Cold War 101

A beginners guide to the Cold War.

Was it really a war?

Not as such, in terms of conventional war anyway. The term Cold War relates to the mutual mistrust and nuclear stand off between NATO Allies and Warsaw Pact counties, primarily America and the former Soviet Union. That being said there were several wars within the period known as the Cold War, i.e Vietnam and the Korean War.

How long did it last?

The Cold War began when the “Iron Curtain” descended across Europe following Worls War II. The accepted dates are 1947 to 1991.

What is Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)?

The cold war sparked a nuclear arms race following America’s development of the Atomic Bomb at the end of World War II. As a result this fuelled the Soviet Union to build their own bomb. America was stunned when they achieved this within a few years. As Nuclear weapons have massive destructive power any country that has them, or has the most of them, has a masive advantage on the battlefield which is why both superpowers raced to build more of them, and developed more powerful weapons such as the hyrdogen bomb. Both sides recognised that an all out build up of weapons put the world at risk of their use which is why a series of treaties were evolved to put them at a nuclear balance or at risk of Mutually Assured Destruction. In its simplest terms, America has enough nuclear weapons to inflict the same destructive power on the Soviet Union as they do to inflict on America. This created a nuclear “balance” which greatly reduced the chance either side firing first.

How many Nuclear Weapons do each side have?

Thanks to treaties such as Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT)  greatly reduced number. In the early days of the cold war the weapons were largely freefall bombs which both sides stockpiled but this rapidly moved to missile delivery with the advent of the ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and air/ground launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM/GLCM). At present the Nuclear Weapons stockpile stands at:

USA is 10,500 warheads from a peak of 32,040 in 1966.
Russia (former USSR) 10,000 warheads from a peak of 40,000 in 1986
United Kingdom 225 warheads from a peak of 520 in 1974

Other Nuclear states include Pakistan, Israel, India, France, China and North Korea.

What Treaties apply to the Cold War and Nuclear Weapons?

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I & II) – These were agreements between the USA & USSR which began in 1969. SALT II was an agreement in 1979 however this was never ratified.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I & II) These treaties in 1991 & 1993 respectively were as a direct resuly of SALT. It is these treaties that brought a reduction and balance of Nuclear Weapons in the USA & USSR
Intermmediate Nuclear Forces (INF) This treaty in 1987 eliminated ground launched cruise missiles which were being used in eastern and western europe. This included the GLCM’s based in the UK at Greenham Common and Molesworth.

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