US Politics & Foreign Policy: The Cold War
The grounds of cold war are not difficult to determine; however, there are many misconceptions concerning the reasons and culprits. In the West, there is a popular tendency to view the Soviet Union as the only responsible side. Nevertheless, there were few events that have shaped these responds, and one of them is the revolution in Russia. When Lenin swept to power, he proclaimed absolutely new ideological structure that was called communism. The US could not accept the economic and political systems that were so critically opposite to the principles of democracy and capitalism. Thus, the reasonable reaction was fear and trepidation at the new force that rose in the East.
Communism is something unnatural for the American culture; it is too European and its principles have always been unacceptable in the US. In 1917, there have been some socialists in the USA, but they did not propagandize the communists’ ideas, and nobody heard a word from them. Americans were afraid of revolution and fundamental changes in social, political and economic systems. However, the most terrifying thing for Americans is emigrants, who have a desire to change the conditions of life via revolution.
Nevertheless, the more tangible and immediate causes of Cold War were preconditioned by the end of World War Two. Two months later after the capitulation of Germany, three leaders, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Harry Truman met to make a decision upon the fate of the defeated Germany. The main issue of this meeting was the reparations that Germany had to pay to compensate the damages caused by the war. The Soviet Union expected to rebuild its almost destroyed economy by the means of German industry. After discussion, the compromise was reached and the defeated Germany was divided into four parts. The Western Germany was taken by the US, Britain and France, while Soviet Union took the East Germany.
A new issue rose at Potsdam which sounded like “Who would rule Europe?” Britain, Germany and France had their chances. Nobody could say for sure if it was time to rule for the Soviet Union or the United States. Some people were wondering why Europe should be controlled by somebody, but everybody wanted to avoid another war. Poland has always been the key state that opened a way for the West countries to the Soviet Union and vice versa. Russia wanted Poland, because it was a base for attack against it.
The United States has always proclaimed the principles of self-determination and the right of every country to choose its own form of government. No doubts that America was an example of such country and it was its destiny to make the world safe for democracy. The Soviet Union viewed this statement as a desire of the United States to dictate what form of government should be adopted by other countries. Stalin responded in a specific manner and created the so-called Iron Curtain. In this way, Europe was divided into two parts, capitalists being on the one side while the communists on the other.
By 1947, Stalin made many efforts to establish communist governments in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. No one can say for sure why the Soviet leader did it; some experts state that in this way Stalin wanted to protect his borders from the Western invasion; others believe that Stalin tried to build an international communism that has started in the Eastern Europe. Anyway, both sides wanted to establish their values, political and economic systems in the controlled areas. However, if they had accepted these new spheres of influence, the Cold War may have never taken place. Unfortunately, the leaders of Western countries still had Hitler on their minds and they started to view Stalin as the new threat.
The invention of the atomic bomb became a real threat for the whole world, especially when the conflict between the Soviet Union and the Western countries became stronger. Nazis were the first who started to work on the atomic bomb, and by the end of the war Hitler had V1 and V2 rockets; fortunately, he did not use them. When the war ended, there was a massive exodus of Nazi scientists, who were the greatest minds of their epoch, in Britain and the United States. These scientists started to work on a new weapon that had to become the most powerful of all that have ever been created by humans. However, by 1943, Stalin had already started to develop a Soviet nuclear bomb. When the war ended, the United States of America developed a disarmament plan that indicated turning over all fissionable materials, bombs and plants to the international agency. The Soviet Union proposed a total ban on the production of all fissionable materials and added that all existing bombs should be destroyed. The Unites States wanted to save the monopoly on nuclear weapon and they continued to influence the Soviet Union via the international agency. The Soviet Union realized it and wished to neutralize the advantages of the United States of America and thus they insisted on immediate disarmament. Finally, the agreement was reached and both sides came to one decision.
Another reason of Cold War was caused by new relations between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. At the beginning of 1946, Truman claimed that he was tired to be a babysitting for the Soviets, who understand only strong language and an iron fist. In February, Stalin responded to this abuse with a speech that underlined the incompatibility between the Western political system and the Soviet communism. In 1946, George Kennan sent a telegram that contained 8000 words from Washington to Moscow. Kennan was a Foreign Service officer who knew much about Russian mentality and knew Russian culture and language well. He stated that the Soviets wanted to legitimize their bloody dictatorship and they had a strong belief of triumph of communism over Western capitalism. Kennan said that the Soviets would use any opportunity to extend their political system and never adopt the policy of harmony and cooperation. In Kennan’s opinion, the Soviet policy had a goal to destroy the individual governments that would stay on the Soviet path and they would make every effort to set the governments of Western countries against each other.
Kennan gave his own observation of the Soviet Union and its policy in the journal Foreign Affairs. This observation formulated the Washington line towards the Soviet Union for the next three decades. Since that time, the American foreign policy could be determined by one word: containment. Now, the United States policy was directed towards the Soviet ambitions under the guise of containment.
However, there were also other administrative policies that shaped the future relations between the Soviets and the United States. The majority of European communist parties were at their peak after the end of the war. For instance, French communist party won thirty percent of the votes in the 1946 election.
In 1946, the civil war in Greece turned out to the economic crisis. Britain informed the United States that they were no more able to provide aid for Greece and Turkey. The United States believed that the Soviet Union was responsible for Britain’s pullout and they decided to assume the role of supplying aid. In his doctrine, Truman announced that the United States would provide Greece and Turkey with aid in the context of a war against communists (Grincheva, 2010). The Senate approved aid in the amount of four hundred million dollars; Truman Doctrine was marked as the official declaration of Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US.
In 1947, a real hysteria started in the United States concerning communists; it even received a name the Red Scare. The US committee began numerous hearings to show that communists in the United States were still alive and they had a plan of spreading communism among the American citizens. Since that time, people were testified to check their loyalty to democratic views. Movie industry has suffered more than others, five hundred people lost their jobs; many writers, actors and directors were put on a black list and they could not work in the same sphere for more than a decade. The investigations were also on the governmental level and thousands of people who worked in the federal government were fired or even prosecuted. The communist hysteria continued to grow; professors lost their jobs and people were asked to testify their colleagues to detect whether they were not communists’ spies.
The Cold War could overgrow into a real war when the Soviets backed the North Korean Army. Many Americans feared that it was the beginning of the Soviet campaign of the world conquest. Truman made a decision to send the American troops to Korea; however, the war stayed at the stalemate and was ended in 1953.
The Cold War was an inevitable result of the relation between the United States and the Soviet Union. These two powerful nations could not cooperate because they had different goals and absolutely opposite ideologies. The issue does not lie only in political or economic views; people of these nations were brought up according to the ideals of their native countries. People who lived in the Soviet Union believed that communism was the only true political system and that the goal of the Soviet people was to develop it in their country and expand among other nations. Capitalism was viewed as something wrong and evil; there was a stereotype that everything connected with capitalism was antagonistic. The West was nothing more than a force that was trying to establish its own principles and destroy the positive future of communistic society.
On the other hand, people in the United States viewed Stalin and other leaders after him as a threat. The Soviet Union reign was presented as a dictatorship that had a goal to destroy the principles of democracy and establish a solitary political system.
The Iron Curtain only aggravated the relations between two nations and definitely put a period to the positive resolution of the conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States of America.
In fact, both nations are equally guilty in the division of the world into two camps. The impossibility to find a common ground for establishing friendly relations may raise a question why former allies who united to defeat the enemy could not establish at least good relations. The end of the war had to unite people and showed them that tolerance and mutual understanding is key factor for creating peace in the world. However, the situation was different and the former allies turned into the enemies who tried to dent the reputation of each other in the world’s eyes.
According to this fact, one of the major reasons of the Cold War was the intolerance towards each of the parties and the enforcement of the political ideas that had a forthputting character. Actually, this reason could be prevented if the nations did not view each other as opponents but rather as reliable allies who were providing support during the war. Nevertheless, the mutual understanding was not found and discords became the main policy of these nations.
The second reason and probably the most threatening is the invention of the nuclear weapon. By the end of the war, the world has faced the most powerful weapon that has ever been created by human. Since this invention was made, the high and the mighties realized that war would never be the same and the world would not survive in the World War Three. Moreover, the nation who has the arsenal of nuclear weapon is able to dictate its rules to the world (Wenger & Nuenlist, 2008). However, the nuclear weapon was being developed simultaneously in the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The leaders of both countries realized the possible consequences of nuclear threat and wanted to provide the pact that would forbid the further development of this weapon. Both sides propagandized the nuclear-free policy and they had their own views on the measures that should be taken to prevent the possible catastrophe and to make the world a safer place to live. Nevertheless, despite of the policy of disarmament, both nations did not fully trust each other in this issue and viewed this act as an attempt to weaken the military force and to receive the weapon advantage.
The nuclear act was signed and the nations officially stopped the development and testing of nuclear weapons; however, in fact, nobody did this, and the participants of the Cold war knew that their opponent was expanding the military might. The threat of a nuclear war and the unfair policy of nations concerning the nuclear development became the second reason that aggravated the relations between the Soviet Union and the US.
The third reason was the implementation of new ideologies and the aggressive methods of their expansion. Both nations viewed their political systems as the only true way of existing in this world. Ideology became a powerful weapon of terror that was used by the countries not only towards their opponents but against their own people. Thus, the mission of the US and the Soviet Union was to establish the right vision of the world’s structure and to save the world from communists/capitalists. Both nations had their strong arguments and evidences that proved the correctness of their ideas and views. They used any methods to enlist other nations as their friends and gain a new ally in the war against the opponent.
The phenomenon of the Cold War is a unique case in the world history that fortunately was finished without bloodshed and serious consequences for the world. Two powerful nations knocked together and it was obvious that only one could be the winner in this war. Two contradicting belief systems would never exist in harmony. Each nation wanted to prove that it was it which had to lead the world for better life and open a door to a new world that had never been before. In fact, both nations wanted to become the only ruling nation in the world and the Cold War was the reason to eliminate the opponent. All the reasons mentioned above can be viewed as the motive for the increasing level of discontent on the part of the US to the Soviet Union and vice versa.
Historically, the West and the East have always been in contradictions; these two absolutely different worlds could never understand and accept the life style of each other. They are like the sides of one coin that are on the same coin but still on the opposite sides. The US and the Soviet Union could not cooperate because they had different mentality, their value system, systems of beliefs and principles that did not recognize each other. The US viewed the Soviet Union as a potential enemy and the threat to the wellbeing of America, but the Soviet Union had the same opinion concerning the policy of the US. Both countries used all possible measures to reduce the influence of the opponent on the world and to expand its own control over it. One can say that the Cold War had its positive consequences, especially in the sphere of science. The attempts to overcome the might of the country-opponent made the scientific progress develop rapidly, invented new technologies and improved the old ones. However, no one can deny that these nations were walking a tightrope and the results could be more dramatic. Fortunately, the conflict was solved in the late 80s, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of war totally disappeared.
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