During the Cold war era, the rivalry between the USA and the USSR (1947-1991)

=> In the postwar era : the USA, a superpower ‘engaged in a struggle for preponderant power’ against the USSR . (quotation: Paul Nitze, President Truman’s foreign affairs adviser, 1952)

  • Although relations with the Soviet Union were already strained, Roosevelt’s death and the beginning of Truman’s presidency brought new tensions to the relationship. (Churchill’s Fulton speech -1946 – text here; (Truman acceptance speech, from 5:30 minutes.., Truman doctrine speech and Marshall Plan – video –)
  • Stalin’s traditional paranoia led to the establishment of a communist satellite buffer zone around the USSR.
  • The spread of communism into Asian and South American countries exacerbated anticommunist feelings in the United States ((a 1938 anticommunist pamphlet; an1948 animated anti-communist film produced by a US college ; ‘The big lie’ US army anticommunist 50s propaganda) and contributed to the pressure for increased buildup of defensive forces
  • The world became bipolar, i.e. split in two: the Western Bloc (or Capitalist Bloc) i.e. the USA and its allies, against the Eastern Bloc (or Soviet/Communist Bloc) i.e. the USSR and its allies.
  • In the Western Bloc, the USA was the leader and economic and cultural model for its allies. It had the most powerful economy (and controlled the industrialized countries’ monetary system since the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, the dollar being the only currency convertible into gold).
  • The US set up military bases and fleets everywhere in the world and it signed many military pacts including NATO (1949), ANZUS (1951), and SEATO (1954). The USA and its allies dominated the UN Security Council. Its strategy was one of containment, i.e. of stopping the spread of communism.
  • Direct military confrontation between the USSR and the USA was impossible because of the nuclear capabilities of both, though there were numerous crises:
  • 1948 Berlin blockade and Airlift (animated map),
  • 1961 Berlin Wall,
  • 1962 Cuban Missile crisis
  • Détente (a French word meaning release from tension) is the name given to a period of improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union that began in 1969 and took decisive form when President Richard M. Nixon visited the secretary-general of the Soviet Communist party, Leonid I. Brezhnev, in Moscow, May 1972.
  • The USA had also been involved in proxy wars because they coud not fight directly against the USSR (1950-53 Korean War, 1963-73 active US participation in Vietnam War).
  • Based on deterrence theory, the superpowers entered a nuclear arms race;
  • The “balance of terror” of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War was the price the USA was willing to pay to defend the “Free World” against the spread of what it saw as the totalitarian communist system of the Soviet Union. (a poster for the civil defense)
  • Ronald Reagan began his first term with hostile rhetoric and a massive arms buildup, which the Soviets knew they couldn’t match. For example, he initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) on March 23, 1983. The Strategic Defense Initiative was eventually abandoned. But during his second-term he made a conversion to detente and disarmament.
  • The USA “won” this race since the Soviet Union was, by the 1980s, no longer able to upkeep its nuclear weapons.
  • 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall
  • 1991: collapse and dissolution of the USSR (Gorbatchev resignation)

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