Reasons for the emergence of the Cold War, up to 1955

Reasons for the emergence of the Cold War, up to 1955

Emergence of the Cold War

Political Ideological Differences

  • Communism vs Capitalism: After the end of the Second World War, two opposing ideologies emerged—The Soviet Union championed communism (state ownership of property and equality) while the United States adhered to capitalism (individual freedoms, private property, and enterprise).
  • Democracy vs Dictatorship: The United States and its allies were democratic states, while the Soviet Union was a communist dictatorship.

War-Time Alliances

  • Alliance of Convenience in WW2: Those differences were kept aside during WW2, when the United States, the UK, and the Soviet Union formed an unlikely alliance to defeat Nazi Germany. However, this alliance was of convenience and soon dissolved after the war.
  • Potsdam and Yalta Conferences: At these conferences held towards the end of WW2, disagreements began to surface over what to do with post-war Europe.

Post-War Europe

  • Buffer Zone in Eastern Europe: After WW2, the Soviet Union aimed to create a buffer zone of friendly communist states in Eastern Europe to prevent another invasion. This stoked fears in the West about the spread of communism.
  • Iron Curtain Speech: In 1946, Winston Churchill described an ‘Iron Curtain’ dividing the democratic West and communist East. This symbolic description played a significant role in escalating tensions.

Economic Factors

  • Marshall Plan: The United States provided financial aid to war-torn Western European countries through the Marshall Plan, perceived by the USSR as an attempt to spread capitalism.
  • Berlin Blockade and Airlift (1948-49): The USSR’s blockade of Berlin in an attempt to gain control of the city led to a direct confrontation with the allies and increased Cold War tensions.

Military Factors

  • NATO and Warsaw Pact: The formation of NATO by Western powers, followed by the Warsaw Pact by the Soviets, created two opposing military blocs, a classic characteristic of Cold War.
  • Nuclear Arms Race: The development of the atomic bomb by the USA, and the subsequent development of nuclear weapons by the USSR ramped up tensions and the creation of a bi-polar world.

Emergence of a Bi-Polar World

  • Two Superpowers: With the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan, the USA and the USSR emerged as the world’s two superpowers with conflicting ideologies and mutual distrust—leading to a global power struggle.
  • Non-Alignment Movement: Many new nations born out of decolonisation chose to remain neutral in this conflict, forming the Non-Aligned Movement which added another dimension to the Cold War politics.