A Brief History of Cold War

A Brief History of Cold War

Following World War II, the Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as their respective allies, the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc. Historians disagree over when it began and ended, although it is generally agreed that it began with the Truman Doctrine (12 March 1947) and ended with the Soviet Union's demise in 1991. (26 December 1991). Because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two superpowers, the phrase "cold war" was coined, although they both sponsored huge regional conflicts known as proxy wars. Following their temporary collaboration and triumph over Nazi Germany in 1945, the fight revolved upon these two countries' ideological and geopolitical ambition for global hegemony. Apart from nuclear weapons development and conventional military deployment, the battle for domination was manifested indirectly through psychological warfare, propaganda operations, espionage, far-reaching embargoes, rivalry at sporting events, and technological rivalries like the Space Race.

The United States led the Western Bloc, which included other First World countries that were usually liberal democratic but were linked to a network of authoritarian states, the majority of which were their former colonies. The Soviet Union and its Communist Party dominated the Eastern Bloc, which wielded power throughout the Second World and was linked to a network of authoritarian regimes. Anti-communist and right-wing governments and uprisings were supported by the US government, while left-wing parties and revolutions were supported by the Soviet government. In the Cold War, nearly all colonial states gained independence between 1945 and 1960, making them Third World battlegrounds.

The Cold War's initial phase began shortly after the Second World War ended in 1945. In the event of a Soviet invasion, the United States and its allies formed the NATO military alliance in 1949, and their global policy against Soviet dominance was dubbed containment. In reaction to NATO, the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The 1948–1949 Berlin Blockade, the 1927–1949 Chinese Civil War, the 1950–1953 Korean War, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1961 Berlin Crisis, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis were all major crises during this period. In Latin America, the Middle East, and the decolonizing states of Africa, Asia, and Oceania, the US and the USSR battled for influence.

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, a new phase began in which the Sino-Soviet divide between China and the Soviet Union complicated Communist relations, while France, a Western Bloc power, began to demand greater action autonomy. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put down the Prague Spring, while the United States was torn apart by the civil rights movement and resistance to the Vietnam War. A global peace movement arose in the 1960s and 1970s among citizens all over the world. There were significant anti-war protests, as well as movements against nuclear weapons testing and for nuclear disarmament. By the 1970s, both sides had begun to make concessions for peace and security, ushering in a period of détente marked by the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the United States' establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China as a strategic counterweight to the Soviet Union. Throughout the second half of the 1970s, a number of self-proclaimed Marxist governments emerged in the Third World, including Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Nicaragua.

With the start of the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979, détente came to an end at the conclusion of the decade. Another period of high tension occurred in the early 1980s. At a period when the Soviet Union was already suffering from economic stagnation, the US put diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on it. The liberalizing reforms of glasnost ("openness," c. 1985) and perestroika ("reorganization," 1987) were adopted by new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s, and Soviet participation in Afghanistan was stopped in 1989. In Eastern Europe, pressures for national sovereignty grew stronger, and Gorbachev refused to assist their regimes militarily any more.

With the exception of Romania and Afghanistan, the Iron Curtain fell in 1989 when the Pan-European Picnic and a peaceful wave of uprisings overthrew almost all communist governments in the Eastern Bloc. Following an attempted coup attempt in August 1991, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union lost power of the Soviet Union and was banned. As a result, the USSR was formally disbanded in December 1991, its constituent republics declared independence, and communist governments across much of Africa and Asia collapsed. The United States was left as the solitary superpower in the globe.

Background

Russian Revolution

While most historians place the start of the Cold War in the early aftermath of World War II, some claim that it began with the Bolshevik takeover of power in Russia in 1917. The principal Allied Powers in World War I were the British, French, and Russian Empires from the outset, and the United States joined them as a self-styled Associated Power in April 1917. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and kept their commitment to withdraw from WWI, while German soldiers moved fast into the borders. The Allies retaliated by imposing an economic blockade on Russia as a whole. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in early March 1918, followed the surge of popular discontent with the war and accepted harsh German peace terms. Some Allies believed that by releasing a million German soldiers for the Western Front and ceding much of Russia's food supply, industrial base, fuel supplies, and communications with Western Europe, Russia was now assisting Germany in winning the war.

The Allies, according to historian Spencer Tucker, felt, "The Treaty of Versailles was the greatest betrayal of the Allies' cause, laying the groundwork for the Cold War. With Brest-Litovsk, the threat of German dominance in Eastern Europe became real, and the Allies began to seriously consider military action," as well as intensifying their "economic warfare." "in opposition to the Bolsheviks Some Bolsheviks considered Russia as simply the first step toward inciting revolutions against capitalism in every western country, but Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin backed away from this viewpoint due to the need for peace with Germany.

In 1918, Britain aided the anti-Bolshevik "White" counter-revolutionaries with money and men. Winston Churchill, a dedicated British imperialist and anti-communist, was the driving force behind this program. In an attempt to destabilize the new Soviet government, France, Japan, and the United States attacked Russia. Despite Western countries' economic and military assault, the Bolshevik government defeated all opposition and seized complete control of Russia, as well as breakaway regions such as Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

The Soviet administration was also diplomatically isolated by Western states. The Soviet Union was encircled by a "hostile capitalist encirclement," according to Lenin, who saw diplomacy as a tool to keep Soviet opponents split. He founded the Comintern to foster sister revolutions around the world. It failed everywhere, especially in Germany, Bavaria, and Hungary, where it attempted to foment revolutions. Moscow has turned inward as a result of its failures.

Except for the United States, Britain and other Western powers conducted business with the fledgling Soviet Union and occasionally recognized it. By 1933, traditional anxieties about Communist dangers had gone, and American business leaders and newspaper editors were pressing for diplomatic recognition. In November 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt utilized his authority to normalize ties. However, no headway was made on the Tsarist debts that Washington wanted Moscow to pay back. Expectations of increased commerce turned out to be unfounded. "Both nations were soon disillusioned by the treaty," historians Justus D. Doenecke and Mark A. Stoler write. From 1933 to 1936, Roosevelt appointed William Bullitt as ambassador. Bullitt arrived in Moscow with high aspirations for Soviet–American ties, but upon closer study, his opinion of the Soviet leadership plummeted. Bullitt was openly antagonistic to the Soviet leadership towards the end of his service, and he remained an outspoken anti-communist for the remainder of his life.

Beginnings of World War II

Joseph Stalin collaborated with Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov in the late 1930s to build popular fronts with capitalist parties and governments to combat fascism. When Western governments chose appeasement with Nazi Germany instead, the Soviets were enraged. At the Munich Agreement in March 1939, Britain and France awarded Hitler control of much of Czechoslovakia without consulting the USSR. Faced with an aggressive Japan on the Soviet border, Stalin reversed course and replaced Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov, who negotiated stronger ties with Germany.

The Soviet Union pushed the Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—to enable it to post Soviet soldiers in their countries after signing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty. In November 1939, Finland refused Soviet territory claims, prompting a Soviet invasion. In March 1940, the Winter War came to a conclusion with Finnish concessions. The British and French responded to the Soviet invasion by advocating the removal of the Soviet Union from the League of Nations, seeing the Soviet attack on Finland as equal to Finland joining the war on the side of the Germans.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were forcibly seized by the Soviet Union in June 1940. It also took control of the Romanian provinces of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, and Hertsa. The Soviet Union and the Allied countries fought together to resist Germany when the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 and declared war on the United States in December 1941. In 1942, Britain and the United States created a formal alliance, which was later expanded to a military and political alliance. During World War II, the United States used its Lend-Lease Program to supply Britain, the Soviet Union, and other Allied nations. Stalin remained distrustful, believing that the British and Americans had plotted to make the Soviets bear the brunt of the combat against Germany. According to this viewpoint, the Western Allies purposefully delayed the start of a second anti-German front in order to intervene at the last possible moment and shape the peace deal. As a result of the Soviet perceptions of the West, there was a strong undercurrent of antagonism and friction between the Allied countries.

End of World War II (1945–1947)

Wartime conferences regarding post-war Europe:

Following the war, the Allies disagreed on how the European map should look and how borders should be drawn. Each side had different ideas about how to develop and maintain post-war security. According to some researchers, all of the Western Allies envisioned a security system in which democratic governments were established as broadly as possible, allowing countries to resolve disagreements amicably through international organizations. Others argue that the Atlantic powers' visions of the postwar world were divided. Roosevelt's objectives—military victory in Europe and Asia, global American economic supremacy over the British Empire, and the establishment of a world peace organization—were more global than Churchill's, which were primarily focused on securing control of the Mediterranean, ensuring the British Empire's survival, and ensuring the independence of Central and Eastern European countries as a buffer between the Soviets and the United Kingdom.

The Soviet Union attempted to exert control over the internal affairs of countries bordering on its territory. During the war, Stalin established special training facilities for communists from other countries so that, after the Red Army took control, they could set up secret police forces loyal to Moscow. Soviet operatives seized control of the media, particularly radio, and hounded and eventually banned all independent civic institutions, ranging from youth organizations to schools, churches, and opposing political parties. Stalin also hoped to maintain peace with the United Kingdom and the United States so that he could concentrate on internal rehabilitation and economic expansion.

In the eyes of the Americans, Stalin appeared to be a potential ally in achieving their objectives, whilst in the eyes of the British, Stalin appeared to be the greatest threat to achieving their aims. Stalin had an advantage because the Soviets had already occupied most of Central and Eastern Europe, and the two western leaders competed for his favor.

Because of the differences between Roosevelt and Churchill, multiple different agreements with the Soviets were made. In October 1944, Churchill came to Moscow and proposed the "Percentages Agreement," which divided Europe into spheres of influence, with Stalin having preponderance over Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria and Churchill having complete control over Greece. Stalin agreed to this suggestion. Roosevelt forged a separate accord with Stalin over Asia at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, and declined to back Churchill on the problems of Poland and Reparations. The percentage agreement was eventually confirmed by Roosevelt, but there appeared to be no definite agreement on the basis for a postwar settlement in Europe.

Churchill and Roosevelt secured an agreement on a number of issues at the Second Quebec Conference, a high-level military conference held in Quebec City from September 12 to 16, 1944, including a strategy for Germany based on Henry Morgenthau Jr.'s original proposal. "Eliminating the warmaking industries in the Ruhr and the Saar... looking forward to transforming Germany into a country predominantly agricultural and pastoral in character," Churchill said in his paper. However, the proposal to divide the country into multiple autonomous states was no longer mentioned. President Truman approved US occupation directive JCS 1067 on May 10, 1945, which lasted more than two years and was enthusiastically backed by Stalin. It instructed the occupying US forces to "take no efforts aimed at Germany's economic rehabilitation."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945, and Vice President Harry S. Truman took his place. Truman distrusted Stalin and sought guidance from an elite group of foreign policy intellectuals. Both Churchill and Truman opposed the Soviets' plan to support the Lublin administration, a Soviet-controlled rival to the Polish government-in-exile in London, whose relations with the Soviets had broken down.

The Soviets effectively seized Central and Eastern Europe after the Allies' victory in May 1945, but significant US and Western alliance forces remained in Western Europe. France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States formed occupation zones and a rough framework for four-power authority in Germany and Austria.

The multi-national United Nations (UN) was created in 1945 in San Francisco to maintain international peace, but the Security Council's enforcement capacity was largely paralyzed by individual members' ability to use veto power.

As a result, the UN was virtually transformed into a dormant platform for exchanging heated rhetoric, with the Soviets treating it almost exclusively as a propaganda tribune.

Potsdam Conference and surrender of Japan

At the Potsdam Conference, which began in late July after Germany's surrender, substantial disagreements arose about Germany's and Central and Eastern Europe's future development. The Soviets reiterated their Yalta demand for $20 billion in reparations from Germany's occupied territories. The United States and the United Kingdom declined to agree on a monetary figure for reparations, but they did allow the Soviets to take certain industries from their zones. Furthermore, the participants' growing hostility and bellicose language tended to confirm and solidify their suspicions about one other's hostile intentions. At this meeting, Truman informed Stalin that the US had developed a new powerful weapon.

The United States had requested the United Kingdom to participate in their atomic bomb programme, but had kept it a secret from the Soviet Union. Stalin was aware that the United States was developing an atomic bomb, and he handled the news calmly. The United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki one week after the Potsdam Conference ended. Stalin objected to US officials shortly after the bombing when Truman offered the Soviets little real power in occupied Japan. The actual dropping of the bombs enraged Stalin, who called it "superbarbarity" and claimed that "the balance has been destroyed...That cannot be." The Truman administration planned to utilize its ongoing nuclear weapons program to put international pressure on the Soviet Union.

Following the war, the United States and the United Kingdom utilized armed troops to depose indigenous governments and communist forces in Greece and Korea. Committees were organized throughout Korea to plan the transition to Korean independence under the direction of Lyuh Woon-hyung, who worked secretly during the Japanese rule. These committees constituted the temporary national government of Korea after the Japanese surrendered on August 28, 1945, and named it the People's Republic of Korea (PRK) a few weeks later. The United States government landed forces in Korea on September 8, 1945, and the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGK) was established to oversee the country south of the 38th parallel north. The PRK government was declared illegal by the USAMGK. "One of our tasks was to tear down this Communist government," said military ruler Lieutenant-General John R. Hodge subsequently. Following that, beginning with President Syngman Rhee, the United States backed authoritarian South Korean regimes that ruled until the 1980s.

Beginnings of the Eastern Bloc

During the opening stages of World War II, the Soviet Union laid the foundation for the Eastern Bloc by invading and then annexing several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics, by agreement with Germany in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. These included eastern Poland (incorporated into the Byelorussian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR), Latvia (which became the Latvian SSR), Estonia (which became the Estonian SSR), Lithuania (which became the Lithuanian SSR), part of eastern Finland (which became the Karelo-Finnish SSR) and eastern Romania (which became the Moldavian SSR).

Central and Eastern European territories that the Soviet army liberated from Germany were added to the Eastern Bloc, pursuant to the Percentages agreement between Churchill and Stalin. The Soviet Union converted the territories it occupied into satellite states, such as:

  • People's Republic of Albania (11 January 1946)
  • People's Republic of Bulgaria (15 September 1946)
  • Polish People's Republic (19 January 1947)
  • Romanian People's Republic (13 April 1948)
  • Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (9 May 1948)
  • Hungarian People's Republic (20 August 1949)
  • German Democratic Republic (7 October 1949)

The Soviet-style regimes that arose in the Bloc not only reproduced Soviet command economy, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet secret police in order to suppress both real and potential opposition. In Asia, the Red Army had overrun Manchuria in the last month of the war, and it went on to occupy the large swathe of Korean territory located north of the 38th parallel.

As part of consolidating Stalin's control over the Eastern Bloc, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), led by Lavrentiy Beria, supervised the establishment of Soviet-style secret police systems in the Bloc that were supposed to crush anti-communist resistance. When the slightest stirrings of independence emerged in the Bloc, Stalin's strategy matched that of dealing with domestic pre-war rivals: they were removed from power, put on trial, imprisoned, and in several instances, executed.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that, given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. After World War II, US officials guided Western European leaders in establishing their own secret security force to prevent subversion in the Western bloc, which evolved into Operation Gladio.

Last updated: 2022-April-25
Tags: History War U.S. Soviet Union
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