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When did the Cold War start and is it over?

Updated on September 14, 2015

What Was the Cold War?

The Cold War for the lament can be said to be a battle of ideologies between Communist Soviets (and its allies and sympathisers or the Soviet Block) and the United States (and its allies commonly known as The West/ NATO). It is called the Cold War as there was no “direct military conflict” between the two Superpowers. The conflict and rivalry was not only confined to government offices and military planning, it had spread into sports, industry and technological developments. That is in addition to the Space Race, Nuclear Arms Race and several proxy wars.

Perhaps due to the lack of clear battle lines many people do not understand the complexities of the Cold War. Some say that the Cold War ended without a shot being fired. Although it is correct to say that NATO and the Soviet Bloc did not engage in direct military conflict, it is naïve to think that this War had no casualties. For example, the Korean and Vietnam Wars were both surrogate of the Cold War and endured many thousands of casualties.

When did it start?

It is commonly thought that the Cold War begun after the Second World War 1946/47 when the rhetoric begun with language like “The Iron Curtain” (Churchill, May 1945) describing the new divisions manifesting from the Postdam Agreement. President Truman and Stalin had differing visions of how Europe would be economically and politically structured post victory. .. It is convenient to think the drawing of the Iron Curtain across Europe represented the start of the Cold War however many historians argue that the origins can be traced back further.

Wikipedia dates it 1947 to 1991 however the routes of the Cold War can be traced back to before the end of the Second World War. There were activities prior to the Second World War that might suggest the beginnings of the Cold War began many years prior to 1945.

John Ross Campbell

J S Campbell, who was a communist and newspaper editor, was to be prosecuted under the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 for publication of an open letter in the Workers Weekly calling on soldiers “to let it be known that, neither in the call war nor in a military war, will your guns be turned on fellow workers”. However, the fact that Labour Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald withdrew the prosecution which led to a vote of no confidence is interesting in a Cold War context. Perhaps this is due to the influence of Communist party members Shapurji Saklatvala and Walton Newbold who were elected in the 1922 general election.

Although there may be no direct influence from Eastern Europe regarding open communists joining a major British political party there is now individuals who subscribe to communist idealism entering the political establishment, and perhaps influencing policy.

The Zinoview Letter 1924

In Britain in the 1920’s, the Labour Government who drew a significant chunk of its support from trade unions and workers, desired to get politically closer to Russia. Labour Prime Minister Ramsey Macdonald, proposed a treaty with the aim of establishing official relations between Britain and Russia. This treaty would also involve a loan to the Russians. The Conservatives, the British opposition party, suggested that the Labour Party was full of Russian agents. These claims were somewhat substantiated by the Press in October 1924 by reports of a letter written by Zinoview (in charge of spreading communism around the world) to the British Communism Party. The letter urged them to support the treaty as it would ease the path for more Russian agents into Britain.

As far back as the 1920’s there is evidence to suggest that the Russians were politically interfering with the West by attempting to use surrogate organisations i.e. The British Communist Party, to achieve their own political goals; And/or to utilise them as a resources base for future clandestine activities which would prove typical of the type of behaviour in future years.

An extract from the letter read:

“A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionizing of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc. will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies”.

That said, The Guardian reports, on 04.02.1999, a study undertaken by Gill Benenett, chief historian at the foreign office that the Zinoview Letter was probably a fake; “forged by M16 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked to the Conservative Party”. Despite this, in the context of the Cold War this is quintessential Cold War behaviour. Cultivating a prejudice against a foreign state and using a trigger to exploit that for political gain. Whether it was real or fake this still serves as evidence of the existence of scepticism and tension from the British public towards the former USSR. In summary, real or fake the result was a distancing of diplomatic relations between Great Britain and Soviet Russia.

The Russian Revolution 1917

A characteristic of the Cold War was a willingness to interfere in one another’s foreign policy. Events in the Russian Revolution 1917 proved quintessential of that.

In March 1917 Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown. In November that same year the Bolshevik party, led by Lennon, overthrew the provisional government in a second revolution. The Bolsheviks became known as the “Reds” or “Communists” whilst their opponents became known as “Whites”. Between 1918 and 1921 a bitter civil war engulfed Russia. What was interesting was that Britain, France, America and Japan all tried to help the Whites defeat the Bolshevik Reds. The West instigated this course of action as there were concerns that a Bolshevik Russia would hinder Western foreign policy. For example, Lennon had pulled Russia out of the War. Furthermore, the West had concerns about the potential spread of communism to other regions of Eastern Europe, and perhaps empowering more domestic communist groups.

One of the objectives of the French and British involvement in this conflict was to expand anti-Bolshevik groups with local citizens with the purpose of stopping the spread of communism in Russia. The tactic of empowering local militia with finance, weaponry and strategic thinking is a tactic used by both Western and Soviet intelligence agencies right up till the “conclusion” of the Cold War in its various proxy wars.

The issue of when the Cold War started was as complex as the events it encompassed. And even now, when we are led to believe that the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War, we wonder if this is accurate? Has it ended at all and does it still simmer on?

The continued Cold War...

Russo – Georgian War August 2008

Parts of South Ossetia (Georgia) was under de facto control of a Russian backed government. Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages on August the 1st. “Russia started moving non peacekeeping units into the country “. Der Speigal 15.09.08

Georgia lunched a large scale military operation against south Ossetia, Russia then started air strikes against Georgia proper with the aim of “peace enforcement” human rights watch 25.11.08.

Subsequent to this conflict there has been debate as to who should receive the lion’s share of the blame however it provides evidence of Russian willingness to use its military to pursue its political interests.

Crimea-The new Cold War

Ukraine and Crimea

Unrest began when president Yanukovych’s government rejected an accord with the European Union in November 2013, in favour of stronger ties with Russia. This sparked protests from thousands of concerned Ukrainians who had desired stronger ties and intergration with Europe.

December 17 Putin offers loans up to $15 billon and cheaper gas supplies in an attempt to perhaps quieten some disconcerting voices. Or at least show some tangible positives to a having pro-Russian policies. In Crimea, Russia used classic Cold War techniques by equipping and organising pro-Russian groups whilst supplementing them with Special Forces. Russia went on to annex Crimea by holding a referendum where 97% had voted to become a Russian peninsula. Subsequent to this Crimea has become a forward operating base. Perhaps emboldened by the success of Crimea Russian has backed separatists in the Dondas region of Eastern Ukraine.

These issues are not isolated to Eastern Europe, according to the Guardian, Nov-2014, Sweden launched a naval operation to track down an assumed Russian submarine said to be trespassing. In August 2014, Finland scrambled fighter jets when Russian aircraft illegally entered Finnish air space three times in one week. On 11.09.15 (BBC) RAF fighter jets intercepted Russian planes over the North Sea. In the past it was routine for the Soviets to do this to test possible responses. The BBC, 12.03.15, reports NATO performing exercises in the Black Sea which, the article suggests, is to “send Putin a firm message”.


There also fears that Greece may look to Russia as they seek to re structure their international debt. They could also benefit from cheaper gas and increased investment. “Pew Research Centre, in September 2013, found that 63% of Greek held favourable views of Russia” (BBC 12.03.15, Giorgas Christides). Russia would, perhaps, in return expect influence within the European Union.

Do you think the Cold War ever finished?

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    • Academicviews profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Scotland

      It is an interesting subject that once you research you find lots of different angles. There is certainly a mind set of distrust on both sides that has been simmering away since the Wall came down and perhaps will simmer away for decades to come.

    • stereomike83 profile image


      3 years ago from UK

      This was a very interesting read. I am slightly fascinated by the Cold War and have written a couple of hubs myself on the subject. What I have never really looked into before though is that time before the traditional start date and this hub does a great job of looking at that.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Good summary of that time. The Russians (Putin's cronies) still believe it goes on. We think it's over but Russia still wants to be a world power. Shared.


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