History of the Cold War

Course NameHistory of the Cold War
Course CodeIRS251
DescriptionThe course begins by examining the uneasy alliance that developed in 1941 between the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union against the threat of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. We will then trace the deterioration of this alliance after 1945 into hostile camps, and the intensification of superpower conflict in Asia during the 1950s.

The death of Stalin in 1953 brought with it some hope for a relaxation of these tensions. But by the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s, the Cold War had entered its most dangerous period, with crises in Europe and the Caribbean (the successive Berlin and Cuban Missile crises) which very nearly resulted in a nuclear conflagration.

A period of so-called détente followed in the later 60s and the 1970s. But a relaxation in tensions between the two superpowers was paradoxically characterised by an intensification of conflict on the periphery of the superpowers’ spheres of influence – in South East, the Middle East and Africa. America’s unending war in Vietnam, and the war fought between the Arab states and Israel in 1973 – almost brought the world economy to the brink of collapse in the 1970s.

The Cold War would enter another intense phase – the so-called “Second Cold War” – in the late 1970s and early 1980s, almost resulting in the outbreak of nuclear war in 1983. Yet, just at the point where the conflict seemed at its most intense and irreconcilable, it suddenly and unexpectedly ended with the coming to power in the Soviet Union of Mikhail Gorbachev and the rapid collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe in 1989 and of the
Soviet Union itself in 1991.