Who was to blame for the Cold War?

Who was to blame for the Cold War?

Why did the USA-USSR alliance begin to break down in 1945?

Who was to blame for the Cold War? – As the war came to an end, the long standing differences between the West and the USSR, emerged.

Differences In the West In the USSR
Conflicting SystemsThe societies of the USSR and the West were organised on very different principles The West: Capitalism and democracy

  1. Free elections. Many political parties
  2. Most industry and agriculture was owned by private individuals
  3. Limits on government interference in people’s lives
  4. Freedom to speak and write freely.
The USSR: Communism and dictatorship

  1. Led by a dictator, Joseph Stalin. Only the Communist Party was allowed to exist
  2. Industry and agriculture was owned by the State. People were encouraged to work for the common good.
  3. The government controlled most aspects of people’s lives
  4. Restrictions on what could be said or written.

Mutual mistrust

This had built up since 1918

Western mistrust of the USSR

  1. Communism threatened the Western values and way of life.
  2. Dislike of Stalin’s dictatorship which had led to many deaths of his own people.
  3. Stalin had signed the Nazi-Soviet pact 1930 and divided Poland with Hitler.
Soviet mistrust of the West

  1. Communists believed the Capitalist system was evil since the rich prospered at the expense of the poor
  2. In 1918-19 Western states had briefly intervened against the Communist government in the Russian Civil War
  3. Meanwhile, 1938-9 Stalin suspected that France and Britain did not want to protect the USSR against Hitler
  4. In 1942 Stalin was angry that Britain and the USA refused to invade Europe quickly and thus open up a second front to take pressure off the USSR.

Conflicting aims in Central and Eastern Europe, 1945.

During the fighting the USSR had suffered by far the greatest loss of lives and property.   It was determined to protect itself in the future.

Western Allies

  1. Support democracy. Hold free elections in all states
  2. Keep Poland’s western boundary as it was
  3. Help Germany to produce its own goods and food again and to take part in world trade.

  1. Create a ‘buffer’ of friendly states between Germany and the USSR. Ensure all new governments support the USSR.
  2. Re-draw Poland’s western boundary
  3. Keep Germany weak.


These differences could be seen in the increase in tensions between the Yalta Conference, February 1945, and the Potsdam Conference, July 1945.


Yalta was held with German still undefeated.

Present were Stalin (USSR), Roosevelt (USA), Churchill (Britain)

There was much AGREEMENT:

  • Germany was to be defeated and disarmed, and split into zones of occupation, and to pay reparations.
  • Eastern European countries were to hold free elections to choose their governments
  • USSR to join the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany
  • United Nations to be set up
There was little disagreement over the borders of Poland



Potsdam was held after the defeat of Germany

Present were Stalin (USSR), Truman (USA), Churchill then Atlee (Britain)


Over what to do with Germany. Truman did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Treaty of Versailles and cripple Germany too harshly.

Over reparations. Stalin want more compensation from Germany than Truman.

Over suspicions of Soviet policy in Eastern Europe. Stalin had imprisoned non-Communist leaders in Poland and set up a Communist government.

Truman did not tell Stalin than he intended to drop an atomic bomb on Japan


Who was to blame for the Cold War?

The end of the war meant that cooperation to defeat a common enemy was replaced by tension between the West and the USSR.


Points of tension
The atomic bomb
  1. Stalin was angry that Truman had not told him before using the bomb against Japan
  2. Suspicious of the USSR, the USA and Britain then refused to share the secret of how to make an atomic bomb
  3. This infuriated Stalin who feared the USA would use the threat of the atomic bomb to win world wide power. He ordered his scientists to develop a Soviet bomb.
  4. The USA, in turn, saw this as a possible threat.
Eastern Europe
  1. Rather than allowing free elections, the USSR began to impose Communist rule on the countries it had occupied.
Germany Disputes arose over

  1. Reparations. The Western Allies accused the USSR of breaking agreements about what could be taken from Germany as reparations. In 1946 they stopped the arrangement giving reparations to the USSR from their zones.
  2. Reconstruction. The Western Allies wanted to help Germany recover as quickly as possible, whereas the USSR wanted a weak Germany.
  3. Democracy. The Western Allies wanted elections to be held throughout Germany. The USSR blocked moves to do this.
The ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, March 1946 Churchill described the frontier of Soviet occupied Europe as an ‘iron curtain’.

  1. He said that Eastern Europe was dominated by the Soviets and losing their democratic freedoms
  2. Stalin replied a few days later, accusing Churchill of stirring up a war against the USSR, and said that the USSR had to have loyal governments in Eastern Europe to ensure its future safety.


How had the USSR gained control of Eastern Europe by 1948?


At the end of WWII Eastern Europe fell under the domination of the USSR – Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria – how?

  • The Red Army drives German forces west and occupies Eastern Europe. By May 1945 Soviet troops controlled all states but Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece.
    Communist Parties in these countries welcome the Red Army and receive its support. Pro-German groups were executed or debarred from power. Despite being a minority, Communists exercise strong influence.
  • Coalition governments are set up. They include Communists and non-Communists. Since Eastern Europe was mainly agricultural with land worked by peasants, most non-Communists came from the popular political parties representing peasants and small farmers.
    • Backed by Moscow and the Red Army, the Communists gradually force non-Communists out of power. Methods include intimidation, vote rigging, show trials, imprisonment, and executions. By 1949 all countries behind the Iron Curtain are one-party Communist states taking orders from the USSR.

Why did this happen?

  1. wanted to ensure its security
  2. intended to keep control of Eastern Europe
  3. needed to rebuild houses, factories, roads, and railways destroyed in the war.
Eastern Europe
  1. was exhausted by the war
  2. occupied by the Red Army
  3. was being taken over by communists
Western Europe
  1. was exhausted by the war
  2. had very little money
  3. had to repair damage done to houses, factories, and communications
  1. had withdrawn most of its troops by 1947
  2. many in America did not want any further European involvement


How did the USA react to Soviet expansionism?

The Truman Doctrine – March 1947

What did it say? – that the USA should support free peoples who were resisting attempts to overwhelm them by armed minorities or by outside forces.

Why did Truman make this policy?

  1. In February 1947 Britain said it could no longer afford to support Greece and Turkey. Both appealed to the USA for money.
    a) In Greece, although rejected in elections, Greek Communists were fighting a guerrilla war against the Royalist government. Britain was supporting the Royalists with money and 40,000 troops
    b)   Stalin demanded a naval base in the Turkish Straits, and the return of land seized by Turkey in 1918. Soviet troops threatened the border. Britain was supporting Turkey with money.
  2. Truman decided the USA should help. He believed
    a) if one country fell to Comunism, those nearby would be at risk. This became known as Domino Theory.
    b)   the USA should adopt a policy of containment. This meant supporting nations in danger of Communist take-over with economic and military aid.

What were the consequences?

  1. Greece defeated the Communists and Turkey successfully resisted Soviet pressure.
  2. The rivalry between the USA and the USSR increased.

The Marshall Plan, June 1947

What was it?

A programme of aid to help war-torn Europe to re-equip its factories and revive agriculture and trade.

  1. The USA offered money, equipment and goods to states willing to work together to create economic recovery.
  2. In return, they would agree to buy American goods and allow American companies to invest capital in their industries
  3. Marshall invited European states to meet together and decide how to use American aid

What did the USA aim to achieve?

A strong and prosperous Europe to bring:

  1. economic benefits to both the Europeans and the USA through the revival of trade
  2. political benefits. The Americans believed that unless living conditions in Western Europe improved quickly, people might vote for Communist Parties. Prosperous countries would resist the spread of Communism.

What were the consequences?

  1. Sixteen Western European states set up the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) to put the Plan into action
  2. By 1953, the USA had provided 17 billion dollars to help them rebuild their economies.
  3. Europe became firmly divided between East and West.
  4. Stalin accused the USA of using the Plan to dominate Europe and create a strong West German state hostile to the USSR.

The Berlin Blockade, 1948-9

In 1945 all the Allies agreed to divide Germany, and Berlin into four zones. Germany was to be kept as one country and for their to be free elections. However, tensions rose.

Who was to blame for the Cold War?

Democracy The USSR gave political authority in its zone to the minority Communists and blocked Western attempts to create democracy throughout Germany.
Reconstruction The war left Germany devastated. While the USA and Britain wanted to help Germany recover its prosperity as quickly as possible, the USSR wanted to keep Germany weak.
Reparations In 1946 the Western Allies stopped giving the USSR reparations from their zones.
Berlin 1.                  Berlin was within the Soviet zone. Soviet troops were able to control all access. Western Allies were allowed access to their sectors by road, rail, canal and air corridors.

2.                  The USSR believed the Western Allies had no right to be in Berlin. It saw their presence as a threat because they had a base inside the Soviet zone, and the Capitalist way of life was on show there.

3.                  Western Allies wanted to be there to prevent the USSR controlling the capital, and to observe Soviet activity behind the Iron Curtain.


A series of events highlighted these tensions in 1948. The Allies:

Cooperated between their zones, included them in the OEEC and the Marshall Plan, introduced a new currency into their zones, and announced their intention to set up a democratic new state of West Germany.

These actions were viewed with suspicion by Russia, seeing a country that was a threat. They cut off all road, rail and canal links with the Western sectors of Berlin.

Who was to blame for the Cold War?

Soviet aims To force Western Allies to pull out of their sectors, and to abandon their plans for the separate development of their German zones.
Western Options Abandoning Berlin would mean handing two million West Berliners over to Communist rule, losing their only base behind the Iron Curtain, and opening the way for Soviet domination of Western Germany.

Using troops to force the routes open might mean war with the USSR.

Using planes to supply West Berlin by air, which the USSR could only stop by shooting the planes down.

The airlift Round the clock airlift of food, fuel, medicines.

In 11 months a total of 275,000 flights delivered an average of 4000 tonnes of supplies a day.

West Berliners continued to support the Western Allies

May 1949, the USSR reopened the land routes to Berlin.


The results of the Berlin Blockade

Two Germanys The three Western Zones became the anti-Communist Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet zone became the pro-Communist German Democratic Republic.
NATO In 1949 the Western Allies decided to set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) a defensive alliance against the USSR. (the USSR set up a counter organisation with the Communist countries of Eastern Europe called the Warsaw Pact).
Cold War The crisis made it clear that Europe was now divided between the superpowers, a state of permanent hostility existed between them – a Cold War – hostility that fell short of actual fighting.

Who was to blame for the Cold War?

Who was more to blame for the start of the Cold War, the USA or the USSR?

Both sides were to blame for the Cold War, because it was based on mutual mistrust of the others intentions.

Differences in their systems of government, Communism versus Capitalism.

Fear of aggression from the other side, Soviet domination of Eastern Europe versus Western support for a prosperous Germany, NATO and its atomic bomb.

Mutual hostility of leaders, mutual distrust of Truman and Churchill, and Stalin.

Tension over issues such as Eastern Europe, Greece and Turkey, the Marshall Plan, Germany and Berlin.

What was seen by one side as a justified act of self-defence, was seen as a threat by the other.