Introduction II Knowledge Enrichment Lecture notes

The background of the U.S.-Soviet Confrontation

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5. The background of the U.S.-Soviet Confrontation

5.1 Some factors leading to the Cold War

When the European war ended unexpectedly, Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union were left without a thorough plan to reconstruct post-war Europe. The Tehran Conference (1 December 1943), for instance, concentrated on military campaigns against Nazi Germany. The Yalta Conference (4 to 11 February 1945) was concerned about penalty towards Germany, the reconstruction of sovereignty in southern and eastern Europe, refugee issues and the Soviet Union’s entry into the war in Asia. In fact, Nazi Germany had already fallen to a point of collapse. On 2 March 1945, the German army in Berlin surrendered and Allied troops barged into Germany from different directions while the countries in southern and eastern Europe were occupied by the Soviet Union to different extent. The above situation sparked off the U.S.-Soviet confrontation and led indirectly to the division of Europe into two camps.

5.2 The Soviet Union’s intention to occupy Poland after the war

Stalin had expressed intentions of occupying parts of Poland as early as he attended the Yalta Conference. His suggestion of the Polish acquisition of German territory as compensation was opposed by Roosevelt and Churchill. Stalin had to show his willingness to assist the liberated countries for the reconstruction of elected governments. Stalin still seemingly supported the above principle until the period of the Potsdam Conference (17 July 1945 to 2 August 1945). However, the Soviets failed to keep to their commitment as communist influence quickly extended from Poland to Greece. At this point, Britain, the United States and France could only strive to adopt a wait-and-see policy. Stalin even instructed Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Mininster, to disregard earlier commitments to the Yalta Conference. His aggressive policy immediately affected post-war Poland. Since the Nazi invasion, Poland’s elected government was forcibly exiled to France and London. In 1944 Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, who was the Prime Minister of the exiled government, met Stalin with the support of Britain and the United States. In the meeting, they discussed the territorial problem in post-war Poland and the Polish eastern territories occupied by Soviet Russia and the government for the post-war Polish government became the major bone of contention. Even though they temporarily agreed that the Polish eastern territories be put under a coalition government, Stalin had already set foot in Polish territory. Compared with Stalin, the exiled Polish government lacked bargaining power and it could only rely on the support of Britain, the U.S. and other countries. In July 1944, the Polish Committee of National Liberation, which was established with Stalin’s assistance, took up the governing power. The exiled government subsequently returned to Poland with public support, yet the Soviets had already employed tactics of political persecution and oppression. Mikolajczyk who served as Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture, repeatedly attempted to deter Stalin’s radical proposals of agricultural nationalization and collectivization and won the support of farmers. However, the Polish People’s Party could not prevail over Stalin’s influence. It ended up with 28 seats in the 1947 elections whereas the Democratic Bloc which was under the leadership of Communist Party took the other 394 seats. More terrible persecution was about to begin. Mikolajczyk was again forced into exile. From 1946 to 1947, Stalin then fostered communist regimes in Hungary and Bulgaria respectively. Stalin failed to adhere to his commitment in the Yalta Conference and his ambition was getting more obvious. Britain and the United States could do nothing to stop him.

5.3 Germany in the confrontation

Another point of confrontation among Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union focused on the future of Germany. Disagreement had already surfaced in the singular effort to address the compensation issue: on the one hand, the Soviet Union hoped to acquire East Germany’s industrial resources; on the other hand, Britain and the United States were worried that the collapse of Germany would upset the balance of power in central Europe. At the Potsdam Conference held from 17 July to 2 August 1945, Stalin got the upper hand. Both Britain and the United States recognized the Soviet claim to the industrial resources of her occupied German zone and Stalin successfully persuaded Britain and the United States to deliver 10% of all excess resources in the German areas they occupied to the Soviet occupied zone in the following two years.

Subsequent troubles brewed from the Potsdam Conference. As Germany was divided into four zones among Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union; and Berlin was clustered into another four, the future of Germany fell into the hands of the Allied Control Council. The Council prioritized economic reconstruction and denazification. However, Soviet pre-occupation with German resources proved the ineffectiveness of the Council. Worse still was the difference in economic structure in all four zones. The Soviets zone had plenty of grain, coal and timber while the Western zones were rich in industrial products and facilities. In 1946, the Western camp began transporting their supplies to the Soviet zone in exchange of daily necessities. However, the Soviets decided not to keep their promise. Hence, the United States halted the shipping of coal and industrial products from Ruhr on 3 May 1946, leading to a rupture in U.S.-Soviet relations. Britain and the U.S. started to speed up the construction in their occupied zones. At the same time, in October 1946 Britain and the United States met at Bremen where the Länderrat (Länder Council) in charge of coordinating the economic construction of the German areas was established. The Soviet Union had not participated and its gap with the governments of the other three Western zones was widened. In January 1947, the British and the American zones merged to form the Bizone or Bizonia. This was important both to the development of Cold War and European integration. The Soviets perceived the move of having an unfriendly disposition, and contention between the two camps sped up. Subsequently, the Berlin Blockade was Soviet Union’s response to it. Furthermore, it should be noted that the merging of the two zones gave rise to West Germany which became a key member of the western European integration.
5.4 Communist threat to the United States

In view of the waning relationship between the three western nations and the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union actually got the upper hand in terms of practical strength. Whilst Britain, France and their occupation zones were facing problems of clothing, coal and food shortage, situation was even worse in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. On the contrary, the Soviet Union, in spite of her huge losses during the world war, had already established spheres of influence in central, eastern and southern Europe and was expanding her strategic position in the west. All these factors made the United States understand the necessity to assist the reconstruction in western Europe. This American sense of crisis had been apparent since early 1946. On 2 February, George Kennan who was the Deputy Chief in the American embassy of Moscow wrote an 8,000-word Long Telegram to the State Council expressing how the Soviet policy of Communist penetration into all the other countries and international organizations no longer permitted peaceful co-existence between the Soviets and the Americans. Because of this telegram, Kennan was subsequently known as the ‘father of containment.’ It should be remarked that tension ran high in the two years that followed, inevitably pulling the United States into European matters. The famous Marshall Plan came next in the picture.

5.5 The Marshall Plan

The 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman took nearly half a year before he realized the importance of American engagement in the stabilizing of the European scene in April 1945. In January 1947 George Marshall was appointed as Secretary of State and assigned with the important mission of reconstructing the European economy. Initially Marshall chose to push Germany out of the picture and incorporate the Soviet Union into the scene. However, a series of events made this impossible. In March 1947, the anti-communist Truman Doctrine was proclaimed in face of the Soviet threat towards Greece and Turkey; ex-President Herbert Hoover, in turn, openly supported German economic reconstruction. Thus, George Marshall opted for a change of plans, but first, he had to gain Soviet consent. This was done by engaging Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov in a six-week negotiation to no avail. Seeing that there was no other way out, the Marshall Speech delivered in the University of Harvard in June 1947 emphasized the American assistance to Europe’s economic reconstruction and her aim to establish a new political order that would ensure peace and eliminate the evils of hunger and poverty.

Similarly, the Marshall Plan brought western European nations closer together. However, it deepened the breach between eastern and western Europe. At first, the Soviet Union and those countries in the communist camp were welcome to join. However, Stalin began to criticize the plan as a way of imperialism and stopped the communist countries to join when he found that economic cooperation signified working with nations including Germany. At this point, the rift between eastern and western Europe had reached a point of no return. In April 1948, Truman approved the formation of the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) to coordinate the funding and economic cooperation among the participating countries. Until 1952 the Marshall Plan had served as a crucial force supporting the recovery of Europe.
6. The United States and the Soviet Union: dominant forces in the collaboration and integration of western Europe

6.1 An overview of the 1960s

western European integration after the Second World War largely depended on the development of Cold War. Until the late 1960s, spatial integration only took place among France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and later, West Germany. Britain joined in the 1970s and members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) followed suit. Countries in eastern and southern Europe were left out. As for structural integration, the American-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had been the dominating power in military affairs. However, for economic cooperation and other aspects, the interests of western European countries varied and the progress was different. Issues such as the role of West Germany and British participation in integration continued to be long lasting controversies. After the 1960s the American reduced her involvement in European affairs when West Germany recuperated; the United States was occupied with Vietnam War and the Sino-American relations improved. From then on, western European nations were able to enjoy greater autonomy in cooperation.

6.2 The American interests

In fact, after the Second World War, Europe was crucial to both the United States and the Soviet Union. According to the “Truman Doctrine”, the United States had the responsibility to protect those “free people” who were under the threat of the “armed minority” or “outside pressure”. In view of political reality, there would be a decline in American influence if western Europe were to fall under communism. Economically, the United States had benefitted indirectly from the two world wars. Her economic and technological power had increased significantly. However, the sustainable development of America relied on an open international market that was being threatened by the Soviet Union’s expansion. Internally, the United States had experienced the communist threat in the 1920s and two times of red scare in the 1940s and the 1950s. As the American people had different degree of anxiety towards the communist expansion, they did not wish to see the American government withdraw from western European affairs and let any further development of communism in western Europe.

6.3 The Soviet interests

Since the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union had gradually expanded her power to southern and eastern Europe. From the perspective of geopolitical benefits and her policy in the occupied German zone, the Soviet intention of westward expansion was obvious.

Through the communist revolution, the Soviet Union aimed at absorbing western European countries into her sphere of influence in order to expand her military, political economic power. It seemed that the Soviet policy was to consolidate the two camps in eastern and southern Europe for further expansion to western Europe.
As the United States and the Soviet Union had diverging attitudes toward the European problem, their differences served as a major factor for the division of the eastern and western Europe.

7. The American stance

7.1 The basic principles of American assistance

In view of her own interests, the United States had to ensure economic and political stability in western Europe. Yet it was difficult to invest huge human power and resources there for a long time. Therefore, the United States came up with the following policies in the 1950s:

  1. A minimum input of resources for the European reconstruction;

  2. Promotion of economic cooperation among western European nations and re-establishing their confidence towards a free market;

  3. Military aid to western European nations in order to prevent communist threats;

  4. Halting the spread of communism as short-term aim and elimination of communism from Europe in the long-term.

As the United States wanted to use a minimum input of resources in achieving its ends, the western European countries were expected to offer full support and participation. It sped up collaboration and integration among the western European nations, though it sometimes gave rise to conflicts among these nations.

7.2 Military cooperation

Basically, military cooperation formed an important part of integration in western Europe. In April 1949, NATO was established including Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, which were the basic member countries, and other members such as Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Canada and most importantly, the United States. Constituting a system of collective defense where an attack on any member state is equivalent to an attack on all members, states agreed to come in defense of each other in face of external attacks. As the combined military strength of western and northern Europe could hardly resist any attack from the communist camp under the Soviet Union, American efforts were crucial in the security of western Europe. In October 1949, NATO’s first comprehensive strategic plan showed the American idea of basic defense. It emphasized on making good use of limited resources for the development of a sufficient military force. Thus, western Europe had to offer enough stand-by land forces against external attacks so that the United States could gain time to launch counter-attack by atomic weapons. The contribution of resources should be in proportion to geographical features, population, industrial and military strength of the European allies. This strategy could still work before the Soviets had developed any atomic weapons. However it gave rise to two problems related to integration in western Europe. Firstly, the location of West Germany made her the first line of defense in western Europe. If West Germany did not have strong self-defense force, the central Europe could be thrown open to enemy’s attack from the east. In economic aspect, the industrial strength of West Germany should be used for defending western Europe. Otherwise its industrial resources would become her enemies’ reinforcements if she fell into their hands. Besides, with Germany’s long military tradition, it was likely that West Germany was able to establish a fighting force within a short period. However, countries such as France and Holland, which had been invaded by Germany, had hesitation about the quick re-entry of West Germany into the European defense system. Moreover, if the European countries were to participate in a war on land, a higher level of coordinating organization was deemed necessary to provide training, strategic planning and rehearsal etc. Therefore, the idea of setting up a “European Army” was feasible but it was not easy for the allies to reach consensus. On 17 March 1948, the “Brussels Treaty” was signed by Britain, France, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Collective military defense was included in Article IV of the “Brussels Treaty”. However, no action was taken to turn it into a military organization.


8. The rise of NATO and the end of the European Defense Community (1950-1954)

8.1 The formation of NATO

The outbreak of the Korean War forestalled the possibility of a large scale war between the communist and capitalist blocs. The situation in western Europe was worse than expected. To General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was appointed as Supreme Allied Commander (Europe), strategic air strikes were emphasized as possible responses to any attacks. Until 1954, the post of SCAP had been taken up by Matthew Ridgway and Alfred Gruenther respectively. The authority of NATO gradually found that the existing 96 division armies were unable to keep in a state for war without encountering problems of shortage in resources. In case a war broke out, it was almost impossible to mobilize half of the armies within 90 days. The line of defense became longer with the admission of Greece and Turkey into NATO in February 1952. In 1953, Alfred Gruenther’s new idea was to rely more on the newly developed nuclear weapons.

8.2 The European Defense Community

A revision of West Germany’s position in Europe emerged from 1950 to 1954 as the continent plunged into a state of tension. In the early 1950, in view of the repeated American suggestion of allowing West Germany to join NATO, the French Prime Minister Rene Pleven counter proposed the European Defense Community to be formed by France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and West Germany, making a total of 100,000 man force. He suggested that the armies of the former 5 member states in the joint force would report directly to their national governments while those of West Germany would be led by the European Defense Community. The 6 nations signed an agreement in May 1952 but the plan could not be executed because it was not approved by the French Parliament on 30 August 1954. Because of failure in any further integration in defense among the western European countries, the United States remained the dominating power. During this period, West Germany had gradually been recognized as one of the members in western Europe.


9. Economic cooperation

9.1 An overview of the economic conditions in western Europe

Economic cooperation was in no way easier than military alliance among the western European countries. The economic condition and priorities in policy were obviously different. For example, Holland which had suffered seriously in the war was in need of reconstruction in infrastructure and full employment to pacify the people; Belgium wished to stabilize her currency and control inflation and Italy had to eliminate the remnants of Fascist planned economy and re-enter the international market. In addition, similar to military alliance, economic cooperation also required the partial forfeiture of self-autonomy. Therefore, in the years before and after 1950, the countries adopted a wait and see policy towards economic cooperation.

9.2 The importance of economic cooperation

If the lack of cooperation continued, European countries had to rely on the United States for a long time. In fact, before the commencement of the Marshall Plan, European countries had already relied on American assistance. Britain got a loan of USD 44 billion and France took in USD 19 billion during the years of 1945-1947. In the summer of 1945, the United States sent two million tons of grain to Europe to pacify the people. It was unavoidable for western Europe to rely on the United States in military affairs. If they did not plan for economic cooperation, the western European countries could not get rid of the American domination. Coal and steel were important output of the western European countries. There were two advantages for cooperation in this aspect. First, the countries could adjust their industrial production to avoid price fluctuation which might affect industrial recovery. Second, representative government was gradually formed in West Germany since May 1949. West Germany would restore sovereignty in the near future and revive her control of rich energy and resources required for heavy industries. By that time it would be difficult to keep her under control. If the military reconstruction of West Germany was monitored by NATO, her economy should better be dominated by an international organization. The Schuman Declaration on 9 May 1950 gave rise to the formation of the ECSC. Its members included France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux. The organization was formally established on 18 April 1951 under the Treaty of Paris. It aimed at developing economy, increasing employment and improving the standards of living in western Europe. The most important idea was to prevent wars through economic cooperation.

European Economic Community (EEC) was also developed from ECSC. Between 1952 and 1957, the heavy industries which the six countries relied mostly on were on the decline due to a number of reasons:

  1. Technical improvements led to a drop in demand for coal used for casting steel;

  2. Oil became an important substitution for coal;

  3. Coal from the United States still had high competitive power as the price including cost of delivery remained cheaper than that in western Europe.

The coal mining industry of western Europe subsequently went on a downward spiral due to shortage of funding and the lack in technical innovation. During this period, new kind of cooperation was initiated by member states. In 1956, the idea of a European common market emerged from a report drafted by the Belgian politician Paul Henri Spaak. His idea was gradually put into implementation when the Treaty of Rome was signed on 28 March, 1957. As a result, the EEC was established and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) was also formed. France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux remained the foundation members. EEC became an important driving force for integration in western Europe. In 1962 the member states began to fix the market price for agricultural products and tariff abolition was completed in 1968 amongst member states.
9.3 Konrad Adenauer and the reconstruction of sovereignty in West Germany

Until the early 1960s, integration started by the six western European countries began to take shape and they had already achieved military and economic integration to a certain extent. More importantly, the leaders of France and Germany could have better collaboration. From 1949 to 1963, West Germany was dominated by the central rightist party, the Christian Democratic Union and its allies. During this period the Chancellor Konrad Adenauer supported western integration. For this reason, critics at times accused Adenauer of deepening the rift between East and West Germany and thereby sacrificing the German interests. In spite of this, Adenauer did not blindly follow the French example. As early as 1950, he had started to work for the entry of West Germany into NATO and hoped to rearm West Germany. France was so cautious as to counter propose the establishment of the European Defense Community. Therefore France, Italy, the Benelux and West Germany signed agreement in Bonn, the capital of West Germany in May 1952. West Germany’s return to European politics began to take shape. Time and again, Adenauer attempted to secure Bonn to the western European community, stressing in a public speech in November 1953 that better relations between West Germany and France would serve as the basis of a common western European policy. Based on mutual benefit, the French government no longer refused to have further political and military cooperation with West Germany. Although the European Defense Community had not come into being, the six European nations, Canada and the United States promised at the London Conference, which was held in September 1954, that their occupation of West Germany would be terminated as soon as possible. Provided that no atomic and biological weapons were to be developed in German territory, re-armament within West Germany would be gradually permitted. In October, the Paris Conference confirmed the decision made in the London Conference. West Germany and Italy were admitted as member states of the Brussels Treaty of 1948 and the ‘western European Union’ was established. West Germany’s sovereignty was completely restored. In 1955, West Germany was admitted into NATO and western European integration in political, economic and military aspects was given another dramatic push.


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