Origins of the Cold War

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Part of a series on the
History of the Cold War

Origins of the Cold War
World War II
(Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
War conferences
Eastern Bloc
Western Bloc
Iron Curtain
Cold War (1947–1953)
Cold War (1953–1962)
Cold War (1962–1979)
Cold War (1979–1985)
Cold War (1985–1991)
Frozen conflicts
Timeline · Conflicts
Cold War II

The origins of the Cold War involved the breakdown of relations between the Soviet Union versus the United States, Great Britain and their allies in the years 1945–1949.

The origins derive from diplomatic (and occasional military) confrontations stretching back decades, followed by the issue of political boundaries in Central Europe and non-democratic control of the East by the Soviet Army. In the 1940s came economic issues (especially the Marshall Plan) and then the first major military confrontation, with a threat of a hot war, in the Berlin Blockade of 1948–1949. By 1949, the lines were sharply drawn and the Cold War was largely in place in Europe.[1] Outside Europe, the starting points vary, but the conflict centered on the US' development of an informal empire in southeast Asia in the mid-1940s.[2]

Events preceding World War II and even the Russian Revolution of 1917, underlay older tensions between the Soviet Union, European countries and the United States. A series of events during and after World War II exacerbated tensions, including the Anglo-Americans repeated postponement of an amphibious invasion of German-occupied Europe, disagreement about Eastern European democracy made in wartime conferences and the Kremlin's control of an Eastern Bloc of Soviet satellite states.

19th century precursorsEdit

Conflicts such as The Great Game between the Russian and British empires over control of present-day Afghanistan, and the Crimean War between Russia and Britain over Crimea helped set the stage for animosity between Russia and the Anglosaxon countries.

Russian RevolutionEdit

In World War I, the British, French and Russian Empires had comprised the Allied Powers from the start, and the US joined them in March 1917. The Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November 1917 but German armies advanced rapidly across the borderlands. The Allies responded with an economic blockade against all of Russia.[3] In early March 1918, the Soviets followed through on the wave of popular disgust against the war and accepted harsh German peace terms with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the eyes of some Allies, Russia now was helping Germany win the war by freeing up a million German soldiers for the Western Front[4] and by "relinquishing much of Russia's food supply, industrial base, fuel supplies, and communications with Western Europe."[5][6] According to historian Spencer Tucker, the Allies felt, "The treaty was the ultimate betrayal of the Allied cause and sowed the seeds for the Cold War. With Brest-Litovsk the spectre of German domination in Eastern Europe threatened to become reality, and the Allies now began to think seriously about military intervention," and proceeded to step up their "economic warfare" against the Bolsheviks.[7] Some Bolsheviks saw Russia as only the first step, planning to incite revolutions against capitalism in every western country, but the need for peace with Germany led Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin away from this position.[8]

In 1918 Britain sent in money and some troops to support the anti-Bolshevik "White" counter-revolutionaries. This policy was spearheaded by Minister of War Winston Churchill, a committed anti-communist.[9] France, Japan and the United States also sent forces to help decide the Russian Civil War in the Whites favor. Lenin made peace overtures to Wilson, and the American leader responded by sending diplomat William Bullitt to Moscow. The Allies ultimately rejected the ceasefire terms which Bullitt negotiated, believing that a White victory was imminent. [10][11]

However, the Bolsheviks, operating a unified command from a central location, defeated all the opposition one by one and took full control of Russia, as well as breakaway provinces such as Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.[citation needed] Bainbridge Colby, the American Secretary of State, in 1920 announced an American policy of refusing to deal with the new regime.[12]

Soviet Russia found itself isolated in international diplomacy.[13] Dictator Vladimir Lenin stated that the Soviet Union was surrounded by a "hostile capitalist encirclement" and he viewed diplomacy as a weapon to keep Soviet enemies divided, beginning with the establishment of the Soviet Comintern, which called for revolutionary upheavals abroad.[14] Communist revolutions failed in Germany, Bavaria, and Hungary, as the US poured billions of dollars of food relief into eastern Europe expressly to curb unrest.[15]

Interwar diplomacy (1918–1939)Edit

Differences in the political and economic systems of Western democracies and the Soviet Union—dictatorship by one party versus pluralistic competition among parties, mass arrests and execution of dissidents versus free press and independent courts, state ownership of all farms and businesses versus capitalism, economic autarky versus free trade, state planning versus private enterprise—became simplified and refined in national ideologies to represent two ways of life. Following the postwar Red Scare, many in the U.S. saw the Soviet system as a threat.

In 1933 the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially recognized the Soviet Union. The long delay was caused by Moscow's repudiation of Tsarist-era debts, the undemocratic nature of the Soviet government, and its threats to overthrow capitalism using local Communist Parties. By 1933 these issues had faded and the opportunity for greater trade appealed to Washington.[16]

Start of World War II (1939–1941)Edit

Soviet and German military and political advances in Central and eastern Europe 1939–1940

Moscow was angry with Western appeasement of Adolf Hitler after the signing of the Munich Pact in 1938 which gave Germany partial control of Czechoslovakia after conference in which the Soviet Union was not invited.

In 1939 after conducting negotiations with both the British and French group and Germany regarding potential military and political agreements,[17] the Soviet Union and Germany signed a Commercial Agreement providing for the trade of certain German military and civilian equipment in exchange for Soviet raw materials[18][19] and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, commonly named after the foreign secretaries of the two countries (Molotov–Ribbentrop), which included a secret agreement to split Poland and Eastern Europe between the two states.[20][21]

Wartime alliance (1941–1945)Edit

U.S. government poster showing a friendly Russian soldier as portrayed by the Allies of World War II

On June 22, 1941, Germany broke the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union through the territories that the two countries had previously divided.[22] Stalin switched his cooperation from Hitler to Churchill. Britain and the Soviets signed a formal alliance, but the U.S. did not join until after the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Immediately, there was disagreement between Britain's ally Poland and the Soviet Union. The British and Poles strongly suspected that when Stalin was cooperating with Hitler, he ordered the execution of about 22,000 Polish officer POWs, at what was later to become known as the Katyn massacre. Still, the Soviets and the Western Allies were forced to cooperate, despite their tensions. The U.S. shipped vast quantities of Lend-Lease material to the Soviets.

During the war, both sides disagreed on military strategy, especially the question of the opening of a second front against Germany in Western Europe. As early as July 1941, Stalin asked Britain to invade northern France, but Britain was in no position to carry out such a request.[23] Stalin had also requested that the Western Allies open a second front from the early months of the war—which finally occurred on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The US and Britain initially indicated that they would open the second front in 1942, and then in 1943, but it was postponed both times.[24]

Throughout World War II, the Soviet NKVD's mole Kim Philby had access to high-importance British MI6 intelligence, and passed it to the Soviets.. He was able to alert the NKVD about all British intelligence on the Soviets–including what the American OSS had shared with the British about the Soviets.

The Soviets believed at the time, and charged throughout the Cold War, that the British and Americans intentionally delayed the opening of a second front against Germany in order to intervene only at the last minute so as to influence the peace settlement and dominate Europe. Historians such as John Lewis Gaddis dispute this claim, citing other military and strategic calculations for the timing of the Normandy invasion.[25] In the meantime, the Russians suffered heavy casualties, with as many as twenty million dead. Nevertheless, Soviet perceptions (or misconceptions) of the West and vice versa left a strong undercurrent of tension and hostility between the Allied powers.[26]

In turn, in 1944, the Soviets appeared to the Allies to have deliberately delayed the relief of the Polish underground's Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. The Soviets did not supply the Uprising from the air, and for a significant time also refused to allow British and American air drops. On at least one occasion, a Soviet fighter shot down an RAF plane supplying the Polish insurgents in Warsaw. George Orwell was moved to make a public warning about Soviet postwar intentions. A 'secret war' also took place between the British SOE-backed AK and Soviet NKVD-backed partisans. British-trained Polish special forces agent Maciej Kalenkiewicz was killed by the Soviets at this time. The British and Soviets sponsored competing factions of resistance fighters in Yugoslavia and Greece, although both ceased after Churchill and Stalin made the Percentages Agreement.

Both sides, moreover, held very dissimilar ideas regarding the establishment and maintenance of post-war security. The Americans tended to understand security in situational terms, assuming that, if US-style governments and markets were established as widely as possible, countries could resolve their differences peacefully, through international organizations.[27] The key to the US vision of security was a post-war world shaped according to the principles laid out in the 1941 Atlantic Charter—in other words, a liberal international system based on free trade and open markets. This vision would require a rebuilt capitalist Europe, with a healthy Germany at its center, to serve once more as a hub in global affairs.[28]

This would also require US economic and political leadership of the postwar world. Europe needed the USA's assistance if it was to rebuild its domestic production and finance its international trade. The USA was the only world power not economically devastated by the fighting. By the end of the war, it was producing around fifty percent of the world's industrial goods.[28]

Soviet leaders, however, tended to understand security in terms of space.[29] This reasoning was conditioned by Russia's historical experiences, given the frequency with which the country had been invaded over the preceding 150 years.[30] The Second World War experience was particularly dramatic for the Russians: the Soviet Union suffered unprecedented devastation as a result of the Nazi onslaught, and over 20 million Soviet citizens died during the war; tens of thousands of Soviet cities, towns, and villages were leveled; and 30,100 Soviet factories were destroyed.[31] In order to prevent a similar assault in the future, Stalin was determined to use the Red Army to gain control of Poland, to dominate the Balkans and to destroy utterly Germany's capacity to engage in another war. The problem was that Stalin's strategy risked confrontation with the equally powerful United States, who viewed Stalin's actions as a flagrant violation of the Yalta agreement.

At the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945, the Soviets insisted on occupying the Danish island of Bornholm, due to its strategic position at the entrance to the Baltic. When the local German commander insisted on surrendering to the Western Allies, as did German forces in the rest of Denmark, the Soviets bombed the island, causing heavy casualties and damage among a civilian population which was only lightly touched throughout the war, and then invaded the island and occupied it until mid-1946 - all of which can be considered as initial moves in the Cold War.

Even before the war came to an end, it seemed highly likely that cooperation between the Western powers and the USSR would give way to intense rivalry or conflict. This was due primarily to the starkly contrasting economic ideologies of the two superpowers, now quite easily the strongest in the world. Whereas the USA was a liberal, two-party democracy with an advanced capitalist economy, based on free enterprise and profit-making, the USSR was a one-party Marxist–Leninist State with a state-controlled economy where private wealth was all but outlawed. Nevertheless, the origins of the Cold War should also be seen as a historical episode that demarcated the spheres of interests of the United States and the Soviet Union. Lewkowicz argues that "the origins of the Cold War should not be seen from the perspective of a magnified spectrum of conflict. Instead, it should be regarded as a process by which the superpowers attempted to forge a normative framework capable of sustaining their geopolitical needs and interests in the postwar scenario." [32]

Wartime conferencesEdit

Clement Attlee, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, July 1945

Several postwar disagreements between western and Soviet leaders were related to their differing interpretations of wartime and immediate post-war conferences.

The Tehran Conference in late 1943 was the first Allied conference in which Stalin was present. At the conference the Soviets expressed frustration that the Western Allies had not yet opened a second front against Germany in Western Europe. In Tehran, the Allies also considered the political status of Iran. At the time, the British had occupied southern Iran, while the Soviets had occupied an area of northern Iran bordering the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, at the end of the war, tensions emerged over the timing of the pull out of both sides from the oil-rich region.[citation needed]

The differences between Roosevelt and Churchill led to several separate deals with the Soviets. In October 1944, Churchill traveled to Moscow and proposed the "percentages agreement" to divide the Balkans into respective spheres of influence, including giving Stalin predominance over Romania and Bulgaria and Churchill carte blanche over Greece. At the Yalta Conference of February 1945, Roosevelt signed a separate deal with Stalin in regard of Asia and refused to support Churchill on the issues of Poland and Reparations.[33] Roosevelt ultimately approved the percentage agreement,[34][35] but there was still apparently no firm consensus on the framework for a post-war settlement in Europe.[36]

At the Second Quebec Conference, a high-level military conference held in Quebec City, 12–16 September 1944, Churchill and Roosevelt reached agreement on a number of matters, including a plan for Germany based on Henry Morgenthau Jr.'s original proposal. The memorandum drafted by Churchill provided for "eliminating the warmaking industries in the Ruhr and the Saar ... looking forward to converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character." However, it no longer included a plan to partition the country into several independent states.[37] On 10 May 1945, President Truman signed the U.S. occupation directive JCS 1067, which was in effect for over two years, and was enthusiastically supported by Stalin. It directed the U.S. forces of occupation to "...take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany".[38]

Some historians have argued that the Cold War began when the US negotiated a separate peace with Nazi SS General Karl Wolff in northern Italy. The Soviet Union was initially not allowed to participate and the dispute led to heated correspondence between Franklin Roosevelt and Stalin. General Wolff, a war criminal, appears to have been guaranteed immunity at the Nuremberg trials by Office of Strategic Services (OSS) commander (and later CIA director) Allen Dulles when they met in March 1945. Wolff and his forces were being considered to help implement Operation Unthinkable, a secret plan to invade the Soviet Union which Winston Churchill advocated during this period.[39][40][41]

At the February 1945 Yalta Conference, the Allies attempted to define the framework for a postwar settlement in Europe. The Allies could not reach firm agreements on the crucial questions: the occupation of Germany, postwar reparations from Germany, and the fate of Poland. No final consensus was reached on Germany, other than to agree to a Soviet request for reparations totaling $10 billion "as a basis for negotiations."[42] Debates over the composition of Poland's postwar government were also acrimonious.[43] The Yalta Conference ended with "a declaration on liberated Europe pledging respect for democratic forms and providing a diplomatic mechanism for constituting a generally acceptable Polish government".[44]

Following the Allied victory in May, the Soviets effectively occupied Eastern Europe, while the US had much of Western Europe. In occupied Germany, the US and the Soviet Union established zones of occupation and a loose framework for four-power control with the ailing French and British.

Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945. From left to right, first row: Stalin, Truman, Soviet Ambassador Andrei Gromyko, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Second row: Truman confidant Harry H. Vaughan [1], Russian interpreter Charles Bohlen, Truman naval aide James K. Vardaman, Jr., and Charles Griffith Ross (partially obscured) [2].

Potsdam and the atomic bombEdit

At the Potsdam Conference starting in late July 1945, the Allies met to decide how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier on May 7 and May 8, 1945, VE day. Serious differences emerged over the future development of Germany and Eastern Europe.[45] At Potsdam, the US was represented by a new president, Harry S. Truman, who on April 12 succeeded to the office upon Roosevelt's death. Truman was unaware of Roosevelt's plans for post-war engagement with the Soviet Union,[citation needed] and more generally uninformed about foreign policy and military matters.[31] The new president, therefore, was initially reliant on a set of advisers (including Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal). This group tended to take a harder line towards Moscow than Roosevelt had done.[31] Administration officials favoring cooperation with the Soviet Union and the incorporation of socialist economies into a world trade system were marginalized. The UK was represented by a new prime minister, Clement Attlee, who had replaced Churchill after the Labour Party's defeat of the Conservatives in the 1945 general election.

The US had invited Britain into its atomic bomb project but kept it secret from the Soviet Union. Stalin became aware that the Americans were working on the bomb through his spy network, however.[46] One week after the end of the Potsdam Conference, the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after the attacks, Stalin protested to US officials when Truman offered the Soviets little real influence in occupied Japan. [47] Stalin was also outraged by the actual dropping of the bombs, calling them a “superbarbarity” and claiming that “the balance has been destroyed…That cannot be.” The Truman administration intended to use its ongoing nuclear weapons program to pressure the Soviet Union in international relations.[46]

The immediate end of war material shipments from America to the USSR after the surrender of Germany also upset some politicians in Moscow, who believed this showed the U.S. had no intentions to support the USSR any more than they had to.

Creation of the Eastern BlocEdit

Expansion of the USSR during World War II. The borders of Eastern bloc's members other than the USSR, Poland and Yugoslavia are shown in their post-war status

After the war, Stalin sought to secure the Soviet Union's western border by installing communist-dominated regimes under Soviet influence in bordering countries. During and in the years immediately after the war, the Soviet Union annexed several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Many of these were originally countries effectively ceded to it by Nazi Germany in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, before Germany invaded the Soviet Union. These later annexed territories include Eastern Poland (incorporated into two different SSRs),[48] Latvia (became Latvia SSR),[49][50][51] Estonia (became Estonian SSR),[49][50] Lithuania (became Lithuania SSR),[49][50] part of eastern Finland (Karelo-Finnish SSR and annexed into the Russian SFSR)[52] and northern Romania (became the Moldavian SSR).[53][54]

Other states were converted into Soviet Satellite states, such as East Germany,[55] the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Hungary,[56] the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic,[57] the People's Republic of Romania and the People's Republic of Albania,[58] which aligned itself in the 1960s away from the Soviet Union and towards the People's Republic of China.

The defining characteristic of the Stalinist communism implemented in Eastern Bloc states was the unique symbiosis of the state with society and the economy, resulting in politics and economics losing their distinctive features as autonomous and distinguishable spheres.[59] Initially, Stalin directed systems that rejected Western institutional characteristics of market economies, democratic governance (dubbed "bourgeois democracy" in Soviet parlance) and the rule of law subduing discretional intervention by the state.[60] They were economically communist and depended upon the Soviet Union for significant amounts of materials.[61] While in the first five years following World War II, massive emigration from these states to the West occurred, restrictions implemented thereafter stopped most East-West migration, except that under limited bilateral and other agreements.[62]

Further division in the 1940sEdit

"Long Telegram" and "Mr. X"Edit

In February 1946, George F. Kennan's Long Telegram from Moscow helped articulate the growing hard line against the Soviets.[63] The telegram argued that the Soviet Union was motivated by both traditional Russian imperialism and by Marxist ideology; Soviet behavior was inherently expansionist and paranoid, posing a threat to the United States and its allies. Later writing as "Mr. X" in his article "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" in Foreign Affairs (July 1947), Kennan drafted the classic argument for adopting a policy of "containment" toward the Soviet Union.

"Iron Curtain" speechEdit

On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill, while at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, gave his speech "The Sinews of Peace," declaring that an "iron curtain" had descended across Europe. From the standpoint of the Soviets, the speech was an incitement for the West to begin a war with the USSR, as it called for an Anglo-American alliance against the Soviets [64]"[31]

Morgenthau and Marshall PlansEdit

Having lost 20 million people in the war, suffered German invasion twice in 30 years, and suffered tens of millions of casualties from onslaughts from the West three times in the preceding 150 years, the Soviet Union was determined to destroy Germany's capacity for another war. This was in alignment with the U.S. policy which had foreseen returning Germany to a pastoral state without heavy industry (the Morgenthau Plan). On September 6, 1946, James F. Byrnes made a speech in Germany, repudiating the Morgenthau Plan and warning the Soviets that the US intended to maintain a military presence in Europe indefinitely. (see Restatement of Policy on Germany) As Byrnes admitted one month later, "The nub of our program was to win the German people [...] it was a battle between us and Russia over minds [....]"[65] Because of the increasing costs of food imports to avoid mass-starvation in Germany, and with the danger of losing the entire nation to communism, the U.S. government abandoned the Morgenthau plan in September 1946 with Secretary of State James F. Byrnes' speech Restatement of Policy on Germany.[66]

In January 1947, Truman appointed General George Marshall as Secretary of State, scrapped Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) directive 1067, which embodied the Morgenthau Plan and supplanted it with JCS 1779, which decreed that an orderly and prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany.".[67] Administration officials met with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and others to press for an economically self-sufficient Germany, including a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, good and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets.[68] After six weeks of negotiations, Molotov refused the demands and the talks were adjourned.[68] Marshall was particularly discouraged after personally meeting with Stalin, who expressed little interest in a solution to German economic problems.[68] The United States concluded that a solution could not wait any longer.[68] In a June 5, 1947 speech,[69] Comporting with the Truman Doctrine, Marshall announced a comprehensive program of American assistance to all European countries wanting to participate, including the Soviet Union and those of Eastern Europe, called the Marshall Plan.[68]

With the initial planning for the Marshall plan in mid 1947, a plan which depended on a reactivated German economy,[70] restrictions placed on German production were lessened. The roof for permitted steel production was for example raised from 25% of pre-war production levels to 50% of pre-war levels. The scrapping of JCS 1067 paved the way for the 1948 currency reform which halted rampant inflation.

Stalin opposed the Marshall Plan. He had built up the Eastern Bloc protective belt of Soviet controlled nations on his Western border,[71] and wanted to maintain this buffer zone of states combined with a weakened Germany under Soviet control.[72] Fearing American political, cultural and economic penetration, Stalin eventually forbade Soviet Eastern bloc countries of the newly formed Cominform from accepting Marshall Plan aid.[68] In Czechoslovakia, that required a Soviet-backed Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948,[73] the brutality of which shocked Western powers more than any event so far and set in a motion a brief scare that war would occur and swept away the last vestiges of opposition to the Marshall Plan in the United States Congress.[74] In September, 1947 the Central Committee secretary Andrei Zhdanov declared that the Truman Doctrine "intended for accordance of the American help to all reactionary regimes, that actively oppose to democratic people, bears an undisguised aggressive character."

Greece and ItalyEdit

In Greece, during a civil war involving the communist-led partisan movement ELAS-EAM, British Special Forces terminated arms supplies to the ELA-ELAM, pro-monarchist armed forces were strengthened.[75][76] On the political front, Americans, with British encouragement, attempted to dismantle ELAS-EAM socialist structures in the countryside, and an anti-communist swing gradually occurred.[77]

Western Allies conducted meetings in Italy in March 1945 with German representatives to forestall a takeover by Italian communist resistance forces in northern Italy and to hinder the potential there for post-war influence of the civilian communist party.[78][79] The affair caused a major rift between Stalin and Churchill, and in a letter to Roosevelt on 3 April Stalin complained that the secret negotiations did not serve to "preserve and promote trust between our countries."[80]

Nazi–Soviet Relations and Falsifiers of HistoryEdit

Relations further deteriorated when, in January 1948, the U.S. State Department also published a collection of documents titled Nazi–Soviet Relations, 1939–1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office, which contained documents recovered from the Foreign Office of Nazi Germany[81][82] revealing Soviet conversations with Germany regarding the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, including its secret protocol dividing eastern Europe,[83][84] the 1939 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement,[83][85] and discussions of the Soviet Union potentially becoming the fourth Axis Power.[86] In response, one month later, the Soviet Union published Falsifiers of History, this book, edited and partially re-written by Stalin, attacked the West.[81][87]

Berlin blockade and airliftEdit

The first major crisis in the emerging Cold War was the Berlin Blockade of 1948–49.[88] Historian Carol K. Fink argues that this crisis, "occupies a special place in Cold War historiography, as an emblem of Soviet aggressiveness and Anglo-American resistance."[89] After setbacks to Soviet plans through the Marshall Plan, the successful introduction of a new currency to West Germany, and massive electoral losses for Communist parties, Moscow decided to cut off land access to West Berlin by rail and highway, thereby initiating the Berlin Blockade. Because Berlin was located within the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany, the only available methods of supplying the city were three limited air corridors.[90]

By February 1948, because of massive post-war military cuts, the entire United States army had been reduced to 552,000 men.[91] Military forces in non-Soviet Berlin sectors totaled only 8,973 Americans, 7,606 British and 6,100 French.[92] Soviet military forces in the Soviet sector that surrounded Berlin totaled one and a half million men.[93] The two United States regiments in Berlin would have provided little resistance against a Soviet attack.[94] Therefore, a massive aerial supply campaign was initiated by the United States, Britain, France and other countries, the success of which caused Stalin to lift their blockade in May 1949. At no time did the Soviet military or the Politburo contemplate a military escalation of the Berlin crisis.[citation needed]

The United States, the Berlin crisis underscored the need to reverse the demobilization of the Army. On July 20, 1948, President Truman reopened the military draft. He called for nearly 10 million men to register for military service within the next two months.[95]

The dispute over Germany escalated after Truman refused to give the Soviet Union reparations from West Germany's industrial plants because he believed it would hamper Germany's economic recovery further. Stalin responded by splitting off the Soviet sector of Germany as a communist state. The dismantling of West German industry was finally halted in 1951, when Germany agreed to place its heavy industry under the control of the European Coal and Steel Community, which in 1952 took over the role of the International Authority for the Ruhr.

At other times there were signs of caution. Stalin observed his 1944 agreement with Churchill and did not aid the communists in the struggle against the British-supported anti-communist regime in Greece. In Finland he accepted a friendly, non-communist government; and Russian troops were withdrawn from Austria by the end of 1955.

Soviet military perspectiveEdit

The Soviet military was focused on its main mission, the defense of the Soviet Union.[96] From that perspective, the formation of NATO in 1949 was the decisive threat, and became its starting point for the Cold War. Historian David Glantz argues that:

Militarily, the Soviets considered themselves threatened by, first, the United States' atomic monopoly (broken in 1949) and, second, by the emergence of United States dominated military alliances, the most menacing of which was NATO. The Soviet Union responded strategically by preserving a large, expandable peacetime military establishment, keeping large military forces in conquered regions of Eastern Europe, and cloaking these forces within the political guise of an alliance (the Warsaw Pact), Which could contend with NATO on a multilateral basis. The major thrust of Soviet military strategy was to possess a conventional military force whose offensive capabilities could check Western nuclear and conventional military power.[97]

Other regionsEdit

The Cold War took place worldwide, but it had a somewhat different timing and trajectory outside Europe.[98] In Africa, decolonization took place first; it was largely accomplished in the 1950s. The main rivals then sought bases of support in the new national political alignments.[99]

Latin AmericaEdit

During World War II, the United States military operations had widespread support across Latin America, except for Argentina. After 1947, with the Cold War emerging in Europe, Washington made repeated efforts to encourage all the Latin American countries to take a Cold War anti-Communist position. They were reluctant to do so – for example, only Colombia sent soldiers to the United Nations contingent in the Korean War. The Soviet Union was quite weak across Latin America. Not until the late 1950s did Moscow achieve diplomatic or commercial relationships with most Latin American countries.,[100] Before then it had only two trade agreements (with Argentina and Mexico.) The communist movements that had existed in Brazil and elsewhere in the 1930s had been disbanded or outlawed.[101] Washington exaggerated the dangers, and decided on a preemptive attack against a possible communist threat.[102] It sought anti-communist resolutions at the annual meetings of the Pan American Union (renamed the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1948) and paid special attention to the growth of left-wing forces in Guatemala.[103] A compromise was reached whereby the Latin American states agreed on vague statements of support for the American Cold War position, and the United States provided expanded financial grants and loans to stimulate economic growth. In 1954, at the 10th Inter-American Conference in Caracas, Washington demanded a resolution that the establishment of a communist government in any American state was a threat to the peace of the hemisphere. Guatemala cast the only negative vote. Guatemala's military, with CIA encouragement, overthrew its left-wing government later that year.[104] Fidel Castro engineered his revolutionary takeover of Cuba in 1957–58 with very little Soviet support. The United States and the smaller Latin countries, outvoted the larger powers by the required two-thirds majority in 1962 to identify Cuba as a communist regime and suspend it from the OAS.[105][106]

Far East and PacificEdit

After the war ended, Malaya was plunged into a state of emergency as British and Commonwealth forces fought a protracted counter-insurgency war against their former communist-led MPAJA ally, who had fought the Japanese and now demanded independence from Britain.[107][108] In British Hong Kong, which had surrendered to Japan in December 1941, civil unrest occurred after Britain rapidly re-established rule at the end of the war.[109]

Australia's entry into the Cold War came in 1950, when it rushed combat air and sea forces into the Korean War, two days after the Americans did. The Australian Prime Minister received a hero's welcome in Washington. The ANZUS military alliance with New Zealand and the United States was signed in July 1951; it was a plan for consultation and did not involve military planning like NATO. Public opinion in Australia was intensely hostile to Japan after its wartime atrocities, but Japan was now an ally in the Cold War, so Australia's accepted the very generous soft peace treaty with Japan in 1951. Instead of worrying about a resurgent Japan, Australia now worried more about a possible Chinese threat.[110][111]


Following decades of struggle, in 1949 the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong defeated Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist armies and took control of the mainland. The Nationalist leaders and much of China's upper class fled to Taiwan where they had American protection. Stalin had long supported Chiang Kai-shek, while also giving some help to the Communists. The United States had tried in 1945–1948 to bring the Nationalists and Communists together in a coalition, but had no success. The conflict was not therefore part of the Cold War until 1949–1959.[112] By the late 1950s, however, China and the USSR were at sword's point, and became bitter enemies over ideological control of the Marxist–Leninist orthodoxy. The two set up rival communist organizations in countries across the world.[113] The Cold War then became a three-way conflict.[114]

France for many years had been dealing with a nationalist insurgency in Vietnam in which communists, led by Ho Chi Minh, played a prominent leadership role. In 1949, Mao's Communists took control of the north side of the China-Vietnam border, and began supporting the insurgents, especially by providing sanctuary from French attacks. Mark Lawrence and Frederik Logevall point out that "resurgent French colonialism became inextricably intertwined with Cold War tensions, especially in the years after 1949." American pressure on France after 1949 tried to force France to give priority to fighting communism, rather than fighting Vietnamese nationalism.[115]

Middle EastEdit

The political situation in Iran was a flashpoint between the major players in 1945–46, with the Soviet Union sponsoring two breakaway provinces in northern Iran, adjacent to the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Soviet troops were stationed in northwestern Iran during the war. They not only refused to withdraw in 1945 but backed revolts that established short-lived, pro-Soviet separatist national states called the Azerbaijan People's Government and the Republic of Kurdistan. The issue was debated at the United Nations, and in 1946 Moscow abandoned its position, and the conflict was permanently resolved peacefully, with a pro-western government resuming control. Iran did not become a major battlefield of the Cold War, but it had its own history of confrontation with Britain and the United States.[116][117]

The long-standing conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Mandatory Palestine region continued after 1945, with Britain and in an increasingly impossible situation as the mandate holder. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 calling for a homeland for the Jews was supported in 1947 by both the Soviet Union and the United States. Both countries promptly Recognize the independent state of Israel in 1948. The Soviet Union later broke with Israel to support its Arab enemies. The region was more of an independent trouble zone rather than a playing field of the Cold War, and was not a precipitating factor in the Cold War.[118]

By 1953, Arab nationalism based in Egypt was a neutralizing force. The Soviet Union leaned increasingly toward Egypt. The United States based its Cold War coalition primarily on the Baghdad Pact of 1955 which formed Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), that included Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom.[119][120][121]

Historians on the beginning of the Cold WarEdit

While most historians trace its origins to the period immediately following World War II, others argue that it began with the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 when the Bolsheviks took power.[122] In 1919 Lenin stated that his new state was surrounded by a "hostile capitalist encirclement", and he viewed diplomacy as a weapon that should be used in order to keep the Soviet Union's enemies divided. He began with a new Communist International ("Comintern"), based in Moscow, which was designed to plan for revolutionary upheavals abroad. It was ineffective—Communist uprisings all failed in Germany, Hungary and elsewhere.[123] Historian Max Beloff argues that the Soviets saw "no prospect of permanent peace", with the 1922 Soviet Constitution proclaiming:

Since the time of the formation of the soviet republics, the states of the world have divided into two camps: the camp of capitalism and the camp of socialism. There - in the camp of capitalism - national enmity and inequality, colonial slavery, and chauvinism, national oppression and pogroms, imperialist brutalities and wars. Here - in the camp of socialism - mutual confidence and peace, national freedom and equality, a dwelling together in peace and the brotherly collaboration of peoples.[124]

According to British historian Christopher Sutton:

In what some have called the First Cold War, from Britain's intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1918 to its uneasy alliance with the Soviet Union against the Axis powers in 1941, British distrust of the revolutionary and regicidal Bolsheviks resulted in domestic, foreign, and colonial policies aimed at resisting the spread of communism. This conflict after 1945 took on new battlefields, new weapons, new players, and a greater intensity, but it was still fundamentally a conflict against Soviet imperialism (real and imagined).[125]

The idea of long-term continuity is a minority scholarly view that has been challenged. Frank Ninkovich writes:

As for the two cold wars thesis, the chief problem is that the two periods are incommensurable. To be sure, they were joined together by enduring ideological hostility, but in the post-World War I years Bolshevism was not a geopolitical menace. After World War II, in contrast, the Soviet Union was a superpower that combined ideological antagonism with the kind of geopolitical threat posed by Germany and Japan in the Second World War. Even with more amicable relations in the 1920s, it is conceivable that post-1945 relations would have turned out much the same.[126]

There is also a rationalist and institutionalist view regarding the origins of the Cold War, which posits that the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States needs to be regarded as a means to create a bipolar international order favourable to both superpowers. [127]

The usage of the term "Cold War" to describe the postwar tensions between the U.S.- and Soviet-led blocs was popularized by Bernard Baruch, a U.S. financier and an adviser to Harry Truman, who used the term during a speech before the South Carolina state legislature on April 16, 1947.[128]

Since the term "Cold War" was popularized in 1947, there has been extensive disagreement in many political and scholarly discourses on what exactly were the sources of postwar tensions.[129] In the American historiography, there has been disagreement as to who was responsible for the quick unraveling of the wartime alliance between 1945 and 1947, and on whether the conflict between the two superpowers was inevitable or could have been avoided.[130] Discussion of these questions has centered in large part on the works of William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber, and John Lewis Gaddis.[131][132]

Officials in the Truman administration placed responsibility for postwar tensions on the Soviets, claiming that Stalin had violated promises made at Yalta, pursued a policy of expansionism in Eastern Europe, and conspired to spread communism throughout the world.[131] Historians associated with the "Wisconsin School" of diplomatic history such as Williams, however, placed responsibility for the breakdown of postwar peace mostly on the U.S., citing a range of U.S. efforts to isolate and confront the Soviet Union well before the end of World War II. According to Williams and later writers influenced by his work—such as LaFeber, author of the popular survey text America, Russia, and the Cold War (published in ten editions between 1967 and 2006)—U.S. policymakers shared an overarching concern with maintaining capitalism domestically. In order to ensure this goal, they pursued a policy of ensuring an "Open Door" to foreign markets for U.S. business and agriculture across the world. From this perspective, a growing economy domestically went hand-in-hand with the consolidation of U.S. power internationally.[129]

Williams and LaFeber also dismissed the assumption that Soviet leaders were committed to postwar "expansionism." They cited evidence that Soviet Union's occupation of Eastern Europe had a defensive rationale, and Soviet leaders saw themselves as attempting to avoid encirclement by the United States and its allies.[133] From this view, the Soviet Union was so weak and devastated after the end of the Second World War as to be unable to pose any serious threat to the U.S., which emerged after 1945 as the sole world power not economically devastated by the war, and also as the sole possessor of the atomic bomb until 1949.[131]

Gaddis, however, argues that the conflict was less the lone fault of one side or the other and more the result of a plethora of conflicting interests and misperceptions between the two superpowers, propelled by domestic politics and bureaucratic inertia. While Gaddis does not hold either side as entirely responsible for the onset of the conflict, he argues that the Soviets should be held at least slightly more accountable for the problems. According to Gaddis, Stalin was in a much better position to compromise than his Western counterparts, given his much broader power within his own regime than Truman, who had to contend with Congress and was often undermined by vociferous political opposition at home. Asking if it were possible to predict if the wartime alliance would fall apart within a matter of months, leaving in its place nearly a half century of cold war, Gaddis wrote in a 1997 essay, "Geography, demography, and tradition contributed to this outcome but did not determine it. It took men, responding unpredictably to circumstances, to forge the chain of causation; and it took [Stalin] in particular, responding predictably to his own authoritarian, paranoid, and narcissistic predisposition, to lock it into place."[134]

Global historian Prasenjit Duara has placed the issue in a global context:

The Cold War is increasingly treated as a global historical period beginning customarily in 1947 when the Truman Doctrine sought to contain communism and the expansion of Soviet influence, and ending with the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc in the late 1980s.[135]

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

  • Beschloss, Michael R (2003), The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941–1945, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-0-7432-6085-5
  • Böcker, Anita (1998), Regulation of Migration: International Experiences, Het Spinhuis, ISBN 978-90-5589-095-8
  • Brune, Lester Brune and Richard Dean Burns. Chronology of the Cold War: 1917–1992 (2005) 700pp; highly detailed month-by-month summary for many countries* Christenson, Ron (1991), Political trials in history: from antiquity to the present, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 978-0-88738-406-6
  • Churchill, Winston (1953), The Second World War, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-395-41056-1
  • Gaddis, John Lewis (1972), The United States and the Origins of the Cold War 1941–1947, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-08302-7
  • Gaddis, John Lewis (1990), Russia, the Soviet Union, and the United States— An Interpretive History
  • Grenville, John Ashley Soames (2005), A History of the World from the 20th to the 21st Century, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-28954-2
  • Hardt, John Pearce; Kaufman, Richard F. (1995), East-Central European Economies in Transition, M.E. Sharpe, ISBN 978-1-56324-612-8
  • Henig, Ruth Beatrice (2005), The Origins of the Second World War, 1933–41, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-33262-0
  • Huston, Robert (1975). "Roots of the Cold War". Conspectus of History. 1 (2).
  • Leffler, Melvyn P. and Odd Arne Westad, eds. The Cambridge History of the Cold War: Volume 1, Origins (2015) 23 essays by leading scholars. excerpt
  • Leffler, Melvyn (1992), A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, Stanford University Press, ISBN 978-0-8047-2218-6
  • Lewkowicz, Nicolas (2018) The United States, the Soviet Union and the Geopolitical Implications of the Origins of the Cold War, Anthem Press, London
  • Lewkowicz, Nicolas (2010), The German Question and the International Order,1943-48, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-230-24812-0
  • Lewkowicz, Nicolas (2008), The German Question and the Origins of the Cold War, IPOC, ISBN 978-88-95145-27-3
  • Lee, Stephen J. (1999), Stalin and the Soviet Union, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-18573-8
  • Miller, Roger Gene (2000), To Save a City: The Berlin Airlift, 1948–1949, Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 978-0-89096-967-0
  • Nekrich, Aleksandr Moiseevich; Ulam, Adam Bruno; Freeze, Gregory L. (1997), Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German–Soviet Relations, 1922–1941, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-10676-4
  • Porter, Bernard, The Lion's Share: A Short History of British Imperialism 1850–1995, Longman, 1996. pp. 84–89.
  • Roberts, Geoffrey (2006), Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-11204-7
  • Roberts, Geoffrey. "Stalin, the Pact with Nazi Germany, and the Origins of Postwar Soviet Diplomatic Historiography." Journal of Cold War Studies 4#4 (2002): 93-103.
  • Shirer, William L. (1990), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-0-671-72868-7
  • Department of State (1948), Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office, Department of State
  • Tucker, Robert C. (1992), Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928–1941, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-30869-3
  • Wettig, Gerhard (2008), Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0-7425-5542-6
  • Yergin, Daniel, Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State, Houghton Mifflin, 1977. ISBN 0-395-24670-9
  • Young, John W. The Longman Companion to America, Russia and the Cold War, 1941-1998 (1999) excerpt

External linksEdit