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How far was the USSR Responsible for the Outbreak of the Cold War? Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

To a certain extent, the USSR’s responsibility of the Cold War cannot be underestimated as their policies following the Second World War may have been seen as aggressive by USA. The forceful take-over of Eastern Europe through the Red Army occupations, especially in distinctive cases such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, can be seen as being far from the “liberation” over which the two war-time allies had agreed, while the rigging of elections did not conform to the Yalta agreement of the organisation of free ones. Stalin responded to the Americans’ policies of containment by creating his own agencies, therefore creating even more hostility between the two superpowers, while also refusing the existence of anything but Soviet puppet states in Eastern Europe. However, the event which cemented the outbreak of the Cold War was Stalin imposing the Berlin Blockade, taking direct action towards weakening the Americans’ position. One may see that Stalin’s blockade resulted in the official creation of two separate German states, one of the most significant events of the Cold War.

On the other hand, revisionists point out that the USSR was taking defensive measures to protect itself from anything that could have caused as much damage as the Second World War, while the Americans, who were superior economically, adopted provocative policies. They challenged the patience of the Russians by hiding crucial events from them, while a range of public speeches and declarations of the need for US intervention in Europe were seen as hostile by the Russians. The US actively had a role in the battle against communism by developing the policy of containment. The Americans also had a fault in provoking and heightening the Berlin Blockade, hence initiating the division of Germany. Nonetheless, the middle ground between these arguments proves that both superpowers were equally responsible for the outbreak of the Cold War, with one ‘provoking’ the other through the security dilemma, each misinterpreting the other’s actions. The ideological differences are crucial as well, for they are the foundation to the reasons why the USA and USSR could not agree upon each other’s policies.

Prior to the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Red Army had already liberated Poland from the Nazis but at the expense of the London Poles, thus of democracy. After staging the crushing of the London Poles by the Nazis, Stalin had a dominant position at the time of the conferences, and thus was able to make some nonnegotiable claims such as that the Russians were to keep territory from the eastern portion of Poland and Poland was to compensate for that by extending its Western borders, thus forcing out millions of Germans. The fact that Stalin allowed the London Poles to be crushed by the Nazis shows the long-term planning Stalin had done regarding Eastern Europe and that it was clear that he did not only aim to liberate Poland from the Nazis but to also install his communist “lackeys”. However, at Yalta, he did promise that free elections would be held in Poland and that some members of the London government would join the Lublin government.

Yet, this “liberation” never actually came about in the way the Americans expected, as many accused the USSR of rigging the “free elections” as they had gained 384 out of 444 seats in the Parliament, with Bierut gaining support. It can also be maintained that the Russians deliberately twisted Byrnes’ Stuttgart speech to consolidate their hold on Polish opinion, using it to show how unfavourably for Poland the in-exile government would operate. Thus, in the 1947 elections the communists were voted into power as some might argue not so forcefully as they did have some support based on land reform and Soviet protection of Polish borders. Nevertheless, the manipulation of the speech may then also be seen as increasing already existing tensions. Czechoslovakia was also an example of the way the communists dealt with Eastern Europe in reality, after liberating it from the Nazis. As soon as there was a danger of communism being compromised as Czechoslovakia considered seeking aid from the Marshall Plan following an economic crisis, Stalin took hard-line measures which may have well been seen as aggressive by the Americans and proving that USSR really did aim for expansionism.

The USSR’s approval of a coup d’etat by Gottwald and the purging of all possible opposition such as Jan Masaryk, placed the communists in power and allowed them to rig elections. It may be argued that the coup helped the US government pass the Marshall Plan as Soviet attitudes proved to be provocative and aggressive. Other countries such as Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria followed similar patterns of “liberation”, with the net result of puppet governments that were loyal to the USSR being set up. This was a clear violation of the Declaration of Liberated Europe and so Western leaders thus saw the development in Eastern Europe as a first step towards taking control of the countries in the West, hence pushing the US towards taking active steps to prevent such a movement. Nonetheless, that was not the only suspicious action of the Soviets in 1945 as in between the two post-war conferences, the US delegation received reports about Russian dismantling, an issue over which they had not yet agreed over, thus offering Truman indications of early belligerence.

The aggressive policy Stalin adopted in Yugoslavia’s case also gave the Americans reasons to be suspicious of Soviet reasons behind their take-over. Despite Yugoslavia embracing communism, the Soviets were dissatisfied with this as it was a form of “national communism”, with Tito seeking to adopt his own communist line, independent of the USSR. Due to the Tito’s belligerence, whereby he aimed to form his own customs union with Bulgaria and Hungary and supported the communists in Greece in spite of Stalin’s objections, Yugoslavia was expelled from Cominform and was accused of “bourgeois nationalism”. Nonetheless, the more dramatic impact of the incident was that Stalin embarked upon a mission of purging all the “Titoists” in Russian satellite states such as Gomulka in Poland and Husak in Czechoslovakia. Therefore, the purges were viewed in the West as evidence of Stalin’s plans for Soviet expansion as he was unwilling to tolerate any other kind of government, even communist, unless it was controlled by the USSR. This gave way to rising tensions between the two superpowers and validated the Americans’ theory of the Russian expansionist ideology.

However, USSR was not only provocative in trying to establish its buffer zone in Eastern Europe, but she also in trying to gain influence in Turkey and the Middle East, such as Iran. In the case of Soviet focus on Turkey, a strong Western reaction pushed Stalin to back off and thus pressure for concessions alleviated. Therefore, Stalin’s involvement in other areas of Europe pushed the US towards a hard-line attitude, thus reinforcing antagonism between the two powers. Moreover, a similar attitude was adopted in Iran, proving to be the first crisis for the UN, ending in Stalin abandoning the local communists. This again proved to Truman that dictators should not be appeased again, and that they can be contained if the USA puts its foot down. While it may be said that the USA was to be blamed for creating conflicts with the USSR by abandoning isolationism and adopting the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the fact that the USSR chose to respond by creating the Cominform in September 1947 which drew together the various European communist parties and made sure that they were fully loyal to Russian-style communism, the Molotiv Plan and the Comecon ( the Soviet equivalents to the Marshall Plan) took the conflict to a higher level, showing that neither was willing to back down.

Furthermore, as the USSR forbade all of its satellites to claim the Marshall Aid, despite being in desperate need, the Americans may have become more determined to get themselves actively involved in containing the spread of communism, as it meant that their involvement wherever the USSR was in control would be rejected, their influence in world affairs diminishing. The USSR also used the Cominform to control Communist parties in Western Europe, namely Italy and France, which clearly alarmed the Americans and gave them even more signals that the Soviets would not stop unless the US took action to contain their expansionism, thus contributing to the outbreak of the Cold War. Therefore, from one point of view, we could say that USSR provoked the USA into taking defensive measures. This idea is also supported by the series of speeches given by both sides, each side looking for subliminal threats of war in them. However, it was Stalin’s Bolshoi Speech that persuaded Kennan to send off the Long Telegram which in turn convinced Truman and the Congress to adopt the Truman Doctrine. The speech, delivered in February 1946, revealed Stalin’s declaration that capitalism and imperialism made war inevitable, a claim that in the US was interpreted as an allusion to a new war, thus creating hostility between the two superpowers.

Yet, the first real crisis which crystallized the Cold War and defined the characteristics of it with the two superpowers at opposite ends of the spectrum unsurprisingly arose over the issue of Berlin, half of which was an island of capitalism in a sea of communism. Stalin wanted a united Germany only if Soviet influence, reparations and a role for the SED would be guaranteed, but ever since the post-war conferences, the West had refused to punish Germany as harshly. In 1947-1948 tension arose because it became apparent that the Western allies were going to go ahead with a separate West Germany and incorporate West Berlin into that state. Clearly Stalin’s measures against this move which may have jeopardised the Soviets’ role in Germany were aimed at creating a position of strength from which he could negotiate and to convince the West Germans to question themselves about the USA’s will an

d ability to aid them. Instead, Stalin’s methods proved to

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actually cause increased antagonism towards the USSR, cementing the competition for power between the USA and USSR and the action-reaction features of the Cold War. Following a race over whose currency would be the more dominant one, on the 24th of June 1948, Stalin decided to impose a blockade on West Berlin, appearing as a tyrant to the 2.5 million West Berliners, which exacerbated the feeling of division once they were kept alive by the airlift and Stalin released the blockade. In my opinion, Germany can be seen as being one of the most crucial factors of the Cold War as it was the place where the two superpowers clashed both literally and figuratively. The Berlin blockade catalysed the official division of Germany, giving the West a reason to establish the Federal Republic of Germany, with the Russians responding by setting up the German Democratic Republic.

On the other hand, the USA’s role in causing the Cold War cannot be taken too lightly either. It may be argued that they actually provoked Stalin to impose a blockade on West Berlin by taking what were perceived by Stalin as hostile measures to show the West’s supremacy. In 1947 the merger of the British and US German zones and the rebirth of democratic institutions in the Bizone clearly worried USSR. Moreover, the secrecy involving the Western countries alienated Stalin, who probably felt threatened by the possible plotting of a plan that would compromise the USSR. Thus, the secret discussions at the London Conference about the German economy ruptured relations between the USSR and USA, as in March 1948 the Soviet representatives walked out of the Allied Control Council after demanding to be told what had been agreed in London. The problems were exacerbated by the Western Allies’ plan of introducing a new currency, printing it and secretly bringing it over to Western Germany, catching the USSR completely unprepared.

Thus the introduction of the Deutschmark was the catalyst of the blockade. From this point of view, we can actually say that the Americans initiated the division of Germany by giving no other choice to Stalin but to impose a blockade. Furthermore, American attitudes during the blockade may also be seen as helping worsen the relation between the two superpowers instead of trying to improve it. Enormous effort was put into the airlift, which tried to feed and supply the West Berliners so that by December 1948, the USAF and RAF were able to deliver up to 6000 tonnes of food per day with planes flying every 90 seconds. Western leaders feared that to Germans the Soviet zone in Germany might seem more appealing if the Western allies did not try and do anything; they believed that, as General Clay had earlier declared, there was no choice between being a communist on 1500 calories a day and a capitalist on 1000. Therefore, the Americans had to try and impede Berliners from embracing communism.

However, while the US cannot be blamed for wanting to keep the West Berliners fed, she did transform the success of the airlift into a major Western propaganda coup, with 300 000 people gathering in front of the Reichstag around Reuter, the West Berlin mayor, who publicly begged the West to “keep going”. This psychological boost for the western powers proved to be detrimental to East-West relations which reached their worst point since 1945. The counter-blockade imposed by the Western Allies in January 1949 was clearly a hostile move which helped build up even more tension, yet it proved to convince Stalin to lift the blockade if the Allies were to lift their counter-blockade. The crisis also helped create the political conditions in which the US committed itself to abandoning its isolationism and to creating a military alliance in the event of war- NATO.

This must have had a major impact in defining the Cold War and in causing Soviet resentment, as it proved that the USA was planning to adopt a long-term hard-line stance when it came to the USSR. Nonetheless, one of the most crucial consequences of the Berlin blockade was that it triggered the official beginning of the arms race. I think that this can be almost entirely blamed on the USA as during the blockade, the question of nuclear warfare arose. In September the National Security Council produced a secret report designated as NSC-30: “United States Policy on Atomic Warfare.”

This required the military to be “ready to utilize promptly and effectively all appropriate means available, including atomic weapons, in the interests of national security” and to “plan accordingly,” but any decision about the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the president, “when he considers such decisions to be required.” In a briefing with his chief air force commanders, Truman “prayed he would never have to make such a decision, but if it became necessary, no one need have misgiving but he would do so.” In a dramatic gesture that summer, a fleet of sixty B-29s, the latest American heavy bombers designed to carry atomic weapons bombers, was flown into the United Kingdom. The deployment of the B-29s established the US Strategic Air Command in the UK, and the arrival in Britain of “the atomic bombers” was widely publicized. The threat of nuclear retaliation was now made explicit, which not only raised the stakes but the long-term resentment too. This in turn prompted the Soviets to declare their possession of the atomic bomb in 1949.

This tendency of the Americans to intimidate the Soviets through the threat of the atomic bomb had long been adopted ever since 1945, when by the time of the Potsdam Conference, the US had already used the atomic bomb on Japan and failed to inform the USSR of its plans much in advance, even though the USSR was aware of the American possession of the atomic bomb having been informed by its spies. This created suspicions among the Soviets as they saw it as an indication that the Americans might be using the threat of the bomb to force the USSR to make concessions. The secrecy and spies indicate the high levels of skepticism within the Grand Alliance throughout the war even. Thus, the Soviet response to the US atomic bomb of initiating a breakneck programme of developing their own atomic could be justified. This may have also created an inferiority complex for Russia whose desire of a buffer zone may have been defensible as they had suffered many damages during the Second World War, much worse than those endured by the Americans.

Hence, the Soviet ideas of damage on such a large scale happening “never again” pushed them to look for a sphere of influence that would help prevent invasions of Russia. After all, historians locate the roots of the Cold War in the sense of vulnerability that underlay the USSR’s persistent quest for security through territory. America, on the other hand, emerged from the War with an economic boom and they used this superiority to influence Western European countries. There was a series of menacing speeches and claims made by prominent Western figures which greatly influenced the USA in its attitude, at the same time provoking the USSR and accusing them. Kennan claimed in his Long Telegram in February 1946 that the USSR was going to expand all over the world and therefore must be contained. His telegram alarmed the USA and eventually led to the policy of containment.

Moreover, Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech made at Fulton, Missouri did not only contribute to the new policy in 1947 but also persuaded Stalin to draw parallels between Churchill and Hitler, thus showing that to an extent Stalin’s hostility was provoked by the USA. While the Americans could have accused Russia for not keeping to the issues discussed and agreed upon at the post-war conferences, the same can be said for the US- Byrnes’ 1946 Stuttgart speech seemed to imply that Germany might be able to redraw its new border with Poland in its favour, even though the borders had been agreed to be at Oder and Neisse. Nonetheless, they did not take direct action like the Soviets did. All of the afore mentioned are relevant not only to show the way in which they provoked the USSR but also as some of the reasons as to why the US adopted the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.

The Truman Doctrine was a call for US commitment against ‘tyranny’ and the conflict between slavery and freedom, a resolution which was also reached as a result of Britain not being able to financially support Greece and Turkey with the US feeling that it was its role to prevent the spread of communism beyond its present borders and to strengthen the “free world”. In terms of the Cold War, the Doctrine showed that the USA was not willing to stand back anymore, taking an active role which sought the containment of communism and extending their views globally, shaping the pattern for the next 30 years. This went hand in hand with the Marshall Plan which offered economic help for European reconstruction initially offered to most European countries, even the communist states. Kennan’s Long Telegram had the largest impact here, as Marshall adopted Kennan’s vision of building a European bulwark against Soviet expansion, as the economic crisis following the harsh winter of 1946-47 and the growth of the communist parties in Italy and France were related thus making the Americans believe that strong economies could fight against communism.

This could be seen as evidence for the drive of US leaders for dominance, as there would be strings attached and the creation of strong economies in a stable Europe would underpin democracy and bind the helped states both politically and economically to the US. The success of the Marshall Plan, with $15 billion spent between 1948-52 and an annual GNP growth in Europe of 20%, to Stalin, posed a real threat to the buffer zone and thought that it is an attempt of taking over Eastern Europe (as Czechoslovakia was tempted to accept it) even though it had been declared a Soviet sphere of influence at Yalta. It may also be pointed out that despite US accusations of Soviet expansionism, the CIA intervened in the Italian elections and French trade union affairs to counter communist influence, following the events of 1948. Furthermore, while Stalin agreed to not get involved in the civil war in Greece and not to support the local communists, the USA did back the anti-communists in the Greek Civil War’s closing stages, thus showing its determination to maintain its influence in Europe.

However, there is a post-revisionist middle ground between the two extremes, claiming that both superpowers share the blame for the outbreak of the Cold War between them. The Marshall Plan itself was an example of the “security dilemma” that both the USA and the USSR faced. In the West, the Plan was perceived as an attempt to uphold political freedom while in the East it was seen as an aggressive policy. Misunderstandings and misperceptions between the West and USSR thrived, with the series of 1946 speeches being the best example to illustrate the concept- the Western speeches were seen as merely attempts to secure their positions while the Soviets saw them as threatening. The reverse is applicable to Stalin’s Bolshoi speech which was interpreted as a prediction of a Third World War. These constant suspicions of each other made fear dominate the thinking of both sides’ as they both thought that the other was aiming to expand and compromise the other.

The ideological antagonism also proved to be essential in the “cold” battle between the two superpowers, a conflict of ideologies that went back all the way to the contrasts between Wilson’s and Lenin’s views. Although allies in the Second World War, the fundamental ideological disparity still only made the alliance be one “of desperation, not trust”, as proven by the many occasions of secrecy. This radical difference in ideologies is best illustrated by the divergence between Soviet and Anglo-American policies regarding definitions of democracy and of which parties and individuals should be allowed to participate; the idea of “free elections” clearly meant two different things for the USSR and the USA. The Cold War broke out due to the chess-like moves of both players- they both tried to guess what the other would do following the end of WW2 and acted upon those assumptions.

For example, the British and the Americans remained confident that they could deal with Stalin even as they began to suspect that co-operation might not be as easy as they had hoped. Alternatively, Stalin assumed that the USA would retreat to political isolationism and would lack the will to involve itself in European security affairs. The two superpowers did not try to understand each other and the positions they were in after WW2, basing their judgments on the other superpower’s past, such as the USA automatically interpreting Soviet behaviour as part of a pattern of expansion, seeing the USSR as naturally expansionist and committed to spreading revolution, rather than considering their needs for security following the disasters of the War. Other historians see the defeat of Germany and the weakening effects the war had on most European countries as the cause to the outbreak of the Cold War. There was an enormous power vacuum left in the centre of Europe and the Cold War developed as a result of the growth of two opposing superpowers, who both wanted to fill that power vacuum but one would not tolerate the other.

In conclusion, what became a globalised, militarized confrontation in which the two superpowers led alliance systems that threatened nuclear conflagration (both soon emerging to test the hydrogen bomb following 1948-49 events) for the next 30 years, I think was caused due to hostility and provocation from both sides. Clearly the aggressive take-over of Eastern Europe and the hostile policies implemented there such as the purging of any possible political opponents to Soviet-style communism which created apprehensiveness in the West can only be owed to USSR policies.

Furthermore, the fact that Stalin chose to respond to US ‘provocations’ in Germany showed that he was ready to retaliate, even if not under the form of a new war as neither of the two superpowers was actually ready to wage a new war that could involve mass destruction. Strong responses from either side to the other’s actions showed that neither was willing to back down and hence a “Cold War” between the two was inevitable. On the other hand, the Americans provoked the USSR using their economic advantage to develop policies which were considered to be hostile and expansionist by the communists. These considerations and assumptions made by both superpowers undoubtedly led to the outbreak of the Cold War, as it was difficult to see how two countries who were ideologically so different could agree with each other when not fighting a common enemy.

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