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Edexcel GCSE History: Superpower relations and the Cold War 1941–91

The key vocabulary you need to learn for your Edexcel GCSE Superpower relations and the Cold War 1941–91 History paper. Find all the terms and definitions you need to understand, from ‘Arms race’ to ‘Warsaw Pact’.
A – B (arms race to brinkmanship)
arms race
An arms race is the term used when opposing sides in a conflict try to have more powerful weapons than their rival.

atomic bomb (A-bomb)
An atomic bomb is a nuclear weapon that was very many times more destructive than any bombs used before.

ballistic missile
A ballistic missile is a flying bomb programmed to hit a particular target; intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) can travel across whole continents.

Berlin airlift
The Berlin airlift was a military operation that took place between 26 June 1948 and Spring 1949, supplying food and fuel to West Berlin by air after the USSR blockaded the city.

Berlin blockade
The term Berlin blockade refers to the period between 24 June 1948 and Spring 1949, Stalin blocked all land access to West Berlin.

Big Three
The Big Three is the name given to Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill as the leaders of the three main countries that won the Second World War: the USSR, the USA and Britain.

The name given to the area formed when the USA and Britain merged the zones in Germany they occupied after the Second World War.

To boycott is to refuse to buy or use something, or to refuse to take part in something.

Brinkmanship is the term for pushing a negotiation to the edge in the hope of forcing your opponent to back down.

C (capitalism to coup)
Capitalism is an economic system under which businesses and individuals are free to make as much money as they can; interference from government is kept to a minimum.

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie was a famous crossing point in the Berlin Wall, heavily guarded and needing permission and paperwork to pass through.

Cold War
The Cold War is the term used to describe the tensions between the USA and the USSR between the Second World War and 1991.

Comecon was the term given to the Soviet recovery plan for Eastern Europe after the Second World War.

Cominform is the Communist Information Bureau, designed to bring unity and tighten the USSR’s control over East European countries.

Communism refers to an economic and political system under which the government controls the economy, and politicians – not businesses – decide what and how many goods are made; in theory, wealth is shared more equally and there isn’t a big gap between rich and poor.

The term containment refers to keeping something harmful under control; the policy of limiting communism to the countries where it had already taken hold.

A coup is a sudden and often violent seizure of power.

D – E (defect to exile)
To defect is to leave one political system for another, such as leaving the communist East for the capitalist West.

The term democracy means ‘power to the people’; a democracy allows its citizens to vote and be represented in government.

When something or someone is denounced, they are publicly declared wrong or evil.

Taking place from 1956, destalinisation is the process by which the leaders of the USSR distanced themselves from Joseph Stalin and his cruellest policies.

Détente refers to when relations between countries get friendlier; détente is a French word meaning ‘release from tension’.

A dictatorship is a type of government that aims to completely control people’s lives; people have no say in government under a dictatorship and there is very little freedom.

dollar imperialism
The phrase dollar imperialism refers to the idea that the USA spreads its power and influence around the world using money.

An embargo is an official ban on trade with another country.

The term exile refers to someone who is forced to live in a country other than their own, usually for political reasons.

F – M (Federal Republic of Germany (FDR) to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD))
Federal Republic of Germany (FDR)
The Federal Republic of Germany (FDR) is an independent democratic country created, after the Berlin Crisis, when the USA, Britain and France merged the zones in Germany they occupied after the Second World War; popularly known as West Germany.

German Democratic Republic (GDR)
The German Democratic Republic (GCR) is a communist country in the Eastern bloc created by the USSR after the Berlin Crisis; popularly known as East Germany.

The term glasnost, or ‘openness’, was used as part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ which aimed to end government corruption and allow people to have new and different ideas from the government.

Grand Alliance
The Grand Alliance was formed in December 1941, during the Second World War, by the USA, the USSR and Britain to defeat Germany and Japan.

guerrilla tactics
Guerrilla tactics are methods used by people fighting against a stronger army that usually has more soldiers and better weapons; guerrilla tactics often involve hit-and-run attacks, ambushes and blending in with civilians to avoid being attacked.

A hotline is a direct phone line set up for a specific purpose; the nickname given to the direct phone line between the leaders of the USA and the USSR.

hydrogen bomb/H-bomb
A hydrogen bomb is a more advanced and destructive nuclear weapon; up to 1000 times more powerful than an atomic bomb.

Marshall Plan
The Marshall Plan was the recovery programme that provided money and resources to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

Mujahideen is another term for Islamic guerrilla fighters.

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is the idea that neither side would use nuclear weapons because to do so would also mean their own destruction.

N – R (NATO to reparations)
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1949 by Western countries worried about the USSR’s control over the Eastern bloc.

neutron bomb
A neutron bomb is a powerful nuclear weapon that could wipe out a large population with limited damage to buildings.

Perestroika, or ‘restructuring’, was used as part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ which aimed to improve the Soviet economy by allowing businesses to respond to public – not government – demand.

The term propaganda refers to messages that persuade people to think or act in a certain way, usually communicated through posters or radio, but also through artwork, books, television programmes and films; propaganda is generally misleading or untruthful in its approach.

proxy wars
Proxy wars are indirect wars between the superpowers in which one side would provide money or weapons to a group fighting the other; examples include the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Soviet–Afghan War.

The term purges refers to the organised imprisonment or execution of a large number of people thought to be disloyal to a government.

To quarantine is to place someone or something in isolation; during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USA used this word to describe the blockade it placed around Cuba.

The term reforms refers to changes made with the aim of improving how a country is run, or the aim of improving the lives of its citizens.

Reparations are money or goods given to countries that have won a war by those who have lost, to pay for the damage caused.

S – W (satellite state to Warsaw Pact)
satellite state
A satellite state is a country whose government seems independent, but is dominated by another, stronger country.

Second Cold War
The Second Cold War describes the period after 1980 when there was an increase in tensions between the superpowers after the calm of Détente.

Sinatra Doctrine
The Sinatra Doctrine was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of allowing countries in the Eastern Bloc to run themselves more independently.

Socialism is a political belief that the community should share available resources equally, often in the form of public ownership of services; in the communist system, socialism is seen as a step on the road to achieving communism.

The term solidarity refers to an agreement or feeling among people of working together, often against a common interest. It is also the name of the first Polish trade union founded in 1980, led by Lech Wałęsa; it was the first independent trade union to be formed in a Warsaw Pact country, and played a central role in the end of communist rule in Poland.

sphere of influence
The sphere of influence is an area where one country has a huge amount of interest and influence.

Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI)
The Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) is a planned system announced by Reagan that would allow the USA to detect and shoot down missiles in the air; nicknamed ‘Star Wars’.

A summit is a meeting between world leaders where they talk face to face about key issues.

A superpower refers to a country that has significantly more power than others, either militarily or economically; it is able to dominate world events.

Truman Doctrine
The Truman Doctrine was US president Harry S. Truman’s policy of containment: providing assistance to any country under threat of becoming communist.

An ultimatum is a demand which, if not met, will end a relationship or otherwise result in a serious consequence.

Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Pact was a military alliance between the USSR and its seven satellite states, formed in response to West Germany joining NATO in 1955.