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The United States’ policy of containment was introduced in 1947 by Harry S. Truman and implied economic, financial, and military aid to non-communist regimes. George Kennan, a Foreign Service Officer and a specialist regarding Russian affairs, played an important role in the formation of this policy, outlining the major principles of containment. In Kennan’s view, the American government should react to every step taken by the Soviet Union in that country’s attempts to expand the sphere of its influence (United States Department of State par. 1). To counter the penetration of communism in other countries, Kennan suggested that the Western states strive for the establishment of a safe community, and he believed that the policy of containment could become an effective method for war prevention. Based on his ideas, American policy in relation to the USSR took a new direction – the new and primary political aim was limiting dissemination of communist ideology.
After the end of World War II, the government of the Soviet Union actively sought to strengthen its influence in the international arena. It made every effort to promote the communist parties in the countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe and endow them with greater political authority. In Greece, the communist-led guerrilla movement took a proactive position and was continually fueled by supplies from Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, where the communists were already in power (Greek Civil War par. 12). The struggles between the political movements ultimately resulted in the outbreak of a civil war that lasted from 1945 to 1947 and caused significant damage to the country.
The Soviet Union did not limit its endeavors by the creation of political alliances but implemented a policy of geographical expansion as well. For instance, it presented territorial claims to Turkey and demanded a change in the status of the Black Sea straits, including the right of the USSR to establish a naval base in the Dardanelles (Schoon par. 4). In addition, the USSR demanded the right to a protectorate over Libya in order to secure its presence in the Mediterranean (Ginor and Remez 17).
The Soviet Union aimed to use a system of collective security that would have allowed that country to consolidate and proliferate its political power. Moreover, after the withdrawal of US troops from Europe, the USSR became the dominant military force on the continent of Europe (Martel 303). This factor favored Stalin in the achievement of his goals. The result was noticed by the Western states and was perceived as a threat. The policy of containment became a response to this menace.
Yalta and Potsdam
During the war, the United States, the USSR, and Britain were allies, but after the Nazi regime was demolished, tensions between the communist and democratic powers became apparent. During the conferences that took place in Yalta and Potsdam immediately after the end of World War II, the states tried to figure out how to restore the post-war world. The leaders discussed various issues, including those pertaining to Poland and other European countries. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin agreed to set up a democratic system in the European countries occupied by the USSR in exchange for control over Poland (Clare par. 2). Additionally, he promised to adhere to democratic ruling principles and include non-communist members in the Polish government. Nevertheless, Stalin broke his promise. He arrested Poland’s non-communist leaders and continued to maintain a pro-communist policy in other countries as well.
At the Potsdam Conference, Truman openly criticized Stalin’s moves. Neither did the leaders come to an agreement on the problem of the division and rebuilding of Germany. As a result, these disagreements largely contributed to the deterioration of West-East relationships.
Churchill’s Speech at Fulton
It has been suggested that the Cold War was initiated by Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, given in 1946. Churchill proposed the idea of uniting English-speaking countries to fight against communism (Brager 140). In his speech at Fulton, Churchill acknowledged the United States’ leadership and considered it the major force in combating the current threats posed by war and tyranny to the countries of the free world. At the same time, the politician openly called the Soviet Union a cause of the international difficulties, and he claimed that the only way to withstand Soviet expansion was an increase in the military power of the Western allies.
Harry Truman largely supported Churchill’s views. Throughout 1946–1953, the goal of the United States’ government was economic superiority over Stalin, as well as the achievement of greater military strength. Overall, it is possible to say that the ideas introduced in the “Iron Curtain” speech and Truman’s doctrine formed the basis of Cold War ideology.
The aspirations of the United States’ government to attain a leading position in the international political arena and create a new world order, as well as Stalin’s aggressive political conduct aimed to consolidate the Soviet position and proclaim the victory of communism, were the primary reasons for the confrontations between the superpowers. Each state tried to become an independent center of power and construct a new political and economic order; the only difference in Stalin’s intentions was their propagandistic orientation and the lack of a sufficient material foundation for the achievement of his desired goals. Nevertheless, the given tendencies in both the United States and the USSR ultimately defined the contours of international relations for the decades that followed.
Brager, Bruce. The Iron Curtain: The Cold War in Europe. Chelsea House, 2004.
Clare, John. “The Big Three During the War.” Modern World History GCSE, Web.
Ginor, Isabella, and Gideon Remez. Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets’ Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War. Yale University Press, 2008.
“Greek Civil War.” Global Security, Web.
Martel, Gordon. A Companion to International History 1900-2001. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
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Schoon, Simon. “Cold War Containment: The Role of the Military.” E-International Relations. 2011, Web.
United States Department of State. “Kennan and Containment, 1947.” Office of the Historian, Web.