Why did the USA and the USSR become rivals in the years 1945-49?

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  • Created by: Qiao-Chu
  • Created on: 17-03-13 14:30


WW2 end 1945, Germany surrendered in May, Japan surrendered in August after atom bombs dropped.

Germany could not comete with Allies extra resources. Soviets entered Berlin in the east, but in the end Hitler commited suicide and Germans were forced to surrender.

The war left Europe devastated.

Since 1941, when Germany invaded Soviet Russia, Britain joined with USSR and USA to win the war. 

Near end of WW2, superpowers USSR and USA showed differences, leading to Cold War which was a war of threats and propaganda, as opposed to actual fighting.

Tension increased by development of nuclear weapons.

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Ideological Differences

USA did not return to policy of isolation, but was fully part of the reorganisation of Europe.

The war left the USA and the USSR as the strongest powers in the world. They fourght together in WW2 having been allianced by Hitler's policies, but it was an uneasy alliance.

USA - democratic (elected by people with choice of candidates from different parties), capitalist (private individuals owned industry and kept profits), freedom and rights considered important (Americans objected to State interfering with their lives).

USSR - one part dictatorship (people could only vote for communists), communist (everything owned by state), individual rights controlled by State (for the good of society as a whole).

Both was suspicious of the other of wanting to inflict their ideology on the world, e.g. Stalin trying to get as muuch territory as possible - World Communism. Stalin insisted this was to protect USSR from future attack - buffer zones between USSR and West.

Americans delayed invasion of France for second fighting front to relieve pressure from USSR. Stalin believed it was to make USSR more vulnerable.

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The Yalta Conference

Just before end of war to decide outcomes of Germany after the war. Yalta is in the Crimea (part of USSR), and the conference was attended by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. Regarded as success because the following were agreed upon:

  • Germany divided into 4 - Britain, France, USA and USSR
  • Berlin, the capital is in Soviet zone, also divided
  • Nazi war criminals hunted down and tried
  • Free elections held in Eastern Europe after being removed from German control
  • Stalin enter war on Japan in return for Soviet gains in the Far East
  • UN set up to replace League of Nations and keep peace (San Fran April 1945)
  • Germany to pay reparations, but amount decided later

Some disagreement over government and frontiers of Poland after freedom from Nazis.

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The Potsdam Conference

Held after defeat of Germany, but before defeat of Japan.

Roosevelt died April 1945, replaced by Truman who was more suspicious of Stalin. Roosevelt had wanted to negotiate with Stalin, but Truman hated communism and wanted to be tough. Churchill lost general election, replaced by Attlee.

Soviets occupied most of Eastern Europe and stayed there. East germany taken over by new communist government in poland, with Stalin's support. No free elections - went against agreements of Yalta.

16 July Americans successfully tested atom bomb, but Stalin was not told - American not willing to share secret with allies.

Division of Germany and trialling of war criminals agreed at Yalta confirmed at Potsdam. Cooperation of wartime ended - alliance was over. 

Each country take reparations from its own zone, but Western powers allowed USSR ro receive industrial quipment and goods from their zones.

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Atom Bomb and Effects

Americans suffering huge casualties in Japan. President Truman decided to use atom bomb.

10 August 1945 war against Japan ended. 6 August Hiroshima, 9 August Nagasaki.

Stalin promised at Yalta to join war in return for territory in Far East, but delayed entering. Truman told Churchill about plans to use bomb on Japan but not Stalin - he was only told of its successful testing.

Soviets joined war 8 August and made some gains in Far East, but not allowed to share in defeat of Japan.

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Iron Curtain and Soviet Expansion

Stalin determined to have buffer zones to prevent future attacks on USSR. As States were freed from Nazi control, Soviet army stayed and set up communist governments. This disobeyed agreements at yalta which were to allow free elections.

Churchill feared Soviet expansion since 1945 and wanted Allies to get Berlin before USSR. May 1945 letter to Truman voiced such fears but Truman did not seem concerned, even when Churchill repeated it in Iron Curtain speech USA 1946. 

Called for alliance in the West to resist USSR expansion.

Iron Curtain - imaginary line between communism in the East and capitalism in the West.

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Truman Doctrine

Greece Civil war - Truman showed true opposition against USSR.

1944 British troops freed Greece from Nazis and restored monarchy, also helped King to fight communists. Elections in 1946 won by monarchy but attacked by communists who kept up guerilla tactics aided by Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

1947 Britain could no longer support and told USA. Truman realised only way to prevent spread of communism was American resource.

12 March 1947 '...support free peoples... maintaing those freedoms...' justification for helping Greece. Accepted by Congress, $400 million - to support Greece and Turkey fight against communist influence.

Turkey contained Dardanelles - strategic waterway linking Mediterranean to Black Sea. Communist Turkey would leave Greece totally isolated. Britain did not have the money to continue its support of Turkey because of war, only USA did.

Communist threat defeated in 1949. Truman Doctrine was new era on America's foreign policy - not revert to isolation, but policy of containment - keeping communism within existing boundaries and not allowing its spread.

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Marshall Plan

Other half of Truman Doctrine. Europe's economies ruined and French and Italian governments threatened by communists. Truman sent George Marshall to Europe to see first-hand and he reported Europe needs $17 billion to aid recovery.

Congress was about to refuse but Czechoslovakia - 1948 communists purged non-communists and Jan Masaryk, minister friendly with West murdered. Congress granted money.

Marshall Aid rescued economies of West - given to 16 countries to improve agriculture then build industry. Most given to Britain and France. Stalin prevented communist countries from receiving it.

President Tito defied Stalin and received Aid, expelled from Cominform 1948. Soviets saw Marshall Aid as dollar imperialism - bribe European countries to become dependent and fight USSR.

Increased suspicions and contributed to Cold War.

Helped Europe recover but also to avoid another depression like in the 1930s. Also hold back poverty which they believe caused communism.

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Cominform and Comecon

Stalin's reaction to Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan was Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) in September 1947.

All communist parties in Europe were involved to defend against USA aggression. Increased Stalin's control of communist states - satellite states.

Plans for recovery and expectations to trade with each other not West. When countries showed too much independence, they were expelled i.e. Yugoslavia and Tito.

USSR offered aid (Comecon) in 1949 which was intended to unite economies, and increased Stalin's control.

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The Berlin Blockade

Main crisis of Cold War. USSR took large sums of reparations from its zone to keep Germany weak.

Truman felt a strong Germany would be a good barrier to USSR expansion, so Germany was given Marshall Aid to enable economic recovery. Three Western zones merged in 1948 and preparations were made for independent state of West Germany.

Alarmed Stalin as prosperity of West contrasted to the poverty of the East.

1948 Britain and America decided on new currency for West Germany, but USSR not involved in decision - went against Potsdam agreements.

Berlin was 160km within Soviet zone and the Western Powers had free access to West Berlin. West was recovering, East was still poor. Stalin wanted whole of Berlin to belong to Soviets.

23 June 1948 all routes into West Berlin closed so no food supplies reached West Berlin - forcing West to withdrawal by starving the people.

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The Berlin Airlift

Truman was determined to stick to policy of containment. West Berlin had about 6 weeks of food and fuel left. If the West forced in with tanks - aggressors starting war. Decided on three air routes into West Berlin and take goods by air. Estimated 4000 tonnes of supplies needed everyday.

At first British and American planes flew 600 tonnes a day, but gradually got used to narrow air corridors. Deliveries increased to 8000 tonnes a day by 1949 - had to put up with ice and fog and tracking by Soviet fighter planes to ensure they did not stray out of air zones.

79 American and british pilots and German ground crew died.

Winter 1948 electricity supplies cut by Stalin, promised West Berliners extra rations if they moved to the East, but only 2% accepted bribe. Stalin considered attacking planes but it would be declaration of war against American nuclear weapons.

12 May 1949 Stalin accepted plan failed and lifted Blockade.

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Importance of Berlin Blockade and Airlift

USA and West proved they can stand up to USSR and use Truman Doctrine to prevent expansion.

Ended possibility of quick Germany unification. 1949 divided into pro-West republic of West Germany and pro-Soviet communist East Germany.

Seen as victory in West and led to formation of NATO.

First main crisis of Cold War and set pattern for future. Consisted of threats not war, but deepened hostilities.

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