The new American administration is seeking to create a new feeling about the relationship between the United States and Russia. This was evident from the positive sentiments voiced in the recent joint Russian-American press conference addressed by presidents Obama and Medvedev. The location of these addresses, Hyde Park, was probably chosen to summon up the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and his vision for peaceful cooperation between the two countries at the close of the Second World War. Questions, however, arise on how such a cordial relationship so quickly deteriorated into conflict and into the cold war for nations that had invested so much together to defeat a common enemy in form of the Nazis.
On the other hand, the prospect of a Second Cold War was revived with the aggressive stance that the preceding American administration took with Russia; especially with the unilateral rejection of the ABM treaty (Thiele, 2007). While Americans seem to be keen to avoid such a potently disastrous and costly undertaking in the future, it is important to examine the origins of the cold war; not for the purpose of assigning blame, but for objectively mapping the sequence of events that eventually led to the stand-off so that future generations can know how to diffuse situations that might lead to it.
The Yalta conference that took place in the former palace of Czar Nicholas between the 4th and the 11th of February of 1945 was among the last presidential function that Roosevelt carried out as he died two months later from a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The conference is cited as having permitted the Soviet Union to march all over Eastern Europe to bring it under communist rule; and at the beginning of the cold war as FDRs successors sought to halt and reverse this trend (Walker, 1981).
The Grand Alliance had been formed by the alliance of the three major powers in the Second World War to provide a united front against the Nazi onslaught on Europe. Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt, each representing his respective country had formed what came to be known as the ‘Strange Alliance’ since each of the countries had a peculiarity that made it fundamentally different from the other; America, the greatest capitalist nation was going into alliance with the world most power communist power and the biggest colonial power in form of great Britain.
During the throes of war, the alliance remained relatively stable as united by the prospect of defeating the Nazis. However, as the war came to a close, the national interests of each of the nations in Europe and in the world began to arise and divide them. By a few years after the Japanese signed the surrender on September 2, 1945, marking the end of the second world war, the united states were deeply embroiled in a cold war; completely opposite to the vision of peaceful co-existence of Franklin Roosevelt (Walker, 1981).
The consensus among the Americans living during this period and in the periods immediately after was that the Soviet Union was largely responsible for the initiation of the cold war by seeking world domination through the spread of communism from country to country; starting from Europe, then Asia than the world; and that the Soviet Union was taking an aggressive stance against the United States with the aim of changing it into a communist nation.
However, the American policy pursued by Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman may as well have been the trigger to the cold war. There are, of course, clashes in the interests between the two nations; for example, while Russia opted for the complete destruction of German industry in a means of preventing their ability to wage another war of that scale, the Americans opted for a revival of this industry as a means of recovery of the capitalist economy of Europe.
The Morgenthau plan, pushed by Russia during war-time conferences foresaw the conversion of Germany into a pastoral state with no heavy industry; the United States abandoned this plan in favor of the Marshal plan aimed at recreating the German industrial base to offer an industrial base for Europe. This plan was eventually extended to all the European countries which wanted to participate. Russia, fearing the growing influence of the united states in post-war Europe went ahead to forbid all the eastern bloc countries that they had occupied from accepting financial assistance from the Marshall plan (Walker, 1981).
Although the issues of influence played a significant part in the development of the cold war and the growing interest would eventually have led to conflict between these two powers, the aggressive stances taken by Harry Truman served as a catalyst to this (Thiele, 2007).
Truman saw the atomic bomb as the perfect tool for achieving world superiority as being the only military power possessing such a devastating weapon. While scientists worked overtime to develop and test the atomic bomb, the president postponed the convening of the Potsdam conference; when it was finally complete, the conference convened one day later on July 16th, 1945. In this conference, the allied forces were largely victorious in the war and most of the effort was placed on setting the terms of surrender for Japan.
Japan agreed to all the terms of surrender except the abolition of the Emperor as the head of state. The allied rejected this offer and went ahead to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. The horror that this attack created was justified by pointing at the Japanese to keep the Emperor and the human toll on American forces if a ground offensive was used to topple the Empire. However, two issues put this into question; first, the Japanese had agreed to all the terms except one, and that after the attack, Truman stopped pursuing this end. It seems that the major motivation for dropping the bomb was to send a message to Russia that America was the supreme military power (Thiele, 2007).
This stance was motivated by the belief that it would take the Soviet Union twenty years to develop a weapon of similar magnitude. This belief was based on the assumption that the west controlled the major source of uranium in Belgian-Congo; the Russians were however able to mine uranium from mines in Jáchymov, Czechoslovakia which the union had controlled since WWII. About four years after Hiroshima, the Russians tested their own weapon on August 29, 1949.
This event shocked the unprepared Americans and set the world down a slippery slope of military buildup, nuclear armament, espionage; and subversion activities that these powers carried out in the different countries that they considered within their spheres of interest. Each of the countries aided government or elements within these countries which they perceived as being sympathetic to their respective ideologies; resulting in conflicts all over the world that characterized the cold war.
Thiele Everett. “The Origins of the Cold War: A Second Look” Global Research, 2007. Web.
Walker, J. Samuel. “Historians and Cold War Origins: The New Consensus”, in Gerald K. Haines and J. Samuel Walker, eds., American Foreign Relations: A Historiographical Review (1981), 207-236.