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Origins of the Cold War/ Overview of Cold War
The Cold War—Power Struggles between the USA and the USSR in the Post-World War Two Era
A) The Origins of the Cold War
1) war-time diplomacy.
Dec. 1941, US, USSR, and England become allies in fight against the “Axis” powers (Germany, Italy, Japan). 1941-43, cooperation in form of Lend
Lease, but much suspicion between USA and USSR.
Dec. 1943, the “Big Three” (Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin) meeting in Teheran (Iran) leads to agreement on opening a second front in France, but no
agreements on post-war power distribution.
Feb. 1945, “Big Three” meeting in Yalta (USSR) to discuss post-war issues. Agree to create the UN; agree on Soviet entry into war vs Japan;
agree to Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria; agree to split Germany into zones of occupation (US, French, British in West; Soviet in East);
agree on need to establish new governments in liberated Eastern European countries like Poland, but much disagreement over who should dominate
in these new governments.
July-August 1945, “Big Three” meet for the last time, in defeated Germany. (FDR dead, replaced by Truman; Churchill beaten in elections,
replaced by Atlee; only Stalin remains...). Agree on how to deal with Nazis and on transfer of German territory to Poland;; agree again to divide
Germany into zones; agree on reparations from the Soviet-occupied zone; agree to divide Berlin (in the East) into east-west zones; laid down terms
for post-war settlement with Japan; agreed that Western European countries would regain all colonies that had been seized by the Japanese
(including the French in Vietnam). Disagree over which factions have right to form governments in Eastern Europe, esp. in Poland.
Despite fact that US and USSR cooperated to create the United Nations, the relationship between the two super powers rapidly fell apart.
2) intentions, perceptions, and events that led to the Cold War
Soviet goals in Europe: friendly “buffer states” on the borders of the USSR that would provide security against future attacks; initially, Stalin did
not want these to be Communist dictatorships, and preferred them to be multi-party leftist governments that signed treaties of friendship and
cooperation with the USSR.
US goals in Europe: European reconstruction to re-stabilize the world economy; an “open door” to US trade and investment in Eastern Europe.
Perceptions: Stalin perceived US support for particular factions in Poland (etc) as aggressive and feared that the US was trying to isolate the USSR
economically and militarily. As tensions mounted, and as Stalin failed in efforts to control non-communist governments in Eastern Europe, USSR
decided to keep occupation troops in region and began setting up all-Communist governments. (1945-1947). Truman perceived Soviet actions in
Eastern Europe as aggressive and expansionist.
Disputes leading to Cold War:
March 1947, Truman responds to Soviet support for communist rebels in the Greek civil war by announcing that the US would act to “contain Soviet
expansionism” (the “Truman Doctrine”).
1947, US announced the Marshall Plan, which pumped over $12.5 billion into reconstruction of the Western European economy—goal was to
stabilize and restore the economy and by doing so to stop the growth of popular pro-Communist sentiment (it was accompanied by political crackdown
against Communist parties in Western Europe). US offered to include Eastern Europe and the USSR in the plan, but required that the US have the
right to inspect, oversee, and invest in the Soviet/East European economies—Stalin rejected this.
1948, US established a separate currency for West Germany, as a first step toward creating a West German state. The USSR viewed this as
aggressive behavior, and in response placed a blockade on West Berlin.
The Berlin Crisis led to the creation of two separate German states (West and East), which came to symbolize the division of Europe in the Cold
War until 1989.
B) Basic Outlines of Cold War Era in Europe (up to the 1980s)
Soviet control over Eastern Europe hardened in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The USSR formed an economic bloc with the Communist regimes in
Eastern Europe (Comecon), and used its dominance to arrange unfair trade agreements that favored the USSR. Although the economies of Eastern
Europe produced goods of higher quality than those produced in the USSR, their economies and standards of living lagged far behind those in
Western Europe. Also, the Soviet Communist Party directly interfered and intervened in the activities of the ruling Communist parties in Eastern
Europe. In general, the USSR was “conservative” in its policies toward Eastern Europe, in that it sought to prevent change. This was in part a
reaction to Moscow’s inability to control the Communist Party in Yugoslavia, which broke with the USSR at the end of the 1940s. When Communist
reform movement emerged, the USSR sent in troops to overthrow them and replace them with “reliable” Communists (examples—Hungary in 1956;
Czechoslovakia in 1968).
At the same time that the US’s Marshall Plan was helping Europe rebuild, the US created a European-American military alliance called NATO
(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949. (The USSR responded to this by creating and Eastern European-Soviet military alliance—the Warsaw
Pact—in 1955. Also, France did not join NATO.) In addition to this military alliance, the Western Europeans began working toward stronger
economic cooperation in the 1940s and 1950s: in 1948, they created the OECD (Organization for European Economic Cooperation), to reduce tariffs
and coordinate industrial policies. In 1957 several Western European countries formed the Common Market (the European Economic Community),
which further stimulated trade. At the same time, several Western European governments stimulated their economies by directly taking control over
some industries (“nationalization”—especially of coal, steel, railroad, automobile building, and health care). Although Europe lost most of its
colonies in the 1960s, the European economies continued to thrive, and by the early 1970s the Common Market was producing as much as the US
economy. This brought impressive improvements in standards of living, and it widened the gap between the lives of people in Western and Eastern
Europe. In the late 1970s, new conservative government majorities (e.g., Thatcher and the Tories in England) began reversing the trend of
nationalization, towards privatization of state industries.