In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Cold War

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Foundations, 1945–1953
  • Conflict and Coexistence, 1953–1961
  • Confrontation, 1961–1963
  • The Vietnam War and the Changing Cold War Balance, 1963–1969
  • Détente, 1969–1974
  • A New Imbalance, 1974–1981
  • The Final Years, 1981–1989
  • Legacies of the Cold War, 1989–1993

International Relations The Cold War
David Atkinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0068


The term “Cold War” refers to the period of Soviet-American antagonism that dominated the international system from approximately 1945 to 1991. While different scholars emphasize different facets of this competition, the Cold War was at once an ideological, political, economic, cultural, military, and strategic contest between the United States and its allies on one hand, and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other. Recent studies have done much to complicate the once dominant bipolar understanding of this struggle. Scholars increasingly, and quite rightly, highlight the many ways in which Asian, African, and Latin American states in particular attempted to transcend the apparent strictures imposed by Soviet-American hostility. Indeed, our understanding of the Cold War is constantly subject to reinterpretation, revision, and modification, as new evidence, new methodologies, and new actors emerge from obscurity. There is a vast and continually expanding literature on the Cold War, offering much of value to international-relations scholars. The studies and resources included in this bibliography are designed to guide the new and experienced international-relations researcher through a selection of resources that reveal the myriad complexities, nuances, and contingencies of this seminal and contentious period. A great deal of this literature analyzes the evolution of the international system in the decades after World War II, while providing insights into policy formulation and diplomacy. Scholars have also been particularly interested in questions of responsibility and blame, especially regarding the origins and end of the Cold War. Many questions remain unresolved, and the boundaries of scholarly inquiry are continually expanding, making it an especially rich field of research for new and experienced researchers alike.

General Overviews

New students and researchers seeking introductory overviews of the Cold War are extremely well served. A number of studies are particularly well suited to new international-relations students and scholars seeking context and references for their research on the period. Gaddis 2005b and LaFeber 2008 are excellent starting points for those seeking relatively brief and straightforward narrative accounts of the US-Soviet conflict. Gaddis emphasizes Soviet culpability in his largely orthodox treatment, while LaFeber stresses a greater degree of American responsibility in his revisionist account. These two studies can be profitably read together and represent two of the best examples of these conflicting interpretations of the Cold War. Keylor 2008 takes a more balanced postrevisionist approach, which sees both sides as bearing some measure of responsibility at different times and in different places. It also ranges widely beyond the simple binary of Cold War conflict. Leffler and Westad 2010 is one of the newest contributions to the field, and certainly one of the best. Over the course of three volumes, some of the Cold War’s most esteemed scholars explore every aspect of the Cold War in every region of the globe. This collection is highly recommended to all scholars, both new and experienced. Westad 2000 brings together a collection of essays from international-relations scholars and historians that explore a variety of methodological questions, which is especially useful for those interested in theoretical approaches. Gaddis 2005a is an excellent starting point for students and scholars interested in the evolution of American national-security strategy during this period, while Zubok 2007 performs a similar service with regard to the Soviet Union. Finally, Westad 2007 broadens the analytical lens considerably in his path-breaking study of the third world’s impact on the Cold War, and vice versa.

  • Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005a.

    Classic study of United States’ evolving Cold War strategy, first published in 1982. Identifies and assesses changes in US approaches, including Kennan’s original exposition on containment, NSC-68, the “New Look,” “Flexible Response,” détente, and the Reagan-Gorbachev rapprochement. Remains the best strategic-level analysis of American Cold War policies for all researchers.

  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin, 2005b.

    Extremely well-written Cold War introductory text by one of its most celebrated and respected scholars. This contribution tends toward a more traditional interpretation of the conflict’s origins and Soviet guilt, but brings a breadth of knowledge and understanding of events and their significance. Read in conjunction with LaFeber 2008 for alternative analysis.

  • Keylor, William R. A World of Nations: The International Order since 1945. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Well-written, comprehensive, and balanced history of international relations in the Cold War and post–Cold War period. Combines a theoretical, chronological, thematic, and regional approach that will orient new researchers in this often complicated era. Ideal introduction for international-relations scholars.

  • LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–2006. 10th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

    Latest iteration of a long-standing revisionist introduction to Cold War. Tends to place responsibility on the United States and its policies. Especially useful for beginning undergraduates and novice researchers. Read in conjunction with Gaddis 2005b for alternative analysis.

  • Leffler, Melvyn P., and Odd Arne Westad, eds. The Cambridge History of the Cold War. 3 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    Exceptional three-volume history of Cold War with contributions from extremely well-respected international-relations scholars and historians. First volume traces global origins of the Cold War. Second volume addresses the 1960s and 1970s. Third volume traces the intensification and end of the Cold War from 1975 to 1991. Highly recommended to all.

  • Westad, Odd Arne, ed. Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, Theory. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

    Rewarding collection of theoretical essays from historians, international-relations scholars, and political scientists. Emphasizes the need for interdisciplinary approaches and theories. Directed primarily toward undergraduate students, but all scholars will benefit from the insights and ideas expressed in this volume.

  • Westad, Odd Arne. The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Superb study of third world’s role in Cold War, which illuminates the present as much as the past. Focuses on American and Soviet Cold War strategies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, including Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Angola, Ethiopia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, and Afghanistan. Extremely important work that reframes our understanding of Cold War diplomacy and its effects.

  • Zubok, Vladislav M. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

    Indispensible study of the Soviet Union and its international relations during the Cold War, as well as Soviet domestic policies. Makes excellent use of recently declassified Russian sources. Future works will invariably complicate its findings, but highly recommended to all Cold War scholars.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.