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The Western Bloc or Capitalist Bloc during the Cold War refers to the countries allied with the United States and NATO against the Soviet Union and its allies. The latter were referred to as the Eastern Bloc, a more common term in English than Western Bloc. The governments and press of the Western Bloc were more inclined to refer to themselves as the Free World or the Western world. Western Europe is a controversial term used to refer to democratic countries in Europe during the Cold War, but the concept is sometimes still used for quick reference by the media.
At the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the two superpowers. According to Matloff, “…the Second World War represented a fundamental shift in the international balance of power, for which a coalition strategy fashioned for victory provided no real or grand solutions” (702). Most of Europe had been divided by Nazi occupation and these two superpowers were responsible for setting up new governments within these countries and Denazification of Germany and Austria. It was agreed that free elections would ensue, however the Soviet Union did not keep their end of the deal. Soviet non-compliance with establishing free elections in war-torn European countries eventually led to a strained relationship with the United States and resulted in the division within the Western World into two increasingly hostile blocks. According to Kissinger, “Tension with the outside world was inherent in the very nature of communist philosophy and, above all, in the way the Soviet system was being run domestically. Thus the Soviet Union’s implacable hostility to the outside world was an attempt to gear international affairs to its own internal rhythm” (Kissinger 454). Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States continued to be strained and “Truman perceived the emerging struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union as a contest between good and evil, not as having to do with spheres of political influence” (Kissinger 447).
Creation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact
Soviet expansion prompted the United States and a few European countries to form NATO. NATO existed “to coordinate the military defenses of member nations against possible Soviet aggression” (). The Warsaw pact was formed as a direct response to NATO. It existed to protect Soviet Satellite countries that were formed after World War II and to ensure that no enemy invaded any of the Soviet satellite countries. It also had the power to intervene militarily if any one of its countries tried to establish independence. Kissinger states: “Although the Soviet Union cemented its dominance over Eastern Europe by means of the Warsaw Pact, this nominal alliance was obviously being held together by coercion” (447). The Soviets “became concerned when the West actively pushed West Germany towards rearmament, to help balance the power of the Soviet Union. The fear of a strong German military on the borders of Soviet controlled countries prompted action. In 14 May 1955, all nations under the control of the Soviet Union signed the Warsaw Pact agreement.” ()
The divisions between the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc grew, due to their mutually hostile policies the period was marked by Anti-Sovietism and second Red Scare in the Western Bloc. McCarthyism brought persecution to the United States of anyone accused of disloyalty, including many left-wing policy followers. In Europe, many countries that were not communist, often had strong support for the communist or socialist parties, such as the French Communist Party or the Socialist Party (Portugal). Many opted to implement elements of the socialist system such as the welfare State, e.g. Folkhemmet. Scandinavian countries created economic systems based on democracy and socialism.
Fall of the USSR and reunification of the West and Europe
The Fall of the USSR brought an end to the Cold War. US-American culture and capitalism spread to previously sealed-off Communist controlled countries. In 2009, Albania was the last country of the Eastern Bloc to join NATO, except for the ex-USSR countries: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Many countries in Central Europe and the Balkans allied with the USSR or forming a part of it (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) during the Cold War became full members of the European Union. Most of former Eastern Bloc countries became members of other organizations associated with the Western World such as the WTO, the Council of Europe, International Energy Agency, European Space Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Russia joined the G-8 in 1997 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1998.
- Allied Forces
- Axis Powers
- Eastern Bloc
- First World
- Operation Condor
- Second World
- Third World
- Western betrayal
- Western world
- Capitalism, democracy, and ecology: departing from Marx, by Timothy W. Luke
- Matloff, Maurice. Makers of Modern Strategy. Ed. Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971. 702.
- Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 447,454.