The Emergence of the Superpowers 1945-62


Historical Perspectives

Both views are predicated by the certainty that the unilateral actions of one side determined the outcome of upcoming international relations. Orthodox historians place the blame for the developmentof the Cold War on the shoulders of the Soviet Union. American policy was interpreted as a legitimate response to Soviet provocation. Soviet Union seen as an aggressive expansionist state shielded under the disguise of benign self-protection and did not want to preserve the Grand Alliance as it was contrary to its expansionist aims. Present Soviet Union as wanting a power base in Europe and the people within the bloc were merely a means to an end. Revisionist historians take the view that Soviet responses after 1945 as a legitimate response to American economic and strategic imperialism in Europe and ultimately beyond. These historians argue that the primary reason why the Americans rejected communist regimes in Eastern Europe was not because they saw this as part of an aggressive expansionism by the Soviet Union, but because they deprived America of access to economic opportunities there. Regard America's primary foreign policy aim as that of expanding capitalism under the guise of protecting freedom and democracy - thus the Soviet Union had no choice other than to expand its own influence in order to protect itself from American economic expansionism. Post Revisionism is basically an amalgam of the Orthodox and Revisionist interpretations.

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The Grand Alliance

The Soviet Union and America were ideological opposites and only united by their common enemy - Germany - when this ended the alliance was under strain. In international relations ideology was secondary to pragmatism. However, communism and capitalism could co-exist if the political leaders saw some advantage in it. THE YALTA CONFERENCE 4/11 FEBRUARY 1945:

  • Germany and Berlin would be divided - quadrapartite agreement.
  • the UN was formally ratified.
  • the USSR gained land from Poland and Poland itself expanded.
  • The Declaration of Liberated Europe was agreed - committing Britain, USA and USSR to jointly assist Europe in representing democratic elements with free elections and responsive to the will of the people.

ROOSEVELTS AIMS: collective security, cooperation with the USSR, the right to self-determination and no spheres of influence, German reeducation as a democratic state, world economic reconstruction through the creation of IMF

STALINS AIMS: guarantee of USSR's security through the Soviet spheres of influence in Europe, Germany to remain weak indefinitely, economic reconstruction for the USSR at the expense of Germany 

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Potsdam Conference 17 July - 1 August 1945

After Yalta, the alliance was brought under strain. The war had devasted the SU - 25 million Russians had died alongside mass destruction of towns, agriculture etc. Thus its first priority was to prevent anything like that happening again. The Grand Alliance, however was founded upon no need for balance of power maintained through. Through the UN, in theory, there would be no need for international dominance or aggressive strategies to guarantee national security. The Declaration appeared to place little significance to Stalin, and he simply agreed to it because it was expedient to do so. Stalin was also weary of USA's economic thinking - through the World Bank and IMF - against the economic interests of the USSR. All made worse when Harry Truman assumes US presidency. 

The day before was the testing of the atomic bomb, Truman hoped this would give him diplomatic leverage over negotiations in Potsdam to make Stalin remain loyal - abrasive diplomacy. Fails to define consensus with East/West or any real clarity =growing suspicions further challenge by subsequent events 

  • Germany was to be completely disarmed and demilitarised. 
  • de-Nazification
  • decentralisation of the poltical system and Germany to become a single economic unit 
  • freedom of speech and press was restored
  • USSR to recieve reparations from its own zone and 25% from other zones. 
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The German Problem 1945-7

Most present issue was over the question of how much was to be extracted from Germany. USSR was recieving more without any exchange - this posed 2 problems. 1. Soviet reparations were dependent upon the vague proviso that only those resources that were 'unneccesary for German peace recovery' could be taken. 2. The agreement needed cooperation between East/West. Soviet plan to systematically weaken Germany in order to undermine its ability to recover economically and politically. When the allies announced reparations did not have to be paid until their zone recovered economically, this was seen to Stalin as the Americans strengthening their zone to neutralise the growing popularity of Communism and reconstruct based on a capitalist system. Lack of precision in deciding reparation payments at Potsdam was becoming a 'breeding ground for tension'. Future of Germany focus for political divisions between East/West - as Nazism was eradicated. Stalin was determined that the Soviet-controlled zone would act as a springboard to extend Communism throughout the new Germany. His strategy was to manipulate the KPD and SPD to create the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party (SUP). The West decided to build up their zones so Germany could be integrated into Europe = political stability. USA keen to build up Europes post-war economy. Divisions widen in July 1946, the USA refused to increase Soviet reparations as it would delay German recovery. Britain and USA unite their zones = Bizonia in January 1947- alarms Soviet Union.

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Soviet Expansionism in Eastern Europe 45-9

POLAND: Russians fail to conduct free elections in Poland.  - sphere of influence was not enough to guarantee long-term security of USSR - pro Moscow regime needed to be in place - democracy could not flourish in Poland this would not go unrecognised in West. USA sure that what happened in Poland would be replicated in other Eastern Europe states and USSR was convinced that the USA had no regard for legitimate security concerns and instead wanted to influence economically and politically across Europe. 6th March 1946 - Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech. Stalin's response presented a benign Soviet Union 'peaceful'. By September 1947, the Soviet Union had a more robust analysis of the justification of its policy. Americans seen as imperialist policies based on strategic aggression and manipulation. USSR accused USA of becoming a threat by developing military bases in countries far away from its continent, of little use except to intimidate Soviet Union. USA was looking for opportunities to expand economic control by investing in Europe and therefore making them liable to the USA. A communist bloc would prevent this. America promoted the idea of a new world order based on the assumption that America was the champion of ideology, world peace etc. Communist regimes were not simply imposed forcibly, it was gradualism and a focus on each individual states circumstance. Czechoslovaki had free elections - Communist Party won 38% of vote = there was a compliance - there was poverty = communism strives as it promises equality. Stalin was committed to power rather than ideology - his willingness to allow other parties was merely pragmatic. The leaders of the states merely had to function as Stalinist puppets - gave SU power and power gave security. 

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The Warsaw Pact

POLAND: Significant forward planning by Stalin. Communism imposed on Poland via a Soviet-controlled government - the Lublin Government. By agreeing to free elections in Yalta, Stalin was able to preserve the control of this government - by adding other parties from both ends of the political system  -pluralist approach. Non compliance was replaced with compliant leaders. 

ROMANIA, BULGARIA AND HUNGARY: King forced to appoint communist-led government in Romania - popular as the provided an alternative to the pre-war regime. Opposition minimal. In Bulgaria, gradualism, manipulated elections and forced removal of opponents. Strongest of which was Agrarian Party leader Nikola Petkov - popular yet executed by April 1947 all other political parties had been banned. In Hungary, the communists allied with other parties to take control from Smallholders Party. Communists, however, did not display the degree of loyalty to Moscow and formed close links with Yugoslavia under Tito. By 1949, all political opposition was banned. 

CZECHOSLOVAKIA: Czech communists were popular - Klement Gottwald becomes Prime Minister but makes mistake of accepting Western aid in 1947. Replaced by Benes who allowed communist government and resigned as last non-communist.

Warsaw Pact signed - friendship and mutual assistance. Territories united to pledge defence to one another should they be threatened by an external aggressor - NATO - Cold War standoff.

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  • To what extent was the Grand Alliance still intact after the Yalta Conference?
  • 'The Soviet Union developed its influence in Eastern Europe in the years 1945-9 because it simply wanted to guarantee its security in the future.' How valid is this assessment?
  • “The Cold War started because of the actions and aims of Stalin and the USSR in the period 1945-1949”. Assess the validity of this view.

  • "Basic differences between the aims of the USSR and the USA in the period 1945-1945 made the Cold War inevitable.” Assess the validity of this view. 

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