The Cold War [1945-1991]: An Ideological Struggle Soviet & Eastern Bloc Nations [“Iron Curtain”] US & the Western Democracies GOAL spread world-wide Communism GOAL “Containment” of Communism & the eventual collapse of the Communist world. [George Kennan]
Espionage [KGB vs. CIA]
Arms Race [nuclear escalation]
Ideological Competition for the minds and hearts of Third World peoples [Communist govt. & command economy vs. democratic govt. & capitalist economy]
Yalta was the the penultimate (next to the last) of the wartime allied conferences. It dealt mainly with the settlement of post-war Europe. Allegedly FD Roosevelt was too ill to withstand Stalin’s demands, and his successor, Harry S Truman, took a tougher line. By by the time of the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the West had the bomb and were anxious to restrict Russia.
YALTA (in the USSR) Date: Feb 1945 Present: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin
POTSDAM (Germany) Date: July 1945 Present: Churchill, Truman and Stalin
The Russians took very high casualties to capture Berlin in May 1945. They spent the early occupation trying to take over all zones of the city but were stopped by German democrats such as Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer. Reluctantly the Russians had to admit the Americans, French and British to their respective zones.
The nuclear bomb gave America a lead which was expected to last at least 5 years. The rapid Russian development of nuclear technology, helped by the work of the “atom spies” was a shock. Significantly, Russia hurriedly declared war against Japan at the beginning of August 1945 and rushed to advance into Asia to stake out a position for the post-war settlement. This helped make both the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts more likely.
Truman had been horrified at the pre-war Allied policy of appeasement and was determined to stand up to any Soviet intimidation. The Truman Doctrine in March 1947 promised that the USA “would support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures” . Triggered by British inability to hold the line in Greece, it was followed by aid to Greece and Turkey, and also money to secure upcoming elections in Italy and the advance of Communist trade unions in France. It signalled the end of “isolationst” policies.
The Marshall Plan reflected the strength of the US economy and offered huge sums to enable the war shattered economies of Europe to rebuild and, by generating prosperity, to reject the appeal of Communism, Czechoslovakia showed interest in receiving Marshall Aid but was blocked by Russia. The Soviet system was as much dependent upon creating a self-contained economic bloc as it was in maintaining a repressive political system.
West Berlin, as an outpost of Western democracy and economic success deep within the Communist zone, was both a nest of spies for both sides and a constant challenge to the Soviets. The Berlin Blockade was an attempt to starve the city into submission and the Allied airlift signalled the West’s determination to use all resources to defend Berlin. Thereafter, it was accepted by both sides that Berlin would act as the trigger for general war. Any Russian invasion would be followed by conflict with the considerable Allied forces camped permanently on the plain of West Germany. Both sides finding Europe too dangerous a site for confrontation, looked elsewhere to compete.
The “Red Scare” , launched by Senator Joe McCarthy, dominated US politics for several years 1948-53 and helped pressure Truman into the Korean War, a costly and ultimately stalemated conflict. Given the suddenness of the fall of China, the development of the Soviet bomb, and the shocking performance of the Western secret services, the level of panic is understandable.
Truman restricted his ant-Soviet policy to one of “containment” , resisting the advance of Communism into South Korea. After some hesitation he resisted his Commander, Gen Douglas MacArthur’s attempt to “roll-back” Communism by invading North Korea and China. MacArthur was dismissed but Truman’s successors continued to be drawn into conflicts of containment for the rest of the cold war. The beginning of the Korean War also highlighted the failings of the United Nations. Up to 1950, Russia and America had respectively blocked each other’s iniatives by using their veto powers in the Security Council. Because the Russian delegates were boycotting the UN in 1950, Truman was able to condemn the Communist invasion of S Korea and to set up a counter-attack under the banner of the UN. In contrast to the pre-War League of Nations, at least this ensured that the UN would, in future, be able to deploy force in international disputes.