How did the Cold War develop between 1944 and 1953?

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Yalta and Potsdam conferences


  • The relationship between the three superpowers was still sound enough for some significant agreements to be made.
  • Main disagreement over Poland- Stalin and West managed to agree that members from the London-based government into the new Lublin administration; West hoped Stalin would uphold his promise of free elections and that this would reduce the influence of communists in the government there.
  • Despite the agreements made, relations quickly started to deteriorate; Roosevelt died in 1945 and Truman became President and was determined not to be accused as soft on communism like Roosevelt had been.


  • Attitudes towards each other had hardened further.
  • Polish western border moved.
  • Dropping of atomic bomb- Stalin dissapointed that Truman did not tell him as they were war time allies, however Stalin was trying to develop his own bomb- USA threat to use bombs brought mistrust.
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Russian Influence in Europe 1945-47

  • Red Army was well positioned to fill the power vacuum left in Europe after Nazi Germany.
  • Pro-communist governments set up in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania.
  • Pressure applied by the Soviet Union to allow communist politicians to hold key positions in coalition governments before elections were held- elections could be manipulated to ensure communists controlled the levers to power.
  • Stalin encouraged communist parties to 'merge' with other, bigger, socialist groups (these ended up being taken over by the communists).
  • By end of 1947, every state in East Europe was controlled by a communist government, except Czechoslovakia.
  • USA saw Stalin hadn't kept his promise to hold fair and free elections and the US were worried as there was a serious threat of expansion accross Europe as Stalin's intentions were suspicious.
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Churchill's Iron Curtain speech 1946

  • Was a call to start firmer action by the West against the threat of communism.
  • He declared "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an IRON CURTAIN has descended accross the continent".
  • An American-British allience was called for to combat communism.
  • American public wasn't that keen on allience suggested, but it fell into line with Truman's 'Iron Fist' approach on communism.
  • Stalin saw the speech as provocative and accussed Churchill as being a warmonger.
  • Relations between East and West had reached a new low. 
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Marshall Plan continued

  • Soviets pressured all Eastern European countires to decline Marshall Aid, even though Czechoslovakia tried to apply for it (Stalin sanctioned them after this attempt).
  • USSR then combatted Marshall aid- set up a Cominform in 1947, which coordinated communist parties and groups throughout Europe.
  • Comecon set up in 1949- provided economic assistance to all countries of Eastern Europe and so the East/West division became even greater.
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The Berlin Blockade 1948-1949

The Berlin Blockade was one of the Soviet Union's attempts to greatly influence the future of Germany. In June 1948, Stalin closed all road, rail and canal links with West Berlin.


  • Yalta and Potsdam conferences agreed that Berlin would be split into 4 zones on only a temporary basis until a stable future could be provided for Germany- this gave the Soviets an oppotunity to keep Berlin and provide a stable future.
  • The Western zones benefited from the Marshall aid, whilst the East did not and was drained of resources- living conditions were bad, and the difference between the two sides of Berlin was obvious and embarrasing for the communists.
  • The ministers who tired to agree a system of administratrion for Berlin broke up with no agreement in 1947- no other talks were planned.
  • 1948- leaders of the West started administration talks and this seperated the East and West states so they were two countries.
  • Western zone brought in a new currency (Deutsche Mark)- this was worth more than the old but the East side didn't have this currency, and it led the West to be secure in economic terms whilst Stalin's side wasn't.
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The Berlin Blockade continued


  • The West gathered aircraft to airlift important supplies to the East side such as food and fuel.
  • The city managed to survive on the supplies the West airlifted to them.
  • In May 1949, Stalin gave up because the blockade wasn't working and re-opened all road, rail and canal links.
  • In April 1949, NATO was set up as the need to coordinate and fight back on Soviet aggression was obvious.
  • Stalin saw NATO as provocative, but he advanced the USSR by exploding it's first nuclear bomb in August 1949, breaking the USA's nuclear superiority.
  • The blockade also ended any hope of negotiations between both sides over Germany's future- the temporary split was permenant, and the Western side flourished whilst the Eastern side did not.
  • The relations between USA and USSR were virtually non-existant and conflict and tension had increased dramatically.
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The Far East- China, Korea and Vietnam


In 1949, Mao Zedong the communist leader emerges into power because:

  • The Nationalists had been corrupt and didn't offer what the majority of the Chinese poeple needed.
  • The communists had gained a reputation for addressing peoples needs- raised production and gave peasants control over the land.
  • WW2 weakened the Nationalists' control over China due to the Japanese invasion.
  • Communist takover in China was seen as Stalin's work in spreading world communism by USA though.
  • USA also thought they had not supported the Nationalists enough.

Korea had been temporarily divided at the end of WW2, but it became permenant. The communist north's attack on the capitalist south in 1950 had ruined any reunification possibilities. China sent aid to North Korea as Stalin ignored it during the Korean war.

Vietnam was seized by the Japanese in 1945, but it became independant at the end of the war. The communist and nationalist forces joined and a communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, emerged and was well positioned to recieve assistance from Mao's China.

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The Missile Gap

Because there was a big threat of worl communism directed by Stalin and Mao, the USA relied on nuclear arms to maintain superiority. 1945-49: USA were only nuclear super power but in 1949 this was broken by the USSR setting off their first atomic bomb. 

In 1952 the hydrogen bomb was developed by the USA which was more powerful but the Soviets, through the spy network, managed to create their own less than a year later. This concerned the US, because the USSR could overtake the nuclear arms capability of the USA. China's fall to communism helped focus the USA on how to beat the threat of a world takeover by the communists.

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The Red Scare and McCarthyism

  • The hardening of US foreign policy on communism was from the respose of the American people who feared the spread of communism at home.
  • The anti-communist feeling was high in the early 1950s, and it generated fear that the government was being undermined from within.
  • Communist party in the USA wasn't very large but there were still suspicions that there were communist spies within the government and administration.
  • McCarthy, a Republican senator, used the fear to accuse many government members as communists- he had no evidence but many were willing to believe him.
  • 1954- McCarthy was revealed as a liar, but still anti-communist views remained and pressure was added to the government to further harden foreign policy- this was McCarthyism.
  • US gave more aggressive response to communism- NSC-68 stated appropriate actions to act against commmunism and these became a reality.

NSC-68 was a report produced by the USA's National Security Council on the Cold War. It revealed Ameriocan insecurities on policy and reccomended directions to change the current foreign policy. The new emphasis of the US foreign policy would be to 'roll back' communism.

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The Korean War 1950-53

  • North Korea invaded the south in June 1950 and the US quickly secured commitment from 16 countries to send in troops and help the south, including troops from the USA; 260,000 were sent and they were led by the extreemely anti-communist General MacArthur.
  • By September 1950, South Korean forces had been pushed back to Pusan, but once the American marines and 261 ships with UN troops landed almost unopposed, the south with it's new help was able to push back the north army back towards the 38th parallel within days.
  • Stalin's failure to deliver aid and military supplies to the north gave Truman the confidence that the war would only be limited to the peninsula- the south had been saved from the forces of the north.
  • In late September the southern forces crossed the 38th parallel into the north, and McArthur now talked on a 'thrust north'- this acceptance by Truman took foreign policy a step closer to the suggested roll back of communism instead of the policy of containment.
  • In November 1950, the concerned Chinese sent in troops and supplies to the north- the Chinese troops poured in and the UN forces were pushed into a rapid retreat- McArthur's idea of using atomic bombs was quickly dismissed and he was dismissed in April 1951 from the commanding post.
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The Korean War continued

  • The US involvement was important for South Korea, as they provided tanks and artillery- the use of napalm  and bombs also made lots of North Koreans live underground, and the USA provided air cover for the southern army too.
  • US intervention had been important in widening the different weapons available for use in the war- much more advanced than WW2.
  • 1951 the 400,000 Chinese troops pushed south of Seoul.
  • General Ridgway, the new UN force leader, continued heavy bombing by sea and air, and this led both sides ready to open peace talks in Kaesong.
  • The peace talks broke down at first, but resumed a year later in Panmunjong- progress was slow.
  • July 1953- an armistice was finally agreed and China, North Korea and USA signed (South Korea refused to but they had to accept it) the ceasefire.
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Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan

Truman Doctrine (1947):

  • Truman would financially support any government which was anti-communist (this idea was brought up because of the prospect of a withdrawl from the anti-communist movement by the economically corrupt Britain).
  • Britain could not support troops in Greece because of it's financial prolems so the USA stepped in.
  • American aid and military advisers were also sent to support the royalist government in Greece and communists there were defeated.
  • Stalin saw this as American imperialism.

Marshall Plan:

  • Launched in 1947, the Marshall Plan would commit large sums of money to financially support and assist European countires- they saw this as also an opportunity to combat communism.
  • Marshall Aid was available for all countries, but only Western Europe got it, as the conditions for recieving it were that all economic records had to be provided and the economy had to be opened up to capitalist interests- Stalin didn't allow East to do this.
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