Cold War in Realism and Neorealism Theories

The definition of the Cold War refers to the conflict between the Western countries (the United States) against the Eastern Bloc (the USSR) and is also known as the conflict between capitalism and communism. It denotes the historic opposition of ideologies and drastically differs from the traditional forms of war as it does not directly induce casualties on both sides. The term also covers the cultural and social domains of life in the involved countries – it implies the opposite of the socialist realism against the US abstract expressionism and the confrontation of the national culture of the Soviet Union with the mass culture promoted by capitalism1.

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It is considered that the Cold War was initiated by Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech which was pronounced in 1946. Churchill proposed the idea of uniting English-speaking countries for fighting against communism2. Throughout 1946-1953, the goal of the US government under the leadership of Harry Truman was the economic victory over the Soviet Union and Stalin, as well as the achievement of military superiority.

The Cold War started earlier and was triggered by multiple international conflicts unfolded at that time in Asia and Europe, but precisely at the time point of the spring of 1946 it gained strength, and due to the USSR’s refusal to withdraw troops from Iran, the situation got only worse3.

The front of the Cold War ran not between the countries but within them. The parties strived to increase economic, military, and industrial power, achieve technological advancement and scientific innovation, and expand their ideological presence in other regions. The superpowers’ conflict of interests provoked the split in the European region and led the world to the edge of the nuclear conflict. Despite a slight improvement in the US-USSR relationships during the Khrushchev Thaw of 1953-1962, this period is associated with anti-communist riots and social movements in many European countries, while the missile tests conducted by the parties only increased the international tension4.

Since the Cold War implies the opposition of interests defined in terms of power and is related to the concept of the balance of power, geopolitical strategy, etc., it can best be explained from the stance of realism. The anarchic nature of the international relationships is one of the fundamental propositions in the paradigm of realism – anarchy distinguishes them from the internal social relations built on the principles of hierarchy, subordination, formal legal norms, and the monopoly of the government5.

And it is possible to say that the absence of unified norms of behavior which can be observed in the Cold War, and the inability of both parties to rely on each other stimulated the conflict. Moreover, from the neorealist point of view, the balance of power is not reduced to the military component but includes economic, informational-communicative, scientific, financial, and production aspects6. Inconsistency with this perspective, the conflict unfolded between the USSR and the USA introduced the new interdependent type of power that is not linked to particular territories and is even more effective than the traditional forms of power. Thus, from the realist point of view, the Cold War is an intransigent fight of the states for power and influence.

The paradigm of realism suggests that the more national security one state tries to achieve, the greater insecurity another country gets. The endeavors in the increase of military power made by the United States and the USSR throughout 1946-1991 not merely were helpless in protecting their national well-being but also threatened the international welfare and put many other countries at risk. The Cold War demonstrated the impotence of the international law and institutions in controlling the conflicts inherent in the system of international relationships and demonstrated that more effective methods for the creation of an appropriate balance of power are required.

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Brager, Bruce. The Iron Curtain: The Cold War in Europe. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Immerman, Richard, and Petra Goedde. The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Pashakhanlou, Arash Heydarian. “Comparing and Contrasting Classical Realism and Neorealism.E-International Relations Student, 2009. Web.


  1. Richard Immerman and Petra Goedde, The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2013), 335.
  2. Bruce Brager, The Iron Curtain: The Cold War in Europe (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004), 140.
  3. Immerman and Goedde, The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War (see footnote 1), 250.
  4. Ibid., 571.
  5. Arash Heydarian Pashakhanlou, “Comparing and Contrasting Classical Realism and Neorealism,” E-International Relations Student, 2009. Web.
  6. Ibid.
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"Cold War in Realism and Neorealism Theories." StudyCorgi, 9 Apr. 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Cold War in Realism and Neorealism Theories." April 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Cold War in Realism and Neorealism Theories." April 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Cold War in Realism and Neorealism Theories'. 9 April.

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