Friday, January 31, 2020
The United States and the Soviet Union in the Period 1944- 1950 Essay Example for Free
The United States and the Soviet Union in the Period 1944- 1950 Essay In 1944 the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were allies in the war against National Socialist Germany and her Fascist Axis allies in Europe; however by 1950 the relationship had disintegrated to such an extent that the two countries had on more than one occasion nearly gone to war with each other. How had this situation arisen, and what were the implications not only for the two protagonists in what became known as the Cold War, but also for the rest of the world in this new Atomic Age. There was no definite date on which the erstwhile allies began to regard each other as potential adversaries and rivals for world influence. Neither, was their one definitive or underlying reason, for the difference of opinion between the erstwhile Second World War Allies. However, in the latter stages of the conflict and the years immediately following it would emerge a pattern of misunderstandings, miscalculations, misjudgements and suspicions which would come to characterise the following fifty years or so, in the relationship between the two countries and their respective allies. In order to assess the political realities of the situation pertaining at the time it is necessary to consider the geopolitical realities which existed, particular within Europe; and in addition to consider the internal political and economic situations in both countries in the time of victory over the Nazis, and the five years following that victory. Not, withstanding that there was also the Empire of Japan to be defeated particularly by Britain and America, although the Soviet Union would also have a part to play in that conflicts denouement. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was born as a result of the 1917 October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov known as Lenin, Established the worlds first communist state by overthrowing the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. There followed a Russian Civil War from which the Red Army formed by Leon Trotsky was eventually to secure a victory for Lenins Bolsheviks. Prior to this the emerging state faced enemies both internally and external, indeed Britain, France and the US all at one time gave support to the whites the enemies of the communists in the Russian Civil war. In 1923 Lenin died and a power struggle ensued to see who would succeed him. Joseph Jugashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin emerged as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He set about mercilessly liquidating all opposition. Including his bitter rival Trotsky (who was murdered in exile in Mexico), his merciless repression reached a peak with show trials and executions of alleged counter revolutionaries. The number of people he was responsible for killing either directly or indirectly by failed economic policies etc. is unknown but must run into several millions. The form of communist state he created is commonly called Stalinist. Historians often point out Stalins purges of military officers as one of the main contributing factor in Hitlers early successes in the Soviet Union. The Nazi onslaught came about despite the Non-Aggression Pact signed between the 2 counties in 1940. Nonetheless, by 1944 Soviet troops were poised to begin the final defeat of the Third Reich, from the east. In 1944 a confident and vigorous United States, led by Franklin D. Roosevelt, was relishing the prospect of the liberation of Europe and also the much longed for defeat of Japan. The war, had by dint of the huge amount of government spending, revitalised the American economy and by the final stages of the war America was indisputably the worlds economic heavyweight. Roosevelt was indeed the only American president in history to be elected to four terms in office. He certainly carried the majority of the population along with him. Although, it must be stated that he also earned the undying enmity, of a large section of the American conservative right, who blamed Roosevelt for introducing socialist policies to America i.e. the policies introduced by the first Roosevelt administration, to institute economic recovery in the midst of the Great Depression (known as the New Deal), possibly one of the worst economic crisis that the capitalist economies had ever faced. In reality, the New Deal owed more to the economic policies of the British economist John Maynard Keynes than to those of Karl Marx. Nonetheless, to a section of American Society who imbibed the notion of classic liberal laissez faire economics with their mothers milk; Roosevelts ideas represented an unwholesome and unwelcome change of priorities, and the bitterness felt would not be easily dissipated. With the Japanese attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor on the 7th December 1941, and Hitlers Declaration of war against America, the US the Second World War alongside the UK and the Soviet Union which, as previously stated, Hitlers Germany attacked in the summer of 1941 in Operation Barberossa. So right from the outset the alliance between the Soviet Union and the United States was more a marriage of convenience, than a love match. Historically, this alliance was something of an aberration, as the US did not even recognise the USSR, until 1933. However, it wasnt until victory looked certain, that the parties gave any serious thought to the shape of the post war world. In October 1944 the British Prime Minister held a meeting with Stalin in Moscow during the course of which, the post war shape of the Balkans and the contiguous regions was tacitally agreed; or perhaps, more accurately the areas of these regions where each power would have spheres of influence. This meeting was to prove hugely significant in the years to come: in particular as to the thinking of Joseph Stalin. As the end of National Socialism and Japanese militarism became inevitable during the course of 1944, the war aims of the victors became settled in the minds of the probable victors. It soon became apparent that both the USSR and the USA had different end games in mind, which as the international situation settled down in 1945, soon turned out not only to be different but also to a large extent mutually exclusive. These differences became publicly apparent for the first time during the Yalta Conference, a meeting held in the Crimean resort between the leaders of the Allied powers in February 1945, i.e. Stalin, Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill, the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Although, it is debateable whether, any great or meaningful blueprints for the future of the post war world were actually arrived at during the course of the Crimean Conference, other than the three leaders formally re-affirming the Dumbarton Oaks agreement setting up of the United Nations. However, there were understandings, firstly that elections would be held in all liberated countries, additionally a rather nebulous declaration of self-determination for the said countries. What was not explicitally stated, but nonetheless implicitly understood by all parties was the notion of legitimate spheres of influence, along the lines agreed in the Churchill- Stalin summit in 1944. Had it not been realised before, Yalta it certainly became known during the conferences that each power in particular the Soviets put different interpretations on the notion of free and fair elections and inter alia democracy. This, notion would be physically shaped by events on the battlefield more than lines on a map drawn by political leaders. At Yalta Roosevelt and Churchill informed Stalin that a second front would definitely be launched against Hitler. In addition Churchill and Roosevelt sought to ensure that the agreements viz. free and fair elections would be applied with regard to Poland as it must be borne in mind that this was Britains original war ain in 1939 when it went to war after Hitler invaded Poland. Churchill in particular was aware of the historical enmity that existed between Poland and Russia: Stalin however assuaged Anglo- American concerns, and assured Britain and the US that the Soviet Union would allow free elections in all European countries liberated by t he Red Army The legacy of Yalta, is still the subject of contentious debate, particularly amongst the conservative section of the American body politic; however as was previously stated in terms of ascribing spheres of influence in reality this conference really only confirmed what was happening on the ground i.e. the Red Army had already liberated much of Eastern Europe and was poised for the invasion of the Third Reich proper in 1944/45. Whilst the Western Allies would soon put into effect Operation Overlord landing on the beaches of Normandy on their march, to destroy the Reich from the west; in addition to the push northwards through the now German occupied Italy, in the face of a tactically dogged and inspired German retreat, organised by Field Marshall Albert Kesselring. Thus, it would be difficult to see, short of immediately going to war with the Soviet Union or perhaps credibly threatening to do so, even if that had been either militarily or politically possible; what in reality the Bri tish or the Americans could have done differently. One interesting footnote to the Yalta Conference is that just two days after its conclusion the RAF and the USAAF, bombed the historic eastern German city of Dresden with horrific civilian casualties (around 25,000, although the precise figure was never known) and dubious strategic importance. By the time of the next Allied conference, held in Potsdam in Western Germany in August 1945, the scene had shifted dramatically. President Roosevelt, who had towered over American foreign and domestic policy had died and been replaced by the Vice- President Harry S. Trumann. Roosevelt had not involved Trumann in the field of foreign affairs quite deliberately. He therefore had to get himself up to speed immediately. Trumann was not as understanding of Soviet foibles as Roosevelt had shown him to be; nonetheless he was not, at this stage, anti Soviet. In the United Kingdom too, there was a change in leadership Clement Atlees Labour Government having won a sensational landslide victory in what was dubbed The Khaki election: replacing the wartime coalition led by Churchill (the actual changeover coming during the conference itself). Both Western leaders were suspicious of Stalins motives regarding his plans for Eastern Europe, in particular his approach to the promises made in Yalta in regard to free elections, where it seemed in both American and British minds, that Stalin just wanted the installation of puppet pro- Soviet regimes. The Soviet leader was perhaps somewhat perplexed at this change of attitude, as Stalin understood that he already had agreement on spheres of influence and he considered it a done deal. One factor, which obviously emboldened Trumann, was the knowledge that the US would drop the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima six days after the end of this conference. The Americans did not officially inform Stalin, but in any event it is likely he was aware of the bomb from his spies (mainly within British Intelligence); nonetheless, it is debatable if Stalin actually understood the awesome power of nuclear weapons at that stage. As the records show Hiroshima was bombed on the 6th August 1945, followed 3 days later by an atomic attack against the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union declared war on the Japanese on the 8th August 1945. The Japanese in the face of the twin threat from Atomic weapons and the Red Army surrendered on the 15th August. The wartime alliance now began to rapidly unravel as its whole raison detre i.e. the defeat of its wartime adversaries had been accomplished. There were meetings between the parties but little of substance was achieved, and more often than not these meetings would degenerate into accusatorial exchanges. There was no doubt that the power of the bomb was in many ways a show of American strength, to the Soviet Union, one that was noted accordingly. One, agreement of note should be mentioned which would assume great import in the coming years was the Agreement for the Soviets to accept the surrender of Japanese forces above the 38th Parrralel, and the Americans to assume control below this. The area of trade proved another source of disagreement, Roosevelts lend lease scheme that had been of enormous influence throughout the conflict. to all Allied nations, more or less came to an end on the ascension of Truman to the Presidency. In actual fact cargo ships destined for the Soviet Union were called back en- route. To add insult to already injured Soviet feelings was the loss of a Soviet application for US trade credits, somewhere within the Washington bureaucratic machine. The Soviet hunger for tax credits was satiated by the American talk of consultation representation on all matters relating to trade in Eastern Europe. In the same breadth the Americans sought to agree plans for repayment of Soviet lend lease debt. The question of American commercial and cultural hegemony would resonate in Europe in years to come, and not just with the Soviet Union. Perhaps the most important document to come out of this period was the so- called long telegram whose progenitor was George F. Kennan an America specialist on Soviet affairs. Keenans analysis of Soviet policy was widely disseminated within the US State Department and in time would hugely affect the policy of Trumans administration. In this telegram Kennan espouses the view that the Soviet view of the world is essentially akin to that held by the pre revolutionary Russians, dressed up with and made even more lethal by the addition of Marxism. Kennan advised toughness when dealing with the Soviet Union and essentially called for a US policy of containment of Soviet influence, as opposed to the view of Roosevelt, which sought to encourage the Soviet Union into a new liberal democratic order. However, at this stage Truman was not yet ready for a policy of containment, if not idealistic enough to take Roosevelts position he was still hoping for some kind of rapprochement with Stalin. Winston Churchill captured the mood of the times (15th March 1946) from an Anglo/ American perspective at any rate, when in a speech in Fulton, Missouri he declaimed to an audience that included a nodding President Truman that from Szczecin in the North to Trieste on the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended on the continent. Churchill also used this speech to call for an alliance of English speaking nations. Stalin was, not altogether unsurprisingly, alarmed at the thrust of Churchills rhetoric, as in Soviet eyes the target of this proposed alliance could only be the Soviet Union itself: and made his feelings public in an interview given to Pravda on the 13th March 1946. Stalin reiterated Soviet concerns viz. Anglo- American aggressive tendencies and equated the undertones of Churchills speech to the racist ones orated by Adolf Hitler. Stalin also pointed out that the Soviet Union had been invaded via neighbouring countries that were unsympathetic to the Soviet Union. Thus, it did not entail a massive leap in logic to surmise that one of Stalins primary aims was to ensure that all neighbouring states were at the very least pro- Moscow. Perhaps the single largest issue to emerge in the immediate post war years was the status of the defeated Germany. In 1946 Germany was administered by the four victorious allies i.e. the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France (still, smarting over having been left out of the Great Power conferences). The German capital Berlin was similarly divided into four zones. At the outset neither side had any firm or concrete plans for the future of Germany apart from a desire for some form of reparations by the Soviet Union and on the Anglo/ American side a deep desire to avoid the re- creation of the mistake many believed had been made with The Treaty of Versailles i.e. being too punitive in relation to reparations and development in Germany These views although divergent to some degree, need not have been axiomatically opposed. Indeed, at this stage the idea of a united Germany was one that found favour in London. Moscow and Washington, with Paris being the only one to harbour doubts, mainly for internal political reasons. Truman, however increasingly frustrated at what he saw as Soviet obduracy and deception enunciated his feelings in what came to be known as the Trumann Doctrine in March 1947 before Congress in a debate on allocating funds to Greece and Turkey. Essentially this doctrine divided the world into free and enslaved/ enslaver peoples and committed the US to act in the defence of any so called free people being threatened by armed minorities or outside pressures. Stalin (correctly) saw that Truman meant communist when referring to armed minorities etc. He immediately reasoned the Truman Doctrine as a threat to Soviet interests and the Cold War was now off and running, in earnest. The announcement of the new US policy was actually precipitated by the relative decline of the UK in power and influence, and the ravages of the terrible winter of 1947 in Europe. At the time of Trumans speech the main purpose was to secure funds for the anti communist side in the Greek civil war. The UK had been pushed to the brink by the efforts required to sustain the Second World War; and was virtually bankrupt. Most European countries were in a similar if not worse position, if action was not taken to rectify the financial and economic situation as a matter of extreme urgency, it was soon apparent that Western Europe may not require the massed Red Army tanks in order to sharply turn to the left. The solution proposed by the US was at once remarkable and even viewed through the lens of over fifty years extremely generous, if not carried out for reasons of pure philanthropy. The US Secretary of State George Marshall proposed a plan, which would bear his name. The Marshall Plan was formally unveiled in a speech by Marshall at Harvard University on the 5th June 1947, in which a broad outline of an economic aid plan to Europe was outlined. A meeting was held in Paris to take the idea forward, at this stage the Soviet Union was seriously interested in the Marshall Plan. The thing that stuck in the throat of Stalin and his foreign minister Molotov was the idea of common planning and the notion of the Soviet economy being examined by British and American economists. The Soviet Union declined to take any further part in the Marshall Plan. The boundaries of capitalism and communism were now set and would remain so for the next 50 years. The Soviet rejection of the Marshall Plan could not have come as any shock in the West; indeed it may have been exactly what the Anglo- Americans for one were aiming for all along. Europe was now divided between the recipients of American largesse in the west and those countries by dint of their closeness to the Soviet Union who were unwilling, or perhaps unable to accept such American aid. In order to respond to recent events the Soviet Union convened the Communist Information Bureau, known as Cominform in Szklarska Poreba in Poland, which composed of representatives of the communist parties of the Soviet Union, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, and Yugoslavia.The Cominform launched an ideological attack on the Marshall Plan and the Trumann Doctrine. It however was at pains to point out that despite the ideological differences the Soviet Union was perfectly happy to co- exist with capitalism for an unidentifiably long period; after which orthodox Marxist theory predicted the collapse of capitalism due to one or other of the many in built tensions that existed within that system. The desire for both systems to co-exist did not preclude the enlistment of the French and Italian trades unions in an effort to derail the Marshall Plan. The strikes failed in large measure due to the arrival of American food aid in Western Europe. The US for the fist time began to run covert Central Intelligence Agency covert operations within Italy; in an attempt to ensure that the Italian Communists did not succeed in winning the Italian General election. This was done by a series of direct and indirect public pronouncements on the consequences for American aid in the event of a communist victory, together with what was to become the familiar pattern of CIA covert operations i.e. black propaganda, secret payments to non- communist political parties, and special training and equipment for the armed forces. Stalins reaction was characterised by its lack of insight and success in uniting the anti communist political forces in Western Europe. The failure of communist led strikes in Italy and France. In the increasingly heavy-handed approach to the political situation in Eastern Europe alienated many in the left in Europe. The situation in Czechoslovakia where firstly the Czech Foreign Minister had an unfortunate fall from his Foreign Ministry window: swiftly followed by a communist coup in that country severely undermined Soviet credibility in the minds of the Western public. A further crisis developed within the Cominform itself when Stalin tried to exert pressure on the Yugoslav Communist Party to expel its leader Marshall Tito. Tito however retained the confidence of the Yugoslav Communist Party, and far from being feeling himself by Stalins overtures actually began to negotiate for US aid, an act that resulted in Yugoslavias expulsion from the Cominform in 1948. The internecine squabble between Stalin and Tito, had the effect of reducing even further the goodwill of the public towards the Soviet Union within both the US and Europe. Stalin further raised the tension in Europe by paralysing the Allied Control Commission by withdrawing his representative Marshall Sokolovsky. The three other control powers proceeded to treat each of their occupation zones of Germany and of Berlin itself as effectively one unit. In addition plans had been laid for the introduction of the Deutschmark, which was duly introduced in the British, American and French sectors of Germany as well as in the zones controlled by theses three countries of Berlin on the 23rd June 1948. The Soviet response was to immediately begin a blockade of Berlin. For the first time since the cessation of hostilities their existed the very real fear that war could break out. In order to beat the Soviet blockade the Western Allies decided to mount an airlift in order to supply food and other essentials to West Berlin. The Berlin Airlift lasted for eleven months and managed to supply adequate food and fuel for two million Berliners. Despite some calls for the forcing of a passage into West Berlin by tanks, cooler council prevailed .The Soviet rationale for the blockade was simply to prevent the Western Powers proceeding down the road with their plans for a separate West German state: whatever the Soviet intention it was once again based on misjudgement and a miscalculation, and succeeded only in pushing forward the establishment of a West German state. Realising eventually that the only choices open to him was to relent or face fighting a war against a US led alliance armed with nuclear weapons, Stalin abandoned the Berlin Blockade on the 11th May 1949. The consequence of this crisis was the establishment of the very thing Stalin had started the blockade to prevent i.e. the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany on the 20th of September 1949. Following, the rather predictable tit for tat response that was to become the trademark of the cold war, the creation of the German Democratic Republic was announced to the world on the 7th October 1949. The Berlin Blockade and the splitting of Germany succeeded in raising fears within Western Europe to such an extent that there was intense pressure for a formal alliance, which would tie the US into the defence of Western Europe. As a result the North Atlantic Treaty organisation came into being in 1949. The division of Europe was now formalised, and complete along ideological lines. The focus of attention would now turn east, where Mao Tse Tungs communists were in the process of achieving the final defeat of the nationalist Kuomintang forces under Chiang Kai- shek. Conservative opinion in the United States was outraged at this development; accusing Trumanns administration of selling out American interests in the region and failing to provide adequate support to the Kuomintang forces in the Chinese Civil War. This was to be a running sore in the side of the right in America, who viewed it as the sign of communist aggression worldwide. It would act as the impetus for the McCarthy Period, so called because of the committee called The House Committee on Un- American Activities, which would be headlined by Senator Joseph McCarthys purges on alleged communists. McCarthy aided and abetted by future President Nixon unleashed a series of show trials which uncannily mirrored those of Stalin in the 1930s, albeit with considerably less gruesome results Nonetheless, the hearings of this committee changed the atmosphere in the US to such an extent that political liberals, trades unionists and effectively anyone who dared challenge McCarthys orthodoxy was subject to harassment, intimidation and exclusion from employment. The atmosphere endangered by Nixon and McCarthy would help to polarise opinion in America during the late 1940s and well into the 1950s. Against, this backdrop the forces of North Korea backed by Moscow, albeit with some reluctance crossed the 38th Parallel, to invade the western backed South. The attack was repulsed and the forces under the command of wartime hero Douglas Macarthur, after a series of battles advanced towards the Yalu River and Koreas border with China. Seeing this as a provocation China became involved in the war. This brought the world once more to the brink of nuclear conflict, as Macarthur rather injudiciously ruminated about the possibility of using nuclear weapons against China. Fortunately, Trumann declined; the war eventually ending in stalemate with both sides having to be content with the pre-war boundary of the 38th Parallel. The start of the Korean War signalled the end of the development of the cold war, and ushered in the political conditions that would shape the map of the world for the next fifty years nearly. However was the Cold War the inevitable outcome of the situation that arose at the end of World War Two? What is obvious from studying the records of the period is that neither side considered war inevitable, far less desirable. Instead the emergence of the Cold War owed more to serendipity than careful planning and desire by either side. The Cold War began in Europe, as that was where both sides met each other over the ruins of the Third Reich. The Americans with some initial distaste took up where her enfeebled Western Allies left off in South East Asia and the Pacific. The Soviet Union by dint of its support for Marxist regimes found itself being dragged along on the coattails of Maos revolutionary China. Once underway the cold war developed a momentum of its own and its logic embedded itself in the mindset of policymakers in Washington and Moscow. At every turn either superpower would see the nefarious hand of the other behind every event: more often than not erroneously. It is tempting to imagine what the outcome would have been had President Roosevelt not died in 1945. In order to avoid the Cold War the situation needed thought that was imaginative and could see things in a way that was novel. Unfortunately for the world no one emerged in either side of the Iron Curtain with the necessary breadth of vision. Stalin was undeniably a tyrant, and it would have been unlikely that a Soviet Union led by him would have been able to reach a long-term rapprochement with the West. However, the great mistake made by the West was in assuming that the monolithic state espoused by Stalin was truly representative of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union. Indeed Stalin was unique and by tarring his sucessors with the same brush the West was unable to change its perception when a new and potentially more accomadating power took charge in the Kremlin. The Soviet Union for its part made error of judgement so vast as to be inexcusable. Perhaps the greatest of which was its failure to join the Marshall Plan. That and the desire to supplant any form of independent government in Eater Europe, proved in the long term to harbour the seeds of the systems eventual destruction. If more thoughtful council had prevailed, on both sides then perhaps the next fifty years could have been entirely changed. Instead the only real winners of the cold war were the industrial- military complexes as Eisenhower was to term it on both sides, although in the long term only that of the West proved to have the longevity to be called by some the winner.