History Theme 1: Causes of the Cold War 1945 - 1947

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Breakdown of the Wartime Alliance 1945


  • This view places the blame for the development of the Cold War directly on the Soviet Union
  • American response is interpreted as a legitimate response to Soviet provocation 
  • The Soviet Union is seen as as an aggressive expansionist hiding behind the excuse of self-protection
  • The Soviet Union had no interest in upkeeping the Wartime Alliance because the alliance's existence was in opposition to the Soviet expansionst aims                                                                                                                                         


  • Argue that Soviet actions from 1945 were a legitimate response to American economic and imperialist aggression in Europe
  • The primary reason for why America rejected communism in Europe was because it deprived America of access to economic opportunities there - not because America saw communist regimes as aggressive expansionism from the USSR
  • Argue that America's primary foreign policy aim was to expand capitalism under the excuse of protecting freedom and democracy in Europe
  • Therefore the USSR had no choice but to expand its own influence in Eastern Europe in order to protect itself from aggressive American economic expansion 
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Ideological Differences

  • The allies had little in common before the war (during World War II they had a common enemy: Germany, which is why the alliance worked during the war)
  • The USA and USSR were ideological opposites - the USA was built on a policy of capitalism and the USSR on one of communism
  • Capitalism is an economic system based on the accumulation of money, trade and private industries, most of which are operated for a profit
  • Communism is a form of socialism which is based on the communal ownership of land and property and the absence of class (i.e. no rich or poor) Industry and business is run by the state
  • At the beginning of the Cold War, ideology caused tension between the superpowers as each was suspicious of the others ideological intention (each wanted to destroy the other) and ideology was the influence of many of the superpowers' decisions at this time 
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Issue of Post-War Europe

  • The Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 highlighted the differences in the USA's and USSR's views on how to tackle the problem of post-war Europe
  • Roosevelt wanted to revive Europe's economy meaning that Germany needed to become economically stronger (as Germany is seen as the 'heart' of Europe) - he wanted Germany to be reconstructed and be redefined as a democratic nation
  • However, Stalin's main priority was the protection and security of the USSR in order to prevent another attack from Germany (WW2 was the second time that the USSR had been invaded by Germany) - he wanted to keep Germany crippled and weak for the indefinite future (this argument can be used to explain why Stalin expanded into Eastern Europe between 1945 - 1947 - he was trying to create a buffer zone of loyal satellite states who would protect the USSR from a future invasion of Germany)
  • Therefore the superpowers' aims for post-war Europe were completely opposite
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Policy of Containment 1946 - 1947

  • George Kennan's Long Telegram 1946 - in which Kennan described the Soviet Union as a 'malignant parasite' which fed off of the 'diseased tissue' of post-war Europe. He said that the Soviet Union was aggressively expansionist and would and could expand into Eastern Europe by setting up communist governments with force. This worried Truman which prompted him to follow a policy of containing communism                                                                                                                                                                                      
  • The Clifford-Elsey Report 1946 - a list drawn up by Clark Clifford and George Elsey naming all of the wartime agreements that the Soviet Union had broken since the wartime conferences in 1945. The report provided Truman with the 'proof' of Soviet aggression and therefore the justification to follow a policy of containing communism                                                                                                                                                 
  • James Byrnes Stuttgart Speech 1946 - in this speech given by the US Secretary of State, Byrnes clearly stated that the USA would be taking a firm stand agfainst the USSR, as he stated the intention of the USA to maintain an indefinite military presence in Europe                                                                                                                                                        
  • Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan 1947 - the policy of containment and America's commitment to reviving Europe's economy officially being put into action
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Soviet Expansionism 1945 - 1947


  • Soon after the war had ended, the Soviet's Red Army remained in the states which the Soviet Union had liberated from German control (Eastern European states: Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary etc.)
  • Stalin set up communist governments in these states, mostly by force and manipulation, in order to create a sphere of influence; however, the USA took this expansion as an aggressive attempt to spread communism into the weak, western states of Europe, which America wanted to keep capitalist                                                                                                                                                                


  • In 1941, Iran had been jointly invaded and occupied by the Allied powers of the USSR and the UK. Iran was used by the USA and the UK as a route to provide vital supplies to the USSR's war efforts. The Allied forces agreed to withdraw from Iran within six months after the war had ended. When this time came in 1946, the Soviets remained in Iran and pro-Soviet Iranians proclaimed a People's Republic of Azerbaijan. 
  • In 1946, the Republic of Mahabad also came into existence. Soon, the alliance of the Kurdish and Azerbaijani forces, supported by the Soviet Union, engaged in fighting with Iranian forces. Negotiation by Iranian premier Ahmad Qavam and diplomatic pressure from the US led to Soviet withdrawal
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