How far do you agree that the origins of the Cold War in 1945 and 1946 owed much to the ideological differences and little to personalities and conflicting national interests? The origins of the Cold War cannot be denied as being most obviously and most forefront due to the great ideological differences between the USSR’s communism and the USA’s capitalism, such as their complete opposing beliefs over nationalisation and system of government. However National interests, such as the fight over Poland and leaders personalities, such as Truman’s lack of experience in foreign policy cannot be overlooked as important reasons for growing hostilities between superpowers.
The vast difference in ideologies is clearly the underlying factor which caused tensions for the superpowers of the world during the Cold War and the years 1945 to 46; however it cannot be denied that personalities of the leaders running these countries, were a contributing reason for the ever growing hostilities between them. Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR and communist regime, was a figure known for being shrewd, manipulative and ruthless, instantly suggesting that relations with other countries, so different from his, were to be quite strained. Though he was known for these negative traits, he was also commended for his sense of practicality and his skills as an administrator, this suggesting that perhaps his ability to put aside differences, may be better than necessarily believed. It was common knowledge that Stalin was an autocratic leader, perhaps a dictator to some, and that he was harsh on his country, using heavy censorship, harsh industrialisation and a systematic use of terror, employing his red terror and cheka to silence those against communism with arrests and murder. When it came to Foreign policy, Stalin was highly suspicious of the west, of their intentions, of their political ideologies and of their views on the USSR; he was so untrusting of them he went as far as bugging American and British leaders’ rooms at the Tehran conference, reading conversation transcripts to make sure plots were not being made against him. This untrusting nature clearly could not have helped hostility between the three leaders and could clearly be a source of irritation on Britain and the USA’s part.
Winston Churchill was another leader who had his high suspicions, being very untrusting of Stalin and his motives, as well as being very anti-communist, something which was made very apparent and very public in his ‘iron curtain’ speech. The speech called for an alliance between Britain and the USA, to prevent Soviet expansion, something he was afraid of due to Stalin’s ‘increasing measure of control from Moscow.’ However this speech was a little less shocking at the time, as at this point he was no longer Prime Minister, the role being passed to Clement Atlee, suggesting these blunts views were only publicised for the reason that he was now on the political sidesteps. However despite his suspicions he was very well known for generally being a very enthusiastic, energetic and inspiring leading, and proved himself as being compromising and able to put aside differences, joining forces with Russia to defeat fascism and to prevent any more world conflicts - he established a publicly positive relationship with Stalin, referring to him as ’uncle Joe’, giving the public reason to believe the superpowers could work together. Ultimately it was Churchill’s anti-communist stance on politics and ruling which caused tension rather than his traits, as he was a very inspiring and energetic character, therefore inferring that possibly ideological differences were the most prominent and forefront causes of the Cold War.
Roosevelt, the American president until 1945, like Churchill, was a man described to be very energetic, optimistic but also liberal in attitude, known to being a patient leader. His domestic policies demonstrated that although American society and governing went by capitalist ideals, he wasn’t ignorant to some of the less extreme values of Communism, putting in place the new deal - a policy addressing issues caused by the Great Economic Depression which involved increased state intervention in the economy in order to create jobs. Roosevelt was quite prepared to work with Stalin during the Second World War, despite all the clear differences between them, wanting to be more involved with the rest of the world and wanting to defeat fascism after the awful Pearl Harbour incident. Roosevelt was clearly a president who wanted resolution between the countries and wanted to try to create more positive relations between superpowers, however in 1945 he unfortunately died and vice president Harry Truman stepped in. Truman was perhaps less willing to work with Stalin, though not that obvious about it, apparent through his lack of experience and negative experience in foreign affairs. For example when dealing with one of Stalin’s ministers, he talked about him as an ’uneducated idiot’, not putting in enough effort to create a working stable relationship with the USSR. This similar approach of inconsideration was taken by Truman when going along with the Manhattan Project, not informing Stalin of it causing further tensions. The atomic bomb was a shocking and extremely destructive piece of weaponry and not revealing it to Stalin undoubtedly raised Stalin’s suspicion of the west. To Stalin, this act appeared to be one to intimidate him and ensure he and Russia had no part in defeat of Japan, an personal enemy prior to World War Two, following the 1905 Russo Japanese War. The changes of leadership between 195 and 46 could not have helped tensions between Western leaders and Stalin, as the new leaders were thoroughly different to the ones he had become used to.
Though conflicting personalities proved to be unhelpful in preventing hostilities from growing between the superpowers, it is clear that differing ideology was the driving force which caused much alienation. However national interests was an issue, intrinsically linked to political aims and ideologies, which contributed to the Cold War. The occupation and fate of Poland was a huge national interest which was of great importance to both the British and the USSR. Britain had invested much interest in Poland’s freedom, having gone into the war to begin with to defend their liberty from Germany, with the Polish government exiled and stationed in London. Britain wanted Poland to be able to re-establish their national freedom and employ a democratic system of government however this was feared to be impossible if Stalin got his hands on it. Stalin indeed wanted Poland, this sue to the fact that it was a point of access into Russia and having influence over it would protect Russia from foreign armies attacking the USSR border, something they suffered much of in the Second World War. Stalin’s main priority was protecting the USSR from attack and defending Communism and Poland was the buffer zone which could ensure this possible. However from a Western point of view this could be seen as an act of promoting communism into other countries. His motives were possibly not so insidious, evidently through his allowance of a democratically elected government in Hungary being able to remain, in 1945, rather than using his influence. The issues between the superpowers surrounding Poland were clearly a contributing factor to the ever growing hostile relations, however the source behind the Poland related tensions was the fear and suspicions of Communism and Stalin’s motives, again presenting that ideological differences was the key component in the Cold War.
Another national interest which served as an originating tension to the Cold War was the USA’s keenness to help economically rebuild Europe. Their intentions on the surface appeared to be innocent enough however their motives behind all their European interest and help could have potentially increased strains between the USSR and the West. The USA supplied aid to many European countries, through a concept called the ‘Marshall Plan’, giving destroyed nations a chance to rebuild their economies; though it was clearly a kind act, the US made sure that it was highly publicised - they wanted to appear to be the strong saviours, who all should strive to be like. For example, Italy was a nation which received much aid and as a result, not so coincidentally, at the same time, a democratic system of governance and capitalist market was put into Italy. This was due to the huge amounts of propaganda and programmes used as a means of influence on vulnerable nations, such as ‘operation bambi’, a piece of American, capitalist propaganda used to influence the minds of the young. The USA also used a concept known as ‘Dollar Imperialism’, another economic plan with intentions of helping rebuild European countries and their economies. The USA hadn’t suffered the damage to industrial districts and the hardships of rationing, like the rest of the fighting world had in World War Two, and as a result it had lots of goods to export and needed a large free market to do so. Dollar Imperialsim involed exporting goods and loans to other countries, hoping to bring them back to life, for their own good and for the USA’s own benefit too. This economic concept could be saud to have been a huge tension between the USSR and America, as it excluded Russia, alienating them by spreading their capitalist ideologies and all the while ignoring their need for help in rebuilding themselves.
It was not only national interests after the Second World War which widened the hostile gap between the superpowers, but also ones beforehand. Though not in the time period of 1945 to ‘46, it was worth remembering that the superpowers possibly still felt resonance from past conflicts. For example during the First World War, Russia had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, in March 1918, abandoning Britain, their allies, and making a deal with the enemy. The West were further alienated by the USSR when the Soviet government refused to repay debts to Western investors from the First World War and the Russian Civil War, again showing their abandoning of responsibility and their lack of loyalty to the West. Another example of British alienation due to the USSR, was the assassination of the Tsar and many British royal family relatives, an act which upset a majority of the public, as well as King George V himself, on a more personal level. However it was not just Britain and the West that had experienced betrayal before the Second World War, Russia too had reasons to feel resonating anger. For example the fact that during the Russian civil war, 1918-21, which saw a fight for communism, defended by the Reds, many Western countries helped the Whites in fighting for democracy, by sending support, both physically and financially. Another example of what felt like Western betrayal to the USSR, was the British policy of appeasement, an agreement between Hitler and Britain which caused many suspicions by Stalin and painted the British as disloyal to Russia. It is clear that national conflicts was definitely an area of hostility for the superpowers all having much say in foreign policy and relations; however when looking at the reasoning behind such tense national conflicts, it could be correct to suggest that there were many clashes due to the superpowers’ fear of each others differing political ideologies and aims.
The differing ideology was undeniably the ever-present issue which was most visible and perhaps most crucial in the origins of the Cold War. To the West the protection of democracy and liberty was absolutely worth fighting for and was so in the battle against fascism. It is difficult to be sure if Stalin’s actions as a leader were due to motives based on a desire to spread communism or whether they were of a defensive manner, however it is clear that he did use his ideologies to create a bloc of countries under his control and penetrate eastern Europe. This spread of communism, which threatened the West’s efforts to preserve democracy, clearly made their leaders extremely uncomfortable and was a reason for such unspoken hostility and tension between the superpowers.
The core ideologies of the West and of the East were a clear cause of Cold War, particularly between America and the USSR, the leading superpowers, and it’s not difficult to see why, when the ideals between them were on such opposite sides of the political spectrum. America and their capitalist ideals followed the belief that nationalism was a threat to the wealth, status and power of owners of businesses, factories and land, believing that all were entitled to own their own property and their own business, being able to keep the majority of hard earned profits. These values were believed to create incentive in the people to gain more through hard work therefore improving economic output and individual lives. American politics also went by the ideals that government should be a guardian of liberal democracy, giving people the ultimate power over who they are ruled and who doe, not having a censored press and having the freedom of speech, worship and vote. Communism had and did have practically the opposite political beliefs. Communicm said that nationalisation was a posisitve, not a threat, that would enable goods generated by the economy to be more fairly distributed according to need. Communsim claimed that captalism was little more than a means of dividing society into classes and encouraging greed - communism government would promote class unity and therefore with a classless society, political parties would be unnecessary. It in the eyes of democracy and capitalism, Communism could be seen as a ploy to control the public, take away their freedom and stunt personal thrive. In the eyes of communism, Capitalism could be seen as a concept which encouraged the growth of the already rich and the further demise of the poor. Understanding how different these ideologies are and were, it is clear to see why each superpower was threatened by the other and it can be suggested that maybe a lack of communication did not help this growing fear and tension.
It is clear that their were many reasons for growing tensions between the superpowers and for the origins of the Cold War; personalities clearly were important in upsetting relations, as a lack of open communication, for example by Stalin and his motives to spread control in areas such as Poland, meant suspicions were rife and mistrust was in the air. National interests which saw the superpowers aims of more control and influence across the globe, meant they were fearful of each others motives, America afraid of a communism take over across the world and the USSR afraid of an attack on their politics and leader. However the basis in each of these acts of defence and motivations through fear, is the issues of differing ideologies , therefore it is correct to say that the differences in Communism and Capitalism were the key issue in the Cold War- however it would be wrong to suggest that personalities and national interests were irrelevant, as they clearly were.