It is necessary, therefore, to examine the role of Stalin as acatalyst to the Cold War. Stalin’s foreign policies contributed an enormous amount to the tensionsof the Cold War. His aim, to take advantage of the military situation in post-war Europe to strengthen Russian influence, was perceived to be a threat to theAmericans. Stalin was highly effective in his goal to gain territory, withvictories in Poland, Romania, and Finland. To the western world, this successlooked as if it were the beginning of serious Russian aggressions. The westernview of the time saw Stalin as doing one of two things: either continuing theexpansionist policies of the tsars that preceded him, or worse, spreadingcommunism across the world now that his one-state notion had been fulfilled.
It also must be mentioned that Stalin is seen as wanting unchalleged personalpower and a rebuilt Russia strong enough to withstand caplitalistencirclement. ‘1Admittedly, the first view of Stalin, as an imperialist leader, may beskewed. The Russians claim, and have always claimed, that Stalin’s motives werepurely defensive. Stalin’s wished to create a buffer zone of Communist statesaround him to protect Soviet Russia from the capitalist West. In this sense,his moves were not aggressive at all — they were truly defensive moves toprotect the Soviet system. His suspicions of Western hostility were notunfounded: the British and U.
S. intervention in the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) were still fresh in Stalin’s memory when he took power. Furthermore,Stalin was bitter because he was not informed of U. S.
nuclear capabilities untilshortly before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Compounding tensionswas the fact that Stalin’s request that Russia be allowed to participate in theoccupation of Japan was denied, even though Russia had declared war on Japan on8th August (the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 10th August) and had beenresponsible for annexing south Sakhalin as agreed to at Yalta. This failure tobe included in the Western world’s politics created an even deeper rift betweenthe two superpowers. Clashes between Stalin and the West first appear at the Yalta andPotsdam Conferences in February and July 1946, respectively. Though the mood atYalta was more or less cooperative, Stalin agitated matters by demanding thatall German territory east of the Rivers Oder and Neisse be given to Poland (andthus remain under Soviet influence). Both Roosevelt and Churchill refused toagree to these demands.
The Soviet Union responded bluntly, saying . . theSoviet Government cannot agree to the existence in Poland of a Governmenthostile to it. 2 The atmosphere at the Potsdam Conference was noticeably cooler,with Truman replacing Roosevelt as the representative from the United States. Truman. .
. had been kept in complete ignorance by Roosevelt about foreign policy,3 which meant that Truman was not aware of the secret assurances of securityRoosevelt had made to Stalin. His policy towards Soviet Russia, then, was muchmore severe than that of Roosevelt. He was quoted as saying We must stand upto the Russians. . .
We have been too easy with them. 4 Both Truman and Churchillwere annoyed because Germany east of the Rivers Oder and Neisse were beingoccupied by Russian troops and were being run by the pro-communist Polishgovernment, who expelled over five million Germans. This went directly againstthe agreements made at Yalta earlier in the year. The west viewed this as anact of aggression on the part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union respondedwith a statement saying Poland broders with the Soviet Union, what sic cannotbe said of Great Britain or the United States.
5From this point, the Cold War truly becomes a chain reaction. In Marchof 1946, Churchill presented his Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri, inresponse to the spread of communism in eastern Europe. He called for a westernalliance to combat the threat. Stalin’s response was hostile: rather thantrying to negotiate a peaceful settlement, Stalin continued to tighten his gripon eastern Europe. Communist governments were installed in every area ofeastern Europe (barring Czechoslovakia) by the end of 1947.
These governmentswere implemented by guerrilla tactics: elections were rigged, non-communistmembers of the governments were expelled, with many being arrested or executed,and eventually, Stalin dissolved all non-communist political parties. Stalinbegan to implement a reign of terror using the Russian Army and his secretpolice force. Moreover, Stalin had increased his influence in the Russian zoneof Germany as if it belonged to Russia. He allowed only the communist party anddrained the area of its vital resources. The West reacted. It appeared to them that Russia’s attitude wentagainst all of the promises that Stalin had made at Yalta — namely, that Stalinwould permit free elections in the eastern European states.
Russia argued thatit needed to maintain a sphere of influence in the area for security reasons: tothis, even Churchill agreed in 1944. Further, Russia argued that the areas hadnever had democratic governments, and that a communist system would allow these backward countries’ to progress and flourish. Stalin’s policy of expansionworried the West: in response, the West introduced the Truman Doctrine and theMarshall Plan, both of which sought to arrest the spread of communism. Stalin’s aggressive tactics did not end with creating a sphere ofinfluence.
Stalin re-established Cominform in September 1947. Cominformrepresented a union of all of the communist states within Europe, includingrepresentatives from the French and Italian communist parties. Even within thiscommunist structure, Stalin had to exert his influence. It was not enough for astate to be merely communist: it had to adopt the Russian-style communism.
Furthermore, the states within Cominform were expected to keep trade within theCominform member states, and were discouraged from making any contact with theWestern world. Russia strengthened the ties with the Cominform countriesthrough the Molotov plan, which offered Russian aid to the satellite states, andthe establishment of Comecon, which served to coordinate the economic policiesof the communist states. These actions on the part of Stalin only increased therift between the capitalist and the communist systems, and made futurecompromise and negotiations more difficult. Perhaps the most aggressive move that Stalin made, however, was thetakeover of Czechoslovakia in February 1948.
Several key issues arose in thisconflict. First, the U. S. felt alienated when Czechoslovakia rejected MarshallAid, which the U. S. blamed on the influence of the communist party.
Second, thePrime Minister of Czechoslovakia was a communist, the President and ForeignMinister were not. Finally, the fact that the communists took power inCzechoslovakia by means of an armed coup sent waves of fear through the westernworld, causing the iron curtain’ to fall even further. The U. N.
had its handstied, because there were free’ elections (the candidates were all communist)and there was no proof of Russian involvement. While it cannot be proved thatStalin ordered the coup, the signals were clear: Stalin had likely encouragedthe coup, and it was not coincidental that Russian troops in Austria were movedup to the Czech border. Czechoslovakia was the final east-west bridge, and withthe fall of it, the iron curtain’ was complete. The final hostile movement of Stalin of importance was the Berlinblockade and airlift. When Russia grew dissatisfied with the economic disparitythat had developed in Berlin, it responded by closing all road, rail and canallinks between West Berlin and West German.
The goal was to force western powersfrom West Berlin by reducing it to the starvation point. While the blame for the Cold War cannot be placed on a single man,Stalin’s expansionist policy was clearly an ever-present catalyst in the war. Certain Truman was not blameless, but the U. S. was not expanding its empire –the Soviet Union was.
Whether the expansion was for self-preservation, orwhether it was merely imperialistic expansion, is relatively immaterial. WhatStalin’s actions unarguably did was start a string of chain-reactions within thewestern powers, and therefore, a good deal of the blame must rest with him. BibliographyAronsen, Lawrence & Martin Kitchen, The Origins of the Cold War in ComparativePerspective: American, British and Canadian Relations with the Soviet Union1941-1948. London: MacMillan Press, 1988. Davis, Lynn E.
The Cold War Begins: Soviet-American Conflict over EasternEurope. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974. Dockrill, Michael. The Cold War: 1945-1963. London: MacMillan Education Ltd. ,1988.
Halle, Louis J. The Cold War as History. London: Chatto & Windus, 1971. Jonsson, Christer. Superpower: Comparing American and Soviet Foreign Policy.
London: Frances Pinter Publishers, 1984. LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War 1945-1990, 6th ed. .
NewYork: McGraw Hill, Inc. , 1991. Maier, Charles S. , ed.
The Origins of the Cold War and Contemporary Europe. NewYork: New Viewpoints, 1978. McCauley, Martin. The Origins of the Cold War.
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