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"Thus began the unprecedented stalemate. The Jedi reconnecting with their roots, the Republic nursing its wounds, the Sith consolidating their power in a galaxy divided between darkness and light."
Jedi Master Gnost-Dural, Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Cold War! Recycled in SPACE!

Considering it lasted about 45 years, the Cold War massively influenced speculative fiction and fantasy work during and after that period. Metaphors and analogies about nuclear weapons, superpower rivalry, communism, arms races, and the looming threat of the End of the World as We Know It, therefore, were bound to pop up in all sorts of fiction. Especially in Science Fiction.

Note that this is not entirely without rational foundation, however. A technology capable of interplanetary or, even moreso, interstellar travel necessarily involves energy levels and destructive possibilities on a grand scale. Mutually Assured Destruction is quite plausible in a war between space-faring powers, making scenarios at least akin to the Cold War not entirely unlikely. To avoid such destructive confrontations, the powers involved may resort to engaging in Proxy Wars instead.

Please note this entry is limited to exterior settings inspired by the Cold War and not stories that explicitly involve the actual Cold War.

Moreover, this trope, despite the name, is not limited to examples set in space — any fictional setting will do.

See also Enforced Cold War and Lensman Arms Race.

Subtrope of Fantasy Conflict Counterpart.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Princess Principal has a Steampunk Cold War. Albion, an alternate-universe Great Britain, has been divided by a revolution into the Kingdom in the east and the Commonwealth in the west. In a clear analogue to Cold War-era Berlin, the Great Wall separating the two nations runs through the royal capital of London, which has become the battleground of both nations' spies.
  • Rebuild World: The five major One Nation Under Copyright Mega Corps are involved in one of these with one another, sending various False Flag Operation attacks they mask as being done by terrorists, with compensation money often being paid between them behind closed doors. The reason it stays cold is because the corporate government is an Enemy Mine arrangement to keep safe from the Old World A.I.s and their monsters.
  • So I'm a Spider, So What? has this as a background element. Various races of gods exist who often clash over control of inhabited planets. At present the true dragons, demons, and angels are in the middle of a cold war as they're too closely matched for any to risk starting a hot war. The situation has been going long enough that the younger gods have never fought in actual battles.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe: The war between the Kree and the Skrulls, which had been going since the Kree first met the Skrulls, had turned into one of these... until the Skrulls found a backwater blue-green planet called Earth. Both races meet failure in trying to take Earth, which causes the war to start running hot again.
  • Long stretches of the "Great War" are described as this in The Transformers (IDW). Veterans mention centuries long armistice periods where both sides simply planned for battles that only lasted a few hours.
  • Judge Dredd:
    • The early years had an uneasy peace between Mega City One and the Sov Block. They have a "war" (actually a televised Blood Sport in which the winner is given territory) during the Luna-1 arc, but until the outbreak of The Apocalypse War, it's treated as a Cold War type scenario. Afterwards, it goes back to being that again, with Dredd sometimes teaming up with Sov judges though Day Of Chaos was a Sov plot.
    • What became Deadworld had its own version of the Apocalypse War. The Soviets decided to strike while their American enemy was undergoing their own civil war, instigated by the Dark Judges and their acolytes... but the Sovs didn't expect to invade in what was basically the middle of a Zombie Apocalypse. Their own capital is obliterated with a Fantastic Nuke that turns the entire city into a necropolis.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Fusion Fic Renegade, this is the state of affairs between the Citadel and the Global Defense Initiative. It's less antagonistic than most cold wars, but GDI and the Citadel are at serious odds due to GDI's outright refusal to adhere to Citadel laws regarding dreadnought production or AI tech. Not to mention GDI's attack on the Batarian Hegemony....
  • This state of affairs lasted for about two thousand years in the backstory of Game Theory. During the Dawn States era, none of the major powers ever committed their full forces against one another, for fear that another rival nation would take advantage of the opportunity. And then a Succession Crisis in the Belkan Empire escalated into civil war, which shattered the balance of power and led to the aptly named Warring States era.
  • This trope forms the backbone of Shepherd Of The Stars. Though both sides are technically allies, tensions between the Orion Arm and Council have been high for decades. As the story unfolds, the Cold War slowly starts thawing until both sides are prepared to attack the moment they have an excuse.
  • Sudden Contact: Per Blizzard Entertainment's fond use of Divided We Fall, it can be best described that it is almost everyone against everyone in the Post-Great War era. The main driving conflict is between the Turian Hierarchy/Salarian Union, and to a lesser degree, the Terran Dominion/Kel-Morian Combine, respectively.
    • The Batarian Hegemony is closely allied to the KMC and loathed by the Hierarchy, Union, and Dominion.
    • The Salarian Union see the Dominion and KMC as useful pawns in their soon-to-be war against the turians.
    • The Union and Dominion are supporting the Irune Ultranationalists, who they share a mutual grudge with against both the Hierarchy and KMC, respectively.
    • The Umojan Protectorate is technically allied with the Dominion, but their relationship is deteriorating once the truth of Tarsonis is revealed.
    • The Independent Terran Systems Alliance has major distaste for the Dominion and KMC, especially the latter for practicing piracy and slavery.

  • The first two Honor Harrington novels have a cold war going on between the Star Kingdom of Manticore, and the People's Republic of Haven, that has been ongoing for half a century before the first story starts (The war goes hot halfway through the third book). Several recent books concern about the Cold War between the Mantico-, ahem, Grand Alliance and Solarian League, which became hot rather quickly thanks to Mesan Alignment manipulating the League leadership behind the scenes and the League's bosses' own stupidity.
  • Embedded has a Cold War ongoing between the NATO-style United Status and the Warsaw Pact-style Central Bloc. It's mostly identical to the original Cold War, except that the two powers are more opposed politically instead of ideologically. Also, thanks to the vast room available on the hundreds of colony worlds, the two factions aren't brought into conflict very much.
  • The continent of Arkan in The Fallen World has been one big cold war for years. The Asarian Kingdom had invaded the Elkis Republic two generations ago and now they feud over the contested ownership of the desert that separates them. The Saphire Kingdom still holds it against Asarian for rebelling and splitting from them ages ago. On the other end of the continent, the Tark Hegemony is mad at Elkis' relatively recent attempts to invade their lands and sell weapons to Elkis' enemies while Elkis is upset over the land they lost during the failed invasions. A bit more hot are the raids the Far Reach runs Elkis' cities in retaliation for Elkis invading them 15 years prior. The discovery of a link dungeon between Asarian and Elkis threatens to ignite a war across the continent.
  • A significant portion of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes falls into this, as by beginning of the series the centuries long war between The Empire and the Alliance generally devolved into the Cold-War-with-occasional-skirmish mode and it took the rise of Reinhard and Wen-Li — the eponymous Heroes — to the top of their respective societies, for conflict to intensify again.
  • Urras in The Dispossessed is in the midst of a cold war intentionally reminiscent of the real one, with the players being the capitalist parliamentary republic A-Io and the socialist totalitarian regime Thu. When a war breaks out, they don't attack each other but rather help different sides of a conflict in the underdeveloped country of Benbilli, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Vietnam.
  • C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union has one with three factions: Sol(Earth)/Alliance/Union. All are capitalist, though it is noted that Union citizens mostly descend from eastern block.
  • In the Star Trek Novel 'Verse, the Typhon Pact vs the nations of the Khitomer Accords. Six previously antagonistic races, the Breen, Gorn, Tholians, Tzenkethi, Romulans and Kinshaya, formed new galactic superpower the Typhon Pact, which is a rival to the United Federation of Planets. The Federation responded by expanding their alliance with the Klingons to also include the Ferengi and the Cardassians, while also courting the Talarians. Now there are two large political blocs competing politically, economically, and technologically. They've even had their Cuban Missile Crisis in the novel Brinkmanship. Basically, the entire franchise is built around a Cold War.
  • Leonid Kudriavtsev's novel Agent of the Star Corps takes place during a ceasefire between two galactic power blocs: humans and their allies, and the vicious Radnits and their mercenaries. Interestingly, the brutal war preceding the ceasefire is specifically referred to as the Massacre. The only reason for the ceasefire is to rebuild and replenish the ranks before starting another Massacre. Meanwhile, both sides heavily engage in typical Cold War activities, such as espionage and subterfuge. The novel itself deals with Mikhail Brado, a Star Corps agent, who arrives to a planet in the Radnit sphere of influence (i.e. the planet's corrupt government is deep in the Radnits' pocket). Shortly after that, he finds his partner murdered in his hotel room and must flee, as a planet-wide manhunt is declared for him. Brado must use his training, as well as his contacts, sleeper agents, and drop sites on the planet in order to evade capture, discover why his partner was killed, and escape back to human space with his findings. Oh, and there's a Sniffer on his tail, who has an uncanny ability to see through any disguise and can also seemingly escape any deadly situation unharmed.
  • Sentou Yousei Yukikaze features a 30+ years long cold war between the United Nations' expeditionary force the Faery Air Force against the JAM. It was once a hot war when the JAM tried to invade Earth but has now settled into a cold war, complete with a Lensman Arms Race and a long stalemate. A huge plot twist in the novels (not the anime) was that the JAM never knew humans existed until very recently, which meant humanity was the proxy victim of a war that the JAM thought they were fighting against our computers and technology.
  • In Stephen Baxter's Proxima, China and the United Nations get into one at the turn of the 23rd century over the latter's refusal to grant the former access to kernal technology. It goes hot in 2213, and when China attempts to destroy the kernals altogether via Colony Drop the result is a Mercury-Shattering Kaboom and a sterilized Earth.
  • Explicitly played out in Poul Anderson's "Kings Who Die", in which a proxy war is being fought across the inner solar system between Western and Soviet space forces in order to prevent a larger-scale war on Earth itself.
  • An example with Sufficiently Advanced Aliens in the Animorphs series. Two essentially godlike beings, Ellimist and Crayak, have been locked in a struggle to respectively sustain life or destroy it since roughly the time of the dinosaurs, but if they ever actually fought one another directly they'd destroy each other and take the entire universe with them. This forces them to act through proxies in ways small enough to avoid the other's notice.
  • In The Expanse, both the book series and TV adaptation, it's shown right from the start that this has been the standard relationship between Earth (now unified under the United Nations) and Mars (an independent former colony). Both are struggling for influence over the resource-rich colonies in the Belt, and have a long-running distaste for each other. Things escalate and destabilize as the series goes on, due to such things as the Outer Planets Alliance trying to make the Belt colonies an independent power in their own right, several conspiracies by corporate powers, and most importantly, the discovery of a sentient alien technology.
  • Books two through six in the Kris Longknife series (which only cover a couple of years in-universe) have a cold war between two rival blocs of planets: United Sentients, led by Wardhaven (which is ruled by Kris's family: her father is Wardhaven's prime minister and her great-grandfather Ray is appointed king of the alliance at the end of book one), and the Greenfeld Alliance/Empire, ruled by the Peterwald family. Their dispute is primarily a family rivalry that goes back several decades, and takes the form of a series of Proxy Wars that tend to involve Kris wandering into a Greenfeld-backed coup attempt and foiling it. At the end of book six, Kris finds a way to bury the hatchet with Vicky Peterwald and foils an assassination attempt against her father Henry, leading to a low-level Enemy Civil War in Greenfeld space from a purge of their State Sec and a thaw between Greenfeld and U.S.
  • Jim Butcher's The Cinder Spires begins with a cold war between Spire Albion and Spire Aurora that is based roughly on various Age of Sail interbellum, mainly the Anglo-Spanish conflicts in the Caribbean (with touches of the Napoleonic Wars) but in a sky-sailing setting. Captain Grimm is a privateer for Albion when the war goes hot.
  • The protagonist of The Lost Fleet series was at ground-zero when one of these suddenly boiled over out of the blue, and a major sub-plot of the first five novels is finding out why.
  • A Fantastic Cold War rather than a Cold War IN SPACE!, but at least at the beginning of The Belgariad that High Fantasy world is very much in a state of Cold War: The kingdoms of The West are not actually at war with the Angarak kingdoms of the East. Western merchants openly travel in the East; Angarak merchants travel openly in the West. But there is definitely a great of hostility between the two blocs (those "merchants", from either side, may well be spies), with the Angarak kingdoms plotting to invade the West and Take Over the World, and the West (especially the Alorn kingdoms) preparing for a huge war with the East.
  • Good Omens is, essentially, a Christian Mythology Cold War. Heaven and Hell are portrayed as the cosmic equivelent of a global superpower, with supposedly totally opposed ideologies but in practice they aren't too different. The entirety of Earth is basically a third-world country that both superpowers are trying to control and use as a battleground for little Proxy War and eventually Armageddon, the real battle between the two sides when their Cold War starts heating up (and is supposed to start with the heating up of the real, Earthly, Cold War as well). The tropes of the Angel Unaware and the Devil in Disguise are reimagined as weary Cold-War spies, sent to promote the ideology of Heaven\Hell among the people of Earth by tempting them into evil or inspiring them to be good. Two of these agents, the Angel Aziraphale and the Demon Crowley, who ended up Going Native, and have grown very accostumed to the comforts of their jobs and to all of the wonderful things on Earth, and decide to go against their war-happy superiors to try and prevent Armageddon and the Earth's destruction in the war. Due to the Cold War Metaphor in this 1990 novel becoming almost instantly dated, later adaptations (such as the 2014 BBC Radio adaptaion or the 2019 Live-Action Adaptation) play down this metaphor compared to the book.
  • In Alien Secrets, the Nordics explain that the reason they can't directly act against the Saurians is because both races are too powerful, and with both also possessing Time Travel means that attacks wouldn't be only in one time period (especially since the Nordics aren't even from the 21st century, being humans from about 11,000 years from now). Presumably their relationship with The Greys is similar, especially since the Greys are also descended from humans, only about a million years from now (in a paradoxical twist, they're also partly responsible for humanity's evolution in the first place). The protagonist explicitly compares the Nordic-Saurian stand-off to the Cold War and explains to the Nordic woman he's talking to that the US and USSR waged proxy wars to avoid Mutually Assured Destruction. She agrees that the comparison is apt, which is why them using Solar Warden (the secret space fleet of the US) against the lackeys of the Saurians (escaped Nazis) is more acceptable and less likely to result in open war between the Nordics and the Saurians.
  • Space Academy: The Galactic Community is an alliance of various democratic species and their somewhat shady Security Divisions set against the the Notha Empire that is a totalitarian autocracy. Both sides possess SKAMMS, sun-destroying weapons, that prevent them from engaging in a total war.
  • Kurdlandia and Luzania in Wizja Lokalna are mostly using propaganda against each other, not weapons, but it feels rather precarious. The third major country on the planet, Kliwia, has been destroyed by Luzanians already. Probably by accident.
  • Reds!: A Revolutionary Timeline features a Cold War between the communist bloc, of which the Union of American Socialist Republics is the most powerful member, and the capitalist bloc led by the Franco-British Union. It is still ongoing by in-universe present day.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Battlestar Galactica (1978) this is the situation on Terra and its colonies. In "Experiment in Terra" the Eastern Empire attempts to go hot, but all their ICBMs are shot down by the Galactica.
  • Multiple cases in the Stargate-verse:
    • The Asgard and the Goa'uld prior to Stargate SG-1, whose relations are governed by the Protected Planets Treaty. This treaty forbids Goa'uld invasion of certain worlds, and requires that the Goa'uld as a whole stop any rogue Goa'uld from doing so, but simultaneously acknowledges that humans exist to be hosts for the Goa'uld, and thusly are to have limited technology so as to never pose a threat to the System Lords. When Jack O'Neill questions why the Asgard stand for such a thing, and why they even allowed the Goa'uld to gain such power in the first place, Thor explains that the treaty is actually a complete bluff. The Asgard are so occupied fighting the war with the Replicators that they do not have the resources to actively combat the Goa'uld, forcing them to accept this "peace."
    • The planet Langara prior to "Homecoming" was engaged in a cold war between the three dominant superpowers. When two of those superpowers ally in "Shadow Play," the third, Kelowna, launches a preemptive strike with a naquadria bomb. This terrifies all combatants enough to prevent further hostilities until Anubis arrives in "Homecoming" and renders their internal conflicts moot.
    • In "Icon", the cold war on Tegalus between the Rand Protectorate and Caledonian Federation is disrupted by SG-1's arrival, which allows a religious extremist faction to rise up in Rand, eventually overthrowing the government and starting a war which reduces most of the continent to rubble. The SGC helps the Rand loyalists regain control, but the international tensions remain into season nine's "Ethon", when the Ori give the Rands a Kill Sat. The two sides ultimately wipe each other out.
    • The Stargate Atlantis episode "The Game" centers around what the SGC contingent at Atlantis thinks is a computer game left by the Ancients. In reality, they're controlling actual countries on M4D-058 (it was an Ancient sociology experiment), and have created a cold war that's on the brink of going hot.
    • This is set up in Stargate Universe as a background plot. With the power vacuum following the collapse of the Goa'uld Empire and the devastation caused by the Ori, Earth and its allies finds itself vying for power with the Lucian Alliance, an interstellar criminal syndicate. Several Universe episodes show that the Lucian Alliance is becoming a serious opponent, with post-Goa'uld humans advancing just as rapidly as the Tau'ri (the pilot has two Lucian Alliance Ha'taks proving themselves to be a challenge to the latest Tau'ri battlecruiser) and using infiltration and subterfuge to undermine Earth. Also, Earth is fighting with one hand tied behind its back, since the vast majority of the population has no idea that aliens are even real.
    • In the post-Atlantis novel Homecoming, it's stated that Earth currently only has 4 functional starships: Daedalus, Odyssey, Apollo, and George Hammond (formerly Phoenix). With the Korolev destroyed by the Ori and the Sun Tzu out of commission for the foreseeable future thanks to the Super-Hive, the Tau'ri are seriously lacking in available ships, and no new hulls have been laid down due to the global economic crisis. By contrast, the Alliance has plenty of old Goa'uld warships to refit and use for their own purposes.
  • The basic concept has featured in Star Trek between the Federation and multiple alien races at different times:
    • The Klingons in Star Trek: The Original Series were outright metaphors for Soviet expansionism. The Federation was the idealistic, peaceful Western (read: American) society. The Klingons took up the loud, arrogant, warrior stereotype of the Russians, while particularly in Star Trek: The Next Generation the Romulans assumed the sinister, backstabbing, espionage/sabotage-laden stereotype of the Soviet Union, especially the Tal Shiar, which was the KGB in disguise. In an extremely apropos metaphor, the Klingons and Romulans switched from being allied to at war to being allies again at the drop of a hat. The Romulans also have their similarities to the Chinese, the secretive and testy on-and-off allies of Soviet Russia, and their relationship with the Vulcans - same species that broke into two factions - mirroring the state of Asian countries divided between communist and capitalist halves - mainland China and Taiwan, North and South Korea, North and South Vietnam, etc. An interesting quirk is that while the Federation spent most of TOS in a Space Cold War with both the Klingons and Romulans, their respective introductory episodes handle it radically different — the Klingons have an already-in-place Cold War with the Federation turn hot at the beginning of the episode only for an outside force to enforce a return to non-open conflict at the end of the episode, while the Romulans in their episode had spent a century in isolation after a hot war with Earth and start off a new conflict with weapons tests on Earth outposts, setting off a cold war when the weapons tests were less decisive than hoped for.
    • By the time ''The Next Generation'' rolled around, the Federation and Klingons were officially allies (how close varied) and both factions were in a cold war with the Romulans. The Romulans and Klingons also hated each other. An actual war was also mentioned to have recently been fought (offscreen) between the Federation and the Cardassians, with the current status some mixture of peace and a cold war. This state of affairs would continue until the next show, see below.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine opened in the middle of a cold war between the Federation and the Cardassian Union that started with the Cardassians acting covertly to subvert the peace treaty between them, arming proxies on Bajor and in the Demilitarized Zone. Beginning in season two this was overshadowed by the Dominion engaging in an intelligence war with the Federation in preparation to invade, which ultimately took the form of them installing a puppet state in Cardassia as a foothold to conquer the rest of the franchise's home space. That war officially turned hot in the Season 5 Finale.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise featured a Time Travel cold war called the Temporal Cold War. Interestingly, the incipient Federation played the part of the Third World in this conflict, being used as a pawn between two secretive factions who were neither of them the nice guys, even if one was the "good" guys. There were at least four factions in this war: The Federation, represented by "Daniels"; An anti-Federation faction represented by "Future Guy" that acted primarily through the Suliban, Future Guy's identity and species was never revealed, but some believe he was Romulan; the Sphere-Builders, who manipulated the Xindi into attacking Earth, and the Na'kuhl (a brand new species) lead by Vosk, apparently opposed to everyone. Future Guy was also opposed to the Sphere-Builders and Vosk's factions, and helped the Enterprise crew fight them. This cold war eventually turned hot in the end of Season 3/beginning of Season 4, leading to a deeply messed up timeline on Earth (and presumably elsewhere). The crew eventually killed Vosk, ending his threat and apparently allowing the Temporal War to end (or maybe never happen in the first place...)
      • The Sphere-Builders at least were given a very clear reason for their participation in this war. At some future date (possibly the 26th Century) they invaded the galaxy from their "trans-dimensional realm" (read: alternate universe) but were defeated by the Federation. Having lost the conventional war, they joined the Temporal Cold War to try to prevent the Federation from ever forming which would ensure their eventual victory.
    • Enterprise also featured a more traditional space cold war between the Andorians and Vulcans. The Enterprise was occasionally called in as intermediary between the two species, setting up a Humans Are Diplomats theme the series had.
  • The Doctor Who stories "The Armageddon Factor", "Timelash" and "Frontier in Space." This last one in which a third partynote  is provoking a (second) war between the humans and their enemies, the Draconians.
  • Farscape is set against the backdrop of rapidly rising tensions between the Peacekeepers and the Scarran Empire. There's even a superweapon arms race analogue of sorts in the form of wormhole technology, which both sides are eager to acquire and only one man in the galaxy knows the secrets of. The war finally turns hot in the miniseries.
    • The reason the war turns hot is because Scorpius, who has been place in command of a border fleet, assumes the hostilities will start any day now, and decides to strike first and deal a decisive blow to the Scarrans. The Grand Chancellor is, naturally, angry, as he doesn't believe that the Peacekeepers can win the war. Scorpius is, effectively, General Ripper in this regard, similar to rogue generals in many Cold War-era novels.
      • Interestingly, his tactics actually do nearly win the battle. The only reason the battle is lost is because Scorpius orders his command ship to retreat when he finds where Crichton is and the rest of the fleet to cover them. As a result, only his ship makes it out.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The early seasons have an ongoing cold war between the declining Centauri Republic and the aggressively expanding Narn Regime, owing largely to their shared history (the Centauri previously enslaved the Narn, before being forced off by a rebellion). Though it began with the Centauri being the more sympathetic party, by the time it turns into a shooting war in the second season, revelations have turned it into a case of Gray-and-Gray Morality.
    • The major driving cold war in the series is the Vorlons and the Shadows, who seem to have an agreement to fight the war primarily through proxies amongst the younger races. Sheridan forces the Vorlons to turn it into a hot one... and then both sides start to blow up planets, which forges an alliance among the younger races and other Precursors that ends with them forcing both Vorlons and Shadows to leave the galaxy.
    • After Babylon 5 secures its independence from EarthGov following the extremely unconstitutional and fascist actions taken by President Clark, they essentially go into a cold war period that lasts for the next season. Sheridan and his forces are busy dealing with the Shadows and Clark is trying to further secure his power base on Earth. Once the Shadow War ends, this turns into a propaganda war. The cold war ends when Clark commits his worst atrocity, having his ships fire on refugee transports resulting in the murders of 10,000 innocent civilians, enraging Sheridan into beginning full armed conflict.
    • The backstory has the centuries-long cold war between the Centauri Republic and the Orieni Empire, at the time the major powers among the Younger Races after the Minbari- and with the latter already isolationists, the only real obstacle to complete control of local space. The Centauri were fine with the state of being, as while their technology was slightly inferior in most areas it was improving faster than the Orieni's and they also had more territory and the greater economy (both of which fed into the faster technological improvement), so they expected to eventually become strong enough to be able to quickly overrun the Orieni... Then, right as the Centauri were about to develop Artificial Gravity (the biggest advantage the Orieni had over them), they realized the Orieni were equipping Drazi raiders with advanced weapons by catching them in the act, causing a conflict so devastating entire worlds were razed as collateral damage before the Orieni power was shattered, with the victorious Centauri starting their path to decline due the devastating losses suffered and the conflict paving the way to a civil war.
  • The Man in the High Castle: Between Germany and the Japanese Empire in this alternate universe, as they are the two victorious superpowers of World War II who both possess nuclear weapons that could destroy the whole world. They are officially still allies but are wary of the other's intentions. It is predicted by high-ranking members of both governments that when the terminally ill Adolf Hitler dies, it will escalate into full-blown warfare. Throughout season 1 a faction within the German government led by Reinhard Heydrich tries to usurp power from Hitler and launch a nuclear war against Japan, but this plot is eliminated at the last second.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Phobos Rising", the two major political blocs of Earth and Mars, the Eastern Coalition and the Free Alliance, have been in a state of cold war for 30 years. The situation escalates into a nuclear war in the series' penultimate episode "The Human Factor", which takes place in 2084, and the storyline continues in the Series Finale "Human Trials".
  • The Expanse: The series starts with a cold war between Earth and the smaller, but more technologically advanced, Martian forces. The "third world" asteroid belt is exploited and oppressed by both factions, but the balance of power shifts more evenly when all three obtain the protomolecule.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Traveller the Imperium is in a cold war-like state with the Zhodani on the Spinward Frontier, and the Solimani Confederation on the Rimward.
  • Five way in Eclipse Phase between the Planetary Consortium, Autonomist Alliance, Jovian Republic, Lunar-Lagrange Alliance, and Morningstar Constellation. The main impediment to open warfare being the expense of physical space travel, or lack of excuses for war in the Consortium and Constellation's casenote 
    • Also note that the Consortium is a Corporatocracy while the Autonomists are a mix of anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-communists, democratic communists, and interplanetary gypsies.
  • This is the basic relationship between the Imperium of Man and the Tau Empire in Warhammer 40,000. In the mid-8th Century M41 the tau demonstrated during the Damocles Gulf Crusade that man for man, they're at least as competent at warfare as the Imperium. In the long run, due to its sheer size the Imperium would win a campaign to wipe out the Tau, but it would require committing more forces than are present in the Damocles Gulf, which would mean stripping other regions of the galaxy of Imperial military resources, and there is too great a risk other threats to the Imperium would use that to gain a foothold. Conversely, the Tau recognise that if they provoke the Imperium too much, the humans may decide the benefits of exterminating them outweigh the costs. So for the past 250 years or so the two empires have only fought what amounts to a series of border skirmishes (one planet was reported in the Ciaphas Cain novel series to have changed hands seven times before the tyranids ate it), and both sides are also pragmatic enough to ally in the face of mutual enemies such as the necrons and tyranids.
  • This describes the overall relationship between The Empire and Bretonnia in Warhammer. Diplomacy between the two human nations has warmed and cooled over the ages, and the two have come into conflict several times, but both sides admit to themselves they could never fully conquer the other. The Empire nominally has a technological and manpower advantage, but a single pass threads the mountains that separate the two that would funnel their forces into a meatgrinder and some use of Exact Words means the Bretonnian navy is enough to heavily attrition any seaborne invasion. Victory would be inevitable, but plunge the Empire into an economic crater it would never survive. Bretonnia understands that even if it could best the Empire militarily, they would be inheriting a country where the common man is used to many rights that would be removed from them (i.e. any at all) and well-educated enough to organize a resistance to the occupation, undoing any establishment as soon as it was made. In the end, they tolerate the massive ideological divide (even when they publicly claim otherwise) and both sides are also pragmatic enough to ally in the face of mutual enemies such as Chaos or greenskins.

    Video Games 
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The setting for the game, is a cold war that was established, when, after invading The Republic for decades, the Sith Empire sacks their capital, and forces them to sign a peace treaty. The Sith Empire was winning the war but the Republic counteroffensive was costly and the Empire needed to rebuild before continuing the war. The treaty, which gives the empire a bunch of strategically insignificant worlds, gave both the Empire and the Republic time to rebuild their forces and invent new weapons for the next war. The Emperor disappeared soon after it was signed. This cold war brings the idea of an arms race to it's logical conclusion: planet destroying weapons, besides the usual proxy conflicts and special forces operations. Both sides are positively chopping at the bit for the war to go hot again, and the facade of peace breaks down over the three acts of each of the game's eight class story-lines.
    • Interestingly, the novel Deceived reveals that the original goal was to destroy Coruscant with orbital bombardment, as there was no way for the Empire to hold it before the Republic took it back. The peace talks were originally just a distraction. However, at some point, the Emperor inexplicably decides to sue for a ceasefire, using Coruscant as a bargaining chip. Naturally, not all Sith are happy with this outcome.
    • Turns out, the whole idea was Invoked by said Emperor. He wanted the whole galaxy wiped out, except for him, so that he could rebuild it all to his liking. What better way than to force the two biggest superpowers into a ceaseless, galaxy-spanning war of attrition where a body count in the trillions is all but guaranteed? Oh, and he embezzled the war spoils of The Empire to his "side project" Eternal Empire in Wild Space that was unknown to everyone until both factions were weak enough for him to bust out said side project and crush them both.
  • X3: Terran Conflict has a cold war between the Earth State ('Terrans') and their 700 year old Lost Colony, the Argon Federation. The Terrans are paranoid that the Argon are dabbling in artificial general intelligence research, and the Argon fear the Terrans' extremely advanced technology. Terran Conflict's main plot follows some of the events that set off the war that takes place in the expansion pack, Albion Prelude, when the Argon blow up the jewel of the Solar System, Earth's Torus Aeternal and sic artificially intelligent fighters on Earth's fleet. This war ends up being a "Shaggy Dog" Story: as the Argon push the Terrans back to the inner planets, the Ancients shut the whole jumpgate network down and trap everyone in the entire X-Universe where they are.
  • Played with in Battle Zone 1998, set in the late 1960s of a different history of The Space Race. On Earth, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union are as they always have been: tense. However in space, a secret war is raging between the Nation Space Defense Force and the Cosmo Colonist Army over control of the alien Biometal that allows incredibly powerful technology (such as Hover Tanks) to be constructed in seconds. The Apollo moonshot missions were merely a cover-up for the US to begin shipping soldiers to the Moon; Apollo 11 is within walking distance of a massive military base on the other side of a hill.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series: This is a possible interpretation of the relationship between GDI and Nod between games. It's not a straight example since both sides are still Earthbound, but it fits if you interpret the trope broadly as "fictional cold war".
  • Escape Velocity:
    • Despite being a declared war, the fighting between the Federation and the Auroran Empire in Nova has devolved to this, with frequent border skirmishes. Reason being, the last time the war went full-scale, both sides struck far behind the lines and millions of innocents died, forcing the combatants to devote the bulk of their forces to Home Guard duty. Every main storyline but the Pirate onenote  leads to the end of the cold war, one way or the other — although it isn't represented in-game.
    • Override has a similar situation approached from the opposite side — there actually is a peace treaty between the United Earth and the Voinian Empire, but outside Pax Station (literally outside — the system sees regular skirmishes), no-one seems to actually care about it (in fact, if it wasn't for Pax Station it wouldn't even be known there was a peace treaty, since the reasons given on both sides for not making major offensives are all practical). The Voinian storyline ends with the Voinians thinking they have a project they're sure will bring humanity to its knees but won't involve a human in, while the United Earth storyline has the player act as the catalyst for a broader anti-Voinian alliance that helps the UE push the frontier closer to Voinia (Word of God made clear that Override's mutually exclusive storylines all happened, just not with the same human pilot involved in all of them, and that the Voinian war-winner project was the Voinian Dreadnaught — of which you blew up the first one before it even reaches UE space earlier in the UE storyline, buying time to think up counters).
  • The sequels to Elite (the Frontier series and Elite: Dangerous) feature a cold war between the democratic Federation (centered around the Solar system) and the absolutist Duval Empire (centered around Achernar). They do not battle each other directly with huge starfleets (this is a cold war, after all), but you can sign up for an espionage or sabotage mission for either, or both, as a deniable asset. You'll be awarded with money, ranks, titles and military decorations.
  • Tactics Ogre: This is happening between Lodis and Xenobia, complete with using Valeria (itself resembling Yugoslavia after the death of Josip Broz Tito) as a proxy battleground.
  • Final Fantasy XII: Rozarria = NATO, Archadia = Warsaw Pact, Nethicite = Nuclear Weapons, Dalmasca = any country that got a proxy war in it such as Korea and Vietnam. This game could even be viewed as what would happen if during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba was researching ancient magic that would let them mass-produce even more nuclear weapons. All in all, this is why so much of the plot of the game is about politics and faction leaders while your party tries to get an edge in on the coming conflict — Rozarria and Archadia both don't trust the other to back down and don't want to do so themselves for fear of appearing weak, and while Archadia's nethicite research is allowing them to acquire more and more power, Rozarria is itching to seize the chance to make the first move before Archadia can. This is why the game's climax centers around stopping the battle between Archadia and the Resistance, because it's the chance Rozarria has been waiting for and if they get involved the dreaded world war will begin. This game's plot was written by the same guy who wrote Tactics Ogre.
  • Mass Effect:
    • This is essentially the relationship that has developed between the Systems Alliance and the Batarian Hegemony. The Hegemony completely withdrew from Citadel controlled space, due to the perceived slight that the Citadel Council were playing favourites and giving Humanity worlds and systems to colonise that rightfully belonged to the Batarians. The only thing that has prevented the conflict from breaking out into interstellar war is that the Batarians are painfully aware that even if the Council races didn't get involved, the Alliance has them far outgunned.
    • This was the initial relationship between the Turian Hierarchy and the Systems Alliance, due to the brief First Contact War leaving a lasting enmity between the two superpowers. By the start of the first game, this has lessened into more of an Enemy Mine situation, where the two are reluctantly willing to work together, before evolving into Fire-Forged Friends over the course of the second and third game.
  • In Xenogears, Shevat and Solaris have officially been at war for centuries, but they are locked in a Cold War-like status quo because both use the superior "gate" defensive technology that prevent any side from dealing significant damage to the other.
  • The real conflict in Perfect Dark is not between the Carrington Institute and dataDyne, but rather the Maians and the Skedar. Earth itself is considered a backwater, and the only reason the Skedar have even bothered to take an interest in Earth is because they're losing the war against the Maians but have learned about the existence of a Lost Superweapon under the ocean that was left behind by a third alien race who are long gone by now. To compound matters, humanity isn't considered a player in this war; the Skedar plan to activate the weapon on Earth just to test it, and if successful, then they'll deploy it against the Maians.
  • There's a Cold War going on in the background of Wind Child Black, between the Tceitchkan Imperium and the Kingdom of Thibasene. It's been going on for decades, and there are occasional border skirmishes and spy deployments, but nothing overly violent. one of the antagonists wants to turn the Cold War hot so he can take over the Imperium.
  • Arguably the situation of World of Warcraft, both The Alliance and the Horde are continent-spanning superpowers, never completely at ease with eachother due to a long history of grievances. Word of God even refers to it as a Cold War.
    • The war begins to heat up when the discovery of a new Unobtainium, Azeritenote , leads to a general arms race and the conquest of third-world countries that are either Azerite deposits or key positions for the upcoming war.
  • Part of the universal, pre-route-split backstory of Fire Emblem Fates. Hoshido and Nohr had always struggled with tense relations, but Hoshido's king being murdered brought things to a cold war, kept there only by each side having a royal of the other held hostage. The prelude of the game breaks the balance, and the Big First Choice happens just as the war turns hot.
  • Cold War is a possible conflict situation in Sword of the Stars. Empires at cold war cannot enter each others' territory without declaring full scale war (with the accompanying diplomatic ramifications), but fleets meeting in neutral territory will result in a firefight.
  • Declaring Rivals in Stellaris is essentially this. Declaring a rivalry gives you a bonus to influence, which is essential in extending your borders, be it through colonizing unclaimed systems or making claims on systems controlled by other empires. Notably, your rival doesn't have to reciprocate, which can lead to a situation where your ships in Rival Territory could still move about until said rival responds by declaring you a rival (or at the least, closing borders).
    • Even without declared rivalries, your situation with other empires is likely to devolve into this. Typically, the galaxy will become split into two or three major ideologically guided coalitions that are constantly declaring war on each other or subverting each other, but not enough to radically change the status quo.
    • Promotional material also suggests that the two resident Human empires exist in this state. The United Nations of Earth, a peaceful, xenophilic, democratic society, is at odds with the warlike, authoritarian, xenophobic Commonwealth of Man.
  • The Empire of Mor Ardain and the Kingdom of Uraya have been in a tense standoff for years as of the start of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. There's a DMZ called Temperatia between the two, and with Indol controlling Blade distribution, they're helping prevent the the situation boiling over. Not even the "pro-war" faction of Mor Ardain actually want a conflict, since the Ardanians are being aggressive due to a resource crisis and armed victory would be Pyrrhic at best, but Torna have other ideas...
  • Sunless Skies: Post-Winchester War, the colonial assembly (or Tacketies) and the Windward Company representing London (or Stovepipes) are in one of these, an extremely uneasy truce with power swinging one way or the other and plenty of cloak and dagger actions. And the occasional skirmish whenever Tackety and Stovepipe vessels find each other; New Winchester is often alight with the sound of their locomotives' armaments whenever you come dock.
  • In Dragon Wars, peace was maintained in the land of Dilmun through the use of dragons — each city possessed one of the beasts nesting within its walls. If a threat proved terrible enough that the city was on the verge of being conquered, they were willing to release the beast, knowing full well that it would likely destroy them as well during the ensuing rampage... but so would the invaders.
  • There exist various Hearts of Iron mods that move the setting up from World War II to the Cold War period. While some are straightforward "East vs. West" games based on the real Cold War, others go in an Alternate History direction that pulls them into this trope.
    • The New Order: Last Days of Europe and Thousand-Week Reich are two total conversion mods for Hearts of Iron IV set in a Cold War waged between the United States and... Nazi Germany, in a world where they won World War II and took over most of Europe. Thousand-Week Reich hews more closely to realism, with a strong dose of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome for the Nazis as their Plot Armor wears off in the postwar era and all the faults of their dysfunctional system come down on their head. By the end of the '50s, China (run by the Kuomintang and avoiding the worst excesses of Maoism even if it's still a corrupt dictatorship) also emerges as a great power, with headlines explicitly talking about an emerging Sino-American Cold War as Germany fades into irrelevance. The New Order, meanwhile, goes for the pulp and dystopia, including having Imperial Japan (whose survival in World War II was even less likely than Germany's in real life) as the third superpower in its Cold War, having both Germany and Japan able to reform into democracies (or just go From Bad to Worse), and having the US be able to fall into either fascist or communist tyranny.
    • Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg starts out with its own alternate history version of World War II (in a world where Imperial Germany won the Weltkrieg, the rematch pits them against a syndicalist Britain and France to the west and a revanchist Russia to the east), and two mods exist that take this scenario into the postwar era. In Kalterkrieg: Shadow of the Weltkrieg, the Third International was defeated and the Second American Civil War ended in a ceasefire, leading to a multipolar Cold War between Germany, the Entente Cordiale (the restored UK, Canada, and South France), Russia, and Japan while the various nations in the former United States all line up behind different power blocs. In Krasnacht: Twilight of the Gods, meanwhile, Germany was defeated in the west by the Third International and in the east by an ultra-nationalist Russian regime, the two sides now locked in a Cold War with the politics reversed from our own history, the West (including an America where the syndicalists won the Civil War) being leftist and the East being right-wing.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Fictional Cold War, Fantastic Cold War


In Space All are Cold Warriors

Hopes for peace between the Klingons and Federation requires getting past decades of hostility.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / SpaceColdWar

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