The post-war period and the Cold War


The dynamics of the Cold War. The War and post-war period. The Eastern Bloc, Berlin Blockade and airlift. NATO beginnings and Radio Free Europe. Crisis and escalation: Khrushchev, Eisenhower and destalinization. Warsaw Pact and Hungarian Revolution.

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  • The Beginning of the War
  • End of World War II and post-war (1945-47)
  • Beginnings of the Eastern Bloc
  • Berlin Blockade and airlift
  • NATO beginnings and Radio Free Europe
  • Crisis and escalation (1953-62). Khrushchev, Eisenhower and De-Stalinization
  • Warsaw Pact and Hungarian Revolution
  • Sino-Soviet split, space race, ICBMs
  • Berlin Crisis of 1961
  • Cuban Missile Crisis and Khrushchev ouster
  • Nixon, Brezhnev, and dйtente
  • Second Cold War (1979-85)
  • Final years (1985-91)
  • Aftermath

The Beginning of the War

The first use of the term to describe the post-World War II geopolitical tensions between the USSR and its satellites and the United States and its western European allies is attributed to Bernard Baruch, an American financier and presidential advisor. In South Carolina, on April 16, 1947, he delivered a speech (by journalist Herbert Bayard Swope) saying, “Let us not be deceived: we are today in the midst of a cold war.” Newspaper reporter-columnist Walter Lippmann gave the term wide currency, with the book The Cold War; when asked in 1947 about the source of the term, he referred it to a French term from the 1930s, la guerre froide.

There is disagreement among historians regarding the starting point of the Cold War. While most historians trace its origins to the period immediately following World War II, others argue that it began towards the end of World War I, although tensions between the Russian Empire, other European countries and the United States date back to the middle of the 19th century.

As a result of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (followed by its withdrawal from World War I), Soviet Russia found itself isolated in international diplomacy. Leader Vladimir Lenin stated that the Soviet Union was surrounded by a "hostile capitalist encirclement", and he viewed diplomacy as a weapon to keep Soviet enemies divided, beginning with the establishment of the Soviet Comintern, which called for revolutionary upheavals abroad.

Subsequent leader Joseph Stalin, who viewed the Soviet Union as a "socialist island", stated that the Soviet Union must see that "the present capitalist encirclement is replaced by a socialist encirclement." As early as 1925, Stalin stated that he viewed international politics as a bipolar world in which the Soviet Union would attract countries gravitating to socialism and capitalist countries would attract states gravitating toward capitalism, while the world was in a period of "temporary stabilization of capitalism" preceding its eventual collapse.

Various events before the Second World War demonstrated the mutual distrust and suspicion between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, apart from the general philosophical challenge the Bolsheviks made towards capitalism. There was Western support of the anti-Bolshevik White movement in the Russian Civil War, the 1926 Soviet funding of a British general workers strike causing Britain to break relations with the Soviet Union.

When the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Allies took advantage of a new front and decided to help the Soviet Union. Britain signed a formal alliance and the United States made an informal agreement. In wartime, the United States supplied both Britain and the Soviets through its Lend-Lease Program.

However, Stalin remained highly suspicious and believed that the British and the Americans had conspired to ensure the Soviets bore the brunt of the fighting against Nazi Germany. According to this view, the Western Allies had deliberately delayed opening a second anti-German front in order to step in at the last moment and shape the peace settlement. Thus, Soviet perceptions of the West left a strong undercurrent of tension and hostility between the Allied powers.

End of World War II and post-war (1945-47)

The Allies disagreed about how the European map should look, and how borders would be drawn, following the war. Each side held dissimilar ideas regarding the establishment and maintenance of post-war security. The western Allies desired a security system in which democratic governments were established as widely as possible, permitting countries to peacefully resolve differences through international organizations.

Given the Russian historical experiences of frequent invasions and the immense death toll (estimated at 27 million) and the destruction the Soviet Union sustained during World War II, the Soviet Union sought to increase security by dominating the internal affairs of countries that bordered it.

The Western Allies were themselves deeply divided in their vision of the new post-war world. Roosevelt's goals - military victory in both Europe and Asia, the achievement of global American economic supremacy over the British Empire, and the creation of a world peace organization - were more global than Churchill's, which were mainly centered on securing control over the Mediterranean, ensuring the survival of the British Empire, and the independence of Eastern European countries as a buffer between the Soviets and the United Kingdom.

Further Allied negotiations concerning the post-war balance took place at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, albeit this conference also failed to reach a firm consensus on the framework for a post-war settlement in Europe.

Following the Allies' May 1945 victory, the Soviets effectively occupied Eastern Europe, while strong US and Western allied forces remained in Western Europe. In Allied-occupied Germany, the Soviet Union, United States, Britain and France established zones of occupation and a loose framework for four-power control.

The 1945 Allied conference in San Francisco established the multi-national United Nations (UN) for the maintenance of world peace, but the enforcement capacity of its Security Council was effectively paralyzed by individual members' ability to use veto power. Accordingly, the UN was essentially converted into an inactive forum for exchanging polemical rhetoric, and the Soviets regarded it almost exclusively as a propaganda tribune.

At the Potsdam Conference, which started in late July after Germany's surrender, serious differences emerged over the future development of Germany and Eastern Europe. Moreover, the participants' mounting antipathy and bellicose language served to confirm their suspicions about each others' hostile intentions and entrench their positions. At this conference Truman informed Stalin that the United States possessed a powerful new weapon.

Stalin was aware that the Americans were working on the atomic bomb and, given that the Soviets' own rival program was in place, he reacted to the news calmly. The Soviet leader said he was pleased by the news and expressed the hope that the weapon would be used against Japan. One week after the end of the Potsdam Conference, the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after the attacks, Stalin protested to US officials when Truman offered the Soviets little real influence in occupied Japan.

Beginnings of the Eastern Bloc

During the final stages of World War II, the Soviet Union laid the foundation for the Eastern Bloc by directly annexing several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics that were initially (and effectively) ceded to it by Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. These included eastern Poland (incorporated into two different SSRs), Latvia (which became the Latvian SSR), Estonia (which became the Estonian SSR), [36] [37] Lithuania (which became the Lithuanian SSR), part of eastern Finland (which became the Karelo-Finnish SSR) and eastern Romania (which became the Moldavian SSR).

The Eastern European territories liberated from the Nazis and occupied by the Soviet armed forces were added to the Eastern Bloc by converting them into satellite states, such as East Germany, the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the People's Republic of Hungary, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the People's Republic of Romania and the People's Republic of Albania.

The Soviet-style regimes that arose in the Bloc not only reproduced Soviet command economies, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet secret police to suppress real and potential opposition. In Asia, the Red Army had overrun Manchuria in the last month of the war, and went on to occupy the large swathe of Korean territory located north of the 38th parallel.

As part of consolidating Stalin's control over the Eastern Bloc, the NKVD, led by Lavrentiy Beria, supervised the establishment of Soviet-style secret police systems in the Bloc that were supposed to crush anti-communist resistance. When the slightest stirrings of independence emerged in the Bloc, Stalin's strategy matched that of dealing with domestic pre-war rivals: they were removed from power, put on trial, imprisoned, and in several instances, executed.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was...