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Was The Cold War Due To Conflicting Ideologies History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

“The ideological crisis was woven into the tapestry of inter war politics and international relations at every level.” Caroline Kennedy-Pipe recognises that although there was tension between the USA and the USSR, in terms of their ideological preferences, other aspects including personal relationships between the leaders of the superpowers, material establishment and influence in Europe all contributed to the origins of the Cold War. However, there was a desire between them for a balance of power, not only in the origins of the Cold War but throughout the developments too, which is what consequently led to a war that took over the majority of the twentieth century.

In terms of the conflicting relations between America and Russia, communism is what led America’s democracy to feel so threatened. Communism had taken over Russia as a result of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917-1921. The revolution saw the Bolshevik’s defeat the oppressive Tsarist regime and consequently, allowing them to take the opportunity to inflict communism on Russia. Neil Fernandez looks at Marx’s description of communism in 1875. Marx describes how communism could be broken down into stages, and how people “would not be competing with each other to get hold of things they needed or wanted.” [2] This was the groundwork to communist society and Marx believed that people would prefer industry that isn’t privately run and they wouldn’t be reliant on wealth in their society, unlike American society where they strived on wealth to achieve the ‘American dream.’

The fact that the Bolshevik’s enforced communism in Russia in 1921 was a result of conflicting ideologies between the Tsarists and the Bolshevik’s. The Bolshevik’s were a Marxist faction who wanted to impose Marxist communism upon Russia, whereas the Tsarist regime was very much a dictatorship in which Tsar Nicholas II ruled. “Their conflicting ideologies led to a civil war in 1905 where the country fell into a short rebellion which saw the rise of the Bolsheviks and communism against the Tsarist regime and eventually led to the Russian Revolution of 1917-1921.” [3] 

The communist regime became a threat to American society because, as John Gaddis recognises, Marxist ideology “brought hope to the poor, fear to the rich, and left governments somewhere in between,” [4] and consequently America were the rich. America, typical of Capitalist society, saw a large division in social classes, which is what Marx wanted to avoid when he developed the idea of communism. The differences between the two superpowers led to the world being split into two halves. The prime example for this was Berlin, which saw the Berlin blockade of 1948 and the erection of the Berlin wall in 1961, which were the biggest splits between Communism and Capitalism in the twentieth century. The Cold war between the Communist Russia and Capitalist America was evident right up until 1989 when the destruction of the Berlin wall was enforced. This marked not only the beginning of the end of the Cold War, but the demolishment of communism in Russia.

However, in terms of the origins of the Cold War and developing the reasons on the extent of conflicting ideologies, a date must firstly be considered. However, there seems to be some debate between the historians on the date of the start of the Cold War. Vladmir O. Pechatnov and C. Earl Edmondson look at the Russian perspective of the origins of the Cold War. The emphasis here is put on the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and how “even before World War Two, anti-capitalist ideology widened Russia’s separateness from the West.” [5] This perspective recognises that the Bolshevik revolution introduced communism to Russia and the initial threat of communism to Capitalist America. However, other historians I have studied, including Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, John Gaddis, Ralph B. Levering and Verena Botzenhart-Viehe put the emphasis on how the events after World War Two, particularly the power vacuum in Europe started the Cold War as this led to a breakdown in the grande alliance. Therefore, even though the Russian revolution saw the origins of the conflicting ideologies between the powers, it did not see the start of the Cold War. There was no real development after the Bolshevik revolution to suggest that the two powers were ideologically in battle. Whereas, after World War Two, we see how each superpower makes steps that threaten the other side, creating a tension between the powers and an even bigger desire to create a balance of power, which is evident not only in the origins of the Cold war, but throughout the developments too.

The start of the Cold War emerged after the unity between the USA and the USSR was no longer needed. During World Two the powers had united after the agreements at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, where they both agreed to ally against Hitler in order to defeat fascism. Gaddis refers to this unity between the powers as “a single planet shared by superpowers who shared the means of wiping each other out – but who now also shared an interest in each others survival.” [6] This was very true in terms of the circumstances to why the superpowers allied. America recognised that they needed the military support from the USSR to defeat Hitler, whereas Russia also recognised that they needed America to fund the war in order to defeat fascism. This shows that although the powers had conflicting ideologies in terms of their government styles, they shared similar ideals on the defeat of fascism. However, once Hitler had been defeated the unity between them had vanished, consequently leading them to focus more on their own ideologies and in terms of the Soviet Union, expanding their ‘sphere of influence’ across the world. America was not willing to let communism spread into Western Europe, as this would potentially be fatal for democratic America. The unity of the superpowers during World War Two was, as Geoffrey Roberts describes, a “period of cooperation, not confrontation,” [7] 

Adding to this, post World War Two saw the superpowers compete for what they both believed to be their share of Europe and in particular their share of Germany. In terms of conflicting ideologies, the ones that developed after World War Two are the one’s that are most significant to the extent of causing the Cold War. Stalin believed that because it was the communist ‘red-army’ that ultimately defeated Hitler, Russia should be entitled to benefit more out of the war. However, on the other hand, because America had funded the war they believed that they too should be entitled to benefit more. This led the powers, including Britain and France all taking their chare of Germany and its capital Berlin. Although this was a conflicting ideology between the powers, it was this desire for a balance of power for an influence in Europe from both sides that caused the Cold War.

However, the reasons to why the superpowers wanted influence in Europe differed. Russia wanted influence in Europe after World War Two as the war damaged countries provided the perfect basis to inflict communist ideology and expand the Soviet ‘sphere of influence.’ Russia wanted to increase its influence not only to spread communism but for security reasons as well. However, in contrast to this, America wanted influence in Europe to stop these European countries falling to communism. America made sure that this would not happen by providing aid and financial loans to those poverty stricken countries that could potentially fall to communism. Neither America nor Russia was willing to let the other become more powerful, this again looks at the desire for a balance of power between the powers. The conflicting ideologies after World War Two are what made both superpowers even more determined to stop the other side becoming more powerful. Therefore, conflicting ideologies were not the causes of the Cold War but the reasons for both superpowers to carry on pursuing a political battle for a balance of power.

Communist leader Stalin was interested in expanding the communist sphere by setting up satellite states which were countries that were dominated politically and economically by Russia and the red army. America feared that if the Soviet Union expanded into Western Europe, then it could threaten American democracy. Consequently, this led to President Eisenhower of America introducing his domino theory. Eisenhower described this policy as “a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.” [8] But even before Eisenhower, President Truman had recognised the need for containment against communism in Europe. Truman tried to achieve communist containment by setting up the Truman Doctrine in 1947. Truman pumped money into “co-operative nations” [9] to stop them falling to communism. Truman thought that the countries that had been economically damaged due to the war would turn to communism. Geoffrey Roberts describes this doctrine as a “signal of American determination to resist further Soviet expansion” [10] Soviet expansion was what America feared because if it was given the opportunity to spread into Western Europe, it would be almost inevitable that America too would fall to communism eventually. The conflicting ideologies of the superpowers provided the grounds for pursuing this battle for a balance of power in Europe. Both the USA and the USSR recognised that if either side gained more territory than the other then this would upset the balance of power, this is what, therefore, caused the Cold War.

However, to identify the extent of conflicting ideologies as a cause of the Cold war, other issues surrounding the origins of the Cold War must also be considered. This includes the personal relationships between the leaders of the two superpowers. On the surface, Roosevelt and Stalin seemed to have a good relationship in dealing with foreign affairs. This relationship saw a cooperative alliance against fascism and Hitler and it was this good relationship between the leaders that made the alliance so successful. Roosevelt and Stalin almost agreed to disagree in terms of the making of the alliance. Although the conflicting ideologies and their desire for power were still there, the powers recognised that in order to defeat Hitler, an alliance must be formed.

However, Roosevelt’s successor, President Truman had created a tense relationship between the two powers right from the start. Truman’s announcement of the creation of the atomic bomb at the Potsdam conference in 1945 corrupted the balance of power. America now had more ‘power’ than Russia, which was a threat to Stalin and his communist regime. On the other hand though, Stalin seemed to take advantage of America’s changing leaders and exploited them to the extent that he could act on their inexperience. Stalin had been the main contender for communism during the origins of the Cold War, his ideals for expansion across Europe led to tension with the American presidents. However, Stalin success was limited later by his successor Khrushchev, as they had different ideologies in terms their relationship with the ‘satellite states.’ Khrushchev introduced his Destalinisation policy which ultimately tried to undo everything Stalin had achieved, consequently leading to the gradual breakdown of communism in Russia. But, in contrast to this, during the origins of the Cold War Stalin made clear his policies for expansion in Europe which is what caused the threat to America, resulting in the Cold War.

Adding to this, America’s allies, Britain, were also threatened by communism and this can be seen in Winston Churchill’s iron curtain speech of 1956 where he states “and iron curtain has descended across the continent.” [11] Churchill establishes that the conflicting ideologies between the powers separate them completely. The division between communism and capitalism meant that there was a great divide which split the world in two halves. Therefore the tension between personal relationships did not stop between the two superpowers but extended to their allies, creating an ideological crisis alongside a desire by both the communist and capitalist parties to balance the power.

In order to establish personal relationships as a cause of the Cold war the grande alliance must be pointed out. This grande alliance refers to the leaders of America, Russia and Britain. This period of alliance between the powers shows cooperation but also shows deterioration in the aftermath of World War Two. Geoffrey Roberts looks at the breakdown of this alliance and the deterioration of the personal relationships between them. Roberts suggests that the origins of the Cold War can fundamentally be seen in the breakdown of this ‘big three.’ After the victory of fascism, the big three turned their attention towards the post-war settlements. It was these post-war settlements that led to the conflicting ideologies and the desire for a balance of power to return. Personal relationships obviously attributed to the origins of the Cold War, as it was the leaders of these two superpowers that pursued their ideological differences and the balance of power resulting in the Cold War. If relations between leaders had been more successful, then it could be suggested that the Cold War would never have led to a battle taking over the twentieth century. However, the conflicting ideologies would make it almost impossible for either superpower to ignore the threat from the other side. Therefore the Cold War was inevitable to the extent that the superpowers would have clashed at some point. It was the events after World War Two, combined with the tense relations between leaders that led to the Cold War.

However, the creation of the American atomic bomb must also be addressed in order to fully portray the extent of conflicting ideologies to the origins of the Cold War. The American creation of the atomic bomb resulted in the biggest split in the balance of power that both sides had desired. Consequently, it turned the Cold War into a hot war as it heightened the tensions and suspicion of the Soviets towards America. Although the reasons behind the invention of the atomic bomb may lie within the conflicting ideologies of the superpowers, its main contributing factor was America’s opportunity to heighten their side of the ‘balance’ of power.

The balance of power is also seen here as the origins of the Cold War, as in retaliation to America’s atomic bomb, Stalin set up a ‘special committee’ to spy in America in order to allow Russia to create their first Soviet atomic bomb, rival to America. In retaliation to America’s atomic bomb, Stalin successfully tested the atomic bomb in August 1949 which would suggests that it was in Russia’s best interests to level out the balance of power. Stalin recognised the threat of a nuclear creation by America and consequently had to do everything he could to also create nuclear power. Otherwise, Russia would have to of given into the American power, as America would have been stronger in terms of material establishment.

“The creation of the atomic bomb brought the war to a whole new level not only between the two main contenders of the competition but for the rest of the world” [12] . The invention of nuclear power was a significant one in terms of the Cold War as it was stronger and more powerful than any other ammunition that had been invented previously and had the potential ability to destroy the planet. This is why the development of nuclear power not only brought tension between the superpowers, but also left the rest of the world hoping that a nuclear war would not arise as a consequence of the political battle between the USA and the USSR. Therefore, the desire for a balance of power between the two powers not only affected their societies, but affected the rest of the World too. This is why, after the creation of the Berlin Wall, it was not only the two conflicting powers that were involved, but the whole world.

In terms of the creation of nuclear power, further tensions between the superpowers can also be seen later on in the Cold War, when Russia held their nuclear weapons in Cuba, a country only 90miles away from the US. This resulted in the hottest part of the Cold War. America saw this as an immediate direct threat. This led to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. This put Russia on top in terms of the balance of power and in retaliation to this America placed nuclear missiles in Turkey. Therefore the balance of power that both superpowers desired is not only apparent in the origins of the Cold War, but continues right through until the destruction of the Berlin Wall 1989.

The Cold War saw battles for a balance of power through the arms race which was a battle for the amount of nuclear power they each possessed. Consequently, this ‘arms race’ damaged Russia’s economy as they were known to spend a considerably higher percentage of money on the construction of nuclear weapons than America. However, this later led to the space race between superpowers where the superpowers made an agreement not to fight an ideological battle but to compete in other ways, for example, the first power to go to space. Therefore the Cold War not only started as a desire for a balance of power but continued to be a competition throughout the whole of the war. However, consequently, this battle for a balance of power left Russia financially struggling to keep up with the advancements of the USA. Russia’s economy had also been financially ruined as a result of World War Two, therefore whilst America was funding the invention of nuclear power in their country, Russia’s attempts to keep up resulted in them spending much more higher percentage than America, However, Stalin believed that this was an important development in the interests of the Soviet Union, which is why the development of nuclear power continued to take place.

The balance of power was an important issue for both America and Russia. The conflicting ideologies of both sides were their reasons for continuing in this battle for power. The conflicting ideologies of both sides, contrasted one another completely, which also meant that either superpower presented a threat to the other side. However, the ideologies were not enough to start the Cold War, as we see how the powers were willing to put their differences aside to defeat Hitler. However, although alliance brought the end of Hitler and fascism, it saw the start of the Cold War. The breakdown of the grande alliance after the war meant that the unity between them no longer existed, allowing them to concentrate on the security of their powers, which as a result meant that both powers saw the other as a threat to their economy and society, consequently forming a desire for a balance of power between the USA and the USSR.

Therefore the conflicting ideologies between the superpowers have been highlighted to be a significant contribution to the Cold War and its developments but not as causes to why the Cold War began. The causes of the Cold War look at how the superpowers had an almost equal desire for a balance of power; this was the initial causation of the Cold War. Even though conflicting ideologies were important to the Cold War, they were just reasons to carry on pursuing the political battle for a balance of power. Adding to this, ideological differences were brought about by the desire for a balance of power. Therefore it was this push for a balance of power between the USA and the USSR that caused the Cold War to start in 1945. Caroline Kennedy-Pipe supports this by saying that “the Cold war was not ’caused’ by ideological rivalry – but certainly as matter of the framing of the conflict and implications.” [13] 


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