The Guardian argues about so called "Cold War 2.0":

Warnings of a return to cold war politics have been a staple of European debate for three years, but in recent weeks many western diplomats, politicians and analysts have come to believe the spring has indeed been released. Russia is being reassessed across western capitals. The talk is no longer of transition to a liberal democracy, but regression.

The post-cold war era is over, and a new era has begun. Cold war 2.0, different in character, but potentially as menacing and founded not just on competing interests but competing values.

I am wondering if a new Cold War can be officially declared by one or more countries or an organization such as NATO. What are the steps towards this?

Question: What are the steps towards officially recognizing a Cold War?

Side note: While it was not a declared war, it was recognized as an official conflict through such things as the Cold War Recognition Certificates awarded by the US Department of Defense to armed forces personnel and civilians who served during the Cold War Era.

  • 5
    Cold War is a name of a period of time and not a general term like war. As such I doubt there are any official steps of recognition.
    – Communisty
    Aug 20, 2018 at 13:35
  • 2
    @Communisty - according to Wikipedia Cold War is defined as a "state of geopolitical tension (..)", so it is not just a period of time. My side note is included to provide an argument that the Cold War was indeed officially recognized, but I cannot find an earlier and more direct official recognition (e.g. a leader mentioning this).
    – Alexei
    Aug 20, 2018 at 13:42
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    Was the NATO/USSR cold war ever "officially declared" by either side? Why would you even need to do an official declaration of war when you don't actually perform any direct military attacks on your opponent?
    – Philipp
    Aug 20, 2018 at 13:42
  • 1
    @Alexei yes but specifically 'This article is about the state of political tension from 1947–1991'. So not any political tension. There has been political tensions without military actions before and after Cold War, but I wouldn't think it would be very accurate to call them Cold wars. Anyways this is just my opinion.
    – Communisty
    Aug 20, 2018 at 13:53
  • 4
    The very semantics of the term cold war refer to the fact that it was not recognized as an official war. As such, I don't see how this question is answerable.
    – user1530
    Aug 20, 2018 at 23:55

4 Answers 4


A Cold War is not a declared war. Possibly not even an undeclared war. It is not really a term in customary international law. So there are two things required:

  • Somebody coins a memorable phrase and publicizes it. In the case of the "first" Cold War, this was George Orwell, the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. It remains to be seen if people like Legvold, Guterrez, or Lucas will have the same impact on public imagination.
  • Somebody official feels the need make a definition, e.g. for purposes of a campaign medal, and uses the term from the first bullet point.
  • 1
    I have added some links for the names in first paragraph, but I am not sure that they are all correct.
    – Alexei
    Aug 26, 2018 at 11:21
  • I'm unsure what you mean with your last bullet. There were no campaign medals awarded for the cold war as such, as far as I know. Unless you're including those for the various hot, proxy wars during this period like the UN medal for Korea etc. May 9, 2022 at 14:00
  • @Fizz, the OP asked about 'officially recognizing' a cold war, but there is no such thing in the customary laws of war. I tried to point out how a cold war could be recognized -- either increasingly common usage or someone in an official position taking a stance.
    – o.m.
    May 9, 2022 at 14:25

A generic cold war typically is a state where two nations are preparing for a potential future conflict with each other but do not yet have a Causa belli (lit. Case for War) and thus, while diplomatically hostile, are in a perpetual state of waiting for the other to attack first or provide a case for a more legitimate war so they can politically curry favor with other powers. These are typically characterized by economical, political, propaganda, and espionage actions between the "belligerent" nations as well as proxy wars between client states (rare outside of the Cold War) but no actual hostilities between the nations them selves. Basically, a state of diplomacy where both nations are ready to fight a war and expect the other side to be the aggressor.

In addition to current USA/EU vs. Russia/China Cold War 2: Electric Boogaloo other identified extant cold wars include:

The Middle East tensions, characterized as regional tensions brought on by cold war tensions between Saudia Arabia and Iran. Mostly stems from religious sects, but the Cold War also played a role in this. Most actions here tend to have proxy wars. Officially, no nuclear actors, isn't that right, Israel? (Israel officially states it is not a nuclear power, but it's the worst kept secret that it is a nuclear power.).

The Pakistan-India Cold war, over borders drawn after both states left the British Empire. Extant since 1947. Both are nuclear powers.

The China-India Cold War. Also Nuclear powers.

The South-North Korea Cold War: The only identified cold war with any formal documentation, as a state of war still exists between North and South Korea from the Korean war. Both state actors have a cease fire treaty but no formal declaration of peace, making this a cold war that directly resulted from a shooting war between the belligerents. Also a cold war spin-off of The Cold War.


Cold war, like World war 1 and 2 is not a term for a specific (i.e., legally framed) conflict, but rather a collective name for a period, which included many conflicts, somehow related to the confrontation between the USSR and the United States. Churchill's Iron curtain speech is often cited as the beginning (or even as a declaration) of the Cold War, but it is again a cultural reference - Churchill (who at the time didn't officially represent any country or alliance) was merely providing his analysis of the already existing situation. Thus, it remains a cultural and historical label, like Roaring 20s.


Here's a partial de facto official answer, rather than a formal official answer. This seems allowable, since some nations prefer not to formally declare certain wars.

Declaration by wallet. Comparative international military/espionage/propaganda budgets devoted to cold war activities seem like a useful metric. Note that such a metric is worthless for evaluating any non-economic merits of such a war.

Provided stalemate is optimal, or nobody's trying too hard to actually win, or does accidentally win, this has the consequence of making mutualistic symbionts of those in the war's various national supply chains not directly harmed by it. Symbionts may be oblivious, or self-aware like Basil Zaharoff.

  • I don't see how the last paragraph is relevant to the question. But if you really want to keep it, then you might try to find a more applicable example. When the cold war started, Basil Zaharoff was long dead.
    – Philipp
    Aug 20, 2018 at 15:00
  • @Philipp, The Q. is about "recognizing a cold war", meaning Cold Wars in the general sense. Cold wars and war contractors exist throughout history, and hot or cold those contractors are usually the same people. Symbiosis seems important, since the symbionts collect and further process what's in the aggregate international wallet.
    – agc
    Aug 20, 2018 at 15:36
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    Stalemate is not the same as containment. The objective is always to win wars, whether cold or hot.
    – user9790
    Aug 20, 2018 at 16:50
  • @KDog, Main goals vary among participants and even change along the way. Bullet vendors might prefer remaining in business to victory, perhaps regarding their business as a war on some grander scale. A coward might prefer retreating or even treason to victory. A dutiful soldier might prefer various difficult alternatives to an easier dishonorable or unseemly victory. Tipsy officers might prefer the arms of some Mata Hari. Genocidal pacifiers might go native and marry. Fog of war...
    – agc
    Aug 20, 2018 at 18:07

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