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On the eve of their victory in World War Two, the leaders of the so-called “Big Three” nations (Winston Churchill from Britain, Joseph Stalin, from the Soviet Union, and Franklin Roosevelt from the United States) met to negotiate the post-war administration of the vast European territories liberated from Nazi occupation and the captured territories of the Axis nations themselves. The two meetings at Potsdam and Yalta were actually the second and third (respectively) following the first of the Big Three meetings at Teheran in 1943. At the time of the final meeting at Yalta, all three leaders expressed genuine optimism that a peaceful and fair collaboration that had begun of necessity in their combined effort to defeat Hitler could last beyond the war years and into a prolonged period of international peace thereafter (Alterman, 2004).
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However, there were fundamental conflicting interests and concerns that had begun to develop even before the conclusion of the war. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had already begun to view one another as rivals in Europe, both for territory captured from the Germans as well as for the technological spoils of war, such as German aviation and ballistic rocket technology in particular (Roberts, 2000). During the last year of the war, the Western Allies had feared that Stalin would continue his advance well into central and western Europe and all the way to the Mediterranean (Alterman, 2004). To a large degree, those fears were unfounded as Soviet troops halted after occupying the Baltic States and territories in Germany, Poland and the Balkans (Alterman, 2004). Nevertheless, the Soviet Union did also exert continual pressure elsewhere, particularly in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Turkey. When Britain could no longer afford to support the needs of Greece and Turkey, the U.S. stepped up and in 1947, announced a broad approach to providing economic support to those regions (and others believed by the Truman administration to be potentially at risk of Soviet domination) economically in what came to be referred to as the “Truman Doctrine” (Gaddis, 1997; Judge & Langdon,????).
That same year, U.S. Secretary of State, General George C. Marshall, introduced an even broader approach, that came to be called the “Marshall Plan” which included all of the mechanism outlined in the Truman Doctrine, in addition to a comprehensive fight against “hunger, desperation, poverty, and chaos” and whose aims included the “revival of a working economy” across the European continent but also in all the nations of the world ( Gaddis, 1997; Judge & Langdon,????). In fact, the principal motivation for this plan was a policy analysis authored by George C. Kennan, counselor in the U.S. embassy in Moscow entitled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (Roberts, 2000). That analysis led directly to the adoption of a containment policy by the Truman administration (and subsequent U.S. presidential administrations designed expressly to oppose perceive Soviet expansionist aims everywhere in the world (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Roberts, 2000).
Throughout the Cold War, the official position of the U.S. was that its policies with respect to the U.S.S.R. were strictly defensive and designed, of absolute necessity, to prevent the global domination sought by Soviet Communist leaders (Alterman, 2004; Gaddis, 1997; Judge & Langdon, ????; McNamara, 1995). In truth, the U.S. policies to oppose Soviet Communist expansion and the imposition of Communism beyond Soviet borders were not unfairly viewed by the U.S.S.R. as an expansionist attempt to export and impose Western Democracy beyond U.S. borders.
The Deterioration of Relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. after 1945
Even before the end of World War II, the provisions of the February 1945 Yalta Conference set in motion conflicting priorities and zones of occupation that helped trigger the eventual deterioration of the wartime alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005). Specifically, the agreement left Britain, France, and the United States in charge of Western Germany, Italy, and Japan while the Soviets controlled Eastern Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. By comparison, the territory controlled by the Western Allies was much more valuable in terms of its economic potential than that held by the Soviet Union. The same was largely true in connection with the relative economic potential of Western and Eastern Germany. Under the terms of the Yalta Agreement, the Western Allies administered what later became West Germany and the U.S.S.R. controlled what later became East Germany. Even the capital city of Berlin was divided into zones of occupation; within a few years, the geographical layout of Berlin and the shared occupation between the Western Allies and the U.S.S.R. would trigger a prolonged crisis as well (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).
Although perceived by the West as being stubborn and acting out of a specific motivation to dominate Europe, Stalin expressed genuine confusion over the inability or unwillingness of the Western Allies to appreciate the importance of Eastern Europe from the Soviet perspective, particularly with respect to Poland (Alterman, 2004; Judge & Langdon, ????). Recent and not so recent history demonstrated full well the vulnerability of the Soviet Union to hostile invasion through Poland. Moreover, Stalin’s liberation of Poland from the Nazis had cost the Soviet Union as many as 20 million dead, making it the costliest war campaign in the entire history of warfare, by far. From the Russian point of view, Poland should rightfully have remained under Russian control for those two specific reasons alone (Alterman, 2004; Judge & Langdon, ????).
In other respects, the Western Allies may have been right to question Stalin’s motives. During the war, both Churchill and Stalin had sent troops to occupy portions of Iran to prevent their rich oil fields from falling into the hands of the Nazis (Alterman, 2004; Roberts, 2000). Already at Yalta, Stalin had begun demanding oil concessions as a condition of removing Russian troops from Iran. Likewise, Stalin had insisted that Turkey permit the Russian Navy permanent unrestricted passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles. Stalin yielded on both accounts only after the U.S. expressed its intentions to back Iran and after the U.S. sent its own Naval warships to the region. Nevertheless, U.S. foreign policy thereafter would reflect the growing fears over such incidents that Stalin expressly intended to capitalize on any perceived weakness on the part of the West to oppose Communist grabs for global territories and resources (Roberts, 2000).
The Importance of Kennan’s The Sources of Soviet Conduct
In 1946, the U.S. State Department received a very long telegram from George C. Kennan, counselor in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, detailing his analysis of what he called “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000). Among other conclusions, Kennan wrote that the Soviet Union was “eternally committed” to global expansionism and to the spread of Communist ideology “at all costs.” Kennan warned that the Soviet Union would never stop probing non-Communist societies for weaknesses and that the Western democracies had no other choice but to remain “vigilante” in their opposition to Communism lest is spread throughout the entire world to the extent efforts toward that end were not opposed appropriately by the West (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000).
Kennan concluded that what would be necessary and appropriate to prevent Communist expansionism from dominating the word would be a comprehensive policy of global containment of any efforts toward that end by the Western democracies (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000). At approximately the same time, also in 1946, Winston Churchill delivered his infamous “Iron Curtain” speech in which he warned of the same danger with respect to the European continent and advocated a strong opposition on the part of the Western democracies. (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000; Westad, ????). In principle, this containment strategy would be adopted by the West, most immediately in the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.
The Truman Doctrine
By 1947, Greece was in the midst of internal warfare between the government and Communist rebels (Alter, 2004; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Roberts, 2000). Britain had been funding the counterrevolutionaries but eventually announced that it could no longer do so for economic reasons. The U.S. administration argued to Congress (and to the American people) that the fall of Greece to Communism would lead inevitably to the subsequent fall of Italy, France, and the entire Middle East to Communism as well (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000). Truman succeeded in obtaining congressional authorization for $400 million to fund anti-Communist rebels in both Greece and Turkey as well. This was the first implementation of what came be known as the Truman Doctrine, according to which “It must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Truman went on to say that this support from the U.S. “should be primarily through economic and financial aid, which is essential to economic stability and orderly political process” (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).
Officially, the Truman Doctrine focused on economic assistance to the needy populations of the struggling nations; unofficially, the real purpose of the Truman Doctrine was to fund anti-Communist forces and virtually any related effort to undermine Soviet attempts to spread Communism anywhere in the world. While being promoted primarily as a humanitarian gesture, the principal purpose of the Truman Doctrine and the reason for its existence was to oppose Soviet Communism (Gaddis, 1997).
To be fair, there were reasons that the West was right to be so concerned about Soviet Communist expansion but there were also reasons that, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the West in general and the U.S. in particular overreacted in implementing the Truman Doctrine. The Western Allies had only recently learned a very difficult lesson after failing to respond appropriately to the rise of Nazism throughout the 1930s and to the expansionist aggression demonstrated by Hitler for years before the outbreak of World War II. Undoubtedly, that was foremost on the minds of Churchill and Truman and everyone else in foreign policy-making positions in the post-war era (Alterman, 2004; Roberts, 2000). The Soviets were hardly innocent either. In addition to the attempted exertion of influence in Iran over the removal of their troops and over control over shipping lanes in the Dardanelles, they also aggressively supported Communist revolutions anywhere they could in Eastern Europe, particularly in Bulgaria and Romania in connection with Communist takeovers and in Poland by helping to eliminate the last source of political opposition to Communism (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).
On the other hand, and again, in retrospect with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the Western Democracies were also somewhat blind to apparent signs of Soviet restraint and concessions to the West. After initially insisting on shared control over defeated Japan, the Soviet Union eventually accepted exclusive American control over that nation (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000). Likewise, they withdrew their troops from Manchuria, allowed free elections in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and a neutral democratic Finnish government, and they also withdrew significant numbers of their forces that had been assembled in Eastern Europe since the end of the War (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).
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It may be unfair to re-evaluate tensions of the time with the benefit of historical records available today (including those pertaining to Stalin that only became available after the collapse of Communist Russia). However, objectively, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would seem that a more measured and objective response on the part of the U.S. and her allies in the post-war years other than the full implementation of the Truman Doctrine might have allowed for a much less costly and potentially dangerous outcome than a four-decade-long Cold War with the Soviet Union.
The Marshall Plan
One of the major initiatives implemented within the general framework of the Truman Doctrine was General George C. Marshall’s European Recovery Plan, which quickly became known as the Marshall Plan (Gaddis, 1997; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????; Roberts, 2000). In principle, the Marshall Plan aimed to do the same thing (i.e. contain Soviet Communism from global expansion) although through incentivizing cooperation and conciliation on the part of foreign nations in return for U.S. economic assistance. It was, in essence, a tremendous carrot instead of a stick-based approach to encouraging foreign nations to implement democratic governments and to reject Communist overtures (Roberts, 2000).
The U.S. even invited the Soviet Union to participate but they refused, believing (probably correctly, given the overall objective of the Truman Doctrine) that the terms in connection with which Soviet participation was being welcomed would have undermined Soviet control over the Eastern European countries under Soviet influence (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; Judge & Langdon, ????). Two years later, the Soviet Union would create Comecon, their own plan for an Eastern European “Mutual Economic Assistance” organization. The Marshall Plan was an unparalleled success in Western Europe: it facilitated infrastructure recovery in war-torn countries; it enabled economic growth while simultaneously reducing class conflict. More importantly, from the U.S. perspective, it established an economic dependency for U.S. goods and industrial machinery and for the U.S. goods, services, and labor to support it (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).
Certainly, the Marshall Plan was a more humane approach to expanding U.S. influence and discouraging Communist tendencies among Western European populations than the Soviet Union had employed in Eastern Europe. However, its fundamental purpose was much more similar. Moreover, the U.S. was guilty of the same degree of meddling in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations as was the Soviet Union, albeit through much more peaceful means that relied upon the carrot rather than the stick. Nevertheless, from the point of view of exporting its own political ideology to other nations, the U.S. was actually engaged in the same business as the Communists that the West continually portrayed as “expansionist” (Hunt, 1987; LeFeber, 1994; McDougall, 1997).
For example, because of the dependence of Italy on American foreign economic aid and supplies of goods and services, the U.S. was able to convince the Christian Democrats to oust the Communist Party out of it governing coalition. In fact, General Marshall personally warned the Italians that continued economic aide was directly dependent on the Communists not succeeding in the elections of 1948. At the same time, the U.S. State Department recruited Italian relatives in the U.S. and Italian-American organizations in the U.S. to influence Italian political outcomes as much as possible (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005; LeFeber, 1994; Hunt, 1987; McDougall, 1997).
Ultimately, the U.S. cannot claim to have meddled or micromanaged Western European political affairs any less than their Communist counterparts in Moscow. While there is a strong argument that the methods chosen by Moscow were less humane, it would be a fiction to suggest that the Soviet Union exported Communism and was expansionist while the U.S. merely supported political self-determination and opposed the imposition of political ideology from abroad. Certainly, from the Soviet perspective, Washington was engaged in very similar processes that differed much more in their means than in what they hoped to achieve. Moreover, whereas the U.S. had the choice between brutality and economic pressure and incentivization, the U.S.S.R. had no such choice, at least not that could have competed against the economic and industrial strength of the U.S.
Throughout the Cold War, the predominant view in the Western hemisphere was that the Soviet Union was continually engaged in an aggressive campaign to “export” Communism while the West, led by the U.S. was merely “resisting” that expansion by supporting the freedom and self-determination of those nations that would otherwise have been at the mercy of Communist takeover. In reality, the U.S. was no less aggressive in exporting Democracy, although it had the economic means to do so much more gently and humanely, and by inviting membership in their democratic vision rather than by coercion and brutality. However, in terms of precipitating what became a four-decade-long Cold War between East and West, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the policy of containment first articulated and promoted by George Kennan in 1946 were no less responsible than Soviet expansionism through intimidation and force.
The Cold War eventually resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union by virtue of the strength of the U.S. economy and industrial capacity. However, it was really only a matter of luck and restraint on the part of Soviet leaders that prevented the Cold War from suddenly becoming anything but “cold” particularly in connection with the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In both cases, Soviet forces were armed with tactical battlefield nuclear weapons and authorized to use them on U.S. forces. Ironically, those facts only became public as a direct function of the fall of the Soviet Union and the doctrine of Glasnost instituted as a result (Gaddis, 1997; Judge & Langdon, ????).
The Cold War grew out of a combination of factors and was probably not as inevitable or as much the result of aggressive Soviet expansionism as is widely believed in the West. To be sure, its roots were partly the result of the paranoid personality of Joseph Stalin. Similarly, the U.S.S.R. had given the Western Allies reason for concern over Stalin’s intentions in the Middle East (and elsewhere) even before the end of the war. The historical record suggests that at the time of the final Big Three meeting at Yalta, Stalin genuinely hoped for a collaborative and cooperative relationship with the American and British governments. On the other hand, even during those most hopeful of times, Soviet spies were busily at work successfully and thoroughly infiltrating the Top-Secret U.S. Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.
However, the relative insensitivity of Western leaders to appreciate the legitimate historical basis and geographical realities facing the Soviet Union, especially in Eastern Europe is equally to blame. To a much greater degree than is often acknowledged by Western historians, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were, in fact, less about achieving the specific objectives laid out publicly as their fundamental purpose than they were about implementing a global containment strategy designed expressly to counter perceived Soviet expansionism. It is likely that but for paranoia and overreaction on both sides, the legitimate geopolitical concerns of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. could have been negotiated more successfully and at far less cost to both sides. In that regard, the long-term effects and consequences of the American foreign policy approach with respect to the U.S.S.R. that was outlined and established by the Truman Doctrine and by the Marshall Plan within the first few years after the cessation of World War Two hostilities would have to be considered as responsible for the development of the Cold War as Soviet Communist expansionism.
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