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Cold War Period and Significant Events

1. Introduction

The Cold War was not a single event but a name given to the period after the 2nd world war which revolves around a series of events. This phase, however, came to an end with the collapse of USSR in 1989.

In this article, we’ll see the important events that took place during this period, their causes and consequences.

  1. Korean War ( June 1950 – July 1953 )
  2. Vietnam War
  3. Cuban Missile Crisis
  4. Evolution of European Union

2. Korean War [1950-1953]

2.1 Background

Prior to the World War 2, Korea was a single entity. Japan invaded Korea in 1910 and ruled it until the end of World War 2 in which the allied powers emerged victorious. On the other hand, though the war came to an end but the duo USA-USSR did not trust each other, thereby, the post-war Korea was divided along the 38th parallel into two zones – North Korea came under the care of USSR and South Korea under the USA.

In North Korea, USSR supported the establishment of a communist government under Kim-Il-Sung, while in South Korea; the USA supported the establishment of an anti-Communist government under Syngman Rhee. In 1949, CCP captured power in China and in the same year, Kim IlSung’s North Korean government launched an attack on South Korea with the aim of establishing a unified Korea under communist rule.

Following this course, Truman authorized US military intervention to push back N Korea behind the 38th parallel.

(Truman’s / USA’s domino theory argued that unless checked, countries adjacent to communist powers would also fall to communism.)

Images: Korean War

The conflict lasted for 3 years following which the status quo was installed along the 38th parallel largely along the line of the situation in 1945 by the creation of DMZ (Demilitarized zone).

Rishabh Tatiraju – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

More than a million of individuals were killed in the Korean War. Despite this fact, the Korean intervention was considered a successful US foreign policy move, which demonstrated the practical application of the policy of containment. The move also inspired similar US interventions in Vietnam and elsewhere to limit the spread of Communism.

2.2 Indian Contribution

India, which remained neutral during the war, contributed its fair share in the peace efforts. The nation sent its 60th Parachute Filed Ambulance Platoon to treat wounded soldiers, civilians and the prisoners of war. The troop arrived in Korea in 1950 and stayed till 1954, rendering valuable medical assistance.

At United Nations, on India’s suggestions Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was also set up with India at its helm, to facilitate the return of prisoners of war to their homeland. Under the Commission, India sent 6000 soldiers to form CFI (Custodian Force India) to look after the prisoners of war and their repatriation.

3. Vietnam War

Image: Vietnam

Prior to the 2nd World War, the territory of Indo China (mainland South-East Asia – Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) was a French colony. It was invaded by Japan during the 2nd World War. After the withdrawal of Japan post WW 2nd, the French aimed to recapture Vietnam. In response to this, a nationalist movement rose in Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Congress). The movement created Guerrilla forces which entered into conflict with the French troops.

The conflict lasted for eight years (the first Indochina War), and French troops were made to withdrew from the region in 1954. A settlement was also reached (Geneva Accords 1954) under which North Vietnam would be ruled by Viet Cong with Communist links, while in South Vietnam, Ngo-Diem, a strongly anti-Communist government, was established with US support as it aimed to limit the Communist influence in the region.

Furthermore, from 1954 onwards, Ho Chi Minh, who wished to establish a unified Vietnam, launched a military offensive against the South Vietnam rule. Initially, the US forces did not intervened in the region directly but provided financial and training support to South Vietnamese troops to overthrow the North Vietnamese troops.

From 1959 onwards, the USA increased the number of military advisors it provided to the South Vietnamese forces under the Presidency of John F Kennedy. However, the South Vietnamese forces failed to push back against North Vietnamese troops.

Seeing its defeat in Vietnam, the USA was looking for an excuse to directly enter the war. In 1964 – the Gulf of Tonkin incident happened where one of the US Air Carrier was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol board. (However, the later reports found that such incident had never happened.) As a result, Lyndon B Johnson, erstwhile the President of the US declared war on Vietnam. By 1968, despite repeated assurances by the US President, the victory was not in sight. In 1968, the North Vietnamese troops, thereby, launched a Tet Offensive which was a coordinated military attack on the major US bases in

South Vietnam. This was widely reported in the US press and Lyndon did not contend the Presidential elections.

In the year 1969 – Nixon became the President and under him, Henry Kissinger (erstwhile advisor on National Security Affairs) took steps to bring about the slow withdrawal of the US forces from Vietnam. The US said that it would return to the role of training and assisting South Vietnamese forces. Thus, by 1973, the US withdrew forces from Vietnam and by 1975; Viet Cong took over the complete control of Vietnam, establishing a unified Vietnam.

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4. Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1955, General Batista, a military dictator ruled Cuba. He had close relations with the USA and allowed a number of USA private companies to establish oil refineries in Cuba. The country also had close economic relations with the USA which was a major market for Cuban Sugar and Tobacco.

In 1959 – The Cuban Revolution broke out as Fidel Castro and his guerrilla troops overthrew the Batista regime. After gaining power, Castro nationalised US-owned oil refineries in Cuba and in response, the USA imposed trade sanctions on Sugar and Tobacco. In retaliation, Cuba nationalised all the remaining US investments in the region and in return the US imposed further economic sanctions on Cuba. Thus, the rapid breakdown of relations ensued.

Castro also brought about radical land reforms, to redistribute land to landless peasants by forcibly acquiring land from Cuban landed elites which forced them to exile to the USA in the Florida region.

In 1961, the CIA advised John F Kennedy to authorize an intervention where the USA would train and assist the Cuban exiles to bring about an armed overthrow of Castro’s regime. The attempt was given shape in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. However, the attempt turned out to be a failure as Castro’s regime effectively suppressed the armed overthrow attempt. It was also a huge embarrassment for the American President.

On the other side, Fidel Castro was convinced that the failed coup attempt would not deter the USA, and it would attempt a similar regime change in the future. Thus, he took a number of steps to prevent it. In 1961, Cuba proclaimed support for Communism or establishing a Communist state whereas the Soviet Union extended support to Castro’s regime and upon Cuba’s request, agreed to install Nuclear Missiles in Cuba.

(In 1959, USSR had strongly protested against the US installation of Nuclear Missiles in Turkey and Italy. While the USA had argued that these were for defensive purposes and the Soviet Union argued that it might amount to a threatening nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.)

During 1960s, as agreed by Cuba, the Soviet Union installed Nuclear Missiles in Cuba secretly. However, the US spy planes picked up these developments during this period on 15 October 1962 and it considered a range of options to deal with the impending crisis immediately.

Image: Cuba during cold war

The USA imposed an immediate naval blockade on Cuba, following which backchannel negotiations began among the duo – USA and USSR (October 15 – October 28 1962). The USA also agreed to provide a public assurance that it did not intend to interfere in the domestic politics of Cuba and also agreed to withdraw the Nuclear Missiles from Italy and Turkey secretly but refused to publicly acknowledge the same. In response, USSR agreed publicly to withdraw Nuclear Missiles from Cuba.

5. Impact of Cuban Missile Crisis

The crisis demonstrated that the possibility of a nuclear war was real and effective steps to reduce tension between the nations were necessary.

The event created a conscious realization amongst great powers to work towards mutually reducing tensions to prevent the possible outbreak of a nuclear War.

There were also negotiations over the next few decades which led to INF and START treaties to make attempts towards limiting the size of the nuclear arsenal between the US and Soviet Union.

“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”

 John F Kennedy

6. European Union (EU)

Image: European Union

After the 2nd World War, a strong inclination was felt amongst the major powers in the Western Europe, particularly Britain, France and West Germany to move closer towards the idea of the regional cooperation and avoid events like WW 1 and 2 in future, for reconstruction efforts and to address the economic weaknesses of these nations. These nations were of the view that a conscious effort was also needed amongst the Western-democratic-capitalist European powers to stand together and resist any westward expansion of Communism in Europe.

In 1944, the Benelux Union was formed by the trio- Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg with the immediate objective of promoting trade and establishing a common market amongst themselves. The British Prime Minister,  Winston Churchill demonstrated open public support for the Benelux union and argued in favour of establishing the United States of Europe.

In 1951, ECSC (European Coal and Steel Committee) was conceptualized as the Benelux Union along with France, West Germany, and Italy as its members who joined hands to establish a customs union in Coal, Iron and Steel. It had no internal tariffs and had a common external tariff. However, Britain did not joined ECSC over the concerns related to the loss of its sovereignty over tariff policy through the supranational authority created under ECSC.

Image: Member nation of EU

ECSC flourished over the 1951 – 1956 period and doubled its steel production. Buoyed by its success, the body expanded to form EEC (European Economic Community) to include trade in all the commodities. However, Britain again showed little interest in joining the EEC over the loss of sovereignty over its trade / economic policy. By 1961, EEC emerged as the single largest market for the goods worldwide and its steel production increased to the extent that it became the second-largest producer after the USA, surpassing Britain. Witnessing this success, Britain now expressed interest to enter the EEC. However, France kept blocking the entry of Britain as it perceived Britain as a threat to its leadership and hold over the European market. Thus, from 1961 to 1969, the French leadership, especially De Gaulle was opposed to the British entry.

With the changed circumstances, Britain finally entered the EEC in 1973. And in 1990, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large number of Eastern European Countries expressed their keen interest in joining the EEC. Moreover, the existing EEC members felt a need to discuss and take forward the project of regional cooperation beyond a customs union and thus, the period of 1992 saw the evolution of the Maastricht treaty under which:

It was decided to take forward the project of economic integration further by adopting a common monetary policy and a common currency also within the next decade. (Euro was adopted in 2002).

Image: Schengen Agreement by

The Schengen area agreement was also signed in 1985 among the member states under which a free movement of the people would be allowed including the right to settle, buy property or seek employment amongst the member states, irrespective of country of origin.

All the member countries would be expected to uphold the democratic principles, which would include free and fair multiparty elections, separation of powers and freedom of speech etc.

It is interesting to note that Switzerland is neither member of the Euro zone nor EU but signed the Schengen area agreement.

Moreover, it is also important to note that the Britain exited the EU in January 2020 after being part of it for almost 5 decades

7. Summary

The Cold War was a hot or proxy war between the USA and the USSR which never escalated into a full-fledged war among the two states. However, it involves confrontation in variety of regions such of those beginning form Cuba and spreading to Korea and Afghanistan etc. It also led to an arm race and the development MAD weapons which ultimately ended into the disintegration of USSR and the rise of USA as hegemony in the world system.

Furthermore, the Cold War period also witnessed the rise of European Union as a result of re-construction measures taken for the war-torn European economy.

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  • PYQ Analysis
  • Plenty of Maps, Images for Illustration
  • Also useful for State PSC Examinations
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8. Multiple Choice Question

1] What do you mean by the 38th parallel?
a) Division of European nations
b) Boundary dividing Vietnam
c) Division of Korea
d) Division of South China Sea

Show Answer

Ans: c) Division of Korea

2] What is USA’s Domino Theory?
a) Unless checked countries adjacent to communist nations will fall into communism
b) Surrounding of the Japanese mainland
c) Re-construction of the European economy
d) Nuclear theory

Show Answer

Ans: a) Unless checked countries adjacent to communist nations will fall into communism

3] What is the Gulf of Tonkin incident?
a) Violent outburst of revolution in Korea
b) British invasion of Vietnam
c) Holocaust of large scale people on Viet States
d) US carrier was attacked

Show Answer

Ans: d) US carrier was attacked

4] The 1961 Bay of Pigs’ invasion was related to which country?
a) Cuba
b) USA
d) Vietnam

Show Answer

Ans: a) Cuba

5] The Benelux Union was formed by whom?
a) USA and Britain
b) Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg
c) Britain, France and Germany
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: b) Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg

6] The Maastricht treaty came into being in which year?
a) 1990
b) 1991
c) 1994
d) 1992

Show Answer

Ans: d) 1992

7] Which was the common currency adopted by the European Union?
a) Yen
b) Euro
c) Dollar
d) Pound

Show Answer

Ans: b) Euro

8] The impact of Cuban missile crisis includes the following:
a) Signing of INF and START
b) Realisation of possibility of a nuclear war
c) Both a and b
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: c) Both a and b

9] The Neutral Nations Repatriation commission came due to the efforts of which nation?
a) India
b) Britain
d) USA

Show Answer

Ans: a) India

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