The Cold War, 1950-1975

The Origins and Development of the Cold War, 1950-1975

  • From 1950 to 1953, the Korean War took place, marking the first major conflict of the Cold War. This conflict expanded the Cold War beyond Europe and set the precedent for future US intervention in other regional conflicts.
  • 1953 saw the death of Joseph Stalin, leading to a transformation of the Soviet leadership and introducing the possibility of ‘peaceful co-existence’.
  • During the mid-1950s, there was a thaw in East-West relations known as The Thaw period and ‘Peaceful Coexistence’. This was highlighted by major political events such as the Hungarian Uprising and the Suez Crisis.
  • In 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed, creating a physical barrier between East and West Berlin and becoming a powerful symbol of the political and ideological division between East and West.
  • In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. This event highlighted the dangerous escalation of Cold War tensions and led to a reassessment of Cold War strategies.
  • The 1960s and early 1970s were also marked by the US-led Vietnam War, which not only exacerbated East-West tensions but also led to domestic unrest in the US and global anti-war movements.

Key Figures of the Cold War, 1950-1975

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (US President, 1953-61) implemented the policy of ‘massive retaliation’ to deter Soviet aggression.
  • Nikita Khrushchev (Soviet leader, 1956-64) introduced the policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’, though also involved the USSR in crises such as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • John F. Kennedy (US President, 1961-63) faced the Bay of Pigs Invasion and Cuban Missile Crisis, leading to a shift towards more flexible response options in US Cold War strategy.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson (US President, 1963-69) escalated US involvement in Vietnam, contributing to domestic and international opposition to the war.
  • Leonid Brezhnev (Soviet leader, 1964-82) initiated a period of détente with the West, although he also suppressed political dissent in Eastern Europe (notably during the 1968 Prague Spring).

Major Themes of the Cold War, 1950-1975

  • Arms race and space race: Continued competition between the US and USSR in the development of nuclear and conventional weapons, as well as in space exploration.
  • Nuclear brinkmanship: The strategy of taking disputes to the verge of armed conflict, with the hope that the opposing side would back down.
  • Proxy wars: The US and USSR indirectly confronting each other through smaller conflicts in other nations, notably in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
  • Détente: A period of relative peace and improved diplomatic relations between the US and USSR, which began in the late 1960s and lasted throughout the 1970s.
  • Ideological competition: Continued rivalry between the capitalist West and communist East, which was reflected not only in military and economic competition but also in areas such as propaganda and sports.