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The Cold War

The Cold War was a period of competition, expressed through economic and military power, that opposed Western capitalist and Eastern Communist ideology against one another from the 1940s to 1980s. It officially ended with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union in 1991.

There had been an alliance between the Allied Powers and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during World War Two, but this deteriorated when the Soviets occupied several Eastern European countries after the war. Various Western countries established a military alliance known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 to counter Soviet power. The USSR regarded NATO as a threat and formed the Warsaw Pact of Central and Eastern European states in 1955. These organisations represented the two opposing sides in the Cold War.

The two sides never engaged in open hostilities, resulting in the term the ‘Cold War'. Instead the war consisted of an arms race, economic warfare, and a space race, as well as the use of espionage and propaganda. Additionally, the superpowers supported ‘proxy' wars, each providing military back up to opposing sides in various civil wars, such as in Korea and Vietnam.

The threat of nuclear weapons defined the Cold War. The Soviets accepted the possibility of fighting a nuclear war, but the United States and its Allies preferred to focus on means of deterrence. They sought to discourage the Soviets from using nuclear weapons by threatening nuclear annihilation in retaliation. Long range bombers and land based missiles, as well as nuclear powered submarines, were developed in order to make this threat credible.

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