Background to the Cold War

Background to the Cold War

Damage caused by the Second World War:

  • Millions of lives lost
  • Houses, Factories and whole cities destroyed 
  • USSR lose millions (Stalin wants to make sure it is a secure country in future)

The rise of the superpowers:

  • Before the war, there were many countries that could be top dog
  • After the war it was clear that the USA and USSR were in a league of their own
  • This was due to military strength and rescource 

Conflicting Ideologies 

  • USSR was communist 
  • USA was capitalist

Political changes in Europe

  • After the Germans left, all of their occupied countires were up for grabs
  • Different Resistance groups wanted them
  • These resistance groups were sometimes communist sometimes capitalist
  • Outside powers may have had to step in to support their allies 
  • This is what caused the major tensions between the superpowers
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Yalta and Potsdam February and August 1945

The Yalta and Potsdam conferences were held to discuss:

  • what to do with Germany and its leaders after its durrender
  • what was to happenb to the occupied countries after they had been liberated 
  • how to bring the war with japan to a speedy end
  • how to create and maintain a peace that would last 

Yalta February 1945 (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) 

  • Germany would be split into four zones each run by the USA, USSR, Britain and France 
  • Berlin was also to be slpit into four zones 
  • Countires of Eastern Europe would be able to hold free elections (stalin promised - did not keep to it)
  • The USSR would join in the war against Japan in return for territory in Manchurri and Sakhalin Island 
  • Germany were to pay a large sum of money for damage in the war (reperations)

Potsdam July - August 1945 (Truman (roosevelt died), Atlee (britain) and Stalin) 

  • The Nazi party was to be banned and its leaders would be tried as criminals
  • The Oder-Neisse line was to form the border between Poland and Germany

Tensions at Potsdam 

  • Britain and USA refused Stalin his naval base in the Mediterranean (used this to say his allies didn't trust)
  • Stalin wanted more reperations from Germnay than Britain and USA (Stalin suspicious)
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Differences between the Super Powers


  • Democratic government 
  • Capitalist 
  • World wealthiest country (however big gap between rich and poor)
  • Believed in Freedom ('murca)
  • Had the atomic bomb
  • Only traded with allies 


  • Communist
  • Poeple could only vote for members of the Communist party and the government had no real power
  • Poeples lives closely controlles (not freedom)
  • Rights of individuals seen as less important than the well being of society as a whole 
  • USSR had a planned economy 
  • Unemployment rare
  • General Standard of living worse than in USA 
  • Extremes of wealth seen in the USA did not exist 
  • Believed if they did not set up a communsit boarder of countries, the USA would do the opposite to them
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The Truman Doctrine 1947

The Unitied States had recieved an urgent appeal from the Greek Government for financial and economic assistance due to the recent invasion of the Communists. Truman was very worried about the spread of communism and therefore began the 'Truman Doctine' where by the USA would give help to those countries being opressed by communism. 

What did Truman say?

"I believe it must be the policy of the USA to support all free people who are resisiting attempted subjugation by armed minoritires or by outside pressure"

Why did they do this?

  • To take over Britain's responsibility
  • Aid Greece and Turkey 
  • Stop the threat of communism on Eastern Europe 

What did this mean?

  • The USA would not return to isolationism - it would play a leading role in the world
  • The aim was to contain communism (stop the spread) but not push it back. (CONTAINMENT)
  • CIA and NSA were founded 
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The Marshal Aid or Plan 1947

Truman believed poverty and hardship provided a breeding ground for communism and so he wanted to make Europe prosperous again. It was also important for the USA to create trading partners for the future in europe.

Therefore George Marshall visited Europe and came up with a European Recovery System

What were its aims?

  • Stop the spread of communism
  • Help the economies of Europe recover 

What did it achieve and what did it not?

  • Between 12-13 billion dollars poured into Europe 
  • Only sixteen countries accepted it - all western european states
  • Stalin refused Marshall Aid for the USSR and banned Eastern European countries from accepting it

Stalin's response

  • Set up Cominform (alliance of Communist countries) in 1947 to spread communist ideas, defend communism against the agression of the USA, and increase Stalin's control of the communist states. Plans for recovery were made and members were expected to trade with each other and not the west. When Yugoslavia showed too much independence it was expelled from Cominform and ran its brand of communism under President Tito.
  • Set up Comecon to unite economies of the communist state but, in fact, it increase the control that Stalin had over them. 
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The Iron Curtain

What was it?

  • USSR and Communism expands after Second World War
  • Stalin wants to build 'buffer states' to prevent any invasion of Soviet Russia
  • Churchill feared Soviet Expansion
  • Wanted the Allies to make a dash for Berlin before the Soviets could get it 
  • Churchill referred to these countries being taken over by Communism as an 'Iron Curtain'
  • Churchill first used this term in a letter to Truman in 1945 and then later in his speech in 1946
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The dropping of the Atomic Bomb and its effects

  • The Americans were suffering with massive casualties while taking Japanese Islands and defeating Japan
  • To prevent this, Truman decided to use the atom bomb
  • On 10th August 1945 the war ended after the USA dropped the bombs
  • They dropped one on Hiroshima on the 6th of August and one of Nagasaki on the 9th of August
  • Stalin had promised to declare war on Japan in return for recieving territory in the Far East
  • Stalin delayed entering Japan 
  • Stalin was told about the successfull testing of the bomb however he was not told that the Americans planned to use it against Japan
  • Eventually they did join the war against Japan on the 8th of August and made some gains in the Far East
  • They were not allowed to share in the defeat of Japan
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The Berlin Blockade and Airlift

  • At Yalta it had been agreed that Germany should pay reperations
  • Once the war had ended, USSR confiscated many of the rescources of its zone
  • Stalin wanted to keep Germany weak
  • Soviet advance in Eastern Europe changed the Americans mind
  • They began to think that a recovered Germany would be a good barrier to the expansion of the USSR
  • Therefore Germany was given Marshall aid to enable economic recovery to take place
  • In 1948 all three western zones merged into one
  • Plans were made for an independent state of Western Germany to be set up, this alarmed the Soviets
  • Difference bwteen Marshall aid in the West and the Poverty on the East began to become clear
  • 1948 Britain and USA decided to create a new currency for Western Germany
  • USSR were not part of this aggreement and believed it was not part of what he had agreed to at Potsdam
  • Berlin had been divided into four zones however it was 160km into the Soviet Zone
  • The Western Powers were therefore given free access to West Berlin through the Soviet Zone
  • Stalin decided that the whole of Berlin should be given to the Soviets
  • By the 23rd of June 1948 all routes into West Berlin had been closed by Stalin
  • This meant that no food supplies could reach West Berlin
  • His plan was to force the West to withdraw from Berlin by starving the people of West Berlin

The Berlin Airlift 

  • The Berlin Blockade posed a problem for the Americans because Truman was not prepared to allow his policy of containment to fail. They feared that if they gave the Soviets West Berlin they would target West Germany. 
  • West Germany only had about six weeks of food and fuel left and would starve unless the USA intervened
  • They needed to supply West Germany and so flew supplies in by air (8,000 tonnes a day by 1949)
  • Stalin tried everything to persuade the people of the West move to the East (cutting electricity)
  • Stalin considered shooting down USA planes but realised this would look like an act of War and was affraid of the USA nulcear weapons 
  • On 12th Mayb1949 Stalin lifted the blockade
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The Formation of NATO and the Nuclear Arms Race

What was NATO?

  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
  • Formed in 1949
  • Military pact in which all the countries aggreed to help the others against any act of aggression
  • Was to have an Army with a common command
  • In 1949 it had 12 members (USA, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Portugal and Canada
  • Later extended due to the joining of Greece and Turkey in 1952 and West Germany in 1955
  • This meant that the US could start to build Airbases in Western Europe
  • Planes equipped with nuclear bombs would be stationed ready for use

The nuclear Arms race 

  • The dropping of the Atom bomb in Japan in 1945 started the arms race between the two superpowers 
  • Became a major theme of the Cold War 
  • People began to believe that the more nuclear power you had the more power you had 
  • The nuclear arms race was how the USA and USSR were never at a disadvantage to each other 
  • This competition became extremelly expensive for both countries 
  • Until 1949 the USA had the advantage 
  • In 1949 the USSR exploded its first atomic bomb
  • The hydrogen bomb and other more successfull bombs that could blow up the whole of Moscow were successfully tested by the Americans in 1952 
  • The Soviets responded with their own Hydrogen Bomb in 1953 
  • Both countries believed they had to keep going in the Arms race to protect themselves
  • They both tried to keep ahead in the race
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The Korean War 1950-1953

  • End of the Second World War, Soviets invade North Korea, and the US take the South 
  • Free election were thought of but proved impossible, therefore in 1948 two independent states begun
  • Elections were held in the South and it was run by an anti-communist 'Syngman Rhee' 
  • The Soviets set up a communist government in the north led by Kim Il Sung 
  • American and Soviet troops left in 1949 however still supported thier sides
  • Victory of the Communists in China under Mao Zedong in 1949 meant that the North had a boarder with another communist country
  • The Koreans were not satisfied with their split country and so both Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee claimed to be the ruler of the whole country, This caused problems 
  • Things started to heat up and Stalin began supplying the North with tanks and planes. It is said that the South crossed the 38th Parrallel and that is what caused the war 

The North Korean Advance 

  • North Koreans attack the South in 1950 and capture Seoul 
  • The whole of the South is occupied except the South-east known as the 'Pusan Pocket' 
  • This was a problem for the US, they thought they were losing the war
  • The US began moving troops into the South and the UN asked the North to Withdraw; they didn't
  • The UN called on all members to send help to the South
  • These armies were led by General Douglas MacArthur, most troops were American
  • The North Koreans were forced to retreat after Marines landed in Inchon and cut off supplies 
  • America went further and eventually occupied two-thirds of the country until they got to the Yalu River - the border with communist China
  • China sent help (250,00 troops) and took back the capital of the South, Seoul. (Jan 1951)
  • By June 1951 the North had driven the South back once again and defended the border 
  • Peace talks began in 1951, in 1953 it was agreed that the border would stay put 
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The 'Thaw' - Peaceful Co-existence

  • Stalin dies in 1953 
  • Because both sides has the hydrogen bomb, the tension of the cold war needed to be cooled
  • America were willing to negotiate after Stalin had died 

The USSR begin to talk

  • Support ending the Korean War
  • Agree to sign the Austrian State Treaty, which ended the occupation of Austria (1955)

Khruschev the new leader - peacefull co-existence

  • Keen to make a fresh start with the West 
  • It was necessary to live in peace with the West 
  • 1956 he used the term "peaceful co-existence'
  • He showed his willingness to be friendly with the US and Britain on many visits
  • A summit conference in 1955 showed a turning point in the War.
  • West and East were talking to each other 
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The Warsaw Pact

  • 1955 West Germany join NATO
  • This scared the Soviets again that Germany may come back into power 
  • Therefore the Warsaw Pact was formed 

What was the Warsaw Pact?

  • Military alliance for mutual defence 
  • Poland, USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany and Albania 
  • All countries had to believe that all nations should unite to prevent war 
  • All the forces of the pact countires were put under the leadership of a Soviet commander in chief 
  • This meant that Soviet troops could be placed in all of these countries
  • This became part of the USSR's methods of keeping countries under it's control 
  • Warsaw Pact was seen as a response to NATO
  • Heavily dominated by the USSR
  • Krushchev was keen to keep the Communist countries around him safe 
  • He even visited Yugoslavia and began a friendly relationship with President Tito
  • The formation of the Warsaw Pact split Europe in half
  • If there was a war it would be between NATO and the Warsaw Pact
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