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The Cold War Notes
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International Relations notes 1
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
The Cold War
The Second World War ended in 1945. The winners of the Second World War were Britain,
France, the United States, the Soviet Union, China and Canada who won against Japan, Italy
and Germany. Most European and a lot of Asian states were devastated by the war, their
economical situation was drastic. The United States on the other hand, were experiencing a
very prosperous period. The two superpowers were the United States and the Soviet Union.
However, soon after the end of the Second World War, their relationship soon deteriorated.
This is because of the constant arms race and competition for the non-‐aligned world1.
The United States lived according to Capitalism, which is not exactly an ideology, but rather
"form of social organization, based on generalized commodity production, in which there is
private ownership and/or control of the means of production" (McLean and McMillian 2009,
p.62). The Soviet Union on the other hand, was ruled by Communism. It is impossible to talk
about communism without mentioning Karl Marx. Marx is the author of the Communist
Manifesto. In this work he stated the objectives of Communism which he thought to be "the
violent overthrow of capitalism and the abolition of private property" (Duprè 2011, p.72).
Marx believed that a revolution was necessary because "the dominant class under capitalism
had used their economic power to generate vast wealth for themselves […] exploiting the
working class" (Duprè 2011, p.74). Therefore, the compatibility between the Capitalist (US)
society and the Communist (USSR) one was almost impossible.
What is the Cold War?
The starting date of the Cold War is often debated, however, the official date is considered to
be 1947. The Cold War was a state of mutual hostility between the two superpowers of that
time: The United States (US) and the Soviet Union (USSR). The Cold War is often called an
"action reaction" conflict, as every action of the US was immediately responded to with a
Soviet action and vice versa.
The altered perception that the superpowers had one of the other is what catalysed the
mutual paranoia. The US thought that the "USSR was dedicated to the conquest of Europe and
the world for itself and for communism" (Calvocoressi 2009, p. 3). The Soviet Union believed
that "the western world was inspired by capitalist values which demanded the destruction of
the USSR and the extirpation of communism" (Calvocoressi 2009, p. 3)
One of the most peculiar traits of the Cold War is that it was never fought in a battlefield,
rather, it was fought by secret agents, spies and secret investigations. The only active fighting
was in other places in the world, geographically far from the superpowers. The Cold War
period was characterised by the constant fear of an attack by the far enemy. This lead to the
The arms race is in fact, one of the most distinctive features of the Cold War. What the term
refers to is the constant race between the superpowers to have more armaments than the
enemy, both in terms of quantity and destruction-‐capacity. This resulted as a rather expensive
practice, which as many argue, lead to the Soviet Union's bankruptcy.
What increased the dimension of the conflict was the possession of nuclear arsenals by both
superpowers. A nuclear war would have lead to the destruction of the world.
1 The non-‐aligned world: countries which did not follow Capitalist or Communist ideology.
The Cold War is the clearest example of a state of brinkmanship-‐ which is the practice of
seeking advantage in convincing that one party is willing to push towards a highly dangerous
situation rather than concede.
The Cold War can be defined as an ideological conflict given that it was the struggle between
two economic and social systems completely different from each other. The United States,
embodied a Capitalist ideology, while the Soviet Union lived according to a Communist one.
Many scholars think it is reductive to limit its definition to the above, therefore, they add to it
a further dimension which is that of a geopolitical conflict. This definition is attributed to the
Cold War because of the geopolitical framework of the world in that moment. Germany and
Japan were defeated and occupied after the second world war, England and France were
weakened by the war. This resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union emerging as the
The origins of the Cold War: schools of thought
Many scholars tried to put a finger on the causes of the Cold War. Before exploring the three
schools of thought, it is important to state that no school of thought or summary can possibly
encapsulate all the innumerable shades and nuances of the Cold War. There are three main
schools of thought which enclose the most popular views on the topic, those are: the
Traditionalists (or Orthodox), the Revisionists and the Post-‐Revisionists.
The Traditionalist-‐ or Orthodox-‐ school of thought, was one of the first ones to emerge. It was
extremely popular in the 1950s-‐60s (therefore, at the very beginning of the Cold War) and
dominated by British and American scholars. There are three kinds of Traditionalists:
conservatives, liberalists and realists, however, they all agree on a main point which is that
the Soviet Union is to blame for the beginning of the Cold War. Traditionalists attribute
this to expansionist nature of the Soviet Union in Europe. They hold the view that the person
who should be blamed the most is Stalin who embodied Soviet expansionist ideals amongst
which also triumphed a traditional "great-‐power" foreign policy. The Traditionalist scholars
also argue that Stalin violated the Yalta agreement2 by hindering free elections in Poland and
surrounding himself with puppet Communist regimes. Moreover, they argue that the Soviet
Union was an undeniable threat to Europe.
They argue that the USSR was aggressive and imperialist and that Roosevelt was too soft
towards it. Moreover, they also thought that Communist China and the Sovietisation of
Eastern Europe were inevitable-‐ this means that no American action could have prevented it.
They viewed Roosevelt's behaviour as a normal course of foreign policy and the fall of China
and Easter Europe into the hands of Communism as inevitable. Again, the United States, could
never have stopped the expansion of Communism.
2 Yalta agreement: conference held in February of 1945. Those who took part in the conference were
the three main allies: The United Kingdom (Churchill), the United States of America (Roosevelt) and
the Soviet Union (Stalin). Many agreements have been reached during this meeting, however, the most
important ones are: 1.Europe's freedom from Nazism and encouraging ex-‐Nazi states to have free
elections, therefore, to embrace democracy.
International Relations notes 3
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
They do agree with other Traditionalists on the idea that the Soviet Union is to blame for the
beginning of the Cold War, however, they also see the United States as largely responsible.
This is due to the fact that the foreign policy their pursued was unreasonable and based on
sheer idealism. They also classify United States' actions as crusade behaviour, which
according to them, was not justifiable in that situation.
The Revisionist school of thought was very popular in the 1960s. It differs from the
Traditionalist view in that it blames both superpowers, however, with a special emphasis
on the US, especially Roosevelt, for the beginning of the Cold War. The Revisionists think
that the USSR did not pose a real threat to the US because the war had left it very
economically weak, unlike the US which was at its economic peak as soon as the war ended. In
their view, Stalin was not an imperialistic megalomaniac, as the Traditionalists pictured him,
he was just trying to rebuild his shattered country. In order to do this, they think, he needed
to establish friendly relationships with neighbouring States.
Roosevelt is to be blamed because he did not take the opportunity to preserve a good
relationship with the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. This made it
impossible for the USSR to remain an ally.
Moreover, the Revisionists see the Marshall Plan as pure Capitalist exploitation of States
which were devastated by the war. They also say that the US offered the Marshall aid in order
to quench their thirst of expanding Capitalist markets.
New Left Revisionists
The New Left Revisionists have been strongly influenced by Marxism. They state that the Cold
War was as inevitable outcome of American Capitalist expansionism.
This school of thought first emerged in 1972. The Post-‐Revisionist view differs entirely from
the previous schools of thought, namely the Traditionalists and the Revisionists. This is due to
the fact that the blame for the beginning of the Cold War is not placed on the US or the
Soviet Union, but on the power vacuum created after the Second World War in Europe.
It explains Soviet and American behaviour as motivated by fear and a desperate craving for
security. This means that everything that happened during the Cold War period can be
explained in terms of mutual misunderstanding, which lead to perceiving every action as a
threat. The Post-‐Revisionists see the Marshall Plan as an American attempt to consolidate the
Who to blame?
-‐Stalin was a megalomaniac;
-‐USSR was driven by an expansionist ideology;
-‐USSR was a threat to Europe.
Both, but especially US -‐USSR was not a real threat;
-‐Stalin was trying to rebuild the USSR;
-‐Roosevelt did keep Soviet relationship going;
-‐Marshall plan as Capitalist exploitation.
Geopolitical situation -‐Power vacuum after the Second World War;
-‐Both acted with their security at heart;
-‐The Cold War is a big misunderstanding.
The United States tried various strategies to fight (the spread) of Communism. The most
important one is certainly the Containment policy. Containment policy had two forms: the
offensive and defensive one. The offensive form comprises violence, or its threat, and the
defensive one is based on economic strategies to create trading blocs. The policy of
Containment comprises various steps:
-‐The Truman Doctrine: the attempt of restraining Communism through economic aid and
the declaration that the United States will provide help to those who are free people who try
to resist armed minorities who try to subjugate them, both from inside or inside their country.
This also meant the attempt of preventing the spread of communism through economic aid.
The Truman doctrine was announced on March the 12th of 1947 when in Greece there was a
civil war between Royalists and Communists. Russia on the other hand, was insisting with
Turkey for it to give back Russian land conquered in 1918 by the Turkish people. In order to
persuade the US Congress to send money to both Greece and Turkey, Truman proclaimed the
Truman Doctrine. It is important to state that this is the first actual anti-‐Communism strategy,
which will be pursued in other ways by Truman successors.
-‐The Marshall Plan: was "announced by the US Secretary of State George C. Marshall on 5th
June 1947. Sixteen European States became the beneficiaries of American grants. [$12.5
billion was delivered]" (McLean and McMillian 2009, p.333). The Marshall Plan was based on
the condition that "European States traded with America" (Thomas 2009, p. 35). The Marshall
Plan was designed to comprise the Soviet Union as well as other Eastern European states.
However, Stalin soon declined it and forced Eastern European States to do so. The plan
identifies the moment in which compromise between the US and the USSR was no longer
-‐Establishment of NATO: which stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was
established on the 4th of April of 1949. The NATO is essentially a military alliance. It
constituted a group of allied states which adopted the principle of collective security-‐ meaning
that an attack towards any allied state would have been considered an assault towards them
all. This gave the right to strike back.
-‐Creation of a West German state: September 1949: birth of a Federal Republic of Germany
(West-‐Germany) October 1949: the portion of Germany which was occupied by the Soviets
was the German Democratic Republic (East-‐Germany).
-‐NSC-‐68: completed in April 1950, it is the most significant action which was part of the
Containment policy in its offensive form is (National Security Council Report 68 approved by
Truman). By approving it, Truman, allowed an immediate and large scale build up in the
American military strength and that of their allies. NCS-‐68 is extremely important as it is seen
as America's determination to assert international order. After that, national security
expenditure rose from $13 billion in 1950 to $50.4 billion in 1953.
While the US was developing strategies to contain Communism, the Soviet Union was
developing a scheme to defend itself against eventual Capitalist attacks. In response to the US
NATO, the USSR ideated the Warsaw pact. The pact was signed in Warsaw on the 14th of May
1955. Like the NATO, the Warsaw pact was based on the principle of mutual defence. In other
words, if one of the member states was attacked-‐ all the members of the pact would respond
to the strike.
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