“Who was more to blame for the origins and development of the Cold War in Europe: Stalin or Truman?”
The cold war was a period of intense antagonism between the two superpowers- the United States and the Soviet Union, lasting from 1945-1991. Both leaders, Stalin and Truman, had a huge role to play in the cold war, but ultimately, it was Stalin who was more to blame for the origins and development of the cold war in Europe.
Stalin’s foreign policy tended to be expansionist, as can be seen from the sovietization of Europe. By the end of world war two, the Soviet Union had taken control over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and not to mention the annexation of small portions of Romania and Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, the foreign policy was also based on the aim of taking advantage of the military situation in Europe to strengthen Soviet influence. As such, it was not hard for USA to see that USSR was inexorably expansionist, and had aims to spread world wide communism.
These suspicions were made worse by the fact that although the Soviets had agreed to the principle of free elections in Eastern Europe during the Yalta conference of February 1945, it was clear that the Soviets applied pressure to allow communist politicians to hold key positions in coalition governments before elections were held. Key positions included those like the interior minister, which was responsible for the the police force and law and order. With communists now in charge, elections could then be manipulated to ensure communists controlled the levers of powers. To strengthen communist parties, they were often encouraged by Stalin to merge with other, often bigger, socialists groups who found merger to be in a reality a takeover. By the end of 1947, every state in Eastern Europe was controlled by a communist government, except Czechoslovakia.
However, it would be unfair of us to overlook the fact that Stalin was obsessed with the security of USSR and that his moves were also defensive in nature. Stalin’s preoccupation with safeguarding soviet security, was difficult for US to understand, because US was more prosperous as compared to a greatly weakened USSR. Russia had been invaded from the west three times during the 20th century- by Germany during the first world war, by those helping the whites during the Russian civil war, and finally, by Germany again in the second world war. Over 20 million soviet citizens were killed during world war two on top of the vast economic losses incurred. Although it is valid and right to say that the USSR had been working from a point position of weakness, Stalin still bears the bulk of the responsibility because it’s foreign policies might have been motivated by security interests but the actions were deemed by expansionist and aggressive by USA.
USA merely reacted to the communist aggression in defense of democracy, the free world and for the free men. An example would be the Berlin Blockade in 1948-1949. This was clearly provocative on the part of the soviets. West Berlin benefited from the Marshall funds which were not the only place to receive the much-needed aid for economic recovery and reconstruction. Though the soviets were right to point out the rapid economy recovery of West Berlin was the US attempt to make West Europe less likely to fall into communist influence, the US did not deliberately draw Stalin into a confrontation. The Berlin blockade was unexpected and clearly reflected soviet aggression rather than the US. When the USSR cut off all road, rail and canal links to West Berlin, USA interpreted this as an attempt to starve the west out of the city as a prelude to a possible attack on West Germany. This was yet again another example of Stalin’s expansionistic foreign policy.
On the other hand, there were times in which USA exaggerated the external dangers of soviet communism in order to achieve certain internal desires, be it economical or political. In the case of the Berlin Blockade, USA saw Germany’s economic revival as essential to her financial interests, and also to prevent communism from taking root in Germany. Another example would be the marshall plan which was designed to implant an informal american empire in Europe, including eastern and southern europe, and thereby to extend american political influence over USSR itself. The economic aims of the marshall plan was to provide aid and thereby to revive the flagging market economies of Europe, to USA economic prosperity was perceived as the most effective antidote to the attractiveness of communism. All these showed that USA took action in a way which would benefit them. But Stalin should still be more responsible because he could have countered the economic threat posed by the Marshall plan in a less aggressive way. But instead, it chose the Berlin Blockade instead of effective economic measures to secure communism in her sphere of influence. The soviets did little to improve the economic prospects of Eastern Europe. Much of East Germany’s industrial plant was dismantled and sent to the USSR as reparations.
In addition, Stalin was too distrustful and suspicious of USA’s motives. Truman’s adoption of an “iron fist” approach caused a rift between the US and USSR, as Stalin believed that containment was a proactive action that aroused Stalin’s suspicions and drove USSR into a position of hostility to the West. Another example where one can see the Soviet’s distrust of USA would be in the case USA’s possession of the atomic bomb. Soviet distrust and suspicion were to be heightened by the development of the atomic bomb and made worse by the fact that Truman failed to inform Stalin of his decision to make use of the atomic bomb. It is undeniable that Truman was definitely more anti-communist than Roosevelt, and Stalin was led to believe that Truman was intolerant to communists and would do anything within his power to contain them as can be seen by the containment policy and marshall plan. Stalin saw Truman as an aggressor.
Although Stalin had valid reasons to be suspicious, Truman’s iron fist policy was not purely defined by US leaders even though it seemed provocative. The British government played an important role in Greece, where there had been a Civil War between the monarchists and communists since 1944. The British were the ones who warned the Americans that they could not maintain troops in Greece. Faced with the prospect of a British withdrawal leading to a communist takeover in a country of strategic importance, Truman then decided to intervene with the concept of the Truman Doctrine. In actual fact, it was the British who were more hostile towards the communists, not Truman. In addition, events were to prove that the atomic bomb had little impact on Stalin’s policies. While encouraging the Soviet Union to develop it’s own atomic bomb as soon as possible, Stalin regarded it as a weapon of bluff which was unlikely to be used in Europe because of it’s huge destructive power. And so, the atomic bomb had little impact on keeping a rein on Stalin’s policies.
Considering all the points above, although Truman played a part, he was less responsible in particularly the initial years of his rule. Truman tried to sustain his predecessor’s policy of accommodation at first. But it was Stalin whose action was undeniably aggressive, as can be seen from the Berlin Blockade, and this led to USA believing that USSR had a masterplan for the domination of Europe. This was made worst by the fact the Stalin’s foreign policies were expansionistic as well. Therefore, Stalin was more to blame for the origins and development of the Cold War in Europe.