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Global Cold War

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Global Cold War

The Global Cold War refers to the period between 1955 and 1963, during which Cold War conflicts occurred in many different arenas. This was an eventful period of the Cold War, as it saw an overall ‘thaw’ in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Let’s look at what happened during this period and why.

The Global Cold War summary

This section will explain the key events and developments of the Global Cold War. We’ll first look at areas of improved relations before looking at the opposite.

Nikita Khrushchev and peaceful coexistence

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died in 1953 after ruling the Soviet Union for around a quarter of a century. Stalin’s death allowed new Soviet leaders to take a different approach to relations with the West. Before Khrushchev came to power, Georgy Malenkov was briefly the leader of the USSR.

 Global Cold War Nikita Khrushchev StudySmarterPhoto of Nikita Khrushchev, Wikimedia Commons

Malenkov promoted a ‘New Course’. He believed there was no need to engage in a war, which was increasingly dangerous given the advancement of nuclear weapons. Malenkov directed resources away from arms developments to improve the living standards of Soviet citizens, as he did not think a war with capitalism was likely.

Khrushchev entered into a power struggle with Malenkov, who was subsequently removed from the Prime Minister position in 1955 and leadership entirely in 1957. Khrushchev developed Malenkov’s ‘New Course’ into a policy known as peaceful coexistence.

Peaceful coexistence is a policy of toleration between states with different beliefs or ideologies.

Khrushchev, too, argued that peaceful coexistence was the best policy to undertake in the meantime.

Diplomacy between the US and the USSR

A new era of diplomacy began between the two superpowers, characterised by summits (face-to-face meetings between leaders) and treaties. We will outline the four critical diplomatic interactions of this period below.

The Austrian State Treaty

Austria had been divided into zones of occupation after World War Two until this treaty in 1955 reunified Austria. The Austrian government, the US, the UK, the USSR and France signed the treaty.

The Soviet Union agreed to the reunification as long as Austria remained neutral, contributing to an atmosphere of increasing cooperation.

The Geneva Summit

In July 1955, the leaders of the US, the USSR, the UK, and France leaders met in Geneva. The summit was almost entirely unsuccessful in terms of agreements, but the peaceful and diplomatic atmosphere with which talks occurred was crucial and referred to as the ‘Geneva Spirit’.

There was no agreement about German unification, and Khruschev rejected President Eisenhower’sopen skies’ proposal, which would allow the US and the USSR to observe each other’s military developments from the air. They only agreed on enabling cultural exchanges of scientists, musicians, and artists.

The Camp David Summit

In September 1959, Khrushchev visited the US, which showed respect between himself and President Eisenhower. The summit eased tensions over the Berlin Crisis, which we will discuss in the next section, but did not reach any agreement.

The Paris Summit

The Paris Summit in 1960 failed before it began. On 1st May 1960, an American U2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, violating Khruschev’s rejection of the open skies proposal. Khrushchev demanded an apology from Eisenhower at the Paris Summit, but he left the summit when Eisenhower refused.

Crises in Europe

As well as the U2-crisis at the Paris Summit described above, several events intensified tensions in Europe.

The Polish Crisis

As well as changing course in foreign policy, Khrushchev also introduced de-Stalinisation, a political reform policy condemning Stalin’s crimes and ending his image as an infallible leader. An unintended effect of de-Stalinisation was a call for liberalisation in Eastern Europe.

Infallible

Incapable of making mistakes or being wrong.

De-Stalinisation

De-Stalinisation was first articulated in Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956. During this speech, he denounced Stalin and his personality cult and condemned his purges and deportations of nationality groups. The speech was never made public, but its ripples made their way through the Soviet bloc in the form of new liberal reforms known as the ‘Khrushchev thaw’. Political prisoners were released, and there was widespread disillusionment for the party that had allowed such an abuse of power. The speech has also contributed to the revolts in Poland and Hungary below.

The regime in Poland had relaxed some of its policies after Stalin’s death. Still, the leadership primarily consisted of conservative officials who were reluctant to introduce more radical reforms. Industrial workers in Poznań went on strike in June 1956, and then riots began.

Polish military crushed the uprising, killing 60 people and wounding over 200. Although the order was restored, a need for reform in Poland was clear.

Global Cold War The Polish Riots 1956 StudySmarterThe Polish Riots 1956, Wikimedia Commons

In October 1956, Khruschev visited Poland to ensure it did not remove pro-Soviet members from government and remained loyal. There was a real threat of invasion as Soviet forces advanced on Warsaw. Nevertheless, the liberal Władysław Gomulka came to power and diffused tensions with the USSR by reassuring Khruschev that all reforms would be internal and Poland would not abandon communism.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956

The Global Cold War The Hungarian Revolution 1956 StudySmarterPhoto of the Hungarian Revolution 1956, Wikimedia Commons

Fighting also broke out in Hungary in October 1956, calling for liberalisation, and in response, the liberal Imre Nagy was appointed as the new premier. Nagy abolished one-party rule and announced Hungarian neutrality.

On 4th November, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and crushed the revolution, resulting in thousands of deaths and around a quarter of a million Hungarians fleeing the country. The more conservative János Kádár replaced Nagy.

The Hungarian Crisis again illustrated that the Soviet Union was determined to maintain its influence despite liberalisation at home. In response to the crisis, the West did little except issue statements of condemnation. President Eisenhower had previously talked of intervening to liberate people under communism, but when the opportunity arose, the US did nothing.

The Berlin crisis

Ever since Germany and Berlin had been divided after World War Two, there had been tensions, and the differences between Germany’s capitalist and communist regimes soon became evident.

West Germany underwent substantial economic growth under capitalism and benefitted from US aid through the Marshall Plan. East Germany, however, was struggling in comparison, even struggling to present itself as an independent state. Berlin, although divided, was deep in East Germany, making it a key source of tension.

West Berlin existed as a prosperous capitalist zone surrounded by communism, and increasingly people began to move from the East to West Berlin. To stop this, Khruschev wanted the US to leave the city and demanded such in 1958. There was no agreement between Khruschev and President Eisenhower or his successor, President Kennedy. The US was determined not to give up Berlin due to its propaganda value – it showed the differences between communism and capitalism.

Unable to reach an agreement and unwilling to risk nuclear war, Khruschev approved the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. The wall would prevent the flow of people from East to West Berlin and diffuse tensions. It became one of the most iconic representations of the Cold War, symbolising the desperation of the Soviet Union to maintain its sphere of influence. The West once again condemned it but took no action.

Global Cold War Building of the Berlin Wall StudySmarterBuilding of the Berlin Wall, Flickr

The Global Cold War Third World interventions

As well as areas in Europe, which had been areas of tension since the end of World War Two, the Global Cold War period saw new areas of Cold War tensions.

What do we mean by ‘Third World’?

The term ‘third world’ is now regarded as an outdated phrase that people have often used to describe what we would now call ‘developing countries’ or ‘low and lower-middle-income countries’. However, its origins lie in the Cold War and the geopolitical division of the world. The French demographer (scientist of populations) Alfred Sauvy first coined the term in his article ‘Three Worlds, One Planet’ in 1952. He stated that the First World was the United States and its capitalist allies within the article. The Second World was the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. The Third World consisted of all countries that did not actively align with the US or Soviet Union.

The Suez Crisis

In 1956, the President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal after the US and Britain backed out of funding a major project – the building of the Aswan Dam. This move was due to Egypt increasingly appearing friendly to communism as they made an arms deal with communist Czechoslovakia and recognised the communist Chinese government.

The Suez Canal was a vital trade route and was at that one by the French and the British. Britain, France, and Israel launched military action against Egypt in response to its nationalisation. Both the Soviet Union and the US opposed this but responded differently.

Khrushchev threatened to use nuclear weapons on Western Europe if the troops did not withdraw. On the other hand, Eisenhower warned him against direct action and threatened the three nations with economic sanctions if they continued to attack. The threats worked, and the crisis ended in 1957. Although Eisenhower’s reputation increased in the Middle East, Khruschev’s support for Egypt painted the USSR as a friend to the Arab nations and increased Soviet influence in the region. It was the USSR that ended up funding the Aswan Dam.

Indochina

Indochina refers to the three countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos the French previously controlled. The Indochina War from 1946 to 1954 eventually ended in French defeat, the division of Vietnam, and the independence of Cambodia and Laos.

The Global Cold War Photo of Ngo Dinh Diem shaking hands with President Eisenhower StudySmarterNgo Dinh Diem and President Eisenhower, Flickr

Vietnam was divided into the communist-controlled North under Ho Chi Minh and the capitalist South under Ngo Dinh Diem. The US supported Diem’s regime to develop a viable alternative to communism. Aid was given for Diem to introduce social reform and develop the economy.

However, Diem instead used the aid to strengthen his power and failed to win popular support. Communist guerilla warfare began in 1957 in South Vietnam, threatening Diem’s regime, and North Vietnam forces began invading the South via the Ho Chi Minh Trail that went through Cambodia and Laos.

US support to Diem increased, and military advisors became directly involved in the war. When it became clear that Diem was detrimental to the South Vietnamese cause, the US supported a military coup to overthrow him.

Elsewhere, the US had been giving aid to Laos to prevent it from being taken over by communism in the conflict that emerged, but it proved unsuccessful. President Kennedy could either intervene militarily or negotiate neutrality he chose the latter. An agreement was made between Kennedy and Khrushchev to arrange neutrality; Kennedy saw this as a test case for cooperation.

They reached an accord, but conflict soon resumed, and Laos continued to be used as a supply route for Vietnamese communists. US intervention in the region only increased throughout the 1960s.

Cuba

The Global Cold War A cartoon of Khrushchev removing missiles from Cuba StudySmarter‘This hurts me more than it hurts you!’ a cartoon of Khruschev removing missiles from Cuba, Library of Congress

Relations between the US and Cuba deteriorated after the communist Fidel Castro took over in 1959. Whilst relations with the US worsened, relations with the Soviet Union improved.

President Kennedy supported the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, sending CIA-trained Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro, which ultimately failed and only worsened US-Cuban relations.

In October 1962, the US discovered the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles in Cuba. This was seen as a huge threat to the US as Cuba is so close, referred to as in its ‘backyard’. President Kennedy blockaded the island and threatened to use nuclear weapons if the missiles were not removed. The world was on the brink of nuclear war for thirteen days, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles, the powers promptly set up a hotline telephone link between Washington and Moscow. They signed the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned all nuclear tests except those underground.

The Arms Race contributed to the Cuban Missile Crisis in two ways: Khruschev installed nuclear bases in Cuba in response to US missiles in Turkey (that were also removed after the Crisis but less publicly). The large numbers of nuclear missiles that each power possessed meant conflict would cause devastation. We’ll look some more at the arms race in the next section, as well as the space race.

Science and technology in the Global Cold War

Science and technology played a vital role in the Cold War, in particular in the arms and the space race. Since the US monopoly on nuclear weapons had ended in 1949 when the USSR developed its own atomic bomb, the two powers had entered into an arms race. Below is a table of developments in the arms and the space race, and we can see how it intensified in the Global Cold War period.

The Arms Race

Competition between the US and the USSR for superiority in developing and producing weapons continued throughout the Cold War.

The Space Race

Competition between the US and the USSR for superiority in space exploration, beginning in 1957 and continuing until the mid-1970s.

The USA leads

The USSR leads

August 1945: The US dropped the first-ever atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

August 1949: The USSR detonated their first atomic bomb. US intelligence had predicted this wouldn’t happen until 1953.

1951: The US developed a policy of constant readiness for war. 6000 targets in the USSR were identified.

November 1952: The US detonated the first Hydrogen-bomb. Hydrogen bombs can be a thousand times more powerful than atomic bombs.

August 1953: The USSR detonated its Hydrogen-bomb.

March 1954: The US developed a Hydrogen-bomb small enough to be dropped from a bomber plane.

September 1954: The USSR dropped a test Hydrogen-bomb from a bomber plane.

July 1956: The US developed a U-2 spy plane to spy on Soviet weapons developments.

May 1957: The USSR developed the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

October 1957: The USSR launched the Sputnik satellite into space. This meant it also had the technology to launch and guide nuclear missiles.

January 1958: The US put a satellite into space.

1959: The US developed sophisticated ICBMS and missiles that could be fired from submarines.

The American public thought the US was losing the arms race.

April 1961: Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

October 1961: The USSR detonated the largest Hydrogen-bomb ever.

As seen in the table, the balance of perceived superiority constantly shifted between the powers. The emergence of Soviet dominance in the space race led many Americans to believe the USSR had more missiles than the US, heightening tensions.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was an awakening, which led to a slight improvement in relations post-1963 in order to avoid a similar crisis.

The Global Cold War - Key takeaways

  • During this period, relations ‘thawed’ in the sense that the US and the USSR entered a period of diplomacy, and Khruschev favoured peaceful coexistence over Stalin’s hostile approach.
  • Despite increasing diplomacy, the summits achieved little to ease tensions other than creating a ‘spirit of Geneva’.
  • Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin and de-Stalinisation ultimately worked against him, leading to uprisings in Poland and Hungary. These events demonstrated Soviet determination to maintain its sphere of influence whilst also showing that the Western promise to liberate people under communism was empty rhetoric.
  • New areas of confrontation opened, with US involvement in Vietnam and Laos where they were desperate to prevent communism from spreading.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated the level of tension between the US and the USSR and threatened the world with nuclear war.

Frequently Asked Questions about Global Cold War

The Cold War was global through the entire conflict, but it is helpful to think of 1955–63 as when the war truly became global. 

When the Cold War ended, the ex-communist bloc countries became involved in the global market economy, which they had not been able to before the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Korean War was the first ‘proxy’ war fought by the US and the USSR. It globalised the Cold War by globalising the outlook of both countries, making local conflicts across the world appear as a competition between the two powers.

The Cold War grew from the incompatibility of capitalism and communism and the differing national interests of the US and the USSR. 

The US and the USSR wanted to prove their superiority over the other and ultimately for their regime – capitalism or communism – to emerge victoriously.

Final Global Cold War Quiz

Question

Which countries held zones of occupation in Germany? (Choose two answers)

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Answer

France

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Question

What precedent did the Berlin Blockade set?

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Answer

It set a precedent for the USSR making impulsive decisions over the city.

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Question

What methods did the East German authorities employ to try and prevent the flow of refugees? (Choose two answers)


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Answer

They closed the inner borders.

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Question

Why was Berlin such an important city in the refugee crisis?


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Answer

The borders between East and West Berlin were not closed so refugees could use it to flee to the West.

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Question

Which event caused thousands of people to leave for the West in 1953?


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Answer

The Workers’ Uprising and its brutal suppression.

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Question

Did closing the internal borders between East and West Germany in 1952 help quell the refugees?


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Answer

It did not help quell the number of refugees fleeing and arguably accelerated it. People continued to leave through West Berlin where the border was still open, and by 1961, up to 3000 people were leaving Germany each day.

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Question

 Which plan helped the German Federal Republic to recover economically?


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Answer

The Marshall Plan

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Question

How was the standoff between US and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie eased?


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Answer

Kennedy suggested Khrushchev remove his tanks and the US would reciprocate.

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Question

How many checkpoints did the Berlin Wall have?


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Answer

12

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Question

Did the Berlin Wall completely prevent refugees from fleeing the country?


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Answer

No, still many East Germans (including guards) escaped after it was erected.

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Question

Which of the following were ways East Germans used to escape? (Choose three answers)


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Answer

Hot air balloons

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Question

How did the Berlin Wall affect Khrushchev’s leadership?


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Answer

For Soviet leader Khrushchev, the Berlin Wall represented one of the final blows to his time as leader. Critics felt his actions in Berlin and later in the Cuban Missile Crisis were impulsive and painted the Soviet Union in a bad light. He was forced into retirement in 1964 and succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev.

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Question

What happened in Hungary in 1989 that set the chain of events in motion for the fall of the Berlin Wall?


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Answer

Hungary opened its border to Austria in the West. This led to thousands of East Germans using this opening to flee to the West.

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Question

Which German city held mass demonstrations on the GDR’s 40th anniversary?


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Answer

Leipzig

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Question

How did Gunther Shabowski’s mistake cause the fall of the Berlin Wall?


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Answer

 At a press conference broadcast to the nation, Schabowski accidentally stated that East Germans would be able to leave the GDR immediately at all border crossings with West Germany. Waves of East Germans rushed to the border upon hearing the announcement. Guards, overpowered and confused themselves, allowed East Germans through and over the Berlin Wall. This signified its fall.

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Question

When did Khrushchev send in troops to quell the uprising?

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Answer

4 November 1956

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Question

When did Eisenhower come into power?

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Answer

1952

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Question

Which politician became Prime Minister in October during the Hungarian Revolution?


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Answer

Imre Nagy

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Question

America provided economic aid to Hungary.


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Answer

False

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China pressured the USSR into intervening during the Revolution.


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Answer

True

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Who was Secretary of State during Eisenhower’s presidency?


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Answer

John Foster Dulles

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Why was Nagy confident in the aid from the US?

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Answer

When Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in 1953, he made sweeping claims about embarking on a foreign policy that would fight against the policy of containment (which aimed to stop the expansion of communism abroad) because it was immoral, futile, and effectively abandoned countless people to despotism. 


The Republican administration promised that it would lessen Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe and would aid ‘captive peoples’ in their struggle against communism. This led many in Hungary, including Nagy, to believe that the United States would support their challenge against the Soviet Union. 

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Why did people in Hungary believe that Khrushchev would allow radical change?

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Answer

Khrushchev advocated for de-Stalinisation. The process of de-Stalinisation, which granted ordinary citizens more civil rights than they had in decades, was encouraging to many revolutionaries. This quickly spread throughout the Soviet bloc and led many in Hungary to believe that their own country could also be de-Stalinised.

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What were the three main causes for the Hungarian Revolution?

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Answer

1. Khrushchev’s policy of de-Stalinisation

2. Belief in American intervention

3. Years of political repression and economic difficulty

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Question

The USSR did not face international consequences for its actions during the Hungarian Uprising.

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Answer

True

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What was one consequence of the Hungarian Revolution in the USSR?

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Answer

Khrushchev implemented economic and social reforms in the winter of 1956 and in early 1957. However, the event also proved that Khrushchev’s policy of liberalisation would have consequences and weakened his support from hard-line communists in his own country. Khrushchev faced additional pressure from China following the Uprising to defend communism abroad.

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Why did the US fail to intervene in Hungary?

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Answer

Firstly, the Eisenhower administration felt that Imre Nagy was still closely linked to the Kremlin. Moreover, the United States was preoccupied with the Suez Crisis, which they deemed more important. The US and the USSR were also in a phase of ‘peaceful coexistence,’ which neither Eisenhower nor Khrushchev was willing to disrupt so easily.

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What was the impact of Stalin’s death?

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Soviet leaders were able to take a different approach in relations with the West, which became known as peaceful coexistence.

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Which Soviet leader is associated with peaceful coexistence?

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Answer

Nikita Khrushchev.

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Question

What four events represented the new era of diplomacy between the US and the USSR?

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Answer

The Austrian State Treaty, The Geneva Summit, The Camp David Summit, The Paris Summit.

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What event brought an end to summit diplomacy in 1960?

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Answer

The U2 crisis.

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Question

What was de-Stalinisation, and how did it influence Eastern Europe?

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Answer

A political reform policy condemned Stalin's crimes and ended his image as an infallible leader. Eastern Europe called for liberalisation. 

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Question

Who came to power in Poland after the Poznań riots?

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Answer

Władysław Gomulka.

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When did the Soviet Union invade Hungary?

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Answer

4th November 1956.

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Question

Who did the conservative János Kádár replace in Hungary in 1956? 

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Answer

Imre Nagy.

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Question

When the US and USSR could not reach an agreement about Berlin, what did Khruschev do?

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Answer

He approved the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

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Question

What was the Suez Crisis?

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Answer

Egyptian President Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956 after the US and Britain withdrew funding for the Aswan Dam. France, Britain and Israel invaded Egypt. Khrushchev threatened to use nuclear weapons against Western Europe, and Eisenhower threatened the invaders with economic sanctions. 

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Question

Who did the US support in Vietnam?

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Answer

Ngo Dinh Diem.

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Question

What did Kennedy and Khruschev conclude regarding Laos?

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Answer

They agreed to arrange neutrality.

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Question

When was the Cuban Missile Crisis?

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Answer

October 1962.

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What was signed in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis?

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Answer

The 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

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Question

When did the USSR launch the Sputnik satellite?

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Answer

October 1957.

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What was the space race?

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Answer

A race between the US and the USSR to see who could get to space first

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Why did the US and USSR decide to start a space race?

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Answer

Both wanted to prove superiority to the public by getting to space first

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Question

What happened in 1967 for both the US and the USSR?

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Answer

The deaths of astronauts from both countries whilst on space missions. 

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What was the main difference between US and Soviet spacecrafts?

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Answer

Soviet spacecrafts were more advanced

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Question

Who was the first American in space?

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Answer

Neil Armstrong

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What was the Outer Space Treaty for?

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Answer

It established international laws for countries wanting to explore space travel

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Question

What is an arms race?

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Answer

When two or more states compete to have more advanced weapons than each other.

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Question

What caused the start of the arms race? 

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Answer

Truman dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki without informing Stalin that he was planning to bomb them, or that he had nuclear weapons.

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