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The Cold War

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The Cold War was a time of tension between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or the Soviet Union and the United States, and their respective ideologies.  It followed the Second World War and persisted from roughly 1945-1991.   The war was 'cold' because there was never a direct military engagement between the two leaders, the US and the USSR, although shots were exchanged in the air during the Korean War. The aftermath of World War Two left the United States and Russia as the dominant military powers in the world, but they had very different forms of government and economy, the former a capitalist democracy, the latter a communist dictatorship. The two nations were rivals who feared each other, each ideologically opposed. The war also left Russia in control of large areas of Eastern Europe, and the US led Allies in control of the West. While the Allies restored democracy in the West, Russia began making Soviet satellites out of its 'liberated' lands; the split between the two was dubbed the Iron Curtain. The West feared a communist invasion, physical and ideological. The US countered with the Truman Doctrine with its policy of containment to stop communism spreading and the Marshall Plan, massive aid aimed at supporting collapsing economies which were letting communist sympathisers gain power. Military alliances were formed as the West grouped together as NATO and the East as the Warsaw Pact. By 1951 Europe was divided into two power blocs, American led and Soviet led, each with atomic weapons. A 'cold war' followed which spread globally, leading to a nuclear standoff.

Examine the issues that led to the arms race and space race between the United States and the Soviet Union

According to Swift (2009) the term ‘Cold War’ refers to the period of struggle and conflict between the USA and USSR between 1945-1991. Each of the Superpowers saw the other as a threat to its continued survival and adopted strategies to preserve their positions. The two Superpowers never went to war directly with each other in this period, but became involved in conflicts such as the Korean War where each side stood behind the other nations involved. Therefore, this conflict is termed as the Cold War rather than a conventional hot war. There were a number of occasions when it appeared that a hot war would break out between the Superpowers. The USSR and the USA both joined the Second World War in 1941, the former on June 22nd following Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa and the latter on December 9th following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. In the long run both attacks proved fatal to the aggressor nations; sleeping giants were awoken, the Axis powers were defeated in 1945 and a new world order was created. The USSR and the USA emerged as by far the most powerful nations from the Second World War. The former Great Powers – Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan were no longer capable of dominating the rest of the world, only the USA and the USSR, the Superpowers, remained unbroken.

The USA and the USSR were strange bedfellows during the Second World War. Their alliance was purely strategic. The underlying differences between the supreme capitalist nation (the USA) and the original communist state (the USSR) were bound to re-emerge once Germany and Japan had been defeated. It was clear that two states could no longer ignore each other in a new world of global finance and communication. Both were extremely nervous of the other nation’s aims; worry led to fear, fear caused the breakdown of the wartime alliance and turned eventually to hostility and mutual antipathy. The USSR was a one party state dominated by Stalin. Individuals did not have the choice to choose alternative politicians in free elections; industry and agriculture was owned by the state. In the 1930s, Stalin had transformed the USSR into a modern industrial state through the Five Year Plans, Collectivisation and the Purges. Stalin believed that the USA’s long-term ambition was to destroy communism, therefore he adopted policies, which he believed would prevent this from happening. The USA was a democratic state, with free elections, freedom of speech and a capitalist economic system. The Second World War helped to regenerate the USA’s industries to such an extent that people’s standards of living actually went up during the Second World War. The USA emerged immeasurably more powerful from the war with Germany and Japan. It was clear that the USA could no longer sit on the sidelines in world politics. However, the USA was extremely concerned by the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and the Far East. The USA believed that Stalin wanted to convert the rest of the world to communism. The USA had fought the fascist ideologies of Germany, Italy and Japan, now it was prepared to fight the communist ideology of the USSR (Gaddis, 2005).

Stalin’s fear of the USA led him to believe that the USSR needed a barrier of territory between Soviet territory and the USA’s allies in Western Europe. Stalin feared another anti-communist invasion of Russia from Europe as had occurred in 1918 and 1941. Stalin wanted to create a barrier against the West, a barrier made up of communist run countries in Eastern Europe. The new president of the USA, Harry Truman, saw Soviet domination of Eastern Europe not as an act of defence on Stalin’s part, but as an act of aggression. While the war with Germany continued, the wartime allies (USA, USSR and Britain) met to discuss the post-war future of Europe. The most significant meetings between the allied leaders were at Yalta in February 1945 and Potsdam in July 1945. These two meetings would determine how Germany would be divided. Germany was divided into four zones to be occupied by USA, USSR, Britain and France. Stalin was to have influence over Eastern Europe, but that free elections be held in them to decide who governed them. The biggest problem was Poland. Stalin had liberated Poland and a communist government had been established. Stalin insisted that a ‘friendly’ government be established there to protect the USSR from Germany. Stalin refused to allow democratic elections in Poland. By the next conference in Potsdam things had change drastically Germany had been defeated, Roosevelt had died and had been replaced by Truman and Clement Attlee had defeated Churchill. The allies agreed to divide Germany into zones and to claim reparations for war losses (Croakat, 1995). However, the USA began to realise that it did not want a weakened Germany in Central Europe, a perfect breeding ground for communism. Truman wanted to rebuild Germany, while Stalin wanted to weaken it further by taking equipment and materials as reparations. The pattern for future conflict between the USA and the USSR had begun. There was no real physical barrier, but there was a clear division between the democratic states of the West and the communist states of the East. Many in the West were concerned that Stalin would not stop in Eastern Europe, would he now turn to the West?



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