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Was the partition of Germany the main cause, or the main consequence of the Cold War?

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    In May 1945, war in Europe ended with the unconditional surrender by the Germans. Europe had been liberated by the efforts of the Allies, chiefly the USA, the USSR, and Britain. However, how the transition from war to peace would develop was unclear as tensions between the allies were already evident.

    Ultimately the transition that occurred was one of war to Cold War, the consequences of this transition being a bipolar world. However, whether the division of Germany is a cause or a consequence of this procedure, remains elusive and provokes debate amongst International Relations specialists. To determine where the division of Germany fits into the debate concerning the Origins of the Cold War, it is necessary to determine where the issue of Germany itself fits into the history of the origins of the Cold War, was division inevitable or was it a cause of the tensions that were evident on a larger scale.

    At a system level the events of World War II had fundamentally altered the Balance of Power. The Versailles system had collapsed, France was prostrate, Britain’s victory had bankrupted her and Germany was divided into four zones, its impotence threatening chaos. A power vacuum had been created at the centre of Europe as a result of the Allies insistence that Germany’s surrender should be unconditional.

    For the first time the world’s foremost powers were not European; the USA and the USSR were now the only major powers capable of being independently active within the system. The USSR although devastated in the West as a result of the German invasion and having lost twenty million casualties still had the largest army in the world, while the USA was the world’s only atomic power. Although there had been ideological conflict between Marxism- Leninism and Western Capitalism since the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Cold War as a phenomenon occurred with the dislocation of of the old power centres after World War II.

    Realists have sought to explain the onset of the Cold War as a he events of 1945 constituted a fundamental disruption of the balance of power that had prevailed during the inter-war years and during World War II itself. They deliberately seek to play down the ideological and to emphasise concepts of power and balance. For Realists international politics is starkly about the maximising of power by individual states. Neo- realists also emphasise the salience of state power. Kenneth Waltz views the actions of the states as overwhelmingly determined by the system itself as states seek to find a secure space in an an archaic international system.

    As soon as the wartime alliance ended the great powers became locked in a Cold War. For each was bound to focus its fears on the other, and to impute offensive intentions even to defensive measures. Many of these policies and decisions were prompted by misperception. As Henry Kissenger suggests, the USA although the sole nuclear power in the world, was still paranoid by the might of the Red Army, as US strategists believed that World War II had shown that strategic bombing with conventional weapons could not be decisive, the failed to understand that strategic nuclear attack could be more so. It was therefore misperception that led the USA to challenge a status quo- that rationally its advantageous position should have meant it was satisfied.

    International conflict was thus structurally ordained. Many historians have also emphasised the structural relationship between the two superpowers and their allies in the international system. Anton DePorte places the origins of the Cold War in the context of policy towards Germany and argues that the demand for unconditional surrender created a power vacuum subsequently filled by the new powers “There should have been no need to postulate demon motivations on either side to account or the friction which developed between them as they undertook to define their relations with each other”. The by-product of their rivalry was a divided Europe. Work on geo- political factors has included John Lewis Gaddis’ 1980s studies into Soviet imperialism and economic imperatives that determined American post war foreign policy. Melyvn Leffler dwells on the long-term US policy of co- opting friendly powers in the Eurasian heartland, a policy that it was hoped would eventually ensure Soviet recognition of US preponderance.

    The Cold War has also been viewed as a security dilemma. A state pursuing its own security makes other states less secure. Therefore interaction between states can generate strife. They may both desire mutual security but their own behaviour puts that beyond reach. If the Cold War is to be seen as a security dilemma then both states must be acting defensively and perceive strife to be regrettable and have a desire to refute tensions. However, few states are satisfied with the status quo but appreciate that aggressive behaviour generates risks. As the foreign minister of Catherine the Great suggested “those who stop growing begin to rot” if this sentiment is adhered to, then nations are forced to compete even if their ultimate goal is security. Kissenger suggests that revolutionary regimes such as the USSR are inherently disruptive and aggressive, their fundamental insecurity prevents them being reassured. In this sense then the Cold War can be viewed as a deep security dilemma, not simply based on a passing mistrust of each state towards the other.

    However, the interpretation of the Cold War as a security dilemma can be challenged. The traditional orthodoxy of the Origins of the Cold War, states that the USSR was inherently expansionist, while the revisionist interpretation suggests that the USA was unwilling to negotiate with the USSR, a view that is given credence by the behaviour of the USA at the end of the Cold War and in relation to the British empire during World War II, when the USA was refused to accept anything less than thwarting its potential rivals. Therefore it is possible to see that both sides sought to alter the status quo, a position that is not illogical and was indeed played out in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, based on the idea of original sin and its secular interpretation as the will to dominate this policy.

    Neo- realists are deterministic; they argue the that bipolar divide was inevitable. The conflict left by the need to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of German power was indeed a key feature of the beginning of the Cold War. Neo- realism is however, inadequate at explaining the change characteristic of the period 1945-7. It does not address the significant problem about whether dividing Germany up actually influenced the future stability of the bipolar system, or the question whether the outcome for the next forty years would have been the same if one side or the other had gained complete control of the collapsed unit. It implies that the division of Germany and Europe was inevitable, Further it does not deal with the real fear of Germany’s power that continued to influence international relations after 1945, all the powers feared a third German revival.

    Neo realists fail to explain how a unit’s own, or its adversary’s power is perceived and measured; an important question for European great powers as well as the superpowers. Nor do they adequately address the question of the relations between power, influence, capability and political will. They give little space to the role and perception of the introduction of nuclear weaponry and how both superpowers perceived this new technology.

    Neo realism in general pays little attention to the policies of the lesser powers, and the development of a ‘Third Force’ in politics. The drive for nuclear war in Britain and France displayed a continued quest for national power and quasi independence as well as a desire to enhance security within an alliance system. it is clear that Britain played a major role in the years between 1945-7, not least because British decision makers were aware of the many conflicting opinion s about the direction post war policy should take.

    The British kept up the pressure for the radical policy of a divided Germany, thinking in geo- political terms that western Germany, would with US backing be able to contribute to a very favourable balance of power against he USSR in Europe, This was an audacious policy, because the post war tensions between the USA and Britain were considerable exemplified by the December 1945 loan and the McMahon act of 1946. Further, the Cold War began for Britain before it began for the United States; Britain was the prime focus of hostile diplomacy form the USSR during the early post war months. Despite this, Bevin concurrently retained very strong ideas about securing a post war role for Britain as a third force, a great power occupying the ‘middle of he planet’ despite the country’s bankruptcy and even if this stance fuelled more hostility and fear of residual British imperialism.

    The concept of ideology also contributes to the system level is a highly contested area, which can be interpreted in two ways. Those who take the view that the Cold War was cased by ideological conflict use the word in a way that was intended to carry explicit criticism and de-legitmization of the other side’s system. ideological explanation underpins Gaddis’ two categories of orthodoxy and revisionism. Early analysts saw that the Cold war was rooted in the nature of Marxist- Leninism.

    The fact that the USSR was a closed system fuelled fears about its intentions and drove both policy makers and scholars to examine what they knew of Stalin’s record and draw their own conclusions. Stalin’s USSR was a rogue totalitarian state with which it was impossible to conduct normal diplomatic relations. The particularly distasteful character of its leader combined with Communist ideology which preached that the eventual collapse of capitalism and the triumph of socialism was historically inevitable entrenched this view.

    The second explanation using ideology seeks to understand the ideological component of the Cold War as a system level conflict, with the main players in serious and very real competition at both the state level and the societal- economic level. This implies that the post war system could not accommodate both communism and capitalism. There was, therefore, a dynamic of conflict in which one system had to prevail over the other, and the whole Cold War period was underpinned by continuous international social and ideological struggle. Ideology was far more than just an aspect of he domestic environment; it was at the centre of the conflict between the two blocs. In other words, the internal nature of capitalism and of communism fuelled international as well as domestic conflict in the socio- economy, ideological- cultural and military- political spheres.

    Ideology can also be invoked partisan attitudes in terms of domestic perception of the rivals ideology. Both Marxist Leninism and capitalism were perceived by their opponents to be inherently expansionist and both also came to be used as tension building elements within states, but ideology alone is not a sufficient explanation of the beginning of the Cold War. Western states had found themselves faced with an ideological problem in the early years of WWII but the decision to work with the communists to defeat the Nazis was made, as was the supremely realist percentages agreement between Churchill and Stalin in 1944. Ideological factors alone do not explain why the period after 1945 any more than the period after 1917, marked the beginning of the Cold war. Moreover, ideological conflict tells us very littler bout where the Cold War began or the diplomatic complexities of the first eighteen months following the end of WWII.

    The Origins of the Cold War combines the decision making factors of individuals within the domestic environment of the nation states. Research on foreign policy analysis on perception and misperception and operational codes is relevant to the decision making environment in which the Cold War decisions were made. By breaking down the assumption that governments respond in a rational and coherent fashion to clearly understood international problems, challenges the view that the transition from war to Cold War was not inevitable and predetermined, but an incremental process. Decisions were not simply driven by inexorable external forces. Scholars who work on perception emphasise the possibilities of incremental processes of misperception among actors.

    For example, the predisposition of individuals to the processing of certain ideas and actions in the international sphere through a set of allied operational codes helps in arriving at an understand of how actions were interpreted and decisions reached. at the Potsdam conference there appeared to be a strong disposition towards distress to the USSR by the US and British delegates. This, coupled with alarming reports on the need to rehabilitate Germany, particularly to address the acute need of German coal for European reconstruction, (despite the incompatibility of such policies with US JSOs), and fear about what the Soviet- Union wanted in German, and a powerful influence on the perceptions of the US and British at Potsdam.

    The Soviet team were worried about any planning for German recovery so soon after the end of the war, so the attempts at rehabilitation by the British and US delegations were perceived as a retrograde step from military victory over the Germans. Soviet ‘ideological romanticism’ may well have contributed to an assumption that they would continue to be warmly welcomed as ‘liberators’ in eastern Europe, and that they therefore lacked a clear early policy towards their zone, or Germany a a whole, or to the region. Thus, while it is often argued tat the Potsdam conference inevitably reinforced the geopolitical status quo for Germany at had been arrived at by May 1945, it is arguable that the resulting zonal demarcation, regional divisions, and accompanying antagonism were not all necessarily inevitable.

    Neither the USA or the USSR was able to pursue effective, decisive foreign policy aims. As Gaddis suggests, the USA was hampered between both party conflict and conflict between the branches of government, while Shisser and Gelman portray a Soviet system in which Politburo conflict prevented effective decision making. Equally domestic pressures were exercised. The Soviet Union for example was never able to pursue effective relations with a nation outside its control (with the possible exceptions of India and Cuba), in hindsight it is difficult to envisage a scenario in which the USSR would have been able to maintain cordial relations with her war time allies.

    While the United States, had to consider domestic political issues, having fought to defeat Nazism for four years, domestic opinion would not sanction going to war over Eastern European plurality. Equally the nature of the domestic position of the smaller states is important, the strength of the Communist Parties in Italy and France, made it impossible for Western Europe to pursue a dual track policy of maintaining effective relations with the USSR while preventing the spread of Communism in to Western Europe. Similarly the nature of the Eastern bloc states is also important, while in terms of security it is possible to argue that the ‘Finlandization’ of Eastern Europe, may have satisfied Stalin’s desire for security, It would have been impossible as a result of Russia’s traditional position vis- a- vis her neighbours for such a policy to be pursued in states such as Poland.

    The misunderstanding and conflicts of 1945-6 were interpreted as giving credence to the orthodox interpretation of the USSR as an expansionist power. In particular, Soviet behaviour over Eastern Europe and Germany after the Yalta conference, at Potsdam and at the London Council of Foreign Ministers in the autumn of 1945 was held up as evidence not only that the USSR was not prepared for the ‘give and take’ of peacetime international politics but the USSR’s behaviour indicated a ‘forward’, aggressive stance which would undermine the status quo and lose it the goodwill of it former allies.

    The Crises over the Straits and Iran only served to confirm Western Fears (although the USSRs involvement in the Middle East was motivated by oil concerns in a similar way to the USA. Kennan’s famous 1946 telegram and the ‘X’ article o 1947, the dispatches of Frank Roerst form the British Embassy in Moscow, the establishment of the Russia Committee in Britain, and the language of the Truman Doctrine, Marsalll’s Harvard speech and the NSC 68 are all evidence of the ideological cast of Western policy in response to new threats, American principles of universalise, self determination, equality and freedom, together the antithesis of Marxism- Leninism were part of the foreign policy making fabric of the USA ad were also drafted in to balance the ideological threat from the East Soviet thinking also reflected deep fears about the nature of the capitalist system, the Western desire to encircle (Contain the USSR), to weaken it rather than work with it and ultimately to prevent it being an obstacle to Capitalism’ global domination. These fears were tempered only be a believed that capitalism held within it the seeds of its own destruction

    The causes of the Cold War can also be seen at an individual level, particularly Joseph Stalin. The Soviet Union’s policies relate directly to the personal concerns of Stalin. Equally many of the Western responses to the USSR were motivated by the West’s impression of the Soviet leader. As with revolutionary states, Stalin as a leader was hard to reassure, having experienced the personal insecurity associated with being a leading Soviet figure combined with the impact that war had on his psyche, Stalin was paranoid about security.

    Stalin did not trust his Western allies, indeed in 1945 he wrote to his foreign minister Molotov that “the Anglo Saxon’s are hostile, duplicitous and anti Soviet at heart… at worst hidden enemies at best rivals”. Stalin’s knowledge of Soviet weakness’ also led him to adopt similar tactics as he had in 1940, based on bravado- therefore increasing Western hostility and fear. There is also the interpretation that a benign international environment was incompatible with Stalin’s goal of maintaining repression and absolute power at home therefore enemies were necessary to justify supporting the leader and the existence of an omnipotent communist party. The internal relations of the Communist Party also influenced the behaviour of other foreign ministers; Molotov’s precarious post war position meant that his followed Stalin’s instructions implicitly denying diplomacy a potentially more reasonable avenue for negotiation.

    However, it is the role of Germany in the new international order that was the most contentious issue at the post- war conferences particularly Potsdam. The divergent aims of the attending powers has led the conference to be deemed the “dialogue of the deaf”. Although Germany had been weakened by war, its potential power had not been forgotten, neither had the lessons of the past, chiefly the Versailles settlement which loomed large over the post war system.

    Thus the question was posed- what should be done with Germany? Both the USA and the USSR feared an independent rearmed Germany, which could affect the potential stability associated with a bipolar international system, while there was always a risk that a united Germany could potentially fall under the influence of either the USA or the USSR, creating a power bloc that the other would be unable to balance, Therefore in relation to Germany it is possible to see that each state had minimum and maximum goals. The minimum goals of the three powers (Britain, the USA and the USSR) were to control their own zone of occupation, and harness the military resources of that zone. Added to these shared minimum aims, the USSR desired reparations, uranium, security and technological and scientific expertise; while the USA and Britain desired control of resources from the Rhine and the Ruhr and secure a non- communist Western Europe. The maximum aim for the both the USSR and the USA was to achieve a united Germany attracted to their world view.

    Deborah Welch Larson draws on her ideas on containment through social psychology. Larson’s work focuses on the beginnings of the Cold War, where she suggests that enormous uncertainty dominating US decision making during the late 1940s which contradicts the view that there was a coherence or inevitability n US foreign policy making. If policy makers interpret events differently, the state behaviour cannot be explained solely as a response to geopolitical restraint. She suggests that Byrnes, Acheson and Truman had contrasting world views and different perceptions of the USSR, which influenced policy outcomes. She argues that many historians have imposed retrospectively and accurately coherence on American foreign policy. Similar incoherence can also be seen in Soviet divisions amongst the Politburo.

    The ‘lessons of the past that decision makers carry with them, from a ear of appearing to appease hostile powers to stereotypical images of the totalitarian ‘enemy’, also bring new in sights into decision makers’ mindsets. As the Cold War began, analogies between Nazism and Stalinism were frequently drawn. As President Truman said, ‘a totalitarian state is no different whether you call it Nazi, Fascism Communist or Franco Spain” The offensive comparison between Stalin and Hitler made by British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin to the Molotov during the September 1945 Council of Foreign Ministers severely soured their already fragile relationship. but was indicative o how deeply Bevin’s mindset was influence by the experience of two wars against the Germans. a distrust of Communism that dated back to the 1920s and a deep personal dislike for Molotov. Lessons of the past, apply to key political leaders and to whole bureaucracies, which necessarily carry a stronger collective memory than do Cabinets of Parties in power.

    If the processes that inform decision making add to understanding of Cold War beginnings, so do analyses which set those policies within the context of appealing to domestic audiences and, indeed, of maintaining and strengthening loyalty within the state. The nature of early Cold war decisions and the timing of policy shifts can be explained in party domestic political constraints. Within the United Kingdom, it is possible to argue that until the USSR had been demonised in the public’s mind, that it by mind 1947, it was no possible to carry through overtly anti Soviet politics, in part because admiration of the USSR’s war effort remained a portent force in public opinion.

    The French dilemma over its Soviet policy made inevitable a similar ‘dual policy because indigenous support for the French Communists remained high throughout this period. Likewise, the debate about the Truman Doctrine shows that it was written with appeal to a domestic audience in mind- ‘the greatest selling job in US history’ rather than in consideration of the impact that such language would have upon the Soviet Union. thus timing and presentation as well as content of policy may be explained by domestic political considerations/. What was going n within the sate, (or, later the bloc) was an important development of the Cold War as the relations among states, An explorative exposition of this view is the ‘two dungeons thesis’ in which it is claimed that internalist actors played the key part in fermenting foreign policy/

    Each level of analysis presents a picture of how and why states behaved as they did during the formative years of the Cold War (1945-1947), where blame for development of the Cold War lies, has evolved at all levels. The Orthodoxy states that the USSR was to blame, at an internationalist level they suggest that the USSR was an aggressive expansionist state that prompted other states to attempt to contain it. The historical focus on security from external threats links with realist and neo- realist explanations of the superpower rivalry, while the portrayal of Stalin as a paranoid and ruthless leader, who made co operation impossible attributes blame at the personal domestic level.

    The orthodox however, rejects the role of ideology that has been discussed, power and security are what determine the specific external requirements. This orthodoxy of Soviet responsibility evolved in the 1960s, when the role of US capitalism was examined as the driving force of US foreign policy, societies therefore sought security in the form of resisting the expansion of capitalism into areas where it would challenge Soviet communism. Finally the post revisionists, reject both the polarised arguments, searching for a more balanced view that is the product of a research orientated approach.

    The explanations above seek to explain why the tensions developed, and what the consequences of such tensions were, namely a Cold War bipolar world. Central to both cause and consequence is Germany. Lying in the centre of Europe, this power vacuum, was one of the most contentious issues. Although divided informally from 1945, these divisions were not concrete at the time. The potential to reunite Germany was still present, until 1947, especially from the Soviets. However, by this time the divisions over ideology, Eastern Europe and state security made such a move impossible. In 1945 modification to the division of Germany was still possible, indeed Churchill was reluctant to withdraw US and British troops from areas of the nominally Soviet zone that they in practice occupied- it was only the desire of Truman to demonstrate to Churchill that the days of balance of power politics were over that prevented this firm stance towards Stalin from being taken in 1945.

    It was the acceptance first by the United States of America and then by the USSR that a division of Germany on a more permanent basis would assure their minimum goal, while an attempt to secure the maximum goal could potentially cost them their minimum desires. As no agreement could be reached over Germany it served to exacerbate relations. The belief that a whole German entity would susceptible to the influence of Soviet communism (a fear heightened by the Soviet merger of the KPD with the SPD to form the SED party) led the Western zones to unite and endeavour to integrate Germany into Western Europe. Equally the desire for security kept the Soviets from pursuing policies to unite Germany, although they came to this realisation later than the USA.

    The Cold War was a legacy of World War II, the conflict had upset the international system, altered the balance of power, shattered empires, reconstructed the economies and societies within nations leaving a legacy of fear ordained in a period of unusual tensions, therefore security concerns predominated. As a result tensions between the USA and the USSR over the reconstruction of Europe particularly aid and of course the future of Germany strained an alliance that had ultimately achieved its sole purpose- the defeat of Nazism. The division of Germany did not cause the Cold War. The discussions over the future of Germany contributed to the rising tensions that did result in the Cold War. However, the act of formalised division was a consequence of the decision taken by both the USA and the USSR in turn to be satisfied with their minimum goal rather than pursue their maximum goal of reunification, and therefore a consequence of the Cold War, and the process that was beginning to divide the world into superpower spheres of influence.


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