Assessing The Beginning of the Cold War

Cold War Begin?

The Beginning of the Cold War

The cold war had its beginnings after the Second World War. This war was termed as being ‘cold’ in that it was not a conventional war or conflict. The two major world powers that emerged from the Second World War, Russia and the United States, faced each other and not were not prepared to use the main weapons at their disposal; namely nuclear bombs. This resulted in a very different type of conflict to the “hot” or conventional mode of warfare.

In such a “hot war,” nuclear weapons might destroy everything. So, instead, they fought each other indirectly. They supported conflicts in different parts of the world. They also used words as weapons. They threatened and denounced each other. Or they tried to make each other look foolish. (Cold War)

The cold war between these two antagonists was to dominate history and international affairs in almost every area of the world for virtually the entire second half of the Twentieth Century.

While there is still considerable debate about this issue, most historian agree that it came to an end “…when the United States and the Soviet Union improved relations during the nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies. Others believe it ended when the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989.” (Cold War)

2. The causes of the cold war

There are many differing assessments and interpretations of the reasons for the start of the Cold War. From the American perspective, the claim was that while Americans wanted to ‘get along’ with the Russians after the Second World War, yet they “…came to realize that accommodation was impossible because of the Kremlin’s drive for world domination.” (Whitcomb, 1998, p. 2) Another point-of-view that cam to the fore in later interpretations of the Cold War was that America actions were also “…frequently provocative, needlessly confrontational, and even imperialistic.” (Whitcomb, 1998, p. 2) This view also sees the Russian actions in the Cold War at the beginning as being a reaction to what they saw as American, and capitalistic, imperialism

However, outside of this debate about the possible origins of the Cold war, one should begin with the historical facts.

After the end of the Second World War there were only two superpowers left on the world stage – the United States and the Soviet Union.

A race to attain the best armaments ensued and both these nations had nuclear arms by the early 1050’s. Each power was therefore capable of delivering these nuclear warheads and potentially devastating the opposing force. However the potential for mutual destruction was so great that the use of these weapons could only realistically be seen as deterrents. The potential for world-wide destruction was however always present. This was amply demonstrated in the near tragedy of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Therefore one could state that a central causative factor in the cold war was the struggle for dominance, power and control in the world.

Another essential cause of the cold war was the extreme difference in ideology and social philosophies between the two major powers. This was a cardinal issue that was to be the central focus of numerous conflicts across the globe – and was the main reasons the start of the Vietnam War.

In effect there were three groups involved in the Cold War situation in the second half of the Twentieth Century. The West was led by the United States and espoused a philosophy of democracy, capitalistic enterprise and entrepreneurship. This view placed a strong emphasis on the freedom of the individual and the importance of personal identity. The United States was aligned to other countries like the United Kingdom who supported the democratic philosophy. In the east, many countries were led by the Soviet Union, which espoused a very different and at times diametrically opposed ideology. This view, which was interpreted mainly through Marxist doctrine and theory, was that of a revolution against the oppression of capitalism and suggested a social philosophy which emphasized the well-being of the group over the freedom of the individual. The third group refers to various non-aligned countries that were not aligned to the two main groupings.

The inception of the Cold War between these two powers begins with the division of Germany after the Second World War. During the war the United States and the Soviet Union were allies in the mutual battle against the forces of Hitler’s Germany. As the war drew to an end,”…. The future of Eastern Europe became a point of contention between the Soviet Union and its Western allies.” (Cold War)

The Russians has been invaded by Germany during the Second World War, with the help of number of Eastern European countries. The loss of life and devastation due to this invasion had been horrendous for the Soviet Union and an estimated twenty-five million Russians died. Russia therefore felt that it had a duty to consolidate Eastern Europe. “The Soviet Union was determined to install “friendly” regimes throughout Eastern Europe following the War. The strategic goal was to protect its European borders from future invasions.”

Cold War)

Secondly, the Soviet Union felt that its ideology of communism was to be the dominant political force in Eastern Europe. “The Soviets believed that they had an agreement with the western democracies that made Eastern Europe a Soviet sphere of influence, i.e. The Soviet Union would have dominant influence in that region.” (Cold War) By 1948, “… pro-Soviet regimes were in power in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. ” (Cold War) The factors that led to the start of the Cold War can be summarized as follows.

The differences in political ideology between communism and capitalism and between dictatorship and democracy. The very impetus and logic within each system necessitates and “… calls for the destruction of the other.” (Who was to blame for the start of the Cold War?)

The need to defend the Society Union necessitated a consolidation of territories.

Various political actions also instigated the development of a Cold War scenario; for example, Stalin’s refusal to allow free elections in Eastern Europe as well as other actions which antagonized the West. The United States also failed to open up a second front to help the Russians in the Second World War. (Who was to blame for the start of the Cold War?)

The Cold War was therefore developed as a subtle and often clandestine conflict between these two ideological forces.

On the one hand the Western powers and mainly the United States were determined to stop the spread of communism in the world.

In an ideological sense the United States was of the opinion that this political philosophy was a danger to the development of democratic freedoms in the world. While the United States could not do much about the Eastern European countries under direct Soviet control, it proceeded to undertake a shadowy and propaganda war to ensure that countries in Western Europe did fall under communist domination. An important aspect that concerned Western powers at the end of the Second World War was the fact that there had been an increase in the popularity of the communist party during the war as a result of their part in the resistance of the German occupation. The Soviet Union on the other hand was convinced that the rise of communism and the demise of western capitalistic mode of life was destined historically and was inevitable. It saw the spread of communism as an essential and important liberation and freedom of people and workers for the shackles on capitalistic oppression.

The First President of the United States to enter into the Cold War was Harry Truman. He initiated various polices and plans to fight the perceived threat of communism; for example, the Truman Doctrine which was “…a plan to give money and military aid to countries threatened by communism.” (Cold War) Truman also pledged American support for “…free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” (Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948) Truman also asked Congress for $400,000,000 for aid in fighting the rise of communism in Greece. The Marshal Plan was another policy at the beginning of the Cold War which was intended for the economic recovery of other countries of Europe. These efforts were interpreted as imperialistic moves to usurp Russian and communist influence by the Soviets. “The Soviet Union forbade the countries it dominated from taking part in the program, and the Marshall Plan contributed to a reduction of Soviet influence in the participating West European nations.” (Onset of the Cold War)

The history of the Cold War that ensued is complex and intertwined with the history of international relations and affairs. It resulted in the blockade of West Berlin in 1948 and extends to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, among others. This entire period was dominated by the threat of nuclear weapons and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust.

The nuclear sword of Damocles was the pervasive threat of the Cold War: it was something that governments and their citizens had to confront day in, day out. Nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers was profoundly frightening, not just for those who would have borne the full brunt of any nuclear exchange… But for the international community as a whole. Quite literally, the prospect of nuclear war constituted a threat of truly global dimensions. (O’Neil A. 2004)

There are many other important aspects that mark the beginning of the Cold War Era. One was the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO in 1949. NATO as a joint military group was created to “… defend against Soviet forces in Europe.” (Cold War) The first members of NATO were Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States. (Cold War) A similar organization was formed by the Soviet Union and its east European allies known as the Warsaw Pact. This also serves to emphasize the entrenchment of the Cold War into an organizational and institutional ethos.

The Cold war only truly ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The casualties of the Cold War include the following known statistics. “During the Cold War 325 Americans died as a result of hostile action; More than 200 airmen were killed by Communist air defenses, and more than 40 American intelligence aircraft were shot down, killing 64 Cryptologists and 40 crew members. Countless other Americans had their lives disrupted through military service in support of the Cold War. “(McGowan M. 2005) Of course, these statistics do not begin to provide the full extent of the effects of the Cold War. The Cold War resulted in numerous conflicts throughout the world and the way that it shaped and often negatively impacted on many developing and developed counties is only now being researched and assessed.

In the final analysis, despite all the varied political and historical reasons, the central cause for the start of the Cold War can be seen as a fight for world power and political control in both an ideological and economic sense. It can also be seen as an inevitable historical event, in the light of two world powers with diametrically opposed ideologies and ambitions facing each other in the wake of the Second World War.


Cold War. Retrieved June 3, 2006, at

Harry S, Truman and the War Scare of 1948. Retrieved June 3, 2006, at

McGowan M. (2005) American society is in dire need of a wake-up call: Award Would Honor Veterans Who Fought for Freedom against Iron Curtain. Retrieved June 3, 2006, at

O’Neil A. (2004) Keeping the contemporary threat environment in perspective. Retrieved June 4, 2006, at

Onset of the Cold War. Retrieved June 4, 2006, at

Whitcomb, R.S. (1998). The Cold War in Retrospect: The Formative Years. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. Retrieved June 8, 2006, from Questia database:

Who was to blame for the start of the Cold War? Retrieved June 5, 2006, at

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