Exam preparation materials

The United States As a Superpower, 1945-Present

Things to Know

1. Cold War policy: relations with the USSR — containment, brinksmanship, collective security (United Nations and NATO), summit conferences, detente; arms race and arms limitations.

2. Cold War events: Europe — NATO vs. Warsaw Pact, status of Berlin, Hungarian uprising, Prague Spring, “fall of communism”; Asia — “loss of China,” Korean War, Nixon and China, U.S.-Japan trade issues; Middle East — Suez crisis, relations with Israel, oil and Islamic fundamentalism; Western Hemisphere — Alliance for Progress, Organization of American States, Cuba and Central America, Panama Canal.

3. Vietnam: U.S. involvement, 1954-1975 — policies of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford; significant military events — Tet offensive, bombing of North Vietnam. Cambodia; negotiating peace settlement.

Key Terms and Concepts

San Francisco Conference

Central Intelligence Agency

Marshall Plan

Berlin airlift

Warsaw Pact

Korean War

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles




Suez crisis

U-2 incident

Bay of Pigs invasion

Cuban missile crisis

Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Berlin Wall

Peace Corps

Six-Day War

Yom Kippur War

Dien Bien Phu



Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Tet offensive

My Lai massacre

Khmer Rouge

Paris Peace Accords

Henry Kissinger

Salvador Allende


ABM Treaty


Arab oil embargo


Camp David Accords

Iranian hostage crisis

Panama Canal Treaty

Grenada invasion





Important Definitions

brinksmanship: The policy associated with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that stressed that Soviet aggression would be met by massive nuclear retaliation: Dulles was opposed to simply “containing” the USSR and wanted to liberate the countries under Soviet control.

containment: American foreign policy adopted after World War II to restrain the expansion of the Soviet Union. It was based on the belief that the USSR does not take risks and would back down if faced with determined opposition. The policy was developed by Foreign Service officer George Kennan in 1947.

detente: Policy toward the USSR developed by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger focused on easing tensions through negotiations, particularly on arms reductions — for example, the first SALT treaty (1972). 

Eisenhower Doctrine: The United States was prepared to use force in the Middle East against aggression from any country controlled by the Soviet Union (1957).

military-industrial complex: In his farewell address in 1961, Eisenhower warned of the danger posed by a strong defense industry and the armed forces; despite his own background, Eisenhower wanted to control military spending.

shuttle diplomacy: Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East in early 1974 led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the west bank of the Suez Canal and disengagement between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights.

summit diplomacy: Meetings between world leaders, usually the United States and the Soviet Union, to discuss bilateral issues and matters of mutual concern — for example, nuclear disarmament; the first summit conference took place in 1955 in Geneva.

Truman Doctrine: In response to the Greek Civil War in 1947. the United States provided economic and military aid to both Greece and Turkey. The United States would support “free peoples” against armed minorities or outside pressure.

Vietnamization: President Nixon’s policy of withdrawing troops from Vietnam and turning the fighting over to the South Vietnamese with massive amounts of American supplies.

Readings on the United States as a Superpower, 1945-Present

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (1982).

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest (1972).

Herring, George C. America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 (1979).

Hoopes, Townsend. The Devi! and John Foster Dulles (1973).

Kennedy, Robert. Thirteen Days (1969).

LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1980 (1987).

Szulc, Tad. The Illusion of Power: Foreign Policy in the Nixon Years (1978).

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