One fundamental cause of the Cold War was the difference of ideologies between the 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.
Example 1: In Communism, the whole society solely owns the means of production. On the other hand, in capitalism, the means of production lies with a private owner.
Example 2: While the profit of any enterprise is equally shared by all the people in communism, the profit in a capitalist structure belong to the private owner only.
Example 3: For Communists, the society is above individuals. But for capitalists, individual freedom is very important
The Soviet Union was a Communist country, which was ruled by a dictator and put the needs of the state ahead of personal human rights. The USA was a capitalist democracy which valued individual freedom.
They both believed that the alternative ideology was a threat to their own way of life, and that the only way for the world to be happy was for their particular ideology to spread all over the world. It was not just that the two ideologies were conflicting - they were both expansionist.
The Marxist support for “permanent revolution” demands that communist governments instigate communist revolutions in other countries as a means of attaining liberation of workers. “Permanent revolution” therefore posed a threat to the security of a capitalist government. This was a source of tension between the United States and the USSR. Hysteria over communist doctrine spread in the United States in two Red Scares and contributed to the strained relations between the US and the USSR in the Cold War.
Capitalism encourages free trade between countries. Communist believed that free trade was just another way rich countries exploited poor countries. Marx stated that the highest form of capitalism is imperialism. The intervention of capitalist powers in the domestic affairs of developing nations provided communist countries with a basis for their opposition to capitalist governments. Communist cited the colonization of Africa in the 19th century, US involvement in Latin America in the early twentieth century, the League of Nations-supported imperialism under the Mandate System as examples of capitalist imperialism.
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 tens of millions of 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. Thus, when the USSR attempted to improve its security by having satellite states, the West saw this as an attempt to spread the influence of Communism. This conflicted with American policies as outlined by Roosevelt, which affirmed the freedom of all peoples.
Events between 1917 and 1945 (end of WWI and end of WWII)
The Russian Civil War (1918-1920): Was fought between the Bolsheviks/Red Russians and Mensheviks/White Russians The Red Russians (Communists), led by Lenin and Trotsky, defeated the White Russians in 1920. The USA and Britain supported the White Russians (anti-Communists) against the Red Russians (communists.) The Soviet Union could not forget that in 1918 Britain and the USA had tried to destroy the Russian Revolution. The Russians were also excluded from the peace agreements in Paris at the end of the First World War, which caused resentment towards the West.
Britain and the USA could not forget that Stalin had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Germany in 1939. In 1939, Stalin and Hitler divided up Poland amongst themselves. Secure on the eastern front, Germany invaded Norway and Denmark while the USSR invaded Finland in 1940. Hitler then invaded France and bombed Britain (Battle of Britain) in 1940. Hitler did not have to fight a two front war until D-Day in 1944. That Stalin would align himself with Hitler, in spite of Hitler’s outspoken opposition to communism, revealed the lengths to which Stalin would go to gain power, giving rise to Allied suspicion of the USSR.
In 1943, Stalin’s army was fighting against the majority of German forces in Russia. Stalin desperately wanted the British and Americans to open up a second front in France in 1943. But Roosevelt and Churchill chose not do so in 1943. They chose to first complete the conquest of Sicily and drive Mussolini from power. Italy did not prove as easy to occupy as the Allies had hoped because Hitler deployed the German army to defend Italy. But this move caused Hitler to send forces to Italy that might otherwise have opposed the 1944 landing in Normandy. In Stalin’s eyes this move was unjustifiable and he never forgot. He believed that this was a deliberate move to allow the Soviets and Germans to annihilate one another.
On January 31, 1943 the German divisions around Stalingrad surrendered. The Russians were on the offensive from then on.
After the Nazi advance was halted and reversed at Stalingrad in early 1943, the Soviets advanced and occupied much of Eastern Europe. This caused especially Churchill to be suspicious of Stalin.
Events in 1945 (especially Yalta & Potsdam Conferences)
At the Yalta Conference in 1945, the “Big Three” leaders, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, met to develop a plan for an international organization (United Nations) to replace the ineffective League of Nations to provide collective security.
Roosevelt entered the conference after his recent reelection and with a defined goal of ending the war; he believed cooperation with Stalin to be possible.
Some historians have argued that Roosevelt did not understand the threat posed by the USSR and adopted a policy of “appeasement” towards Stalin. These historians believe that Stalin was emboldened to dominate Eastern Europe after the Yalta Conference. Roosevelt should have demanded that Soviet troops quickly withdraw from Eastern Europe or face the USA as an enemy. Stalin would not have been able to beat the USA in 1945 and would have given up on the idea of dominating Eastern Europe.
Other historians have argued that Roosevelt did NOT adopt a policy of appeasement towards Stalin. At the time the Yalta Conference took place, Soviet and American troops were still advancing towards Berlin from two fronts. Roosevelt also wanted to guarantee the Soviet support against the Japanese in the Pacific. At the time when the Yalta Conference took place, the US had not developed an atomic bomb. Without the atomic bomb, the defeat of Japan was going to be a very difficult task with high causality rates.
Furthermore, FDR did not hand over Eastern Europe to Stalin. Stalin agreed to allow for free and fair elections to take place in Poland after the Soviet-administered provisional government could reorganize the country. The Declaration on Liberated Europe, a statement that the Big Three leaders would support the emergence of democratic governments in Europe after the war, was drawn up at Yalta and signed by Stalin.
Later in 1945, after Germany’s surrender, Roosevelt’s death, and Churchill’s defeat in parliamentary elections, Truman, Attlee, and Stalin met in Potsdam, Germany to finalize previous agreements and to consider international relations strategies at the end of the war. The Potsdam Conference lacked the warm atmosphere of the Yalta Conference, as Truman took a much firmer stance against communism than Roosevelt had. Truman personally did not like Stalin. He was also president of a country armed with a new and fearsome weapon - the atomic bomb.
Stalin was told at Potsdam about a new weapon America now possessed. However, very little information was given to him. When the atomic bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it became clear to Stalin that the USSR was years behind America in terms of modern weaponry. Though the Red Army was huge in terms of manpower and its tanks were some of the most modern in the world, this new weapon made all this conventional power of less value.
By the end of 1945, the seeds of the Cold War had been well and truly sown. Both sides were no longer linked by a common enemy. One side had massive conventional forces in control of Eastern Europe, while the other had an unknown number of atomic bombs which could be used against Moscow.
Truman continued Roosevelt’s requests for Soviet support in Japan, perhaps to draw Soviet troops out of Europe while American troops left for the Pacific. However, the Soviets made many new demands for territories of the former Axis powers.
After the conferences and the conclusion of the war, Soviet troops remained in many countries in Eastern Europe, allowing the Soviet Union to control their politics and leading to domination by the communist parties of these countries. The promised free and fair elections in Poland never occurred, and the occupation of Eastern Europe that had been meant to last only until the countries had been rebuilt and could stand alone became permanent.
Stalin clearly violated what he had promised at Yalta(the Declaration on Liberated Europe.)He had promised to support the emergence of democratic and free governments in Europe after the war.Instead he occupied and controlled Eastern Europe and Eastern Germany.
In 1946, George F. Kennan’s “Long Telegram”from Moscow helped to articulate the US government's increasingly hard line against the Soviets. Kennan’s telegram became the basis for US strategy of containment. According to Kennan, the Soviet Union did not see the possibility for long-term peaceful coexistence with the capitalist world. It was its ever-present aim to advance the socialist cause. Capitalism was a menace to the ideals of socialism, and capitalists could not be trusted or allowed to influence the Soviet people.
The same year, the Soviet side produced the Novikov telegram, commissioned and "co-authored" by Molotov, it portrayed the US as building up military capability "to prepare the conditions for winning world supremacy in a new war". By the end of 1946, only one year after the end of WWII, it was clear that both sides severely mistrusted each other.
In 1946, Churchill delivered the “Iron Curtain Speech,” decrying the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. At the time, this did not echo the thoughts of many Western countries, who still felt ties to the USSR in the wake of the war, and Churchill was widely criticized. But Churchill did get the attention of some U.S Senators and the President.
The US and Britain unified their occupied regions of Germany in 1946; France followed suit in 1948, leaving only the Soviet-occupied East Germany out of the unification.
President Truman set forth his policy of containment, or the “Truman Doctrine,” in 1947, establishing a firm US opposition to the expansion of communism. Under this policy, the United States vowed to “contain” communism to the countries in which it had already taken hold and not allow for the development of more communist governments
In 1948 the US embarked upon the Marshall Plan, providing massive amounts of aid to European countries in need. The ultimate goal of the Marshall Plan was to prevent the fall of weakened states, as Italy, Turkey and Greece, to communism. Marshall Aid also divided Europe in two – between those nations that accepted US aid and those nations who were banned from accepting aid by Stalin. Stalin simply could not allow what he believed was American influence to seep into those Eastern European nations that were now very much in his control. But two Europe’s developed: the west that benefitted from US aid and the east that remained reliant on the support of the USSR.
The Soviet Union successfully tested her first atomic bomb in 1949, thus bringing weapons equality with the USA.
In 1949, the former Allies, excluding the Soviet Union, and other western countries created NATO. NATO constituted a system of collective defense whereby its member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party such as the Soviet Union. The Cold War had long begun by 1949.
Once the common threat of Hitler’s Nazi Germany had fallen, the alliance between the West and the Soviet Union crumbled. That much remains relatively undisputed. However, there is disagreement among historians regarding the starting point of the Cold War. The role of conflicting ideologies, events during WWI and WWII, the wartime conferences in 1945, and events between 1945-1949 played an important role in the origin of the Cold War.