Superpower Relations & the Cold War

Timeline of Cold War events: 1941 - 1991

Superpower Relations and the Cold War: supporting resources

  • Student resources
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    1. Origins of the Cold War
    . Early Tension between East & West
    . The development of the Cold War
    . Cold War intensifies

    2. Cold War Crises
    . Increased tension between East & West
    . Cold War crises
    . Reaction to crises

    3. The end of the Cold War 1970-91
    . Attempts to reduce tension between East & West
    . Flashpoints
    . The collapse of Soviet control of the Eastern Europe

    Every topic comprises:

    . comprehensive and thoughtfully laid out set of notes
    . a varied range of exercises and worksheets
    . exam style questions
    . recommended media

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  • Films
    Numerous films portray the Cold War. Below are some of our recommendations., based on what I have used in class. Be beware that some content my be inappropriate for your class. Please check before showing.
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  • YouTube

    Click the Youtube link to access the GCSE History channel, where numerous relevant clips have been uploaded.
    Check out the 'Cold War' playlist

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Superpower Relations and the Cold War: timeline of events

  • Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1958

    Tehran Conference

    Tehran Conference mainly talked about military issues, but Poland's borders were discussed. USA/GB wanted Stalin's help in defeating Germany - Stalin used this to get his way over controlling Eastern Europe after the war.

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    Stalin (USSR)
    Roosevelt (USA)
    Churchill (UK)


    . Operation Overlord (D-Day) approved
    . work closely together to defeat Germany
    . Germans to return from Eastern Europe
    . get Turkey on their
    side against Germany

    . Stalin wanted to kill German officers so
    they could not start another war
    . discussions about the borders for Poland

    November 1943

    Yalta Conference

    Yalta Conference was designed to discuss post war Europe.
    Churchill believed that he could trust Stalin regarding free elections in Poland.

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    Churchill (UK)
    Roosevelt (USA)
    Stalin (USSR)


    . disarmed
    . split into 4 zones
    . pay reparations

    . free elections
    . USSR to fight Japan
    . United Nations to replace League

    . USSR wanted Poland's borders moved,
    wanting Polish land
    . USSR wanted Eastern European countries to be under their
    'sphere of influence'

    February 1945

    Potsdam Conference

    Britain had a new prime Minister & USA a new president at the conference.
    Aim was to decide what to do with Germany, peace treaties & the
    consequences of war.

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    Attlee (UK)
    Stalin (USSR)


    . Nazi party banned
    . equipment taken as reparations
    . Germans to return from Eastern Europe
    . borders agreed
    . agreed to divide into North & South

    . Polish leaders imprisoned & communists
    take over
    Atomic bomb
    . USA not tell Stalin about the atomic bomb

    July 1945

    Dropping of the atomic bombs

    Atomic bomb
    Considered a demonstration bombing to show the Japanese the power. Decided not to show to keep element of surprise.
    Targets were selected.
    Hoped after one atomic bomb drop Japan would surrender, therefore
    casualties less than invasion.
    No US deaths compared with up to 1 million if the US invaded Japan

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    First atomic bomb
    Hiroshima - 6th August 1945
    Killed 90,000 - 150,000 +
    Many died months after 70% of
    the city destroyed
    Japanese govt. gave no
    public response about
    bomb & continued the war.

    Second atomic bomb
    Nagasaki - 9th August 1945
    40,000 - 80,000 killed
    Many died months after
    Damage restricted by hillsides around Nagasaki

    August 1945

    Long telegrams

    Long telegram from George Kennan
    US Embassy in Moscow
    USSR was building up its military for war against USA
    Stalin wanted to destroy capitalism

    February 1946

    Iron Curtain Speech

    Churchill made a speech in the USA saying:
    Communism was against democracy & freedoms
    Stalin wanted to spread communism around the world

    Stalin replied saying:
    Churchill was trying to start a war
    Eastern Europe wanted communism

    5 March 1946

    Long telegram

    Novikov telegram from
    USSR Embassy in USA
    USA not into co-operation with USSR
    USA wanted to dominate the world
    USA was preparing for war against USSR

    September 1946


    Germany caused lots of disagreements
    USA said USSR went against agreements
    Rebuilding Germany:
    USA wanted to rebuild Germany
    USSR wanted to keep Germany weak

    USA wanted free & open elections in Germany
    USSR did not want free & open elections


    Truman Doctrine

    National Security Act 1947
    . Department of Defence
    . National Security Council
    . Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA)

    USA giving money and military help to countries to fight communism
    Truman said world was now divided:
    free = USA not free = USSR
    USA was now committed to Containment

    Domino Theory
    Greece & Turkey got money from the USA to fight communists.

    USA was scared if one country went communist its neighbour might go communist and then spread everywhere.

    Greece & Turkey
    . Support for Greece and Turkey to fight the communists after Britain could no longer afford to help


    Marshall Plan

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    USA helped Europe rebuild after the war
    USA sent:
    . grants & loans
    . equipment
    . goods

    USA got:
    . countries to buy their goods
    . chance to invest in Europe
    . allegiance from European countries so less likely to become communist

    . Western Europe not become communist
    . Europe start trading again - good for Europe & USA

    . Europe became divided between: East & West (Iron Curtain)
    . Stalin said Marshall Plan was to control W.Europe

    April 1948

    Berlin Blockade & Airlift

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    . USA / France / UK joined their zones to form one country
    . 23rd June allies introduced a new currency 'DeutscheMark'
    . 24th June Stalin ordered West Berlin to be cut-off - blockaded

    Allies had a choice: give up on West Berlin or supply it from the air.

    The Berlin Airlift began on 26th June 1948

    Airlift Facts
    Start: 26th June 1948
    Finish: 12 May 1949

    Needed to supply 2 million people with everything they needed to live.
    Around 277,000 flights
    Flight crews, not get out in Berlin - unloaded the planes then took off straight away.
    Only 12 crashes, killing 31

    2.3 million tons of supplies - 65% of cargo was coal
    Candy Bombers: Crews threw sweets out of the planes to children
    Soviets harassed the planes but did not risk shooting down a plane.

    26 June 1948

    Soviet control of Eastern Europe

    By 1949 these countries became communist controlled
    & came under the influence of Stalin:

    Poland . Czechoslovakia . East Germany . Hungary
    Romania . Bulgaria . Albania . Yugoslavia

    Buffer zone
    Eastern European countries to act as
    a military ‘buffer zone’ between Germany and the USSR.
    Power vacuum
    With the end of German rule many countries lacked government & law & order.
    Soviet 'sphere of influence'
    Stalin saw this as an opportunity to extend his influence over others - 'world communism'.
    Red Army
    With the Red Army in Eastern European countries Stalin knew there was little the West could do to get him out - except by using atomic bombs.


    Division of Germany

    Germany was run by the occupying countries:
    USA, UK, France and USSR until 1949.
    Different countries had different ideas about what Germany should look like in the future

    . wanted Germany to be poor and mainly a farming country.
    . did not want to spend money on helping Germany
    . took goods from Germany as compensation, and placed communists
    in control

    West Germany
    Federal Republic of Germany
    1948 elections, a government
    was formed
    20 September 1949 became FRG
    1949 elections: communists won 5.7%
    East Germany
    German Democratic Republic
    1946 elections: socialists won
    USSR controlled the socialists
    7 October 1949 became GDR
    1950 elections: socialists won 99%


    Arms Race

    USSR test first atomic bomb

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    Formation of NATO

    North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1949
    . NATO fight only if attacked - attack one NATO country attack al
    . USA was concerned about USSR in Eastern Europe and the Berlin Blockade
    NATO members
    . USA . Canada . UK . Belgium . Denmark . France . Iceland . Italy . Luxembourg . Netherlands . Norway . Portugal later ….. Greece, West Germany & Turkey

    NATO was generally ahead in the nuclear arms race but behind in numbers of sol


    Arms Race

    USSR detonates first hydrogen bomb


    Formation of Warsaw Pact

    . to co-ordinate a defensive alliance and protect themselves from the USA/NATO
    . formation of NATO and the nuclear arming of Western countries

    Poland . Czechoslovakia . East Germany . Hungary
    Romania . Bulgaria . Albania . Yugoslavia


    Space Race

    USSR launched first space satellite into orbit around the earth called ‘Sputnik 1’. Transmitted a short wave signal ‘beep, beep’ for 22 days
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    October 1957

    Space Race

    USA forms NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) after the Soviets launch Sputnik.
    Formed to speed up the USA's space programme to compete with the USSR

  • Cold War crises, 1958 - 1970

    Berlin Wall

    1953: East Germans need permission to travel to West Berlin


    Berlin Wall

    1957: Leaving East Germany without permission = 3 years in prison


    Berlin Wall

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    1953: East Germans need permission to travel to West Berlin
    1957: Leaving East Germany without permission = 3 years in prison 1958: Soviet made several demands
    The West refused the demands & Khrushchev backed down
    1960: West Germany is bad for East German economy & it must be corrected according to East German leader
    1961: June Summit - Khrushchev tries to pressure the new US president, Kennedy, by insisting the Western powers leave Berlin. Kennedy pledges to support West Berlin
    1961: 15th June - East German leader Walter Ulbricht said he no intention of erecting a wall
    1961: 25th July - US President J.F. Kennedy spoke about the need to hold onto West Berlin and that NATO should react to any threat from the Soviets.
    1961: 12th August - East German leader orders a barricade to separate Berlin
    Barbed wire used followed by concrete wall.

    12 August 1961

    U2 Incident

    1. USA began flying the U2 spy plane without President Truman knowing about it
    2. President Truman banned flights when he found out about
    3. U2 flights started again in 1956 when President Eisenhower
    gave his permission. He wanted to find out about the nuclear missiles in Russia
    4. The U2 could fly at 73,000 feet at 460 knots but was not
    5. In May 1960 the USSR shot down a U2 spy plane and captured the pilot, Gary Powers
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    Paris Summit between USSR and USA collapsed as a result of the U2 incident

    May 1960

    Bay of Pigs

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    . CIA trained 1,400 exiles
    . invaded with support of bombers flown by Cubans
    . invasion easily stopped & 1,200 exiles were captured
    USA: JFK hugely embarrassed - seen as a bully
    . Cuba: moved Castro closer to the USSR
    . USSR: supports Cuba, gains an ally (friend) in Central America


    Missiles on Cuba

    Khrushchev decides to place missiles on Cuba in 1962 for several reasons

    Central America
    . Supporting Cuba was seen as important
    in establishing an ally
    (friend) in Central
    America & try to limit
    or stop US influence
    Kennedy weak
    . Some saw Kennedy as a young inexperienced President who could be pushed around

    . He was seen as being weak after the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs operation

    Missiles in Turkey
    . US missiles in Turkey gave the US a strategic military advantage
    . Khrushchev hoped that his missiles in Cuba could be used to negotiate
    the removal of the Turkish missiles plus US position in Berlin


    Spy planes

    US spy planes spot observe Soviet personnel and weapons on Cuba

    August 1962

    Spy planes

    USA U2 spy plane takes photographs of the construction of nuclear missile launch site in Cuba.
    USSR ships seen in the Atlantic Ocean heading to Cuba, with what looked like missiles on board.

    14 October 1962

    Missile sites

    . By 16 October it had become clear that the Cubans were allowing the Soviets to establish missile sites on the island
    . Meeting of EX COM where President Kennedy was warned the missile sites could be operational by the end of October
    . Kennedy given choices as what to do
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    16 October 1962


    . Kennedy does a TV address to the American public announcing that there is proof that the Soviets have missiles on Cuba
    . Kennedy informs the Americans and the worlds that he is imposing a quarantine on Cuba - Soviet ships carrying missiles will be turned back
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    22 October 1962

    Khrushschev's response

    Khrushchev's response was to ignore the blockade & did not admit to having
    missiles on Cuba. It said it was merely helping Cuba defend itself & the USA was
    taking the world to war.

    23 October 1962

    Blockade works

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    Soviet ships stop and turn around at the blockade line, except one carrying oil

    24 October 1962

    Khrushchev's first 'letter'

    Khrushchev sent a letter saying that the USSR would remove the missiles if:
    USA stopped the blockade & USA promise not to invade Cuba in the future

    26 October 1962

    Khrushchev's second 'letter'

    Khrushchev second letter adds a demand that US missiles should be removed from
    Turkey. A U2 spy plane is shot down & JFK is pushed to retaliate. USA agree to first
    letter demands then JFK sends a secret message to Khrushchev agreeing to remove
    Turkey missiles.

    27 October 1962

    Removal of missiles

    Removal of missiles from Cuba agreed by Khrushchev

    28 October 1962

    Dubcek's Action Programme

    . Action Programme is launched
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    April 1968

    Censorship abolished

    Censorship was abolished & political prisoners freed.
    People demanded more than Dubcek’s Action Programme.
    Soviet forces stay in Czech after Warsaw Pact exercises.

    June 1968

    Soviet's react

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    Soviet troops at the Czech border.
    Warsaw Pact meets to discuss situation in Czech. &
    warn leaders

    July 1968

    Soviet's take action

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    . Dubcek speech said there was no going back.
    . Warsaw Pact agreed to stop ‘anti-socialist forces’ & backed the Brezhnev Doctrine

    20 August Soviet & Warsaw Pact forces invade Czech
    21 August Dubcek arrested & flown to Moscow & signed Moscow Protocol (Soviet troops to stay
    in Czech)
    Workers & students confronted invading troops.
    700 - 1000 Czechs were killed
    70,000 plus fled from Czech
    New govt formed headed by

    August 1968

    New government formed

    . 70,000 plus fled from Czech
    . New govt formed headed by Husak.

    September - October 1968


    Kennedy & Brezhnev
    Set up a telephone ‘hotline’ after the Cuban Missile Crisis which nearly led to a nuclear war.
    Messages sent by telegraph were slow and liable to be misinterpreted.
    The USA said of the hotline that it will “help reduce the risk of war occurring by accident or miscalculation.”

    August 1963

    Limited Test Ban Treaty

    Limited Test Ban Treaty 1963
    USA, USSR & GB signed the test ban in Moscow.
    France& China refused tosign.

    The ban ‘prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, underwater or in the atmosphere.’


    Outer Space Nuclear Treaty 1967

    Outer Space Nuclear Treaty 1967
    . USA, USSR & GB signed the treaty (+100 others after ’67).
    . Bans nuclear weapons being used in space


    Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 1968

    Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 1968
    Non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to have nuclear weapons and the nuclear-weapon states agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to aim for nuclear disarmament and the ultimate

  • The end of the Cold War, 1970–91

    US-China relations

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    Nixon visited Mao in China in February in 1972, the first US president to go to communist China.
    The US dropped its opposition to China joining the United Nations.


    SALT I

    Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) 1972
    Talks about limiting weapons began in 1969, with the treaty
    signed in Moscow: The treaty:the arms race.
    . limited the number of launching missile sites to two per side
    . no more ICBM/SLBMS built for 5 years
    . Other things decided at the summit:
    . Further talks for another Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty
    . Brezhnev agreed to allow Jews to emigrate
    , Signed an agreement to work together in space
    . Co-operate on environmental protection


    Helsinki Accords

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    European Security Conference
    Signed Helsinki Accords:
    . security: European borders agreed inc. West/East Germany
    . human rights: respect human rights & right to travel between countries
    . co-operation: better links through trade & cultural visits
    . human rights:
    no improvement in USSR & E.Europe. Brezhnev said it was not others business. Critics of communism were still harshly treated.
    . rivalry: continued around the world as the superpowers looked to extend their influence


    Arms talks

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    Brezhnev and Ford sign a joint communique on limiting strategic offensive arms and establishing the foundations for SALT II, known as the Vladivostok Agreements.

    November 1974


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    Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty
    SALT II (1975-1979): further limits but stopped because of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
    . joint space mission: shook hands in space
    . trade links: more trade between West & East
    . conventional forces: no agreement to reduce forces, USSR wanted larger army
    . SALT II: never really happened


    Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

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    Soviet invasion
    Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. The Soviets entered Afghanistan to support the communist led government - which had little support in the country.


    Boycott of Moscow Olympics

    Afghanistan invasion
    In protest the USA boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
    Communist countries then boycotted the LA Games in 1984
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    Summer 1980

    'Star Wars' Defence Plan

    Ronald Reagan
    Became in US President. He was very anti communist & pro containment.
    Started ‘Star Wars’ programme for lasers to hit missiles from space.
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    March 1983

    Gorbachev comes to power

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    Mikhail Gorbachev
    Becames the leader in the USSR and introduces:
    . translates to ‘openness’
    . more justice less corruption
    . open to more debate about economy & management of industry
    . open to more freedoms of speech
    . multi candidates (communists) in elections

    . restructuring of the economic & political system
    . less control of economy by communists
    . have more investment from the West
    . wanted economy to be more efficient

    March 1985

    Geneva Summit

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    Reagan & Gorbachev discussed a variety of issues, from SDI to human rights. No agreements but laid the foundation for further talks.

    November 1985

    Reykjavik Summit

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    Gorbachev & Reagan discussed getting rid of all ballistic missiles. Agreement was close, but the USA would not give up research & development on SDI. Without that there was no agreement form the USSR. But it showed that both leaders were willing to discuss serious arms reduction.

    October 1986

    Washington Summit

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    Gorbachev & Reagan discussed a range of issues including Afghanistan, Central America, South Africa & chemical weapons. Agreement on limiting intermediate range nuclear missiles.

    December 1987

    Gorbachev's speech to the UN

    Gorbachev announced huge military reductions in Europe & on Chinese border. Decision was unilateral and inc. 500,000 soldiers.
    Soviet troops were withdrawn from Eastern European countries.

    December 1988

    Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan

    Soviet power was shown to be limited. It become to USSR what Vietnam was to the USA. Soviets worried that anti Soviet feeling would spread across Muslim population in USSR.


    Berlin Wall comes down

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    Sections of the Berlin Wall were torn down as the border between East and West Germany was opened.
    Anti government protests had spread across Eastern Europe.

    9 November 1989

    Eastern Europe elections

    . Protests across Eastern European countries in November and December 1989
    . Free elections took place in 1990

    November 1989

    Break-up of the USSR

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    . The Baltic states, Latvia, Estonia & Lithuania & Azerbaijan wanted independence from the USSR, Gorbachev refused & sent in troops
    . In Russia Boris Yeltsin became the leader & called for the end of the USSR & for the republics to become independent
    . Hard-line communists in Russia were shocked at events, they led a coup & imprisoned Gorbachev in his holiday home in the Crimea
    . Yeltsin led demonstrations against the coup & for the reforms
    . Yeltsin ended the Soviet Communist Party & the USSR in Dec 1991
    . Gorbachev resigned as President of the USSR (there was no USSR)