Causes of the Cold War

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Long Term Causes

  • Bolshevik Revolution: 1917. Nicholas II overthrown- replaced by provisional gov- overthrown by Marxists. Lenin advocated world revolution. Civil war: Reds vs Whites 1918-1921. 
  • Wilsonian Liberalism: Wilson believed in self-determination and open markets. The Bolsheviks thought he was trying to promote world Capitalism. 
  • Stalin: Stalin resented involvement of the West in supporting the Whites during the civil war. He believed the West was trying to direct the Nazis towards the USSR. 
  • Economic Differences: state ownership vs. private enterprise.
  • Political Differences: liberal democracy vs. one party state. 
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World War Two

  • Grand Alliance: Formed 1941 between USSR, USA and Britain. It was a marriage of convenience - Stalin was angry that there had been a delay in establishing a second front against Germany (this happened in June 1941). 
  • Poland: Britain wanted to protect Polish independence, but the USSR thought Soviet occupation of Poland was vital for security. 
  • Warsaw Rising: August 1944: Poles who had links with the exiled government in Europe rose up against the Germans. This rising was crushed - and the Poles had no chance of resisting the Soviet occupation in January 1945
  • Truman: The Vice President who hated Communism.  
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The Legacy of World War Two

  • The defeat of the Nazis left a power vacuum in Europe.
  • The US wanted the liberated countries to be democratic. 
  • Big areas of Europe were occupied by the Red Army. Distrust and tension was fuelled by the West's support of the Whites.
  • The US decided to use the A-Bomb against Japan in 1945 - again creating tension as Stalin was angry that he had not been consulted. 
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Was the USSR responsible for the Cold War?


The Orthodox view blames the USSR's expansionism and imposition of Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe. 


Arguably, Stalin's aim was actually to maintain security. Over 20 million Soviet citizens were killed in WW2. Stalin wanted a buffer zone. This is the revisionist view. 

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US Attitudes in 1945

  • Roosevelt wanted to compromise with Stalin, but he died in 1945 and was replaced by Truman. 
  • Truman wanted to take the "iron fist" approach. 
  • The US didn't understand that Stalin's main aim was security, and they were influenced by fears about the Comintern
  • The US wanted to protect its markets against Communism. 
  • In 1944, the IMF was set up to managed post WW2 economic relations. This was based on the US $ exchange rate, and this demonstrates the importance of the US $ to international economics. 
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The Yalta Conference

  • The Yalta Conference was held between the 4-11th February. It was attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. 
  • Successes: Germany was divided into 4 zones, as was Berlin. Free elections were to be held in Eastern Europe. Stalin would declare war on Japan 3 months after war with Germany was over. The UN would be established and the exiled London poles would be allowed to join the Lublin Poles. 
  • Failures: There was no agreement on reparations, and disagreements about the government and fronteirs of Poland. The Communist Lublin Poles agreed to free elections in return for keeping the areas of Poland that had been occupied in 1939. 
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The Potsdam Conference

  • Took place between 17 July and 2nd August 1945. It was attended by Stalin, Attlee and Truman. 
  • Successes: Germany was demilitarised and the Nazi Party dissolved (free speech, elections and press were set up.) Poland's fronteir was moved Westwards and the division of Germay was confirmed. The USSR would receive reparations from its own zone, and 25% from the Western Zone.
  • Failures: Stalin didn't allow free elections to take place in Eastern Europe. Stalin was angry that the West didn't inform him of the A-Bomb (tested 16 July). This development meant the US didn't need the USSR's support against Japan. The Soviets continued to expand their influence in Poland. 
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The Collapse of the Grand Alliance

  • The Marshall Plan 1947: $13 billion in aid given to 16 countries over 5 years. The USSR saw this as 'dollar imperialism.'
  • Kennan's Long Telegram: 22 Feb 1946: moulded policy of Containment and the idea of using force became linked to the Truman Doctrine. 
  • Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech: 1946. To a crowd of 40,000 people, Churchill said the USSR desired the "fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power..."
  • US Nuclear Monopoly: Results of the Manhattan Project seen in 1945, and a yearly $45 billion spent on the NSC-68 defence programme (1949).
  • Soviet Expanionism: Stalin hoped to create buffer zone of satellite states, culminating in the Warsaw Pact (1955). 
  • Difference in Ideology: 1947: US & Britain joined zones to form Bizonia. 
  • The Berlin Blockade: 1948: Stalin tried to flush out Western influence in Berlin. This convinced the West that Containment was necessary. 
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