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Causes of the Cold War Terms

Cold War

The decades-long confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. The name "Cold War" arose from the fact that the conflict that never escalated to direct military confrontation (that would have been a "hot war").


A United States foreign policy during the Cold War that called for containing the expansion of communism and, more specifically, Soviet influence; the plan was originally devised by U.S. diplomat George Kennan.

An American policy that sought to halt the spread of Communism to countries which were not already Communist

Iron Curtain

The line that divided Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe from Western Europe. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill coined the phrase in a 1946 speech.


The practice of pushing a conflict to the brink of disaster in order to force an opponent to relent.

Proxy War, Proxy Wars

A war in which two superpowers support opposing third parties as a substitute for fighting each other directly. For example, Angola's Civil War during the 1970s was a prominent proxy war of the Cold War era. The Soviet Union and Cuba backed the Marxist MPLA government, while the United States and South Africa backed the anticommuist UNITA rebels.

Sphere Of Influence, Spheres Of Influence

A region over which a powerful nation exerts unofficial but significant political, military, and economic domination. Eastern Europe during the Cold War was a Soviet sphere of influence.

Communism, Communist, Communists

A social, political, and economic system rooted in the philosophies of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin, in which all economic and social activity is controlled by the state and/or the Communist Party. All property is owned collectively; there is no private property or private enterprise.

Capitalism, Capitalist, Capitalists

A socio-economic system in which property and the means of production are owned by private citizens or corporations rather than by the state. Decentralized market behavior, rather than centralized government decision-making, determines the allocation of goods through society.

Arms Race

A competition between rival nations to achieve superiority in military weaponry.


Atomic bombs built around fusion rather than fission.

Relating to fusion or hydrogen bomb technology. Thermonuclear bombs used an atomic or fission reaction as the trigger for a much larger explosion.

The West

In the context of the Cold War, "the West" referred to the anticommunist nations of Western Europe and North America, which joined together in formal military alliance through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The West existed in contrast to the Communist nations of the East.


The principle that the citizens of a nation should be able to choose their own form of government through democratic processes.


The capital of Russia and the Soviet Union. "Moscow" is often used as a shorthand for the Soviet government, as in: "Moscow sent in troops."

Kremlin, The Kremlin

A fortified palace complex at the heart of Moscow, the Kremlin is the seat of power of the Russian government. "The Kremlin" was often used as a shorthand to refer to the entire Soviet government, as in: "The Kremlin objected to the Marshall Plan."

Autocrat, Autocrats

An absolute ruler or dictator.

V-J Day

Victory in Japan Day, 14 August 1945, the day when Americans received offical news that Japan had surrendered and World War II was over.

Domino Theory

An American foreign policy theory, first articulated in the 1950s, that suggested that the fall of one nation to Communism would create a "domino effect" leading to the subsequent fall of neighboring countries. The Domino Theory played a prominent role in the American decision to intervene in Vietnam.

Massive Retaliation

A military doctrine announced by President Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in 1954, Massive Retaliation was meant to deter Communist aggression by suggesting that any Communist provocation, anywhere in the world, could lead to massive retaliation—a nuclear strike—by the United States against the Soviet Union itself.

Soviet Satellite

A nation that was formally independent, but in fact dominated by and subservient to the Soviet Union. After World War II, many of the nations of Eastern Europe became Soviet satellites.


The nations that fought against the Allies during World War II. The most important Axis powers were Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy.

Long Telegram, "long Telegram", "Long Telegram"

In 1946, George Kennan, a young foreign service officer stationed at the US Embassy in Moscow, sent an unusual diplomatic cable of several thousand words—the so-called "Long Telegram"—back to the State Department in Washington. In the message, Kennan made a forceful case that the United States should adopt a firm policy of containment in its relations with the Soviet Union. The containment doctrine laid out in Kennan's "Long Telegram" would go on to become the centerpiece of American foreign policy in the early years of the Cold War.

Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine, announced in 1947, held that any advance of Communism, anywhere in the world, was a threat to the national interests of the United States.

An American foreign policy doctrine expressed by President Harry S. Truman in a famous 1947 speech, the Truman Doctrine defined the advance of Communism anywhere in the world as a grave threat to the United States' national interest, and therefore pledged American support to foreign governments threatened by Communist revolutions.

"The Big Three", Big Three, "Big Three"

A nickname for the leaders of the three major Allied powers of World War II—Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, and Premier Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union. Early in 1945, the "Big Three" met in the Soviet seaside resort town of Yalta to negotiate agreements for the postwar world order; by the time of the next major international conference, held at Postdam, Germany, five months later, Roosevelt was dead and Churchill had been voted out of office, leaving Stalin the only original member of a new "Big Three" that also included British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and American President Harry S. Truman.

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