in the Western Bloc, dominated by the United States with NATO among its allies, and powers in the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union along with the Warsaw Pact. This began after the success of their temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences. A neutral faction arose with the Non-Aligned Movement founded by Egypt, India, and Yugoslavia; this faction rejected association with either the US-led West or the Soviet-led East.
The Cold War was so named because the two major powers—each possessing nuclear weapons and thereby threatened with mutual assured destruction—never met in direct military combat. Instead, in their struggle for global influence they engaged in ongoing psychological warfare and in regular indirect confrontations through proxy wars. Cycles of relative calm would be followed by high tension, which could have led to world war. The tensest times were during the Berlin Blockade (1948–1949), the Korean War (1950–1953), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban missile crisis (1962), the Vietnam War (1959–1975), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989), the Soviet downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983), and the “Able Archer” NATO military exercises (1983). The conflict was expressed through military coalitions, strategic conventional force deployments, extensive aid to client states, espionage, massive propaganda campaigns, conventional and nuclear arms races, appeals to neutral nations, rivalry at sports events (in particular the Olympics), and technological competitions such as the Space Race. The US and USSR became involved in political and military conflicts in the Third World countries of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. To alleviate the risk of a potential nuclear war, both sides sought relief of political tensions through détente in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, the United States increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when the communist state was already suffering from economic stagnation. In the mid-1980s, the new Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the liberalizing reforms of perestroika (“reorganization”, 1987) and glasnost (“openness”, ca. 1985). Pressures for national independence grew stronger in Eastern Europe, especially Poland. They reached a breaking point when Gorbachev refused to use Soviet troops to support the faltering government of East Germany in late 1989. Within weeks all the satellite states broke free from Moscow in a peaceful wave of revolutions (there was some violence in Romania). The pressures escalated inside the Soviet Union, where Communism fell and the USSR was formally dissolved in late 1991. The United States remained as the world’s only superpower. The Cold War and its events have left a significant legacy, and it is often referred to in popular culture, especially in media featuring themes of espionage and the threat of nuclear warfare.