The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. The period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two superpowers, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict was based around the ideological and geopolitical struggle for global influence by the two powers, following their temporary alliance and victory against Nazi Germany in 1945. Whilst the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc generally espoused the economic theories of capitalism and socialism, respectively, the conflict was mostly geopolitical in nature. Each power had a nuclear strategy that discouraged a pre-emptive attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would lead to the total destruction of the attacker—the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Aside from the nuclear arsenal development and conventional military deployment, the struggle for dominance was expressed via psychological warfare, massive propaganda campaigns and espionage, far-reaching embargoes, rivalry at sports events and technological competitions such as the Space Race.
The West was led by the United States, a federal republic with a two-party presidential system, as well as the other First World nations of the Western Bloc that were generally liberal democratic but economically and politically entwined with a network of authoritarian states, most of which were the Western Bloc's former colonies.[A] The Soviet Union was a self-declared Marxist–Leninist state that had a totalitarian government ultimately led by a committee known as the Politburo. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) had influence across the Second World. The US government supported right-wing governments and uprisings across the world, while the Soviet government funded communist parties and revolutions around the world. As nearly all the colonial states achieved independence in the period 1945–1960, they became Third World battlefields in the Cold War.
The first phase of the Cold War began in the first two years after the end of the Second World War in 1945. The Soviet Union had been left with power over the former Nazi territories of Eastern Europe, while the United States had extensive military and financial influence over the countries of Western Europe (for example, supporting the anti-communist side in the 1946–49 Greek Civil War) and created the NATO military alliance in 1949. The US termed their global policy against Soviet influence containment. The Berlin Blockade (1948–49) was the first major crisis of the Cold War. The conflict expanded with the 1949 victory of the Communist side in the Chinese Civil War and the outbreak of the Korean War (1950–1953). The USSR and the US competed for influence in Latin America and the decolonizing states of Africa and Asia. The Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955 in response to NATO. The Soviets suppressed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and later more escalating crises occurred, such as the Suez Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which was perhaps the closest the two sides came to nuclear war. In 1961, a group of countries including India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia launched the nominally-neutral Non-Aligned Movement, which never had much power. Meanwhile, an international peace movement took root among citizens around the world. Movements against nuclear arms testing and for nuclear disarmament gained popularity at the turn of the 1960s and continued through the 1970s and 1980s, with large anti-war protests. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, a new phase began that saw the Sino-Soviet split between China and the Soviet Union complicate relations within the Communist sphere, while US ally France began to demand greater authority of action. The USSR suppressed the 1968 Prague Spring liberalization program in Czechoslovakia, while the US experienced internal turmoil from the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War (1955–75), which ended with the defeat of the US-backed South Vietnam.
By the 1970s, both sides had started making allowances for peace and security, ushering in a period of détente that saw the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the US opening relations with the People's Republic of China as a strategic counterweight to the USSR. Détente collapsed at the end of the decade with the beginning of the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979. The early 1980s were another period of elevated tension, with the 1983 Soviet downing of KAL Flight 007 and the "Able Archer" NATO military exercises. The United States increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when it was already suffering from economic stagnation. In the mid-1980s, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the liberalizing reforms of perestroika ("reorganization", 1987) and glasnost ("openness", c. 1985) and ended Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. Pressures for national sovereignty grew stronger in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, and Gorbachev refused to militarily support their governments any longer. The result in 1989 was a wave of revolutions that peacefully (with the exception of the Romanian Revolution) overthrew all of the communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe. The CPSU itself lost control in the Soviet Union and was banned following an abortive coup attempt in August 1991. This in turn led to the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991, the declaration of independence of its constituent republics and the collapse of communist governments across much of Africa and Asia. The United States was left as the world's only superpower.
The Cold War and its events have left a significant legacy. It is often referred to in popular culture, especially in media featuring themes of espionage (notably the internationally successful James Bond book and film franchise) and the threat of nuclear warfare. Meanwhile, a renewed state of tension between the Soviet Union's successor state, Russia, and the United States in the 2010s (including its Western allies) and growing tension between an increasingly powerful China and the U.S. and its Western allies have each been referred to as the Second Cold War.
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