What was the Cold War, in which the United States and the USSR divided the world?

The Cold War is the period between the end of World War II in 1945 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, which divided the world into the capitalist Western bloc, led by the United States, and the communist Eastern bloc, led by the USSR. There was permanent tension between both superpowers, escalated by the arms race and the development of nuclear weapons. Because they feared destruction, they never came to direct war, but their confrontations provoked local conflicts.

Both the United States and the USSR intervened in the internal politics of many countries to repress dissent, strengthen their allies, and promote coups d’état to expand their influence. At the same time, they fought each other through ideological propaganda and espionage through their intelligence agencies, the CIA and the KGB.

The rivalry of the two superpowers

The final break between the United States and the USSR came in 1947. Then, the mistrust that had already existed since the Russian Revolution of 1917 resurfaced, when the United States supported the tsarist forces to expel the Bolsheviks from power. Europe was exhausted after the Second World War, which created a power vacuum that Washington and Moscow, the main victors, took advantage of to expand their influence and become the hegemonic economic and military powers.

Fearing that socialist and communist ideas would spread in post-war Europe, the United States presented the Marshall Plan in 1947, which sought to support the reconstruction of Western Europe to stop the USSR. This plan was part of the Truman doctrine, which determined the country’s foreign policy during the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine considered that the world was divided into two irreconcilable blocks, where the United States defended democracy and freedom against a totalitarian USSR hostile to Western values, which posed a threat to be contained.

That American strategy countered the growth of communist parties in Western Europe and established the foundations of their liberal economies. The Soviet response to the Marshall Plan was the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecom), with which it sought to promote economic and commercial cooperation between the new communist countries of Eastern Europe.

For military integration, the Western bloc founded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 with the aim of protecting itself from any threat with political and military means. The USSR reacted in 1955 by creating a similar alliance, the Warsaw Pact, and, as a consequence, Europe ended up divided into two spheres of influence separated by the Iron Curtain, an ideological border that materialized in points such as the Berlin Wall.

The Cold War in the rest of the world

Tension increased with the Berlin crisis in 1949—which divided Germany into a capitalist and a communist country—, the end of the Chinese civil war that same year, and the start of the Korean War the following year. Furthermore, the USSR successfully tested its first atomic bomb, which deterred the United States and created fear of mutual destruction. Although there were episodes of extreme risk, such as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, nuclear confrontation could be avoided.

However, the two superpowers indirectly confronted each other in several conflicts. On the one hand, in the Vietnam War (1955-1975) socialist forces prevailed with the support of the USSR, China and Cuba, dealing a severe blow to the United States. On the other hand, in the Afghanistan war (1978-1992), the fundamentalist Islamic insurgents, the mujahideenthey had American help to wear down the socialist regime and the Soviets until causing their withdrawal.

In response to bipolar tension, India, Egypt, Indonesia and Yugoslavia promoted the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, which sought to bring together those who did not belong to either bloc to ensure their independence from foreign interests. The group is still active and currently represents almost two-thirds of the members of the UN, but with the fall of the USSR it lost its meaning and, with it, many supports.

The fall of the USSR brought a change of era

The Cold War ended in 1991 with the end of the USSR, which had already suffered decades of difficulties. The political immobility of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev prevented him from responding effectively to the oil crisis of 1973 and the political demands of the end of that decade. The loss of internal legitimacy, together with the failed intervention in Afghanistan, eroded the international prestige of the USSR. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan’s Administration strengthened the military capacity of the United States.

When the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, came to power in 1985, he promoted a series of liberalizing and democratizing reforms that unleashed a wave of independence and anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Bloc countries, led by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. , and which spread to Russia itself. Finally Gorbachev resigned from office and the USSR dissolved in December 1991, ushering in an era of American hegemony.