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Home > Modern History > International Studies in Peace and Conflict > The Cold War 1945-1991 > Overview of US-Soviet relations and the Cold War
The Cold War 1945-1991
Overview of US-Soviet relations
and the Cold War
Charles Sturt University
Principal Focus: Students investigate key features and issues in the history of the Cold War 1945 - 1991
H1.1 describe the role of key features, issues, individuals, groups and events of select twentieth-century studies
(Extract from Modern History Stage 6 Syllabus Board of Studies NSW ...view middle of the document...
The crises of the 1950s over Korea and Taiwan, and the Vietnam War of the 1960s, were all, it is true, issues in the conflict between Washington and Moscow, but to see the superpower relationship as central to any of these crises would be to perpetuate an illusion from which at times both governments suffered. Bi-polar conflict lay at the heart of the Cold War, but the global struggle was more complicated.
Although in their public rhetoric American leaders treated world communism as monolithic, in private, at least by the early 1950s, they drew distinctions between communist powers. The Yugoslav case of 1948, in which Tito’s departure from the Soviet bloc underlined the potential for further divisions in the communist world, encouraged such distinctions. By the end of 1950s Washington regarded China as more fanatical and dangerous than Russia. By then the latter was seen as a relatively respectable communist power. At the very least the two superpowers had a common interest in avoiding nuclear war and in restraining their allies, especially over the question of nuclear proliferation. There is even strong evidence of a proposal by the Kennedy administration to take joint action with the Soviets against Chinese nuclear facilities (though it is not clear whether this proposal was actually presented to Moscow). 
Questions to consider:
a) Describe how US-Soviet relations had changed by the end of the 1950's.
2. Chronology of the Cold War
Because the term ‘Cold War’ refers to a state of hostility rather than a real war, there is no consensus on when it started or ended. If we see the Cold War as a single event lasting from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s, we must at least recognise that levels of tension fluctuated, and that there were times during this period when degrees of accommodation or cooperation characterised relations between Washington and Moscow. The conflict was at its height from 1947 to 1953. Relations improved between 1953 and 1958, only to be followed by increased tension between 1958 and 1962, centring especially on Berlin and Cuba (the most dangerous point of the Cold War occurred with the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962). Yet even then hostility was not consistently at a high level; it was during these years that Kennedy seriously considered joint action with the Soviets against China’s nuclear facilities. In the following years, despite the Vietnam War, US-Soviet relations improved. The period of detente, from 1969 to 1979, seemed to promise an end to the Cold War but gave way to renewed tensions between 1980 and 1985.
Some historians find it helpful to use terms like ‘First Cold War’ (to refer to the period 1947-53) and ‘Second Cold War’ or ‘New Cold War’ (for the 1980-85 period). Whatever terminology we use, the whole period 1945-89 is usefully seen as one of American-Soviet rivalry. It was a discrete era, brought to an end by the break-up of the Soviet empire in Europe and the Soviet Union itself between 1989 and...