The orthodox view of the Cold War elucidates its inevitability due to the great ideological differences that existed between the Soviet Union and United States. On the other hand, the revisionists argued that it happened due to the actions that Soviets took and the consequential responses made by the United States as a result of their inflexible, single-sided interpretations of Soviet action. Yet, even with the backdrop of the early Bolshevik conflict in 1918 as well as the great ideological gulf between the Soviet Union and United states, the cold war could have been avoided in its initial stages under President Roosevelt.
However, what really determined it was the series of events that occurred after Roosevelt was succeeded by Truman. The inevitability of the Cold War, at its roots, was due to Soviet aggression and attitudes felt by the United States which was exacerbated from the post war climate of the time. To be precise, it was a combination of the subsequent events that followed Truman’s accession that sealed the unavoidability of the Cold War. American diplomatic policies were dictated by their fears of communism as well as opportunities that arise from modern warfare which aided in the evolution of American foreign policies.
In the end, the Cold War was inevitable as a result of the conflict of interest between nations, whether it be the ideological gulf between communism and capitalism or the determining the political future of Eastern Europe, which was ultimately fuelled by the unstable post World War II environment. Even though there were conflicts that had existed as early as 1918 in Western intervention of the Bolshevik regime as well as ideological differences between the two nations, Roosevelt managed to maintain a sound relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
In the early stages, the “cold war was neither accidental nor inevitable”, it took place because of the attitudes felt and position that the super powers decided to take. It resulted from American policies that were fuelled by their fears of communism and the need for global American intervention. If there had been a single point in time that allowed the avoidance of the Cold War, it was the period where President Roosevelt established and sought to maintain the sound relationship between the United States and Soviet Union. Yalta conference was proof of this as Roosevelt adopted and stood firm on a conciliatory policy.
He accepted reality of Soviet power and acknowledged the “legitimacy of her post war involvement in Eastern Europe and Germany”. He believed that Soviet Union and United States could cooperate in building post war peace. However, Roosevelt’s death on April 12th, 1945, significantly changed the course of American diplomacy. In terms of avoiding the Cold War, Roosevelt had been the only strong standpoint which had kept the United States as well as Britain from a rapid undertaking of measures against beliefs of Soviet’s aggressive intentions.
Consequently, Truman’s accession to presidency greatly changed the diplomatic setting as he was a rigid anti-Soviet who had no involvement in Roosevelt’s policymaking. As a result, he was more responsive to advisors whose recommendations had been ignored by Roosevelt in Yalta2. As a president new to his position, a sudden undertaking of responsibilities along with pressures from Britain made him easier to influence by his advisors. However, Truman had no commitment to uphold the previous policies made by Roosevelt at Yalta.
His intensive policy re-examination in Washington displayed this, evident in the Truman administration’s policy toward the Yalta Far Eastern agreements. Without Roosevelt, United States sided Great Britain against the Soviet Union. If Roosevelt had remained the president, the United States foreign policy could have taken a different turn and Russia would’ve felt less threatened by the clear shift in sides. However, Truman’s accession destroyed any form of diplomacy and put further strain on relations as well as altered the intentions of subsequent American foreign policies. His rise to power made the Cold War virtually impossible to avoid.
The traditional, orthodox interpretation places the responsibility of the Cold War on Stalin’s personality and on communist ideology. It claims that as long as Stalin and the authoritarian government were in power, a cold war was unavoidable. It argues that Stalin violated agreements that he had made at Yalta, imposed Soviet policy on Eastern European countries aiming at political domination and conspired to advocate communism throughout the world. As a result, United States officials were forced to respond to Soviet aggression with foreign policies such as the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.
Yet revisionists argue that there was “no proof of Stalin promoting communism outside Russia” and that Stalin’s decisions were first and foremost, pro-Soviet and not of communist intentions. Up until 1947, it is evident through Marshall Plan as well as statements and interviews made by Stalin that he was still thinking of cooperation with the United States, Britain and France. Despite post-war conflicts and instability of Soviet-American relations, the USSR’s initial embrace of the Marshall Plan at its announcement expressed willingness to commitment to post war international cooperation.
The Cold War could have been avoided if Russia’s position in Europe in 1945 has been interpreted differently by the United States with the understanding that Russian experience of invasion from the West provided justifiable actions of consolidation of her position there. However, this was not the case. While Soviet policy aimed at countries of Eastern Europe did not clarify her motivations of complete political domination, the United States government “undertook a deliberate policy to prevent the establishment of legitimate Soviet” political relations on her Western front.
Along with United States, European divisions also harboured the belief that Stalin’s insistence upon allied agreement to his territorial demands had the specific motive of Soviet establishment as the dominant power in Eastern Europe. In all, it was Soviet aggressive demands and fundamental rejection by the western world that to a major extent caused the Cold War to become inevitable. Combined with the aggression of Soviet actions and demands, the United States’ immovable, adamant perception of these actions made the Cold War unpreventable.
It did not matter what the real intentions of Soviet actions were, whether it be for the security of its nation or for expansionist reasons. The Americans ultimately reached one interpretation; that Soviet aggression aimed to dominate Eastern Europe and spread communist socialist influence to other nations. Thus, it created fears that their democratic liberal ideals were threatened if their “powerful adversary with a contrasting way of life” acquired control of the resources in Europe and Asia.
Even though Stalin voiced his intentions to cooperate, his actions in Eastern Europe did not seem to support that. This was the basis which dictated the very nature of United States foreign policy, evident through the Truman Doctrine, Kennan’s X article as well as the Marshall Plan. The U. S. and their global intervention policies aimed to help establish self determination of nations and free election. By aiding the advancement of independent, democratic governments in the European part of the world, the U. S. ought to eliminate Soviet influence in Eastern Europe.
Truman’s actions such as the abrupt abortion of Lend-Lease and the Truman doctrine of 12th March 1947 displayed his steadfast view of the threat of Soviet aggression. This is further demonstrated by his lack of intention to fulfil agreements of the Yalta refinements. This breakdown in diplomacy raised Soviet’s fear and suspicions which was increasingly heighted by United States actions regarding nuclear weaponry. The development of new armed forces introduced the concept of Atomic Diplomacy.
It gave Truman the belief that the atomic bomb would strengthen his political weight with Russia and thus improving American prospects in diplomatic settlements. Thus it began the evolution of American foreign policy. Revisionist historians argue that Washington's atomic diplomacy and various political, economical campaigns were supposedly designed to counter a Soviet threat. Yet hidden initiatives entailed an expansion of American influence. In this sense, it was the Soviet threat, “partly real and partly imagined, that generated the American dedication to waging the Cold War”.
United States too readily believed that Russian policy was solely opportunistic, fuelled with the ambition for “imperialistic expansion and communist infiltration”. Along with the ambiguity of Soviet intentions, America’s unyielding belief in the opportunistic and threatening nature of Soviet actions provided the grounds for their response in subsequent policies which aimed at subduing Soviet power. As such, it was a combination of these factors that created the unavoidability of the Cold War. Of significant importance is the post-war climate which contributed greatly to the inevitability of the Cold War.
In other words, it set the scene for the Cold War as post war anxieties and sensitivities made it certain that actions would be taken to gain security, power and influence on both sides. The Soviet Union harboured fears of insecurity on their Western front particular in Poland where they had been attacked twice from. The Soviet Government had a deep suspicion of any non-soviet governments. This suspicion resulted in determined efforts to bring neighbouring nations such as Finland and Poland, into Soviet sphere of influence.
Thus it was important for them to determine the territorial settlements and the political future of nations as it opened up opportunities for great powers such as Great Britain, France and United States to gain an influential position in Eastern Europe. For America, their vulnerability exposed by Pearl Harbour and the instability caused by the great power vacuum in Germany and Japan heightened their sensitivity to not just Soviet actions, but global actions as well. American and Russian post-war sensitivities set the scene for the Cold War and thus made it impossible to avoid.
Political instability of the European territories opened up opportunities to sway nations and gain domination of Europe for greater powers such as Great Britain, Soviet Union and United States. If not to gain more power, it was to keep other nations from gaining more power. Hence due to the motives of nations, their hidden intentions and turbulent circumstances of the post-war period which promoted the Soviet Union into action to secure pro-Soviet environment and thus United States counteraction to eliminate the threat of Soviet aggression, the inevitability of the Cold War was determined.
Combined with the rise of the Truman administration, the inevitability of the Cold War was truly cemented. This power struggle brought on by ideological differences, feelings of threat, rising opportunities and post-war vulnerabilities caused both parties to harbour suspicious beliefs of each other that were given substance from actions from both sides. Soviet actions whether it was for the security of its nation or for expansionist reasons were ultimately interpreted by Americans as aggressive and opportunist aimed at eventual domination.
These attitudes guided the nature of American policies towards Russia which thus heightened Soviet suspicions towards United States. New technology of the atomic bomb allowed swift changes to American policy. It gave Truman administration the belief that a Cold War could be waged with United States having the advantage due to its power in nuclear weaponry. To put it simply, the Cold war happened because both sides thought the worst of each other. Soviet thought that other nations were ultimately against them and US thought that Soviet would dominate Eastern Europe and thus spread communism worldwide.