, Research Paper
The Cold War is the term used to describe the tense relationship between post World War II East and West. The United States and Western Europe stood on the principle of opposing the communism that dominated Russia and Eastern Europe. Russia was overtaking smaller eastern European countries with force and did not want the United States to resist this movement into Europe. The two superpowers quickly abandoned the appearance of being allies, with Western Europe aligning with the United States and Eastern Europe aligning with Russia.
On March 12, 1947, the United States Congress adopted the Truman Doctrine. This stiffened the anti-Communist stance in America. The Truman Doctrine set forth a United States policy to assist any regime resisting communism. Only a few months later, in June of 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall announced a plan to help in the reconstruction of Europe. The plan asked all European nations, Eastern and Western Europe, to reveal their reconstruction needs to the United States. The United States would then attempt to provide aid to those countries that responded. The Soviets predictably refused the offer of aid and kept Eastern Europe closed. This was what the United States expected and it also gave the appearance that the Soviets were responsible for increasing tensions in the Cold War. These two plans together offered economic and military support to those countries threatened by Communism and also weakened the already crumbling relationship between the United States and Russia.
The anti-Communist sentiment also applied to the Communist parties in Western Europe. This led Western Europe to be led by centrist or conservative parties in the 1950s. Italy, Germany, Britain, and France all elected centrist or conservative leaders in the 1950s.
With two superpowers in the world, European countries now had to make a decision as to their defense. The countries could unite to form an alliance in order to increase their collective strength, or the countries could align with one of the superpowers and depend on that power for their defense. The result was the formation of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) on April 4, 1949. The NATO treaty allowed for a strong United States military presence in Europe for the first time. An attack upon one of the participating countries was to be considered an attack upon all to the countries.
The Soviet Union during the late 1940s and early 1950s put much of its manufacturing effort into the development of a daunting military. Secrecy and uneasiness ruled the Soviet landscape and police control and the threat of war haunted the nervous citizens. Stalin ruled with an iron fist and would not hesitate to crush those that opposed him. Stalin s death in March of 1953 prompted a struggle for control of the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev eventually came to power in 1958 and held the office of premier. Khrushchev was very vocal of his opposition to the west. He wanted control of Berlin and tried to force the Western powers out of the city. He was unsuccessful in doing so and in 1961, Russia constructed the Berlin wall that separated the Soviet controlled portion from the Western controlled section of the city.
The construction of the Berlin Wall was not the only building project undertaken by the Russians in the early 1960s. In October 1962, a United States plane flying a reconnaissance mission discovered the construction of missile installations. The placing of ballistic missiles in Cuba was the greatest threat yet encountered to United States security at this time. This situation created the most tension filled days of the Cold War. Both countries were armed with nuclear weapons and both appeared ready to strike if the threat was strong enough. President Kennedy and Khrushchev were able to come to an agreement without firing a shot. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba in lieu of the air strike proposed by his military advisors and the Secretary of State. Russia recalled its ships that were sailing to Cuba when the Americans agreed not to invade Cuba. The missiles in Cuba were removed and the United States accepted the existence of a Communist government in Cuba. The realization that a nuclear war would not benefit either country led to a partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in the summer of 1963. This led to a time of relaxed tensions between the superpowers and allowed Western Europe to become more confident that the Soviets would not continue their westward movement. The SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties) treaty signed in June of 1972 also helped to lower the high tensions of the 1960s. This treaty set limits on the anti-ballistic missile arms development.
There was a large economic boom in Western Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This great recovery was cut short however by an oil embargo by OPEC, The Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries. OPEC controlled 53 percent of the worlds oil production and the group raised the price of oil by 70 percent on October 17, 1973. This increase in oil price had a strong negative effect on the Western European economy. Western Europeans had become more dependent on oil as a source of energy. Through the rest of the 1970s, Europe suffered economically. Unemployment rose and inflation continued to rise in the face of this situation, partly because of the continued rise in oil prices. The economic problems gave rise to more conservative communist parties in Western Europe as it was obvious that the Soviet model of communism was failing economically. Eastern European countries were resisting the Soviet control more now than they had in the past because economic conditions were so poor. Hungary and Poland both gained some independence from Soviet economic control and other Eastern European countries struggled to end the dependency on the Soviets.
With free elections taking place in Poland in 1989, the communist regime in Central Europe was beginning to crumble. The Hungarians destroyed part of the fence that separated them from Austria in May of 1989 and this started a flood of illegal emigration. East Germans would “vacation” in Hungary and then travel on to Austria and West Germany. Budapest was unwilling to use force to stop the fleeing East Germans and on November 9, 1989, the wall that separated West Berlin from East Berlin was opened by the East German Government in an attempt to stop the illegal emigration by making it legal. In 1990, East Germany participated in free elections, and the communist party lost its hold on East Germany. With the breakup of the Soviet hold on European countries and the absorption of East Germany into West Germany, Russia no longer wielded the same power it did in the 1950s and 60s. The fall of communism in Germany signaled an end to the Cold War.