Cold War

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World map with alliances in 1980, during the Cold War
Let us not be deceived — we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves. ~ Bernard Baruch

The Cold War (1947-1991) 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. Historians do not fully agree on the dates, but 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. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) discouraged a pre-emptive attack by either side. Aside from the nuclear arsenal development and conventional military deployment, the struggle for dominance was expressed via indirect means such as psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns, espionage, far-reaching embargoes, rivalry at sports events and technological competitions such as the Space Race.


  • Let us not be deceived — we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves.
    • Bernard Baruch, Speech to the South Carolina Legislature, Columbia, SC (April 16, 1947); reported in Journal of the House of Representatives of the First Session of the 87th General Assembly of the State of South Carolina, p. 1085. Baruch said that the phrase "cold war" was suggested to him by H. B. Swope, editor of the New York World; the term had earlier been used by George Orwell (1945). Also quoted in: (April 14, 2020): This Day in History: April 16, 1947. Bernard Baruch coins the term “Cold War". Publisher: A&E Television Networks. Archived from the original on August 12, 2021.
  • Although the shooting war is over, we are in the midst of a cold war which is getting warmer.
    • Bernard Baruch, Speech before the Senate’s Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program (October 24, 1947).
  • Israel has fought one battle after another, clinging to survival in the decades after its people were systematically murdered during the Holocaust. But the story of self-determination and Arab-Israeli conflicts spills out far beyond the borders of the Middle East. Israel wasn’t just the site of regional disputes—it was a Cold War satellite, wrapped up in the interests of the Soviets and the Americans.
    The U.S.S.R. started exerting regional influence in a meaningful way in 1955, when it began supplying Egypt with military equipment. The next year, Britain and the U.S. withdrew financing for Egypt’s Aswan High Dam project over the country’s ties with the U.S.S.R. That move triggered the Suez Crisis of 1956, in which Egypt, with the support of the USSR, nationalized the Suez Canal, which had previously been controlled by French and British interests.
  • I'm fighting for a Cold War medal for everyone who served our country during the Cold War, because you were on the front lines of battling communism. Well, now we're on the front lines of battling terrorism, extremism, and we have to win. Our commitment to freedom, to tolerance, to economic opportunity has inspired people around the world... American values are not just about America, but they speak to the human dignity, the God-given spark that resides in each and every person across the world... We are a good and great nation.
  • A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory…. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
    • Winston Churchill, on Soviet communism and the Cold War, in a speech at Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946 (complete text). Churchill did not coin the phrase "iron curtain", however; the 1920 book Through Bolshevik Russia by English suffragette Ethel Snowden contained the line "We were behind the ‘iron curtain’ at last!" (This fact is mentioned in the article 'Anonymous was a Woman', Yale Alumni Magazine Jan/Feb 2011).
  • In the Soviet Union the fear that the West was about to unleash a 'hot' war was growing. The installation of the Reagan regime and its inflammatory rhetoric had so concerned the Soviets that at a session of the KGB high command and senior staff, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnez and KGB chief Yuri Andropov stated that the United States was actively preparing for a nuclear attack on the USSR. It was announced internally that the KGB and Soviet military intelligence would mount a new intelligence collection operation aimed at monitoring nuclear preparedness and to warn of U.S. nuclear war preparations. The intelligence alert sought information on key U.S./NATO political and strategic decisions about the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty Organization; early warning of U.S./ NATO preparations for launching a surprise nuclear attack; and new U.S./NATO weapons systems intended for use in a surprise nuclear attack. Code named Operation RYaN for raketno-yadernoye napadenie, or nuclear-rocket attack, agents spread across Europe and the rest of the world in search of the signs of an impending U.S. attack on the Soviet Union.
  • At the end of the year people finally got a glimpse of what the United States and NATO had planned for the Pershing and cruise missiles. NATO selectively released parts of a target planning document which said that NATO had "more than 2,500 high-priority targets, about two-thirds are located in the non Soviet-Warsaw Pact and the remaining one-third in the Soviet Union." It also noted that the twenty-five-hundred-kilometre-range ground-launched cruise missile based in the United Kingdom could strike "approximately 87% of the high-priority targets, including Moscow itself."
F.W. de Klerk: The main motivation was the expansionist policies of the U.S.S.R. in southern Africa. They were supporting all the [African] liberation movements—they were supplying weapons and training—and it was part of their vision to gain direct or indirect control over most of the countries in southern Africa. They financed the deployment of many thousands of Cuban troops, especially to Angola, and this was interpreted as a threat first by Prime Minister John Vorster, and following upon him P.W. Botha. [The nuclear arsenal] was never intended, I think, to be used. It was a deterrent. Because of apartheid South Africa was becoming more and more isolated in the eyes of the rest of the world. There wouldn’t be, in the case of Russian aggression or invasion, assistance from the international community. It was felt that, if we have nuclear weapons, and if we then would disclose in a crisis that we have [them], it would change the political scenario and the U.S.A. and other [Western] countries might step in and assist South Africa.
  • The most powerful western asset during the last cold war was not bigger nukes or higher living standards, but self-criticism. However bad western governments may be, they risk trouble eventually—from the media, the courts or the voters. That is not something that one can say with much confidence about Russia now.
  • During the Cold War a new conceptual framework took hold of U.S. defense thinking in an attempt to reduce unpredictability. The advent of the computer and its incorporation into the military as a data processor and numbers cruncher during World War II led commanders to believe that the uncertainty and unpredictability that defined chaos on the battlefield could be overcome through information technology. Chaos was seen as an information deficiency rather than an inescapable element of warfare. Massive amounts of data were collected and processed in an attempt to reach battlefield clarity and subordinate the theatre of war. The new term "command and control" described the belief that commanders could issue orders, receive new information through feedback of their technology system and adjust subsequent orders accordingly.
  • We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.
  • Decay and desolation scar the landscape of a remote corner of the Kazakh Steppe. Unnatural lakes formed by nuclear bomb explosions pockmark the once flat terrain, broken up only by empty shells of buildings. It appears uninhabitable. And yet, ghosts – living and dead – haunt the land, still burdened by the effects a nuclear testing program that stopped nearly 30 years ago.
    The site, known as the Polygon, was home to nearly a quarter of the world’s nuclear tests during the Cold War. The zone was chosen for being unoccupied, but several small agricultural villages dot its perimeter. Though some residents were bussed out during the test period, most remained. The damage that continues today is visceral.
  • UNDER THE four oceans and the seven seas, American and Soviet submarines fight a near-war every day of the year. Relentlessly, they search for one another, trailing an adversary when they can and trying to evade one when detected. They make every move of a real war, except shoot.
    The submarines operate in what Adm. James D. Watkins, the former Chief of Naval Operations, has called an era of violent peace. It is an era marked by sharpening debate among naval officers and strategists about the relative importance to the Navy of submarines, surface vessels and air power in a war at sea. Consensus is slowly building among the experts that, against the Soviet Union, the submarine would be the vanguard. At the same time, fueled by political and budgetary concerns, the debate is gaining a wider audience and promises to be a key issue when hearings over the military budget resume in Congress in February.
    Should a shooting war erupt, many experts argue, submarines would be the capital ships of the American and Soviet fleets. The battleship dominated naval operations in World War I, and the aircraft carrier brought victory at sea in World War II, but the nuclear-powered submarine would provide the edge in a future conflict.
  • For years after World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union had been trying to perfect a long-range missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Building on the successes of Nazi Germany in developing the V-1 and V-2 rockets that pummeled Great Britain during the last months of World War II, both American and Russian scientists raced to improve the range and accuracy of such missiles. (Both nations relied heavily on captured German scientists in their efforts.) In July 1957, the United States seemed to win the race when the Atlas, an ICBM with a speed of up to 20,000 miles an hour and an effective range of 5,000 miles, was ready for testing. The test, however, was a disaster. The missile rose only about 5,000 feet into the air, tumbled, and plunged to earth. Just a month later, the Soviets claimed success by announcing that their own ICBM had been tested, had “covered a huge distance in a brief time,” and “landed in the target area.” No details were given in the Russian announcement and some commentators in the United States doubted that the ICBM test had been as successful as claimed. Nevertheless, the Soviet possession of this “ultimate weapon,” coupled with recent successful test by the Russians of atomic and hydrogen bombs, raised concerns in America. If the Soviets did indeed perfect their ICBM, no part of the United States would be completely safe from possible atomic attack.
  • These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.
  • Growing up during the cold war had the same effect on most of the children of the world. It made them fearful of both blocs. This was one of the reasons European, Latin American, African, and Asian youth were so quick and so resolute in their condemnation of U.S. military action in Vietnam. By and large, theirs was not a support of communists, but a distaste for either bloc imposing its power. To American youth, the execution of the Rosenbergs, the lives ruined by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings, taught them to distrust the U.S. government.
  • The testing of cruise missiles in Canada proved very contentious. The government explained its decision in both political and technical terms. Politically, testing demonstrated alliance solidarity over the modernization of NATO's nuclear deterrent. Technically, testing the missile over terrain similar to that of the northern Soviet Union would improve its effectiveness, and allow the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) to develop an anti-cruise capability. The tests would take place in a 2,200-kilometre test corridor that included parts of the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Tests could involve either releasing the missile in a "free flight" to its target, or allowing its guidance system to direct both the missile and the launch aircraft to the target in a "captive carry" test. The tests take several hours, and involve a number of aircraft in both Canada and the United States, from tankers to fighters to Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes. After the first few years of tests, attention shifted from monitoring the missile itself to attempting to track and intercept it. In order to simulate the climate of the northern Soviet Union, most cruise missile tests in Canada have taken place in the winter months.
  • It was October 1966 and the new development of the new satellite system, Hexagon, was underway. The project was a follow-on to very successful Corona satellite program and a complement to the higher-resolution Gambit satellite.
    All these programs required 315,000 feet of film to be dropped in re-entry vehicles from orbit and retrieved in mid-air by U.S. forces. Gambit and Hexagon were declassified late this year, and its engineers were profiled this week by the Associated Press.
  • Some historians, at least, believe that spy satellites helped keep the Cold War cool. By providing planners with some information about what was going on behind the iron curtain, they kept the fever dreams of our decisionmakers in check. "At the height of the Cold War, our ability to receive this kind of technical intelligence was incredible," space historian Dwayne Day told the AP. "We needed to know what they were doing and where they were doing it, and in particular if they were preparing to invade Western Europe. Hexagon created a tremendous amount of stability because it meant American decision makers were not operating in the dark."
  • From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles (100 kilometers) of film and sophisticated cameras that orbited the earth snapping vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes. The film was shot back through the earth's atmosphere in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks.
  • Through my travels in Russia during the height of the Cold War with a peace delegation, we were shocked by the poverty of the country, and questioned how we ever were led to believe that Russia was a force to be afraid of. We talked to the Russian students who were dismayed by their absolute poverty and showed anger against NATO for leading their country into an arms race that they could not win. Many years later, when speaking to young Americans in the US, I was in disbelief about the fear the students had of Russia and their talk of invasion. This is a good example of how the unknown can cause a deep rooted paranoia when manipulated by the right powers.
  • Gladio had been founded in almost all the Countries that belonged to the Nato, and for Nato's wish, aware that its European partners would not have been able to withstand the attack of a much power armed as the Soviet union: they would have to wait for the rescue, the America's intervention. It's demonstrated by the fact that when this plan was revealed, no other country found nothing to say. Only we Italians – the usual idiots and fools novelists – made it the subject of scandal and pretext of «Crime fictions» that still find credit, as this letter shows. I also feel shocked, and bit offended. But just beacuse no one has called me for adherence to Gladio: I would have given it with enthusiasm.
    • Indro Montanelli, Corriere della Sera (June 7, 1997), p. 35.
    • Operation Gladio is the codename for a clandestine NATO "stay-behind" operation in Europe during the Cold War. Its purpose was to continue anti-communist actions in the event of a Soviet invasion and conquest. Although Gladio specifically refers to the Italian branch of the NATO stay-behind organizations, "Operation Gladio" is used as an informal name for all stay-behind organizations.
  • On October 23, 1947, American observers noted the existence of forty-eight Tu-4 "Bull" aircraft in service with the Soviet Union. The Tu-4 was a reverse-engineered copy of the Boeing B-29, a few of which had landed in the Far East during World War II. These bombers gave the Soviets the range to bomb targets in the United States.
    On April 1, 1948, the Soviet Union closed off all land approaches to the Allied sectors of Berlin, Germany. The Berlin Blockade would last until September 30, 1949. More importantly, all friendly US-USSR interrelations effectively ended.
    On September 23, 1949, President Harry Truman announced the detection of a Soviet nuclear weapon detonation which had occurred between the dates of August 26 and 29. The United States' monopoly on nuclear weapons had ended. The "Cold War" had begun.
  • The deteriorating international situation in Europe and Asia during the years 1948-49 prompted new concern over the state of continental defense. Obviously, the existing antiaircraft defenses needed to be upgraded. The Nike missile was still in the classified development stage; gun units would have to be used until the missiles could be deployed.
    The ourbreak of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, finally brought about the wholesale reorganization and rebuilding of the air defense infrastructure. On July 1, 1950, the Army Reorganization Act combined all of the Army's artillery units into a single Combat Arm (and incidentally, marked the formal demise of the Coast Artillery). It also established the Antiaircraft Command (ARAACOM) as the single command responsible for manning, training and equipping the Army's AA units. Operational control, however, would still rest with the Air Force, much to the Army's consternation.
    • Ibid, p. 5.
  • The Nike missiles were deployed at fixed sites in circular pattern around key American government/industrial/transportation and military locations; the larger the defended area, the more Ajax sites that were constructed. For example, larger defenses such as Los Angeles or New York received sixteen and nineteen Ajax batteries respectively. Smaller defenses such as Ellsworth and Loring AFBs received four sites each.
    • Ibid, pp.8-9.
  • Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, three states of the former Soviet Union that have nuclear arms on their territory, formally agreed with the United States and Russia today to give up those weapons by the end of the decade and not to seek nuclear arms again.
    In a wordless, austere ceremony in the barroom of a Lisbon hotel, Secretary of State James A. Baker III and officials of Russia and the three other nuclear-armed former Soviet republics signed a protocol, or legal supplement, to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), pledging to carry out its terms.
    They thus laid the groundwork for ratification of the landmark START treaty and for permitting negotiations to go ahead between the United States and Russia for deeper cutbacks in nuclear arms.
    The full significance of the occasion, which took months of difficult negotiation to arrange, went far beyond the pale legalism of the six-page documents the diplomats signed. Today's ceremony was a hard-won milestone in a mostly invisible, yet intense diplomatic struggle to maintain control over the world's largest and most awesome array of long-range nuclear weapons, as the Soviet Union, the nation that created and held them during the decades of the Cold War, splintered into more than a dozen parts.
  • The greater effectiveness and efficiency of employing limited assets in larger-scale, targeted air operations had been one of the major lessons learned by the US Air Force during the war in southeast Asia. This new conceptual approach to the employment of airpower culminated in the mid-1980s in the rise of ‘composite air operations’, involving 50–100 aircraft and designed to overwhelm the Warsaw Pact’s dense air defences and inflict large-scale damage on its land forces and ground infrastructure. The concept of a comprehensive ‘air campaign’ that guided the employment of coalition air forces during the 1991 Gulf War had been born.
    • Ibid, p.563.
  • During the Cold War, successive British governments regarded nuclear weapons as a symbol of technological prowess and global status. Sir Winston Churchill’s scientific adviser Lord Cherwell argued that the development of hydrogen as well as atomic weapons was central to maintaining Britain’s status as an imperial power: “If we are unable to make the Bomb ourselves and have to rely entirely on the United States for this vital weapon, we shall sink to the rank of a second class nation, only permitted to supply auxiliary troops, like the native levies who were supplied small arms but not artillery.”
  • In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Ike Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to grow in the U.S.S.R.’s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested—and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated—the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America’s advantage. At the time of the missile crisis, the Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 138 long-range bombers with 392 nuclear warheads, and 72 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads (SLBMs). These forces were arrayed against a vastly more powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal of 203 ICBMs, 1,306 long-range bombers with 3,104 nuclear warheads, and 144 SLBMs—all told, about nine times as many nuclear weapons as the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America’s huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well.
  • America's first nuclear war plan, adopted in 1948 and codenamed Halfmoon, called for 50 atomic bombs to be dropped on the Soviet Union. The number was subsequently increased to 133, aimed at 70 cities. Leningrad was to be hit by seven bombs, Moscow by eight. There seemed no alternative to the threat of mass slaughter. This US strategy was called "the nation-killing concept".
  • By the mid-1950s, the American war plan had shifted from hitting "countervalue" targets (cities) to destroying "counterforce" targets (military facilities). The invention of the hydrogen bomb had created nuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The Soviet Union now had its own nuclear weapons, and destroying them became the air force's principal goal.
  • In 1958, Bomber Command's emergency war plan called for the destruction of 44 Soviet cities. Such an attack would kill about 38 million people. One hydrogen bomb would be dropped on the centre of each city, but Moscow would be hit by four and Leningrad by two. Had Britain gone to war alongside the US in the early 1960s, Bomber Command would have been asked to destroy an additional 25 Soviet cities. As air defences improved in the Soviet Union, the number of urban areas that Britain planned to destroy unilaterally was reduced. By the late 1960s, the missiles carried by Polaris submarines served as the British strategic deterrent, and they were aimed at fewer than a dozen Soviet cities. Until the end of the cold war, the complete destruction of the Soviet Union's capital – known as the "Moscow criterion" – was the UK's main objective.
  • The safety issues with American nuclear weapons had implications far beyond US borders. Nato forces relied on many of them. For years, the number of American nuclear weapons deployed in Britain exceeded the number of British ones. According to the historian John Simpson, in 1959 the RAF had 71 British atomic bombs and 168 American ones. In the years that followed, the nuclear weapons manufactured in Britain became remarkably similar to those made in the US, thanks to the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement. The design of "Red Snow", the nuclear component at the heart of Britain's first widely deployed hydrogen bomb, was based on that of the American Mark 28 bomb. In 1961, Harold Macmillan was told British weapon development was "confined almost entirely to copying US designs".
  • On the morning of Sept. 14, 1954, in the Ural Mountains about 600 miles southeast of Moscow, the Soviet military exploded an atomic bomb in the air near 45,000 Red Army troops and thousands of civilians as part of a military exercise.
    How many people were killed or maimed or became ill as a result of the exercise may never be known. But a film of the test recently obtained from secret Soviet military archives sheds new light on the often reckless nuclear testing during the cold war and the use of people as guinea pigs, nuclear specialists say.
  • In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too
  • We are carrying into the next decade many unresolved problems raised by Vietnam. How can a democracy such as ours defend its interests at acceptable cost and continue to enjoy the freedom of speech and behavior to which we are accustomed in time of peace? To a Communist enemy the Cold War is a total, unending conflict with the United States and its allies- without formal military hostilities, to be sure- but conducted with the same discipline and determination as a formal war. Unless we can learn to exercise some degree of self-discipline, to accept and enforce some reasonable standard of responsible civic conduct, and to remove the many self-created obstacles to the use of our power, we will be unable to meet the hard competition waiting for us in the decade of the 1970s.
  • I suppose that history will remember my term in office as the years when the 'Cold War' began to overshadow our lives. I have had hardly a day in office that has not been dominated by this all embracing struggle―this conflict between those who love freedom and those who would lead the world back into thuggery and darkness. And always in the background there is the atomic bomb. But when history says that my term of office saw the beginning of the Cold War, it will also say that in those eight years we have set the course that can win it. We have succeeded in carving out a new set of policies to attain peace―positive policies, policies of world leadership, policies that express faith in other free people. We have averted World War III up to now, and we may already have succeeded in establishing conditions which can keep that war from happening as far ahead as man can see.
    • Harry S. Truman, 1953 Farewell Address
  • With the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union was now high on the list of tyrannical enemies of democracy, and American nuclear weapons development and strategic theory were fashioned with that enemy foremost in mind. Oppenheimer’s sympathy for Communism, his enthusiasm for world government as the ultimate arbiter of nuclear technology, and his qualms about the proposed second generation of nuclear weapons, played a critical role in the history of the Cold War and in the precipitous course of his subsequent career.
  • The deepening cold war between the US and China will be a bigger worry for the world than coronavirus, according to influential economist Jeffrey Sachs. The world is headed for a period of "massive disruption without any leadership" in the aftermath of the pandemic, he told the BBC. The divide between the two superpowers will exacerbate this, he warned. The Columbia University professor blamed the US administration for the hostilities between the two countries.
  • Korolev needed to go full speed ahead with the satellites development, so he stressed the potential military importance of the satellite.
    "With the help of the satellite… [it] will be possible to receive important data necessary for future development of science and military technology… it will be possible to conduct photo-reconnaissance of the (Earth's) surface…" he wrote in the Aug. 5, 1955, letter to the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

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