Emerging superpower rivalry and its consequences, 1945-49

Emerging superpower rivalry and its consequences, 1945-49

The Roots of Superpower Rivalry

  • Superpower identities: After World War II, USA and USSR emerged as the world’s primary superpowers. USA was a capitalist democracy while USSR followed communist ideology.
  • Tensions at Yalta and Potsdam conferences: Disagreements between USA, USSR and UK at these two meetings, especially regarding the future of Europe, fuelled the emerging rivalry.
  • Contrasting ideologies: The very fact that the USA believed in capitalism and the USSR in communism was a key cause of tension. Each superpower believed their own ideology was superior and should prevail.

The Emergence of the Cold War

  • Iron Curtain speech: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech in 1946 coined the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the division of Europe into capitalist west and communist east.
  • Truman Doctrine: President Truman stated in 1947 that the USA would support free peoples who resist being subjugated by “outside pressures”. This aimed at containing communism and marked the start of the Cold War.
  • Marshall Aid plan: The USA provided financial aid to Western European countries to help rebuild their economies after World War II, hoping to ward off communism.

The Berlin Crisis, 1948-49

  • After the war, Berlin was divided into West Berlin (controlled by US, UK and France) and East Berlin (controlled by USSR).
  • Berlin Blockade: In 1948, Stalin blockaded all roads, railways, and canals into West Berlin in an attempt to starve the city into surrender.
  • Berlin airlift: In response to the blockade, the USA and its allies airlifted supplies into West Berlin to keep the city running until Stalin lifted the blockade in 1949.

The Formation of Rival Alliances

  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization): In 1949, several Western countries formed this military alliance as a collective defense against any potential USSR attack.
  • COMINFORM and COMECON: Soviet efforts to coordinate communist parties across Europe and to promote economic cooperation between socialist countries.

Key Outcomes

  • Escalation of tensions: The rivalry led to a significant escalation in international tensions, officially starting the Cold War.
  • Division of Europe: The continent got divided into East and West, thus shaping much of the world order during the 20th century.

The superpower rivalry between the USA and USSR marked the beginning of the Cold War. This period of history shaped the geopolitical landscape, the effects of which are visible even today.