The Cold War

Updated March 7, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

Key events and moments during the tense time between the Western and Eastern Blocs


Soviet army marches into Berlin; the German capital city falls. World War II ends. Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain, and France divide Berlin and Germany into four zones of occupation, a decision made during the Yalta conference.


British Prime Minister Winston Churchill'sIron Curtain” speech marks beginning of the Cold War.


U.S. President Harry Truman requests funds to support Greek and Turkish efforts to fight communism. It marks the beginning of the Truman doctrine.


The Berlin airlift supplies West Berlin with basic necessities after the Soviet Union blocks off the city in an effort to force the West to give it up.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is formed by the United States and many western European countries to defend Europe against Soviet aggression.

Communist forces under Mao Zedong take over mainland China. The United States continues to support the government of Nationalist China, led by Chiang Kai-shek, which is forced to retreat to the island of Taiwan.


U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy begins his communist witch hunt in the United States.

The Korean War begins, the first armed conflict in the Cold War, the global struggle between communism and democracy.


More than 300,000 East Germans flee to West Berlin and then to West Germany.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assists in the overthrow of Guatemala's communist-influenced government.

Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) is formed to thwart the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

The Vietnam War begins shortly after Vietnam is divided into communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam. The United States' involvement spans 1961-73, making it the country's longest war.


The Warsaw Pact is formed by the Soviet Union and communist countries in eastern Europe as a military defense organization to counter NATO.


Cuba becomes communist under Fidel Castro.


Soviet-controlled East Germany divides Berlin with the Berlin Wall.

The Alliance for Progress is formed, a U.S.-sponsored program to counter communism in Latin America.

The U.S. orchestrates the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, an unsuccessful attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba.


The Cuban Missile crisis sparks a major confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union when the U.S. discovers the existence of Soviet missile installations in Cuba.


U.S. President John F. Kennedy tells a crowd of Germans in Berlin that the Wall proves the failure of the Soviet system.

1963 The Soviet Union and the United States agree to install a hot-line – which is a point-to-point communications link - that allows both countries to directly communicate during a crisis.


The United States Congress approves the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which grants President Johnson authority to send troops to South Vietnam.


The Soviet Union accuses the United States of encouraging the Israeli attack and seizure of the Sinai, Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. This attack becomes known as the Six Day War.


Soviet and Warsaw Pact allies invade Czechoslovakia to arrest the current leadership and restore hard-line Communists to power.


U.S. President Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. leader to visit communist China, leading to a thaw in Cold War relations.


Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I (SALT I) is signed by the Soviet Union and the United States, limiting the proliferation of weapons, including nuclear missiles.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secetly helps overthrow Chile's socialist government under Salvador Allende.


The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, beginning a decade-long war that ends with their withdrawal in 1988.


The Soviet Union accuses the United States of violating the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty following President Reagan's announcement of his Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars" - a space-based defense shield intended to destroy attacking missiles.


Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader; he begins to ease away from old communist policies.


U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign INF treaty, which removes medium and short-range nuclear missiles.


The Berlin Wall falls.


East and West Germany are reunited.


The Strategic Arms Reduction Talk (START) is signed by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Gorbachev calling for additional disarmament of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons.

The Soviet Union breaks up into independent republics; the Cold War ends.

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