How Did The Cold War Began Essay

The Cold War (1945-1989) essay

The Cold War is considered to be a significant event in Modern World History. The Cold War dominated a rather long time period: between 1945, or the end of the World War II, and 1990, the collapse of the USSR. This period involved the relationships between two superpowers: the United States and the USSR. The Cold War began in Eastern Europe and Germany, according to the researchers of the Institute of Contemporary British History (Warner 15).  Researchers state that “the USSR and the United States of America held the trump cards, nuclear bombs and missiles” (Daniel 489). In other words, during the Cold War, two nations took the fate of the world under their control. The progression of the Cold War influenced the development of society, which became aware of the threat of nuclear war. After the World War II, the world experienced technological progress, which provided “the Space Race, computer development, superhighway construction, jet airliner development, the creation of international phone system, the advent of television, enormous progress in medicine, and the creation of mass consumerism, and many other achievements” (Daniel 489). Although the larger part of the world lived in poverty and lacked technological progress, the United States and other countries of Western world succeeded in economic development. The Cold War, which began in 1945, reflected the increased role of technological progress in the establishment of economic relationships between two superpowers.   The Cold War involved internal and external conflicts between two superpowers, the United States and the USSR, leading to eventual breakdown of the USSR.

  1. The Cold War: background information

The Cold War consisted of several confrontations between the United States and the USSR, supported by their allies. According to researchers, the Cold War was marked by a number of events, including “the escalating arms race, a competition to conquer space, a dangerously belligerent for of diplomacy known as brinkmanship, and a series of small wars, sometimes called “police actions” by the United States and sometimes excused as defense measures by the Soviets” (Gottfried 9). The Cold War had different influences on the United States and the USSR. For the USSR, the Cold War provided massive opportunities for the spread of communism across the world, Moscow’s control over the development of other nations and the increased role of the Soviet Communist party.

In fact, the Cold War could split the wartime alliance formed to oppose the plans of Nazi Germany, leaving the USSR and the United States as two superpowers with considerable economic and political differences. The USSR was based on a single-party Marxist–Leninist system, while the United States was a capitalist state with democratic governance based on free elections.

The key figure in the Cold War was the Soviet leader Gorbachev, who was elected in 1985. He managed to change the direction of the USSR, making the economies of communist ruled states independent. The major reasons for changing in the course were poor technological development of the USSR (Gottfried 115). Gorbachev believed that radical changes in political power could improve the Communist system. At the same time, he wanted to stop the Cold War and tensions with the United States. The cost of nuclear arms race had negative impact on the economy of the USSR. The leaders of the United States accepted the proposed relationships, based on cooperation and mutual trust. The end of the Cold War was marked by signing the INF treaty in 1987 (Gottfried 115).

  • The origins of the Cold War

Many American historians state that the Cold War began in 1945. However, according to Russian researchers, historians and analysts “the Cold War began with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, for this was when the capitalist world began its systematic opposition to and effort to undermine the world’s first socialist state and society” (Warner13). For Russians, the Cold War was hot in 1918-1922, when the Allied Intervention policy implemented in Russia during the Russian Civil War. According to John W. Long, “the U.S. intervention in North Russia was a policy formulated by President Wilson during the first half of 1918 at the urgent insistence of Britain, France and Italy, the chief World War I allies” (380).

Nevertheless, there are some other opinions regarding the origins of the Cold War. For example, Geoffrey Barraclough, an outstanding English historian, states that the events in the Far East at the end of the century contributed to the origins of the Cold War. He argues that “during the previous hundred years, Russia and the United States has tended to support each other against England; but now, as England’s power passed its zenith, they came face to face across the Pacific” (Warner 13). According to Barraclough, the Cold War is associated with the conflict of interests, which involved European countries, the Middle East and South East Asia. Finally, this conflict divided the world into two camps. Thus, the Cold War origins are connected with the spread of ideological conflict caused by the emergence of the new power in the early 20-th century (Warner 14). The Cold War outbreak was associated with the spread of propaganda on the United States by the USSR. The propagandistic attacks involved the criticism of the U.S. leaders and their policies. These attacked were harmful to the interests of American nation (Whitton 151).

  • The major causes of the Cold War

The United States and the USSR were regarded as two superpowers during the Cold War, each having its own sphere of influence, its power and forces. The Cold War had been the continuing conflict, caused by tensions, misunderstandings and competitions that existed between the United States and the USSR, as well as their allies from 1945 to the early 1990s (Gottfried 10). Throughout this long period, there was the so-called rivalry between the United States and the USSR, which was expressed through various transformations, including military buildup, the spread of propaganda, the growth of espionage, weapons development, considerable industrial advances, and competitive technological developments in different spheres of human activity, such as medicine, education, space exploration, etc.

There four major causes of the Cold War, which include:

  • Ideological differences (communism v. capitalism);
  • Mutual distrust and misperception;
  • The fear of the United State regarding the spread of communism;
  • The nuclear arms race (Gottfried 10).

The major causes of the Cold War point out to the fact that the USSR was focused on the spread of communist ideas worldwide. The United States followed democratic ideas and opposed the spread of communism. At the same time, the acquisition of atomic weapons by the United States caused fear in the USSR. The use of atomic weapons could become the major reason of fear of both the United States and the USSR. In other words, both countries were anxious about possible attacks from each other; therefore, they were following the production of mass destruction weapons. In addition, the USSR was focused on taking control over Eastern Europe and Central Asia. According to researchers, the USSR used various strategies to gain control over Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the years 1945-1980. Some of these strategies included “encouraging the communist takeover of governments in Eastern Europe, the setting up of Comecon, the Warsaw Pact, the presence of the Red Army in Eastern Europe, and the Brezhnev Doctrine” (Phillips 118). These actions were the major factors for the suspicions and concerns of the United States. In addition, the U.S. President had a personal dislike of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his policies. In general, the United States was concerned by the Soviet Union’s actions regarding the occupied territory of Germany, while the USSR feared that the United States would use Western Europe as the major tool for attack.

  • The consequences of the Cold War

The consequences of the Cold War include both positive and negative effects for both the United States and the USSR.

  • Both the United States and the USSR managed to build up huge arsenals of atomic weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
  • The Cold War provided opportunities for the establishment of the military blocs, NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
  • The Cold War led to the emergence of the destructive military conflicts, like the Vietnam War and the Korean War, which took the lives of millions of people (Gottfried13).
  • The USSR collapsed because of considerable economic, political and social challenges.
  • The Cold War led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the unification of the two German nations.
  • The Cold War led to the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact (Gottfried 136).
  • The Cold war provided the opportunities for achieving independence of the Baltic States and some former Soviet Republics.
  • The Cold War made the United States the sole superpower of the world because of the collapse of the USSR in 1990.
  • The Cold War led to the collapse of Communism and the rise of globalization worldwide (Phillips 119).

The impact of the Cold War on the development of many countries was enormous. The consequences of the Cold War were derived from numerous internal problems of the countries, which were connected with the USSR, especially developing countries (India, Africa, etc.). This fact means that foreign policies of many states were transformed (Gottfried 115).

The Cold War (1945-1989) essay part 2

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On the 30th of April 1945, Russian troops unfurled the Red Banner from the roof of the Reichstag signalling the victory of the Allied powers over Germany in the Second World War. Yet, it was a “victory overshadowed by the lack of agreement between the wartime Allies”, thus paradoxically this action symbolised the end of the Second World War in Europe but also the start of the Cold War; a war that would push the world to the brink of a nuclear war and see the rise of the two greatest superpowers the world has ever seen. There were deep-rooted ideological, economic and political differences between the United States and the Soviet Union prior to the Second World War. These differences were intensified as a result of their mutual suspicions during and after the Second World War thus causing the Cold War and the creation of a bipolar world. Both powers played key roles in the start of the Cold War thus both are to blame.

One can distinguish both long term underlying causes for the Cold War and immediate, short term causes.Differences of principle between the USA and the USSR were perhaps the key cause of the Cold War. The hegemonic nature of the communist doctrine meant that the governments of most capitalist states viewed communist states such as the Soviet Union with mistrust and feared the spread of communism. This led to a “red scare” in the United States. Western leaders were anti-communist; Churchill, in particular, openly expressed his opposition to communism saying that it had to be “strangled in the cradle”.

Economic differences linked to capitalist and communist ideologies were a major cause of the Cold War. Indeed, the United States had a liberalist way of running their economy and therefore wanted to encourage free trade throughout the world. A liberal economy diametrically opposed to communist ideology, for this reason, the Soviet Union wanted to shield her own sphere of influence from international commerce. Out of fear that trading with the West would lead to the fall of the USSR, the Soviets refused to trade with the United States. Lack of trade led to an increased amount of ill feeling between the two emerging Super Powers.

The nature of the United States’ economy is also to blame for increased tensions between East and West following the Second World War. Many historians argue that ever since the New Deal (a series of economic programmes passed by the U.S. Congress between 1933 and 1938 in order to recover from the Great Depression) has been passed, the United States has had a war economy. Indeed between 1940 and 1990 US defence spending has exceeded 7% of its GDP. After the end of the Second World War many Americans feared that a subsequent drop of military expenditure would lead to another great depression. For this reason, the United States choose to continue its huge military-industrial complex after the war’s end. The United States thus maintained a substantial fighting capability and continued to invest huge amounts of money into military research. The continuation of a wartime economy after the Second World War was an aggressive policy and thus forced the USSR into an arms race, thus leading to the Cold War.

The defeat of the axis powers in the Far East and Central Europe left “a vacuum” in which a new international order had to come into being. After the war, with the decline of traditional Great Powers such as Britain and France, left World power was largely in the hands of the United States and the USSR. As each power attempted to dominate the other conflicts were inevitable. Although tensions between “The Big Three” (Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin) were not enough to break the Grand Alliance during wartime, as the threat of Nazism reseeded the foundations of the Grand Alliance were shaken. Underlying differences were made more prominent and new tensions were born.

Both peace and wartime conferences between the United States and the Soviet Union led to the fall of the Grand Alliance and the birth of a climate of suspicion and tension between the two countries. In February 1945 during a conference at Yalta, wartime resentments between “The Big Three” were made clear, notably Stalin had hard feelings about the relative lack of US and British involvement in the Second World War compared to the involvement of the USSR. Indeed the Soviet Union lost over 24 million lives during the war (over 15% of its population) whereas the USA and Britain combined lost less than one million. Stalin, understandably, resented the fact that between the 3rd of June 1940 (Dunkirk evacuation) and the 6th of June 1944 (D-Day landings), US and British involvement in the war had been extremely minimal. Stalin felt that the delay in launching the invasion of France was deliberately calculated to keep the pressure on the Russians so as to bring them to the point of exhaustion.

Conflicting aims between the allied powers were also made evident during the Yalta conference. Despite the fact that Roosevelt was prepared to make concessions with the Soviet Union in return for help in the Pacific, Roosevelt kept the Manhattan Project (the development of the nuclear bomb) secret from Russia, an ominous sign of future tensions. To add to this, whereas Britain was particularly keen to help Poland become a free country, Stalin felt that Poland should be part of his sphere of influence. At the end of the Yalta conference, the three powers did reach agreements concerning Germany and Russia’s participated in the War on Japan. However, one should not interpret these agreements as a sign of converging aims between the Soviet Union and the West (the United States and Britain) since the majority of the agreements were created as a means of concealing the growing divide so as to ensure Soviet help in the victory over Japan. Indeed shortly after the conference Churchill wrote to Roosevelt describing the Soviet Union as “a danger to the world”.

The tension created by conferences such as Yalta was further intensified by an aggressive foreign policy by the United States’ new president Harry S. Truman, which included the Truman doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Roosevelt died on the 12th of April 1945, his successor Truman, had a much more black and white view of the world and in some ways assimilated the USSR with the axis of evil. At the Potsdam Conference (17th July – 2rd August 1945), Truman pursed a much tougher line on the Russians, since the atomic bomb he possessed meant that he did not have to rely on the Russians for victory in Japan. Unlike in the Yalta Conference earlier in the year, at Potsdam countries openly disagreed on issues such as the division of Germany or the influence of Russia in influence. The successful test of the atomic bomb (Trinity nuclear test, July 16th 1945) meant that the façade that covered the disagreements during the Yalta conference crumbled to reveal major differences between the East and the West.

Germany was the point of concourse of the East and the West at the end of the Second World War, the place where the two victorious armies met in 1945, proved to be at the very heart of disputes between the United States and Russia. Actions taken by one side were misinterpreted and exaggerated by the other which forced the two powers into a downward spiral leading to the Cold War. For example, after the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union began dismantling factories in eastern Germany and bringing back material into the USSR. In consequence the United States and Britain stopped trading with the USSR because they assumed Stalin was deliberately wrecking the German economy. Both sides started to accuse the other of not respecting the armistice agreements; this led to Britain and the US, merging their zones in 1946. The creation of Bizonia in 1946, made the separation between the West and the East ever clearer. The introduction of a new Deutschmark in Bizonia in 1948, which went against the Potsdam agreements, was an aggressive strategy on the part of the United States to further strength the divide between West and East Germany. Tensions were further sparked between the West and the East with the Berlin Blockade (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) which put the two sides on the brink of a “hot war”. The Berlin airlift meant that if the USSR shot down one US aeroplane the Cold War could have turned into a “hot war”. The extreme geographic proximity of the two powers in Germany led to numerous disputes and tensions contributing to the escalation of the Cold War.

Germany was by no means the only area of disagreement between the East and the West, the extension of Soviet influence in the whole of Eastern Europe frightened the West who in turn assumed an aggressive foreign policy against the Soviet Union. Truman was inflexible and insisted on obeying the terms of the Atlantic Charter, which said that all peoples had the right to self determination. For this reason the United States and Britain were determined to have free elections in liberated Eastern Europe. However, the Red Army who had lost 9 million was equally determined to exert its influence on post-war elections in Eastern Europe. As Winston Churchill described in his “Sinews of Peace” address on 5 March 1946: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an "iron curtain" has descended across the Continent.” Due to the presence of the Red Army the Soviet Union rigged elections and therefore placed communist control over Eastern Europe. The growth of Soviet influence into Eastern Europe after the Second World War aligns with Stalin’s traditional realist and autocratic desire for spheres of influence. However, the growth of the Soviet Union into Eastern Europe was misinterpreted by the West who saw the Soviet Union as expansionism. Eastern Europe was, in Truman’s eyes a clear proof of the Kennan telegram and the Soviet’s ambition to conquer the world. As the Soviet gradually established there power in Eastern Europe, Purges, arrests, executions of opponents and censorships started. This, once again, it confirmed to the Americans that the Soviet Union was imperialistic as the Long Telegram had stated and therefore increased tensions between the two sides. Eastern Europe was both a cause and a result of the Cold War, since the more USSR gain control of Eastern Europe he more the West got worried and complained which further encouraged the USSR to secure its influence. Eastern Europe pushed the two emerging superpowers in to a downward spiral causing an escalation of the Cold war.

Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe led to an aggressive policy of containment from the West, in accordance with the Kennan Long Telegram, the Truman doctrine and the Marshall Plan. In the Kennan telegram, Kennan concluded that Russia was an imperialistic, paranoid, and expansionist power. Kennan goes on that contrary to Roosevelt belief that the United States could live alongside the Soviet Union, the United States could only survive through a policy of strong resistance against Russian expansion. Truman, who was strongly opposed to communism, embraced the Kennan Long Telegram, and, as a result implemented an aggressive policy of containment against the Soviet Union. To add to this policy, when Czechoslovakia became communist in 1948, the Marshall Plan was enacted so as to slow down Soviet “expansion”. Marshall Aid was a clearly anti communist policy by the United States that offered financial contributions to any European country which would fulfil the United States’ criteria, which including inspections. Through the Marshall Plan, the United States effectively sponsored the spread anti-communist regimes, when Poland and Czechoslovakia both expressed interest in Marshall Aid; the Soviet Union was forced to exert even more control over the two countries, thus closing even more tightly the iron curtain. Paradoxically, the United States who blamed the Soviet Union for its supposedly imperialist strategy, adopted “Dollar Imperialism” by forcing countries to become dependent on her. After the Second World War, through the policies of the Truman administration the United States went from isolationism to expansionism. Truman adopted the Truman Doctrine that stated that the United States would support Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent their falling into the Soviet sphere of influence. Truman’s change of United States policy from isolationism to expansionism and protectionism placed the United States in direct opposition to the Soviet Union thus causing the Cold war.

So as to achieve political, economical and social world dominance to suppress the Soviet threat, during the 1940s the United States created a variety of global institutions known as the Bretton Woods institutions. These institutions which included the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, aimed to reinforce the United States dominance and be capable of implementing neo-liberal programmes worldwide. The creation of the Bretton Woods institutions in the 1940s shows increased tension between the two superpowers, an aggressive American foreign policy is thus partly to blame for starting the Cold war.

The Cold War had all the characteristics of a tradition war, that is to say, propaganda, an arms race and ideological divergences; however the invention of the atomic bomb, which forced countries to move anyway from a traditional military strategy so as to avoid a nuclear war and mass destruction, meant that there was no direct fighting during the Cold War. The new weapon, the atom bomb dramatically changed the balance of power whereas during the Second World War the USSR was significantly more powerful than the United States the culmination of the Manhattan Project meant that the United States quickly gained the end over the Soviet Union. One reason for Russian hostility was the atomic bomb since Stalin believed that Truman’s main motive for dropping the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima was not to defeat Japan, which was ready to surrender anyway, but to show Stalin the power of the United States. Despite the fact that the nuclear weapon prevented the Cold War from becoming a “hot war” it also intensified the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Even though ideological difference can partly explain the start of the Cold War, the role of the different countries in starting the Cold War is disputed by historians. During the 1950s many Western historians adopted an orthodox view and blamed Stalin for the Cold War, saying that he intended to spread communism throughout Europe and Asia, thus destroying Capitalism. However, new evidence opposing to the Kennan telegram and the belief of the United States in the 1940s, revealed Stalin was not a Marxist and had no long term plans to spread communism. Stalin’s position, at Yalta, where he received concessions in the Far East in exchange for military help to the United States in the War against Japan, underlines Stalin belief in spheres of influence rather than global revolution. Stalin was not an idealist as Kennan claimed but a realist interested in Soviet power. Many historians of the 1960s and 1970s therefore adopted a realist view on the outbreak of the Cold War, claiming that the actions of American politicians, especially Truman, unnecessarily provoke Russian hostility. Later, a third view, known as the post-revisionist interpretation, was put forward which argued that both sides should take some blame for the Cold War. It appears that both sides had legitimate concerns about their economy or security and so their actions, despite sometimes being extreme, were understandable. Hitler predicted the Cold War, thus showing its inevitability, when saying, just before his death, “With the defeat of the Reich there will remain in the world only two Great Powers capable of confronting each other […] the laws of both History and Geography will compel these two powers to a trial of strength”.

Core ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the United States meant that given the situation after the Second World War the Cold War was inevitable. However, unnecessarily aggressive foreign policies from both sides, led to the size of the conflict which forced the world into two spheres of influences for over 40 years. Despite differences in principle both the United States and the Soviet Union should take some blame for the Cold War. The sheer power and destruction that the atomic bomb caused a new era in military strategy and meant that there was never the climate of tension throughout the Cold War did not result in any actual direct fighting.


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