The Cold War Expands
Section 2 - Europe Feels the Heat of the Cold War The U-2 incident came at the end of a decade marked by increasingly tense U.S.-Soviet relations. Like players in a chess game, leaders on each side studied the other’s moves. Each was alert to threats to its national security and stood ready to respond to such challenges. During this period, Europe was the Cold War’s main battleground. The Soviet Union tried to consolidate its control of Eastern Europe, while the United States tried to contain the USSR and limit its power.
The USSR Protests the Unification of West Germany One of the main issues causing Cold War tensions was the status of Germany. After the war, the Allies had divided Germany and its capital, Berlin, into four occupation zones. But they did not decide when and how the zones would be reunited. When three of the Allies took a step toward reunification, it prompted a Cold War crisis.
In March 1948, the United States, Great Britain, and France announced plans to merge their occupation zones to form a new country, the Federal Republic of Germany. The three Allies agreed that this reunited Germany would have a democratic government and a capitalist economy. Their decision angered the Soviets, who controlled both eastern Germany and access to the former German capital Berlin, which lay within the Soviet occupation zone.
On June 24, the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on Berlin, halting all land travel into the city from the Allied occupation zones. The Soviets believed that the Berlin Blockade[Berlin Blockade: the Soviet blockade of the German city of Berlin, implemented from 1948 to 1949 to halt land travel into the city in hopes of forcing the United States, Great Britain, and France to give up their plan to combine their occupation zones into a single, democratic West German state; the Allied nations resisted the blockade by airlifting food and supplies into Berlin] would force the Allies to give up either Berlin or their plans for a West German state.
The United States did not respond as the Soviet Union expected. Instead, General Lucius Clay, the commander of U.S. forces in Germany, called for resistance to the Soviet blockade. “If we mean . . . to hold Europe against communism, we must not budge,” he said. “The future of democracy requires us to stay.” President Harry Truman agreed, fearing that the loss of Berlin would cause the fall of Germany to the communists. He ordered a massive airlift of food, fuel, and other vital supplies to defeat the Berlin Blockade.
Over the next ten and a half months, pilots made more than 270,000 flights into West Berlin, carrying nearly 2.5 million tons of supplies. The Berlin Airlift kept the hopes of the city’s 2 million residents alive and became a symbol of the West’s commitment to resisting communist expansion. By the spring of 1949, the Soviets saw that their policy had failed. They ended the blockade, and Germany officially became two countries: communist East Germany and democratic West Germany. Berlin also remained divided into East and West.
The Iron Curtain Falls on Czechoslovakia By the time of the Berlin crisis, the Soviet Union controlled most of Eastern Europe. Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary had all established pro-Soviet communist governments. Just weeks before the Berlin crisis, Czechoslovakia became the last major country to fall.
After World War II, the Czechs had formed an elected government dominated by communists but also including noncommunist parties. In February 1948, Joseph Stalin amassed Soviet troops on the Czech border and demanded the formation of an all-communist government. Shortly afterward, communists seized control, ending the Czech experiment in postwar democracy.
This sudden government takeover, or coup d’état[coup d’état: the sudden overthrow of a government by violent force] , alarmed Truman. It showed that Stalin would not accept a government in which power was shared with noncommunists and that he was prepared to use force to achieve his ends.
The Czech coup d’état brought drastic changes to the country’s political and economic life. Czechoslovakia was now a one-party state, and communist leaders arrested, tried, and jailed all those who opposed them. They suppressed basic rights, including freedom of the press and free speech, as well. They also forced farmers to give up their land and work on state-owned collective farms.
By 1955, two military alliances—the Warsaw Pact and NATO—had further divided Europe. On one side were the Soviet-backed states of Eastern Europe. On the other were the noncommunist states of Western Europe.
Europe Is Divided: NATO Versus the Warsaw Pact Czechoslovakia was not the only country to feel Soviet pressure. In the late 1940s, the USSR tightened its grip on all its satellite nations[satellite nation: a country under another country's control] , or countries under one nation’s control.
As divisions increased in Europe, the superpowers also formed new military alliances. In 1949, the United States, Canada, and 10 countries of Western Europe formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization[North Atlantic Treaty Organization: as part of the Cold War, a military alliance formed in 1949 among the United States, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, Italy, Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Portugal—and expanded to include Greece and Turkey in 1952 and West Germany in 1955—to establish collective security against the Soviet Union] (NATO). The founding European members of NATO were France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, Italy, Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Portugal. Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and West Germany followed in 1955.
NATO members agreed to a plan for collective security. They pledged to consider an attack on any member as an attack on all and formed a standing army to defend Western Europe in the event of a Soviet invasion. The United States played a key role in NATO, providing money, troops, and leadership. By joining this alliance, the United States took another step away from isolationism.
The creation of NATO prompted the Soviet Union to form its own security alliance in 1955. Under the Warsaw Pact[Warsaw Pact: as part of the Cold War and in response to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an agreement signed in 1955 by the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania to establish a military alliance for mutual defense] , the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania joined forces for mutual defense. NATO and Warsaw Pact members began to see each other as enemies. Europe was now formally divided into two armed camps.
Hungary’s attempt to break free of Soviet control brought a strong Soviet reaction. In November 1956, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and crushed the rebellion. In 1958, the communist government put reform leader Imre Nagy on trial and then executed him.
Hungary Tests the Limits of Containment Not long after the signing of the Warsaw Pact, upheaval in Hungary tested the West’s anticommunist resolve. In October 1956, thousands of Hungarians took part in a brief revolt against the communist government. The protesters marched through the streets of Hungary’s capital, Budapest, waving flags and calling for democracy.
The leaders of the revolt formed a government led by Imre Nagy, a reform-minded communist. He aimed to free Hungary from Soviet domination. He boldly declared that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and become a neutral country, and he appealed to Western nations to help stave off Soviet aggression. In a speech to the Hungarian people, he said,
This fight is the fight for freedom . . . against the Russian intervention and it is possible that I shall only be able to stay at my post for one or two hours. The whole world will see how the Russian armed forces, contrary to all treaties and conventions, are crushing the resistance of the Hungarian people . . . Today it is Hungary and tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, it will be the turn of other countries because the imperialism of Moscow does not know borders.
—Imre Nagy, November 4, 1956
Soviet leaders moved quickly to crush the revolt by sending tanks and Red Army troops into Budapest. After killing thousands of protesters, the troops put Soviet-backed leaders back into power in Hungary. Nagy stood trial before the country’s communist leaders, who then put him to death.
Hungarians had counted on help from the United States. Before the revolt, many had listened faithfully to U.S.-sponsored radio broadcasts beamed into the country from Europe. There they heard speakers urging them to resist the spread of communism. Through these programs, Hungarians learned of the Eisenhower administration’s goal of freeing “captive peoples.”
Many Hungarians believed that the United States would support its bid for independence by sending troops and weapons to aid them in their fight against the Soviet Union. They were shocked when American forces failed to come. One Hungarian resident recalled, “People had been watching from rooftops hoping to see U.S. planes arriving.” Eisenhower, however, was unwilling to risk war with the Soviet Union to free one of its satellites