Origins of the Cold War
Origins of the Cold War
"T here are two great peoples on the earth today who, starting from different points, seem to advance toward the same goal: these are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. Both have grown larger in obscurity [relatively unnoticed by the rest of the world]; and while men's regards were occupied elsewhere, they have suddenly taken their place in the first rank of nations, and the world has learned of their birth and of their greatness almost at the same time." French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) made this statement, quoted in his book Democracy in America, in the 1830s. Over a century later, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the Soviet Union or the U.S.S.R.; a country made up of fifteen republics, the largest of which was Russia, that in 1991 became independent states) had risen to the status of superpowers, extremely powerful nations that dominated world politics. Eventually, the two countries were involved in what became known as the Cold War.
The Cold War was a period of mutual fear and dis-trust, brought about by the differing ideologies, or set of beliefs, of these two nations. The Cold War did not begin on a precise date, and it was not a shooting war, at least not directly between the two superpowers—the United States of America and the Soviet Union. As a result, the actual start of the Cold War is open to debate. The term "Cold War" comes from the title of a 1947 book by influential American journalist Walter Lippmann (1889–1974). He had heard presidential advisor Bernard Baruch (1870–1965) use the phrase "cold war" in a congressional debate that same year. Various political events between 1945 and 1947 were crucial to the Cold War's beginning. By the end of World War II (1939–45), the European powers—Great Britain, France, and Germany—had collapsed, while the U.S. and Soviet empires were thriving. U.S. and Soviet foreign policies, domestic priorities, economic decisions, and military strategies (including the development of nuclear weapons), all formulated in response to the war, created an atmosphere of hostility and fear that lasted almost half a century.
Distinct differences, distant enemies
Although the Cold War did not begin until the mid-1940s, many historians look back to 1917 for the first signs of U.S.-Soviet rivalry. In Russia, members of a rising political party, known as the Bolsheviks, gained control of the country in November 1917 through the Bolshevik Revolution. The Bolsheviks supported the communist ideologies of Vladimir I. Lenin (1870–1924), who established the Communist Party in Russia in 1919. Communism is a system of government in which a single party controls nearly all aspects of society; leaders are selected by top party members. Under the communist system, the government directs all economic production. Goods produced and accumulated wealth, are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all; there is no private ownership of property. Religious practices were not tolerated under communism.
On the other hand, the United States viewed the world differently than did Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The U.S.
system of government is democratic, which means that government leaders are elected by a vote of the general population; members of the government represent the people. Multiple political parties represent differing political views. The United States operates under a capitalist economic system. This means prices, production, and distribution of goods are determined by competition in a market relatively free of government interference. Property and businesses are privately owned. Religious freedom is absolute; it was a cornerstone in the founding of the United States in 1776. In response to the Bolshevik Revolution, the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21), condemned the Bolsheviks and sent troops to Russia in 1918 to restore the old government. However, this attempt was unsuccessful; the communist Bolsheviks prevailed and renamed Russia, calling it the Soviet Union. Still, the United States refused to officially recognize the new government as the official government of the Russian people. President Wilson did not think the communist rule would last long; he did not think the Russian people would tolerate the loss of private property and individual freedoms. As communist leaders worked to re-shape the Russian economy, the United States began a waiting game, hoping these leaders would fail. The unfriendly relations between the two countries would continue for the next twenty years, until an alliance during World War II brought them together.
During the 1920s and 1930s, neither the capitalist United States nor the communist Soviet Union was a world military power. Both countries isolated themselves from the political events in Europe and in other regions of the world. The United States wanted to avoid involvement in another European war after its bitter experience in World War I (1914–18), and the Atlantic Ocean seemed to offer a safe buffer against any foreign conflicts.
In contrast, Russia had no geographic buffer to protect it from land invasions. Historically, most military invasions of Russia had come from the west. Therefore, long before the communist takeover, Russian leaders had traditionally sought new western territories to protect their country from future threats. Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), a Bolshevik who became head of the Soviet communist state in 1924, wanted to avoid interaction with the capitalist governments in bordering Europe. Seeking security buffers and eager to spread the communist philosophy, Stalin pushed for expansion of Soviet influence in neighboring countries. However, denunciation of the Bolsheviks by various foreign leaders fed Soviet insecurities. The Bolsheviks feared external foreign invasion and an internal West-supported revolution to take back the government from the communists. During the 1920s, Soviet leaders were routinely excluded from international diplomacy such as European security pacts, because other countries viewed the Soviets' communist influence as a threat to international stability.
In November 1933, spurred by economic needs during the Great Depression (1929–41), the worst financial crisis in American history, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) established formal diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Still, America remained quite hostile to the idea of communism, because Stalin's suppression of political, economic, and religious freedoms under the communist regime offended fundamental American ideals.
The Grand Alliance
In the 1930s, German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) began a military campaign to gain more territory for Germany. As conditions in Europe became increasingly troubling, President Roosevelt nudged the United States to give up its isolationist position, a policy of avoiding official agreements with other nations in order to remain neutral. He wanted the United States to help Great Britain and other countries resist Germany's expansion.
In contrast to the United States' new stance, Stalin sought a position of neutrality for the Soviet Union. He signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact with Germany in August 1939. The agreement gave the Soviet Union control of eastern Poland, Moldavia, and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Stalin hoped this expansion would provide security from future attack while the capitalist countries fought among themselves. The extra land would also act as a screen, limiting Soviet contact with the West in general. Stunned by the Soviet-German agreement, the West claimed that this pact encouraged Germany's invasion of Poland the following month. With that invasion, in September 1939, World War II officially began. The Soviet buffer zone gave Russians less than two years of security: In June 1941, Germany violated its pact
with the Soviet Union and launched a massive offensive against the Russians. More than three million German troops pushed into Russia; by October, the German forces had reached the outskirts of Moscow, the capital city.
In the meantime, Japan was conducting a similar military campaign of expansion in the Far East. On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an effort to cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet and prevent U.S. intervention in Japan's expansion efforts. Germany declared war on the United States three days later. These events quickly brought the United States into the world war.
The joint struggle against Hitler's Germany led to the formation of the Grand Alliance—the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain; the three powers referred to themselves as the Allies. However, this alliance was not a true, well-formed partnership. Instead, the three nations found themselves facing the same threat—the aggression of Germany and Japan—and recognized that they needed to work together to defeat their common enemy. Yet even under these circumstances, the Americans and Soviets did not fully trust each other. For example, Roosevelt did not inform Stalin of the Manhattan Project, an American program (that began in 1942) to develop the atomic bomb. Stalin knew, nonetheless, thanks to well-placed spies, and secretly began his own atomic program.
Great Britain and the Soviet Union managed to repel the German onslaught on both the eastern and western fronts. On the eastern front, the Soviets defeated the invading German forces at Stalingrad in February 1943. In a counteroffensive, the Soviets pursued retreating German forces through eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Britain had survived the prolonged German bombing of England, including the capital city of London. On the western front, U.S. and British forces landed at Normandy on the French coast in June 1944 and pushed the Germans eastward. Caught between Allied forces approaching from the east and the west, Germany was defeated by the spring of 1945. The victory brought U.S. and Soviet forces face-to-face in central Europe. In several locations, young American and Russian soldiers eagerly shook hands with each other and celebrated together.
The Big Three
Roosevelt, Stalin, and British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) had begun meeting during the war to design a postwar world. The Big Three (a term that referred not only to the trio of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, but to the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain as well) held friendly meetings, first in Tehran, Iran, in 1943, and then, in February 1945, in Yalta, a town on the Black Sea, in the Ukrainian region of the Soviet Union. During this time, President Roosevelt tried hard to overlook differences with Stalin. Furthermore, in early discussions Roosevelt had privately conceded to Stalin that the Soviets could control Eastern Europe under their communist government. Churchill was less willing to concede territory to the Soviet Union, particularly Poland. However, Stalin considered Poland crucial for protecting Moscow. He wanted to maintain the border established in his 1939 nonaggression agreement with Germany. Churchill relented at the Tehran meetings, in exchange for British control over Greece.
In February 1945, the Big Three met in Yalta to discuss critical issues such as the Soviet entry into the war against Japan, the future of Eastern European governments, voting arrangements at the newly formed United Nations (UN; an international organization, composed of most of the nations of the world, created to preserve world peace and security), and a postwar government for Germany. The Allies were close to victory in Europe, but the outcome of the war with Japan in the western Pacific was still uncertain. The United States believed it needed help from the Soviets. Therefore, Roosevelt was willing to overlook the growing Soviet influences in Eastern Europe—at least temporarily—if the Soviets would promise to attack Japan. To formalize their plan for postwar Europe, the three leaders signed the Declaration on Liberated Europe. Under this agreement, the Soviet Union would retain control of the eastern region of Poland. Poland's western boundary was redrawn to include part of Germany; this change would displace the German population residing there. The agreement also stated that countries freed from German control would be allowed to hold free elections to establish their new governments. Nevertheless, many in the United States saw the Yalta agreements as a sellout; in other words, they felt that Roosevelt and Churchill had simply handed Eastern Europe to Stalin and his communist influence.
On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage, a type of stroke where a blood artery in the brain bursts. He was replaced by Vice President Harry Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53). Truman was more hostile to communism than Roosevelt and had little previous experience in foreign affairs; these two factors would play an important role in the buildup to the Cold War. During the spring of 1945, Stalin had established a communist government in a part of Poland that was beyond the accepted western boundary of Soviet influence. The United States charged that Stalin was violating the Yalta agreements by not allowing free elections in Poland and by suppressing the Polish people's freedom of speech, press, and religion. President Truman, newly in office, challenged the Soviets.
On April 16, four days after President Truman took office, he and Prime Minister Churchill sent a joint message to Stalin insisting the Soviets respect the agreements made in Yalta. On April 23, in a meeting in Washington, D.C., Truman made an unusually blunt comment to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov (1890–1986) about Soviet influences in Poland. As noted on the Cold War International History Project Web site, an irked Molotov said, "I have never been talked to like that in my life." Truman replied, "Carry out your agreements and you won't get talked to like that." Stalin responded the next day, saying that the United States was trying to dictate Soviet foreign policy. The German defeat had left Stalin an unprecedented opportunity to secure the buffer he was seeking in Eastern Europe. Stalin deemed Poland especially important as a first line of defense against future western invasions of the Soviet Union. Therefore, he would not budge, even under diplomatic pressure from Truman and Churchill; with Soviet troops occupying Poland since 1944, Stalin had the advantage.
The feuding spread to the United Nations organizational conference that was taking place in San Francisco, California. One part of the voting structure was to give the top world powers such as the United States and Great Britain veto power over key UN decisions. The Soviets insisted on having the veto power as well to overrule any proposed UN actions they found disagreeable. The dispute disrupted progress of the meetings.
Meanwhile on May 7, the defeated Germans officially surrendered. Four days later, on May 11, Truman abruptly ended shipments of wartime supplies to the Soviets, which had begun in 1940. This put an end to all aid except what the Soviets needed to fight Japan. An infuriated Stalin viewed the sudden termination as concealed hostility fueled by disagreements over Poland and the UN.
To smooth over matters with the Soviets, Truman sent former Roosevelt advisor Harry Hopkins (1890–1946) to Moscow. Over a two-week period from May 25 to June 6, Hopkins was able to craft a compromise on various matters including composition of the Polish government. He also extracted from the Soviets a promise not to interfere in U.S. foreign relations in the Western Hemisphere. Furthermore, the Soviets promised to recognize U.S. dominance in Japan and China and to retreat from their UN veto demands. In return, the United States extended formal recognition to the communist Polish government on July 5. With this agreement in place, delegates at the UN conference were able to complete work on the UN charter.
With the war in Europe over and relations between the West and the Soviets somewhat repaired, U.S., British, and Soviet leaders met again in Potsdam, Germany, near Berlin, in July 1945. Since the Big Three meeting in Yalta five months earlier, some changes had taken place: Roosevelt had died and Truman had taken over; and on July 16, just before the conference began, the United States had successfully conducted its first atomic bomb test—secretly, in a remote New
Mexico desert. Truman casually informed Stalin about the new weapon after a conference session. Stalin accepted the news so calmly that Truman believed Stalin did not fully understand what he had been told. However, Stalin's spies had already informed him of the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb, so after hearing Truman's announcement, Stalin immediately sent orders to step up the Soviet atomic bomb effort at home.
One other notable event took place during the Potsdam Conference. A general election in Great Britain was being held as the meetings began. Conservative Party candidate Churchill and Labour Party candidate Clement Attlee (1883–1967) both traveled to Germany and awaited the results. The Labour Party was victorious, meaning Attlee became prime minister, replacing Churchill in the Big Three.
At the Potsdam Conference, tensions quickly surfaced over the future of Germany. Still taken aback over the German attack on their country during the war, the Soviets wanted a weak Germany. The United States wanted a strong, united Germany. The Western allies also wanted to rid Germany of Nazism (known primarily for its brutal policies of racism), break apart its military, control its industrial production, and set up a democratic government. In addition, they wanted to put the surviving Nazi leaders on trial for war crimes, or crimes against humanity. At the time, Germany was under military rule and divided into four geographic zones based on the location of the various occupational forces at war's end. The Russians held the east zone, which was mainly an agricultural area; Britain had the industrial region in the northwest; the Americans controlled the south; and France had parts of the southwest. Berlin, the German capital, was located well within the Russian zone, but it, too, was divided into four sectors. Berlin became headquarters of the new Four-Power Allied Control Council created to rule Germany. This arrangement was to stay in place until a more permanent arrangement could be worked out.
To further punish Germany, Stalin insisted on large reparations, payments that Germany would have to make to compensate the Soviet Union for the massive wartime destruction caused by German forces. Stalin particularly wanted Germany's industrial equipment and raw materials. Earlier at the Yalta Conference, Foreign Minister Molotov of the Soviet Union proposed that Germany provide $20 billion to the wartime allies, including the United States, with half of that amount going to the Soviet Union and half going to the Western countries. Some U.S. leaders felt such demands would greatly hinder Germany's economic recovery, so Roosevelt offered a compromise: He stated that the United States did not want reparations; however, he supported the Soviet request for $10 billion as a justified demand.
At Potsdam, U.S. secretary of state James Byrnes (1879–1972) drew up a plan largely restricting the Soviet Union to receiving reparations from its own occupation zone. Though Stalin was displeased, Byrnes's plan incidentally served to more formally partition Germany, giving the Soviet Union a relatively free hand in its zone. As time passed, the United States would become increasingly concerned that the Soviets were keeping east Germany economically repressed, in preparation for long-term control of the territory.
Shortly after the Potsdam meeting, a rapid sequence of major events unfolded in Japan. Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, which called for Japan's unconditional surrender from the war. The Japanese government rebuffed that request. With military officials believing that a war against Japan could result in the loss of five hundred thousand lives, the United States decided to force a quick surrender by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities—Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. Approximately 150,000 people were killed outright. On August 8, the Soviets had declared war on Japan and invaded Japanese-held Manchuria several days later. On August 14, Japan surrendered; formal surrender documents were signed on the USS Missouri on September 2. With both Germany and Japan defeated, the Grand Alliance no longer had any reason to stay together.
Great war losses left Britain and the Soviet Union considerably weakened. Britain was heavily in debt and no longer had the resources to be a world leader. Britain still had substantial military forces and colonies around the world, but its superpower status would soon fade. Similarly the Soviet Union was economically crippled near the war's end. Over twenty million Soviets had died, and the country's agricultural and industrial economies were in ruin; Stalin's immediate goal following the war was to avoid further military conflict. In contrast to Britain and the Soviet Union, the United States emerged from the war as a world power in a league of its own. Its gross national product, or total market value of the country's goods and services, had increased from $90 billion in 1939 to $211 billion in 1945. The U.S. population had also increased during the war, from 131 million to 140 million. The United States was the world's economic leader and major source of financial credit. Its military was vast, and it was the only country with atomic weapons.
A meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, held in London in September 1945 to determine terms of peace treaties and other end-of-the-war matters, ended in disarray. The United States and the Soviet Union strongly disagreed over draft treaties concerning Romania and Bulgaria and the Soviet role in postwar Japan. Some diplomats left the meeting feeling that the two nations were clearly on an unavoidable collision course. Many of them had begun to understand that the United States and other Western nations held basic economic and political values that were loathsome to the Soviets. Likewise, Western governments were inherently opposed to Soviet values.
In order to resolve differences, Truman sent Secretary of State Byrnes to Moscow, the Soviet capital. Byrnes was able to reach substantial compromises with the Soviets, including recognition of general spheres of influence for both nations; the Soviets were given control over Romania and Bulgaria. U.S. and Soviet diplomats agreed to meet in May 1946 in Paris to develop a series of peace treaties for other European nations. They also created the UN Atomic Energy Commission. Byrnes faced intense criticism when he returned to the United States; some Americans felt he was too soft in his negotiations with the communists. Because of this perception, his influence over foreign policy would substantially decline.
A fateful year
In 1946, a continuous sequence of events clearly established the emerging rivalry between the West and the Soviet Union. In January, at a UN meeting in London, British foreign minister Ernest Bevin (1881–1951) spoke out strongly against growing Soviet intimidation in Turkey and Iran, and
he called for united opposition from the West. This set the tone for the following month, which would mark a major turning point in U.S. foreign policy. On February 3, the American public was stunned when U.S. newspapers reported that a Soviet spy ring had been sending U.S. atomic bomb secrets to Moscow. Public support for negotiations with the Soviets over nuclear arms control plummeted. Then on February 9, Stalin gave his "Two Camps" speech, in which he announced a five-year postwar economic plan. Some considered the speech more like a declaration of war on capitalist nations, because Stalin contended that capitalism and communism were incompatible.
On February 22, less than two weeks after Stalin's speech, George Kennan (1904–), an American diplomat in Moscow, sent what became known as the "Long Telegram." The eight-thousand-word telegram warned that the Soviet leaders could not be trusted and recommended that the United States give up its isolationist attitudes and take on more of a leadership role with regard to international politics. The transmission, confirming the anti-Soviet beliefs already held by many Washington officials, would change the course of U.S. foreign policy. The United States, according to Kennan, would have to deal with the Soviets from a position of power.
The first direct confrontation between the two super-powers began the same day the Long Telegram was sent. Since 1941, both British and Soviet forces had occupied Iran, a country in the Middle East. Following the war, both sides agreed to withdraw by March 1946. However, the Soviet government, with an eye on Iran's oil, kept troops in Azerbaijan, a northern province of Iran (now divided into East and West Azerbaijan, and not the same Azerbaijan that was once part of the Soviet Union and is now an independent country). The Soviets looked to aid separatists, who were fighting against the Iranian government. In the United States, concerns rose over maintaining access to the vast oil reserves located in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, due to the Soviets' presence in Azerbaijan. On February 22, Secretary of State Byrnes went before the UN Security Council to condemn Soviet actions in Azerbaijan. In response, Soviet representative Andrey Gromyko (1909–1989) staged a dramatic walkout of the session. Days later, Byrnes sent the USS Missouri, the world's most powerful warship at that time, to neighboring Turkey as a warning to the Soviets. On February 28, Byrnes confirmed the new confrontational approach in U.S. foreign policy in a speech considered by many as a declaration of the Cold War. On March 5, Byrnes sent a note to Moscow demanding Soviet withdrawal from Iran.
At the same time, European leaders were feeling particularly threatened by the growing Soviet presence in Eastern Europe. On March 5, Winston Churchill, Britain's former prime minister, delivered a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, with President Truman near his side. Churchill warned Americans of a descending Soviet "Iron Curtain" extending from Stettin, a key Polish port city on the Baltic Sea, to Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Behind the "Iron Curtain," communist governments ruled over closed societies, in which the ruling communist party in each country, such as Poland and Bulgaria, dictated the production levels of industry and determined what could and could not be printed; the population was shielded from outside social and political influence.
Churchill urged the United States to take a more assertive role in European affairs to stop any further expansion of Soviet influence. In Moscow, Stalin expressed alarm over the aggressive tone of Churchill's speech.
By April 14, the Soviets responded to Byrnes's note, promising to remove their forces from Iran by May 1946. In exchange, with the support of the United States, Iran promised the Soviets access to Iranian oil, a promise never fulfilled by Iran or the United States. Iran was the first test of strength between the United States and the Soviet Union. The encounter demonstrated to the United States the benefit of being tough.
During the spring and summer of 1946, the Soviet Union had begun significantly pulling back from interaction with the West. Stalin stopped efforts to obtain a $1 billion loan from the United States and declined Soviet membership in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He purged the Kremlin, or Soviet government, of any remaining Western sympathizers in influential positions. Meanwhile, on June 14, Bernard Baruch (1870–1965), U.S. representative on the UN Atomic Energy Commission, presented a plan for international control of atomic energy. The Soviets rejected the proposed plan because it required international inspection of scientific, industrial, and military facilities in the Soviet Union and would potentially end Soviet atomic energy development. The Soviets offered a counterproposal on June 19, but the UN adopted the U.S. plan. However, that plan would have little meaning without Soviet acceptance. The lack of agreement between the superpowers on this issue laid the foundation for a nuclear arms race.
That summer, White House aides Clark Clifford (1906–1998) and George Elsey (1918–) wrote a report to President Truman emphasizing that the Soviets would consider any U.S. compromise or concession as a weakness. They urged a continued show of strength—that is, not giving in to Soviet demands—because they believed that Stalin's ultimate goal was world domination. The report further supported Truman's evolving anti-Soviet stance.
Through 1946, Truman's anti-Soviet position solidified. As noted on the Truman Presidential Museum & Library Web site, the president stated that he was "tired of babying the Soviets." In defining the U.S. position, Truman seemed most influenced by the strongest anti-Soviet advisors in his administration, including Navy secretary James V. Forrestal (1892–1949), ambassador to Moscow William Averell Harriman (1891–1986), and World Bank president John J. McCloy (1895–1989). Alarmed by this trend, Nikolai Novikov, Soviet ambassador to the United States, exclaimed that it was the United States, not the Soviets, seeking world supremacy. In addition some U.S. officials questioned Truman's tough stance. Even a member of Truman's cabinet, Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace (1888–1965), began speaking out in public in opposition. Wallace, who preceded Truman as vice president, was fired by Truman on September 20.
The Truman Doctrine
A clear announcement of the new U.S. policy toward the Soviets came in early 1947, triggered by events in the eastern Mediterranean. A civil war was raging in Greece, and the Soviets were pressing the Turkish government to gain control of the straits, or passageway, between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Many believed communists were behind the rebel forces fighting the Greek government. The Soviets wanted to control the Turkish straits to guarantee freedom of passage for their warships operating in the region. Greece and Turkey had been under British influence following the war. On February 21, 1947, however, the British announced they could no longer afford to provide those two countries with substantial military and economic aid.
On February 27, U.S. administration officials Dean Acheson (1893–1971) and George Marshall (1880–1959) met with key congressional leaders to determine what the United States might do about the situation in Greece and Turkey. They decided Truman needed to address the nation, strongly emphasizing the perceived communist threat in the Mediterranean region. On March 12, 1947, Truman addressed Congress, stressing the growing Cold War tensions and the political differences between East and West. Truman asked Congress and the American public for support in providing $400 million of aid to the Mediterranean region, an area in which the United States had traditionally shown little interest. The ideas he expressed in this speech became known as the Truman Doctrine. The actions of the United States prompted the Soviets to pull back from both Greece and Turkey.
In the Truman Doctrine speech, the president proposed to provide aid to any nation in the world where free peoples were threatened by the spread of communism, especially in areas where poverty was threatening to undermine capitalist institutions. Truman's speech set U.S. foreign policy for the next twenty-five years. As a result, the United States would become increasingly involved in the internal politics of other nations.
Overview of Cold War origins
To Europeans, steeped in a long history of territorial shifts, the Cold War was yet another struggle for power and land in Europe. To Americans, however, the Soviet takeover of such areas as east Germany and Poland, along with Soviet activity in Iran, Greece, and Turkey, had the appearance of a communist conspiracy that might spread worldwide. In an effort to stop further communist expansion, the United States adopted a policy of intervention in the affairs of other countries. President Truman's speech of March 1947, in which he announced this new policy—called the Truman Doctrine—has traditionally been considered the beginning point of the Cold War.
The Cold War pitted the Western Bloc countries, composed of the United States and its allies in Western Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, against the Eastern Bloc, composed of the Soviet Union and its allies and satellite governments in Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. (Bloc refers to a group of nations.) The international rivalry fully evolved in the 1945-to-1947 time period and posed many significant global impacts. While producing a dramatic nuclear arms race, the Cold War would ironically provide prolonged international stability and a lack of war between the two great superpowers through the use of fear of nuclear annihilation (total destruction) as a deterrence to hostilities. Secret intelligence agencies became integrated with diplomatic and military affairs. The struggle for dominance would affect the daily lives of millions of people for over forty years. Developing countries became the location of armed conflicts leading to great loss of life.
The exact causes of the Cold War continue to be the subject of energetic debate in the twenty-first century. Many historians believe that Soviet expansionism provoked a strong U.S. reaction and a firm foreign policy, thereby initiating the Cold War. Others claim that massive foreign economic aid programs offered by the United States raised Soviet fears of worldwide capitalist expansion. With long-held fears of foreign invasion, the Soviets believed the United States was involved in a conspiracy to encircle the Soviet Union with hostile capitalist states.
Other historians point to the personalities of Truman and Stalin as the keys to the Cold War. Truman was free-speaking; Stalin could be testy and ruthless. Whereas Roosevelt had seemed to be trying to develop a friendly relationship with Stalin, the more blunt Truman was harsher and more hostile in his dealings with the Soviet leader; Truman was, to the Soviets, a threatening figure. He was also much less experienced in foreign affairs than Roosevelt and relied heavily on his strongly anticommunist advisors, such as Ambassador Harriman and Chief of Staff William Leahy (1875–1959). As a result, misunderstanding and misinterpretation of actions played a significant role in U.S.-Soviet relations.
Basic differences in political and economic goals lay beneath the specific events and misunderstandings that triggered the Cold War. The United States desired a world order based on democracy and capitalism; U.S. leaders wanted American businesses to be able to compete and profit on a global scale. The Soviets wanted a different economic and governmental system, one based on the theory of communism. Because they believed this system could not coexist with Western capitalism, the Soviets sought a geographic buffer against increasing American influence in European economic affairs. With these conflicting goals, the United States and the Soviet Union became adversaries on an international stage.
For More Information
Larson, Deborah W. Anatomy of Mistrust: U.S.-Soviet Relations during the Cold War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Leffler, Melvyn P. The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917–1953. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.
Lippmann, Walter. The Cold War: A Study in U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947. Reprint, 1972.
McCauley, Martin. The Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1949. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 1995.
Mee, Charles L. Meeting at Potsdam. New York: Evans, 1975.
Messer, Robert L. The End of an Alliance: James Byrnes, Roosevelt, Truman, and the Origins of the Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1982.
Paterson, Thomas G. On Every Front: The Making of the Cold War. New York: Norton, 1979.
Rose, Lisle A. After Yalta: America and the Origins of the Cold War. New York: Scribner, 1973.
Sircusa, Joseph M. Into the Dark House: American Diplomacy and the Ideological Origins of the Cold War. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1998.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. London: Saunders and Otley, 1835–1840. Multiple reprints.
"Origins of the Cold War." Truman Presidential Museum & Library.http://www.trumanlibrary.org/hst/g.htm (accessed on June 16,2003).
"Understanding Documents: Molotov and Truman Meet April 23, 1945." Truman Presidential Museum & Library.http://www.arthes.com/truman/molotov.html (accessed on June 13, 2003).
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Cold War International History Project. http://wwics.si.edu/index.cfm?fuseaction=topics.home&topic_id=1409 (accessed on June 13, 2003).
Words to Know
Allies: Alliances of countries in military opposition to another group of nations. In World War II, the Allied powers included Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
Big Three: The trio of U.S. president
Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin; also refers to the countries of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.
Bolshevik: A member of the revolutionary political party of Russian workers and peasants that became the Communist Party after the Russian Revolution of 1917; the terms Bolshevik and Communist became interchangeable, with Communist eventually becoming more common.
Cold War: A prolonged conflict for world dominance from 1945 to 1991 between the two superpowers, the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were commonly words of propaganda and threats.
Communism: A system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls almost all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. All religious practices are banned.
Isolationism: A policy of avoiding official agreements with other nations in order to remain neutral.
Truman Doctrine: A Cold War–era program designed by President Harry S. Truman that sent aid to anticommunist forces in Turkey and Greece. The Soviet Union had naval stations in Turkey, and nearby Greece was fighting a civil war with communist-dominated rebels.
United Nations: An international organization, composed of most of the nations of the world, created to preserve world peace and security.
Yalta Conference: A 1944 meeting between Allied leaders Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in anticipation of an Allied victory in Europe over the Nazis. The leaders discussed how to manage lands conquered by Germany, and Roosevelt and Churchill urged Stalin to enter the Soviet Union in the war against Japan.
People to Know
Clement Attlee (1883–1967): British prime minister, 1945–51.
James Byrnes (1879–1972): U.S. secretary of state, 1945–47.
Winston Churchill (1874–1965): British prime minister, 1940–45, 1951–55.
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945): Nazi party president, 1921–45; German leader, 1933–45.
Vladimir I. Lenin (1870–1924): Leader of Bolshevik Revolution, 1917; head of Soviet government, 1918–24; founder of the Communist Party in Russia, 1919.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945): Thirty-second U.S. president, 1933–45.
Joseph Stalin (1879–1953): Dictatorial Russian/Soviet leader, 1924–53.
Harry S. Truman (1884–1972): Thirty-third U.S. president, 1945–53.
The Bolshevik Revolution
Shortly after 1900, members of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party agreed that a revolution in Russia was needed. The tsars, Russia's monarchy, ruled harshly, decreasing local rule and appointing aristocrats to administer over the industrial workers and peasants. This led to poor working conditions, greater poverty and hunger, and growing discontent among the populace. But party members split into two major groups after they could not agree on how to conduct a revolution. Vladimir I. Lenin (1870–1924) was the leader of one side; his group believed in the overthrow of the tsars, or rulers, by a revolutionary army made up of peasants and workers. In a 1903 London meeting, Lenin's group gained control of the revolutionary movement and adopted the name Bolsheviks, derived from a Russian word meaning majority.
Major food shortages and other economic crises resulting from Russia's participation in World War I (1914–18) led to increasing public unrest and dissatisfaction with the oppressive ruling Russian monarchy. Strikes and demonstrations were becoming more common. With this momentum assisting him, Lenin led the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, and he and his communist followers took control of the Russian government.
Lenin strongly believed in the economic and social theories of German political philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883). Marx stressed that free-enterprise capitalist economic systems, such as that seen in the United States, are unstable because they produce wide gaps in wealth between industry owners and workers; he argued that this system would inevitably lead to worker uprisings and revolution. Marx promoted a system in which workers would own industry and other means of production and share equally in the wealth. Through this
system, he theorized, social classes would be eliminated.
After their victory in the revolution, Lenin's followers formed the All-Russian Communist Party in March 1918. This party ran the Russian government and sought to establish a classless communist society in which all property was to be communally owned. All other political parties were banned, and Lenin ruled as a dictator, making use of force and terror to maintain control.
Lenin believed Communist revolutions would occur around the world as other nations followed Russia's lead. Therefore, he was dedicated to supporting communist movements in other countries. In December 1922, the Bolsheviks and their Communist Party government formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R., or Soviet Union), a union of four existing countries—Russia, the Ukraine, and two others. Other countries would be added to the Soviet Union through the years. Lenin remained the leader of the Soviet Union until he died in 1924.
Postwar Economic and Political Order
By late 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) was focused on establishing international economic cooperation and a lasting peace for the postwar world. He did not want America to go back to the isolationism of the 1930s, when U.S. policy was to avoid official agreements with other nations in order to remain neutral, and be caught by surprise and be unprepared again as it had been when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. To help build the stable and prosperous world Roosevelt envisioned, he had supported the creation of international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank.
At Dumbarton Oaks, a private estate in the Washington, D.C., area, diplomats representing the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China met between August 21 and October 7, 1944, to discuss and agree on the general purpose, structure, and operation of a new international organization that came to be known as the United Nations. At Yalta in February 1945, the Big Three—Roosevelt, Great Britain's Winston Churchill (1874–1965), and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin (1879–1953)—discussed how decisions would be made through a UN Security Council. Then, in a meeting in San Francisco that began on April 25, 1945—just thirteen days after Roosevelt's death—representatives from fifty nations developed the final charter of the United Nations. The charter was signed on June 26 and went into effect on October 24.
The UN is headquartered in New York City. Its main goals are to maintain peace and security for its member nations, promote human rights, and address humanitarian needs. During the first forty-five years of the organization's existence, Cold War conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union took top priority. The number of member nations continues to grow, from the original 50 in 1945 to 191 in 2003.
Two organizations related to the UN were designed to build a postwar international economic system. The World Bank and the IMF were both established at the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire in July 1944. The IMF went into operation on December 27, 1945. It is focused on monitoring exchange rates to promote international trade and investments, which in turn stimulate economic growth around the world. The IMF can serve to stabilize a nation's economy by providing loans to ease the payment of debts. Often the loans are tied to an agreement that requires the receiving nation to make certain adjustments or reforms in its monetary system to avoid future problems. The World Bank was created to finance projects and promote economic development in UN member nations. It began operation in June 1946, and for the next half century the Bank would be the largest source of funds for developing nations. Loans are provided for hydroelectric dams, seaports, airports, water treatment plants, and improved roads. The World Bank also provides guidance to developing nations as they restructure their economic systems. The permanent headquarters of both the IMF and the World Bank are in Washington, D.C.