Soviet actions in Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War served to increase suspicion in the West, as the acquisition of territory and lack of free elections seemed to show Stalin turning his back on the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. The stripping of the Eastern Zone in Germany to provide reparations had a similar effect. Other aspects of Stalin’s foreign policy could also be seen as key to the development of the Cold War, for example, the creation of Cominform in 1947 and Comecon in 1949. The Czechoslovakian Crisis in Febuary1948 was of psychological significance for the West. In addition to increasing the fear of communist expansion (Czechoslovakia had been the only remaining democratic country in Eastern Europe in 1948), it also played on feelings of guilt, particularly in Britain, as the policy of appeasement had not prevented Hitler from taking the country in 1938-39. After the Berlin Blockade the West felt the need for a more coordinated approach to prepare for Soviet aggression.
Truman’s actions can also be seen as contributing to the development of the Cold War 1945-50. The use of the Atom Bomb in Japan without consultation with the Soviets increased suspicion, as Stalin felt that it was a display of power intended to be intimidating. The creation of Bizonia and the introduction of a new currency were seen as the first steps towards establishing an independent capitalist West German state. The announcement of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were also viewed with suspicion by Stalin. The Marshal Plan was described as “dollar imperialism” by Molotov, who saw the financial aid as a mechanism by which the USA would gain control over Europe and exploit it for America’s economic interests and undermine communist control in Eastern Europe. The Soviets were also alarmed by the policy of containment and the iron fist approach. The formation of NATO involved the US in a military alliance in peacetime, and made it clear to the USSR that there would be no return to isolationism. Stalin viewed it as a deliberately provocative action. The intervention of the USA in the Korean War and the announcement of the policy of rollback also caused anxiety.
There were also other factors that contributed to the development of the Cold War 1945-50. Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton in 1946 showed the Soviets that Britain was prepared to pursue an anti-communist policy in support of the United States, because Britain needed their involvement in Europe. The growth of nationalism in the Far East and the power vacuum created by the defeat of Japan and the decline in European Imperialism also contributed.
The view of orthodox historians
Orthodox historians blame Stalin’s foreign policy for the development of the Cold War 1945- 50. The Soviet Red Army freed Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and East Germany from German occupation after the Second World War, and established themselves in occupation creating communist governments closely controlled from Moscow. The Soviet takeover followed the same pattern in each country they occupied. First, coalition governments were set up in which communists shared power with other parties. Gradually, with backing from Stalin, the communist parties took over elements vital to the running of the state- the civil service, the police, newspapers and the armed forces. Opposition leaders in these states were arrested, exiled or just disappeared. Elections were held as promised but were fixed to ensure success for the communists. Finally, ‘people’s democracies’ were set up and the states became mere satellites to Moscow. There were home grown communists who welcomed the Soviet “liberators”, but people such as Gomulka (Poland), Rajk and Kadar (Hungary) and Tito (Yugoslavia) were considered suspect by Stalin. He preferred leaders who had been educated in communism in Moscow and who then returned to their countries with the Red Army. These leaders had been educated in the need for absolute loyalty to the world wide communist movement and understood that there was no room for national loyalties. Ulbricht (East Germany), Dimitrov (Bulgaria) and Rakosi (Hungary) were all prepared to be Stalin’s puppets. To the US these actions seemed to prove that Stalin had failed to keep his promise to hold free elections in Eastern Europe, given at Yalta in February 1945. The US government was suspicious of Stalin’s intentions and was worried that there was a serious threat of Soviet expansion across Europe.
The liberation of Yugoslavia owed nothing to the Red Army; Josip Bronz (better known as Tito) the leader of one of the resistance movements in Yugoslavia, had blended his brand of communism with anti- German nationalism in the struggle for liberation form German forces. Following liberation in October 1944 his supporters wiped out the opposition to communism, and in the elections of November 1945 Tito’s National Front won 90% of the votes. Although “trained” in Moscow, Tito was too independent- minded to please Stalin. This independence manifested itself when Tito gave aid to the Greek communists in spite of Stalin’s reluctance to get involved. Though this event was not part of Stalin’s foreign policy, it was viewed to be such by the West who thought that Stalin was secretly supplying the Greek communists despite his agreement with Churchill regarding spheres of influence. This increased tension and aided the development of the Cold War in 1945- 50.
In 1946, Stalin’s stance on reparations increased the tension between the Allies. The Soviets were determined that Germany would pay $10 million for the deaths of millions of Russians and war damage. It had been agreed at Potsdam that the USSR could take a portion of the reparations from the Soviet Zone as it was unclear how long it would be before reparations could be paid. It was also agreed that a quarter of the industrial goods made in the Western sectors would be given to the USSR in exchange for food and coal from the Soviet zone. The Soviets began to take advantage of the surpluses in their zone to exact maximum reparations payments, in some cases removing whole industrial plants to Russia. It was impossible to demand that the Soviets stop extracting reparations from Germany as this might result in the USSR being crippled economically. In May 1946 the Americans announced that no further reparations would be sent from the American zone because the Soviets had refused to supply foodstuffs as previously agreed.
The view of revisionist historians
Revisionist historians tend to emphasise the actions of Truman in the development of the Cold War 1945-50. For example, after the conflict over reparations, the Americans demanded that Germany be treated as a single economic unit. This alarmed Stalin as he feared that the revived German capitalist economy would be dominated by the US and used to direct an economic and political threat to the USSR. The unification of the American and British zone to form Bizonia in 1947 began the process of economic reconstruction and handing back to the Germans the responsibility for their own affairs. The Western Allies hoped that by making West Germany self-sufficient they could lift their financial burden and gain a political ally. The French zone joined Bizonia in June 1948 and a new currency, the Deutsche Mark, was introduced. The new federal German state had been effectively partitioned. These events increased Stalin’s mistrust. This view of events shows the creation of the East German state and creation of the East Mark as a reactionary measure from Stalin.
The announcement of the Truman Doctrine (holding back the spread of communism by helping any country threatened by it) and the Marshall Plan in 1947, were also viewed with suspicion by Stalin. The Marshal Plan was described as “dollar imperialism” by Molotov. He saw the financial aid as a mechanism by which the USA would gain control over Europe and exploit it for America’s economic interests and undermine communist control in Eastern Europe. The revisionist view shows the creation of Cominform (an organisation used to consolidate control over the Soviet satellites and bring conformity to Eastern Bloc strategy) as a reaction to Truman’s actions. The West saw the Cominform as an instrument to further extend Soviet influence in Europe and subordinate all communist parties to the interests of the USSR. Comecon was set up in 1949, and can also largely be seen as a reaction by Stalin to the Marshall Plan. Economic aid was limited, but the organisation was also able to ensure that a Stalinist state-owned economy was imposed on the countries of Eastern Europe. Thus, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan had resulted in a Soviet response that made the division of Europe more entrenched.
The view held in the West that the Soviets were trying to further their influence over Eastern Europe was reinforced by the Czechoslovakian Crisis in 1948. Before an election (in which the communists were expected to do badly as the failure of the country to receive Marshall Aid was blamed on them) was held, the communists staged a coup d’état. The police force was taken over and representatives of political parties other than the communists were removed from government. The only remaining non-communist, Masaryk, was defenestrated. The Crisis increased the fear in the West of Soviet expansion, but the Czechoslovakian communists had had no direct help from the USSR.
The Berlin Blockade
Another aspect of Stalin’s foreign policy that contributed to the development of the Cold War in 1945-50 was the Berlin Blockade. However, it could be viewed as a reaction to the Western Allies decision to combine their zones and introduce a new currency. The USSR, which had been invaded twice by Germany, was alarmed at the prospect of a strong Germany. The Soviet leadership responded to the Western allies' currency reforms by installing their own new currency in East Berlin just 24 hours before the West mark was to go into circulation. They also imposed a blockade on West Berlin, cutting off all land and rail routes into the Western sectors. The three western sectors of Berlin, with a civilian population of about 2,500,000 people, became dependent on reserve stocks and airlift replacements. It was an effort to use mass starvation for political coercion. Initially the Soviet authorities thought the plan was working. But the Western Allies responded immediately by mounting an airlift. Under the leadership of General Curtis LeMay, ten-ton capacity C-54s began supplying the city on July 1. By the fall the airlift, code-named "Operation Vittles "and often referred to as "LeMay's Feed and Coal Company, “was bringing in an average of 5,000 tons of supplies a day. Not only did the blockade turn out to be ineffective, it ended up backfiring on the Soviets in other ways. It provoked genuine fears of war in the West. And instead of preventing the establishment of an independent West Germany, it accelerated the Allies plans to set up the state. It also hastened the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an American-Western European military alliance. In May 1949, Stalin had little choice but to lift the blockade.
The creation of NATO
The creation of NATO in 1949 involved the US in a military alliance in peacetime, and made it clear to the USSR that there would be no return to isolationism. The treaty was set up to coordinate the military defences of member nations against possible Soviet aggression. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States (with Greece, Turkey and the Federal Republic of Germany joining afterward in 1952) agreed to consider an armed attack against any one of them as an attack against all. The territory covered included French Algeria, and there were also provisions in the treaty to protect the "occupation forces in any party of Europe." Stalin viewed it as a deliberately provocative action.
The role of Churchill
There were other factors that contributed to the development of the Cold War in 1945-50. In Winston Churchill’s “sinews of peace” address (also known as the “iron curtain” speech) given in Fulton, Missouri in 1946, Churchill declared that Europe was divided by Soviet policy into two separate halves; in the West were free democratic states, while in the East, behind an iron curtain, were countries under the control of communist parties directly controlled by the Soviet Union. Though publicly denying prior knowledge the content of the speech, in private it was what he and his advisors wanted to hear. The speech showed the Soviets that Britain was prepared to pursue an anti-communist policy in support of the United States, because Britain needed their involvement in Europe. Stalin accused Churchill of being a warmonger. At the time of his speech, Churchill was not Prime Minister; the position had been won by Atlee in the previous election. Like Churchill, Atlee was anti-communist. He was also inexperienced in foreign diplomacy, and was unsure of how to deal with Stalin.
The Far East
Events in the Far East also contributed to the development of the Cold War in 1945-50. In the 1920s and ‘30s, there had been bitter fighting in China between the Nationalists and the Communists. During WW2, China fought on the side of the Allies, against Japan. When the war ended, the civil war restarted. Chaing (the nationalist leader) was supplied by the US to prevent Mao’s communists from gaining power. The nationalists had made little attempt to tackle China’s problems and appeared corrupt. In contrast, the communists had the support of the millions of Chinese peasants. The communists also had a better geographical position emerging from the Second World War. On 1st October Mao announced the establishment of the “people’s republic of China”. In the US, these events revived the fear of worldwide communist expansion. The idea of “containment” once thought necessary in Europe might need to be deployed around the world. The US government refused to recognise the communists as the legal government of China, and the nationalists held the Chinese seat in the United Nations. The Soviets welcomed Mao in Moscow, and signed a 30 year treaty of friendship.
During the world war of 1939-45, the future of the Japanese empire was decided at Allied summit meetings. In the short term, pending the return of Korean independence, Korea, a Japanese colony since 1910, was to be occupied north of the 38th parallel by Soviet Russia. To the south, a United States military administration under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur would control the area from its headquarters in Tokyo. In the North, the Soviets backed a Stalinist regime under their client Kim Il-sung In the South, the chaotic political situation resulted in an American-backed administration under the presidency of Syngman Rhee. After several years of increasingly bloody frontier incidents along the 38th parallel, the Republic of Korea was invaded by the North Korean Peoples' Army on 25 June 1950. As the North Koreans swept south, overwhelming all opposition, the US intervened, under the guise of the UN, to fulfil its pledge of containment. Eventually, the UN troops pushed the N. Koreans back to the 38th parallel. General MacArthur then pushed on, towards the North Korean border with China, as part of the policy of “rolling back” the frontiers of communism. As China now felt their security was threatened and were alarmed by the policy of rollback, they sent thousands of “volunteers” and supplies to aid the North Koreans. The UN troops were pushed back to the 38th parallel, and negotiations commenced.
Truman saw the invasion of S. Korea as a communist conspiracy directed by Stalin, and took a series of steps to ensure military preparedness for any emergency that could arise. In reality, the power vacuum created by the defeat of Japan and the untenable positions of Kim Il-sung and Syngman Rhee meant that the Korean War had its origins in a civil war.
Prior to the Second World War, Vietnam had been part of the French colonial empire. The area had been conquered by the Japanese during the war, and the communists (led by Ho Chi Minh) organised guerrilla resistance to the occupying power. During the war the US had supported the Vietminh, but once the war had ended, France tried to regain control. Although previously critical of European imperialism, the US governments attitude changed when it began clear the Vietminh were receiving help from the Soviets. The “Dirty War” continued.
In summary, there were many factors that contributed to the development of the Cold War in the period 1945 -50. Stalin’s foreign policy did have a large impact on international relations, for example his actions in Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War. However, some of his policies could be seen as reactionary in nature, like the creation of Cominform and Comecon in the face of Marshall Aid. The same could be said for Truman’s actions. In this case, the circumstances surrounding their actions can be blamed for the development of the Cold War 1945-50 more than the actions themselves; the already entrenched ideological differences and attitudes, the instability in the Far East.