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Cold War Caused By Social Climate And Tension History Essay

The Cold War was caused by the social climate and tension in Europe at the end of World War II and by the increasing power struggles between the Soviet Union and the United States. Economic Separation between the Soviets and the west also heightened tensions, along with the threat of nuclear war [1] .

The Cold War was caused by the power struggle between the two Super Powers of the age in the form of the USSR and USA. This Cold War was played out largely in the European theatre against a background of raised tension in post – WWII Europe and was exacerbated by a range of political, economic and social factors. The period 1945 to 1962 witnessed ever - increasing power struggles between the Soviet Union and the United States. The growing Economic Separation between the Soviets and the West also contributed to rising tensions. Ultimately there was the growing threat of nuclear war [2] which conceivably threatened the annihilation not just of the civilian populations of the Super Powers themselves, but also the civilian populations of neighbouring countries which lead to an escalation in tensions and rivalries.

In Keenan’s celebrated ‘Long Telegram’ of 1946, the American view of Russian policy was that at the “Bottom of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs, is the tradition and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.” [3] However, this is to ignore the contention that USA was displaying a similar neurotic sense of insecurity, especially when one considers the massive numerical and qualitative advantage the Americans held over the Russians in terms of nuclear and strategic arms. However, it is clear that in this disadvantaged scenario, the Russian sense of ‘insecurity’ essentially shaped its foreign policy following the devastating war against Nazism in the East of Europe that saw over 20 million Russian military personnel and civilian population dead and their industrial base and economy crippled [4] . In order to achieve a permanent security and stability Stalin identified the need for a ‘buffer zone’ separating East from West. This need was the reaction to the startling fact that Russia had been invaded three times in recent years from the West, with the “Polish Corridor” [5] remaining an evident strategic weak spot. To ensure the survival of the Russian State Stalin followed a foreign policy that would witness total Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. This policy was evident as early as 1944 with the infamous inactivity of the Red Army in response to the Warsaw Uprising. ????

Following the cessation of WWII hostilities, the USSR actively supported and installed friendly, communist pro – Russian governments in the neighbouring states that would adhere to Soviet rule. The domination of the Moscow sphere of influence was then confirmed by the establishment of both Cominform and Comecon in 1947 and 1949 respectively. Both of these programmes were designed to coordinate the movements and especially foreign policies of other pro - communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Following the admission of West Germany into NATO in 1955 the Warsaw Pact was devised to ultimately entrench the hegemonic rule that the Soviets had established and strengthen the security of the state. However, although intended to strengthen Russia’s authority within Eastern Europe, the ultimate impact was quite the reverse, and Russian domination and Communism’s expansion into Eastern Europe had the adverse effect of increasing tension in the Cold War. Although the Soviets regarded these measures as an attempt to gain protection and increase security, the West perceived the movements as aggressive and an attempt to fill the ‘power vacuum’ created in central Europe after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. The increase in tensions culminated in the Berlin Crises which occurred in 1948 and again in 1961.

In response to the communist expansion in Eastern Europe, and in explicit contrast to the Soviet foreign policy, the US embarked on a mission to ‘contain’ the communist threat in Europe. In a policy appropriately labelled ‘containment’ the US sought to justify its stance in limiting Communist expansion as a desire “to support the freed peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures”. The Truman Doctrine first announced in 1947 and finally passed after the Czech coup d’état of 1948 represented a watershed in US history as it saw American policy break with its traditional stance of isolationism and instead the Americans became involved in European affairs in peacetime. In conjunction with the Marshall Plan which was formally declared against “hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos” the acclaimed breeding ground of communism, these two plans sought to halt the Red waves sweeping across Europe [6] . These two instruments employed by the US to confront and limit the spread of communism were met with anger from the Soviets as Molotov declared the Marshall Plan ‘dollar imperialism’. In response, the Russians sought to set up their own financial schemes for the struggling economies of war – ravaged Eastern Europe, many of which were far poorer than their West European counter – parts. . On a “local level”, these programmes not only brought about increased conflict between communism and capitalism in neighbouring counties like Turkey and Greece but also on the wider global stage between the USSR and USA.

The differing foreign policies and the friction they created in international tensions was a microcosm encapsulated within Berlin, which remained a constant focus of tension and rivalry in the Cold War era. The Marshall Plan, the largest peacetime humanitarian project of its time, committed $13.2 billion worth of economic aid to the countries of western and central Europe. As a result of this standards of living in the West rose rapidly, whilst the East, already impoverished by - and in the aftermath of - WWII continued to suffer by an ever – widening margin in comparison to the West. This contrast was especially evident in the city of Berlin itself, where the western, democratised region flourished, while the east was pillaged by the Soviets for reparations. When the US announced in June 1948 that they were to introduce a new currency into Berlin and West Germany, this pushed the Russian’s to take drastic action. In response, Stalin issued an order that all road, rail and canal links to the city from the West to be blocked in an attempt to starve the Western influence out of Berlin. The West reacted with Berlin airlift which provided the city with the 8,000 tons of supplies required daily through the deployment of 4,000 planes [7] . The Super Powers’ contrasting perceptions of the blockade in particular, and differing foreign policies and national interests in general is evident in Stalin’s rebuttal to the accusations of the West, “it’s all lies ... it’s not a blockade, but a defensive measure!” [8] The blockade was a further high point in tension between USA and USSR primarily caused by the contrasting and conflicting foreign policies of the two and the establishment of NATO in 1949 conceived in reaction to this the Warsaw Pact in 1955, both of which had the effect of formalising the division of Europe.

The early 1950s witnessed significant changes to the leadership of both the USSR and the US, with a change of personnel from the highest political level downwards. In response to change of leadership and personnel, the Cold War conflict itself also underwent changes; however the ultimate dynamics of the Cold War, the tensions and rivalries, remained evident in the international community. The 1952 US presidential election saw former service man and military leader Dwight D Eisenhower take office with John Dulles as his Secretary of State. Initially, in their electoral campaign, Dulles spoke of “rolling back” communism, however this notion was quickly abandoned following the Soviet response to the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, a brutal and destructive display of force to ensure that there were no chinks in the armour. Of greater concern, the two US politicians also adopted an apparent blasé attitude on the view of nuclear conflict; labelling it “massive retaliation”. Rather than advocating a measured “response in kind” to any perceived provocation or attack from the Soviets, this expressed policy of massive retaliation resulting in rapid escalation and leading to America unleashing its entire arsenal of nuclear and hydrogen missiles at the USSR. This appeared to bring the World closer to nuclear Armageddon and could be interpreted as “using a sledge hammer to crack a nut”. As a consequence of this gung ho American policy, not only were the fears of a total Global nuclear holocaust greatly increased, but the highly propagated arms race rivalry was intensified. This is evident in US total defence spending rising to $48 billion by 1958 [9] . Eisenhower’s post War ‘containment’ and “massive retaliation” policies led to a substantial rise in the rivalry not only in the arms race, but also in the Space Race, where the US appeared to be behind the Soviet Space Programme.

Similarly the USSR saw a change in leadership in 1953 with the death of Stalin, their heroic yet neurotic leader for over two decades. His death saw a short period of collective leadership of state. During this time, Malenkov, the Prime Minister pursued “the new course” which was later extended to become Khrushchev’s notion of “peaceful co – existence”. Khrushchev’s ascension to power was a result of his controversial denunciation of Stalin’s hegemonic rule at the 20th party congress of 1956. In a process of de – Stalinisation, the harsh and oppressive domestic rule of Stalin was gradually brought to an end. However Russian foreign policy and that of her satellite states remained relatively untouched, this is shown through the execution of Nagy, the reluctant leader of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. Khrushchev’s peaceful co-existence had its foundation in the Marxist belief that Communism would eventually triumph over Capitalism, but meanwhile, the Soviets would have to accommodate and co – exist with the Capitalists.

This implementation of this ideology witnessed a decrease in the tensions between the two nations and started a period known as “the thaw” in the conflict. This is due to the new – found optimism that was taken from the organisation of various summits firstly between the foreign minister at Berlin in 1954 and the leaders themselves in 1955 at the Geneva Summit. Although the summit achieved relatively little in practical terms, the “Geneva spirit” became a point through which the two nations could draw hope and saw the beginnings of peaceful negotiations. However, the rivalry between the two nations continued and, Khrushchev stressed an unprecedented importance on the Space Race while also maintaining the research into new weapons and heavy industry. This focus on conquering the frontier of space paid dividends in both 1958 and 1961 when Russia was the first to not only launch the World’ first man made satellite into orbit but also to put the first man safely into orbit. These represented two massive propaganda victories not only for the USSR but Communism itself. Both these events came as a massive blow to American prestige and the self perception of the American public who had considered themselves to be technologically far more advanced than USSR. This also increased American insecurity who now perceived themselves to be at risk of attack from superior Russian rocket technology. The two events predictably served to enhance the rivalry between the two nations as the US strived to close the supposed “missile gap” that the Soviets had developed and to ultimately gain ascendancy in the Space Race, or in strategic terms, the Missile Race.

The fierce competition and one-up-man ship in arms developments between the two superpowers is most symbolic of a key issue that derived from WWII. Specifically speaking, the atomic, and later hydrogen bombs, underpin this. Between 1945 and 1949 the USA had the advantage of being the only country to have tried and tested with nuclear weapons. The Manhattan Project had made all this possible but even at this early stage, the Soviets had at least three spies in the American camp working on this project.  The impact of this espionage was evident in April 1949 however; the USSR successfully exploded its first atomic bomb. Furthermore, by 1953, both superpowers had advanced to developing similar thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs. These colossal breakthroughs were the catalyst for decades of fierce rivalry and tensions. The continuing Arms Race almost reached a flashpoint in the Cuban missile Crisis of 1962. The Arms Race was to subsequently remain an ever pressing and essentially unresolved issue throughout the Cold War. The partition of Berlin and the wider German issue similarly remained another unresolved and ongoing problem throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. 

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