THE COLD WAR: A DEFINITION The Cold War was a fierce competition between the Great Powers that proceeded by all means short of direct confrontation. Because there were only two Great Powers after the Second World War, international relations had a "bipolar" character: there were two great blocs, and the competition between them was a "zero-sum" game, which meant that a "victory" for either side anywhere was a "loss" for the other. In other words, the assumption was that the different parts of the international system were so tightly linked that a setback in one area would have destabilizing effects elsewhere. Actual war would be fought out by proxies, surrogates for the Great Powers, and confined for the most part to the "periphery" of the industrially developed part of the world.
The Cold War: A New History,
Penguin Books; 2nd edition,
The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917-1991,