How peaceful was peaceful Co-existence?


At first, the western powers hoped that Khrushchev would be the start of a ‘thaw’ in the Cold War.

  1. Khrushchev often met western leaders at ‘summit’ meetings.

  2. In 1955 Khrushchev had told Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia, that ‘there are different roads to communism’.

  3. At the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin

  4. Khrushchev began to ‘de-stalinise’ Russia.

  5. Khrushchev said that he wanted ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the West.


Here you can read in more detail about the developing tensions which Peaceful Coexistence caused.


Did you know?

Khrushchev was NOT a gentle easy-going man; he had been Stalin’s right-hand man – Stalin had used him to run the terror purges after World War II.  

Khrushchev loved to argue.   This often caused tension between leaders.

Increasing Tension


If the rulers of the West hoped that Khrushchev would bring an end to the Cold War, they were disappointed:


‘De-stalinisation’ did not mean a change back to capitalism, or freedom from Russia.   When communist countries went too far in their reforms, Khrushchev sent in the Red Army to stop them.


By ‘peaceful co-existence’, Khrushchev really meant ‘peaceful competition’.   He started to build up Russian power: 

  1. He visited countries like Afghanistan and Burma and gave them economic aid if they would support Russia.  

  2. Russia began the ‘space race’ with America.   In 1957 Russia launched Sputnik , the first satellite.   In 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first astronaut to orbit the earth.

  3. In 1955 Khrushchev set up the Warsaw Pact – a military alliance of Communist countries – to rival NATO.    Pact countries had detailed plans of how to wage nuclear war against NATO if there was a war.

  4. Russia began an ‘arms race’ with America.   In 1953, Russia got the hydrogen bomb.  

  5. Russia waged a propaganda war against America and Britain.


Faced by this, America became just as aggressive:

  1. In America, Senator McCarthy led a ‘witch-hunt’ for ‘Communists’ in America (e.g. Charlie Chaplin was accused of being a Communist.)

  2. There was a propaganda war against Communism.

  3. America had an 'arms race' with Russia.   In 1955, NATO agreed to a West German Army of ½ million men (this led to the formation of the Warsaw Pact).    

  4. America became determined to win the Space race .

  5. The Americans used U2 planes to spy on Russia.


As a result, the period 1955–1963 was the time of GREATEST tension in the Cold War.   



Source E

This 1961 cartoon shows America and Russia at loggerheads with each other.   Most people expected that a nuclear war would happen - the atom bomb affected modern life and culture   .   American children were trained what to do in the event of a nuclear strike - 'Duck and Cover'.  


Source F

...  In fact, however, the 'thaw' was only partial: Khrushchev's policy was a curious mixture which western leaders often found difficult to understand [and] he was quick to respond to anything which seemed to be a threat to the east.

  Norman Lowe, Mastering Modern World History (1982)

Written as a GCSE revision book by a History teacher.



Crises after 1955:

1956     Poland

1956     Hungary

1960     U2 crisis

1961     The Berlin Wall

1962     Cuban Missile Crisis


EIGHT Countries in the Warsaw Pact:

•   USSR

•   Albania

•   Bulgaria

•   Czechoslovakia

•   East Germany

•   Hungary

•   Poland

•   Romania.    



In the 1950s and 60s many US films showed fear of Communism.  


The most famous was Red Nightmare (1949), a film about Communists taking over America.   



The film Them! (1954) was an allegory of the cold war, teaching Americans to hate 'the enemy'.


Get Smart was a hilarious spoof TV which imagined an outside force trying to reduce society to KAOS.



Neville Shute's On the Beach (1957) imagined a group of people waiting to die after the nuclear holocaust.