Characteristics of the Cold War

What was the Cold War?

The Cold War  was a period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted between the end of World War II (1945) and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1990). This tension was given by two opposite economic and social systems: capitalism (sustained by the United States) and communism(sustained by the Soviet Union).

It is called ” cold ” because this conflict never reached an official armed confrontation between the two countries. However, clashes occurred through subsidiary wars, that is, armed clashes in peripheral countries (countries that are not world economic powers). In these subsidiary wars, both the United States and the Soviet Union intervened by offering financing, training, strategic information and weapons to local factions, and in some cases even contributing their troops.

Depending on whether he won one or the other faction, the country would later be aligned to the United States (with a capitalist regime) or the Soviet Union (with a communist regime). These clashes claimed millions of lives and destroyed economies that in many cases could not recover. So, despite being an “cold” war officially, over the decades it accumulated consequences as severe as a world war.

This situation did not improve with the different conferences and treaties, so some voices among the allies warned of the “red danger” that loomed over Europe: Churchill in Fulton (April 1946), Byrnes in Stuttgart (September 1946), Truman (March 1947) and Marshall (June 1947).

The Paris Conference of July 1947, meeting to discuss the acceptance or rejection of the European Recovery Plan , known as the Marshall Plan , was a tragic exponent of the new world situation. The Soviet representative , Molotov, unmarked himself from the rest of the nations and faced the sixteen European states that subscribed US aid.

The reason was that he considered the plan designed by the Americans ” an imperialist way of intervening in European politics .” This position was repeated again at the London Conference in August 1947, where the distribution of German areas was discussed. The European allies refused to criticize US policy, which caused the creation of the Kominform in October of that year.

But, even with all this, the spark that burned the fuse of the Cold War in Europe was the Prague coup in February 1948, when all Czech government ministers resigned to criticize Stalin’s ban on accepting the Marshall Plan . Taking advantage of this situation, the Soviet leader imposed on the Czech president a cabinet formed by communist supporters of the Soviet Union.

The reaction of the allies in the face of this action against Czech sovereignty was the reunification of their zones , creating the so-called “ trizona ”. The Soviets then proceeded to close all access to their area of ??Berlin on June 24, 1948. But the blockade of Berlin failed , due to an air bridge established by the allies to guarantee the supply of food and supplies to their areas.

The Cold War was also an ideological war since capitalism and communism are based on opposite principles:

  • The capitalism is based on the right to private property and investment with the aim of obtaining economic benefits. Ideologically defends the individual initiative, based on the principle of freedom and criticizes communism for limiting that individual initiative.
  • The communism is based on common ownership of the means of production and therefore the equitable distribution of its benefits. He criticizes capitalism for relying on the exploitation of the working class for the benefit of a few individuals who accumulate capital.

Cold War characteristics

  1. Two blocks

The Cold War confrontation was not only between the two powers but in two blocks of countries led by each of the powers. These two worlds were called:

  • First World : Led by the United States, it is characterized by having a mixed capitalism system, that is, private investment is promoted while there is a certain public investment. Together with capitalism, a consumer society is established. The political system is parliamentary democracy. The countries of Europe and Japan are also found in the First World.
  • Second World : Led by the Soviet Union, it is characterized by a socialist economic system, which limits or prevents private investment. Consumption capacity is scarce but there is less difference between the richest and poorest sectors. The exception is usually the political class. In the Second World there are also China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.
  • Third World : This expression, currently associated with countries with limited economic development, was born during the Cold War to refer to countries not aligned with either capitalism or communism. During the Cold War these countries were those that suffered peripheral wars, or were dominated by dictatorships sustained economically by the Soviet government or by the US government. These events left local effects that continued after the Cold War, creating economies dependent on the powers.
  1. The technological career

Peripheral wars allowed the two great powers to measure their military capabilities. They constantly tried to outdo each other in technology and power, in the so-called ” arms race .” The development of nuclear energy was associated with this competition, as well as the exploration of space, called “space race.” Some of the technological developments that marked these careers are:

  • R – 7 Semiorka : First intercontinental ballistic missile, developed by the Soviet Union.
  • LGM – 30 Minuteman: First nuclear intercontinental missile, developed by the United States.
  • Sputnik : First artificial satellite, launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union.
  • Apollo 11 : First manned mission to the Moon, developed by the United States in 1969.
  1. Korean war

Since 1945 the Korean peninsula is divided into North Korea, under the communist regime, and South Korea, under the capitalist regime. This division occurred after the invasion of communist China and the support of the local population.

  1. The Marshall Plan

Because all European powers suffered World War II in their own territory, the United States was the only power involved in the conflict that was not devastated.

Because of its interest in preventing the economic crisis from leading European countries towards communism, the United States government developed the Marshall Plan in 1947, which consisted of a series of economic aids for the necessary reconstruction after the War.

  1. NATO

NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was founded in 1949 and the commitment of the United States to defend Western Europe militarily, that is, to the European countries belonging to its bloc, was made official.

  1. Cuba

Cuba is the only Latin American country that in 1959 managed to establish a socialist regime outside the influence of the United States, through a revolution. This was a major blow to the neighboring country, since in 1960 all American companies were nationalized, that is, they were taken from foreign private hands and managed by the Cuban State. In retaliation, since 1962, the United States established a trade embargo on Cuba that continued until 2014 when it began to rise.

  1. Subsidiary wars

Also called “peripheral wars,” in these warlike conflicts the communist and capitalist powers measured their forces and tried to add new territories to their bloc, sustaining the conflicting local factions with economic resources and weapons.

  • Greek Civil War
  • Vietnam War
  • Afghanistan First War
  • Lebanon Civil War
  • Angola War
  • Indo-Pakistani War
  • Gulf War
  1. People’s Republic of China

In 1949 the Red Army (communist force) defeated the Kuomintang army (backed by the United States) and founded the People’s Republic of China, with the backing of the Soviet Union. Although the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, this enormous power continues to this day governed by the Communist Party.

  1. Germany separation

Since Germany was defeated in World War II, the Allies imposed a series of conditions, among which were an occupation of its territory between the United Kingdom, the United States, France and the Soviet Union. Since three of these countries were capitalists and the Soviet Communist Union, the influence competition developed with special intensity in this territory. From this bipolarity two different German countries were created in 1949:

  • German Federal Republic, under the influence of the United States.
  • German Democratic Republic, under the influence of the Soviet Union.
  • Berlin: city that remained divided into both administrations, such as West Berlin and East Berlin. This division is due to the construction, in the early 1960s, of the Berlin Wall. It was destroyed in 1989.


In short, the Cold War was a conflict that lasted almost half of the twentieth century and that led the human being to the edge of the nuclear catastrophe at several key moments. It was characterized by the constant confrontation of the two sides, as well as by a tension that prevented them from attacking or defending themselves without causing great human losses.

The Cold War came to an end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, although this did not mean the end of communism. This confrontation had several consequences:

  • Economic growth of the First World and the Second World and indebtedness of the Third World .
  • Strengthening of the middle classes in the powers involved.
  • Technological and arms development in the powers involved



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