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To What Extent Was Us Foreign Policy to Blame for the Cold War?

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To What Extent was US Foreign Policy to blame for the Cold War?

The Second World War drastically changed the global political landscape. The great European Empires had all but disappeared; shattered and bankrupted by arguably the biggest global conflict in history. What emerged from the ruins of the war were two new Superpowers: The United States of America and the Soviet Union. Once the common enemy of Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers had finally all fallen by September 1945, the uneasy union between the two countries soon disintegrated, giving rise to what was soon to be called the Cold War, a time period of nearly 50 years in which the US and USSR were constantly in competition, often mere steps away from launching into all-out war. However, there is much argument as to which of the two new Superpowers was the aggressor in this conflict. The complexities in the conflict go so far as to make it so obtuse that it is near impossible to pin the blame at either door. On the one hand, the Soviets' apparent aggressive expansionism in furthering the cause of their new Communist ideology and their almost outright refusal to allow the countries of the soon to be formed Eastern bloc to choose their own governments democratically would suggest that the US had no choice but to become embroiled in the surreal 'near-war' over the ensuing half century to avoid being overrun completely. However, the US' stubborn refusal to recognise Communism as a different but equally viable way of life, as well as their bullish use of their newfound nuclear capability as a a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiation with Stalin's Russia amongst other things could be construed as just as blameful as the USSR's actions.

Many people would agree with political commentator Walter Lippman, who popularised the term 'cold war' in 1947, when he said 'a cold war brings neither peace nor honour to those who wage it'. A half century of fear on both sides that did not really provide any substantial reward to the eventual victors, other than a legacy of paranoia of left leaning Socialism and a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons was something that either side would have avoided if they could in retrospect. The tensions between the two were palpable even before the end of the Second World War, at the Potsdam Conference in Germany. While the preceding conference at Yalta in the Crimea had been a relatively amicable affair, a change of personnel raised tensions between East and West present at the conference. FDR had died between the conferences to be replaced by Vice President Harry Truman, far more suspicious of Communism than his predecessor and eager to show his mettle as a head of state having not been elected by his people. Partway through the conference Britain's famed wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was replaced by Labour leader Clement Attlee after a shocking victory in the general election in the UK.The fact that Truman was only sworn in as Vice President in January 1945, and by April was President. His lack of experience in foreign affairs as well as the fact that he wasn't in FDR's inner circle meant that he had to go to FDR's advisors in order to decide how he was to approach negotiations with the USSR. Unfortunately, while he intended to carry on with his predecessors ideas, he ended up doing the exact opposite. While Roosevelt preferred to foster trust by offering aid free of charge, Truman was encouraged to take a far more give and take approach, demanding concessions. This greatly confused and frustrated the Soviet delegation, and tensions began to grow leading to many unfruitful negotiations and a general feeling of dissatisfaction from all parties after the conference.

On July 24, partway through the Potsdam Conference, Truman nonchalantly wandered up to Stalin and told him that the US had developed 'a new weapon of unusual destructive force'. Stalin at the time appeared uninterested, but Truman was not fazed. It has been argued that Truman and the US delegation could be considered slightly bullish in the confidence that their new weapon gave them. Some historians have suggested that Truman was slightly unfairly aggressive in his negotiations with Stalin because of his perceived power from that point onwards during the conference.

In many ways the Potsdam Conference ended in a series of wilful misunderstandings between East and West, and in this way both parties could be given some blame for the advent of the Cold War. The West and East interpreted key points differently made originally at Yalta and renewed at Potsdam. American historians and political commentators at the time with 'orthodox' views of the Cold War, such as Thomas A. Bailey, argued that the blame lay fully at the Soviet Union's door, particularly breaking their promises made at Yalta and renewed at Potsdam to allow democratic governments to be created in each of the occupied Eastern European countries by their own people. However, many more revisionist historians, such as Gabriel Kolko and William A. Williams from the late 50s and 60s have argued that actually what the Soviet Union was attempting to do was defend itself from being outflanked by Western Allies. It must be remembered that the USSR too had been crippled by the war and felt it needed a significant buffer zone for protection from being overrun by the far more economically powerful US.

Several times in its history had Russia been accused of aggressive expansionism. While

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