To What Extent Was the Cold War Inevitable? With the end of World War II (WWII) in 1945 began the Cold War, an international conflict that lasted from 1947–1991 and plagued nations across the globe. As the post-war negotiations were deliberated by three of the strongest world powers, the United States (US), Britain, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), disagreements arose that created tension between the US and the USSR and ultimately instigated the infamous “Fifty Years War” (Crockatt 64).
But was this conflict avoidable, or was the Cold War simply inevitable? In order to effectively answer to this issue, the origins and conflicts leading to the Cold War must be evaluated with reference to the post-war territorial condition in Eastern Europe, Soviet motives, and American motives.
Orthodox historians, or first generation historians, blame the USSR for the war as a whole and believe that the American reaction was necessary to combat Soviet aggression.
However, the revisionist historians, or second generation historians, understands that the US had expansionist intentions and the USSR acted in a defensive manner (Crockatt 64).
Ultimately, Cold War was inevitable to a moderate extent. The war was initiated by serious international conflict. However, much of the conflict was heightened as a result of miscommunication between countries. The Cold War was inevitable due to various factors, including post-war territorial conditions in Eastern Europe and respective Soviet and American aims.
After WWII, both the capitalist US and the communist Soviet Union emerged as the two of the world’s main super powers. This sparked the desire of both nations to gain political and economic dominance over the world (Crockatt 66). However, their opposing governmental ideologies (capitalism vs. communism) gave way to major “asymmetry in the types of power they possessed and in their first order goals” (Crockatt 72), creating a clash in relations that began with the Russian Civil War in 1917.
The Soviets increased the dominance of communism throughout Eastern Europe by increasing military presence in smaller countries that sided with the Axis Powers during WWII, including Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. This caused the US to believe that Soviets had mainly expansionist aims. The US was “not prepared to see the opportunity for future investment [in Eastern Europe] foreclosed” (Crockatt 67) and this belief sparked the development of the containment policy directed by George Kennan, outlined in the Long Telegram (Lightbody ). In addition, “the west had to oppose the Soviet Union for its own survival” (Lightbody 5) as the nuclear race between the US and USSR ensued and the USSR strived to equal the already well-established program of the US. This tension did not recede as Soviets sent spies into the US Manhattan Project, the nuclear development program (Lightbody 5). When the Soviets refused to join the Baruch Plan – which controlled nuclear weapon development – the USSR became even more openly viewed as a threat to US security.
The growth of communism in Asia within the countries of Korea, Vietnam, and China along with tensions between the “Iron Curtain,” or divide, between Eastern and Western Europe also contributed to increasing threat towards capitalism and the Cold War’s inevitability. However, the Cold War was not completely inevitable. Both revisionist and orthodox historians agree that the war “resulted from essentially unilateral actions by one or another power and that therefore the cold was an avoidable tragedy” (Crockatt 65).
Many revisionist historians have discovered a misunderstanding of Soviet actions, which were “primarily defensive rather than expansionist” (Lightbody 5). The Soviet Union was actually “chiefly concerned with rebuilding its shattered economy” (Crockatt 67), contrary to belief of the US. In addition, the countries that the communists took over were less about expansionism, because “when [the Soviets] took power they had ready at had scores of housekeeping tasks and overdue reforms” (Crockatt 68). Another reason that points to the fact that the Cold War was not completely inevitable was Soviet and German relations during WWII.
Stalin was intimidated by Nazi Germany during WWII and needed a form of security, which resulted in the development of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. This pact “indicated that ideology was no barrier to agreement” (Lightbody 6), thus further enforcing that the clash in ideologies between the US and USSR was not solely enough to make the Cold War inevitable. Furthermore, the Soviet’s exclusion from Atlantic Charter of 1941 implies that Stalin was “defending the Soviet Union against US policies that were designed to undermine communism” (Lightbody 6).
The Soviet may not have necessarily been against the US, but against the ideals that would be enforced upon their government. Additionally, if the US had not ceased Lend-Lease payments to the Soviet Union and had admitted them to NATO, tension would not have risen to new heights. Moreover, When Roosevelt died, Truman was less willing to recognize Soviet sphere of influence and was more conservative with the containment approach, which also offended the Soviets. As the Soviets began to conquer nearby countries, the US reaction also heightened tensions.
Perhaps if the US had been “more prepared to concede Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union” (Crockatt 65) these tensions could have been avoided. Ultimately, the Cold War was more of a “product of the misjudgments of both the United States and the Soviet Union during the wartime negotiations rather than an inevitable conflict” (Lightbody 7). The US was planning to withdrawal its troops from Europe in a matter of two years, the Soviets did not understand this and continued to view the US as a threat to their governmental regime.
Even post-cold war documents show that “there was not master plan in the Kremlin” (Lightbody 7) and they were not trying to expand to the entire world and defeat capitalism as a whole. Must to misinterpretation, Stalin “trembled… at the prospect of war with the United States [and believed it]… necessary to safeguard Soviet territory and interests” (Crockatt 69), which enforces the fact that the Cold War was not entirely inevitable, but more forced due to serious misunderstandings.
In conclusion, the Cold War was inevitable to a moderate extent. The war was initiated by serious international conflict. However, much of the conflict was heightened as a result of miscommunication between countries. As demonstrated, the gap in the ideologies of capitalism and communism caused a serious barrier to the development of relations between the USSR and the US. Both countries believed that the other had expansionist aims, and, therefore, this is what made the Cold War occur.
Though this war, lasting from 1947-1991, was an extremely dangerous type of nuclear development war, it could have been avoided in the case of better communication between rulers and ambassadors. Works Cited Lightbody, Bradley. “Analysis: To What Extent Was The Cold War Inevitable? ” The Cold War. London: Routledge, 1999. 4-8. Print. Crockatt, Richard. “Perspectives On the Origins of the Cold War. ” The Fifty Years War: The United States and the Soviet Union in World Politics, 1941-1991. London: Routledge, 1996. 64-72. Print.
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