Development of the Cold War
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How far do you agree with the view that superpower misjudgements account for the development of the Cold War in the years 1945-53? The term Cold War has been used to describe the period of extreme tension between the capitalist USA and communist USSR. Many historians argue that the main reason for the development of the Cold War was the misunderstandings between the two superpowers. This view is further supported by Source 7 who states that, “American decision-makers misread Soviet security interests in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe as proof of Soviet Expansionism.” However this view is opposed by Source 8 who, similar to revisionist historians, argues that the main driving force behind the development of the war was Stalin and his aggressive foreign policy; “Ruthless police methods and intensive communist propaganda.” However there had been many events in which Stalin has proved this traditionalist view incorrect in which he refrained from using force to gain power.
Many of his actions were misread, as suggested by Source 7, and it can evidently be seen that it was these misunderstandings that caused an increase in tensions and led to the development of the Cold War. During the 1940s, Stalin tried very hard to ensure the safety of the USSR however his actions were misjudged and as supported by Source 7, it was these miscalculations that contributed to the development of the Cold War. During the 20th Century, Russia was invaded by Germany three times and these invasions created a sense of paranoia for Stalin. He therefore sought to keep Poland under the influence of the USSR in order to prevent another attack from Germany. Due to its geographical position, Poland was a very good route for Germans to use in case of an attack and therefore by seeking to place Poland under the leadership of a Communist government, Stalin was attempting to eliminate any threat towards the safety of the USSR.
However as stated by Source 7, “The American decision-makers misread Soviet security interests in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe as proof of Soviet expansionism.” However this was criticised by Source 8 who argues that, “Stalin overreacted to any perceived threat in Germany and in Eastern Europe.” Source 8 argues that despite his concern for the security of his country, Stalin may have overestimated the threat from Eastern countries and may have used security as an excuse for expanding and spreading communism across the globe. Despite being post-revisionists, Zubok and Pleshakov both take a very traditionalist stance in this argument. It could therefore be argued that their stance may not be due to biasness or lack of knowledge, as the source was published in 1996, and therefore their view must be highly valued due to their ability of a retrospective account.
Source 8 is to an extent supported by Source 9 who claims that “The Soviet Union was eager to seize opportunities for extending their respective influence,” thus suggesting that Stalin’s attempt to place Communist governments in control in Eastern countries were more likely to be due to his expansionist objectives. However on the other hand, Source 9 could also be used as evidence in support of the view that superpower misjudgements account for the development of the Cold War. Source 9 argues that, “the USSR was handicapped by its economic wreckage.” It could therefore be interpreted that the Soviets were far too weak to be able to fight another battle and thus were seeking to prevent any threat before the situation gets out of control. This argument is further supported by J.L. Gaddis who suggested that misjudgements then led to Truman’s suspicions of Stalin’s motives.
It was the result of these suspicions that Truman refused to inform Stalin of the atomic bomb that the US planned to use during their war with Japan. Therefore when America did bomb Japan, the USSR saw “US policy as aggressive capitalist expansionism” as stated by Source 7. It can therefore be concluded that Stalin’s actions were based on his attempt to ensure security for the USSR and due to the misjudgements; Truman became suspicion and took actions which Stalin claimed to be provocative. Therefore, it can be argued that it was largely due to misunderstandings that the Cold War developed. However, traditionalist historians such as Schlesinger argue that the Cold War was the result of Stalin and his expansionist aims and objectives. This view is further supported by Source 8 who claimed that “Stalin’s road to the Cold War, in the years of 1946, was strewn with miscalculations.” Source 8 takes this view further by arguing that Stalin’s reactions were overdramatic and that Stalin’s actions were more based on his expansionist views as suggested by Schlesinger rather than his security interests. The traditionalist views were reaffirmed when the communists took over China.
Despite Stalin’s claims of not interfering, the traditionalists argue that Stalin must have helped the Communists groups to get to power and gain control of the Eastern European countries. According to Truman and the traditionalists the communist take overs were all a result of “intensive communist propaganda,” as put by Source 8. However Source 7 argues that Stalin’s aims to gain control over Eastern countries was due to their attempt to “reconstruct the Soviet economy.” They believe that due to the effects of the Second World War, the Soviet economy had reached bankruptcy and living standards were far too low. Therefore Stalin tried to increase influence in order to try and stabilise the economy. This is to an extent supported by Source 9 who describes the terrible situation of Russia after the Second World War by claiming that, “Russia was handicapped by its economic wreckages.”
However these views are fully criticised by Source 8 who argues that, “By sanctioning North Korean aggression, Stalin subjected the Koreans, his Chinese ally, and the rest of the world to a bloody and protracted war that contained the real danger of a global conflict.” Thus it can still be argued that it was Stalin and his expansionist actions that led to the development of the Cold War. On the other hand, it can also be argued that it wasn’t solely the USSR but also the USA that played a huge impact on the development of the Cold War. This view is further supported by Source 9, “The US and the Soviet Union, eager to realise their visions of the post-war world and to seize opportunities for extending their respective influence, tried to fill vacuums of power.” According to revisionist historians, it was actually Truman and his hostile policies that led to the development of the Cold War. N.A Williams argued that Truman’s hostility provoked Stalin and forced him to react in a negative manner.
According to Williams, the Berlin Blockade was the result of Churchill’s iron fist speech and Truman and Churchill’s announcement of their new iron fist approach. This is to an extent supported by Source 8 who states that, “Trying to stop Western separatist policies in Germany, he triggered the Berlin blockade crisis.” This suggests that Stalin was not trying to strengthen his influence but it was only a reaction to Truman’s actions. Revisionist T.J McCormick further argues that Truman’s foreign policy was based on his attempt to stabilise the European economy in order to create a free market to trade American goods. This view is also implied in Source 9, “By exercising their global power US officials pushed the world toward the American post-war goal of a non-radical, capitalist, free trade international order.” The validity of this can be considered to be high due its power of hindsight. The source was published in 1992 and thus was able to look back and analyse different evidences.
It can therefore be evidently seen that Truman and his foreign policies were the cause of the development of the Cold War. Overall, it can evidently be seen that both Stalin and Truman were highly significant in bringing about the Cold War. However despite their different stances in this argument, it is implied in every source that misunderstandings and misjudgements are the main reason for the development of the Cold War. Even in Source 8 where Zubok and Pleshakov take a very traditionalist stance, they both accept the view that Stalin’s actions were mostly reactions to Truman’s foreign policies. Therefore supported by Source 7, it can evidently be seen that it was mainly due to misunderstandings that the Cold War developed. Stalin and Truman’s actions did increase tension however as implied to some extent by all three sources, their actions were based on their misunderstanding of each other.