A2 Cold War, Unit 3 Cold War Revision Guide a world Divided: Superpower relations, 1944-90 Contents

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Czech Crisis

  • Communists mounted a coup d’état

  • Police force taken over by communists

  • Non-communist personnel removed

  • Non-communists removed from govt

  • Fear & coercion used to remove remaining opponents, e.g. Jan Masaryk defenestrated

  • President Benes forced to resign & replaced by communist Gottwald

  • Shocked West: - symptomatic of Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe & communist expansionism; last remaining democratic country in Eastern Europe; memories of WWII – failure of appeasement & Nazi expansionism

Berlin Blockade
Reasons Berlin so important: Capital of Germany - cause of two world wars; place where East met West, communism v. capitalism; focus of world events at Yalta & Potsdam (1945), Berlin Blockade (1948-9), Berlin Wall (1961, 1989)
Causes of Berlin Blockade: Divisions over future of Berlin dating back to Yalta & Potsdam; tensions of economic differences – West zones benefited from Marshall Aid;differences in living standards; failure of Council of Ministers; introduction of new currency – Deutche Mark; merger of Western zones
Consequences: 1st major flashpoint of Cold War; 1949, Western allies estd. Federal Republic of West Germany; 1949, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) founded; end to US isolationism; divisions between East & West Germany became permanent

Why did Cold War extend to the Far East?
Trigger: Invasion of S Korea by North

UN decision to intervene – moral obligation as had temporary control over Korea after 2ww to set up

new Gov & run elections

NSC 68 dramatic reassessment of US foreign policy meant US supported UN intervention

National security

  • US perceived that their national security under threat by Korean invasion

  • Jan 1950 announced US defence perimeter – Pacific and Japan but not Taiwan and mainland, yet by June had changed and intervened on mainland.. why: NSC 68’s analysis

  • NSC 68 written in light of events in 1949/50 and earlier: 1946-8 E Europe taken over, Berlin Airlift, 1949 China communist, spy trials, USSR A bomb, Feb 1950 Sino-Soviet Pact= confirmed monolithic bloc, puppet state – expansionist assumptions & seen as threat

  • US perceived invasion of south Korea by north as ultimately controlled by Moscow via China i.e. puppet state using a power vacuum as they had in Europe, same pattern, thus confrontation needed as in Berlin, since economic containment seemed insufficient in each region.

  • NSC 68 recommended: no appeasement must confront authoritarian expansionist rule wherever it attempts to expand; massive rearmament needed; there is very likely to be a war with communism within 5 years. Truman reluctant to sign as would mean tax rise and mid term elections 1950

  • Korean invasion in June seemed to confirm NSC 68’s analysis – Truman thus agreed and supported action, even pushed UN into action. Domestic pressure (start of McCarthyism)

UN role

  • UN at moment of votes on Korea lacked USSR (communist) representatives – boycotting UN as had voted not to give new communist gov of China a seat in UN but to allow Taiwan to keep the China seat

  • US made vigorous campaign to get UN to vote for action, at times Truman’s speeches about intervention made even before the vote taken in UN

  • UN had moral obligation to oversee situation in Korea. At end of 2ww UNTOK oversaw setting up of new gov after Japanese defeated and left a power vacuum there. Agreement to divide nation temporarily until nationwide elections could be held 2 yrs later

  • USSR had had a mandate in north after 2WW until elections could be held and she allowed Kim Il Sung to rule creating a communist area, with land reform and punishing landlords; UN could not guarantee fair elections there as UN officials too few and N Korea not eager to allow them in.

  • UNTOK thus failed to organise nationwide elections in 1948 and had agreed to elections only in south where US had had a mandate.

  • By agreeing to hold elections only in south UN had effectively created potential for a civil war

  • So UN had a responsibility to protect south Korea and to resolve situation

  • US had a disproportionate amount of influence in UN at this time given communist boycott

Japan/economic motives

  • US had particular interest in the region as had a huge vested interest in protecting Japan

  • Japan reconstructed after 2WW – huge amounts of money, economic containment – build a capitalist trade network in region to bind region to capitalist success (stop poverty v communism) and act as bulwark against communism

  • Japan edge of defence perimeter and fears therefore of signs of communist expansion in region threatening Japan

  • MacArthur, general in region in 2ww oversaw Japan, passionate Republican and anti communist. Very critical of Truman’s policy “soft on communism” particularly when “abandoned” Taiwan Jan 1950 and “lost China”. Rumoured to have made private trip to Taiwan and guarantees of protection and pushed for action in Korea, pressure on Truman great. Domestic pressure (election year) and heroic status meant he had influence (wrote letter to veterans criticising Truman and pushing for action)

  • Truman began to give money to France at this time to support their war in Vietnam versus communists in north

  • US saw a regional problem after Chinese communist revolution – spreading just as had in Europe so needs containment, just as had done in Berlin, perceived as puppet states controlled by China and ultimately Moscow

  • Economic containment alone not sufficient in Europe (NATO now set up after Berlin confrontation), and not sufficient in Japan therefore in light of NSC 68 need military confrontation

USSR role

  • Now appears Stalin very reluctant to become involved. Kim Il Sung visited Moscow and Stalin rebuffed his requests for help. Only a short time after Berlin humiliation. Stalin recognised that an invasion would cause US to react

  • Ultimately Mao asked for some support for fellow communists.. Stalin gave a few MiG fighter jets only and even then charged Mao for lending them to his forces (Mao hugely resentful!)

China role

  • Mao only just won civil war, not in a position to give much support as needed to consolidate own nation

  • Mao however believed in supporting fellow communist so agreed to give members of PLA who had ethnic links with Korea

  • Once MacArthur had crossed 38th parallel and moved quickly north to Yalu River appearing to threaten China,Mao sent diplomatic warnings to west which were not given much weight by west

  • US jets bombed across Yalu River and Mao then sent his forces; i.e. only sent them in when perceived a direct threat and provocation. MacArthur continuously rejected the earlier intelligence reports of large numbers of Chinese forces

  • Mao’s forces did not go beyond 38th parallel when US withdrew south again – ceasefire line respected


Divided temporarily 1945 when Japan defeated and power vacuum left. UN to organise elections 2 yrs later to reunify country. USSR oversaw north. N Korea ruled by Kim Il Sung began communist land reforms. Elections not held in north as UN couldn’t guarantee their fairness and US experts predicted Communists win. Both sides frequently made speeches about reunifying nation & often clashed on 38th parallel border.

NSC-68, 1950

  • Need to …

  • Improve defences against threat of all-out nuclear war

  • Reassure general public

  • Provide rapid US military response

  • Respond to threat of espionage & internal sabotage

  • Protect US economic interests

  • Strengthen foreign anti-Soviet allies

  • Undermine links between USSR and satellite states

  • Raise public awareness of threat of Communism

Evidence of hardening of relations

  • World politics interpreted in ‘bi polar’ terms

  • Increased military spending

  • Use of alarmism to promote fear of spread of Communism abroad or at home, e.g. ‘McCarthyism’

  • Move from containment to ‘roll back’ actively undermining ‘relationships between Moscow and satellite countries’

  • Widening terms of Truman doctrine to enlist support of foreign countries with US security

Historiography of Cold War – origins
Key schools of thought

  • Historiography – study of historians views

  • Traditional (orthodox) – conventional, western view, USSR to blame

  • Revisionist – looking at history from different, ‘revised’ perspectives, the US must share the blame

  • Post-revisionists – not who but what was to blame, e.g. break down of diplomacy, economic factors

US responsibility

  • Change of policy from conciliation under Roosevelt to ‘Iron Fist’

  • Truman lacked Roosevelt’s negotiating skills

  • Truman felt less secure in his position, e.g. challenges from Dixiecrats over Civil Rights policies like Fair Deal

  • His approach hardened divisions between East & West


  • Truman was responding to hostility within US administration to USSR caused by communist expansion in Eastern Europe

  • Key advisers, e.g. George Kennan, ‘Long Telegram’ (1946) spoke about ‘steady advance of Russian nationalism’

  • Previous administrations had been too soft on communism

  • Soviet aggression gave Truman no other choice than to adopt an Iron Fist to avoid war

  • Military-industrial complex encouraged conflict to secure capitalist markets and provide continued investment in military spending after WWII

Soviet responsibility

  • Russian revolutionaries, e.g. Trotsky believed ideals of Communism would be under threat from capitalism

  • Trotsky believed in ‘Permanent Revolution’ & Stalin ‘Socialism in One Country’

  • Comintern (aka Third International, 1919-43)

  • Replaced by Cominform (1947)

  • Soviet actions after WWII - power-vacuum exploited by Communists, e.g. Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe, Communist support for guerrillas in Greece, Communist coup in Czech. (1948)

  • Soviet expansionism confirmed by Kennan in ‘Long Telegram’ and ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’


  • Protective zone around USSR (view supported by John Lewis Gaddis)

  • Expansionism was the product of Soviet defence rather than aggression

  • Need to appease or control hostile states, e.g. Poland

  • Hardline US approach made imposition of Communist govts. A necessity

Schools of thought table

Schools of thought


Orthodox (traditional)

Product of aggression & expansionist foreign policy of Stalin

Characterised by George Kennan’s deeply suspicious view of Soviet intentions in ‘Long Telegram’ (1946)

Examples of supporters of this view: W.H. McNeil, ‘America, Britain and Russia: Their Co-operation and Conflict’, H.Feis, ‘Churchill, Roosevelt & Stalin’, A.Schlesinger, ‘Origins of Cold War’ who spoke about ‘The intransigence of Leninist ideology … the madness of Stalin’

Shaped by attitudes of West at start of Cold War and desire to support ‘Iron Fist approach to foreign policy


Considers provocative actions of US in political and economic expansionism & also the defensive aspects of Soviet foreign policy, e.g. need for buffer zone

Supporters of this view include: William A Williams, ‘The Tragedy of American Diplomacy’ (1959). ‘New left’ rights influenced by failures in US foreign policy in Vietnam and more openly cynical view of US administration in 1960s


Move away from ‘who’ was to blame, to ‘what’. Authors writing at end of Cold War & could adopt a more detached, objective response looking at complex ‘factors’ which led to break down in relations between two sides. Many still include blame for Stalin’s part, e.g. V.Zubok & C.Pleshakov, ‘Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War’

Factors which have been considered include: impact of WWII which made ideological aspirations harder to realise for the Soviets; European pressure put on US to take a more aggressive stance on USSR (e.g. Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech); internal pressures on the Soviet & US leadership led to a more hardline approach towards foreign policy

Supporters of this view include: J.L. Gaddis ‘We Now Know’ (1997) & D.Yergin, ‘Shattered Peace’ (1980)

Increased availability of Cold War documents has fuelled this approach as archives have opened up


Soviet perspective sees the toughs stance of USSR necessary in the defence against capitalist advance

Supporters of this view include: Molotov in ‘Problems of Foreign Policy’ (1946), Ponomaryov, ‘Official History of USSR’ sees Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid as smoke screen for US imperialism

Russian writers since 1991

More open assessment of Russia’s part in Cold War. Comintern actively promoted communism worldwide and Soviet great power status

Supporters of this view include, Volkogonov, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire’ (1998) – Volkogonov was a senior member within Soviet army & has an insider’s knowledge, albeit very sceptical one

The Thaw & Peaceful co-existence
Reasons for Thaw
New leaders

  • Stalin’s death = opportunity for change

  • Khrushchev – peaceful coexistence policy

  • Need to regain prestige in USSR after humiliation of Berlin blockade & Stalin’s aggressive policies so willing to talk and change direction

  • Eisenhower, newly elected President – won as promised to end Korea = need to talk

  • Rhetoric harsh – but also as a general knew that war a last resort esp nuclear war = willing to talk

  • Eisenhower could talk from position of strength as a respected patriot

Economic needs

  • New Look: meant more nuclear less conventional forces “more bang for buck” but in fact expensive

  • 12% of GDP on defence

  • Korea globalised and militarized cold war e.g putting divisions in Europe nad supporting allies in NATO & SEATO so USA had more commitments around world = expensive therefore want to reduce them


  • 1/3rd of economy devoted to defence

  • Commitments to Warsaw Pact & E Europe security e.g. Hungary costly

  • USSR lack of consumer goods, social pressure building up for change

Command economy under strain

both economies had become very skewed towards defence - need cuts

Arms race

  • MAD – both Khrushchev and Eisenhower feared nuclear war

  • Both therefore set out to avoid nuclear war = negotiate, ease tension, reduce risk

  • Almost parity attained by 1953 – both had H bomb within months of each other

  • Both aware of technological race and race to achieve 1st strike meant war ever more likely e.g. sputnik, nasa therefore negotiate

  • K aware that U2 planes would soon reveal USSR had fewer weapons than he boasted they had

Eisenhower aware that he was negotiating from position of strength – and more bang for the buck
Domestic pressure

  • Fear – duck and cover, Gaither Report missile gap, Civil Defense Administration, education on massive retaliation; NASA set up, spending on science education up

  • USSR – economically developing but need to focus on consumer goods

Achievements of the Thaw

  • Met at summits : Geneva 1955; Geneva spirit seemed to emerge; cultural exchanges;

  • Camp David 59 ; Paris & UN (New York) 60; summits made it clear both sides wished to reduce tension and risk of war

  • Visits: Khrushchev goes to US and Europe; Nixon goes to USSR

  • Secret speech - destalinisation from US & E Europe point of view positive (freeing political prisoners)

  • Media – image – jolly, funny, getting on; US public happy to see USSR’s human face – K during his visits; image of positive relations and hopeful for peace

  • Austrian State Treaty – both sides withdrew soldiers so saved money

  • Finland : gave back a port to Finland

  • Hungary: US did not become involved in Hungary – reducing tension and not threatening use of nuclear bombs

  • Conventional reductions e.g. red army out of Europe 600,000; no nuclear option when given; Limited war – no desire to fight China; ceasefire at end, accept division; Hungary 56 – USA not intervene nor in Poland/E Germany during uprising, acceptance of E bloc control

  • Germany: Accept division of Germany FDR, DDR set up after blockade 1949

  • NATO and Warsaw Pact accept division in Europe

Failures of the Thaw

  • Rhetoric – hollow words – they didn’t really mean a change in policy

  • USSR –“peaceful coexistence”, secret speech yet 1959 “ we will bury you”, 1960 anger at UN ..”missiles being churned out like sausages” ; Warsaw Pact; still acted in the usual firm Soviet manner e.g. E Germany & Hungary suppression so not really coexisting with different regimes

  • USA – “massive retaliation” “roll back”, brinkmanship –aggressive

  • Announcing extending containment to Middle East also sounds aggressive

  • Eisenhower “more bang for the buck” increased spending on new weapons

  • Arms race continued; science education subsidies; U2 spy planes costly; SEATO – committed to helping around the world; METO - commitment to Middle East must mean expense

  • Personality: Khrushchev – angry in US (not go to Disneyland as security unsure); angry at Summits: Paris summit & UN and gave ultimatum over Berlin - unpredictable, K’s boasting raised tensions and increased pressure in US to rearm; difficult to deal with

  • Arms race continued: both H bomb; Open skies policy failed – U2 shot down; no talks held on reducing arms; USSR - prestige gained as outdid USA in space race and rocket technology which boosted the appearance of their strategic strength (still had fewer weapons) i.e. still spending and not peaceful coexistence

  • Space race: sputnik – space race; technological race continued – sputnik, phutnik, etc

  • International crises: Berlin Wall... then Cuba

  • Domestic tensions: splits in Politburo and intelligentsia (and with China) as K appeared to be selling out to capitalisim and deviating from Marx’s assertion that capitalism & communism inevitable conflict. K’s increasing unpredictable behavior also unnerved some, culminating in his removal after Cuba

Was there a genuine Thaw in relations?
Khrushchev: new rhetoric “peaceful coexistence” seemed to signal a new approach after Stalin’s death adn the release of tension that resulted;needed to change policy to restore USSR prestige after humiliation e.g. over Berlin airlift; secret speech appeared to many in west to be undoing Stalin’s work and again seemed a breath of fresh air, leaving behind the excessive repression, secrecy and tension of early Cold War; personality seemed outwardly “jolly” easy going, known to like his drink, a good joke, smiled and enjoyed his tours of Europe and USA, happy to meet, greet and be filmed so doing – all seemed to announce a warmer friendlier approach towards the westerners
Eisenhower :elected in reaction to two apparently contradictory pressures – to be tough on communism after Truman accused of being too soft yet also elected to “get out of Korea” i.e. to reduce cold war tension and commitments, hence likely to want to talk to adversaries, and thus a thaw in relations; rhetoric by contrast to K seemed aggressive and similar or even harsher than that of Truman – massive retaliation, brinkmanship, roll back.. MAD yet the logical conclusion of this policy was nuclear Armageddon and as an experienced war time General E knew that if there was one thing he wanted to avoid that was war, hence his nuclear policy actually acted as a powerful driver for talks and negotiations with the Soviets and thus an apparent thaw in the State Dept’s approach in the early 1950s

personality being regarded as a patriotic hero, could also afford to be seen negotiating with the Soviets from a position of strength as far as public opinion went, unlike Truman who might have been perceived as yet again being soft on communism had he so much as mooted face to face talks with Stalin – had Stalin ever indeed wanted to meet Truman which after Potsdam’s tense atmosphere seemed very unlikely. Thus Eisenhower might well have contributed towards the perception of a thaw with his acceptance that face to face talks were an acceptable policy move – his trip to Korea to take part in peace talks similarly gives us the initial impression of a thawing of international tension, all supported by excitable media coverage showing men shaking hands, smiling and documents being signed.

Summits: - gave appearance of good will and a new approach to international relations; Geneva, Camp David, Paris, UN (New York), K to USA, Nixon to USSR; K’s personality refreshingly jolly and apparently open when compared to Stalin’s paranoia and suspicious nature; K travelled to Peking, Delhi, Belgrade, London; Kitchen debate film clip seemed a fairly humorous good natured exchange of views; K commented that both sides now knew each other
International agreements: Korean Armistice; Geneva Summit – spirit of Geneva – exchange of cultural and scientific experts; USSR recognised W Germany officially seemed German question being resolved so there would be peace in Europe;Open skies discussed..no agreement, swept under carpet for moment; Austrian State Treaty; Red Army from Europe (600,000); Port returned to Finland

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