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Cold War Period and Significant Events

The Cold War was not a single event but a name given to the period after the 2nd world war. It ended when USSR collapsed in 1989. In this article, we’ll see the important events that took place between this period, their causes and consequences.

  1. Korean War ( June 1950 – July 1953 )
  2. Vietnam War
  3. Cuban Missile Crisis
  4. Evolution of European Union

Korean War [1950-1953]


Prior to World War 2, Korea was a single entity. Japan invaded Korea in 1910 and ruled it until the end of World War 2. With allied powers coming out victorious and USA-USSR not trusting each other, post-war Korea was divided along the 38th parallel into two zones. North Korea, under the care of USSR and South Korea under USA.

Korea 38th Parallel

In North Korea, USSR supported the establishment of a communist government under Kim-Il-Sung, while in South Korea, the USA supported the establishment of an anti-Communist govt. under Syngman Rhee. In 1949, CCP captured power in China and in the same year, Kim Il Sung’s North Korean govt. launched an attack on South Korea with the aim of establishing a unified Korea under communist rule.

Following this, Truman authorized US military intervention to push back N Korea behind the 38th parallel. (Truman’s / USA’s domino theory argued that unless checked, countries adjacent to communist powers would also fall to communism.)

Phases of Korean War

The conflict lasted for 3 years following which, the status quo was installed along the 38th parallel largely along the line of the situation in 1945 by the creation of DMZ (Demilitarized zone).

Korea Demilitarized Zone
By Rishabh Tatiraju – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

More than a million individuals were killed in the Korean war. Korean intervention was considered a successful US foreign policy move, which demonstrated the practical application of the policy of containment. The move also inspired similar US interventions in Vietnam and elsewhere to limit the spread of Communism.

Indian Contribution

India, which remained neutral during the war also contributed its fair share in the peace efforts. The nation sent its 60th Parachute Filed Ambulance Platoon to treat wounded soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war. The troop arrived in Korea in 1950 and stayed till 1954, rendering valuable medical assistance.

At United Nations, on India’s suggestions Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was set up with India at its helm, to facilitate the return of prisoners of war to their homeland. Under Commission, India sent 6000 soldiers to form CFI (Custodian Force India) to look after prisoners of war and their repatriation.


Vietnam War

  1. – 1953 – 1959 – 1964 – 1968 – 1975

Prior to the 2nd World War, Indo China (mainland South-East Asia – Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) was a French colony. It was invaded by Japan during the 2nd World War. After the withdrawal of Japan post WW 2, the French aimed to recapture Vietnam. In response, a nationalist movement rose in Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Congress). The movement also created Guerrilla forces which entered into conflict with French troops.

The conflict lasted for eight years (the first Indochina War), and French troops withdrew from the region in 1954. A settlement was reached (Geneva Accords 1954) under which North Vietnam would be ruled by Viet Cong with Communist links, while in South Vietnam, Ngo-Diem, a strongly anti-Communist government, was established with US support as it aimed to limit the Communist influence in the region.

1954 onwards, Ho Chi Minh, who wished to establish a unified Vietnam,  launched a military offensive against South Vietnam rule. Initially, the US forced did not intervene in the region directly but provided financial and training support to South Vietnamese troops to overthrow North Vietnamese troops.

1959 onwards, the USA increased the number of military advisors it provided to the South Vietnamese forces under the Presidentship of John F Kennedy. However, South Vietnamese forces failed to push back against North V. troops.

Seeing its defeat in Vietnam, the USA was looking for an excuse to directly enter the war. In 1964 – the Gulf of Tonkin incident happened when one of the US Air Carrier was attacked by N Vietnamese patrol board. (Later reports found that such incident had never happened.) As a result, Lyndon B Johnson, erstwhile President of the US declared war on Vietnam.

By 1968, despite repeated assurances by US President, a victory was not in sight. In 1968, the North Vietnamese troops launched a Tet Offensive, a coordinated military attack on the major US bases in South Vietnam. This was widely reported in the US press and Lyndon did not contend Presidential elections.

In 1969 – Nixon became President. Henry Kissinger (erstwhile advisor on National Security Affairs) took steps to bring about the slow withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. The US said that it would return to the role of training and assisting South Vietnamese forces. By 1973, the US withdrew forces from Vietnam and by 1975, Viet Cong took over complete control of Vietnam, establishing a unified Vietnam.

Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1955 General Batista, a military dictator ruled Cuba. He had close relations with the USA and allowed a number of US private companies to establish oil refineries in Cuba. The country also had close economic relations with the USA which was a major market for Cuban Sugar and Tobacco.

In 1959 – The Cuban Revolution broke out as Fidel Castro and his guerilla troops overthrew the Batista regime. After gaining power, Castro nationalised US-owned oil refineries in Cuba. In response, the USA imposed trade sanctions on Sugar and Tobacco. In retaliation, Cuba nationalised all remaining US investments in the region and in return the US imposed further economic sanctions on Cuba. Thus the rapid breakdown of relations ensued.

Castro also brought about radical land reforms, to redistribute land to landless peasants by forcibly acquiring land from Cuban landed elites which forced them to exile to the USA in Florida region.

In 1961, the CIA advised John F Kennedy to authorize an intervention where the USA would train and assist the Cuban exiles to bring about an armed overthrow of Castro’s regime. The attempt was given shape in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. The attempt turned out to be a failure as Castro’s regime effectively suppressed the armed overthrow attempt. It was also a huge embarrassment for the American President.

Fidel Castro was convinced that the failed coup attempt would not deter the USA, and it would attempt a similar regime change in the future. Thus he took a number of steps to prevent it. In 1961, Cuba proclaimed support for Communism or establishing a Communist state whereas the Soviet Union extended support to Castro’s regime and upon Cuba’s request, agreed to install Nuclear Missiles in Cuba.

(In 1959, USSR had strongly protested against the US installation of Nuclear Missiles in Turkey and Italy. While the USA had argued that these were for defensive purposes, the Soviet Union argued that it amounted to threatening a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.)

Thus between 1961 and 1962, the Soviet Union installed Nuclear Missiles in Cuba secretly. As US spy planes picked up these developments during this period around 15 Oct 1962, it considered a range of options to deal with the impending crisis immediately.

Cuban Missile Crisis

USA imposed an immediate naval blockade on Cuba, following which backchannel negotiations began in USA and USSR between Oct 15 – Oct 28 1962. The USA agreed to provide a public assurance that it did not intend to interfere in the domestic politics of Cuba and also agreed to withdraw Nuclear Missiles from Italy and Turkey secretly but refused to publicly acknowledge the same. In response, USSR agreed publicly to withdraw Nuclear Missiles from Cuba.

Impact of Cuban Missile Crisis.

The crisis demonstrated that the possibility of a nuclear war was real and effective steps to reduce tension between the nations were necessary.

The event also created a conscious realization amongst great powers to work towards mutually reducing tensions to prevent the possibility/outbreak of Nuclear War.

There were also negotiations over the next few decades which led to INF and START treaties to make attempts towards limiting the size of the Nuclear Arsenal between the US and Soviet Union.

European Union (EU)

Factors that led to the formation of EU.

European Union


After the 2nd World War, a strong inclination was felt amongst the major powers in Western Europe, particularly Britain, France and West Germany to move towards closer regional cooperation and avoid events like WW 1 and 2 in future, for reconstruction efforts and to address the economic weakening of these nations. Further, a conscious effort was also needed amongst Western -democratic-capitalist European powers to stand together and resist any westward expansion of Communism in Europe.

In 1944, Benelux Union was formed by Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg with the immediate objective of promoting trade and a common market amongst themselves. British Prime Minister,  Winston Churchill demonstrated open public support for the Benelux union and argued in favour of establishing the United States of Europe.

In 1951 ECSC (European Coal and Steel Committee)  was conceptualized as Benelux Union along with France, West Germany, and Italy joined hands to establish a customs union in Coal, Iron and Steel. It had no internal tariffs and had common external tariffs. Britain did not join ECSC over concerns related to the loss of its sovereignty over tariff policy through the supranational authority created under ECSC.

Evolution of European Union

ECSC flourished over the 1951 – 1956 period and doubled its steel production. Buoyed by its success, the body expanded to form EEC (European Economic Community) to include trade in all commodities. Britain again showed little interest in joining EEC over the loss of sovereignty over its trade / economic policy.

By 1961, EEC emerged as the single largest market for goods worldwide and its steel production increased to the extent that it became the second-largest producer after the USA, surpassing Britain. Witnessing this success, Britain now expressed interest to enter EEC. However, France kept blocking the entry of Britain as it perceived a threat to its leadership and hold over the European market. Thus, from 1961 to 1969, French leadership, especially De Gaulle was opposed to British entry.

With changed circumstances, Britain finally entered EEC in 1973. And in 1990, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a number of Eastern European Countries expressed keen interest in joining EEC. Moreover, the existing EEC members felt a need to discuss and take forward the project of regional cooperation beyond a customs union and thus 1992 saw the evolution of the Maastricht treaty under which :

It was decided to take forward the project of economic integration further by adopting a common monetary policy and thus a common currency within the next decade. (Euro was adopted in 2002).

Schengen area agreement was signed in 1985 among member states under which a free movement of people would be allowed including the right to settle, buy property or seek employment amongst member states, irrespective of country of origin.

All member countries would be expected to uphold democratic principles, which would include free and fair multiparty elections, separation of powers, freedom of speech etc.

Switzerland is neither member of the Eurozone nor EU but signed the Schengen area agreement.

Britain exited the EU in January 2020 after being part of it for almost 5 decades

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