The huge impact of America’s atomic attack on Japan, in August 1945, on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union was undeniable. It demonstrated the superiority of the United States over the Soviets. Such a massive demonstration of American military superiority created fear in Stalin’s government. The Soviet response was to increase its military spending and push towards developing its own nuclear technology, which only helped to fuel huge competition between the two nations and deepening tension.
Another cause of the cold war revolved around Soviet expert . In 1946, Kennan sent an 8000-word telegram, known as the “Long Telegram” (2) from Moscow to Washington. Kennan understood Russian history, their culture and their language. Kennan claimed that Soviet Union would exploit every opportunity to extend their system and therefore could not and would not be converted to a policy of harmony and cooperation with the West. But the Soviets believed that Marx’s theory of history suggested that communism would ultimately overcome capitalism, thus they were in no hurry and would not risk a major war with the United States. Kennan’s observations would influence American foreign policy for the next three decades; America would not antagonise, but would embark on a policy of intervention, with the hope of preventing communism from spreading further.
Another major factor, which influenced the future of American-Soviet relations during the early stages of the cold war, was the rise in popularity of Communism in Europe. In the years following World Two, Communist parties in Europe were at their peak in popularity. In November 1946, the French Communist Party, won almost 30% of the vote, while in Greece Communist led guerrilla fighters provided from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria posed a considerable threat and eventually lead to a civil war breaking out. The United States decided that it needed to take on the role of supplying aid and hopefully counter against the rising popularity of communism. The Truman Doctrine of March 12, 1947 gave aid in excess of $400 million to Greece and Turkey and effectively marked the formal declaration of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union; furthermore it displayed America’s position regarding the containment.
Perhaps surprisingly, Soviet response to the Truman Doctrine was one of acceptance as it went along with the Marxist ideas of two rival worlds, one capitalist, and the other communist. For Stalin and the communists, such a final class struggle would be ultimately decided by Marxist ideas about historical development, and thus would result in the victory of communist USSR over capitalist America.
The Truman Doctrine led to an increase in intensity between the United States and the Soviet Union, as the Soviet Union believed that the United States was attempting to spread capitalism across Europe particularly to the new Eastern Block countries. The Soviet Union believed that governments within Europe should be communist and therefore allied with her against capitalism. In May and June 1947, America announced its decision to regenerate Germany and Japan. Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a scheme of extensive aid to all European nations that required it as long as the European countries approached the United States personally.
A European organisation was set-up to administer the aid to the countries depending on the amount they needed. This organisation was called the Organisation of European Economic Co-operation (O.E.E.C.) The Marshall Plan was first used in April 1948 and over the next four years hundreds of millions of American dollars into Europe, were given in aid to European countries. The aid of the Marshall Plan was offered to all European countries even the Soviet Union. The Soviets however chose to reject the plan believing the Americans were using it as a means by which they could extend their control and influence. Because of this the Soviet controlled governments across Europe also rejected the plan.
Post-war Germany had been divided into four occupied zones. The United States, Great Britain and France occupied Western Germany and the Soviet Union took East Germany. By 1946, America and Great Britain were making every effort to unify all of Germany under western rule. A new currency was introduced into Western Germany with the hope of rebuilding Germany and stabilising her economy. The situation in the Soviet occupied zone did not change as the Soviets chose not to adopt the new currency. Stalin believed that America was using the introduction of a new currency as a tactic to unite the allied controlled zones of Western Germany against the Soviet Union. In response to this, Stalin decided to tighten his group on the Soviet controlled Eastern zone, by closing all access routes to West Berlin on the very day that the new currency was due to be introduced. Six days later on the 24th June 1948, Stalin ordered the cutting off of coal, electricity, food and other supplies to West Berlin. This left the allies in a very difficult decision, to ignore or appease Stalin would seriously damage the American cause and it’s international standing as the leader of the democratic world, but at the same time the Americans were unwilling to use force to break the blockade, as it would have led to World War Three.
The Western allies therefore chose to supply West Berlin from the air. The Soviets were unable to close the three air routes into Berlin without shooting down the Western Allies planes, which they were unwilling to do, as it would have provoked the Americans into an all out military attack. So for the next eleven months allied planes dropped several million tonnes of supplies to the stranded inhabitants of West Berlin and finally in May 1949 Stalin had to admit defeat and the blockade was lifted.
The Berlin blockade dramatically increased the tension between the USA and the USSR and was very close to heating up the cold war into a very hot war, which would have almost certainly developed into World War 3. The Berlin blockade also served to draw up the sides for forthcoming conflicts, confirming that the Americans had the full support of the British and the French.
Increased antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union, lead to widespread fear of Soviet aggression throughout Europe and resulted in the creation of the or NATO. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg initiated the organization of what would become NATO by forming the Western Union in March 1948. By January of 1949, Harry Truman called for an even broader pact, which eventually would involve the United States, Canada and ten European nations. The North Atlantic Treaty was eventually signed April 4, 1949. NATO was created with the sole aim of protecting Europe from Soviet aggression. However, its main achievement was to escalate the cold war. The creation of NATO intensified the fear of the Soviets regarding the West and resulted in the level of international tension reaching new heights with the United States and the Soviet Union both beginning to rebuild their military forces.
In 1949, America received a major shock: the Soviets had succeeded in exploding an atomic bomb of their own. In April 1950, America had initiated it’s NSC-68 national defence policy, the aim of which was to prevent the Soviets from imposing their authority over the world and saw the American defence budget skyrocket from $13 to $45 billion each year. Such a move was clear proof of American determination that the Soviets and communism would not win regardless of any cost, however while it undoubtedly worried the Soviets and increased tension it did not force either party into requesting peace and by 1952, America had developed the H-bomb, or hydrogen bomb which was capable of mass destruction on a scale far greater than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However by August 1953 the Soviet Union too had a similar device. This type of behaviour would become commonplace over the next 30 years, with both countries struggling to keep up and appear superior to the other.
As we have seen, within a relatively short period of history, the two most powerful nations on the face of the world had gone from being allies in a war to despising one another and everything the other stood for. The Cold War had begun.
- Two of the original “Big Three” were not in attendance at Potsdam. American President Franklin Roosevelt had died and been succeeded by Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been replaced by Clement Atlee.
- George Kennan, Memoirs, 1925-1950 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967), pp. 547-559
T.E. Vadney, The World Since 1945 (Third Edition), Penguin Books, 1998
John Baylis & Steve Smith, The Globalisation of World Politics (Second
Edition), Oxford University Press, 2001
J. Gladdis, Russia, The Soviet Union and the United States, An Interpretative History, New York:McGraw-Hill, 1990