Why Did the U.S. and Russia Enter the Cold War?
This video lays out the factors and forces at work in the Cold War between Russia and the United States. The two strongest world powers at the end of World War II were the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. They didn’t trust each other and sought security through allies and trying to thwart each other’s goals of being the dominant world power. They first came into conflict over the rebuilding of Europe. Germany was partitioned into Soviet-controlled East Germany and American and Western allies controlled West Germany. The capital of Germany, Berlin, was even partitioned into West and East even though Berlin was in East Germany. Russia worked hard to get all of its neighbors to ally with it and elect pro-communist governments (Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, etc.) Truman, as president of the U.S., proposed the Truman doctrine which put forth a policy of “containment” to keep communism from spreading in Europe and around the world. Communism would not be permitted to spread into more countries. If it tried to do that, the U.S. would oppose it. The U.S. hoped that if Western Europe was rebuilt it would help prevent more European countries from falling to communism. The U.S. and Western Nations formed N.A.T.O. for mutual defense. The U.S.S.R. formed the Warsaw Pact with the Eastern European communist nations to counter balance NATO. There was an arms race involving nuclear missiles leading to M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) through the sheer number of nuclear warheads they possessed. The Cold War had its close calls including the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Eventually, the peace talks of the 70s (SALT I and II) plus some changes in Russia lead to an end of the Cold War.
They both wanted a say in how things were going to go from now on. They both wanted to be recognized as the dominant world power. The first issue on which these nations butted heads was the rebuilding of Europe. After World War II, there were a lot of problems in Europe. There were a lot of places that had been damaged.
There were a lot of fields that didn’t have crops. There were a lot of homes that have been destroyed, just a lot of destruction and a lot that had to be rebuilt, a lot that had to be replanned so that people would have enough food grown, people would have jobs, people would have enough homes. Both of these large countries wanted a say in how this was going to happen.
They were really more interested more in the political and governmental side of things. They wanted a say in how new governments were going to be set up and how these new countries were going to turn around things after they had finished World War II. Many countries had been taken over by the Axis powers and now were given back control of their government.
They had to decide what kind of government they wanted to have. That’s where the United States and Russia both had a vested interest. Germany was divided into eastern and western sections. The western half was democratic. They were going to have a democratic government. They looked to the United States for guidance, while eastern Germany became a communist nation in the USSR’s sphere of influence. The USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, also called the Soviet Union and sometimes just referred to as Russia during this time.
Really, the USSR, or the Soviet Union, was the group of republics that were underneath this control. It was Russia and other smaller nations around it that were under Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia, or the USSR, worked to bring all of its neighbors, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria under its control. Russia wanted all these countries to be under its control and to also be communist. The western borders of these nations formed what Churchill, who was Britain’s prime minister, referred to as the “Iron Curtain”.
This is because it was like the line that would have formed a curtain dividing the two parts of Europe, dividing communist Eastern Europe from democratic Western Europe. That border between the- the many borders, the western borders of these countries in Eastern Europe that were communist, that were up against the borders of Western Europe that were Democratic became known as the Iron Curtain, because it was like this split where communist was on one side and democracy was on the other.
In order to stop the spread of communism in Europe and elsewhere, President Truman (this was the U.S. president) asserted his policy of containment in the so-called Truman Doctrine. Containment meant that they were going to try to keep communism limited to the countries that it was already within. Keep it contained within the countries it’s already in.
If any other countries that are independent start to be pushed into communism, if a neighboring country tries to take over an independent nation and force it to be communist, then the United States would be against that and might offer some kind of assistance to keep that nation from becoming communist, because they wanted to contain communism only in the places that already existed. This meant that the U.S. would support the anticommunist governments throughout the world.
Like I was saying, if there was a government that was in place but that was in jeopardy of being taken over by Communist Party, by a Communist Party in that nation or by a neighboring nation’s influence, then the U.S. government might step in to help that country maintain its non-communist government. The Marshall Plan advanced this policy by supplying aid to war-ravaged countries in Western Europe. The Marshall Plan said, “You know what? We also should help those countries that are still war-ravaged in Western Europe.”
Now, they were only helping the countries in Western Europe who were democratic. They weren’t helping the countries in Eastern Europe. This even meant that, where Germany was split up, people in eastern Germany tried to keep the Americans and British and other countries who were trying to help airlift in supplies to Western Germany, the eastern Germans tried to stop that, because they didn’t want any help to be given to western Germany.
They even went to great lengths to be able to get past this eastern blockade and be able to help the Western countries and give them the aid that they needed. These countries, the United States and some of the other Democratic countries over in Europe, worked together to help give aid to war-ravaged countries in Western Europe, which was going to make them even friendlier toward their democratic neighbors and the United States across the ocean, because those people were helping them. They were also a democracy.
That was going to help keep those countries democratic. In 1949, the Western European and North American nations entered into a mutual defense treaty. This would be your primarily Democratic nations were entering into a defense treaty together known as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). This is going to be North American nations that were democratic and the Western European nations entering into this treaty together. As a response, the Eastern European nations joined with the Soviet Union.
They said, “Okay, you want to have your treaty? We’ll have one, too.” The Eastern European nations that were mainly communists joined with the Soviet Union in what was known as the Warsaw Pact. Again, alliances had been formed, treaties had been signed, groups were split up over communism versus democracy, and then during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union each tried to deter an attack by the other by building up fantastic arsenals of nuclear missiles.
Remember, World War II was ended after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Now they had this knowledge, they had this available weapon. The Russians realized how to make these weapons as well. Both countries started to build up a supply of nuclear missiles so they had them in reserve to say, “Well, if you use some against us, we’ll use some against you, or if you do this then we’ll shoot the nuclear missiles at you.” They both have the ultimate threat to use as leverage against the other.
There were a couple of serious threats to global peace, because, even though every country didn’t have this, if a nuclear missile was sent to a certain area, it was going to do a lot of damage. It was going to be widespread damage. If they were shooting back and forth multiple times, that was even more widespread damage and loss of life. Even though it was just those two countries, it would have end up threatening global peace instead of just the peace of those two countries.
In 1961, the United States financed an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Since Cuba was Communist, this led the Soviet Union to establish missile bases on Communist Cuba. They said, “Okay, we’re going to help our communist country. We’re going to put some missile bases there.” Cuba is much closer to the United States than Russia, so this posed a more immediate threat. The United States and the USSR almost declared war on one another during the Cuban missile crisis, which is what this situation became known as. This was in 1962.
During this time period, there wasn’t a a big military fight, but there were a couple of situations that could have been really bad if they didn’t get resolved diplomatically or by one nation stepping down and saying, “Okay, we’re not going to shoot after all.” The two nations would also expend considerable effort trying to be the first in space. It all comes back to being the dominant world power. They both thought (both the United States and Russia) that if they could get to space first, then that would help make them the dominant nation.
They both were in this race for space to be the first to send a mission out into space successfully with a person inside. Finally, in the late 60s and early 70s, the two nations began talks aimed at mutual disarmament, which meant that not that they would disarm completely, but that they would stop making so many nuclear missiles and that they would lessen that side of things. They would stop issuing threats about the nuclear missiles, they would either start getting rid of them or at least stop making them so rapidly, they wouldn’t use that as much of a threat.
They would both kind of back down from what was known as the Cold War. You can see the Cold War wasn’t really a war like World War I or World War II was. It wasn’t one where there was a lot of fighting or any great battles with loss of life. It was more of a battle for who could be the dominant power, who could win over the most countries in Europe, who could get either communism or democracy to come out on top, who could be the first in space, who could prove they were the better, stronger nation.
The cold war was a different kind of war and a lot of it went on secretly. It wasn’t out in the open, it was something that the higher government officials would know about, but the people that were just living their everyday lives lived in a bit of fear, because they didn’t know when a missile might fall on them at any moment.
They had seen what happened at the Cuban Missile Crisis, or during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even though a missile wasn’t shot, there was a serious threat of that. People were very nervous around this time, because there was a lot of secrecy involved with the conflict between the United States and the USSR. It centered around becoming the dominant world power after World War II.