Course of the Cold War

Major Events

Russian Civil War

1918 - 1920

Brief US intervention on the side of anti-communist forces.

American Communist Party is founded, Red Scare sweeps across the US


Nazi-Soviet Pact

August 23, 1939

US provides Red Army war materiel under Lend-Lease

June 1941 - June 1944

10 million tonnes, with no strings attached. Largely to appease Stalin for the delay in opening the second front.

German invasion of Soviet Union

June 22, 1941 - December 5, 1941

Led to the formation of the Grand Alliance, an alliance of necessity. Effective partnership that caused Germany to surrender unconditionally, but temporarily concealed differences in attitudes and agendas.

Abolition of Comintern

May 1943

Seemed to indicate the USSR was no longer expansionist, improving US' view of USSR.


June 6, 1944

Allied troops land in Normandy, France, after delays in opening the second front. Molotov got Roosevelt's promise to open it in May 1942, but Britain favoured the invasion of North Africa and Italy, only informing Stalin of this in August 1942.

British withdraw from Iran

March 1946

First post-war confrontation between USSR and the West. During WWII, Soviets and Brits jointly occupied Iran, agreeing that both would withdraw after the war. However, the Red Army did not when the time came. Case was taken to the UN Security Council. Not wanting to risk military confrontation, Stalin eventually withdrew after negotiations with the Iranian government.

Formation of Bizonia

1 January 1947

US and Britain merge their two zones, which the French would join later. This happened as they were alarmed by the perpetual instability caused by a divided Germany. The creation of a nascent Western German state resulted in hope that the US could contest for dominance in the eastern part of Germany. This move alarmed the Soviet Union as it ran on collision course with the Soviets' wishes for the future of Germany.

Truman Doctrine

March 12, 1947

Dean Acheson justified this policy with the "rotten apple" argument, precursor to the "domino theory".

In Truman's address to convince the American public of the need for such a policy, he did not blatantly mention the Soviet Union, but the reference was obvious.

This was a major turning point as the US turned away from isolationism to become actively engaged in foreign affairs (which some call a "paradigm shift").

The Truman Doctrine was part of the new US policy of "containment", which was deemed as a necessary response to perceived Soviet expansionism. Interestingly, there was no response from Stalin himself, though he did respond to the other aspect of containment, that was, the Marshall Plan.

Marshall Plan

5 June 1947

European Recovery Programme (a.k.a. the Marshall Aid Programme) to revive Europe's post-war economies. The Marshall Plan was seen as important in deterring communist aggression in Western Europe, following the alarming consolidation of communist power within many Eastern European governments. In Marshall's speech, it was mentioned that the programme was "directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos". The US hoped that Eastern European economies would be tempted to take up the aid to weaken the Soviet Union's control.

Though the Soviet Union contemplated taking up US aid, they realized that the need for an open economy, which the aid required, was an unpalatable feature for them. When Czechoslovakia and Poland indicated interest in the aid, the USSR pressured them into rejecting it. Molotov would soon initiate COMECON for the Eastern bloc later on. Yugoslavia would apply for and receive Marshall Aid, after Stalin kicked Tito out from COMINFORM.

The Marshall Plan was an obvious economic success, but this very success caused a crisis in Soviet-Western relations. By the spring of 1948, Europe was firmly divided into two distinct blocs, fulfilling Churchill's prediction of an iron curtain materializing.

The implementation of this plan pushed the Soviet Union towards greater communisation/Sovietisation/Stalinisation of Europe. (1947 was thus a turning point - before 1947, the spirit of maintaining Allied unity enforced the gradual achievement of Europe. It was the Marshall Plan that spurred the Soviets' urgency.) Communist parties in Western Europe were asked to campaign against the Marshall Plan, but this backfired over time as they failed to win significantly in elections and were removed from coalition governments.

In Eastern Europe, countries were forced to adopt Soviet-style planned economies and establish "people's democracies". Non-communists soon found themselves removed from power through "salami tactics":
POLAND - London Poles and Lublin Poles
ROMANIA - heavily rigged elections in 1946
HUNGARY - Ferenc Nagy was compelled to resign in exchange for his son, who was kidnapped by Soviet-backed security apparatus
CZECHOSLOVAKIA - Jan Masaryk was found dead under mysterious circumstances
YUGOSLAVIA - ignored Soviet Union's interests and was thus expelled from COMINFORM, joining the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955


September 1947

Aimed to coordinate the different communist governments in Eastern Europe and communist parties in Western Europe. This allowed Moscow to keep close tabs on them. Zhdanov announced the USSR's "two camps theory", which viewed the post-war world as divided into two camps, in line with Churchill's speech. The Soviet bloc was thus justified as it prevented the US from achieving its ambitions.

Introduction of the Deutschmark to West Germany

18 June 1948

It was at this point that control over currency translated into power in Germany. The Soviets would retaliate after by introducing the Ostmark in their zone. Since the Allies were unwilling to let the Soviets' currency circulate in their zones, especially in Berlin, the DM was also introduced there on 23 June 1948.

Introduction of the Deutschmark to Berlin

23 June 1948

Beginning of Berlin Crisis

24 June 1948

While the British and Americans found themselves unable to produce enough food to feed themselves to prevent mass starvation, the Soviets continued to trip their zone of its resources and failed to account for how much they took. This angered Western allies because they were paying for imports into their own zones while still sending reparations to the Soviet zone, resulting in the decision to stop sending deliveries to the Soviet Union, causing a major rift.

As a result of the introduction of the Deutschmark to Berlin, the Soviets cut off all routes by road, rail and canal between West Germany and West Berlin, their reason being "coal shortages". They clearly wanted to force the Western Allies either to change their policies or get out of Berlin altogether.

Berlin Airlift begins

June 25, 1948

General Lucius D. Clay gives the order for the airlift. The Western Allies launched a "counter-blockade" soon after, which was detrimental to the Soviet zones as it was deprived of basic necessities like coal and steel which were only available in Western zones. The US also moved bombers capable of carrying atomic weapons at long range to bases in Britain.

The Soviets did not intend to spark a war and took pains to ensure that none of the aircraft employed in the airlift was brought down. The counter-blockade only hurt East Germany more and more, and the Soviets had to take steps to end the debacle without loss of face.


January 1949

USSR refused to be outdone by the US and needed to mollify states that had previously expressed interest in the Marshall Plan (but were not allowed to take it up). COMECON was successor to the Molotov Plan, and sought to facilitate coordination of economic policy among countries within the Soviet bloc.

American nuclear monopoly is broken, arms race begins


North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

April 4, 1949

The partition of Germany in 1949 (see Berlin Crisis) would lead to the need for a new security framework in Europe.

Involved Benelux countries, as well as USA, Canada, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Portugal. Provided for collective self-defense.

Meant as deterrence against possible Soviet aggression, but above all, its purpose was psychological. The nuclear factor also gave US the ability to commit to an alliance as the nuclear cloak meant fewer American troops would need to be stationed in Europe.

Berlin Blockade ends

11 May 1949

Despite the calling off of the blockade, the Allies continued their airlift until September as they wanted to build up the supplies in case the city was blockaded again.

The Soviet blockade failed to affect the West adversely, and the Western zones of Germany were slowly booming. The Eastern zone, however, came to a standstill economically due to the counter-blockade and strained relations. The West gained a major propaganda victory through the airlift, while the Berlin crisis showed the USSR in poor light.

The Berlin Blockade intensified the feeling military insecurity in Europe, culminating in the establishment of NATO.

Creation of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)

23 May 1949

This caused the permanent partition of Germany to become inevitable. West Germany would be given her independence in 1955 and was subsequently accepted into NATO. The creation of West Germany was seen as a victory over Soviet expansionism, and its economic flourish testified to the success of the Western model.

Communist victory in China

October 1949

Together with the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, recognition of the Viet Minh by the Soviets and Chinese and their assistance to North Korean Communists, this raised fears of the emergence of a communist monolith. All of this would justify US intervention in Vietnam, supporting the French.

Creation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR)

7 October 1949

The partition of Germany became complete then and was followed by the setting up of a frontier between the two Germanys lined with barbwire fences, watch towers, mine fields and armed patrols. It appeared that the East German state was trying to keep people out, but it was really trying to keep its own people in.

Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship

14 February 1950

Korean War

June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953

Korean War begins

25 June 1950

Formation of the Warsaw Pact

14 May 1955

It should be noted that this was not an immediate response to NATO.

Viet Cong formed

December 1960

Also known as the National Liberation Front (NLF). This was following the coup against Diem in November, to coordinate political matters in the South. This emphasized national independence over social revolution, and was essentially a nationalist coalition fighting for national liberation.

Furthermore, initially, the Vietnamese Communists did not challenge Diem as the Communist giants discouraged attacks on South Vietnam. However, the creation of NLF meant that the communists were now strong enough to launch an attack on Diem's corrupt regime. Civil war would later erupt between the Diem regime and the guerrilla warfare-waging NLF, encouraging Eisenhower to support Diem by sending him billions of dollars.

Open revolts against Diem begin

8 May 1963

This was a result of Diem's relations with the Buddhist majority, when Buddhist leaders demanded end to Diem's repressive measures. On this day, 9 unarmed Buddhist civilians were killed by security forces during a clash in Hue.

Self-immolation of Thic Quang Duc

11 June 1963

The Buddhist monk burned himself to death in a protest in Saigon, attracting global attention. The First Lady, Madame Nhu, referred to such Buddhists as "barbecued martyrs", propelling further local protest. This led to the imposition of martial law soon after.

Martial law declared in South Vietnam

21 August 1963

Gulf of Tonkin incident

2 August 1964

Shortly after a clandestine raid on the North Vietnamese coast by South Vietnamese gunboats, the US destroyer Maddox was fired on by NLF patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days after, the Maddox reported a second attack (purportedly a lie). Nevertheless, Johnson seized the opportunity and demanded reprisal attacks against North Vietnam on national television. The incident had provided him legal and moral justification to accelerate US involvement in Vietnam.

The US congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which amounted to a de facto declaration of war against the NLF, permitting Johnson's administration a huge amount of liberty to pursue the conflict in any way possible he deemed necessary.

Mao launches "Resist American and Assist Vietnam" movement

5 August 1964

The Chinese government announced that "American's aggression against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was also aggression against China, and that China would never fail to come to the aid of the Vietnamese".

The support from the communist bloc for DRV suggests that the conflict was part of the larger Cold War competition, but it is critical to examine North Vietnamese objectives. They pandered to an extent to the interests of these communist powers, refusing to take sides in the Sino-Soviet conflict and playing USSR and China off each other.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed

7 August 1964

Marked the start of direct US involvement in Vietnam.

Spring Mobilization to End the War

15 April 1967

American domestic public opinion could not tolerate the high rates of casualties in Vietnam for very long, and opposition to the war became rampant. This polarized US society into "hawks" and "doves".

Vietnamese Buddhists further exacerbated this, leading a series of protests through Hue. Buddhist monks and nuns also set themselves on fire to show dedication to their cause, their horrifying images widely shown throughout the world and leading to increasing protest against the war. This led to a drastic dip in American prestige around the world, especially with the Vietnam War being the first "TV War", which was televised worldwide.

The Vietnam War would break Johnson's spirit. In March 1968, he told Americans he would no longer send troops to Vietnam and that bombing would be restricted to just north of the demilitarized zone. He also announced his decision not to run for a second presidential term, and peace talks between Hanoi and US governments began in Paris in 1968.

Tet Offensive

30 January 1968

Massive military campaign that took place when the NLF launched a wave of assaults on South Vietnamese cities, including Saigon and Hue. This event signalled local initiative - they went against Soviet suggestion of using political means to unify Vietnam.

Some argue it was a defeat for the NLF, as they were beaten back by the Americans and failed to topple the South Vietnamese government. However, regardless, the NLF managed to infiltrate the countryside, gaining control of thousands of villages and hamlets and even winning over people, though they did not display overt yearning for reunification.

This was a turning point for US too, as it showed that America's strategy of fighting a limited war was failing. Many Americans feared that continual intervention in Vietnam and saw it as a quagmire which required more and more ground troops without a realistic hope of ultimate victory.

Nixon Doctrine

25 July 1969

Heavy US casualties led to strong anti-Vietnam sentiments and mass movements against the war in the US, pushing Nixon to outline this doctrine. From this doctrine, it was evident that despite the desire to combat communism, Nixon was influenced by domestic sentiments and revised his Vietnam policy accordingly.

Vietnamization was also motivated by the larger Cold War context - the beginning of detente and pursuit of better relations with China made the US reconsider risks of direct confrontation with either of the Communist giants. This pushed Nixon into wanting to end the war quickly.

He emphasized US would avoid heavy involvement in Asian affair, and Vietnamization was a term used to refer to having the bulk of the fighting being done by local forces. However, Thieu pleaded for more time before US' withdrawal, suggesting lack of initiative and drive on the part of the locals and showing how South Vietnamese reaction suggests it was an American war.

Furthermore, the doctrine did not help extract the US from the quagmire of the Vietnam conflict, with a substantial number of US troops still in Vietnam 4 years after the proclamation. On paper, the doctrine meant to deescalate US involvement in Vietnam, but it allowed Nixon to step up the war while reducing anti-war sentiments - air bombing in Vietnam was intensified, which required less manpower. This fuelled more anti-war protests and social conflict in the US, with the Kent State University riots in 1970 being the most note-worthy, in which the US National Guard fired on 4 students.

Kent State shootings

4 May 1970

Students who were unhappy over intensification of the Vietnam War, carried out anti-demonstrations in their campuses and were fired upon by the US National Guard, killing 4 students. Congress responded by repealing the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and refused to provide any funds to broaden the war r allow the deployment of troops in Cambodia or Laos.

End of Vietnam War

30 April 1975

The North Vietnamese eventually overran the South and reunified the country. Thieu tried to appeal for US assistance, but Congress flatly rejected him. The US had accepted the fall of South Vietnam to the NLF. in truth, "peace and honour" was to merely provide a decent interval between US withdrawal and the collapse of the South, so that the former would not be seen as directly leading to the latter.

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

24 December 1979

Although the superpowers pursued detente in the late 1960s, which suggested a change in the trajectory of the Cold War, these improved relations did not last - the invasion of Afghanistan a manifestation of this.

This has often been dubbed as "the Soviets' Vietnam War", Reagan describing the Mujahideen as the Islamic "soldiers of God", who were freedom fighters in the US struggle against evil. This resulted in military aid packages from the US, as well as economic aid, to Afghanistan.

This was a militarily disastrous move on the part of the USSR. It aggravated deteriorating relations between the superpowers, provoked tensions with China (shared borders) , alienated much of the Third World and the Muslim world. In October 1985, he put the Politburo a proposal to withdraw its forces and received agreement in principle for this. In July 1986, he announced the withdrawal of troops and from the beginning of 1987 encouraged reconciliation between the warring factions in Afghanistan.

Strategic Defensive Initiative (SDI)

March 1983

Reagan announced this programme would provide a protective shield of laser and particle beam weapons in space against incoming ballistic missiles. Also known as "Star Wars programme". The plan was never fully implemented, but at that time, it had dramatic effects on the nuclear arms race and the USSR took it very seriously.

Chernobyl disaster

26 April 1986

This was an example of how some conservative officials "betrayed" Gorbachev. They initially hid the truth of the accident for days, preventing a quick official response and acknowledgement of the accident. The lack of transparency following glasnost would greatly diminish the credibility of the government further.

Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan

15 February 1989

This motivated China to agree to a visit by Gorbachev in May 1989 as part of the normalization of relations.

Fall of the Berlin Wall

9 November 1989

This was perhaps the most dramatic and symbolic of all popular movements in the East.

Two Germanys are formally united

3 October 1990

The new Germany became part of NATO, and the revolutions across Europe saw the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. The significance of popular movements would be a firm rejection of the communist ideology by Eastern Europeans and ended Soviet influence in Eastern European politics.

August Coup

19 August 1991 - 21 August 1991

Majority of members in the CPSU, the conservatives, could block his reforms, or even worse, overthrow Gorbachev himself. This indeed happened in the August Coup. This caused Gorbachev to reform policies which were eventually modified and were much more diluted in form than originally intended. The efficacy of his policies were affected in a bid to appease the conservatives.


Stalin's leadership

21 January 1924 - 5 March 1953

Roosevelt's presidency

4 March 1933 - 12 April 1945

Churchill is replaced by Clement Atlee


Truman's presidency

Apr 13, 1945 - 20 January 1953

Eisenhower's presidency

Jan 21, 1953 - 20 January 1961

Malenkov's leadership

Mar 6, 1953 - 8 February 1955

Khruschev's leadership

Feb 9, 1955 - 14 October 1964

Ngo Dinh Diem becomes President of South Vietnam

26 October 1955

Kennedy's presidency

Jan 21, 1961 - 22 November 1963

Assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem

2 November 1963

After his assassination, a power struggle between civilian leaders and the military arose.

Johnson's presidency

Nov 23, 1963 - 20 January 1969

Brezhnev's leadership

Oct 15, 1964 - 10 November 1982

By the end of his leadership, the Soviet economy had ended up with stagnation. Collectivization coupled with the limited agricultural productivity that resulted from cold weather conditions led to its failure. Furthermore, collectivization was resisted by locals, as it meant selling produce to the state at minimal prices.

The economy was also failing in its industrial sector. Though in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union had the world's second largest industrial capacity, the Soviet Union also possessed rich deposits of coal, natural gas and oil mainly located on the European side. But by the 1980s, much of these resources had depleted, forcing Soviet industries to look further East, but poor infrastructure hampered the transportation of these resources. Initial impressive growth rates were thus not premised on real growth.

The USSR's share of political problems included rampant corruption, leaders chosen based not on merit and ability but based on links to the authority, political oppression and gerontocracy (post-Brezhnev).

The USSR also faced the nationalities problem, as the USSR was in itself a multinational empire which was artificially incorporated by the central government. The Soviet Union was arguably was kept together via coercive methods as attempts at separatism were swiftly dealt with.

General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Marshall Nguyan Cao Ky enter office


They emerged as Head of State and PM respectively. This same year, Kennedy increased US involvement in Vietnam.

General Nguyen Van Thieu becomes President in South Vietnam

3 September 1967

In the presidential elections of 1967, Thieu's position as president in the South was affirmed, with 34% of the votes. However, he turned out to be similarly (to Diem) incompetent, corrupt and unpopular. At this point of time, South Vietnamese politicians only continued to alienate the population.

It was this unpopularity of the South Vietnamese government resulted in the loss of control to the NLF. Thieu claimed that NLF controlled as little as 25% of the countryside.

Nixon's presidency

Jan 21, 1969 - 9 August 1974

In Nixon's Presidential campaign, he mentioned he had a "secret plan" to "end the war and win the peace" with honour. However, privately, he was in favour of continuing the war and entered the White House confident that a military solution was still viable. He was determined to present himself as stronger than Johnson.

Ford's presidency

Aug 10, 1974 - 20 January 1977

Carter's presidency

Jan 21, 1977 - 20 January 1981

Reagan's presidency

Jan 21, 1981 - 20 January 1989

First administration: 1981 - 1985, second administration: 1985 - 1988

Andropov's leadership

12 November 1982 - 9 February 1984

Chernenko's leadership

13 February 1984 - 10 March 1985

Gorbachev's leadership

11 March 1985 - 25 December 1991

When Gorbachev first stepped up to the plate, the USSR had economic problems, with foreign debt amounting to around 15 billion dollars. Its growth rate was not good considering it was not a fully-developed economy. Furthermore, the USSR had political problems where the Communist Party (CPSU) was facing a leadership succession crisis as the top leadership was literally dying. The Soviet Union was also entrenched in a long drawn war in Afghanistan since 1979, which was using up their resources and draining them of their finances.

Thus, he aimed to embark on "Four Transformations" - economic reform (known as perestroika or "restructuring"), political reform (rejuvenate the corrupt and discredited CPSU, and introduce glasnost or openness in society), new policy towards nationalities (introduce New Union Treaty to preserve and strengthen USSR) and foreign policy (improve standing of USSR and reinforce its position as a superpower through New Thinking).

Under New Thinking, Gorbachev saw the world as an integrated whole than as the setting for a polarized confrontation, unlike Brezhnev and earlier leaders who felt the need to emphasize the ideological nature of foreign policy and the "class" nature of international relations. Gorbachev believed that with its ailing economy, because of the Afghanistan War and subsidies on imports. Gorbachev thus instituted a slew of changes in the Soviet Union's foreign and domestic policies.

H. W. Bush's presidency

Jan 21, 1989 - 20 January 1993


Tehran Conference


London Poles and Lublin Poles both wanted to form the new Polish government. At the conference, Churchill suggested USSR could regain its 1914 boundaries by absorbing eastern Poland, and Poland compensated on the west by absorbing parts of eastern Germany. Roosevelt did not object but could not publicly agree, not wanting to alienate Polish-Americans whose votes he needed for the 1944 presidential election.

Bretton Woods Conference

July 1944

Soviets agreed to join the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. US had promised a loan to USSR to help with post-war reconstruction.

Moscow Meeting

October 1944

Informal "percentages agreement" where Roosevelt himself could not be present, Averell Harriman turning up as his special envoy. Roosevelt knew about the arbitrary agreements but did not openly oppose them.

Created spheres of influences in some parts of Europe.

Yalta Conference

February 1945

Germany to be divided into four, and the exact amount of reparations to be determined later. Goodwill shown ("the spirit of Yalta") suggested they could look past differences to work together in shaping the first world order.

Potsdam Conference

July 1945 - August 1945

Allies rebuffed Soviet reparation demands, but Soviet leaders managed to achieve much of what the desired w.r.t. the occupation regime of DEU, Polish borders and preparation of peace treaties for DEU's European satellites. Though Soviets were granted additional reparations, they were unhappy as agreements resulted in them having the less industrial/more agrarian part of DEU. They then stripped the eastern zone of resources, infuriating the Allies.

Soviets also viewed PL as a matter of life and death, having been a traditional invasion route to USSR. They did not want an unfriendly PL on the Soviet western frontier post-war.

Western Allies were already weakened. Soviets accepted some of the London Poles into the government and promised free elections, but within 18 months, PL fell to the communists and the government depended more on the Soviet army and secret police than on her own people.

Pattern would later repeat across EE as "salami tactics".

Baruch Plan

June 1946
  • Recommended the establishment of an International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA)
  • USSR rejected and vetoed it, having perceived it as a plan to preserve US nuclear monopoly and depriving USSR of the opportunity to develop their own
  • plan failed

Treaty of Brussels

17 March 1948

The need for a security framework in Europe proved more urgent with events in Czechoslovakia (Prague coup and death of Jan Masaryk), as well as Soviet pressure on Norway and Finland. The Benelux countries then established a 50-year military alliance, directed against possible revival of German aggression and provided for mutual assistance.

Geneva Conference

July 1954

French army suffered a humiliating defeat at the battlefield of Dien Bien Phu, and was forced to accept the settlement negotiated at this conference.

Later on, Soviet Ambassador to the US Dobrynin would be reminded that as co-chairman of the conference and supplier of arms to the North Vietnamese, the Soviet Union was obliged to broker a peace agreement. However, the Chinese opinion differed, as in late 1967 and early 1968, Beijing's top leaders advised Hanoi to stick to the line of military struggle. The Soviet Union also had trouble predicting Hanoi's next move, and both the US and USSR realized that they had trouble controlling their proxies.

Viet Minh was pressed by its allies (Soviets and Chinese) and had to accept less than its due. Fearing US military intervention in the region and wanting to portray themselves as peaceful powers, both Communist giants compromised their ally's position.

Paris declared Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) independent. Vietnam was also divided along the 17th parallel. This left the northern half under Communist rule and the status of the southern half a disputed issue that was only settled in 1975, more than twenty years later.

Following the conference, the US replaced France as the dominant foreign power in Vietnam and the larger Indochina. The US advocated for a permanent political division that would create a non-communist state in the South as they feared elections would bring the communists into power throughout Vietnam.

During the course of the conference, Ngo Dinh Diem was appointed as PM in South Vietnam, but faced problems in establishing a stable government.

Limited Test Ban Treaty

5 August 1963

Together with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, this showed commitment from the superpowers in their refrain from escalating the nuclear arms race any further.

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1 July 1968

Abbreviated as NPT, this showed the superpowers' commitment to refrain from escalating the nuclear arms race more.

Negotiations between DRV, US, NLF and South Vietnam

January 1969

This was a new development. Nevertheless, the four stakeholders failed to reach any agreement as each remained uncompromising in their demands.

Shanghai Communiqué

28 February 1972

This stated that the US and China would seek a normalization of relations and their desire to prevent any world power seeking a "hegemony" in Asia. This marked improved relations between the US and China, which Brezhnev was wary of, as his two opponents had now become friends.


26 May 1972

Nixon visited Moscow, and through the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement (SALT I) signed, both superpowers were seen working to limit their arms. This was a first step towards managing the ongoing arms race.

Kissinger and Le Duc Tho reach an agreement

8 October 1972

The two leaders reach a settlement in which a ceasefire with both armies retaining their areas of control, American withdrawal within 60 days and exchange of POWs. Thieu however, refused to sign the agreement as presence of North Vietnamese troops compromised his position and his contemporaries were also furious that the US had reached an agreement without consulting them. Kissinger dropped the insistence that the NLF withdraw from the South before the US did. However, these American concessions were merely re-election ploy, as it was nearing Nixon's re-election bid. Nixon's electoral victory in December 1972 was followed by massive bombings of North Vietnamese cities, particularly Hanoi.

Paris Peace Accords

27 January 1973

A peace agreement was reached between both parties was signed, an immediate ceasefire was set up and the US agreed to withdraw its troops from Vietnam within 60 days.

In the aftermath of the Paris Treaty, it became obvious that the US had won neither peace nor honour. The treaty glaringly allowed communists to continue to keep its army in the South indefinitely, dooming the state to failure since the withdrawal of the US troops meant DRV troops would overrun the South in time.

Prevention of Nuclear War Treaty

22 June 1973

Brezhnev visits the US, and the visit saw the signing of this treaty alongside trade agreements.

Helsinki Agreement

July 1975

The official title of this agreement is the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

This agreement outlined three baskets:
1) The borders of Europe were inviolable - conflicts were to be resolved peacefully and all countries were to accept the existence of the Soviet bloc.
2) Trade, technology and cultural exchanges between signatories (along with the first one, this basket was more favourable towards the USSR).
3) Preservation of human rights, e.g. provision of freedom of speech and movement (this allowed the USA to put pressure on the USSR).

Gorbachev's trip to Paris

October 1985

In Paris, Gorbachev offered to negotiate a 50% reduction in ICBMs, but this was seen as a mere "charm offensive", and a ploy to get the USA to drop its SDI. No Western leader took him seriously, but it was a serious opening bid to be the basis for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) later. The famous dissident Andrei Sakharov would later be released from exile and reunited with his family in Moscow, earning the trust of Western leaders.

Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings (Geneva)

November 1985

Nothing conclusive was achieved here, but it gave the two leaders a chance to get to know each other. Reagan later acknowledged there was good chemistry and termed it a "mission of peace". They agreed to continue arms talks and arranged for new exchanges between their citizens.

Reagan was convinced that Gorbachev was sincere about reform in the USSR. From then on. Reagan took Gorbachev seriously in their negotiations about arms control and superpower relations.

Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings (Reykjavik)

October 1986

Enormous progress was made, and the two leaders almost came to agree on total abolition of all nuclear weapons. However, Gorbachev made progress depending on the suspension of work on SDI, which Reagan refused. The meeting broke up in acrimony, but it was clear the discussion had crossed a significant historical line.

Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings (Washington)

December 1987

By now, Gorbachev had dropped insistence on the suspension of work on SDI, and this enabled the leaders to agree on the INF Treaty, which abolished a whole category of nuclear weapons - Intermediate Forces in Europe. The first time the number of nuclear weapons had been reduced, not just limits placed on their rate of increase - a major step forward in the ending of the Cold War.

INF Treaty

December 1987

This treaty was signed in Washington, and called for the elimination of all intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. The cuts were asymmetrical, involving the destruction of four times as many war heads on the Soviet side as on the Americans. Gorbachev was keen to reduce as many tensions between the USA and themselves.

The treaty was ratified in Moscow in May 1988 It was during this visit that Reagan admitted he no longer regarded the USSR as the "evil empire".

Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings (Moscow)

May 1988

INF Treaty ratified, Reagan addressed students of Moscow University and promised them that they would soon be living freedom.

Gorbachev's trip to China

May 1989

This was as part of the normalization of relations between the two. Diffusion of tension on his eastern frontier would free resources which would enable him to focus perestroika.

Malta Summit

December 1989

Gorbachev and H. W. Bush met here, and arguably, this was when the Cold War was officially declared over. There was much convergence of ideas and greater openness between the two leaders, and it was clear that tensions had eased substantially to the extent of declaration the cold war had ended.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

31 July 1991

Following closely after the Malta Summit was more negotiations for reduction of nuclear weapons - START was arguably a by-product of the 1987 INF Treaty. It allowed for massive cuts in the numbers of land-based ICBMs. These were significant as they contributed most to the instability of the system of mutual deterrence. In a crisis, there might be a temptation to fire these missiles before they could be destroyed.


Kennan's Long Telegram

February 1946
  • Possible motives behind USSR's refusal to join the World Bank.
  • USSR did not believe peaceful co-existence was possible between communism and capitalism.
  • USSR's existence and security would be achieved at the expense of USA's internal harmony and its international authority.
  • Recommendation of containment, policy of the middle way between isolationism and preventive war.

Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech

March 5, 1946

"Sinews of Peace" speech delivered in Fulton, Missouri (Truman's hometown).
- important shift away from "spirit of Yalta".
- Churchill's call for an Anglo-American alliance, which seemed premature
- in Moscow, it confirmed Stalin's suspicions of Western hostility towards the USSR, seen as warmongering
- symbolized growing rift between the blocs

Speech of Hope

6 September 1946

Delivered by James Byrnes, warned that the recovery of Europe would be slowed down if Germany remained impoverished.

Truman's Speech

12 March 1947

Marshall's Speech

5 June 1947

Reagan's Evil Empire Speech

8 March 1983

Reagan felt the Soviet Union was the source of "all the unrest that is going on" in the world - e.g. national liberation struggles were seen as nothing but instruments for Soviet expansion and that Soviet were behind most acts of international terrorism. Reagan's aggressive pronouncements against communism came to be known as the "Reagan Doctrine".

In this speech, he described the struggle as "the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, between what is right and what is wrong", and that USA must "go on the offensive".

Gorbachev's speech

December 1988

Gorbachev discarded the trump card of the Stalinist approach to the world, the threat and use of armed aggression. As opposed to aggression and the arms race, Gorbachev called for a "new world order" based on "freedom of choice". He announced massive, unilateral troop reductions from EE alone, which would not be dependent on similar cuts by the West. This also signified the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine and Gorbachev's refusal to prop up failing communist regimes in EE.

Popular Movements

Warsaw Uprising

1 August 1944 - 2 October 1944

Stalin had obviously sacrificed the Poles because he did not want Warsaw to be liberated by non-communists. Soviets subsequently routed the Germans and recognized the Lublin Comittee as the legal government of PL.

Hungarian Uprising


Warsaw Pact was breached with the invasion of Hungary to put down the uprising.

Aldermaston marches


The British were also concerned over the nuclear arms race. However, their anger was more targeted towards what was apparent mimicry of the British government to just follow the wishes of their more powerful ally, the US, in the development and deployment of nuclear weapons in the UK. Britain had brought in the argument of wanting to develop their own nuclear weapons as to deter the Soviets.

1950s saw the emergence of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958. The CND wanted Britain to renounce the atomic bomb publicly and thus influence others to do the same. They initiated the Aldermaston marches, which was a series of anti-nuclear protest marches held annually on the Easter weekend.

United Nations Bomb Test Petition

15 January 1958

Presented by Linus Pauling to protest further nuclear testing. While many of his proposals saw little fruition, Pauling's credentials continued to lend scientific support and legitimized the goals of the anti=nuclear movement.

Women Strike for Peace

1 November 1961

WSP is a women's peace activist group in the USA, which protested against issues like the nuclear arms race, radiation fallout from nuclear testing and Vietnam War. On this day, women brought together by the WSP demonstrated against nuclear weapons, forming the largest national women's peace protest of the 20th century.

WSP was made up of respectable middle-class, middle-aged ladies protesting to save their children and the planet, thus helping to legitimize a radical critique of the Cold War and US militarism. This was a significant step taken by an important demographic, who voiced their displeasure over the decisions taken by the (mostly) male political leaders. However, there is little evidence to show these protests amounted to changes in the Administration's policies regarding nuclear weapons or Vietnam.

Prague Spring


The invasion of Czechoslovakia showed the breaching of the Warsaw Pact yet again.

Charter 77


Charter 77 was an informal civic initiative in communist Czechoslovakia from 1976 to 1992. It criticized government for failing to guarantee human rights despite documents it had signed. The leaders of Charter 77 were still arrested despite adherence to Czechoslovak law, which made organized opposition illegal. The movement went underground and only re-emerged in 1989 with the Velvet Revolution.

Solidarity Movement and Polish Crisis


In July, rise in food prices by the Communist-led Polish government led to nationwide strikes, signalling growing opposition to Soviet influence. These various inter-party strike committees unified into an organization named Solidarity, led by Lech Walesa. Jaruzelski (last communist leader of Poland) imposed martial law in December 1981 to maintain order in the country. The USSR also sent Red Army to quell opposition and the Polish communist leaders drew the ire of the USA and further strained superpower relations. Solidarity would re-emerge as a political party after the years of martial law in 1988.\, when they led renewal mass demonstrations and strikes as living standards had fallen below 1978 levels. August 1989: Solidarity led new Polish government and by the end of December 1990, the Poles elected Walesa as their first President in the post-communist era.

White House Peace Vigil

3 June 1981

Focused on just raising awareness of a single goal of wanting the world to have zero nuclear weapons. Launched by William Thomas on this day just across the White House in Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. Longest-running uninterrupted anti-nuclear protest in US history.

While the vigil has yet to attain any tangible breakthroughs in terms of nuclear weapon disarmament, it still served as an alternative form of protest in USA.

Largest anti-nuclear protest

June 12 1982

One million people protested in NYC against nuclear weapons, as well as similar protests/ peace movements in London, Italy and West Germany. This was one of the possible reasons, aside from the rise of the new Soviet leader Gorbachev, as well as domestic economic pressure where the US government resorted to borrowing more money to service their increased government expenditure, plunging the US into debt, that contributed to the "soft" approach Reagan took in his second administration.

Million March

12 June 1982

Largest anti-nuclear protest, when one million people demonstrated in Central Park, NYC against nuclear weapons. Protesters demanded a stop to this nuclear arms build-up, commonly termed as a "nuclear freeze". Reagan vilified this nuclear freeze movement, questioning the patriotism of the demonstrators and even suggesting that some organizers might be not just communist sympathizers, but "foreign agents".

International Day of Nuclear Disarmament

20 June 1983

Protests held across 50 sites in USA. Thousands demanded end to the arms race, but this anti-nuclear protest did little to dent Reagan's popularity. He was even elected in the 1984 PE with a stronger mandate.

Protests in Hyde Park

October 1983

More than 300k people assembled in Hyde Park to protest against nuclear weapons. dubbed then as the "largest protest against nuclear weapons in British history".

Romania's violent transition to democracy

15 November 1987

On this day came the first signs of rebellion in the form of an anti-communist march. However, the secret police and the military disbanded the revolt by force, arresting around 300 protesters.

Subsequently, in 1989, demonstrations broke out in Timisoara. Military forces and secret police fired on demonstrators on 17 December, killing and injuring men, women and children. Majority of the Romanian population had little or no information on these events, but they learned of the revolt from radio stations (e.g. VOA, RFE).

Hungary's pro-democracy movement


Hungary experienced one of the smoothest transitions to a Western-style democracy among the Soviet bloc. By late 1988, activists within the party and bureaucracy, as well as Budapest-based intellectuals, were increasing pressure for change. Some became reformist social democrats, while others began movements which were to develop into parties.

National unity forged in June 1989 with the reburial of Nagy, his associates and other victims of the 1956 revolution, as the nation commemorated the struggles they had with Communist dictatorship. In late 1989, major changes to the Hungarian constitution were discussed in preparation for free elections and the transition to a fully free and democratic political system.

Gorbachev did not fully agree with Hungary's decision, yet he did not suppress it. This marked the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine which previously had seen Soviet forces come in to suppress any popular movements or changes to the communist leadership in these satellite states. Gorbachev's new approach, popularly referred to as the Sinatra Doctrine, for allowing EE countries to pursue communism in their own ways, was a significant reform impacting the outlook in EE.

Bulgarian pro-democracy movement

October 1989

Liberal outcry at the breakup of an environmental demonstration in Sofia in this month broadened into a general campaign for political reform. On 11 December, Mladenov (foreign minister) announced the communist party would cede its monopoly over the political system. On 15 January 1990, the National Assembly formally amended the legal code to abolish the communist party's "leading role". Pro-democracy movement was clearly gaining momentum across the whole of EE as the Ccommunist satellite states were all transiting to democracy.

Velvet Revolution

17 November 1989 - 29 December 1989

A non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia combined students and older dissidents. This resulted in the end of 41 years of Stalinist rule in Czechoslovakia and the subsequent dismantling of the planned economy, as well as conversion to a parliamentary republic, bringing about smooth transition from communism to democracy.


Russian Revolution dismantles tsarist autocracy


US businesses interested in investing in the USSR


Invasion of Manchuria


US realized the Soviets could help restrain Jap imperialism

Viet Minh formed


Led by the Indochina Communist Party (ICP). Following the war, it emerged as the only credible political force in Vietnam. They capitalized on the famine in Northern Vietnam, redistributed land to poorer peasants and thus won over the conservative village notables.

Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh's leader tried to attract all classes and appeal to national minorities, also mindful not to alienate people with overtly communist policies.

The Viet Minh was initially a nationalist movement. It was originally a struglle against French colonialism, but because of Cold War developments, became an international conflict. During the Cold War, the western bloc feared "losing" Vietnam to communism, fearing it would have serious repercussions on them.

News of Katyn Woods massacre released

April 1943

Released by German army. USSR proceeded to break off relations with London Poles after they demanded and investigation. Alternative Polish government set up - the Lublin Committee.

The term "superpower" is coined by William Fox


To refer to the US and Soviet Union.

Soviets request $6b loan from USA

January 1945

US met this imposing conditions unacceptable to the USSR, e.g. the opening the EE markets in the Soviet sphere to US capital. USSR was wary of "US dollar diplomacy", which had previously given her power to intervene in Latin America in the '20s and '30s.

Abrupt end of Lend-Lease

May 1945

Stalin perceived this as an act of political pressure, believing USA was out to assert their economic power while keeping the USSR weak. Tone was thus set for Potsdam Conference.

USSR does not sign up for IMF and World Bank

December 1945

Instead, they sought to increase reparations from countries within their own sphere of influence.

Operation Crossroads


Launched by Truman, the operation was a series of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the US Navy. Its purpose was to test the effect of nuclear weapons on naval ships. Mounting pressure to cancel this came from diplomats and scientists, particularly the Manhattan Project scientists who argued further nuclear testing was unnecessary and environmentally dangerous.

Greek Civil War

30 March 1946 - 16 October 1949

Americans wrongly believed that all communists received orders from Moscow, and therefore the problem in Greece became the immediate factor leading to the formulation of the Truman Doctrine. However, it is worth noting that support for the Greek communists came from Yugoslav leader Josip Tito, and not Stalin as he had already agreed that Greece belonged to the Western sphere of influence.

Situation in Turkey

April 1946 - August 1946

In March 1945, USSR demanded freedom of access for its warships through the Dardanelles Straits into the Mediterranean. June 1946, they asked for a permanent base and the return of old Tsarist provinces from Turkey. This was raised at Potsdam but the Soviets did not get what they wanted.

April 1946, Stalin stated the USSR needed to do something to protect its own security and that of the Dardanelles. August 1946, the US counters USSR's threats with Truman sending the aircraft carrier Missouri to Istanbul as a form of deterrence. This eased Soviet pressure on Turkey, but the problems merely moved westwards to Greece.

French bombardment of Haiphong

23 November 1946

The Viet Minh had decided to pursue diplomacy to gain independence, but this event signalled French determination to reinstate control, encouraging the Vietnamese to resort to armed resistance.

First Indochina War begins

19 December 1946

Ho Chi Minh declared this, blowing up the power station in Hanoi. This heralded the start of the war.

Vo Nguyen Giap, the military force of the Viet Minh, proved fatal for the French colonial army. The French never really understood guerilla warfare tactics and thus failed to devise effective strategies to combat the Viet Minh. French decision to use force was thus an error - it only forced Viet Minh into the countryside, where they stirred up social revolution.

Britain suspends aid to Greece & Turkey

31 March 1947

Britain admitted to its post-war domestic economic difficulties, making the drastic decisions to cut costs, including suspending all economic and military assistance to Greece and Turkey. This rendered it no longer a great power, creating a power vacuum. The USA took over Britain's role to maintain the status quo at that part of the world.

"Denounce the Communists" campaign launched


Diem was allowed to act against the communists, due to Ho Chi Minh's hesitation in deciding whether to prioritize consolidation in the North or liberation of the South.

Admission of West Germany into NATO


USSR announces first grant of large-scale economic assistance

July 1955

This was along with Ho Chi Minh's first visit to Moscow as President of the DRV.

Despite all of USSR's military assistance, the USSR declared that they would not support armed struggle for Vietnamese reunification. Hanoi did not comply, however, continuing to build up its army. They wanted to show that they were not the Soviets' puppets and went to greater lengths to fulfill their nationalist cause.

People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) formed


Created to push for liberation and reunification.

CCP Central Committee Plenum

September 1962

Mao insists China must support the armed struggles in South Vietnam, and thus Chinese influence was at its peak by end 1963. Chinese economic assistance even purportedly exceeded Soviet assistance.

Following these developments, the USSR felt the need to prove her worth, by strengthening Soviet position in the communist bloc and showcasing the superiority of the communist ideology to the US.

China explodes its first atomic bomb

16 October 1964

This was a manifestation of the Sino-Soviet split, when the Soviets decided that Mao was unreliable and that China was a potential rival, resulting in the USSR withdrawing their support for China's nuclear weapons program. The Chinese went on to build their own nuclear weapons, exploding their first atomic bomb, and later their hydrogen bomb in 1967.

NLF attack a bar in Saigon

24 December 1964

Together with the attack on an American camp near Pleiku, this put pressure on Johnson to escalate the war, by increasing air attacks and going beyond occasional air-raid reprisals to a limited air war.

Heavy and sustained bombing of routes taking men and materials to the South became known as "Rolling Thunder". Napalm bombs were used to set Vietnamese villagers alight and chemical defoliants like "Agent Orange" were used. The American strategy was aimed to decrease infiltration from the North and demoralize Hanoi with the bombings and push them to negotiate.

NLF attack an American camp near Pleiku

February 1965

The attack killed 8 Americans and wounded 100.

China explodes its first H-bomb

17 June 1967

PRC is admitted to the UN


Nixon first referred to China as "the People's Republic of China" in 1969, lending China legitimacy. The Chinese were further granted further legitimacy when they were admitted to the UN as the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1971, taking over the seat previously handed to Taiwan. This signaled US acceptance of the Republic as a legitimate political entity, and facilitated the normalization of relations. This was a manifestation of how Nixon saw the tension between the USSR and China held promise for the US, despite himself initially being a staunch anti-communist.

The great grain robbery

July 1972

This was one of the reasons the USSR was motivated to pursue detente - their ailing economy, which resulted in occasional droughts and famines. This in turn resulted in them having to trade with the USA to feed its own people. This culminated in their discussions towards achieving the "Russian Wheat Deal", in which the USSR bought 12 million tons of wheat from the USA at subsidized prices.

Third Indochina War begins

30 April 1977

Otherwise known as the Kampuchean conflict, the war became another point of contention between USSR and China with the USSR supporting Vietnam and China supporting Cambodia.

Vietnam joins COMECON


This event cemented the first formal alliance between the USSR and Vietnam, and Moscow also took to underwriting Vietnam's first post-reunification Five-Year Plan.

Nicaragua Revolution

1978 - 1979

Overthrow of the Somoza regime (US ally), along with the civil wars going on in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, prompted the US to fear the loss of their influence in their traditional "backyard".

Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia

25 December 1978

Sino-Vietnamese relations had been tense prior to the Vietnam War. Vietnamese nationalists were most keen to drive out Chinese influence after WWII and contend with the French. Vietnam was a fiercely independent country throughout history, displaying distrust and resistance towards Chinese overtures. Cordial relations between China and Vietnam during the inter-war years was driven by practical considerations on both sides - Chinese desire to maintain influence in Southeast Asia and not allowing increasing Soviet presence and Vietnamese need for military assistance.

Vietnam, unwilling to take sides in the Sino-Soviet conflict, refused to enter a formal military alliance with China. Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was perceived by the Chinese as an attempt to extend her influence, leading to border conflicts, highlighting primacy of national interests over ideological concerns.

Deployment of Pershing 2 and Cruise missiles, Able Archer 83

November 1983

This deployment of missiles whose accuracy and speed made them extremely difficult to counter made Moscow break off talks and negotiations for arms reductions.

In the same month, a ten-day NATO military exercise (Able Archer 83) designed to practise high-level command coordination during a nuclear attack took place, causing Moscow to become even more nervous about a real attack launched during what was supposedly military exercises.

Law on State Enterprises passed

July 1987

This law allowed enterprises freedom to determine output and become self-financing.

Law on Co-operatives introduced

May 1988

This was even more radical than the Law on State Enterprises, permitting private ownership of businesses in the services, manufacturing and foreign trade sectors.

Execution of Ceausescu and wife

25 December 1989