A General Overview
The Cold War was an ideological war between the two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning after World War Two. After the war, Germany was left defeated, and Britain and France were left drained and exhausted. The United States and the Soviet Union, though also drained, held considerable power, and both soon rose to superpower status. The two became rivals through "conflicting ideologies and mutual distrust" and constantly competed for power.
The Soviet Union wanted to spread Communism in Eastern Europe and create a "buffer zone" of friendly governments as defense against any attacks, whether by the Capitalists or by Germany. In 1946, with Eastern Europe under Soviet control and influence, Europe was divided into a West (western democracies and the United States) bloc and East (Soviet Union and Soviet occupied territory) bloc. An "Iron Curtain" separated Europe.
Reasons for the development of the Cold War
Capitalism against Communism
The fundamental cause of the Cold War was the difference of ideologies between the West and the East, USA and the USSR in particular. This was due to the fact that the two ideologies were practically opposites of each other, allowing for suspicion and mistrust between the two sides. A capitalist economy is based on private ownership, private profit and free competition. It encourages private individuals to own businesses and make profits. A communist economy, on the other hand, is quite different. The economy is controlled by the government. A country's wealth and resources are owned by the state or government. The state controls and plans all economic activity so that everybody benefits. Thus, it can be seen how different these ideologies were and how conflict could arise from these differences.
Security for the USSR
In recent history, the USSR had been invaded a total of three times, once in WWI, once in the Russian civil wars and once in WWII. As a result, there were many russian casualties and as a way of making sure that the USSR would be secure from any future attack or aggression along the western border, Stalin decided to surround Russia with a buffer of "friendly" countries which later came to be known as the Iron Curtain.
The West's Fear of the Spread of Communism
The west was afraid that the Communist ideology would spread as its nature was very expansionist. Thus, when the USSR attempted to improve security by having satellite states, the West saw this as an attempt to spread the influence of Communism. This especially affected USA as it needed new markets and Europe could provide them. As more and more markets were dominated by USSR, USA lost these potential markets.
Mutual Suspicion and Mistrust
There was mutual suspicion and mistrust between the east and the west because of a few reasons. These were mainly the atomic bomb incident and the second front. The USA informed all the other allies except Russia about the atomic bomb that was about to be dropped on to Japan, until a few days before the actual bombing. The second front was also not opened till 3 years after Stalin started demanding for it. This severely discredited the West and spoiled the relations between the East and the West.
The USSR establishes control over Eastern Europe
During the World War, as the Russians pushed the Germans out of their border, they also pushed inwards into Eastern Europe, occupying many countries, making it easier for them to establish control. As they establish controls in these areas, they gave the local Communist parties a lot of support and thus, widened their influence in their countries. Also, as they pushed back, they brought along Moscow-trained Communist leaders who had gone to the USSR during the war. These leaders took over the reins of the governments in some parts of Eastern Europe, spreading the influence of Communism.
Stalin then proceeded to establish one-party governments in these countries by first establishing coalition governments, then removing the partners in these governments. The coalitions were needed as the Communist Parties in the different countries were not strong enough on their own to gain the support of the people and govern the country. In this way, the USSR could then proceed to tighten its control over Eastern Europe, successfully forming the satellite states, which would be later known as the Iron Curtain.
The West Acts to Curb the Spread of Communism (Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine)
In June 1947, the Marshall Plan was put into effect in order to stop the Russians from influencing any of the weakened western powers. During the time the United States sent massive economic aid to Europe democracies to help rebuild. Billions of dollars were spent to help countries recover quickly and to reduce the influence of Communism. This plan helped to restore West Germany and rebuild it as a new ally in America's fight against Russia. Russia refused the aid of the Marshall Plan and, as a result, East Germany was not completely rebuilt. This lack of reconstruction showed through even after the reunification. The German economy after reunification took a big hit, because it had to pay for all the reconstruction that the Communists never did.
The Truman Doctrine, a plan to help states going through a struggle for freedom against their oppressors, was instituted in 1948. President Truman said, "I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The Truman Doctrine instituted a policy of containment; Communism would be limited only to areas already under Soviet control, and Americans would resist Soviet expansion everywhere else.
The Truman Doctrine could not have been more clearly directed towards East Germany and, technically, West Germany. Germany was both under subjugation by an outside force and also under the power of the armed minority that the Russians would soon put into power in the form of the DDR (Deutsches Demokratische Republik). In 1949 the Allies made good on what they promised in the Truman Doctrine and unified West Germany into the BDR (Federal Republic of Germany). At the same time the Russians instituted the DDR, which turned out to be more of a regime than a government.
Germany and the Cold War
Due to horrible conditions in East Germany, its citizens had begun to cross over to West Germany and were allowed to proclaim themselves refugees. 2.6 million out of 17.5 million residents of East Germany had crossed over by 1961. This caused labor shortages in East Germany and also the further degradation of an already failing East German economy. As East Germany got worse and worse, Russia became willing to take offensive measures to reclaim West Berlin.
In December of 1947, Russia and the United States finally parted ways and the Western Powers began to meet about German business without the Russian ambassador present. On March 20, 1948, Russia declared that the Allied Control Council of Berlin no longer existed and voluntarily withdrew from all of their meetings. As a result, there were no government relations existing between Russia and the other Allies.
The problems worsened when the Russians decided that they wanted all of Berlin under their control. There had been no previous treaties giving the Allies free access to West Berlin through Russian territory, so Russia exploited this situation and isolated Berlin from American soldiers and supplies. The Berlin Blockade began in mid 1948 as Russian forces surrounded West Berlin in an effort to make Allied soldiers there surrender from starvation. The Soviets sealed off railroads and highways to the Western sector of Berlin, effectively cutting it off from the Western Allied sector of Germany. In response to this, the Allies instituted the Berlin Airlift on June 21, 1948, in order to provide West Berlin with food and fuel. Cargo planes dropped food, fuel, and other supplies into West Germany 24 hours a day.
Russia rationalized the blockade by saying that they were doing extensive roadwork. Russia then went on to claim that Berlin was rightfully theirs and that the Western powers had control only of West Berlin because they had more votes when the partition was being made. Marshall answered this by declaring to the Russian government that all Allies had a right to be in Berlin and that the United States intended to stay. He then went on to cut off all passage of trains between East and West Germany.
The conflict intensified when America secretly moved 60 long-range bombers into the British Isles. Russia saw that the Allies did not intend to surrender so they offered the citizens of West Berlin food on the condition that they came over to the Russian side. The West Berliners decided that they would rather starve than be under Russian authority. In May, 1949, Russia called off the failed blockade. They lost this confrontation for two reasons. First, the Russians had not yet acquired nuclear capabilities and therefore could not stage a larger offensive. Second, the Russians were in an extremely bad position in regard to foreign relations; "...before the eyes of the world, it appeared to be trying to starve over 2 million men, women, and children in West Berlin. While the Berlin Airlift continuing month after month provided a tangible demonstration of western determination and competence." The Western powers' unflinching support of Berlin gave other parts of Germany more confidence in their commitment to Germany's well-being.
World War II
The Disintegration of the Iron Curtain and the Fall of Communism