The Origins of the Cold War
For forty-three years, although no war between the superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union was ever officially declared, the leaders of the democratic West and the Communist East faced off against each other in what is known as the Cold War. The war was not considered “hot” because neither superpower directly attacked the other.Nevertheless, despite attempts to negotiate during periods of peaceful coexistence and détente, these two nations fought overt and covert battles to expand their influence across the globe.
The origins of the Cold War used to be simple: the menacing Russia aimed to expand its ideology worldwide while the United States strived to secure and protect the free world from dictatorship. As Thomas G. Pattersonsaid, “the Soviets acted; the Americans reacted”. The Russians obstructed the postwar peace; the Americans worked to build an open world of peace and prosperity. “Moscow exploited; Washington saved”. Until the 1960s the prevailing view of the early Cold War followed this "good guys/bad guys- script. The aim of this essay is to nuance this portrait and highlight the motives and the deep reasons of thebeginning of the Cold War: how can we explain the origins of the Cold War?
To answer the question, we will retrace the history of the conflict. Secondly, we will see the motivations of the countries involves in the Cold War. Then, we will deal with the controversial question of the responsible of the Cold War.
I] A History of Conflict
There are old causes for the conflict between West andEast. Indeed, the hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union started well before the Cold War. By the time the United States established an official relationship with the Soviet Union in 1933 with its belated recognition of the Communist nation, the totalitarian essence of the Soviet regime was an obstacle to close relations with the West. Americans saw themselves as leaders of thefree world, and tyrants like Stalin represented everything the United States opposed. On the opposite, for Stalin, capitalism exploited the masses, and the United States was consequently an oppressor.
Despite deep-seated mistrust and hostility between the two countries, an alliance was built among them in the 1940s to fight a common enemy, Nazi Germany, which had invaded Russia in June 1941. Butthis alliance was done solely because Roosevelt had “the conviction that the survival of the Soviet Union was essential for the defeat of Germany and the defeat of Germany was essential for American security” (Waldo Heinrichs). In spite of the victory against Germany, the Soviet Union complained that the Allies had taken too long time to establish a second front on Germany’s west flank, leaving theSoviets to fight alone the offensive front on Germany’s east flank.
At the postwar conferences, the control of Eastern Europe was given to the Soviet Union for its help to defeat Hitler but in exchange, Stalin agreed to organize free elections in Eastern Europe nations; but he accepted solely because he thought that these newly liberated nations would see the Soviet Union as their savior andcreate their own Communist governments. When they failed to do so, Stalin violated the principles of free and democratic self-determination that formed a cornerstone of American plans for postwar political order.
During the first years of the Cold War, Soviet and American leaders divided the world into opposing camps, and both sides accused the other of having designs to take over the world. Stalindescribed a world split into imperialist and capitalist regimes on the one hand and Communist governments on the other. The Soviet Union and the Communist People’s Republic of China saw the United States as an imperialist nation, using the resources of emerging nations to increase its own profits. The Soviet Union and China envisioned themselves as crusaders for the working class and the...
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