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


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Why did USA and USSR become rivals in the period 1945 - 1949?

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Ideological reasons and their effects

The USSR was a one party state dominated by Stalin. Individuals did not have the choice to choose alternative politicians in free elections; industry and agriculture was owned by the state. In the 1930s, Stalin had transformed the USSR into a modern industrial state The transformation had come at a huge cost in human life, but a superpower had been born, capable of defeating Nazi Germany and emerging as a world power. The people of the USSR had experienced foreign invasion in the First World War, during the Civil War 1918-1921 and the Second World War. Stalin believed that the USA’s long-term ambition was to destroy communism, therefore he adopted policies, which he believed would prevent this from happening.

The USA was a democratic state, with free elections, freedom of speech and a capitalist economic system. In the 1930s the American people had experienced the Depression and a withdrawal from world politics. The Second World War helped to regenerate the USA’s industries to such an extent that people’s standards of living actually went up during the Second World War. The USA emerged immeasurably more powerful from the war with Germany and Japan. It was clear that the USA could no longer sit on the sidelines in world politics. However, the USA was extremely concerned by the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and the Far East. The USA believed that Stalin wanted to convert the rest of the world to communism. The USA had fought the fascist ideologies of Germany, Italy and Japan, now it was prepared to fight the communist ideology of the USSR.

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Yalta Conference Feb 1945

Held during the war, on the surface, the Yalta conference seemed successful. The Allies agreed a Protocol of Proceedings to:

  • Divide Germany into four ‘zones’, which Britain, France, the USA and the USSR would occupy after the war.
  •  bring Nazi war-criminals to trial.
  • set up a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity 'pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible'.
  • help the freed peoples of Europe set up democratic and self-governing countries by helping them to (a) maintain law and order; (b) carry out emergency relief measures; (c) set up governments; and (d) hold elections (this was called the 'Declaration of Liberated Europe').
  • set up a commission to look into reparations.


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Yalta Conference Feb 1945 2

At Yalta, the negotiations went very much in Stalin's favour, but this was because Roosevelt wanted Russian help in the Pacific, and was prepared to agree to almost anything as long as Stalin agreed to go to war with Japan.  Therefore, Stalin promised that:

  • Russia would join the war in the Pacific, in return for occupation zones in North Korea and Manchuria.
  • Russia also agreed to join the United Nations.

Although the Conference appeared successful, behind the scenes, tension was growing, particularly about reparations, and about Poland. After the conference, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt that ‘The Soviet Union has become a danger to the free world.’ And on their return home both he and Roosevelt were criticised for giving away too much to the Soviets.

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Potsdam Conference July 1945

At Potsdam, the Allies met after the surrender of Germany (in May 1945) to finalise the principls of the post-war peace – Potsdam was the Versailles of World War II.  Three factors meant that the Potsdam Conference was not successful:

  • Relations between the superpowers had worsened considerably since Yalta.  In March 1945, Stalin had invited the non-Communist Polish leaders to meet him, and arrested them.  Things had got so bad that, in May 1945, the British Joint Planing Group had drawn up plans for 'Operation Unthinkable' - a 'total war ... to impose our will upon Russia'.
  • Meanwhile, Rooevelt had died, and America had a new president, Truman, who was inclined to ‘get tough’ with the Russians.  
  • Also, soon after he had arrived at the Conference, Truman learned (on 21 July) that America had tested the first atomic bomb.   It gave the Americans a huge military advantage over everyone else.  It also meant that Truman didn't need Stalin's help in Japan. Instead, Truman's main aim at the conference was to find out from Stalin what date the Russians intended to enter the war in the Pacific - something which (unlike Roosevelt) he did NOT want.
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Potsdam Conference July 1945 2

So, at Potsdam, the arguments came out into the open. The Conference agreed the following Protocols:

  • to set up the four ‘zones of occupation’ in Germany.   The Nazi Party, government and laws were to be destroyed, and 'German education shall be so controlled as completely to eliminate Nazi and militarist doctrines and to make possible the successful development of democratic ideas.
  • to bring Nazi war-criminals to trial.
  • to recognize the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity and hold 'free and unfettered elections as soon as possible'.
  • Russia was allowed to take reparations from the Soviet Zone, and also 10% of the industrial equipment of the western zones as reparations.  America and Britain could take reparations from their zones if they wished.

President Truman presented it as a 'compromise', but in fact the Allies had disagreed openly about:  

  • the details of how to divide Germany.
  • the size of reparations Germany ought to pay.
  • Russian influence over the countries of eastern Europe.
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Dropping the Bomb

  • By May 1945, the ***anese were clearly losing the war in the Pacific; they started making requests for a peace. Stalin told Truman at Potsdam of 'telegram from *** Emperor asking for peace’ (it was refused; instead the Potsdam Conference called on ***an to surrender unconditionally).  In fact, the ***anese offered to surrender on 3 August, but their offer was rejected because it wasn’t an ‘unconditional’ surrender.
  • Instead, on 6 August 1945, the B29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb (nicknamed ‘Little Boy’) on Hiroshima.  The temperature in the centre of the bomb was 50 times hotter than the surface of the sun.  Winds swept out from the centre at 500 mph; everything in a two-mile radius was flattened.  The mushroom cloud rose to 50,000 feet.  The Americans estimated at 117,000 people were killed – the ***anese put the figure at a quarter of a million.
  • Three days later, on 9 August, the Americans dropped another bomb, on Nagasaki, and the ***anese surrendered.
  • Effects - After Hiroshima, and particularly after 1949 when then Russian scientist Kurchatov developed the atomic bomb, politicians realised that the bomb would change international politics. Another ‘hot war’ would kill all humankind.  War would be MAD (mutually assured destruction).
  • So America and Russia stopped short of war. They didn’t declare war. But they did everything to oppose each other short of war = ‘cold war’.  
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Iron Curtain & Soviet expansion in the East

On 5 March 1946, on the invitation of President Truman, Winston Churchill went to Fulton in America and gave a speech. He said ‘a shadow’ had fallen on eastern Europe, which was now cut off from the free world by ‘an iron curtain. Behind that line, he said, the people of eastern Europe were ‘subject to Soviet influence...totalitarian control and police governments’.

Advancing allied and Soviet forces from the West and East defeated Nazi Germany. While American and British forces liberated France, Italy and the Low Countries, Soviet forces replaced Nazi forces in a string of countries in Eastern Europe. The Americans and the British could do nothing about this while Nazi Germany remained undefeated; the USSR after all was an ally at this time. It was clear, however, that Stalin was very reluctant to relinquish control of Eastern Europe, a Soviet sphere of influence. President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did not like the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, but they needed the USSR as an ally and they could do very little to prevent Stalin’s military annexation of this region.

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The Truman Doctrine

Harry Truman replaced President Roosevelt when he died in April 1945. Truman was very concerned by the growth of Soviet power. Truman realised that the USA could no longer continue with its policy of isolationism. If the spread of communism was to be halted, Truman believed that the USA would have to be much more active in world affairs. To defend the USA from communism, Truman believed that he would have to support other countries militarily and financially in order to prevent them from potentially becoming communist states. This policy became known as the Truman Doctrine.

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Greece and Turkey

  • By 1946, Greece and Czechoslovakia were the only countries in eastern Europe that weren’t Communist.
  • Even in Greece, the government, which was being supported by British soldiers, was having to fight a civil war against the Communists.
  • In February 1947, the British told Truman they could no longer afford to keep their soldiers in Greece. President Truman stepped in.The USA paid for the British soldiers in Greece.
  • Truman noted that Turkey too was in danger from Soviet aggression, so Congress voted to give aid to Turkey as well.
  • Part of the money was given in economic and humanitarian aid, but most was spent on military supplies and weapons.
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The Marshall Plan

In 1947 it appeared that Greece and Turkey might become communist states. In March 1947 Truman promised that the USA would help any country threatened by communism. The USA would ‘contain’ Soviet expansion. Truman believed that Stalin had forced the countries of Eastern Europe into accepting communist governments; he also believed that it was America’s duty to defend democracy. Communism was prevented in Greece and Turkey. Truman gave $400 million dollars to the two countries and in return established missile bases in Turkey.

Truman was concerned to help European countries recover from the war. He believed that economically strong countries would be unlikely to turn to communism and would become major trading partners with the USA. To help Europe rebuild after the war, the USA gave millions of dollars under the Marshall Plan. A fund of $15 billion was set aside for European countries to draw on. The idea was to allow countries from both East and West to receive Marshall Aid, but Stalin realised that this would make countries like Poland more dependent upon the USA than the USSR. Stalin denounced the Marshall Plan, claiming that it was economic imperialism. Stalin forced the Eastern European countries to withdraw their applications for assistance. Instead, these countries had to apply for help from the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). This was never very effective as the USSR had too little resources to offer.

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Marshall Plan 2

In all, sixteen countries received Marshall Aid, Britain and France being the major recipients. West Germany also received just under $1.4 billion. Stalin was very angry with this, he did not want a strong Germany; in the East he deliberately weakened the Soviet zone of Germany. In the West, Truman wanted to create a powerful buffer against communism; he did not want Germany to be weak. By 1952 most Western European countries had recovered to their pre-war levels of production. The communist parties in France and Italy lost their support as standards of living rose. The Marshall Plan had been very effective in preventing the spread of communism in Western Europe and had created economically strong democratic allies for the USA.

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Cominform & Comecon

In 1947 communist leaders from all over the world were invited to a conference in Warsaw, where the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) was created. This was designed to spread communism and to protect states from US aggression. In 1948, Stalin ordered Cominform to expel Tito, the communist leader of Yugoslavia, because he would not give into Stalin’s wishes. This shows that Stalin wanted total control of the communist world and would allow no opposition. The USA saw Cominform as a serious challenge to the West. Relations between the superpowers deteriorated further.

Then, in January 1949, Stalin created Comecon - an economic union of the Communist countries in eastern Europe.  This allowed Stalin to control the Iron Curtain economies for the benefit of Russia - for instance, one of its rules was that all inventions had to be shared.

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The Berlin Blockade & Airift

  • Causes [CABAN]
  • Cold War was just getting started (e.g. Czechoslovakia, March 1948)    
  • Aims - Stalin wanted to destroy Germany – Britain and the USA wanted to rebuild Germany. 
  • Bizonia The Russians were taking German machinery back to the USSR.   In January 1947, Britain and the USA joined their two zones together to try to get German industry going. They called the new zone Bi-zonia.
  • American Aid Congress voted for Marshall Aid on 31 March 1948.    Immediately, the Russians started searching all road and rail traffic into Berlin.     
  • New Currency On 1 June, America and France announced that they wanted to create the new country of West Germany; and on 23 June they introduced a new currency into ‘Bizonia’ and western Berlin. The next day the Russians stopped all road and rail traffic into Berlin.The Soviet Union saw the 1948 Berlin crisis as an attempt to undermine Soviet influence in eastern Germany; Stalin said he was defending the east German economy against the new currency, which was ruining it. The western powers said Stalin was trying to force them out of Berlin.
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The Belrin Blockade and Airlift 2

  • Events (24 June 1948) – Stalin closed rail + road links to Berlin / Lasted 11 months/ Allies airlifted supplies to Berlin – 275,000 flights, 1.5m tons/ In winter, Berliners lived on dried eggs and potatoes/ 4 hours of electricity a day./ US had B29 bombers on standby./ (12 May 1949) – Stalin re-opened the borders.
  • Results   [CENA]  
  • Cold War got worse.
  • East/West Germany: German Democratic Republic/ Federal Republic of Germany.  
  • NATO and Warsaw Pact – NATO (1949) defensive alliance against USSR/ Warsaw Pact 1955 by Russia
  • Arms Race. The USA and USSR competed for world domination.
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god so much information!!!

Leana Miah


Hahahaha yes it is... but its better to know more than to know only a little :D x

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