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The Onset Of The Cold War In Europe History Essay

The aims of this essay are to investigate some of the historiographical controversies regarding who should bear the blame for the onset of the Cold War in Europe, to examine and evaluate a variety of sources as evidence of the starting of the Cold War, and to identify certain factors that initiated the Cold War.

Historians and scholars have written numerous books, articles, and academic papers on the Cold War, but they still remain divided on its origins, the circumstances that led to its emergence, who should bear the blame for the onset of the Cold War in Europe and (above all) who should admit responsibility for starting it. Many historians have defined the term Cold War according to their own knowledge, merits, perspectives, and understanding of the subject. For example, Hammond suggests that ‘the term ‘Cold War’ is mostly taken to explain the intense conflict between the Communist world (the Soviet Union) and the non-Communist world (the United States)’. (Hammond, 1987, p. 33). Smith states that the ‘Cold War’ was the dominant issue in international affairs during the second half of the twentieth century’. (Smith, 1998, p. 19). According to Westad, the Cold War was a ‘conflict of national interests- two giant countries faced each other and battled it out for world supremacy’. (Westad, 2000, p. 1). Arguably, the intense conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union for world supremacy, which started after World War II, was primarily for political, economic, and ideological domination that eventually led to the Cold War.

Without historiographical investigation to illuminate the interpretations, the origins, and the circumstances that led to the Cold War in Europe, then it will be very difficult to blame the Soviet Union more than any other country for the onset of the Cold War in Europe. For example, Gaddis’ interpretation of the Cold War is based on three hypotheses. The first of these hypotheses is that ‘the diversification of power did more to shape the course of the Cold War than did the balancing of power, second, the United States and the Soviet Union built empires after World War II, although not of the same kind, and third, many people then saw the Cold War as a contest of good versus evil, even if historians since have rarely done so’. (Gaddis, 1997, 283-186). Some historians argue that the origins of the Cold War be traced back to directly after the Second World War or at least to 1945. Others argue that the starting point for the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union can be traced back to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the emergence of the Bolshevik power. But according to Smith ‘the Cold War was not originated in 1917, but the mid-1940s as years marking the beginning of the Cold War between East and West’. (Smith, 1998, p. 20). For Smith, the origins of the Cold War can be based primarily on military competition between the United States and the Soviet Union rather than ideological or economic influences. Gaddis points out that ‘most wars begin and end at specific points; and although historians may debate their origins, conduct, and consequences, they rarely disagree about their origins’. (Gaddis, 1997, p. 281). After the 1917 revolution, Lenin managed to unify the Russian under communist structure which clashed with the United States capitalist values and liberal ‘free world’. One can argue that the communist ideology sent a shock wave to the world and particularly to the United States political and economic interests in Europe.

Academically, the historians and scholars belong to different school of thoughts; therefore, it is inevitable that their historical writings, analysis, and interpretations on the Cold War continue to wage a war of books and controversial debate surrounding who is to blame for the onset of the Cold War in Europe. Books such as, ‘Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, Theory’ by Wastad, ‘Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949’ by McCauley, ‘Soviet-American Confrontation’ by Paterson, ‘Preponderance of Power’ by Lefflers, ‘The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941 – 1947’, and ‘We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History’ by Gaddis, and other books, provide profuse information, and also controversial debates on issues of the Cold War. Gaddis explains ‘available sources would be biased and incomplete, and historians would hardly be able to draw equally and dispassionately upon a view to determining who started it’. (Gaddis, 1997, p. 281). For example, conservatives, traditionalists, and liberal all agree that ‘if blame is to be attributed for the outbreak of the Cold War, Russia deserves more blame than any other country’. (Hammond, 1987, p. 31). Lebow also points out that ‘in the 1950s and 1960s, scholarship focused on the question of Cold War ‘guilt’. Conservatives and Cold War liberals blamed Stalin, communism, and the Soviet Union’. (Lebow, 2000, p. 107). The liberals’ affirmative views can be based on the Soviet Union aggression and the intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Furthermore, they argue that Stalin was determined to go beyond a traditional idea of spheres of influence towards complete political control in the countries that had been ‘liberated’ by the Soviet army’. (Purdue, Emsley, and Pittaway, 2001, p. 236). In addition, Stalin was seeking global hegemony and was determined to impose a policy of expansionism and communist ideology in Europe that eventually will spread into other neighboring countries. In contrast to some revisionists, they blamed the United States for the onset of the Cold War. They argued that the combination of the United States’ foreign policy, the implementation of the Marshall Plan, and the use of atomic bomb on Japan during the Second World War, created threats and were seen as a direct challenge to the Soviet Union hegemony. In addition, the United States strongly supported and advocated principles such as democracy, freedom, liberty, capitalist ideology or ‘free world’ in Europe and around the World.

The call for the above principles by the United States may have threatened the survival of the Soviet Union’s communist principles and its security in Europe. In response to the threats, Stalin soon created the Eastern Bloc that included (Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Albania) as close allies to the Soviet Union. The experience of World War I and World War II suggested that the division of Europe was inevitable. After World War II, Europe became divided between two power blocks or camps. The first camp was dominated by the Soviet Union and the communist ideology, the second camp was dominated by the United States and the capitalist ideology. One can argue that both camps wanted to impose their ideological values, economic interests, and political systems in the regions their armies had fought to liberate. The defeat of Germany in 1945 may also have had a role in the starting of the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union which eventually led to the Cold War. Loth argues that ‘Germany was both a cause of and a battleground for the Cold War. If the Allies succeeded in working out a joint peace settlement for defeated Germany, they would be able to limit conflicts in other areas’. (Loth, 2000, p. 242). After the Second World War, several war conferences were held between the Allies’ leaders to discuss Europe’s post-war reorganization including the fate and peace settlement for defeated Germany. The first conference was held in Tehran in 1943, followed by the Potsdam Conference in Potsdam, occupied Germany. Although the Potsdam Conference produced less constructive solutions, it succeeded in producing temporary agreements over the east and west of Germany. The temporarily agreement stipulated‘that eastern Germany be considerably reduced from its pre-war frontiers . . . and that Germany should be treated as a single unit’. (Marwick, Purdue, Aldgate, and Chapman, 2001, p. 71). The document II.24 Extracts from the Potsdam Agreement (2 Aug. 1945) in Primary Sources 2 states that ‘agreement has been reached at this Conference on the political and economic principles of a coordinated Allied policy towards defeated Germany during the period of Allied control.’ (Primary Sources 2, Doc. II.24). But it was at the Yalta Conference where three of the Allies’ leaders (Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill) met to implement the paper and the draft that was discussed at the Potsdam Conference. At the Yalta conference, final agreements and compromises were made among the leaders regarding the future of Europe particularly Germany, Poland, and the security of the Soviet Union. Regarding the security of the Soviet Union in Europe, the United States made the proposal that it will ‘recognize eastern, south-eastern Europe as Soviet sphere of interest’. (McCauley, 2008, p. 36). Lenczowski argues that ‘the American proposal was made essentially in the spirit of Yalta, with the obvious intention of satisfying and accommodating the Soviet Union and with little regard to strategic considerations of Western security’. (Lenczowski, 1980, p. 703). It was also agreed ‘that Germany would be divided into three zones of occupation between the United States, France, and Britain’. (Mombauer, 2001, p. 271). The period 1945-7 became the starting point for the division between East Communism and West Capitalist. As the Soviet Union dominated and tightened its iron fists on east-central Europe, the west and east of Germany also fell into the Soviet Union’s orbit, western and southern Europe fell under the liberal capitalist umbrella, and ‘the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States increased in volume and bitterness’. (Purdue, Emsley, and Pittaway, 2001, P. 215). For Stalin, the Yalta Conference produced an economic triumph. Stalin urgently wanted to rebuild the shattered and destroyed economy of Soviet Union. To achieve this, the Soviet Union looked at Germany as part of solution and a source for economic recovery especially when the United States agreed to pay millions of dollars towards the cost of rebuilding Germany. In other words, the Soviet Union was trying to use Germany as a source of income for its own economic recovery. This economic approach by the Soviet Union sent a negative message to the Allies’ leaders especially the United States government who suspected that the Soviet Union political and economic ambition in Europe may damage Europe’s future prosperity. After the Second World War, industrial, residential establishments, agricultural production, and transportation infrastructures in countries, such as Germany, France, Poland, Italy, England and elsewhere, were burnt to the ground or severely ruined. In other words, most European cities were totally devastated and the European economy was significantly damaged. To rebuild the European economy, urgent aid was needed. The aid for the economic recovery of Europe started with Marshall Plan. In 1947, President Truman appointed George Marshall to be Secretary of State. George Marshall, with help from Kennan, Clayton and others, created the Marshall Plan foundation which became to be known as the European Recovery Program. Although the Marshall Plan was set up to aid and finance the European economies, particularly the western European countries. According to Dunbabin, ‘Marshall Aid was clearly a consequence of the Cold War, not a deliberate solution to American economic problems’. (Dunbabin, 1994, p. 38). In the article ‘Reflections on the Origins of the Cold War’, Varsori states that ‘the Western European nations appeared eager to be saved by the United States’. He adds, ‘the Marshall Plan, which aimed at creating a Western system through which the containment of the Soviet Union could be implemented, was a first step in such a strategy’.(Varsori, 2000, p. 286). In the document II.45 ‘Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs on The impending European crisis’ (27 May 1947) the Under Secretary of State mentioned that ‘Europe must have from us, as a grant, 6 or 7 billion dollars worth of goods a year for three years. This three-year grant to Europe should be based on European plan which the principal European nations, headed by the UK, France and Italy, should work out.’ (Primary Sources 2, Doc. II.45). In just a few months after the European Recovery Program was fully functional and ready for implementation, Marshall gave a powerful speech at Harvard explaining why the aid for European economies was so important. In the document II.46 Secretary of State George C. Marshall, ‘The Marshall Plan’ (5 June 1947), Marshall stated that ‘in considering the requirements of rehabilitation of Europe, the physical loss of life (…) destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy’. (Primary Sources 2, Doc. II.46). After Marshall’s speech in Harvard, the economic recovery of Europe, by means of America financial aid, started in both United States and Europe. The Marshall aid included $13,150 million of American money which was given to Europe. ‘The largest amounts were forwarded to Britain ($3,176 million) and to France ($2,706 million); then came Italy ($1,474 million), West Germany ($1,389 million), the Netherlands ($1,079 million) and a dozen other smaller nations’. (Purdue, Emsley, and Pittaway, 2001, p. 229). Boyle states that ‘the Marshall Plan was enlightened self-interest on the part of the United States. It was a generous, humanitarian programme which saved vast numbers of European from hunger and devastation’. (Boyle, 1993, p. 61). It is worth mentioning that the Soviet Union joined the Allies’ forces in the Second World War to fight in the line with Britain, France, and United States against Nazi Germany. Like other Allied forces, the Soviet Union also ‘suffered greater destruction and devastation, and greater loss of human life, relative to its population than any other country involved in World War II’. (Marwick, Purdue, Aldgate, and Chapman, 2001, p. 109). Arguably, the financial aid was offered to both Eastern and Western camps, but the western camps had more privilege comparing to the eastern camps. The eastern camps were closely monitored and tougher regulations were imposed on their financial aid. Although in ‘January 1945 the United States Treasury had suggested lending the Soviet Union $10 billion, but most Americans did not feel it worth lending fearing that the Soviet Union may use the money for military purposes, therefore there was no Soviet Loan’. (Dunbabin, 1994, p. 38). Stalin was not in favor of the ‘Marshall Plan’ and the financial help; therefore, he tried to persuade his political party, the Russian people, and the East European states to boycott and reject the financial help from the west. His rejection was based on the fear that the United States could increase its political and economic influence in Eastern Europe, and the belief that this could lead the fall of the Soviet Union allies (satellites) into the Capitalist camps. Furthermore, the European Recovery Program ‘was predicted on market (rather than state-controlled and centrally directed) economy which would benefit American exports’. (Mombauer, 2001, p. 301). Both the Marshall Plan and American dollars for European economic reform intensified the Cold War. In addition, the Soviet Union ‘withdrew from the Allied Control Council following the agreement between countries, such as, Netherland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Britain, and the United States to include Germany in the Marshall Plan and to found a West German state’. (Mombauer, 2001, p. 300). The split of Europe into the eastern and western camps increased the tensions among international communities and also led to the emergence of the NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization. The Warsaw Treaty Organization and Comecon/CMEA (Council of Mutual Economic Assistance) are the main organizations associated with international communism. These organizations were established in 1949 for various reasons. First, it could be that the ‘Soviet wanted to integrate the economies of Eastern Europe under its direction and control’ and second, it could be that ‘both these organizations were formed as a direct response to American military and economic initiatives in Western Europe, such as NATO and the Marshall Plan’. (Evans and Newnham, 1999, p. 87). By 1949, North Korea and China brought Asia into the communist orbit. Furthermore, during the post-war period, attempts were made to create pro-communist or communist regimes in other parts of the world, for example, in Africa and Latin America.,

But the question of whether the Soviet Union was to blame, more than any other country, for the onset of the Cold War remains as an element of discordance among the revisionists, traditionalists, and the post-revisionists. According to McCauley, ‘the revisionist school of thought believes that the Soviet Union cannot be held responsible for the Cold War’. (McCauley, 2003, p. 13). Lebow also agrees with McCauley and states that ‘revisionist scholarship, which began in the 1950s, but flourished later in response to the Vietnam War, held capitalism and the United States responsible for the Cold War’. (Lebow, 2000, p. 107). Purdue, Emsley, and Pittaway also agree with the claims by the revisionists and state that ‘the fundamental hostility of capitalism, and particularly American capitalism, to socialism and the Soviet Union was entirely to blame for the division of Europe and the Cold War.’ (Purdue, Emsley, and Pittaway, 2001, p.216). Arguably, for the United States, the Soviet Union was the main threat for the spreading of communism in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Wittkopf and Kegley explain some important points and state that ‘the United States foreign policy was fuelled by the fear that communism’s appeal to Europeans and the world’s less fortunate countries would make its continued spread likely’. ‘Similarly, Soviet policy was fuelled by the belief that capitalism could not coexist with communism’. (Wittkopf and Kegley, 2001, p.101). Clearly the revisionists’ arguments were primarily based on the economy of the Soviet Union that was devastated and badly damaged in 1945. In addition, the Soviet Union encountered huge losses in manpower and raw materials. Therefore, Stalin focused his entire attention on rebuilding the damaged economy rather than engaging in spreading communism and revolutionary ideology around the world. It is worth mentioning that revisionists accept that some factors, i.e. security, ideology, British influence, and problems of Germany, had created tension between the two powers. From a revisionist point of view, American capitalistic behaviour threatened Stalin’s communism, the Soviet security, and the Soviet interests in eastern and southern-eastern Europe. Therefore, the Soviet leadership could not tolerate such a threat especially as ‘American trade and investment in Europe were frequently accompanied by militant anti-communism’. (McCauley, 2003, p. 14). The Soviet policies in Eastern Europe and Stalin’s interest in establishing communist regimes in the regions raised some questions among the Allies particularly the United States. Was the move by Stalin purely expansionist? Or was it just a defensive shield meant to protect the Soviet Union from future aggressions? The traditionalists firmly believe that the Soviet Union had a desire for expansion; therefore, ‘they tended to see the Soviet Union as largely responsible for the Cold War; they generally regarded the Soviet Union as the active party and described the United States as playing a passive role’. (Lundestad, 2000, p. 65). Post-revisionists ‘seek to avoid the polarities of blame-it-all-on-the-Soviets or blame-it-all-on-the-Americans’. (McCauley, 2003, p. 15). The post-revisionism views on who should bear the blame for the Cold War stand in the ‘middle ground between traditionalism and revisionism; therefore, they blame either the United States or the Soviet Union and Stalin’. (Lundestad, 2000, p. 65). Clearly the arguments produced by the revisionists and traditionalists evoked serious counter-arguments by the post-revisionists. Certainly, the historians did not want to discredit or invalidate the claims by all three schools of thoughts regarding who was to blame for the onset of the Cold War, but in reality they tried to explain that both the United States and the Soviet Union had their own political agenda, ideological differences, and economic interests. Both superpower countries had their own faults and over time both raced to establish world authority, supremacy, and influence. After the Second World War, both countries embarked on a lengthy campaign to dominate and defend their political and economic interests in Europe. Leffler points out that ‘the Cold War was an interactive process in which leaders in many capitals were responding to multiple threats and opportunities to their interests, power, and security’. (Leffler, 2000, p. 53). Although these two powers never met on the battle field or directly fought each other, they participated in proxy wars in order to impose their virulent principles. For example, the world witnessed the proxy wars with American troops fighting friends and allies of the Soviet Union in Vietnam and North Korea. Other proxy wars were seen in other parts of the world, Cuba, Chile, and Congo, to name a few. For the United States, Communist and communism ideology was evil, unacceptable, and threatened Capitalist values. To solve the problem, the United States adopted two unique strategies, among others, to fight the spread of Communism in Europe and around the world. The first strategy was to overthrow regimes loyal to the Soviet Union and second was to crush any pro-Soviet regimes around the globe. Arguably, these two strategies became a subject of great interest for many historians and dominated most of the historical literature during and after the Cold War.

The legacy of the Cold War has also created international threats especially with both countries in possession of atomic weapons. Financially, the Cold War has cost these two giant countries huge amounts of money and has generated colossal quantities of war propaganda in which ‘both sides have used radio broadcasts, propaganda pamphlets, espionage, subversion, and sabotage’. (Hammond, 1987, p. 31). The focus of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, for global influence and bringing other countries into their own orbits, was ‘the hope that one side or the other side could tilt the balance of power in its favor’. (Hammond, 1987, p. 31). In the Middle East, for example, the United States, ‘as part of its policy of containing the Soviet Union, provided economic and military assistance to Turkey and Iran. In doing so, the United States inserted itself as an influential force in the domestic and foreign policy of the two states’. (Cleveland, 2000, p. 267). It also caused political and diplomatic tensions in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. This competition between the two powers also led to the conflict over political ideologies in the form of the clash between the liberal capitalism and Marxist socialism which facilitated the path that led to the causes for the split and division of Europe, and finally the Cold War. But Robert denies the west had an ideology or even ideologies that played a role in the onset of the Cold War in Europe. (Purdue, Emsley, and Pittaway, 2001, p.221). In addition, the west had a view of politics which criticized the Soviet Union’s practical policies in Europe. In conclusion, the Cold War was the product of geopolitical, economic, and ideological rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the Second World War, the victorious leaders met on several occasions to discuss the fate and future of Europe. But it was at the Yalta Conference where agreements and compromises were made on Europe especially the fate of the defeated Germany. Germany became the central focus for both the Soviet Union and the United States and is considered to be one of the main factors behind the Cold War. The division of Europe between the Eastern and the Western camps was inevitable after the Second World War. The Soviet Union and the communist ideology controlled most of the Eastern parts of Europe including the eastern part of Germany. The United States joined the Western camp to defend the capitalist policy which was threatened by the Soviet Union. Historians and scholars remain divided on who should bear the blame and responsibility for the onset of the Cold War in Europe. Conservatives and liberals strongly believe that the Soviet Union was to blame for the Cold War on the ground that the Soviet Union had an aggressive expansionism policy in Europe. The revisionists blame the United States for the Cold War especially for introducing the Marshall Plan and economic recovery in Europe which proved to be as part of the United States economic and political domination in Europe. The post-revisionists remain neutral in their approach and blamed neither the Soviet Union nor the United States for the Cold War.

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