Origins of the Cold War
The Origins of the Cold War are widely regarded to lie most directly in the relations between the Soviet Union and the allies (the United States, Great Britain and France) in the years 1945–1947. Those events led to the Cold War that endured for just under half a century.
Events preceding the Second World War, and even the Russian Revolution of 1917, underlay pre–World War II tensions between the Soviet Union, western European countries and the United States. A series of events during and after World War II exacerbated tensions, including the Soviet-German pact during the first two years of the war leading to subsequent invasions, the perceived delay of an amphibious invasion of German-occupied Europe, the western allies' support of the Atlantic Charter, disagreement in wartime conferences over the fate of Eastern Europe, the Soviets' creation of an Eastern Bloc of Soviet satellite states, western allies scrapping the Morgenthau Plan to support the rebuilding of German industry, and the Marshall Plan.
- 1 Russian Revolution
- 2 Interwar diplomacy (1918–1939)
- 3 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the start of World War II (1939–1941)
- 4 Wartime alliance (1941–1945)
- 5 Postwar relations
- 6 Creation of the Eastern Bloc
- 7 Further division in the 1940s
- 8 Disagreement over the beginning of the Cold War
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In World War I, the US, Britain, and Russia had been allies for seven months, from April 1917 until the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November. In 1918, the Bolsheviks negotiated a separate peace with the Central Powers at Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This separate peace contributed to American mistrust of the Soviets, since it left the Western Allies to fight the Central Powers alone.
As a result of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia followed by its withdrawal from World War I, Soviet Russia found itself isolated in international diplomacy. Leader 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. Tensions between Russia (including its allies) and the West turned intensely ideological. The landing of U.S. troops in Russia in 1918, which became involved in assisting the anti-Bolshevik Whites in the Russian Civil War helped solidify lasting suspicions among Soviet leadership of the capitalist world. This was the first event which made Russian–American relations a matter of major, long-term concern to the leaders in each country.
Interwar diplomacy (1918–1939)
After winning the civil war (see Russian Civil War), the Bolsheviks proclaimed a worldwide challenge to capitalism. Subsequent Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who viewed the Soviet Union as a "socialist island", stated that the Soviet Union must see that "the present capitalist encirclement is replaced by a socialist encirclement."
As early as 1925, Stalin stated that he viewed international politics as a bipolar world in which the Soviet Union would attract countries gravitating to socialism and capitalist countries would attract states gravitating toward capitalism while the world was in a period of "temporary stabilization of capitalism" preceding its eventual collapse. Several events fueled suspicion and distrust between the western powers and the Soviet Union: the Bolsheviks' challenge to capitalism; the Polish–Soviet War; the 1926 Soviet funding of a British general workers strike causing Britain to break relations with the Soviet Union; Stalin's 1927 declaration that peaceful coexistence with "the capitalist countries . . . is receding into the past"; conspiratorial allegations in the Shakhty show trial of a planned French and British-led coup d'etat; the Great Purge involving a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in which over half a million Soviets were executed; the Moscow show trials including allegations of British, French, Japanese and German espionage; the controversial death of 6–8 million people in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1932–3 Ukrainian famine; western support of the White Army in the Russian Civil War; the US refusal to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933; and the Soviet entry into the Treaty of Rapallo. This outcome rendered Russian–American relations a matter of major long-term concern for leaders in both countries.
Differences in the political and economic systems of Western democracies and the Soviet Union—socialism 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. The atheistic nature of Soviet communism also concerned many Americans. The American ideals of free determination and President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points conflicted with many of the USSR's policies. Up until the mid-1930s, both British and U.S. policymakers commonly assumed the communist Soviet Union to be a much greater threat than disarmed and democratic Germany and focused most of their intelligence efforts against Moscow. However, it has also been stated that in the period between the two wars, the U.S. had little interest in the Soviet Union or its intentions. America, after minimal contribution to World War I and the Russian Civil War, began to favor an isolationist stance when concerned with global politics (something which contributed to its late involvement in the Second World War). An example of this can be seen from its absence in the League of Nations, an international political forum, much like the United Nations; President Woodrow Wilson was one of the main advocates for the League of Nations; the United States Senate, however, voted against joining. America was enjoying unprecedented economic growth throughout the 1910s and early 1920s. However, the world soon plunged into the Great Depression and the U.S. was therefore even less inclined to make contributions to the international community while it suffered from serious financial and social problems at home.
Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the start of World War II (1939–1941)
Suspicions intensified when, during the summer of 1939, after conducting negotiations with both a British-French group and Germany regarding potential military and political agreements, 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 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.
One week after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's signing, the partition of Poland commenced with the German invasion of western Poland. Relations between the Soviet Union and the West further deteriorated when, two weeks after the German invasion, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland while coordinating with German forces. The Soviet Union then invaded Finland, which was also ceded to it under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocol, resulting in stiff losses and the entry of an interim peace treaty granting it parts of eastern Finland. In June, the Soviets issued an ultimatum demanding Bessarabia, Bukovina and the Hertza region from Romania, after which Romania caved to Soviet demands for occupation. That month, the Soviets also annexed the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia
From August 1939 to June 1941 (when Germany broke the Pact and invaded the Soviet Union), relations between the West and the Soviets deteriorated further when the Soviet Union and Germany engaged in an extensive economic relationship by which the Soviet Union sent Germany vital oil, rubber, manganese and other material in exchange for German weapons, manufacturing machinery and technology. In late 1940, the Soviets also engaged in talks with Germany regarding potential membership in the Axis, culminating in the countries trading written proposals, though no agreement for Soviet Axis entry was ever reached.
Wartime alliance (1941–1945)
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. 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. 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.
In early 1944 MI6 re-established Section IX, its prewar anti-Soviet section, and Philby took a position there. 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. 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.
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 also sponsored competing factions of resistance fighters in Yugoslavia and Greece.
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. 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.
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.
Soviet leaders, however, tended to understand security in terms of space. This reasoning was conditioned by Russia's historical experiences, given the frequency with which the country had been invaded over the preceding 150 years. 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. 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 Communist dictatorship with a state-controlled economy where private wealth was all but outlawed.
In 1945, the Soviet Union conducted a show trial of 16 Polish resistance leaders who had spent the War fighting against the Nazis with British and American help. Within six years, 14 of them were dead.
At the Nuremberg Trials, the chief Soviet prosecutor submitted false documentation in an attempt to indict German defendants for the murder of around 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest near Smolensk. However, suspecting Soviet culpability, the other Allied prosecutors refused to support the indictment and German lawyers promised to mount an embarrassing defense. No one was charged or found guilty at Nuremberg for the Katyn Forest massacre. In 1990, the Soviet government acknowledged that the Katyn massacre was carried out, not by the Germans, but by the Soviet secret police.
From September 1945, Polish resistance fighter and Righteous Witold Pilecki was sent by General Anders to spy against the communists in Poland. In 1948, he was executed on charges of spying and 'serving the interests of foreign imperialism'.
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.
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 loans. 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." Debates over the composition of Poland's postwar government were also acrimonious.
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.
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. 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, and more generally uninformed about foreign policy and military matters. The new president, therefore, was initially reliant on a set of advisers (including Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Truman's own choice for secretary of state, James F. Byrnes). This group tended to take a harder line towards Moscow than Roosevelt had done. 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.
One week after the Potsdam Conference ended, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki added to Soviet distrust of the United States, when shortly after the attacks, Stalin protested to U.S. officials when Truman offered the Soviets little real influence in occupied Japan.
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.
Challenges of postwar demilitarization
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The formal accords at the Yalta Conference, attended by U.S President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, were key in shaping Europe's balance of power in the early postwar period.
However, toward the end of the war, the prospects of an Anglo-American front against the Soviet Union seemed slim from Stalin's standpoint. At the end of the war, Stalin assumed that the capitalist camp would resume its internal rivalry over colonies and trade, giving opportunity for renewed expansion at a later date, rather than pose a threat to the USSR. Stalin expected the United States to bow to domestic popular pressure for postwar demilitarization. Soviet economic advisors such as Eugen Varga predicted that the U.S. would cut military expenditures, and therefore suffer a crisis of overproduction, culminating in another great depression. Based on Varga's analysis, Stalin assumed that the Americans would offer the Soviets aid in postwar reconstruction, needing to find any outlet for massive capital investments in order to sustain the wartime industrial production that had brought the U.S. out of the Great Depression. However, to the surprise of Soviet leaders, the U.S. did not suffer a severe postwar crisis of overproduction. As Stalin had not anticipated, capital investments in industry were sustained by maintaining roughly the same levels of government spending.
In the United States, a conversion to the prewar economy nevertheless proved difficult. Though the United States military was cut to a small fraction of its wartime size, America's military-industrial complex that was created during the Second World War was not eliminated. Pressures to "get back to normal" were intense. Congress wanted a return to low, balanced budgets, and families clamored to see the soldiers sent back home. The Truman administration worried first about a postwar slump, then about the inflationary consequences of pent-up consumer demand. The G.I. Bill, adopted in 1944, was one answer: subsidizing veterans to complete their education rather than flood the job market and probably boost the unemployment figures. In the end, the postwar U.S. government strongly resembled the wartime government, with the military establishment—along with military-security industries—heavily funded. The postwar capitalist slump predicted by Stalin was averted by domestic government management, combined with the U.S. success in promoting international trade and monetary relations.
Conflicting visions of postwar reconstruction
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There were fundamental contrasts between the visions of the United States and the Soviet Union, between the ideals of capitalism and communism. Those contrasts had been simplified and refined in national ideologies to represent two ways of life, each vindicated in 1945 by previous disasters. Conflicting models of autarky versus exports, of state planning against private enterprise, were to vie for the allegiance of the developing and developed world in the postwar years.
U.S. leaders, following the principles of the Atlantic Charter, hoped to shape the postwar world by opening up the world's markets to international trade. Administration analysts eventually reached the conclusion that rebuilding a capitalist Western Europe that could again serve as a hub in world affairs was essential to sustaining U.S. prosperity.
World War II resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia with almost no country left unscathed. The only major industrial power in the world to emerge intact—and even greatly strengthened from an economic perspective—was the United States. As the world's greatest industrial power, and as one of the few countries physically unscathed by the war, the United States stood to gain enormously from opening the entire world to unfettered trade. The United States would have a global market for its exports, and it would have unrestricted access to vital raw materials. Determined to avoid another economic catastrophe like that of the 1930s, U.S. leaders saw the creation of the postwar order as a way to ensure continuing U.S. prosperity.
Such a Europe required a healthy Germany at its center. The postwar U.S. was an economic powerhouse that produced 50% of the world's industrial goods and an unrivaled military power with a monopoly of the new atom bomb. It also required new international agencies: the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which were created to ensure an open, capitalist, international economy. The Soviet Union opted not to take part.
The American vision of the postwar world conflicted with the goals of Soviet leaders, who, for their part, were also motivated to shape postwar Europe. The Soviet Union had, since 1924, placed higher priority on its own security and internal development than on Leon Trotsky's vision of world revolution. Accordingly, Stalin had been willing before the war to engage non-communist governments that recognized Soviet dominance of its sphere of influence and offered assurances of non-aggression.
Creation of the Eastern Bloc
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), Latvia (became Latvia SSR), Estonia (became Estonian SSR), Lithuania (became Lithuania SSR), part of eastern Finland (Karelo-Finnish SSR and annexed into the Russian SFSR) and northern Romania (became the Moldavian SSR).
Other states were converted into Soviet Satellite states, such as East Germany, the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Hungary, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the People's Republic of Romania and the People's Republic of Albania, 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. 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. They were economically communist and depended upon the Soviet Union for significant amounts of materials. 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.
Further division in the 1940s
"Long Telegram" and "Mr. X"
In February 1946, George F. Kennan's Long Telegram from Moscow helped articulate the growing hard line against the Soviets. 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" speech
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 "
Morgenthau and Marshall Plans
Having lost 20 million people in the war, suffered German invasion through Poland 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 [....]" 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 Secretaty of State James F. Byrnes' speech Restatement of Policy on Germany.
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.". 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. After six weeks of negotiations, Molotov refused the demands and the talks were adjourned. Marshall was particularly discouraged after personally meeting with Stalin, who expressed little interest in a solution to German economic problems. The United States concluded that a solution could not wait any longer. In a June 5, 1947 speech, 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.
With the initial planning for the Marshall plan in mid 1947, a plan which depended on a reactivated German economy, 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, and wanted to maintain this buffer zone of states combined with a weakened Germany under Soviet control. Fearing American political, cultural and economic penetration, Stalin eventually forbade Soviet Eastern bloc countries of the newly formed Cominform from accepting Marshall Plan aid. In Czechoslovakia, that required a Soviet-backed Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948, 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. 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 Italy
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. 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.
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. 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.”
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. Elsewhere in the Far East, Britain transported Japanese troops to Indonesia, and also to Vietnam, to fight against former communist anti-Japanese resistance groups. 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. In China, US forces helped Japanese troops to be employed in the Chinese Civil War.
Nazi-Soviet Relations and Falsifiers of History
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 revealing Soviet conversations with Germany regarding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, including its secret protocol dividing eastern Europe, the 1939 German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, and discussions of the Soviet Union potentially becoming the fourth Axis Power. In response, one month later, the Soviet Union published Falsifiers of History, this book, edited and partially re-written by Stalin, attacked the West.
Berlin blockade and airlift
After the Marshall Plan, the introduction of a new currency to Western Germany to replace the debased Reichsmark and massive electoral losses for Communist parties, in June 1948, the Soviet Union cut off surface road access to Berlin, initiating the Berlin Blockade, which cut off all non-Soviet food, water and other supplies for the citizens of the non-Soviet sectors of Berlin. Because Berlin was located within the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany, the only available methods of supplying the city were three limited air corridors.
By February 1948, because of massive post-war military cuts, the entire United States army had been reduced to 552,000 men. Military forces in non-Soviet Berlin sectors totaled only 8,973 Americans, 7,606 British and 6,100 French. Soviet military forces in the Soviet sector that surrounded Berlin totaled one and a half million men. The two United States regiments in Berlin would have provided little resistance against a Soviet attack. Therefore, a massive aerial supply campaign was initiated by the United States, Britain, France and other countries, the success of which caused the Soviets to lift their blockade in May 1949.
On July 20, 1948, President Truman issued the second peacetime military draft in U.S. history.
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 on Stalin's part. The Soviet Union eventually withdrew from northern Iran, at Anglo-American behest; 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 1945.
Disagreement over the beginning of the Cold War
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.
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. 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. Discussion of these questions has centered in large part on the works of William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber, and John Lewis Gaddis.
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. 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 Walter LaFeber, author of the popular survey text America, Russia, and the Cold War (updated in 2002)—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.
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. 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.
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."
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- The division of Europe Portal to topic documents. CVCE.eu (Centre for European Studies)
- James F. Byrnes, Speaking Frankly The division of Germany. CVCE.eu (Centre for European Studies)
- Address given by Winston Churchill: ‘The Sinews of Peace’ Recording of Winston Churchill's speech in 5, March, 1946, warning about the advance of communism in central Europe. CVCE.eu (Centre for European Studies).
-  EDSITEment's curriculum unit The Origins of the Cold War
- Causes of the Cold War Study guide, primary sources, multimedia, teacher resources
- The CWIHP at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars Document Collection on the Origins of the Cold War