There are many reasons that may have triggered the Cold War; chief among them is the fact that after World War II, USSR and US were parting ways and both of them were working hard to popularize their economic philosophies around the world. This struggles for superiority between US and USSR and subsequent warfare is what was branded Cold War. The magnitude of the war and damages that it caused qualifies it to be World War III. The name Cold War may have been adopted because the two rival countries did not engage each other directly, but instead used other tactics to overcome each other. It is speculated that the cold war began in 1947 after the then President of United States Harry S. Truman declared an anti-communism policy, but historians believe that the Cold War began in 1945. At the end of World War II United States, Britain, Soviet Union and France were occupying Germany. Disagreement over philosophies to be adopted in Germany may have been the main catalyst of the Cold War (Calhoun 2002). To get a better understanding of the causes of the Cold War, the following disseminated approaches can be used;
United States and Soviet Union used different political systems. US citizens had freedom of speech, democratic rights and right to assemble, but on the other hand Soviet Union was using its communist system to erect leaders while the population did not enjoy democratic rights, freedom of speech or even right to assemble freely. The two opposing ideologies caused friction between the two greatest nations in Germany and consequently led to Cold War.
The United States represented capitalism while The Soviet Union was trying to popularize communism. The US wanted the world to adopt free trade, but the Soviet Union wanted to propagate closed market system because it feared that opening its markets would expose it to potential damages by western countries. Tag of war thus ensued to establish which economic system was prevalent over the other.
After the World War II, most European economics were dilapidated and that left two nations as the superpowers, but it emerged that it was impossible for them to coexist and thus a battle for supremacy inevitably began. The dominant nation would then dictate the social, economic and political philosophies to be adopted by many younger nations. Technology, economic strength and number of alliances played key role in deciding the war.
Other issues that Provoked the tension between the US and USSR
Although there was no consensus on which political, social and economic approaches to be used in Germany, a declaration made by President Truman of the US made it an open secret that both nations were engaged in battle for superiority. The marshal plan that was launched in 1947 arguably marked the beginning of the Cold war (Poon 2007).
By 1946, one year to the end of World War II, Russia had great influence in Europe with many countries of Eastern Europe already under communistic principles. Most post war elections that were held in Europe were manipulated by the red army. They tampered with election lists and intimidated voters and in the end most of the leaders that were elected were communists. To secure their interests, the Russians ensured that ministries of security and defense were always under the control of communistic leaders, but Stalin was not satisfied with partial control over Europe and wanted more control and as a result he encouraged formation of strong communistic wings in France and Italy (2007).
While Russia was busy establishing communistic monarchies the US remained resolute but reluctant that USSR would still cooperate. When president Roosevelt died in April 1945 and Truman took over, things changed henceforth. Unlike Roosevelt who had stuck to Yalta agreement that allowed Russia to control Eastern Europe but allow free elections, Truman did not trust the Russians and he believed that they would influence all elections in eastern Europe to favor their political ideologies, he further believed that Russia would proceed to central Europe and western Europe after they seized the entire eastern side of Europe. Truman advocated for resistant approach to stop communism.
Before the Potsdam conference was held, the US had already concluded its atomic bomb program. President Truman believed that availability of atomic bomb placed US at a superior position, thus his government would resist all approaches of the USSR to any heights (2007). The starting point was to stop expansion of Russian borne philosophies in Europe. Non-cooperativeness of Russia during the Potsdam conference further irritated Truman and he knew that there was need for prompt actions to stop Russia’s progresses.
Effects of Cold War
Like any other war, the Cold War had tremendous effects on both Russia and United States. It is estimated that the economy of the US doubled between 1940 and 1960; Production of goods and services shot from about two hundred thousand million dollars per year to five hundred thousand million dollars per year (Brayton 2000). The government of Russia on the contrary was reporting negative economy growth. Due to over expenditure in military related activities Russia’s economy was threatening to collapse. This was one of the factors that quelled the Cold War.
Russia had an extensive military budget, with the industry employing about 10 percent of the adults in the country. A slender budget meant that the number of people employed by the industry drastically decreased leaving the number of unemployed youths at the highest point ever. In fact the economy of Russia continued to grief the post war effects until 1990s when it started growing again (2000).
The Cold War influenced the world governance. After 1989, the year that USSR was finally dissolved, the US assumed sole control as the only superpower on the planet. To achieve this milestone the US had formed more than fifty military alliances around the world and had military presence in almost 120 countries. The end of cold War marked the beginning of intensive science and research investments to support military activities in many countries. Rocket science, atomic bombs, war planes, submarines are all technologies that can be attributed to the Cold War.
The United States used approximately eight trillion dollars to fund the Cold War and lost about one hundred thousand uniformed soldiers in Korea and Vietnam. The number of Russians that died during this period is not documented but it’s a widely known fact that Russia used more money to finance the war than did the United States. The war also took millions of other lives and left scores of many others as destitute. End of the cold war reduced the number of war refugees tremendous while tribal and regional conflicts also reduced considerably.
Brayton, A. (2000). “International Politics.” American Political Science Review. 74, 884-885.
Calhoun, C. (2002). “Cold War”. Dictionary of the Social Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press.
Poon, HW. (2007). Cold War 1945-1960. Fun Front. Retrieved on July 8, 2012 from http://www.funfront.net/hist/europe/coldwar.htm