top of page

The Cold War

Unit 8: c. 1900-Present

Main Ideas:

  • The global balance of power shifted from Western Europe to a bipolar system of US vs USSR

  • While the US's democracy competed with the communism of the USSR, many groups promoted nonalignment (not allying with the US or USSR)

  • The Cold War created new military alliances (NATO & Warsaw Pact), led to a nuclear race & space race, and also caused many proxy wars throughout the world

  • Advances in US military, USSR's failed invasion of Afghanistan, and discontent with economic weakness of USSR after 2 failed reform movements → USSR's collapse

Start of the Cold War

The Cold War Shifted the Global Balance of Power to a Bipolar System of US vs USSR

Key Ideas:

  • The global balance of power shifted to a bipolar system of US vs USSR, where the US's vision of democracy competed with USSR's vision of communism

    • Before the World Wars, the global balance of power was concentrated in Europe

    • After WW2, the global balance of power was concentrated in US & USSR

    • The Cold War was a competition where the US sought to promote democracy throughout the world, while the USSR wanted to promote communism instead


  • With the new bipolar balance of power (US vs USSR), everyone in the world was drawn into the Cold War, but some nations decided to remain neutral and pursue a nonaligned approach, not allying with the US nor the USSR

    • The Bandung Conference (1955) was a conference of newly independent nations (led by India & Indonesia) that promoted the Non-Aligned Movement

      • ​Sought to remain neutral in the Cold War​​

      • Invited other newly independent nations in Africa, SE Asia, and Latin America

      • Kwame Nkrumah, the president of Ghana (1st independent African nation) supported the Non-Aligned movement

Effects of the Cold War

New Military Alliances, Nuclear & Space Races, and Proxy Wars in Newly Independent States

Key Ideas:

  • The Cold War created new military alliances between nations with similar governmental ideologies

    • NATO was an alliance of nations in support of democracy (led by US, consisted of US + Western Europe)

    • Warsaw Pact was an alliance of nations in support of communism (led by USSR, consisted of USSR + Eastern European nations)


  • The Cold War led to competitions between the US & USSR such as the nuclear arms race and the space race

    • US & USSR competed with each other over developing larger nuclear weapons: Both sides wanted to develop larger nuclear weapons than their competitor

    • US & USSR also competed with each other regarding who can go to space first

      • The US won since Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969​

  • The Cold War led to proxy wars throughout the world between communists & capitalists

    • Everywhere there was a communist threat, the US would immediately send it army to support the capitalist opposition to the communist threat​

    • Korean War (1950-53): Communist North Korea vs Democratic South Korea → US supported democratic South Korea, USSR supported communist North Korea

    • Vietnam War (1955-75): Communist North Vietnam vs Democratic South Vietnam → US supported South, USSR supported North

    • Sandinista-Contras conflict in Nicaragua (1980s): US imposed a democratic regime in Nicaragua, but the Sandinistas overthrew it, establishing a communist regime, so US supported the democratic Contra group against the Sandinistas

    • Angolan Civil War (1975-2002): Conflict between communists & capitalists in Angola; each side had support from their respective superpowers

End of the Cold War

By the End of 1991, Many Factors Caused the USSR to Collapse

Why did the USSR Collapse?

US's advances in military tech

US was able to advance its military with nuclear weapons & modern technology (GPS, cybersecurity, transistor, etc.)

USSR's Failed Invasion of Afghanistan

USSR invaded Afghanistan to try to expand its territory → USSR failed miserably as US helped the Afghans → USSR lost lots of resources

Perestroika Reform Movement

Sought to restructure USSR's economy to a more capitalist structure → Failed as the people hated the sudden transition

Glasnost Reform Movement

Loosened the USSR's censorship laws by promoting openness in info → Failed as people openly criticized the USSR

Due to the above reasons, the USSR fell in Dec 1991, and it broke into 15 independent nations (Russia + 14 others)

bottom of page