Historical debate has often attempted to study which ‘superpower’ was the main cause behind the Cold War. Clearly, the Cold War began as a result of a number of factors between both the USA and Soviet Union. To label one country as “solely” responsible neglects true analysis of the subject. Essentially, the Cold War inevitably began due to the conflict of historical ideologies coupled with the catalyst of World War Two. For every action from the USSR, there was a reaction of equal or greater proportions from the USA.
Antagonism between the USSR and USA began as early as the end of the First World War. After Lenin’s swift communist revolution, tensions grew between Russia and the West for Russia’s retreat from the war. However, tensions mounted even further due to the fact that the allied forces fought in the civil war on the side of the anti-Bolshevik “Whites”. Underlining discontent also increased after America entered World War Two. In the Teheran Conference, the USSR felt disappointed by Churchill and Roosevelt in their procrastination of allied support into France. This only served to heighten Stalin’s paranoia. Hence, from this it could be argued that the individual figure of Roosevelt played a significant part in the escalation of the Cold War.
However, Roosevelt’s role was only relatively significant when compared to the actions of Stalin after the Yalta Conference. After Stalin signed the “Declaration of Liberated Europe” he thus accepted the need for free election and democracy. Regardless of this agreement, the USSR occupied Poland coercively, whilst “justifying” their actions by stressing the need for the USSR’s satellite country to remain pro-communist. Consequently, Stalin ended free elections in such countries, denying the intentions of the declaration and illustrating blatant deceit on Stalin’s behalf (an action serving to forebode Stalin’s role in the next following years).
The situation was far worse in the Potsdam conference, which was held after Germany had surrendered. The three allies (Truman, Stalin and Attlee) disagreed on a number of issues, including post-war Germany and the occupation of Japan. They also disagreed about Soviet policy in Eastern Europe and the resentment of Stalin’s intentions. At this point, it is worth acknowledging that at the conference, Britain was sidelined due to Attlee’s lack of experience in foreign affairs. Therefore, Truman, as new president of USA, compensated for Britain’s lack of voice and emphasised his anti-communist sensibilities. In addition, Truman also aggravated Stalin by informing him that the first atomic bomb had been deployed. Although not as significant as Stalin’s deceit after Yalta, Truman managed to increase an already lingering tension further because of his critical attitude towards communism.
In 1945-46, the USA witnessed the Soviet’s installation of communist governments inside Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In Poland, free-elections scheduled in February 1946 were deliberately postponed by Stalin. The US demands for the reorganization of communist government in Romania was countered by the appointment of only two opposition politicians. Their reluctance to cooperate with the USA on the satellite states generated what US-policy makers saw as a direct manifestation of expansionism, which the USA eventually met with Containment. This is even more greatly observed in the Soviet Union’s late entry into the war against Japan. The invasion was essentially part of a Soviet hidden agenda in order to facilitate a military presence in northern Iran after the war (and thus access to the oil industry). Hence, this is why the USA labeled these moves as expansionist; attempting to justify the label by what they believed as blatant aggressive foreign policy.
Recent historical analysis of the Cold War has led some historians to argue that the character of Stalin himself serves as a huge reason why the Cold War actually began. It is true that Stalin was absolutist by nature, a man who had no capacity for compromise either in domestic politics or in dealings with foreign leaders. One particular example of this can be seen in Stalin’s conduct when attempting to dominate Poland. Under Stalin’s command, he forcibly removed one million Poles comprised of military and intellectual elites. The Soviet secret police dissolved any potential threat to Stalin by killing Polish intellectuals and by discarding them in the Katyn Forest. These measures were all taken in order to combat Stalin’s fear of threat and opposition. Without the Polish intellectual elite, Poland would be far less likely to challenge Soviet domination. I would argue that it is Stalin’s political history which had bred a certain sense of inevitability and unavoidability over the outbreak of the Cold War, deeming his role extremely significant.
Controversial actions from the USA can also justify why America was as culpable if not more so for the Cold War than the USSR. America appeared as the only country in the world that made significant benefits from World War Two. This shift in world power meant that the USA held strong views about what the post-war world should consist of. Moreover, the victory over Germany and Japan created a sense of confidence, which led to the proposal of a new world order consisting of open markets, self-determination, democracy and collective security. Many have argued that it is indeed this capitalist ideology that acted as the foundations for containment as well as the causation of the Korean War and Vietnam War during this Cold War era (in other words; the fundamental attitude of the USA was mainly to blame for the Cold War).
These reflections of American values and interests can be seen most noticeably in the negotiating of dollar diplomacy and atomic diplomacy. In dollar diplomacy, the USA utilized its financial muscle to extract political concessions from the Soviet Union. For example, the US gave the Soviet Union a $6 billion dollar loan on the condition that the USSR opened the eastern European market to US manufactured products. Similarly in atomic diplomacy, James Byrne proposed the notion that the US-policy makers could offer delicate information about the atomic bomb in return for the reorganization of Soviet-controlled governments in Romania and Bulgaria. Although the atomic diplomacy was ultimately unsuccessful, it was these actions from the US that proved to antagonize Stalin greatly; who was not going to be easily intimidated.
One potentially very significant cause of the Cold War was the naivety and misunderstanding of Soviet motives. American policy-makers were quick to assume that the USSR was leading an expansionist policy as part of a reaction to their damages in World War Two. However, careful analysis would suggest that contrary to this opinion, the USSR was actually acting under a defensive model. This is implied through the constant attention to areas on the Soviet periphery in an attempt to consolidate national security and strengthen frontiers. The role of ideology thus played a significant part in this potential misunderstanding. This is because the nature of the Soviet Union under communism would most definitely heighten suspicions already lingering with the USA. Historical evidence has also shown that US officials tended to ignore evidence which did not fit in with their already “concrete” view of the Soviet Union acting under hostile conceptions. One another key issue is how there was little evidence in 1945 that Stalin wanted to control Eastern Europe. This can be seen in how the Soviets did no oppose the dispatching of US marines to Manchuria and did not object to the American occupation of South Korea.
As a purely ideological battle, the Cold War would not have amounted to anything of real significance. However, one of the defining aspects of the period was the catalyst of World War Two, which allowed for the manifestation of the two ideologies to collide together. With the increase in US power from 1945 and the mass destruction of Russia, both countries acted in different means to compete for influence in the same physical space. As a direct consequence of this, a clear pattern can be found through the meeting of a communist action with a capitalist reaction. For example, when the USSR set up communist governments without free elections in liberated countries, the USA developed a ‘get tough’ attitude supported by the Containment policy and the Truman Doctrine. I would argue, however, that it is too easy to state that the level of blame was an equal balance between both nations. Although this was partly true and although the Cold War would have occurred regardless of leader, the impact of Stalin provided the escalation of the 1940’s that would not have been seen under any other leader. Stalin’s history of despotism led to aggressive attempts at the expansion of communism throughout Europe; which ultimately forced America’s hand to act.