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View series: The Cold War and Confrontation between East and West 1947-1991

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A bipolar world 1947-1991

This map is part of a series of 9 animated maps showing the history of The Cold War and Confrontation between East and West 1947-1991.

The alliance established between the USSR and the United States during the Second World War broke down in 1947.

The two countries had entirely different ideologies. The Americans believed in individual freedoms and capitalism, whereas the Soviets were more interested in a Communist-inspired approach to an egalitarian society.

Europe became the first theatre for their ideological struggle. The continent was divided into two blocs by a line running from the Baltic to the Adriatic: the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Winston Churchill’s words.

This confrontation between two blocs extended to other parts of the world, when the People’s Republic of China joined the ranks of Communist countries in 1949.

By applying the policy of “containment”, a term coined by the American President, Harry Truman, the United States signed a number of alliance pacts:

- In 1947, the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro was signed by all American countries except Canada;

- In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty brought together the United States, Canada and several Western European countries, and three years later, Turkey and Greece;

- In 1951, the ANZUS security treaty was signed by the United States, Australia and New Zealand;

- In 1954, the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty is signed by Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, and the United States together with several Western countries including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and France

The USSR reacted by establishing the Warsaw Pact in May 1955, which covered all the Eastern European countries, except Yugoslavia.

During the process of decolonization, which took place during the 1950s and early 1960s, numerous countries became independent. Despite the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement, several of these countries moved closer – to a greater or lesser extent – to either the USSR or the United States.

Confrontation between the two blocs took the form of a series of crises: Berlin, Cuba, the European missile crisis, but also open war, as in Korea and in Vietnam.

This conflict was characterized also by a nuclear arms race and the resulting ‘balance of terror,’ which emerged between the two superpowers.

The risk of reciprocal annihilation explains to a large degree why the USA and the USSR never entered into direct conflict with each other. The war, despite its hot spots, remained …. resolutely cold.