Cold War Summary, quotes and revision notes.

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The Cold War 1945 – 1991

1) Origins of the Cold War 1945 – 1953 

- 1945 Conferences and the emergence of the superpowers

The origins of the Cold War

  • Disputes between the US & USSR centred around two major issues - Eastern Europe (US planned for free elections – Stalin was determined to create a secure zone of friendly communist governments – Stalin prevailed) and Germany (disagreed over the treatment of the defeated Germany – US favoured lenient treatment, USSR favoured harsh treatment)
  • Divisions were acknowledged by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a speech in March 1946 when he used the phrase “the iron curtain”

1945 Conferences

Name: Yalta Conference

Date: 4-11th February 1945

People: US president Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin

Discussed: German reparations, Polish government, United Nations, Japan


  • Agreement that the three nations (as well as France) would control post-war Germany
  • Soviet’s demanded that Germany pay heavy reparations to help compensate for WWII losses, US & Britain were hesitant as such restrictions could hamper economic recovery for Europe. Reparations were agreed to but the actual figure not decided.
  • The Lublin committee – Provisional Polish Government set up under Soviet support and consisting of communists – would be broadened to include others – clear democratic elements
  • Three superpowers decided to extend their alliance through the ceration of the United Nations
  • US called for the Soviet Union to enter the war against Japan – obliged to attack Japan within three months of defeat of Germany


  • Polish democrats excluded from Lublin committee
  • Communist governments installed in other Eastern European countries
  • New US President Harry Truman (Knew little about foreign policy, little appreciation of Soviet to guarantee their security in Eastern Europe, tougher, more confrontational)
  • Truman suddenly cut Lend Lease Aid to Soviet Union – convinced Stalin the US were prepared to use economic blackmail

Name: Potsdam Conference – held in Germany

Date: 17th of July – 2nd August 1945

People: US President Harry Truman, Stalin, Winston Churchill (replaced by successor Clement Atlee during conference)

Discussed: Finalisation of what was discussed at Yalta, Four occupation zones, Reparations, Poland, Nazi war criminals, Atomic Bomb


  • Leaders issued the “Potsdam Agreement” – settled upon four occupation zones into which Germany, Berlin, Austria would be divided.
  • Reparations discussed and agreed upon – Soviet Union able to reap reparations from their zone of occupation as well as 15% of such usable and complete industrial capital equipment from Western zones and 10% of such industrial capital equipment as is unnecessary for German peace economy
  • Reshaping of Poland concluded upon – Eastern parts of country remaining annexed by the Soviets and the nation expanding its borders west into Germany
  • Leaders agreed that Nazi war criminals were to be prosecuted under an international war crimes tribunal
  • Truman told Stalin the US now possessed the Atomic Bomb

The emergence of the superpowers

Ideological conflict –

  • April 1950, the US National Security Council released Paper Number 68 which highlighted the fact that there had been an “end of the European era and the rise to dominance of two continental-size superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.” 
  • End of WWII – USSR & USA Emerged as the two superpowers
  • No more old European balance of power
  • Up to them to now decide fate of European countries
  • Tensions immediately followed end of War: who would dominate Europe?

After WWII:


  • Unique position of power, with its “allies exhausted and its rivals defeated” (Painter) 
  • Much of the world’s manufacturing capacity, food surpluses and financial reserves resided in their borders
  • They “possessed the world’s mightiest military machine” (Spellman) 
  • Their navy, air force and army were the most technologically advanced and elite defence force in the world – they also possessed some devastated weaponry, such as atomic explosives.


  • Heavily affected by WWII
  • Severe amount of damage to “crop land, farm animals, factories, mines, transportation networks and housing stock” (Gorlizki) 
  • They possessed formidable armed forces – world’s most powerful army
  • Struck fear into the hearts of the US – left the world whether it was possible that these two superpowers would eventually clash
  • Occupied most of central and Eastern Europe

Series of Clashes

  • Territorial clashes in Europe because of its industrial wealth and closeness to the Russian border
  • In the Far East because of its closeness to the Russian border and its strategic importance to the USA because of the Pacific Ocean
  • In the Middle East because of its shared border with Russia & dependence of the USA on its oil
  • In the former colonies of the 3rd World because of their resources and potential as military bases

“The United States and the Soviet Union built empires after World War II” (Gaddis) 

“Two Camps Theory”


1945 – Bipolar World = Both USA & USSR militarily and economically powerful = global influence. Most other nations allied to one or other power, linked as allies or trading partners.

1960s – Multipolar World, with growing power of China, Japan and West Germany

1991 – After USSR collapse, USA remains the only superpower.

Domestic Policy

Often the situation at home forced leaders of the two superpowers to divert attention to matters outside the country.

Diplomatic Factors

Foreign negotiations between ambassadors or presidents (summit) to find solutions. Alliances and agreements between countries to help one another, e.g. USA = NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) USSR = Warsaw Pact. 

Military Factors

After 1945, influenced by the potential of nuclear war to destroy both powers and others, therefore, they could not fight. Biggest differnence with past conflicts was the existence of atomic weapons. The A-Bomb was the factor that influenced American public to have American troops stationed in Europe post WW2.

Effect: “On the one hand, nuclear weapons and deterrence played vital role in preventing war between the two superpowers but on the other hand, it poisoned the relationship as fear rather than trust was the main ingredient.” – Lebow & Stein 

Economic Factors

Acceptable method of competition between the two superpowers was economic competition.

1) Tried to outspend each other building nuclear weapon stockpiles.

2) Tried to extend sphere of influence by spending money helping other countries, especially in Africa, Middle East to gain their allegiance.

3) Spent money on space race.

4) Spent money on sport, especially Olypmics to prove dominance of their own political ideology.

All this had propoganda value.

“The old Soviet Economy could not provide money for the arms race, space race and provide standard of living of the West.” - Walker

History and Culture

The historical and cultural background of each superpower influences its foreign policy.

- Emerging differences between the Superpowers  

  • The fact that USSR had employed an autocratic system of government with a dictatorial ruler and was attempting to use its sphere of influence to implore these values on other venerable nations was enough for the democratic USA to vehemently oppose their system of government and economic ideology.
  • Several areas of competition

1) Territory – Each country believed in its right to a sphere of influence beyond its national borders

2) Economy – The USA wanted to lead a global revival of capitalism, whereas the Soviet Union wanted to use international resources to repair and build its economy in order to maintain its status as the leader of world communism.

3) Ideology – The basic ideals of the USA (Capitalism, democracy and Christianity) were incompatible with the basic ideals of the Soviet Union (Communism, one-party dictatorship & atheism.)

Emerging Differences

  • The Truman Doctrine and its Consequences

The Truman Doctrine 1946

  • Two influential advisors, Clark Clifford and George F. Kennan decided there was a need for tough policies and actions from the U.S.
  • In early 1947, Britain announced that it could no longer afford to resist the spread of communist influence in Greece and Turkey – Truman announced that the US would provide $400 million in aid to anti-communist forces in these areas – a major new policy
  • Truman called for the global containment of communism
  • Growing fears that tensions in Turkey would result in higher communist influence in the area – US offered aid in an attempt to both politically stabilise the Mediterranean region and solidify their power.
  • Evidence of a move towards a policy of containment – away from isolationism – significant marker in the initiation of the Cold War.

Consequences of the Truman Doctrine

  • Ensured the inauguration of the notion of the “Domino Theory” – played a crucial ole in dictating foreign policy in years to come (Particularly Vietnam and Korean War.) Theory stated if one country became communist it was only a matter of time before all nations in the immediate region would succumb to the pressure.

The Marshall Plan

  • June 1947 – Secretary of State George Marshall announced a major economic component of the Truman Doctrine – the Marshall Plan.
  • The US would provide billions of dollars in aid to war ravaged economies of Western European Nations.
  • Idea → quick recovery and economic prosperity would limit the appeal of communism, especially in countries with strong communist followings Italy and France
  • Contributed to Western Europe’s economic recovery from WW2
  • Helped galvanise US alliance against the USSR


  • US policy of containment was a sustained implementation of Truman Doctrine

Soviet Response

  • USSR & Eastern European were initially invited to participate in Marshall Plan
  • Soviets rejected the Marshall Aid when it was refused unconditionally – labelling it as Economic Imperialism to extend US control over Western Europe
  • Refused to allow Eastern satellites to participate


  • Set out to consolidate their own economic control over Eastern Europe
  • 1949 – COMECON – Council for Mutual Economic Assistance  
  • Effectively tied trade and economic development in the Eastern European countries to the Soviet Union


  • Economic aid accompanied by determination to consolidate Soviet military & political domination of Eastern Europe
  • 1947 – COMINFORM (Communist Information Bureau) was established
  • Ensured Soviet control was exercised over all its members (all the communist parties of Eastern Europe)
  • Marshall Tito’s communist Yugoslavia insisted on a degree of independence, it was expelled from COMINFORM in 1948
  • Stalin did not use Red Army against Yugoslavia (perhaps because of its geographical position, its significant military forces and Stalin’s fear of Western support for Tito)
  • The remained of Eastern Europe Soviet control was tightened
  • Intolerance of any independence on this sphere
  • Evidenced: Soviet Invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968)
  • Germany remained a problem for Soviets
  • Rejuvenated Germany was a real threat
  • Soviet Union therefore was reluctant to cooperate in plans for eventual reunification of Germany’s occupation zones
  • Therefore in 1948, US, Britain & France set out to uniting their zones
  • Soviets saw this as a prelude to restoration of a Western Germany which would be a powerful member of the “US imperialist camp”
  • Stalin determined that West should not maintain its toehold in the western sector of Berlin.
  • 24th June 1948 – Blockaded West Berlin in an attempt to force the Western Powers to give it up
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  • Impact of the Early Crises: The Berlin Blockade and Airlift, China becoming Communist in 1949; The Korean War

1948 – 1949: The Berlin Blockade

1949: China “Lost” to Communism

1950 – 1953: The Korean War  

2) Development of the Cold War to 1968

- Policy of containment, domino theory and the emergence of peaceful co-existence


  • US President Truman broke away from the traditional American stance of isolation in foreign affairs to fight against communism.
  • The Truman Doctrine ...

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