Ideological differences played little part in the origin of the Cold War
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There are different historical interpretations to when the Cold War actually began – was it in 1918, when the West fought against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War? Was it at Potsdam in 1945, where disagreements between superpowers came about after the Second World War and no military alliance against Hitler was needed? Or was it in 1946 when Kennan introduced containment and Churchill declared the existence of an Iron Curtain between Eastern and Western Europe, within a month of each other? The origins of the Cold War can be argued for any of the above views, and thus is not definite; however, it is evident that ideology was an insignificant factor in all the above cases.
The Russian Civil War, where West faced off the Reds in direct military conflict, is an example of conflict due to ideology. Western beliefs in capitalism, democracy, and a free market economy were the complete opposite to communist ideology, which was about a one-party state where all was state-owned. A communist Russia would be a threat to the interests of the West. Although ideology was an important factor here, to say that this sole event was the origin of the Cold War would be ignoring significant events that occurred in following years.
In 1933, Roosevelt became president of the US and recognized the USSR. If ideology were so important, would the most prosperous capitalist country in the world acknowledge a communist Russia? When the US entered WWII in 1941, the two superpowers were allies – ideology was not a concern here; victory against fascism was.
Though it is true many problems resulted from the ambiguous agreements at Yalta, and along with change in leadership of two of the Big Three led to many disagreements at Potsdam, these were not related to ideology. Disputes over Poland were primarily because the USSR’s fixation with security – it had been invaded three times in the 20th century through Poland and wanted it as a buffer state. Disagreements of Germany were due to the fact that the USSR wanted a weak Germany to prevent it from invading again, and that the West thought a flourishing Germany meant a prosperous Europe and thus a market for US goods. Both superpowers were considering interests of their
own country when negotiating at the summits – ideology was not a factor here.
The USSR wanting access to the strategically important Mediterranean was a disagreement at Potsdam and a reason the US introduced the Truman Doctrine – to fight communism in two countries on the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey. The USSR’s takeover of Eastern Europe broke their promises at Potsdam of free elections, a factor contributing to the development of the Cold War that was not ideology related.
Kennan’s introducing the Containment Theory was to directly affect US Foreign Policy, but rather than emphasizing ideology, it sought to prevent the spread of communism by a “neurotic” and antagonistic Soviet Union. Its aim was to protect free states from falling to Soviet aggression. Ideology did not really contribute to the view that this aggression needed to be confronted. Nor was it a factor in Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, which also branded the USSR as hostile and called for an alliance of English speaking nations to meet this threat.
Though there are different views regarding exactly when the Cold War started, in the possible origins discussed above, ideology was not a significant issue. The disagreements and conflicts between the two superpowers after the Second World War was largely due to matters of economical (keeping a weak Germany), political (establishing buffer states for security), and military (access to sea ports) self-interest where ideology had an insignificant role. Indeed, the assertion that ideology played little part in the origins of the Cold War is valid, and looking at the causes and reasons for disagreement greatly strengthens this view.