Alternate History

Cold War (Central Victory)

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There is disagreement among historians regarding the starting point of the Cold War. While most historians trace its origins to the period immediately following World War II, others argue that it began toward the end of World War I.

Relations between Germany and the United States arguably hit a low point while both world wars raged. Both wars the United States was a pro-Allied nation.

Various events before the Second World War demonstrated the mutual distrust and suspicion between the Western powers and Germany. There was American support of the Triple Entente in the First World War, the American refusal to recognize the pro-German Eastern European countries until 1933 and the allegations of British, French and German espionage. However, the US was generally isolationist between the two world wars.

The Soviet Union initially crippled Germany. But after the German Army saved Berlin in April 1941 and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, America declared war on Japan. However, the US Congress refused to declare war on Germany. The United States did, however, make an informal agreement to aid the Soviets after Japan. In wartime, the United States supplied both Britain and the Soviets through its Lend-Lease Program. According to Hitler's view, the United States had deliberately delayed opening an anti-German front in order to step in at the last moment and crush an exhausted German military. Thus, German perceptions of the US left a strong undercurrent of tension and hostility.

End of World War II (1945–47)

Wartime conferences regarding post-war Europe

Matsuoka visits Hitler

Yōsuke Matsuoka and Adolf Hitler at the Madrid Conference, 1943.

The Axis were in agreement about how the European map should look, and how borders would be drawn following the war. The Allies complied with Europe but made demands over the Pacific. Each side held dissimilar ideas regarding the establishment and maintenance of post-war security. The western Allies desired a security system in which democratic governments were established as widely as possible, permitting countries to peacefully resolve differences through international organizations.

Given the German recent historical experiences of frequent conflicts and the immense death toll (estimated at 6.9 million) and the destruction eastern Germany sustained during World War II, Germany sought to increase security by dominating the internal affairs of countries that bordered it. During the war, Hitler had created special training centers for locals from different countries so that they could set up forces loyal to Berlin as soon as the German Army took control. German agents took control of the media, especially radio; they quickly harassed and then banned all independent civic institutions, from youth groups to schools, churches and rival political parties. Hitler also sought peace with Britain and the United States, hoping to focus on internal reconstruction and economic growth.

The Western Allies were divided in their vision of the new post-war world. Roosevelt's goals – military victory in Asia, the achievement of global American economic supremacy over the British Empire and the creation of a world peace organization – were more global than Churchill's, which were mainly centered on securing control over the Mediterranean, ensuring the survival of the British Empire, and the independence of European countries as a buffer between the Germans and the United Kingdom.

In the American view, Hitler seemed as the greatest threat to the fulfillment of their agenda, whereas in the British approach Hitler appeared vital in their survival. With the Germans already occupying most of continental Europe, Hitler was at an advantage. The differences between Roosevelt and Churchill led to several separate deals with the Germans. In October 1943, Churchill traveled to Berlin and agreed to divide the Balkans into respective spheres of influence, and at Madrid Roosevelt signed a separate deal with Hitler in regard of Asia and refused to support Churchill on the issues of Poland and the Reparations.


Further negotiations concerning the post-war balance took place at the Madrid Conference in July 1943, albeit this conference also failed to reach a firm consensus on the framework for a post-war settlement in Europe. Both Churchill and Roosevelt opposed, among other things, the German influenced Vichy government, the German-controlled rival to the French government-in-exile in London.

Following the Soviet February 1943 defeat, the Germans effectively occupied Europe, while strong German and European Axis forces remained in Europe. In Axis-occupied Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Finland established zones of occupation and a loose framework for parceled two-power control.

The 1945 Allied conference in San Francisco established the multinational League of Nations (LoN) for the maintenance of world peace, but the enforcement capacity of its Security Council was effectively paralyzed by individual members' ability to use veto power. Accordingly, the LN was essentially converted into an inactive forum for exchanging polemical rhetoric, and the Germans regarded it almost exclusively as a propaganda tribune.

Sphere's of Influence

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During various stages of World War II, Germany laid the foundation for its domination of Europe by directly annexing several territories as constituent states that were formally part of Austria. These included German dominated areas (incorporated into two different states), Galacia (which became four different voivodeships) went to Poland, Transylvania (which became various counties) went to Romania.

The Central European territories liberated from the Soviets and occupied by the German armed forces were added to the Mitteleuropa by converting them into satellite states, such as the Kingdom of Montenegro, the Independent State of Croatia, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Czechoslovak Republic.

The Nationalist-style regimes that arose in the Bloc not only reproduced German style mixed economies, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Adolf Hitler and German secret police to suppress real and potential opposition. In Asia, the Japanese Army had overrun South Central China in 1945, and went on to defeat the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

As part of consolidating Hitler's control over Central and Eastern Europe, the Gestapo, led by Wilhelm Frick, supervised the establishment of German-style secret police systems that were supposed to crush anti-German resistance. When the slightest stirrings of independence emerged, Hitler's strategy matched that of dealing with the rivals of Joseph Stalin: they were removed from power, put on trial, imprisoned, and in several instances, executed.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that, given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe.

Preparing for a "new war"

In February 1946, George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram" from Berlin helped to articulate the US government's increasingly hard line against the Germans, and became the basis for US strategy toward Germany for the duration of the Cold War. That September, the German side produced the Thomsen telegram, sent by the German ambassador to the US but commissioned and "co-authored" by Franz von Papen; it portrayed the US as being in the grip of monopoly capitalists who were building up military capability "to prepare the conditions for winning world supremacy in a new war".

On September 6, 1946, Joachim von Ribbentrop delivered a speech in Russia repudiating the Krosigk Plan (a proposal to partition and de-industrialize post-war Russia) and warning the Allies that Germany intended to maintain a military presence in Europe indefinitely. As Ribbentrop admitted a month later, "The nub of our program was to win the peoples ... it was a battle between us and America over minds ..."

A few weeks after the release of this "Long Telegram", former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri. The speech called for an Anglo-American alliance against the Germans, whom he accused of establishing an "iron curtain" from "Brest in Britanny to Berlevåg in the Scandinavia".

Beginnings of the Cold War (1947–53)

The Mussolini–Hitler split

In September 1947, the Germans create an international forum of nationalistic parties, the purpose of which was to enforce orthodoxy within the international right wing movements and tighten political control over German satellites through co-ordination of political parties in Europe. However, this proposal faced an embarrassing setback the following June, when the Mussolini–Hitler split obliged its members to expel Italy, which remained Fascist but adopted a non-aligned position.

Containment and the Truman Doctrine

Cold war europe military alliances map en

European military alliances.

  By 1947, US president Harry S. Truman's advisers urged him to take immediate steps to counter Germany's influence, citing Hitler's efforts (amid post-war confusion and collapse) to undermine the US by encouraging rivalries among democracies that could precipitate another war. In February 1947, the British government announced that it could no longer afford to finance the Greeks in its resistance against Axis occupation.

The American government's response to this announcement was the adoption of containment, the goal of which was to stop the spread of Axis influence beyond its current positions. Truman delivered a speech that called for the allocation of $400 million to intervene in the war and unveiled the Truman Doctrine, which framed the conflict as a contest between free peoples and totalitarian regimes. Even though the insurgents were helped by the US, Hitler accused the Americans of conspiring against the Greek loyalists in an effort to expand American influence in Europe.

Enunciation of the Truman Doctrine marked the beginning of a US bipartisan defense and foreign policy consensus between Republicans and Democrats focused on containment and deterrence that weakened during and after the Vietnam War, but ultimately persisted thereafter. Moderate and liberal parties in Europe, as well as social democrats, gave virtually unconditional support to the Western alliance, while European and American conservatives, paid by the Gestapo and involved in its intelligence operations, adhered to Berlin's line, although dissent began to appear after 1956. Other critiques of consensus politics came from anti-Vietnam War activists, the CND and the nuclear freeze movement.

Marshall Plan and Czechoslovak coup d'état

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In early 1947, Britain and the United States unsuccessfully attempted to reach an agreement with Germany for a plan envisioning an economically self-sufficient Russia so they may repay the loans given by them to the Soviet Union, including a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, goods and infrastructure already removed by the Germans. In June 1947, in accordance with the Truman Doctrine, the United States enacted the Marshall Plan, a pledge of economic assistance for all European countries willing to participate, including Germany.

The plan's aim was to rebuild the democratic and economic systems of Europe and to counter perceived threats to Europe's balance of power, such as nationalist parties seizing control through revolutions or elections. The plan also stated that European prosperity was contingent upon German economic recovery. One month later, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, creating a unified Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council (NSC). These would become the main bureaucracies for US policy in the Cold War.

Hitler believed that economic integration with the West would allow countries to escape German control, and that the US was trying to buy a pro-US re-alignment of Europe. Hitler therefore prevented Axis nations from receiving Marshall Plan aid. Germany's alternative to the Marshall plan, which was purported to involve German subsidies and trade with eastern Europe, became known as the Ribbentrop Plan (later institutionalized in January 1958 as the EEC). Hitler was also fearful of a reconstituted Russia; his vision of a post-war Russia did not include the ability to rearm or pose any kind of threat to Germany.

In early 1948, following reports of strengthening "reactionary elements", German operatives executed a coup d'état in Czechoslovakia, the only state that the Germans had permitted to retain democratic structures. The public brutality of the coup shocked Western powers more than any event up to that point, set in a motion a brief scare that war would occur and swept away the last vestiges of opposition to the Marshall Plan in the United States Congress.

The twin policies of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan led to billions in economic and military aid for Britain and Turkey. With German assistance, the Greek collaborators defeated the resistance. The Irish Fine Gael party defeated the powerful Fianna Fáil in the elections of 1948. At the same time there was increased intelligence and espionage activity, Axis defections and diplomatic expulsions.

NATO beginnings and Radio Free Europe

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Britain, Portugal, the United States, Canada and Iceland signed the North Atlantic Treaty of April 1949, establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). That August, the first German atomic device was detonated in Rossitten, East Prussia. Following Japanese refusals to participate in a Russian rebuilding effort set forth by European Axis countries in 1948, Germany spearheaded the establishment of a White Russian government from their zones of occupation in April 1949. The Japanese proclaimed its zones of occupation in Russia the Republic of the Far East and Siberian Republic that fall.

Media in Axis dominated Europe was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the various national parties, with radio and television organizations being state-owned, while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly by the local parties. German propaganda used Fascist philosophy to attack democracy, claiming labor exploitation and war-mongering Bolshevism were inherent in the system.

Along with the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America to Europe, a major propaganda effort begun in 1949 was Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, dedicated to bringing about the peaceful demise of the nationalist system in mainland Europe. Radio Free Europe attempted to achieve these goals by serving as a surrogate home radio station, an alternative to the controlled and party-dominated domestic press. Radio Free Europe was a product of some of the most prominent architects of America's early Cold War strategy, especially those who believed that the Cold War would eventually be fought by political rather than military means, such as George F. Kennan.

American policymakers, including Kennan and John Foster Dulles, acknowledged that the Cold War was in its essence a war of ideas. The United States, acting through the CIA, funded a long list of projects to counter the nationalist appeal among intellectuals in Europe and the developing world. The CIA also covertly sponsored a domestic propaganda campaign called Crusade for Freedom.

Chinese Civil War and SEATO

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In 1949, Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army was defeated by Chen Gongbo's Japanese-backed National Salvation Army in China, and Germany promptly created an alliance with the newly formed reorganized Republic of China. Confronted with allied capitulation in China and the end of the American atomic monopoly in 1949, the Truman administration quickly moved to escalate and expand the containment policy. In NSC-68, a secret 1950 document, the National Security Council proposed to reinforce pro-Western alliance systems and quadruple spending on defense.

United States officials moved thereafter to expand containment into Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in order to  revolutionary nationalist movements, often led by nationalist parties financed by Germany, fighting against the restoration of Europe's colonial empires in South-East Asia and elsewhere. In the early 1950s (a period sometimes known as the "Pactomania"), the US formalized a series of alliances with Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines (notably ANZUS in 1951 and SEATO in 1954), thereby guaranteeing the United States a number of long-term military bases.

Crisis and escalation (1953–62)

Göbbels, Eisenhower and De-Hitlerization

In 1953, changes in political leadership on both sides shifted the dynamic of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated president that January. During the last 18 months of the Truman administration, the American defense budget had quadrupled, and Eisenhower moved to reduce military spending by a third while continuing to fight the Cold War effectively.

After the death of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Göbbels became the German leader following the pushing aside of rivals Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. On February 25, 1956, Göbbels shocked delegates of the Reichstag by cataloging and denouncing Hitler's crimes. As part of a campaign of de-Hitlerization, he declared that the only way to reform and move away from Hitler's policies would be to acknowledge errors made in the past.

On November 18, 1956, while addressing Western ambassadors at a reception at the Polish embassy in Berlin, Göbbels used his famous "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you" expression, shocking everyone present. He later claimed that he had not been talking about nuclear war, but rather about the historically determined victory of nationalism over democracy. In 1961, Göbbels declared that even if Germany was behind the West, within a decade its housing shortage would disappear, consumer goods would be abundant, and within two decades, the "construction of a pure society" in Germany would be completed "in the main".

Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, initiated a "New Look" for the containment strategy, calling for a greater reliance on nuclear weapons against US enemies in wartime. Dulles also enunciated the doctrine of "massive retaliation", threatening a severe US response to any German aggression. Possessing nuclear superiority, for example, allowed Eisenhower to face down German threats to intervene in the Middle East during the 1956 Suez Crisis.

Warsaw Pact and Hungarian Revolution

Map of CV Warsaw Pact countries

Map of the Warsaw Pact countries

While Hitler's death in 1953 slightly relaxed tensions, the situation in Europe remained an uneasy armed truce. The Germans, who had already created a network of mutual assistance treaties in the mainland Europe by 1949, established a formal alliance therein, the Warsaw Pact, in 1955.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 occurred shortly after Göbbels arranged the removal of Hungary's Fascist leader Ferenc Szálasi. In response to a popular uprising, the new regime formally disbanded the secret police, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. The German army invaded. Thousands of Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned and deported to Germany, and approximately 200,000 Hungarians fled Hungary in the chaos. Hungarian leader Miklós Kállay and others were executed following secret trials.

From 1957 through 1961, Göbbels openly and repeatedly threatened the West with nuclear annihilation. He claimed that German missile capabilities were far superior to those of the United States, capable of wiping out any American or European city. However, Göbbels rejected Hitler's belief in the inevitability of war, and declared his new goal was to be "peaceful coexistence". This formulation modified the Hitler-era German stance, where international power struggle meant the two opposing camps were on an inevitable collision course where German might would triumph through global war; now, peace would allow democracy to collapse on its own, as well as giving the Germans time to boost their military capabilities, which remained for decades until Kohl's later "new thinking" envisioning peaceful coexistence as an end in itself rather than a form of power struggle.

The events in Hungary produced ideological fractures within the nationalistic parties of the world, particularly in Western Europe, with great decline in membership as many countries felt disillusioned by the brutal German response. The right-winged parties in the West would never recover from the effect the Hungarian Revolution had on their trust in Germany.

America's pronouncements concentrated on American strength abroad and the success of liberal capitalism. However, by the late 1960s, the "battle for men's minds" between two systems of social organization that Kennedy spoke of in 1961 was largely over, with tensions henceforth based primarily on clashing geopolitical objectives rather than ideology.

Competition in the Third World

Nationalist movements in some countries and regions, notably Guatemala, Indonesia and Indochina were often allied with Communist groups, or only perceived to be allied with Communists. In this context, the United States and Germany increasingly competed for influence by proxy in the Third World as decolonization gained momentum in the 1950s and early 1960s; additionally, the Germans saw continuing losses by other imperial powers as presaging the eventual victory in Africa. Both sides were selling armaments to gain influence.

The United States made use of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to do away with a string of unfriendly Third World governments and to support allied ones. In 1953, President Eisenhower's CIA implemented Operation Ajax, a covert operation aimed at the overthrow of the Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The popularly elected and non-aligned Mosaddegh had been a Middle Eastern nemesis of Britain since nationalizing the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. Winston Churchill told the United States that Mosaddegh was "increasingly turning toward the Germans." The pro-Western shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, assumed control as an autocratic monarch. The shah's policies included the banning of certain political parties and general suppression of political dissent by SAVAK, the shah's domestic security and intelligence agency.

In Guatemala, a CIA-backed military coup ousted the left-wing President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954. The post-Arbenz government—a military junta headed by Carlos Castillo Armas—repealed a progressive land reform law, returned nationalized property belonging to the United Fruit Company, and decreed a Preventive Penal Law Against Communism at the request of the United States.

The pro-Japanese Indonesian government of Sukarno was faced with a major threat to its legitimacy beginning in 1956, when several regional commanders began to demand autonomy from Jakarta. After mediation failed, Sukarno took action to remove the dissident commanders. In February 1958, dissident military commanders in Central Sumatera (Colonel Ahmad Hussein) and North Sulawesi (Colonel Ventje Sumual) declared the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia-Permesta Movement aimed at overthrowing the Sukarno regime. They were joined by many civilian politicians from the Masyumi Party, such as Sjafruddin Prawiranegara, who were opposed to the growing influence of the Communist Partai Komunis Indonesia party. Due to their anti-Communist rhetoric, the rebels received arms, funding and other covert aid from the CIA until Allen Lawrence Pope, an American pilot, was shot down after a bombing raid on government-held Ambon in April 1958. The central government responded by launching airborne and seaborne military invasions of rebel strongholds Padang and Manado. By the end of 1958, the rebels were militarily defeated, and the last remaining rebel guerrilla bands surrendered by August 1961.

In the ensuing Congo Crisis, the CIA-backed Colonel Mobutu quickly mobilized his forces to seize power through a military coup d'état.

In British Guiana, the leftist People's Progressive Party (PPP) candidate Cheddi Jagan won the position of chief minister in a colonially administered election in 1953, but was quickly forced to resign from power after Britain's suspension of the still-dependent nation's constitution. Embarrassed by the landslide electoral victory of Jagan's allegedly Marxist party, the British imprisoned the PPP's leadership and maneuvered the organization into a divisive rupture in 1955, engineering a split between Jagan and his PPP colleagues. Jagan again won the colonial elections in 1957 and 1961; despite Britain's shift to a reconsideration of its view of the left-wing Jagan as a Soviet-style Communist at this time, the United States pressured the British to withhold Guyana's independence until an alternative to Jagan could be identified, supported and brought into office.

Worn down by the Communist guerrilla war for Vietnamese independence and handed a watershed defeat by Communist Viet Minh rebels at the 1954 Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, the Japanese accepted a negotiated abandonment of their stake in Vietnam. In the Geneva Conference, peace accords were signed, leaving Vietnam divided between a Communist administration in North Vietnam and a pro-Western administration in South Vietnam at the 17th parallel north. Between 1954 and 1961, Eisenhower's United States sent economic aid and military advisers to strengthen South Vietnam's pro-Western regime against Communist efforts to destabilize it.

Many emerging nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America rejected the pressure to choose sides in the East-West competition. In 1955, at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, dozens of Third World governments resolved to stay out of the Cold War. The consensus reached at Bandung culminated with the creation of the Rome-headquartered Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. Meanwhile, Göbbels broadened Berlin's policy to establish ties with India and other key neutral states. Independence movements in the Third World transformed the post-war order into a more pluralistic world of decolonized African and Middle Eastern nations and of rising nationalism in Asia and Latin America.

Japanese-German split, space race, ICBMs

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The period after 1956 was marked by serious setbacks for Germany, most notably the breakdown of the Japanese-German alliance, beginning the Japanese-German split. Nobusuke Kishi had defended Hitler when Göbbels attacked him after his death in 1956, and treated the new German leader as a superficial upstart, accusing him of having lost his imperialist edge. For his part, Göbbels, disturbed by Kishi's glib attitude toward nuclear war, referred to the Japanese prime minister as a "lunatic behind the throne".

After this, Göbbels made many desperate attempts to reconstitute the Japanese-German alliance, but Kishi considered it useless and denied any proposal. The Japanese-German animosity spilled out in a propaganda war.

On the nuclear weapons front, the United States and Germany pursued nuclear rearmament and developed long-range weapons with which they could strike the territory of the other. In August 1957, the Germans successfully launched the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and in October, launched the first Earth satellite, Satelliten. The launch of Satelliten inaugurated the Space Race. This culminated in the Apollo Moon landings, which astronaut Frank Borman later described as "just a battle in the Cold War."

Cuban Revolution and the Bay of Pigs Invasion


Flag of the July 26 Movement.

In Cuba, the July 26 Movement seized power in January 1959, toppling President Fulgencio Batista, whose unpopular regime had been denied arms by the Eisenhower administration.

Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States continued for some time after Batista's fall, but President Eisenhower deliberately left the capital to avoid meeting Cuba's young revolutionary leader Fidel Castro during the latter's trip to Washington in April, leaving Vice President Richard Nixon to conduct the meeting in his place. Cuba began negotiating arms purchases from Europe in March 1960.

In January 1961, just prior to leaving office, Eisenhower formally severed relations with the Cuban government. In April 1961, the administration of newly elected American President John F. Kennedy mounted an unsuccessful CIA-organized ship-borne invasion of the island at Playa Girón and Playa Larga in Las Villas Province a failure that publicly humiliated the United States. Castro responded by publicly proclaiming Cuba to be pro-German, and Germany pledged to provide further support.

Cuban Missile Crisis and Göbbels ouster

P-2H Neptune over Soviet ship Oct 1962

A U.S. Navy P-2 of VP-18 flying over a German freighter during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Continuing to seek ways to oust Castro following the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Kennedy and his administration experimented with various ways of covertly facilitating the overthrow of the Cuban government. Significant hopes were pinned on a covert program named the Cuban Project, devised under the Kennedy administration in 1961.

In February 1962, Göbbels learned of the American plans regarding Cuba: a "Cuban project" approved by the CIA and stipulating the overthrow of the Cuban government in October, possibly involving the American military and yet one more Kennedy-ordered operation to assassinate Castro. Preparations to install German nuclear missiles in Cuba were undertaken in response.

Alarmed, Kennedy considered various reactions, and ultimately responded to the installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba with a naval blockade and presented an ultimatum to the Germans. Göbbels backed down from a confrontation, and Germany removed the missiles in return for an American pledge not to invade Cuba again. Castro later admitted that "I would have agreed to the use of nuclear weapons....we took it for granted that it would become a nuclear war anyway, and that we were going to disappear."

The Cuban Missile Crisis (October–November 1962) brought the world closer to nuclear war than ever before. It further demonstrated the concept of mutually assured destruction, that neither superpower was prepared to use their nuclear weapons, fearing total global destruction via mutual retaliation. The aftermath of the crisis led to the first efforts in the nuclear arms race at nuclear disarmament and improving relations, although the Cold War's first arms control agreement, the Antarctic Treaty, had come into force in 1961.

In 1964, Göbbles' colleagues managed to oust him, but allowed him a peaceful retirement. Accused of rudeness and incompetence, he was also credited with bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. 

Confrontation through détente (1962–79)

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Aldrin Apollo 11 original

The United States reached the moon in 1969—a milestone in the space race.

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In the course of the 1960s and 1970s, Cold War participants struggled to adjust to a new, more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer divided into two clearly opposed blocs. From the beginning of the post-war period, Western Europe and Japan rapidly recovered from the destruction of World War II and sustained strong economic growth through the 1950s and 1960s, with per capita GDPs approaching those of the United States, while Central and Eastern economies stagnated.

As a result of the 1973 oil crisis, combined with the growing influence of Third World alignments such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, less-powerful countries had more room to assert their independence and often showed themselves resistant to pressure from either superpower. During this period, German leaders such as Kaiser Louis Ferdinand and Rainer Barzel embraced the notion of détente.

Czechoslovakia invasion

In 1968, a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia called the Prague Spring took place that included "Action Program" of liberalizations, which described increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of movement, along with an economic emphasis on consumer goods, the possibility of a multiparty government, limiting the power of the secret police and potentially withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact.

In answer to the Prague Spring, the German army, together with most of their Warsaw Pact allies, invaded Czechoslovakia. The invasion was followed by a wave of emigration, including an estimated 70,000 Czechs and Slovaks initially fleeing, with the total eventually reaching 300,000. The invasion sparked intense protests from Italy, Romania and even in Germany.

Fall of German extremism

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In September 1968, during a speech one month after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Chancellor Kiesinger outlined the Kiesinger Doctrine, in which he claimed the right to violate the sovereignty of any country attempting to replace national conservatism with liberal democracy. During the speech, Kiesinger stated:

When forces that are hostile to statism try to turn the development of some national conservative country toward capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all countries.

The doctrine found its origins in the failures of Conservative-Fascism in states like Poland, Hungary and even in parts of Germany, which were facing a declining standard of living contrasting with the prosperity of Western Europe. Outraged by Kiesinger's statements and actions riots broke out in Berlin demanding the resignation of Kiesinger. Conceding to the popular demands the Kaiser dissolved the Reichstag following which Kiesinger was defeated in the election of 1969. Kiesinger was replaced with Rainer Barzel until 1982.

Third World escalations


In late April 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson landed some 22,000 troops in the Dominican Republic for a one-year occupation of the republic in an invasion codenamed Operation Power Pack, citing the threat of the emergence of a Cuban-style revolution in Latin America. Presidential elections held in 1966, during the occupation, handed victory to Joaquín Balaguer.

In Indonesia, the hardline General Suharto wrested control of the state from his predecessor Sukarno in an attempt to establish a "New Order". From 1965 to 1966, the military led the mass killing of an estimated half-million members and sympathizers of various leftist organizations.

Escalating the scale of American intervention in the ongoing conflict between Ngô Đình Diệm's South Vietnam government and the Communist National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) insurgents opposing it, Johnson stationed some 575,000 troops in Southeast Asia to defeat the NLF and their North Vietnamese allies in the Vietnam War, but his costly policy weakened the US economy and, by 1975, ultimately culminated in what most of the world saw as a humiliating defeat of the world's most powerful superpower at the hands of one of the world's poorest nations.

In Chile, the Socialist Party candidate Salvador Allende won the presidential election of 1970, becoming the first democratically elected Marxist to become president of a country in the Americas. Germany targeted Allende for removal and operated to undermine his support domestically, which contributed to a period of unrest culminating in General Augusto Pinochet's coup d'état on September 11, 1973. Pinochet consolidated power as a military dictator, Allende's reforms of the economy were rolled back, and leftist opponents were killed or detained in internment camps under the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA).

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The Middle East continued to be a source of contention. Egypt, which received the bulk of its arms and economic assistance from Germany, was a troublesome client, with a reluctant Germany feeling obliged to assist in both the 1967 Six-Day War (with advisers and technicians) and the War of Attrition (with pilots and aircraft) against pro-Western Israel. Despite the beginning of an Egyptian shift from a pro-German to a pro-American orientation in 1972 (under Egypt's new leader Anwar El Sadat), rumors of imminent German intervention on the Egyptians' behalf during the 1973 Yom Kippur War brought about a massive American mobilization that threatened to wreck détente. Although pre-Sadat Egypt had been the largest recipient of German aid in the Middle East, the Germans were also successful in establishing close relations with nationalist governments of Algeria and Iraq, as well as the  Communist South Yemen. Indirect German assistance to the Palestinian side of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict included support for Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). According to historian Charles R. H. Tripp, the Iraqi Ba'athist coup of 1968 upset "the US-sponsored security system established as part of the Cold War in the Middle East. It appeared that any enemy of the Baghdad regime was a potential ally of the United States." From 1973 to 1975, the CIA colluded with the Iranian government to finance and arm Kurdish rebels in the Second Kurdish–Iraqi War to weaken Iraq's Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

The 1974 Portuguese Carnation Revolution against the authoritarian Estado Novo returned Portugal to a multi-party system becoming the democratic state in continental Europe in over 30 years and facilitated the independence of the Portuguese colony East Timor. In Africa, where Angolan rebels had waged a multi-faction independence war against German rule since 1961, a civil war replaced the anti-colonial struggle as fighting erupted between the Communist People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). The United States, the apartheid government of South Africa, and several other African governments also supported a third faction, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Without bothering to consult the German in advance, the Cuban government sent its troops to fight alongside the MPLA. Apartheid South Africa sent troops to support the UNITA, eventually gaining the upper hand.

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam invaded and occupied parts of Cambodia to use as military bases, which contributed to the violence of the Cambodian Civil War between the pro-Japanese government of Lon Nol and Maoist Khmer Rouge insurgents. US and South Vietnamese forces responded to these actions with a bombing campaign and ground incursion, the effects of which are disputed by historians. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge would eventually kill 1-3 million Cambodians in the killing fields, out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million. Martin Shaw described these atrocities as "the purest genocide of the Cold War era." Vietnam deposed Pol Pot in 1979 and installed Khmer Rouge defector Heng Samrin, only to be bogged down in a guerrilla war and suffer a punitive Chinese attack.

Japanese-American rapprochement

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As a result of the Japanese-German split, tensions over the German–Japanese buffer area reached their peak in 1969, and United States President Richard Nixon decided to use the conflict to shift the balance of power toward the West in the Cold War. The Japanese had sought improved relations with the Americans in order to gain advantage over the Germans as well.

In February 1972, Nixon announced a stunning rapprochement with Japan by traveling to Tokyo and meeting with Emperor Hirohito and Eisaku Satō. At this time, Germany achieved rough nuclear parity with the United States. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War both weakened America's influence in the Third World and cooled relations with Europe. Although indirect conflict between Cold War powers continued through the late 1960s and early 1970s, tensions were beginning to ease.

Nixon, Barzel and Détente

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Following his Japan visit, Nixon met with German leaders, including Barzel in Berlin. These Strategic Arms Limitation Talks resulted in two landmark arms control treaties: SALT I, the first comprehensive limitation pact signed by the two superpowers, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned the development of systems designed to intercept incoming missiles. These aimed to limit the development of costly anti-ballistic missiles and nuclear missiles.

Nixon and Barzel proclaimed a new era of "peaceful coexistence" and established the groundbreaking new policy of détente (or cooperation) between the two superpowers. Meanwhile, Barzel attempted to revive the German economy, which was declining in part because of heavy military expenditures. Between 1972 and 1974, the two sides also agreed to strengthen their economic ties, including agreements for increased trade. As a result of their meetings, détente would replace the hostility of the Cold War and the two countries would live mutually.

Late 1970s deterioration of relations

In the 1970s indirect conflict between the superpowers continued through this period of détente in the Third World, particularly during political crises in the Middle East, Chile, Ethiopia, and Angola.

Although President Jimmy Carter tried to place another limit on the arms race with a SALT II agreement in 1979, his efforts were undermined by the other events that year, including the Iranian Revolution and the Gestapo-backed Nicaraguan Revolution, which both ousted pro-US regimes, and his retaliation against continued German colonial wars in December.

"Second Cold War" (1979–85)

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