To what extent did the events of 1945-1946 turn war-time allies into Cold War enemies? During the Second World War, the United States and Russia had been allied in order to defeat Nazi Germany. However, following the end of the war and the victory over Germany, relations between America and the Soviet Union began to decline, culminating in the Cold War. Whilst the orthodox view of the Cold War, as held by historians such as Thomas Bailey, is that Stalin and the USSR were responsible for the start of the Cold War in their aggressive expansionism following the end of World War II.
However, revisionists such as William Appleman Williams suggest that the relationship between Russia and America was weak before the Cold War, but that there were issues between the two powers before and during the war, and that the alliance between them was merely a marriage of convenience. The events of 1945-6 were important that they turned the tension between the USSR and the USA to a position where they were Cold War enemies, but the deep rooted conflict between the two powers was more important, as the differences in ideology were the main reason that the events of these two years came about.
The first point to be considered is the difference in ideologies that existed between America and the Soviet Union. Due to the fact that the USA was a capitalist country and the Soviet Union was a communist state, both felt threatened by the ideals of the other for political and economic reasons. Politically, the two powers were in stark contrast. The USA was built around liberal democracy, where every person has the right to vote, stand for election and holds the right to freedom of speech, worship and free press.
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The USSR, on the other hand, was a one-party state, where the Communist party was the only political party allowed. Elections were between individuals who were members of the Communist Party. Economically speaking, America was based on capitalism, where private enterprise is encouraged, and where there is minimal government interference into private business. The Soviet Union had a state-owned economy, where all the industry and agriculture was held by the government on behalf of the people. Each power believed that their political system was better, and that it should be the worldwide political system.
This made Russia and America fear each other, as they were both afraid of the other ideology was a threat to their own, and was one of the reasons for the start of the Cold War. Even before the Second World War, there were causes for political tension between the USSR and the Western powers. The behaviour Soviets had aggravated Britain and France, and the signing of the Nazi-Soviet was the final straw in confirming the mistrust that the USSR and the West had for each other. The Soviets feared a lack of action from the West and were forced to sign the pact in order to delay a Nazi offensive.
Britain and France, on the other hand, saw it as a sign of the untrustworthiness of the Soviet Union, as they had allied themselves with Nazi Germany. However, following the launch of Operation Barbarossa by the Germans in June 1941, the Russians were on the same side as Britain and France in the fight against the Nazis, and when America joined the war at the end of 1941 following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the USSR were allied with Britain, France and the USA against Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy.
However, this was not the end of tension between the USSR and the western powers. In fact, the relations between the Soviet Union and America during the war were merely a “marriage of convenience” in order to defeat fascism in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt had offered help to the Russians following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, but during the war, the support provided was limited. For example, the Second Front against the Germans was very late in opening, and Russia did most of the fighting.
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Following the war, the Soviet Union found itself in a position where it had suffered the most of the three Grand Alliance powers, and as a result was bitter towards America and Britain. The Americans were suspicious of the Russians due to the fact that they did not support the freedoms that the USA was fighting for after the war. For example, the Russians wanted revenge on the Germans for what had happened in Russia, and the means by which they planned to achieve this (slaughter) led the western powers to question the morality of the Soviet Union.
The tensions created by the Second World War were also hugely important in turning the war-time allies into Cold War enemies. The conferences between Britain, America and the Soviet Union in 1945 were also vital in the change in relations between the war-time allies. The first of these, at Yalta in February 1945, was whilst the war was ongoing. The method by which Germany would be divided up was established, and it was agreed that the USSR would join the war in the Pacific against Japan. However, one of the first glimpses of the tension that was to come after the war was shown by the debate over Poland.
During the war, the Polish government had fled to London. When the USSR liberated Poland, they set up the Lublin Committee. However, the West still supported the government in London, whereas the USSR were set on holding influence in Poland, as it had been the invasion route for three separate attempts to invade Russia. The conference at Potsdam in July 1945 was a cause of real tension. Hugh Lunghi described it as the “bad tempered conference”. To start with, Churchill and Roosevelt had been replaced with Attlee and Truman respectively.
Whereas the relationship between Stalin and the two previous leaders had been one of respect, Truman was more aggressive in his negotiations with Stalin, and the battle over Germany’s future caused significant tension between the two powers. The Soviet Union wanted instability in Russia to create conditions for communism, whereas the West wanted to stabilise it in order to instil democracy. There was considerable debate over many issues about Germany’s future, and tension was rife between the Americans and the Soviets.
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It could therefore be argued that the post-war conferences were responsible for the turning of war-time allies into Cold War enemies. Thomas Bailey argued that the promises broken by Stalin that had been made at Yalta were responsible for the start of the Cold War, beginning from the Potsdam conference. During the Potsdam Conference, Truman received news of successful atomic tests, giving America the latest advance in weaponry and an advantage over the Soviet Union. When the first bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th May respectively, the decision to do so was questioned by the Russians.
The Americans had calculated that this act would end the war quicker than any other way, and also a way of pressuring the Soviet Union in Europe, as it was a weapon that the USSR didn’t possess. However, Stalin was insulted by the failure of the Americans to inform him, as a war time ally, of the dropping of the bombs, and as a result was suspicious of the Americans. It had also brought about the immediate surrender of Japan without any need for Soviet intervention, denying the USSR any part in the occupation of Japan. The atomic policy of the Americans in 1945 was responsible for further divisions between the USA and the USSR.
Indeed, Gar Alperovitz argued that the atomic bomb was the start point of the Cold War. The Baruch Plan of June 1946 was also important in creating suspicion between the USA and the Soviet Union, and therefore furthering the chasm between them following the war. The USA suggested that all further atomic development be halted, which would have left only America with nuclear weapons. This made Stalin suspicious of Truman’s intentions, and created further tension between the two. There were also problems between Britain and the Soviet Union in 1945 and 1946. Firstly, there was the issue of Iran.
Iran had been occupied by Britain and the USSR during the war in order to prevent the Nazis from claiming the oil supplies that it had. During the occupation, a date had been agreed when both would leave Iran, which was the 2 March 1946. However, the Russians did not leave by the date agreed, but were instead forced to leave three weeks later after the Iranians appealed to the UN to relieve them of occupation. In the eyes of the West, as Iran was not a buffer state for the USSR, this was proof of Soviet expansionism, as the claim of protectionism by the USSR was no longer valid.
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Furthermore, Churchill made a speech in Fulton, Missouri on 5 March 1946, in which he claimed that the USSR was preventing the movement of people, goods and ideas back and forth into the Eastern Europe. In Churchill’s eyes, this was not democratic, and therefore he criticised Stalin heavily in the speech. It was reported very favourably by western reporters, and created tension only a year after the end of the war. These two issues were further factors in developing the Cold War relations between the USSR and the USA.
The mistrust between the two powers came to a head in 1946 with the George Kennan’s Long Telegram of 22 February 2946, and the Novikov Telegram of 27 September 1946. George Kennan was the American ambassador in Moscow at the time at which the telegram was sent, and was asked to compile a report on the thoughts of the USSR with regards to foreign relations. He sent an 8,000 word telegram to Washington in which he detailed the reason for the Soviet mentality, claiming that Soviet aggression was rooted in nationalist Russian history, and that the image painted within Russia both internally and externally was unrealistic.
He concluded that co-existence with the USSR was very difficult, and therefore a policy of containment was needed to prevent further expansion by the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union heard of this report, Nikolai Novikov was asked to compile a similar report on the USA, in which he informed Moscow of American militarisation following on from the fact that the Soviet Union had not been destroyed in the war as expected.
These two telegrams were evidence of the lack of trust between the USSR and the USA, and were responsible for further worsening of relations between the two superpowers. In conclusion, the events of 1945 and 1946, such as the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam, the atomic policy of America, the issues between the USSR and Britain in Iran, Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech and the two telegrams of 1946 were important in worsening relations between America and the Soviet Union, and the definite beginning of the Cold War.
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However, the differences in ideology and the deep rooted issues stemming from the inter war period and the problems created by the Second Cold War, namely the bitterness of the Russians about their losses during it, and the problems coming out of it, were the most important factors in turning the war-time “allies” into Cold War enemies. In fact, the alliance between the West and the Soviet Union during the war was merely a marriage of convenience that masked the conflict between them. It could be argued that the Cold War would have started earlier had it not been for the outbreak of World War 2.