After the Second World War, The United States and the Soviet Union were the only two superpowers in the world. By the 1950s, each side possessed nuclear weapons and powerful missiles capable of delivering such weapons to their enemies.
The Cold War separated the world into three groups of countries. The United States led the West, including countries with democratic political systems. The Soviet Union led the group of countries with communist ideology, popularly called the East. The remaining group was the neutral countries that didn't want to be connected to either side.
To make the divisions formal, the United States led the formation of a joint military group under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Its purpose was to defend against Soviet Union in Europe, and the first member countries were Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and of course, the United States. The Soviet Union and its east European allies responded with a formation of their own joint military group six years later called the Warsaw Pact.
Berlin blockade and Truman Doctrine consequences
There are so many consequences of the Cold War, so let's start with Europe. The conflict escalated on the future of Germany since the Soviet Union blockaded all surface transport into West Berlin in June 1948. By blocking highway and railway access to Berlin, Stalin tried to drive French, British, and American occupation forces out of German capital.
His efforts were unsuccessful due to the quick response from President Truman ordering the military planes to fly coal, food and medicine to the city. For more than a year the planes kept coming, providing in total almost 2.5 million tons of supplies on about 280,000 flights. The Soviet blockade was officially lifted in May 1949. The blockade was additional incentive which led to the formation of NATO alliance.
It helped to pass the Truman Doctrine in the United States, which vowed to support free nations fighting communism. As a result the Congress pledged $400 million to revolutionaries in Greece and Turkey fighting communism. Direct war casualties mostly came from Vietnam. The country was devastated, with millions of people maimed or killed. United States spent over $150,000 million in a losing battle that cost more than 58,000 American lives. When President Eisenhower entered the office, he devised a foreign policy emphasizing the use of nuclear weapons instead of conventional weapons and troops to contain communism. Eisenhower basically threatened the USSR with massive retaliation policy or in other words nuclear war.
Space race began
Another consequence of the Cold War were the space programs in both United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellites in 1957 started the space race. President Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response. These organizations are credited for many great achievements which led to tremendous technological advances, products of whom we benefit today.
The Soviet Union started the race successfully launching Sputnik, the first artificial satellite into orbit in October 1957. This achievement was quickly followed by Sputnik II containing a canine passenger and was then dramatically surpassed when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961. The USA on the other hand failed to respond effectively and it took several attempts before launching its own satellite Explorer I in 1958. Spaceflight became reality and Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon.
The world on a brink of nuclear war
As for other crises, the biggest Cold War challenge came in Cuba for President Kennedy. He consequently ordered a naval blockade of the island containing Soviet nuclear missiles, thus pushing the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. Soviet leader Khrushchev ended the terrifyingCuban missile crisis when he agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for an end to the blockade. President Kennedy agreed to remove American missiles from Turkey and arranged to work on reducing international tensions between the two countries.
Tragically, President Kennedy was assassinated in late 1963. The Cold War ended in 1991, when the red soviet flag was finally lowered from the Kremlin and by the end of the year Soviet Union had passed into history. Fifteen new independent states suddenly stood in place of a mighty superpower.
Remarkably, the Soviet empire practically disintegrated with no bloodshed into peaceful group of countries turning to democracy. There are still large differences between the East and the West, but hopefully we'll never see another such conflict.