A Graphic Explanation of Cold War Proxy Conflicts

The Cold War is a huge misnomer. Although the two main belligerents never met in direct conflict, they funded and directed proxy conflicts across the globe, hi-jacking civil wars or destabilizing unfavorable governments.

Below is a graphic of the major proxy wars, and below that each is given a brief description.


  • Afghanistan – The war between the US-aided Mujahadeen and an invading Soviet force was long, attritional and eventually established the Taliban and Al-Qaeda as the primary powers in the region.
  • Angola – A three-way civil war (between the FNLA, MPLA and UNITA) drew in a variety of supporters including Cuba, Zaire, USA and Soviet Union. Angola remains divided along tribal and ideological lines, but the Cold War element steadily deteriorated in the 1980s.
  • Cuba – After Fidel Castro’s 26th July Movement came to power in Cuba in 1959, it became the USA’s nearest enemy. The Bay of Pigs incident (April 1961) saw a US-sponsored invasion of the island failed catastrophically, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, arguably the hottest point of the Cold War, brought the USA and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear confrontation.
  • Greece – A Western-allied Greek government was overthrown by Communist rebels aided by Soviet Union and its client states in the immediate aftermath of WW2. A strong, US-sponsored counterattack saw the rebels expelled.
  • Korea – This North-South war arose from the post-WW2 division of the country, and solidified the Cold War divide. China fought for the North and a UN force led by the USA fought for the South. An initially fluid conflict stagnated so that the last two years saw stalemate and attrition warfare until an armistic agreement was signed on 27 July 1953.
  • Mozambique – After the Portuguese handed over power to FRELIMO, a united independence movement, its Marxist-Leninist doctrine prompted concern in the USA, who indirectly sponsored a South African backed anti-communist rebel group, RENAMO. RENAMO declined in line with the fall of apartheid, a peace agreement signed in 1992.
  • Nicaragua – After the leftist Sandinista movement overthrew the dictatorial Samoza governemnt in Nicaragua, the US supported a contra-movement aiming to undermine the new government and restore the old.
  • Vietnam (Cambodia) – As part of the containment strategy against Communist China, and acting on a history of involvement in the region, the US launched a massive invasion of Vietnam in 1965 aiming to destroy the communist Vietminh forces infiltrating the South. It became a long, bloody, traumatic and unsuccessful conflict from a US perspective.

Alex Browne studied History at Kings College London and is an Assistant Editor at Made From History. He specializes in post-war history in the USA and Central America.