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Origins of the Cold War

The struggle between superpowers.

  • Toward a new world order

Berlin blockade and airlift

What was the Cold War?

How did the cold war end, why was the cuban missile crisis such an important event in the cold war.

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Berlin blockade and airlift

The Cold War was an ongoing political rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies that developed after World War II . This hostility between the two superpowers was first given its name by George Orwell in an article published in 1945. Orwell understood it as a nuclear stalemate between “super-states”: each possessed weapons of mass destruction and was capable of annihilating the other.

The Cold War began after the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, when the uneasy alliance between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other started to fall apart. The Soviet Union began to establish left-wing governments in the countries of eastern Europe, determined to safeguard against a possible renewed threat from Germany. The Americans and the British worried that Soviet domination in eastern Europe might be permanent. The Cold War was solidified by 1947–48, when U.S. aid had brought certain Western countries under American influence and the Soviets had established openly communist regimes. Nevertheless, there was very little use of weapons on battlefields during the Cold War. It was waged mainly on political, economic, and propaganda fronts and lasted until 1991.

The Cold War came to a close gradually. The unity in the communist bloc was unraveling throughout the 1960s and ’70s as a split occurred between China and the Soviet Union . Meanwhile, Japan and certain Western countries were becoming more economically independent. Increasingly complex international relationships developed as a result, and smaller countries became more resistant to superpower cajoling.

The Cold War truly began to break down during the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev , who changed the more totalitarian aspects of the Soviet government and tried to democratize its political system. Communist regimes began to collapse in eastern Europe, and democratic governments rose in East Germany , Poland , Hungary , and Czechoslovakia , followed by the reunification of West and East Germany under NATO auspices. Gorbachev’s reforms meanwhile weakened his own communist party and allowed power to shift to the constituent governments of the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, giving rise to 15 newly independent nations, including a Russia with an anticommunist leader.

In the late 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union were developing intercontinental ballistic missiles . In 1962 the Soviet Union began to secretly install missiles in Cuba to launch attacks on U.S. cities. The confrontation that followed, known as the Cuban missile crisis , brought the two superpowers to the brink of war before an agreement was reached to withdraw the missiles.

The conflict showed that both superpowers were wary of using their nuclear weapons against each other for fear of mutual atomic annihilation. The signing of the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty followed in 1963, which banned aboveground nuclear weapons testing. Still, after the crisis, the Soviets were determined not to be humiliated by their military inferiority again, and they began a buildup of conventional and strategic forces that the United States was forced to match for the next 25 years.

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Cold War , the open yet restricted rivalry that developed after World War II between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. The Cold War was waged on political, economic, and propaganda fronts and had only limited recourse to weapons. The term was first used by the English writer George Orwell in an article published in 1945 to refer to what he predicted would be a nuclear stalemate between “two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds.” It was first used in the United States by the American financier and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch in a speech at the State House in Columbia, South Carolina , in 1947.

A brief treatment of the Cold War follows. For full treatment, see international relations .

Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945 near the close of World War II , the uneasy wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other began to unravel. By 1948 the Soviets had installed left-wing governments in the countries of eastern Europe that had been liberated by the Red Army . The Americans and the British feared the permanent Soviet domination of eastern Europe and the threat of Soviet-influenced communist parties coming to power in the democracies of western Europe. The Soviets, on the other hand, were determined to maintain control of eastern Europe in order to safeguard against any possible renewed threat from Germany, and they were intent on spreading communism worldwide, largely for ideological reasons. The Cold War had solidified by 1947–48, when U.S. aid provided under the Marshall Plan to western Europe had brought those countries under American influence and the Soviets had installed openly communist regimes in eastern Europe.

origins of cold war essay questions

The Cold War reached its peak in 1948–53. In this period the Soviets unsuccessfully blockaded the Western-held sectors of West Berlin (1948–49); the United States and its European allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a unified military command to resist the Soviet presence in Europe (1949); the Soviets exploded their first atomic warhead (1949), thus ending the American monopoly on the atomic bomb; the Chinese communists came to power in mainland China (1949); and the Soviet-supported communist government of North Korea invaded U.S.-supported South Korea in 1950, setting off an indecisive Korean War that lasted until 1953.

Wreckage of the U-2 spy plane shot down inside the Soviet Union in 1960. U-2 spy plane incident, U-2 affair, Cold War.

From 1953 to 1957 Cold War tensions relaxed somewhat, largely owing to the death of the longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953; nevertheless, the standoff remained. A unified military organization among the Soviet-bloc countries, the Warsaw Pact , was formed in 1955; and West Germany was admitted into NATO that same year. Another intense stage of the Cold War was in 1958–62. The United States and the Soviet Union began developing intercontinental ballistic missiles , and in 1962 the Soviets began secretly installing missiles in Cuba that could be used to launch nuclear attacks on U.S. cities. This sparked the Cuban missile crisis (1962), a confrontation that brought the two superpowers to the brink of war before an agreement was reached to withdraw the missiles.

origins of cold war essay questions

The Cuban missile crisis showed that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union were ready to use nuclear weapons for fear of the other’s retaliation (and thus of mutual atomic annihilation). The two superpowers soon signed the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty of 1963 , which banned aboveground nuclear weapons testing. But the crisis also hardened the Soviets’ determination never again to be humiliated by their military inferiority, and they began a buildup of both conventional and strategic forces that the United States was forced to match for the next 25 years.

origins of cold war essay questions

Throughout the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union avoided direct military confrontation in Europe and engaged in actual combat operations only to keep allies from defecting to the other side or to overthrow them after they had done so. Thus, the Soviet Union sent troops to preserve communist rule in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956) , Czechoslovakia (1968) , and Afghanistan (1979) . For its part, the United States helped overthrow a left-wing government in Guatemala (1954) , supported an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba (1961), invaded the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983) , and undertook a long (1954–75) and unsuccessful effort to prevent communist North Vietnam from bringing South Vietnam under its rule ( see Vietnam War ).

origins of cold war essay questions

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Cold War History

By: History.com Editors

Updated: June 26, 2023 | Original: October 27, 2009

Operation Ivy Hydrogen Bomb Test in Marshall Islands A billowing white mushroom cloud, mottled with orange, pushes through a layer of clouds during Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb, at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension marked by competition and confrontation between communist nations led by the Soviet Union and Western democracies including the United States. During World War II , the United States and the Soviets fought together as allies against Nazi Germany . However, U.S./Soviet relations were never truly friendly: Americans had long been wary of Soviet communism and Russian leader Joseph Stalin ’s tyrannical rule. The Soviets resented Americans’ refusal to give them a leading role in the international community, as well as America’s delayed entry into World War II, in which millions of Russians died.

These grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity that never developed into open warfare (thus the term “cold war”). Soviet expansionism into Eastern Europe fueled many Americans’ fears of a Russian plan to control the world. Meanwhile, the USSR came to resent what they perceived as U.S. officials’ bellicose rhetoric, arms buildup and strident approach to international relations. In such a hostile atmosphere, no single party was entirely to blame for the Cold War; in fact, some historians believe it was inevitable.

Containment

By the time World War II ended, most American officials agreed that the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “containment.” In his famous “Long Telegram,” the diplomat George Kennan (1904-2005) explained the policy: The Soviet Union, he wrote, was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the U.S. there can be no permanent modus vivendi [agreement between parties that disagree].” As a result, America’s only choice was the “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”

“It must be the policy of the United States,” he declared before Congress in 1947, “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation…by outside pressures.” This way of thinking would shape American foreign policy for the next four decades.

Did you know? The term 'cold war' first appeared in a 1945 essay by the English writer George Orwell called 'You and the Atomic Bomb.'

The Cold War: The Atomic Age

The containment strategy also provided the rationale for an unprecedented arms buildup in the United States. In 1950, a National Security Council Report known as NSC–68 had echoed Truman’s recommendation that the country use military force to contain communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be occurring. To that end, the report called for a four-fold increase in defense spending.

In particular, American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons like the ones that had ended World War II. Thus began a deadly “ arms race .” In 1949, the Soviets tested an atom bomb of their own. In response, President Truman announced that the United States would build an even more destructive atomic weapon: the hydrogen bomb, or “superbomb.” Stalin followed suit.

As a result, the stakes of the Cold War were perilously high. The first H-bomb test, in the Eniwetok atoll in the Marshall Islands, showed just how fearsome the nuclear age could be. It created a 25-square-mile fireball that vaporized an island, blew a huge hole in the ocean floor and had the power to destroy half of Manhattan. Subsequent American and Soviet tests spewed radioactive waste into the atmosphere.

The ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation had a great impact on American domestic life as well. People built bomb shelters in their backyards. They practiced attack drills in schools and other public places. The 1950s and 1960s saw an epidemic of popular films that horrified moviegoers with depictions of nuclear devastation and mutant creatures. In these and other ways, the Cold War was a constant presence in Americans’ everyday lives.

origins of cold war essay questions

HISTORY Vault: Nuclear Terror

Now more than ever, terrorist groups are obtaining nuclear weapons. With increasing cases of theft and re-sale at dozens of Russian sites, it's becoming more and more likely for terrorists to succeed.

The Cold War and the Space Race

Space exploration served as another dramatic arena for Cold War competition. On October 4, 1957, a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile launched Sputnik (Russian for “traveling companion”), the world’s first artificial satellite and the first man-made object to be placed into the Earth’s orbit. Sputnik’s launch came as a surprise, and not a pleasant one, to most Americans.

In the United States, space was seen as the next frontier, a logical extension of the grand American tradition of exploration, and it was crucial not to lose too much ground to the Soviets. In addition, this demonstration of the overwhelming power of the R-7 missile–seemingly capable of delivering a nuclear warhead into U.S. air space–made gathering intelligence about Soviet military activities particularly urgent.

In 1958, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I, designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and what came to be known as the Space Race was underway. That same year, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a public order creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a federal agency dedicated to space exploration, as well as several programs seeking to exploit the military potential of space. Still, the Soviets were one step ahead, launching the first man into space in April 1961.

That May, after Alan Shepard become the first American man in space, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) made the bold public claim that the U.S. would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. His prediction came true on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission , became the first man to set foot on the moon, effectively winning the Space Race for the Americans. 

U.S. astronauts came to be seen as the ultimate American heroes. Soviets, in turn, were pictured as the ultimate villains, with their massive, relentless efforts to surpass America and prove the power of the communist system.

The Cold War and the Red Scare

Meanwhile, beginning in 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee ( HUAC ) brought the Cold War home in another way. The committee began a series of hearings designed to show that communist subversion in the United States was alive and well.

In Hollywood , HUAC forced hundreds of people who worked in the movie industry to renounce left-wing political beliefs and testify against one another. More than 500 people lost their jobs. Many of these “blacklisted” writers, directors, actors and others were unable to work again for more than a decade. HUAC also accused State Department workers of engaging in subversive activities. Soon, other anticommunist politicians, most notably Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), expanded this probe to include anyone who worked in the federal government. 

Thousands of federal employees were investigated, fired and even prosecuted. As this anticommunist hysteria spread throughout the 1950s, liberal college professors lost their jobs, people were asked to testify against colleagues and “loyalty oaths” became commonplace.

The Cold War Abroad

The fight against subversion at home mirrored a growing concern with the Soviet threat abroad. In June 1950, the first military action of the Cold War began when the Soviet-backed North Korean People’s Army invaded its pro-Western neighbor to the south. Many American officials feared this was the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world and deemed that nonintervention was not an option. Truman sent the American military into Korea, but the Korean War dragged to a stalemate and ended in 1953.

In 1955, the United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made West Germany a member of NATO and permitted it to remilitarize. The Soviets responded with the Warsaw Pact , a mutual defense organization between the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria that set up a unified military command under Marshal Ivan S. Konev of the Soviet Union.

Other international disputes followed. In the early 1960s, President Kennedy faced a number of troubling situations in his own hemisphere. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis the following year seemed to prove that the real communist threat now lay in the unstable, postcolonial “Third World.” 

Nowhere was this more apparent than in Vietnam , where the collapse of the French colonial regime had led to a struggle between the American-backed nationalist Ngo Dinh Diem in the south and the communist nationalist Ho Chi Minh in the north. Since the 1950s, the United States had been committed to the survival of an anticommunist government in the region, and by the early 1960s it seemed clear to American leaders that if they were to successfully “contain” communist expansionism there, they would have to intervene more actively on Diem’s behalf. However, what was intended to be a brief military action spiraled into a 10-year conflict .

The End of the Cold War and Effects

Almost as soon as he took office, President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) began to implement a new approach to international relations. Instead of viewing the world as a hostile, “bi-polar” place, he suggested, why not use diplomacy instead of military action to create more poles? To that end, he encouraged the United Nations to recognize the communist Chinese government and, after a trip there in 1972, began to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing.

At the same time, he adopted a policy of “détente”—”relaxation”—toward the Soviet Union. In 1972, he and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), which prohibited the manufacture of nuclear missiles by both sides and took a step toward reducing the decades-old threat of nuclear war.

Despite Nixon’s efforts, the Cold War heated up again under President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004). Like many leaders of his generation, Reagan believed that the spread of communism anywhere threatened freedom everywhere. As a result, he worked to provide financial and military aid to anticommunist governments and insurgencies around the world. This policy, particularly as it was applied in the developing world in places like Grenada and El Salvador, was known as the Reagan Doctrine .

Even as Reagan fought communism in Central America, however, the Soviet Union was disintegrating. In response to severe economic problems and growing political ferment in the USSR, Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022) took office in 1985 and introduced two policies that redefined Russia’s relationship to the rest of the world: “glasnost,” or political openness, and “ perestroika ,” or economic reform. 

Soviet influence in Eastern Europe waned. In 1989, every other communist state in the region replaced its government with a noncommunist one. In November of that year, the Berlin Wall –the most visible symbol of the decades-long Cold War–was finally destroyed, just over two years after Reagan had challenged the Soviet premier in a speech at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” By 1991, the Soviet Union itself had fallen apart. The Cold War was over.

Karl Marx

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Cold War Question Generator

From the syllabus.

Rivalry, mistrust and accord The breakdown of the grand alliance and the emergence of superpower rivalry in Europe and Asia (1943–1949): role of ideology; fear and aggression; economic interests; a comparison of the roles of the US and the USSR The US, USSR and China—superpower relations (1947–1979): containment; peaceful co-existence; Sino-Soviet and Sino-US relations; detente Confrontation and reconciliation; reasons for the end of the Cold War (1980–1991): ideological challenges and dissent; economic problems; arms race Leaders and nations The impact of two leaders, each chosen from a different region, on the course and development of the Cold War The impact of Cold War tensions on two countries (excluding the USSR and the US) Cold War crises Cold War crises case studies: detailed study of any two Cold War crises from different regions: examination and comparison of the causes, impact and significance of the two crises

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110 Cold War Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

Inside This Article

The Cold War, a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, lasted from the end of World War II until the early 1990s. This era shaped the modern world and influenced countless aspects of politics, economics, and society. If you're tasked with writing an essay about the Cold War, choosing a compelling topic is crucial. To help you brainstorm ideas and find inspiration, here are 110 Cold War essay topic ideas and examples.

  • The origins of the Cold War: Analyzing the causes of the conflict.
  • The Yalta Conference: Assessing its impact on the Cold War.
  • The Truman Doctrine: Examining its role in shaping the Cold War.
  • The Marshall Plan: Evaluating its impact on European recovery and the Cold War.
  • The Berlin Airlift: Analyzing its significance in the context of the Cold War.
  • The Korean War: Assessing its role as a proxy conflict during the Cold War.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis: Evaluating its impact on U.S.-Soviet relations and the Cold War.
  • The Space Race: Analyzing its influence on the Cold War and technological advancements.
  • The arms race: Assessing the importance of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
  • The Iron Curtain: Examining its role in dividing Europe during the Cold War.
  • The domino theory: Evaluating its influence on U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War.
  • The Suez Crisis: Analyzing its impact on the Cold War and decolonization.
  • The Vietnam War: Assessing its role as a Cold War battleground.
  • The Prague Spring: Evaluating its significance in the context of the Cold War.
  • The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: Analyzing its impact on the Cold War.
  • Détente: Assessing the policies and consequences of the period of eased tensions.
  • The Helsinki Accords: Evaluating their role in the Cold War and human rights.
  • The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI): Analyzing its influence on U.S.-Soviet relations.
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall: Assessing its importance in ending the Cold War.
  • Perestroika and Glasnost: Evaluating their impact on the Soviet Union and the Cold War.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union: Analyzing its effects on the post-Cold War world.
  • Proxy wars during the Cold War: Analyzing conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • The impact of the Cold War on the Third World: Assessing economic and political consequences.
  • The role of propaganda during the Cold War: Analyzing its use by both sides.
  • The cultural impact of the Cold War: Evaluating the influence on film, literature, and music.
  • The role of espionage during the Cold War: Analyzing famous spies and intelligence agencies.
  • The arms control talks: Assessing their effectiveness in reducing Cold War tensions.
  • The role of non-aligned countries during the Cold War: Analyzing their significance.
  • The impact of the Cold War on sports: Evaluating the use of athletic competitions for propaganda.
  • The Cold War and the nuclear family: Analyzing the influence on societal norms.
  • The Cold War and the Red Scare: Assessing the impact on civil liberties in the United States.
  • The role of women during the Cold War: Analyzing their contributions and limitations.
  • The impact of the Cold War on popular culture: Evaluating its portrayal in movies and TV shows.
  • The Cold War and the arms trade: Assessing the influence on global weapons proliferation.
  • The impact of the Cold War on the Middle East: Analyzing regional conflicts and alliances.
  • The Cold War and the space exploration: Evaluating the role of technology and scientific advancements.
  • The role of NATO during the Cold War: Assessing its importance in collective defense.
  • The impact of the Cold War on East Asia: Analyzing the division of Korea and China's role.
  • The Cold War and the European Union: Evaluating the influence on European integration.
  • The impact of the Cold War on Latin America: Analyzing U.S. interventions and communist movements.
  • The role of technology in the Cold War: Analyzing advancements in communication and surveillance.
  • The Cold War and the United Nations: Assessing its role in maintaining global stability.
  • The impact of the Cold War on the arms industry: Evaluating its economic consequences.
  • The space race and its impact on scientific research: Analyzing technological advancements.
  • The Cold War and nuclear accidents: Assessing the risks and consequences.
  • The influence of Cold War propaganda on public opinion: Analyzing its effects.
  • The Cold War and the media: Evaluating the role of journalism in shaping public perception.
  • The impact of the Cold War on education: Analyzing curriculum changes and ideological influences.
  • The Cold War and the military-industrial complex: Assessing its influence on the economy.
  • The role of ideology in the Cold War: Analyzing the clash of capitalism and communism.
  • The Cold War and the nuclear arms control treaties: Evaluating their effectiveness.
  • The impact of the Cold War on human rights: Analyzing violations and international responses.
  • The Cold War and the rise of terrorism: Assessing its connection to geopolitical rivalries.
  • The role of intelligence agencies during the Cold War: Analyzing covert operations.
  • The impact of the Cold War on the environment: Evaluating nuclear testing and pollution.

These are just a few examples of the many possible topics you can explore in a Cold War essay. Consider your interests, the requirements of your assignment, and the available resources to choose a topic that engages you and allows for in-depth research. Remember, a well-chosen topic is the first step towards crafting an exceptional essay on the Cold War.

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Reasons for the Cold War: 4 Essay Questions

For ‘O’ and ‘N’ Level History, the reasons for the Cold War are tested quite frequently. As a reason, I am giving out some suggested answers for the reasons for the Cold War. This is only a sample of the essay question database but I believe that it gives students a good variety of questions to refer to.

Download Here!

The reasons for the Cold War Essay questions are presented below:

1. Explain the reasons for the Cold War.

(P) The Soviets perceived that the Allies had purposely delayed the opening of the Second Front .

(E) The Soviet Red Army bore the brunt of the German attacks in World War Two. In 1941, Stalin urged the Allies to open a Second Front in France to relieve the Soviet forces of the immense pressure from the German army. But it was never opened until 1942.

( E ) Stalin perceived this delay as a deliberate attempt by the Allies to minimize their losses and to let Germany and the USSR weaken and destroy each other in the process.

(L) Hence, Stalin did not trust the Allies and this distrust was one of the reasons for the Cold War after World War Two.

(P) The disagreements during the Yalta Conference of February 1945 created a rift between the Allies and the Soviets.

(E) In Feb 1945, Stalin, US President Roosevelt and British PM Churchill met at Yalta to decide on how they should defeat Germany and arrangements for post-war Europe. They agreed to divide Germany and Berlin, set up the United Nations and Soviet assistant against Japan.

(E) Beneath the seemingly friendly relations and agreements among the three leaders were very different ideas about how post-war Europe should be. USSR wanted a Communist Europe while the USA and Britain disagreed.

(L) Thus, it was apparent from the difficult negotiations at the Yalta conference that the wartime alliance would soon give way to differences.

( P ) Another one of the reasons for the Cold War was the USA’s nuclear monopoly and the use of the atomic bomb on Japan was the final nail in the coffin.

(E) The Americans had been developing a new weapon, the atomic bomb, under the Manhattan Project since 1942. The USA used the atomic bombs on Japan in August to bring back a quick end to the war and hoped that it would give the USA political leverage over the USSR in post-war negotiations.

(E) However, the US kept the Project a secret and informed Stalin only after its successful testing. It only served to make Stalin suspicious of the US intentions. Stalin also saw the nuclear monopoly as a threat and this led to his desire for his country to catch up with the Americans, contributing to the arms race after World War Two.

(L)Thus the American nuclear monopoly further strained relations between the USA and the USSR resulted in the arms race, which led to the start of the Cold War.

2. “The Cold War came about because Stalin was afraid of the Western powers.” How far do you agree with the statement? Explain your answer.

(P) I agree in part that the Cold War came about because Stalin was afraid of the Western powers.

( E ) Stalin worried tremendously about the Western powers and his reaction to the Western powers accelerated the Cold War. The Western democracies and Communism have a long history of distrust so it is not surprising that Stalin feared that the Western powers would challenge the interests of the Soviet Union.

It did not help that the Western powers did not immediately create a second front during World War II. Stalin was convinced that the Western powers did that in the hope that Nazi Germany and Communist Soviet Union would exhaust each other.

He was also very concerned with America’s invention of the nuclear bomb. This concern was made worse when he learnt of it through spies instead of being informed as an ally should be.

( E ) As a result, he created a buffer zone around the Soviet Union by forcing Communism on the East European countries. He hoped that if an invasion came, these countries would shield the Soviet Union. Ironically, these moves made the Western powers even more suspicious of Stalin.

(L) Hence, one of the reasons for the Cold War was Stalin’s worry about the Western powers.

( P ) However, I also do not agree with this statement as the most important reason for the Cold War was the ideological differences.

( E ) The Western powers believed in democracy, where there is freedom of speech and political parties campaign to be the next leader via an election. The Soviets did not have any elections – the Communist party was the only political party. Even if there was a choice of leader, it would still be between two members of the Communist party.

In terms of economic structure, the Soviets had a command economy. Every company belonged to the nation and the nation controlled what was produced and at what quantity. Workers were paid equally.

On the other hand, the Western powers believed in capitalism. Private companies were allowed, and they could decide what to produce and at what quantity. As a result, some people became successful and earned a lot of money.

( E ) The history of conflict between the Western powers and the Communist Soviet Union go all the way back even before World War I. When the Soviet Union was first set up, the British and France sent troops to Russia to fight against them. Throughout the 1930s, they had an uneasy relationship with each other and frequently tried to persuade Hitler to act against the other side.

(L) Hence one of the reasons for the Cold War was due to ideological differences.

( Thesis ) I do not agree with the statement that the Cold War started because of Stalin’s fear.

( Weighing ) The Cold War started due to deep-seated differences from the first day Russia became Communist. Because their ideologies conflict with each other, it caused a long history of fear and distrust of each other. Stalin’s fear of the Western powers must be viewed within this context. Hence, I disagree with the statement.

3. Explain why the USA introduced the Marshall Plan in June 1947.

( P ) The USA introduced the Marshall Plan in June 1947 because they believed that it hindered the spread of Communism in Europe.

( E ) After WWII, the USA believed that every country in Europe was so poor that it was in danger of turning Communist. This was because Communism advocated equality and the equal distribution of resources. As a result, it was very appealing to the poorest as it would mean their lives would improve immediately when the wealth of the richest are redistributed.

( E ) Countries that received financial aid from the Marshall Plan were opening themselves to the USA’s influence. Communism soon fell in disfavour in Western Europe as Marshall Plan helped to kick-start the economic recovery in these countries. USA was perceived to be sincere and active in helping Europe while USSR was viewed as being more concerned with its own survival.

(L) Consequently, the Marshall Plan succeeded in containing the spread of communism by undermining Soviet influence in Europe.

(P) At the same time, the Marshall Plan had a humanitarian element to it as it was designed to help the countries that suffered the most during World War II.

( E ) Many leading industrial and cultural centres in Europe, including many cities in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium had been destroyed. The economic reports sent back to the United States suggested that some parts of Europe were on the brink of famine because the food production centres had been destroyed during the war. Furthermore, the transportation infrastructure like railways, bridges, parts and roads were destroyed.

( E ) The Marshall Plan sought to rebuild Europe with 15 billion. It began to reconstruct cities, industries and infrastructure heavily damaged during the war. It also removed trade barriers between European neighbours—as well as foster commerce between those countries and the United States.

(L) As a result, Europe rapidly recovered from the economic disaster created after the war.  

4. Explain why the American containment policy in Europe was a success in the late 1940s.

( P ) The American containment policy in Europe was a success in the late 1940s due to the USA’s willingness and ability to help the Western European countries economically.

( E ) the USA came up with the Marshall Plan in 1947 to contain Communism. USA believed that prosperity was an antidote to Communism so the USA aimed to offer financial help to Europe to help countries recover their economies after World War Two and build a prosperous and democratic Europe. Being the richer superpower as compared to USSR, the USA was able to provide US$13 billion in aid, funds and goods to 16 countries in Western Europe such as Britain and France.

( E ) As a result, it was a success as these countries were able to recover their economies more quickly than the countries in Eastern Europe under Communist rule. Due to the improvement in living standards in Western Europe, these countries were grateful to the USA for helping them and continued to stay democratic and support the USA.

(L) Therefore, the USA was successful in containing Communism as countries in Western Europe were not attracted to Communism at all and the spread of Communism was no longer a threat in Western Europe.

( P ) The American containment policy in Europe was a success in the late 1940s due to USA’s determination to protect their democratic allies in Western Europe.

( E ) the USA saw an urgent need to step up to protect Western European countries and deter Stalin from potentially spreading Communism to Western Europe with the use of force. Thus, the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949 was a military alliance formed to defend Europe from Soviet attack.

( E ) With many Western European countries such as Britain, France, Italy, Belgium in NATO as well as USA’s firm commitment to help all member states if they were attacked by Soviet Union, this helped to further strengthen the security of Western Europe.

(L) As such, USA was successful in containing Communism as Western Europe emerged united and strong as a democratic bloc even when Cold War continued for many years.

This is part of the History Structured Essay Question series. The other topics are as follows:

  • Treaty of Versailles
  • League of Nations
  • Rise of Stalin
  • Stalin’s Rule
  • Rise of Hitler
  • Hitler’s Rule
  • Reasons for World War 2 in Europe
  • Reasons for the defeat of Germany
  • Reasons for World War II in Asia-Pacific
  • Reasons for the defeat of Japan
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • End of the Cold War

For more information about the History syllabus, do click here .

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The Origins of the Cold War - A Review Essay

Profile image of Andras Schweitzer

Following the logic of earlier scholarly debates on which side is to be blamed for the Cold War it appears that in fact both or neither: it was the inevitable consequence of the fact that two superpowers emerged after the conflagration of WWII. The ideology confrontation mattered much less vis-a-vis this immense global power shift.

Related Papers

Jonathan Morales

origins of cold war essay questions

Bibliography of New Cold War History

Aigul Kazhenova , Tsotne Tchanturia , Marijn Mulder , Ahmet Ömer Yüce , Sergei Zakharov , Mirkamran Huseynli , Pınar Eldemir , Angela Aiello , Rastko Lompar

This bibliography attempts to present the publications on the history of the Cold War published after 1989, the beginning of the „archival revolution” in the former Soviet bloc countries. While this first edition is still far from complete, it collects a huge number of books, articles and book chapters on the topic and it is the most extensive such bibliography so far, almost 600 pages in length. An enlarged and updated edition will be completed in 2018.

Tsotne Tchanturia , Vajda Barnabás , Gökay Çınar , Barnabás Vajda , Lenka Thérová , Simon Szilvási , Irem Osmanoglu , Rastko Lompar , Aigul Kazhenova , Pınar Eldemir , Natalija Dimić Lompar , Sára Büki

This bibliography attemts to present the publications on the history of the Cold War published after 1989, the beginning of the „archival revolution” in the former Soviet bloc countries. While this first edition is still far from complete, it collects a huge number of books, articles and book chapters on the topic and it is the most extensive such bibliography so far, almost 600 pages in length. An enlarged and updated edition will be completed in 2018. So, if you are a Cold War history scholar in any country and would like us to incude all of your publications on the Cold War (published after 1989) in the second edition, we will gladly do that. Please, send us a list of your works in which books and articles/book chapters are separated and follow the format of our bibliography. The titles of non-English language entries should be translated into English in square brackets. Please, send the list to: [email protected] The Cold War History Research Center owes special thanks to the Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security (formerly: on NATO and the Warsaw Pact) in Zurich–Washington D.C. for their permission to use the Selective Bibliography on the Cold War Alliances, compiled by Anna Locher and Cristian Nünlist, available at: http://www.php.isn.ethz.ch/lory1.ethz.ch/publications/bibliography/index.html

The Bibliography of New Cold War History (second enlarged edition)

Tsotne Tchanturia , Aigul Kazhenova , Khatia Kardava

This bibliography attempts to present the publications on the history of the Cold War published after 1989, the beginning of the „archival revolution” in the former Soviet bloc countries.

Soshum: Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities

Adewunmi J Falode , Moses Yakubu

The Cold War that occurred between 1945 and 1991 was both an international political and historical event. As a political event, the Cold War laid bare the fissures, animosities, mistrusts, misconceptions and the high-stake brinksmanship that has been part of the international political system since the birth of the modern nation-state in 1648. As a historical event, the Cold War and its end marked an important epoch in human social, economic and political development. The beginning of the Cold War marked the introduction of a new form of social and political experiment in human relations with the international arena as its laboratory. Its end signaled the end of a potent social and political force that is still shaping the course of political relationship among states in the 21 st century. The historiography of the Cold War has been shrouded in controversy. Different factors have been given for the origins of the conflict. This work is a historical and structural analysis of the historiography of the Cold War. The work analyzes the competing views of the historiography of the Cold War and create an all-encompassing and holistic historiography called the Structuralist School.

Jonathan Murphy

fabio capano

In Rosella Mamoli Zorzi e Simone Francescato (eds.), American Phantasmagoria. Modes of representation in US culture

Duccio Basosi

The first section shows that the presence of ghosts in the foreign policy decision making processes of both the United States and the Soviet Union has been detected mainly in relatively recent works. The second, third and fourth sections are dedicated to distinguishing between three different kinds of apparitions—ghosts of the past, specters of the future, and phantasmagorias, respectively. The concluding section attempts some reflections on the possible meanings of such interest of Cold War historiography for spectral figures, particularly in connection with the ongoing debates about the “very notion of Cold War.”

Eliza Gheorghe

Geoffrey Roberts

Review of Jonathan Haslam's Russia's Cold War, published in International Affairs

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Essay on the Cold War: it’s Origin, Causes and Phases

origins of cold war essay questions

After the Second World War, the USA and USSR became two Super Powers. One nation tried to reduce the power of other. Indirectly the competition between the Super Powers led to the Cold War.

Then America took the leadership of all the Capitalist Countries.

Soviet Russia took the leadership of all the Communist Countries. As a result of which both stood as rivals to each other.

Definition of the Cold War:

ADVERTISEMENTS:

In the graphic language of Hartman, “Cold War is a state of tension between countries in which each side adopts policies designed to strengthen it and weaken the other by falling short by actual war”.

USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War: Crash Course World History #39 ...

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Infact, Cold War is a kind of verbal war which is fought through newspapers, magazines, radio and other propaganda methods. It is a propaganda to which a great power resorts against the other power. It is a sort of diplomatic war.

Origin of Cold War:

There is no unanimity amongst scholars regarding the origin of the Cold War In 1941 when Hitler invaded Russia, Roosevelt the President of USA sent armaments to Russia. It is only because the relationship between Roosevelt and Stalin was very good. But after the defeat of Germany, when Stalin wanted to implement Communist ideology in Poland, Hungery, Bulgaria and Rumania, at that time England and America suspected Stalin.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England in his ‘Fulton Speech’ on 5 March 1946 said that Soviet Russia was covered by an Iron Curtain. It led Stalin to think deeply. As a result of which suspicion became wider between Soviet Russia and western countries and thus the Cold War took birth.

Causes of the Cold War:

Various causes are responsible for the outbreak of the Cold War. At first, the difference between Soviet Russia and USA led to the Cold War. The United States of America could not tolerate the Communist ideology of Soviet Russia. On the other hand, Russia could not accept the dominance of United States of America upon the other European Countries.

Secondly, the Race of Armament between the two super powers served another cause for the Cold War. After the Second World War, Soviet Russia had increased its military strength which was a threat to the Western Countries. So America started to manufacture the Atom bomb, Hydrogen bomb and other deadly weapons. The other European Countries also participated in this race. So, the whole world was divided into two power blocs and paved the way for the Cold War.

Thirdly, the Ideological Difference was another cause for the Cold War. When Soviet Russia spread Communism, at that time America propagated Capitalism. This propaganda ultimately accelerated the Cold War.

Fourthly, Russian Declaration made another cause for the Cold War. Soviet Russia highlighted Communism in mass-media and encouraged the labour revolution. On the other hand, America helped the Capitalists against the Communism. So it helped to the growth of Cold War.

Fifthly, the Nuclear Programme of America was responsible for another cause for the Cold War. After the bombardment of America on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Soviet Russia got afraid for her existence. So, it also followed the same path to combat America. This led to the growth of Cold War.

Lastly, the Enforcement of Veto by Soviet Russia against the western countries made them to hate Russia. When the western countries put forth any view in the Security Council of the UNO, Soviet Russia immediately opposed it through veto. So western countries became annoyed in Soviet Russia which gave birth to the Cold War.

Various Phases of the Cold War:

The Cold War did not occur in a day. It passed through several phases.

First Phase (1946-1949 ):

In this phase America and Soviet Russia disbelieved each other. America always tried to control the Red Regime in Russia. Without any hesitation Soviet Russia established Communism by destroying democracy in the Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungery, Yugoslavia and other Eastern European Countries.

In order to reduce Russia’s hegemony, America helped Greece and Turkey by following Truman Doctrine which came into force on 12 March 1947. According to Marshall Plan which was declared on 5 June, 1947 America gave financial assistance to Western European Countries.

In this phase, non withdrawal of army from Iran by Soviet Russia, Berlin blaockade etc. made the cold was more furious. After the formation of NATO in 1949, the Cold War took a halt.

Second Phase (1949-1953 ):

In this phase a treaty was signed between Australia, New Zeland and America in September, 1957 which was known as ANZUS. America also signed a treaty with Japan on 8 September, 1951. At that time by taking armaments from Russia and army from China, North Korea declared war against South Korea.

Then with the help of UNO, America sent military aid to South Korea. However, both North Korea and South Korea signed peace treaty in 1953 and ended the war. In order to reduce the impact of Soviet Communism, America spent a huge amount of dollar in propaganda against Communism. On the other hand, Soviet Russia tried to be equal with America by testing atom bomb.

Third Phase (1953-1957):

Now United States of America formed SEATO in 1954 in order to reduce Soviet Russia’s influence. In 1955 America formed MEDO in Middle East. Within a short span of time, America gave military assistance to 43 countries and formed 3300 military bases around Soviet Russia. At that time, the Vietnamese War started on 1955.

To reduce the American Power, Russia signed WARSAW PACT in 1955. Russia also signed a defence pact with 12 Countries. Germany was divided into Federal Republic of Germany which was under the American control where as German Democratic Republic was under Soviet Russia. In 1957 Soviet Russia included Sphutnick in her defence programme.

In 1953 Stalin died and Khrushchev became the President of Russia. In 1956 an agreement was signed between America and Russia regarding the Suez Crisis. America agreed not to help her allies like England and France. In fact West Asia was saved from a great danger.

Fourth Phase (1957-1962):

In 1959 the Russian President Khrushchev went on a historical tour to America. Both the countries were annoyed for U-2 accident and for Berlin Crisis. In 13 August 1961, Soviet Russia made a Berlin Wall of 25 Kilometres in order to check the immigration from eastern Berlin to Western Berlin. In 1962, Cuba’s Missile Crisis contributed a lot to the cold war.

This incident created an atmosphere of conversation between American President Kenedy and Russian President Khrushchev. America assured Russia that she would not attack Cuba and Russia also withdrew missile station from Cuba.

Fifth Phase (1962-1969 ):

The Fifth Phase which began from 1962 also marked a mutual suspicion between USA and USSR. There was a worldwide concern demanding ban on nuclear weapons. In this period Hot Line was established between the White House and Kremlin. This compelled both the parties to refrain from nuclear war. Inspite of that the Vietnam problem and the Problem in Germany kept Cold War between USA and USSR in fact.

Sixth Phase (1969-1978 ):

This phase commencing from 1969 was marked by DETENTE between USA and USSR- the American President Nixon and Russian President Brezhnev played a vital role for putting an end to the Cold War. The SALT of 1972, the summit Conference on Security’ of 1975 in Helsinki and Belgrade Conference of 1978 brought America and Russia closer.

In 1971, American Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger paid a secret visit to China to explore the possibilities of reapproachment with China. The American move to convert Diego Garcia into a military base was primarily designed to check the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean. During the Bangladesh crisis of 1971 and the Egypt-Israel War of 1973 the two super powers extended support to the opposite sides.

Last Phase (1979-1987 ):

In this phase certain changes were noticed in the Cold War. That is why historians call this phase as New Cold War. In 1979, the American President Carter and Russian President Brezhnev signed SALT II. But in 1979 the prospects of mitigating Cold War were marred by sudden development in Afghanistan.

Vietnam (1975), Angola (1976), Ethiopia (1972) and Afghanistan (1979) issues brought success to Russia which was unbearable for America. American President Carter’s Human Rights and Open Diplomacy were criticised by Russia. The SALT II was not ratified by the US Senate. In 1980 America boycotted the Olympic held at Moscow.

In 1983, Russia withdrew from a talk on missile with America. In 1984 Russia boycotted the Olympic game held at Los-Angeles. The Star War of the American President Ronald Regan annoyed Russia. In this way the ‘New Cold War’ between America and Russia continued till 1987.

Result of the Cold War:

The Cold War had far-reaching implications in the international affairs. At first, it gave rise to a fear psychosis which resulted in a mad race for the manufacture of more sophisticated armaments. Various alliances like NATO, SEATO, WARSAW PACT, CENTO, ANZUS etc. were formed only to increase world tension.

Secondly, Cold War rendered the UNO ineffective because both super powers tried to oppose the actions proposed by the opponent. The Korean Crisis, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War etc. were the bright examples in this direction.

Thirdly, due to the Cold War, a Third World was created. A large number of nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America decided to keep away from the military alliances of the two super powers. They liked to remain neutral. So, Non-Alignments Movement became the direct outcome of the Cold War.

Fourthly, Cold War was designed against mankind. The unnecessary expenditure in the armament production created a barrier against the progress of the world and adversely affected a country and prevented improvement in the living standards of the people.

Fifthly, the principle ‘Whole World as a Family’, was shattered on the rock of frustration due to the Cold War. It divided the world into two groups which was not a healthy sign for mankind.

Sixthly, The Cold War created an atmosphere of disbelief among the countries. They questioned among themselves how unsafe were they under Russia or America.

Finally, The Cold War disturbed the World Peace. The alliances and counter-alliances created a disturbing atmosphere. It was a curse for the world. Though Russia and America, being super powers, came forward to solve the international crisis, yet they could not be able to establish a perpetual peace in the world.

Related Articles:

  • Essay on the Cold War, 1945
  • Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO): Structure, Principles and Other Details
  • History of The Cold War: Origin, Reasons and Other Details
  • Truman Doctrine: A Policy Statement Made by US during the Cold War

origins of cold war essay questions

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