Now, for the first time in world history, mankind had developed a weapon seemingly too terrible to be used, a weapon whose power deterred rather than encouraged war. In this new history, war would still come, but the major powers would not themselves directly exchange blows. They would conduct limited wars, devastating to the countries and people involved, but not global in reach or destruction.
The Cold War divided the world into thirds; the First World was comprised of western nations whose economies were capitalistic and whose governments tended to be democracies. The Second World was made up of Communist and Socialist countries, sometimes called the Eastern Bloc. The Third World largely was comprised of developing nations, non-aligned, and former colonies of European powers. It was in this Third World where East would meet West. A superpower of the First or Second world might face a Third World nation, as with the U.S. in Vietnam or the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan. Or Third World nations might war among each other, as Israel did with its Arab neighbors between 1948 and 1973, or as Pakistan clashed with India three times between 1947 and 1971, in each case contesting Cold War arguments.
In the age of atomic destruction, what was to be gained by the superpowers fighting one another as nearly happened in 1962 when the United States confronted the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba? Better to trigger civil wars in developing nations and support anti-communist “freedom fighters” as the U.S. did in Guatemala in the 1950s or communist movements as the Soviet Union did in Angola in the 1970s. Letting stand-ins fight was, ironically, the safest way to wage hot wars during the period of the Cold War.