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To what extent were Soviet policies responsible for worsening relations among

the wartime allies in the period up to 1950?


The Cold War has been characterised as both a collapse of the wartime
alliance between the USA and Great Britain and the USSR, resulting in a period
of heated tension, as well as the clash of the incompatible ideologies of
Communism and Capitalism. The war was cold as there was no direct conflict
between the two powers, but was fought mainly through proxy wars. The scope
examined will be from 1917 with the Bolshevik Revolution, to 1949 with the
formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO. Soviet policies
refer to expansionist Soviet attempts to wrest control over the Eastern bloc in
order to create a buffer zone around itself. It was the conflict between Soviet
policies and US national interests, exacerbated by the personalities of Truman
and Stalin, as opposed to secondary factors such as ideology, that eventually
led to the breakdown of relations between the US and the USSR as concretised
in the formation of NATO which clearly delineated two separate camps.
Soviet policies and Russian expansionism contributed to the collapse of
its wartime alliance with the US. Russia, having suffered great losses during the
second world war, both saw the need for the creation of a buffer zone as a
security measure and larger reparations from Germany, commensurate to the
extent of its loss. For example, by June 1944, there were 228 Axis divisions on
the Eastern front where there were only 61 in Western Europe. Furthermore, it
wanted to reclaim territories lost during World War 2 and those it gained from
the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact, such as Poland and Romania. As a result, in
order to gain control over the Eastern bloc, the Soviet Union engaged in salami
tactics to orchestrate the rise of Communist governments in countries like
Poland and Bulgaria. For example, the Polish coalition government was taken
over by the USSR through rigged elections, expulsion of non-Communist
members and coordination of Communist takeovers. The USSR also supported
the illiberal Czechoslovakia coup in 1948 where Communist overthrew the
government. In addition, peoples democracies were supported throughout
Eastern Europe in order to lead countries closer to socialism, and subversive
tactics such as controlling the police forces ensured that Communism always
won, as historian Robert Tucker notes. As a result, the Communist won
improbable majorities in countries like Poland, where they won 80% of the vote.
Moreover, as the USSR felt that it had a moral and categorical claim to
many territories. These claims were codified mainly in the Percentages
Agreement of 1944, where it was concluded that the USSR had a claim to
Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, with the UK retaining influence in Greece. The
USSR had also made claims for other concessions, but most were denied by the
US and the UK, and in response, the US stationed a Sixth Fleet in the
Mediterranean to provide aid to Greece in the event of insurgent and renascent
Communism. Due to these denied concessions, the USSR activated around
200,000 troops along the Bulgarian border, twelve divisions on the Eastern
frontier of Turkey and pillaged Manchuria, and pro-Soviet forces declared a new
government in Azerbaijan. As such, the US and Great Britain were alarmed by
these responses, and Churchill made his Iron Curtain speech, effectively
dividing the world into two clear camps.

Additionally, the national interests of the US conflicted with Soviet


policies and aims, furthering tensions between the powers and leading to the
collapse of their wartime alliance. Historians such as William Appleman
Williams blame the US and its Open Door policy as projecting economic power
outward, thus forcing the USSR to adopt conservative defencism. Thus the
US, also in fear of Communism, pursued a policy of containment as
recommended by Kennans Long Telegram and Ethridges report. This is
because the growth of Communist would prevent the export of American goods
in Europe, thereby limiting economic growth. Therefore, $2.7 billion was given
to France via debt cancellation to support resistance against the French
Communist Party. Furthermore, it embarked on the Marshall Aid programme
in 1947, to support countries following the winter, in order to prevent
impoverished citizens from turning to Communism, and it was the
Czechoslovakia coup that finally convinced congress to approve of the
programme. Moreover, US Secretary of State James Byrnes offered loans to the
USSR in exchange for the economic rebuilding of and free trade in Eastern
Europe. In response, Stalin viewed this as US dollar imperialism and ordered
all states in the Eastern European bloc to reject Marshall Aid. Furthermore, in
1947, Zhdanov condemned Marshall Aid and openly bifurcated Europe with his
Two Camps speech.
However, as per the traditionalist view, some historians such as William
McNeill have singularly blamed Soviet expansionism for the collapse of the
wartime alliance. Also, as per the revisionist view, historians like William
Appleman Williams blames the US for exerting undue pressure on the USSR
despite having a greater range of available options in foreign policy. Despite
the arguments for both these views, it is noted that the traditionalist view
disregards any notion of dual culpability in determining the outbreak of the
Cold War. Hence, historian John Lewis Gaddis argues that the conflict between
the USSR and the US created a security dilemma where both powers sought
to protect their own security interests, heightening tensions. Conversely, the
revisionist view ignores Soviet behaviour as a factor, and overemphasises the
self-serving characterisation of the US, where some argue that the US had a
sincere belief in the universal good of a liberal trading system.
Additionally, the respective personalities of Truman and Stalin also
exacerbate the conflicts created by Soviet policies and US national interests.
On one hand, Truman was seen to be a hardline anti-Communist, who fully
believed the Riga Axiomists and Kennan when he claimed in his Long Telegram
that he USSR was impervious to the logic of reason but highly sensitive to the
logic of force. Furthermore, Gaddis posits that Truman was heavily influenced
by his advisors such as W. Averell Harriman who had been trying to advise
Roosevelt to adopt a harsher stance towards the USSR. As such, he promoted
the Truman Doctrine in 1947, where he would exaggerate the threat of
Communism so as to prevent the Domino Effect, according to Secretary of
State Dean Acheson, where one country falling to Communism would lead to
surrounding countries doing the same. Furthermore, political scientist Lynn E.
Davis characterised Truman as an idealist who provoked the Soviets by
asserting that the USSR was suppressing freedom and democracy.

In contrast, Stalin was seen to be paranoid and calculating, leading to


him becoming overcome by fear and paranoia. As such, he was deeply
distrustful of the Anglo-American Alliance, as the delayed opening up a Second
Front, which he construed, along the policy of appeasement, the Americans and
the British wanting a weakened Soviet Union. This was worsened by the
exclusion of the USSR in the postwar settlement of fascist Italy, and the request
for a $6 billion loan allegedly being lost. Furthermore, historian Gal Alperovitz
argues that Stalin was also greatly fearful of the atomic bomb, which the US
fittingly used as a negotiating tool. As such, Stalin would quickly call for work
on the Soviet atomic bomb to be accelerated. Thus, the personalities of the two
leaders both led to inflammation of existing tensions.
Lastly, historians such as William McNeill argue that the the incompatible
ideologies of the USA and the USSR, of Communism and capitalism, doomed
the Cold War to occur. On one hand, the USSR pushed for the abolition of
capitalism and a Communist world revolution as in the orthodox MarxismLeninism, embodied by Comintern, which was established in 1919. On the
other hand, the US espoused values such as liberalism, free market capitalism
and democracy, as shown in the Atlantic Charter and Woodrow Wilsons 14
Points. As a result of the fundamental universality present in both these
ideologies, they would indubitably come into conflict, as both claimed to be the
best form of government. This resulted in a conflicting diametric of beliefs,
manifest in documents such as NSC-68. Thus, ideology contributed to early
antagonism by the US towards the USSR, as in its intervention with the
Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War for example. In addition, the US belief
in self-determination was opposed to Russian control over Communist
governments in Bulgaria and Hungary. Thus, historian Howard Roffman stated
that the Cold War was predetermined from the moment the Bolsheviks
triumphed in Russia, and historian Isaac Deutscher called it the Great
Contest between capitalism and Communism.
However, ideological could not have been the central factor, as historians
such as Gaddis argue that Stalin especially was very willing to forgo ideology in
the name of national interest, as per the concept of realpolitik. For example, he
was willing to sign the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939, often adopted
the stance of socialism in one country despite its inherent universality, and
supported democratic coalition governments in France until the Marshall Aid
programme. Additionally, the US was willing to support Francos fascist regime
during the Spanish Civil War despite being opposed to its own ideologies. Thus,
ideology alone cannot be a strong enough factor.
In conclusion, a clash between Soviet policies and US national interests
was required to start the basis of conflict, exacerbated by the respective
personalities of Stalin and Truman, all with the backdrop of the larger
ideological conflict, resulted in the collapse of the wartime alliance.