The Origins of the Cold War

HideShow resource information

Why did the wartime alliance break down?

The alliance that the USSR, Britain and America had was founded on the fact that all three countries had a common enemy.  It wasn't surprising that the alliance broke down after the war as they were never allies previously.  Stalin was convinced that America would be happy to see him attacked while America was sure Stalin was a leader that couldn't be trusted.

CONFLICTING IDEOLOGIES was the main reason behind all of the fears and suspicions the countries had for one another.  The USA was capitalist and the USSR capitalist.  As they each became the 2 superpowers it became more obvious that the conflicting ideologies would cause tension.

America was Capitalist.  Capitalist means that property and businesses were owned by private individuals and companies.  People's ability to speak freely was more important than being equal.  Several parties (democratic) where leaders are voted in.

Russia was Communist.  Communism is the idea that property and businesses are owned by the state.  Industries are run by the state.  Communists believed that the individuals rights were less important than society as a whole.  While leaders were voted in Russia was a one party state so only communists were ever elected.

1 of 18

The Yalta Conference-February 1945

Big Three: Stalin, Rooservelt, Churchill


  • Stalin agreed to enter the war with Japan once Germany surrendered.
  • Germany would be split into 4 zones and Berlin also into 4.
  • Hunt down and punish war criminals.
  • Countries freed from occupation of Germany would be able to hold free elections.
  • Big Three would all join the United Nations
  • Eastern europe should be seens as 'Soviet sphere of Influence'


  • What to do with Poland
2 of 18

The Potsdam Conference 1945

Rooservelt had died and was replaced by his Vice President Truman.  Truman was very anti-communist.  Clement Atlee was the new Prime Minister of Britain.  The Americans had developed the atomic bomb which would raise tensions between the two superpowers.

Disagreements at Potsdam

  • What to do with Germany.  Stalin wanted to cripple germany while Truman didn't want to repeat the Treaty of Verailles.
  • Reparations.  Stalin demanded $10 billion but again Truman thought this would make Germany unstable and repeat the mistakes of the treaty of Versailles.
  • Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe.  Truman saw the idea of the 'Soviet sphere of influence' as proof Stalin planned to expand.  Truman adapted a get tough attitude against this.
3 of 18

The atomic bomb 1945

The First successful test was in July the day before the Potsdam conference.  The bomb was developed in secrecy but whhen Truman knew that it worked he told Stalin about the bomb.  Stalin already knew as he had spies in America informing him.  On the 6th August America dropped the weapon on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki on the 12th.

Some say that the bomb was used to scare the USSR and Stalin.

4 of 18

The Iron Curtain and Stalin's control

After Potsdam Stalin achieved the domination of eastern Europe that he was seeking.

By 1946 the following countries had communist governments with loyalties to Stalin:

  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Albania

Churchill described the border between the West and the soviet-controlled East as an iron curtain and the name stuck.

Stalin began to tighten his control over these countries abd used the secret police to imprison anyone opposing communism.  The only Communist leader that escaped stalin's control was Tito in Yugoslavia who resented being controlled and was expelled from cominform for hostility in 1948

5 of 18

Greece and Turkey

Truman saw Hitler's actions as communism spreading.  His main concerns were Greece and Turkey.

Greece:  When Nazi's were driven out from Greece 2 groups were left.  The communists and the monarchists.  In 1945 Britain sent troops to supposedly restore order. In 1946 it resulted in a Civil War.  Britain didn't have the resources to control the situation and had to withdraw.  Truman faced the prospect of another country falling to Communism.

Turkey: Stalin was trying to gain influence in Turkey.  Truman was concerned that if Turkey became an ally to the USSR Stalin might use Turkey as a stepping stone to spread communist influence to the Middle East.  This area was important to America because of the oil reserves.

Truman wanted to resist what he saw as the communist threat but he had to convince Congress and the american public. 

6 of 18

The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid

Under the Truman Doctrine America was prepared to send money, equipment and advice to any country which was threatened by a communist takeover.  Truman wanted to prevent communism from spreading further from the east.  This was the policy of containment. Others thought that the policy of containment should be harsher and use military force. 

Marshall Aid was $17 billion to rebuild Europe's prosperity.  Many countries were in debt with ruined economies still rationing resources.  Marshall said this amount of money was needed to build up the countries so no one would turn to communism.  Congress were intitially skeptical however, when witnessing how Czechoslovakia was taken over in March 1948 and Congress suspecting that the Soviets pushing one pro-American leader out of a window they handed over the money.

This was seen as incredibly generous of the Americans but it was motivated by self interest.  However, Stalin was very suspicous of Marshall aid.  He forbade any eastern European states from applying for Marshall aid.  He thought that marshall aid would undermine his control over eastern europe so set up Comecon and Cominform

7 of 18

Comecon and Cominform

Comecon stands for the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.  It was set up in 1949 to co-ordinate industries and trade of eastern European countires.  The idea was that by trading with each other they would avoid trading with the west.  Comecon forced other countries to trade with the USSR at a far cheaper price than any other countries.

Cominform stands the Communist Information Bureau.   It was set up in 1947 to co-ordinate the various communist governments in eastern Europe.  It ran meetings and sent out instructions to governments about what the Soviet union wanted them to do.  The office was originally based in Yugoslavia but Yugoslavia was later expelled for not doing what the Soviet union wanted.

Comecon and Cominform were Stalin's reactions to Marshall aid and the Truman doctrine

8 of 18

The Berlin blockade

In 1948 Russia and America became very close to war.  Britain, France and America combined their zones into Trizonia which in 1949 was known as West Germany.  The 'Deutschmark'  was introduced as the new form of currency.  This made west Berlin much more prosperous.  These changes worried Stalin, he couldn't control changes made in West Germany but he could control Berlin deep within the Soviet zone.  Stalin blocked all supply lines into western Berlin.  Stalin thought that this would force the allies out of Berlin making the whole capital dependent on the USSR.  This was a clever plan as if the US tanks tried to ram any road blocks he Stalin would see this as an act of war.  

The Americans were not prepared to give up on this though, if they gave up Berlin Stalin could next try to attack the western zones of Germany.  Truman wanted to show he was serious about containment and wanted Berlin to be a symbol of freedom.  The only way to get supplies into Berlin was by air.  In June 1948 the allies decided to air lift supplies.  

9 of 18

America's reaction to the Blockade

In June 1948 the allies began to air lift supplies for the next 10 months.  In November 1948 12 tons of chocolate is delivered to West Berlin.  In December it drops 10,000 gifts to Berlin children by this point West Berliners have 4 hours of electricity a day and are living off dried potatoes, powdered eggs and cans of meat.

The USA also stations B-29 bombers which could carry an atomic bomb in Britain.  1400 flights bring in 13,000 tons of supplies.

On May 11th 1949 the Soviets finally lift the blockade at midnight.  America still flies in supplies until September but continues to stockpile supplies in case the blockade starts again.

By September the airlift has stopped 275,000 flights carried 1 and 1/2 million tons of supplies with a plane landing on average every 3 minutes.  65 lives were lost due to plane crashes or collisions.

10 of 18

Formation of NATO 1949 and the Warsaw pact 1955

During the Berlin Blockade the USSR and USA became close to a war.  At the height of the crisis western powers met to sign an agreement to work together.  This organisation was founded in April 1949.  NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.  

The main motive for the alliance was so that truman would have secure bases in europe for US forces.  With this alliance US forces would be able to resist any action the USSR makes.  NATO was used as protection from Stalin however, he didn't view it this way.

The Warsaw pact in 1955 was very similar to NATO and was a military alliance comprised of communist countries in Europe except Yuugoslavia.  Members would defend each other if attacked.

11 of 18

The Nuclear Arms race

Another part of the two superpowers rivalry was in science and technology particuarly nuclear arms.  When the USA dropped the atomic bomb in 1945 Stalin realised that he needed to catch up with his rivals.  By 1949 Stalin had his own bomb, this started the race.  

In 1951 the SAC develops a policy of constant readiness.Commander Curtis Le May identifies 6000 USSR targets to be hit in the event of war.

In November 1952 the USA detonates the first hydrogen bomb.  In August 1953 the USSR detonates its own H-bomb.

In March 1954 the USA develops a H-bomb small enough to be dropped from a bomber.  In September 1954 the USSR drops a H-bomb from a bomber.

The USA allocated 40% of its defence spending on air force.  This funding continued throughout the Cold War.  USA stockpiled nuckear weapons.  When Russia developed the Bison Jet Bomber it triggered a panic known as the bomber gap.  The USA always had more bombs than Russia but the public believed otherwise.

12 of 18

The Korean War

China became communist in 1949.  Before this America had regarded them as an ally and had pumped $2 billion of aid into China.  Spies told Truman that Stalin was using Cominform to spread communism.  North Korea was communist and the South anti-communist.  In 1950 The North invaded the South.  By September 1950 the North Korean's controlled the majority of Korea.  Truman sent in supplies, advisers and warships to south Korea and pressured the UN to condemn North Korea and Kim Il Sung.  The USSR were boycotting the UN so could not veto. The USA was the biggest contributor to the UN so it had powerful influence over the decision. The UN forces were mainly American their commander being General MacArthur.  Within weeks North Korean forces were pushed back beyond the 38th parallel.  MacArthur continued despite China warning that they would join the war and it was clear the goal was to remove communism from Korea.  By october they reached the Yalu river.  Later in October 200,000 troops join the North Koreans and eventually they reached a stalemate at the 38th parallel.  MacArthur wanted to carry on fighting and he had underestimated the power of the Chinese but truman thought it was better to save South Korea.  In March 1951 MacArthur ignored the UN and threatened China.  Truman removed him from his position in April.  Peace talks began in June 1951 but fighting continued until Truman died and was replaced by Eisenhower eager to end the war.  Stalin's death made the North less confident.  Armistice is signed in July 1953.

13 of 18

Death of Stalin, Khrushchev, De-Stalinisation

In March 1953 Stalin died.  Stalin was seen as a hero to many as he defeated Hitler and given the USSR an eastern empire.  He also made Russia a nuclear superpower.

By 1955 a new leader, Khrushchev had emerged who seemed to be very different than Stalin.  He ended long fuends with China and Yugoslavia.  He talked of a peaceful co-existance with the west.  He closed Cominform and relaxed the iron control on Countries in the soviet sphere of influence.  

In 1956 Khrushchev denounced Stalin as a tyrant and shows the public proof of his purges.  In his programme of De-Stalinisation he releases political prisoners, closes cominform, dismisses Molotov and invites Tito to Moscow.  He also said he wanted to improve living conditions.

Despite these changes he was still communist and wanted many of the same things for the USSR that Stalin wanted but he set out to achieve them in different ways.

14 of 18

Hungary 1956

Hungary's leader was a very hard line communist named Matyas Rakosi.  Hungarian's felt that he imposed communism on them.  They lived in fear of the secret police and resented the soviet prescence in their country.  Hungarians also had to pay Soviet forces.  In june 1956 a group within the communist party opposed Rakosi.  He appealed to Moscow for help with arresting 400 leading opponents.  Moscow wouldn't back him.  The Kremlin ordered him to retire replacing him with Erno Gero who was also disliked by the people. On the 23rd of October a statue of Stalin was pulled down in budapest at a student demonstration.  The USSR allowed a new government to be formed under Imre Nagy.

Hungarians created thousands of local councils to replace Soviet Power.  Nagy's government began to make plans including free elections and leaving the Warsaw pactand declaring Hungary as neutral.  At first Khrushchev seemed to accept the reforms.  But he couldn't accept them leaving the Warsaw pact so in November 1956 thousands of Soviet troops and tanks moved into Budapest but the Hungarians did not give in.  Twi weeks of fighting left around 3000 hungarians and 7000 russians killed.  Imre Nagy and other leaders were imprisoned and executed.  200,000 fled to Austria. The Russian leader Kadar managed to arrest 35,000 anti-communist activists and 300 were executed.

15 of 18

Reactions to Hungary

The USSR was condemned by the USA and its allies but the only action taken was harsh words from the UN and in propaganda from western states.  They didn't take action for two main reasons:

At the same time of the Hungarian revolt Britain, France and the USA were preoccupied with a crisis concerning the Suez canal.

Hungary was too close to the USSR.  If the USA sent massive forces accross Europe to help Europe it could trigger a war.

16 of 18

The Space Race

During the Second World War German's developed powerful rockets that the USSR and USA used and developed to try and reach space. In 1955 Eisenhower launched a programme to develop a man-made satellite.  But, in October 1957 the Russians shocked America by sending a rocket into space and launching the first ever man-made satellite named Sputnik.  This was made worse when in November 1957 they launched Sputnik 2 which was larger and carried a dog.

The USA responded by pouring money into Space research.  It set up a new project called Explorer.  This was led by Braun who was part of the German V-2 programme.  By 1958 the investment began to pay off.  In January 1958 they launched Explorer 1satellite and in July US congress approved the formation of NASA.  

In 1957 began testing ICBM's and in 1959 the American's developed their own ICBM systems.  Although America had the same amount of missiles as Russia they wouldn't have believed this.  This would have led to increasing funding out of fear.  Eisenhower knew this wasn't true but he couldn't admit he knew there was no gap due to spies.

17 of 18

The U-2 Crisis

Eisenhower had been illegally flying spying missions over the USSR.  This began in 1950 but when President Truman found out these were stopped.  They were started again in 1956 by President Eisenhower when there was a new spy plane called the U-2.  The U-2 flew high enough that it couldn't be shot down by Soviet fighters but had sophisticated listening devices and powerful cameras.  U-2 planes kept the Americans informed of the Soviet weapons technology through the 1950s.  

Khrushchev found out about these flights and was furious.  However, he didnt want to admit that he didn't have the technology to shoot them down.  In May 1960 the new USSR's S-75 shot down a U-2 plane leading to pilot Gary Powers being arrested.  The USSR paraded Powers around claiming the USA had been spying.  eventually they admitted they had.  Gary Powers was imprisoned for 10 years but was swapped after 2 years for a Russian spy.  Russia pulled out of the Paris Summit.

18 of 18


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The Cold War resources »