History Theme 3: The 'Thaw' 1953 - 1956

The New Look 1953

  • This was the policy followed by Eisenhower during his presidency and was written up by his Secretary of State, John Dulles
  • Dulles loathed communism and criticised Truman for babying the Soviet Union and his response to expansionism. He argued in favour of a more forceful American policy, rollback, in which America would 'rollback' Russian occupation in Europe and 'dismantle' the Iron Curtain
  • However, the policy of rollback was somewhat limited as when the administration was actually faced with having to rollback the Soviets out of Hungary and Poland in 1956, they did nothing but protest their opposition to the event 
  • Massive retaliation was introduced as part of the policy; this was an ultimate nuclear deterrent strategy and security guarantee for the USA. It was the idea that if the Soviet Union put one foot out of line, no matter how small the issue, the USA would react with a full nuclear attack
  • The policy of 'brinkmanship' was also followed; pushing dangerous events to the brink of disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome
  • However, although he was committed to the New Look initiative, Eisenhower was level-headed and reasonable. He was practical and pragmatic and was keen to reduce the risk of a nuclear war - this would only be achievable through a better relationship with the USSR
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Collective Leadership 1953

  • In 1953, Stalin died of a stroke 
  • A struggle for his position as leader of the Soviet Union took place between the eight senior members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; Malenkov, Beria, Molotov, Khruschev, Voroshilov, Bulganin, Kaganovich and Mikoyan
  • The main three to collectively lead the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1958 were Malenkov, Bulganin and Khrushchev, with Khrushchev going on to be the sole leader of the USSR in 1958
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Peaceful Coexistence 1953

  • Malenkov, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, called for peaceful coexistence in 1953, stating that the USSR 'stood for what [they] have always stood, for the peaceful coexistence of the two systems'
  • The Korean War also ended in 1953, removing a major source of international tension - the powers could start to work together 
  • However, the USSR made it clear that peaceful coexistence was not about abandoning the Cold War, it was about fighting it with a new strategy. The Soviet Union was waiting for capitalism to fall naturally, as they believed it inevitably would fall, and whilst they were waiting they would focus on their own domestic issues such as their economy, social standards and trying to catch up in the Arms Race 
  • Khrushchev also wanted to focus on his foreign policy aims:                                                                                                                                                                   

1. The Soviet Union must remain as the unchallenged leaders of socialism
2. The Eastern Bloc satellite states must be maintained
3. Germany must be prevented from rearming and becoming a future threat
4. Spending on military security must be reduced as well as Soviet conventional forces
5. Continue to expand nuclear capability and stay implanted in the Arms Race
6. International tension must be defused and care has to be taken to not provoke the USA in order to achieve these aims 

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Austrian State Treaty 1955

  • Soviet policy towards Austria had been closely linked to the policy towards Germany; the USSR wanted a unified German state which was neutralised and could offer no threat to the Soviet Union. Austria had been divided into occupational zones and the USSR had focused on receiving economic aid from Austria, just like Germany
  • By 1955, the USSR began to show intentions of negotiating over the future of Austria - the four occupying powers reached an agreement in the form of the Austrian State Treaty 
  • The Treaty led to the withdrawal of all occupying powers and the declaration that Austria would remain neutral in the Cold War
  • The USSR accepted both Finland and Yugoslavia as neutral states also, which meant that they were not liable to join the Soviet sphere of influence 
  • This agreement showed serious intent towards mutual cooperation between the superpowers as well as removing a potential hotspot of conflict. It acted as a blueprint for negotiation on more serious issues, such as Berlin
  • The Treaty also led to the Western powers removing their occupational forces from West Germany 
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Geneva Summit 1955

  • This summit kickstarted the resurrection of summit diplomacy
  • On the two major issues which the Geneva Summit discussed (nuclear disarmament and the future of Germany), nothing was achieved                                                                                                                                                                                                        


  • Eisenhower presented this proposal as part of an attempt to end the deadlock over the issue of the superpowes inspecting each other's nuclear arsenals - therefore taking a step closer to disarmament. He suggested that each side provide details of military installations and allow for 'aerial reconnaissance' - for planes to fly over the others military bases to be inspected (even though America was doing this anyway)
  • However, Khrushchev rejected this proposal as he was fully aware that the Americans had developed the U-2 spy plane and that the Soviets had nothing in comparison                                                                                                         


  • Eisenhower proposed a reunified Germany, free elections and for Germany to be able to ensure its own security (effectively it would become a part of NATO). However, Khrushchev would only agree to a reunification if Germany was demilitarised and neutral. An agreement on the principle of free elections emerged but no procedures were set up to make this a reality
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Warsaw Pact 1955

  • The Soviet Union and most of the Eastern European communist states signed the Warsaw Pact in 1955
  • The members united in a pledge to defend one another should they be threatened (by NATO)
  • West Germany had been allowed to become a member of NATO in 1955 which triggered the signing of the Warsaw Pact 
  • The members included the USSR, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia 
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