The Duration

The Cold War entered its zenith in 1948–53. During this period, the Soviets failed to blockade the Western-held sectors of West Berlin (1948–49). The U.S. and its European allies established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the unified military command, to counter the Soviet presence in Europe (1949). The Soviets exploded their first atomic warhead in 1949 and ended the American monopoly on the nuclear bomb. The same year the Chinese communists gained power in mainland China (1949), and the communist government of North Korea supported by Soviet invaded South Korea backed by the U.S. in 1950, setting off a Korean War that lasted for three years.

Cold War Tension

From 1953 to 1957, Cold War tensions eased somewhat, mainly owing to the death of the longtime Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953; although, the standoff remained. In 1955 a united military organization between the Soviet-bloc nations, the Warsaw Pact, was formed. The same year West Germany was admitted into NATO. Another intense stage of the Cold War happened in 1958–62. The Soviet Union and the United States started to work out intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1962 the USSR began secretly installing missiles in Cuba that could potentially be used to operate nuclear attacks on U.S. cities. These actions initiated the Cuban missile crisis, a conflict that brought the two nations to the edge of war before an agreement reached the withdraw of the missiles.

Cuban Crisis

The Cuban missile crisis proved that neither of the countries was prepared to use nuclear weapons due to the fear of the other’s retaliation. The two superpowers shortly signed the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1963, which forbade above-ground atomic weapons testing. But the crisis also hardened the Soviets’ resolution never again to be humiliated by their military weakness, and they initiated the development of both strategic and conventional forces that the U.S. was forced to match during the next 25 years.

Throughout the Cold War, both USSR and the U.S. avoided military confrontation in Europe. They were mostly involved in actual combat operations only to keep allies from leaving to the other side or overthrowing them after they had done so. Therefore, the Soviet Union sent troops to maintain communist rule in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan. The U.S. helped to defeat a left-wing government in Guatemala, invaded the Dominican Republic and Grenada, supported an invasion of Cuba and initiated a long (1964–75), however unsuccessful attempt to stop communist North Vietnam from taking South Vietnam under its command.

Second Cold War

The term second Cold War is referred to as the period of intensive reawakening of Cold War conflicts and tensions from the late 1970s until the early 1980s. Tensions significantly increased between the two major powers, with military progress of both sides.

Soviet War in Afghanistan

President Reagan publicized his support by meeting with Afghan Mujahideen commanders in the White House, 1983.

Military alliances in 1980

In 1977, four years before becoming president, Ronald Reagan stated, in a conversation with Richard V. Allen, his expectation about the Cold War. The future president described his idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union as simple, and some would even call it “simplistic.” He added that the U.S. would win, while the Soviets will lose.

Both Reagan, as well as new British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, criticized the Soviet Union and its ideology. Reagan named the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and prognosticated that communism would be left on the “ash heap of history.” At the same time, Thatcher described the Soviets as “bent on world dominance.” In 1982, Reagan attempted to cut off Moscow’s access to hard currency by blocking its proposed gas line to Western Europe. The measure damaged the Soviet economy, but it also led to the creation of an ill will among American allies in Europe who counted on that revenue. Reagan later retreated on this issue.

By 1985, Reagan’s anti-communist point had grown into a position known as the new Reagan Doctrine—which, in addition to containment, formed an additional right to overthrow communist governments. Besides continuing Carter’s policy of helping the Islamic opponents of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-backed PDPA government in Afghanistan, the CIA also attempted to weaken the Soviet Union by promoting and raising Islamism in the majority-Muslim Central Asian Soviet Union. Besides, the CIA supported and encouraged anti-communist Pakistan’s ISI to train Muslims to participate in the jihad against the USSR.

Polish Solidarity movement and martial law

Pope John Paul II presented a moral focus for anti-communism. His visit to Poland in 1979 stimulated a nationalist and religious resurgence centered on the Solidarity movement that aroused opposition and may have led to his attempted assassination two years later. In 1981, Poland’s Wojciech Jaruzelski responded to the crisis by imposing a period of martial law. Reagan also imposed economic sanctions on Poland. Mikhail Suslov, who was the Kremlin’s top ideologist, urged and advised Soviet leaders not to intervene in case Poland came under the control of Solidarity since it might lead to substantial economic sanctions, resulting in a disaster for the Soviet economy.

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