What was Stalin?s contribution to the Cold War?
What was Stalin's contribution to the Cold War?The Second World War ended with the emergence of two superpowers - the capitalist democratic United States of America and the communist Soviet Union. Despite the wartime alliance, which had made the American and Soviet leaders co-operate and plan future political arrangements together, the relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated progressively after 1945. Till today, historians, divided into three major schools, blamed different sides for the Cold War, though all of them, the traditionalists (of the 1950's), the revisionists (of the 1960's and early 1970's) and the post-revisionists (of the 1980's) place significant responsibility for this on Stalin. This essay aims at evaluating Stalin's contribution to the First Stage of the Cold War.
Immediately after the war Stalin's policies in Eastern Europe were especially distressing to the Western countries. No decision was made on the question of the Polish-German border in spite of talks about moving it westwards at the Yalta (February 1945) and Potsdam (July 1945) conferences. However the Soviet leader ordered the Polish government, dependent on him, to take over the administration of the territories east of the Oder-Neisse Line. Stalin's decision to expel around 10 million Germans from Eastern Europe (including 5 million from Poland) caused enormous problems in western German occupied zones - overcrowding, food shortages, malnutrition, accommodation and health-care problems and galloping inflation, all of which had to be resolved by the Western states. Despite the fact that Eastern European countries, which had been assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence, were promised free and democratic elections at the Yalta conference, quite unsurprisingly nothing of the sort had happened. By the end of 1947 Poland, Hungary as well as other countries were subjugated to the USSR. Stalin did not allow free elections but instead imposed on them the communist system through terror, carried out by Russian troops and the Soviet and pro-communist national secret police. The armed communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948, resulting in the murder of Jan Masaryk, the defender of democracy in that country, appeared as a dramatic act for "free Europe" because it was the only remaining democratic state in eastern part of it and wanted to function as a bridge between the Capitalist and the Communist blocs. Stalin encouraged the takeover as well as prevented resistance through threat, by moving several Russian divisions in Austria up to the Czech border. Stalin's obvious disregard for international agreements and his aspirations to spread communism by force, which was equal to the expansion of Soviet domination, and which could be observed especially in his treatment of Eastern Europe, contributed considerably to the mounting tension in the years 1945-48
Soviet expansionism was not restricted only to Eastern Europe. After 1945 two Mediterranean countries were directly threatened - Greece, through a civil war carried out between the royalists and the communists, and Turkey, due to Stalin's desire to control the Black Sea Straits. Stalin also attempted to extend his influences in Asia. The Soviet troops left Northern Iran only in May 1946 (though according to wartime agreements the evacuation was expected two months earlier) and Stalin used their presence to establish a separate temporary communist government there. The Iran crisis originated from Stalin's desire to capture the oil wells in the region. Further east, the Russians helped the Chinese communists to win the civil war by liberating Manchuria from the Japanese in 1945 and finally, as historians presume, Stalin inspired Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea in June 1950.
The exploits of Stalin aroused feelings of fear and danger in the West forcing the USA to seek some new, effective measures to contain communism. Democracy in West Europe was saved through the implementation of the Marshall Plan (1947) - the plan of economic recovery. Since the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 the United States was prepared to give every form of aid and support to any country threatened by communism. In Asia this was accomplished by spending enormous amounts of money and effort to contain communism using the same courses of action as in Europe or, even new measures as in Korea which was the arena of the first "hot war" of the Cold War era. The USA President exercised his own political authority and used America's vast military potential in the three-year war (1950-1953) against the North Korean and the powerful Chinese armies. On Taiwan, Truman protected and supported Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist China since 1945. In Japan, the United States rebuilt the devastated economy of that country, after the peace-treaty in 1951, turning her into their ally and maintained military bases in the Far East. Finally in 1954, although already after Stalin's death, the US set up SEATO, the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, a military pact against the Peoples' Republic of China.
The retaliation and response to each country's moves became a common feature in the escalation of the Cold War. Cominform, Stalin's response to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, was set up in September 1947. The organisation aimed not only at tightening its grip on the Russian satellites, but also at interfering with Western European affairs through manipulating the western communist parties, especially those in France and Italy.
The issue, however, which played the dominant role in the first stage of the Cold War was undoubtedly Germany. Stalin treated it as a terrain for unlimited economic exploitation, where, in the conditions of poverty and chaos, he shrewdly surmised, communism could be imposed with ease. At all costs he wanted to avoid free elections, choosing a representative all-German government, unification, a peace treaty and the end of the occupation. He intended to keep the half a million Red Army in the Russian eastern zone, which was a splendid military outpost for any interference or invasion westwards. All this contravened the decisions taken by the Big Three at Yalta and Potsdam as well as the Western powers' intentions. The Soviet leader violated the Potsdam protocols by not supplying the western zones with food in exchange for industrial resources he was allowed to take from there. The economic recovery initiated in the western zones by the Marshal Plan, the end of price control and introduction of a new currency (1948) made Stalin realize that due to economy he would lose his hold in Germany.
Additionally irritated by a striking contrast in Berlin between the prosperous western part and the poor eastern sector, Stalin decided to expel the unwanted ex-allies from West Berlin by reducing them to starvation point. This operation violated the status of Berlin settled at Potsdam and showed that Stalin was able to use brutal force in his relations with the West. The Berlin Blockade in 1948-1949 was the first crisis which placed the world on the edge of a third war. The Western powers defended their position by supplying the West Berliners with 2 million tons of goods over a period of 10 months, thanks to America's determination, advanced technology and material resources. Nevertheless, this crisis brought a significant deterioration in West-East relations and caused two important results. The first was the establishment of a military pact known as NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), which was intended to ensure the collective security of the West. To counter this, Stalin's successor Khrushchev set up the communist military alliance, the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The second vital consequence of the Berlin Blockade was the emergence of two German states, the German Federal Republic (August 1949), linked economically and politically with the western bloc and the German Democratic Republic (October 1949), a communist Russian satellite. Thus, Stalin's aggressive policy in Germany resulted in the creation of new trends in the Cold War rivalry -military pacts and a permanent division of certain countries, where the aspiration of the superpowers clashed. This suit was followed later in Asia.
Another factor, worth taking into consideration, seems the arms race between the two superpowers. Obsessed with an inevitable attack by the Western capitalist states on the USSR in the future, Stalin wanted to make up for his shortcomings as quickly as he could. He was deeply offended at not having been informed of, and disturbed with fear by, the two American atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945). Despite the expectations of the Americans that this would take the USSR at least 10 years to develop such a weapon, Stalin made one by 1949, thanks to the effectiveness of active Soviet espionage. This caused a wave of communist hysteria and a crack in the confidence of the adversary superpower. Then, in 1952 the USA produced the much more powerful hydrogen bomb, which Russia turned out the very next year, and both superpowers plunged into a mad race to increase nuclear armaments. Since then the threat of a nuclear war was to loom over Europe and the world, significantly influencing international relations for over 50 years.
Finally, hostile Soviet propaganda, much more aggressive than that of the other side, widened the rift between the two sides. The war of words, already begun in February 1946 when Stalin declared that, "communism and capitalism could never live together," was followed by a none too friendly speech delivered one month later by Churchill at Fulton University. From 1946 the Soviet Press kept announcing that, "the western imperialism was the second enemy, after fascism, for a progressive humanity," and the horrible image of the West was presented by the mass media and in the public life of the Soviet Bloc till Stalin's death.
As we have analysed above, Stalin used quite a number of means and methods in his relations against the West. These included breaches of previous international agreements, violation of human and nations' rights, imposing his own political settlements before any international conference could take decisions, and the use of military force and terror on occupied territories. In response, the United States took what they considered defending, but what often led to hostile or aggressive measures which in turn, provoked the Soviets to take retaliatory steps. The chances for peaceful solutions were destroyed, conflicts inspired distrust, and threat and tension mounted in the world. Thus the escalation of hostility continued till Stalin's death and some evil consequences persisted even afterwards for a considerable period of time. Therefore, taking everything in its proper perspective, it can be stated with confidence that Stalin's contribution to the Cold War was great - though extremely negative.
Gdynia, November 2004.
Opracowanie: EWELINA MARCINIAK
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