As you might imagine would be the case with a conflict that took 44 years to dissipate, a lot of causes and tensions contributed to the Cold War. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a breakdown of the most important ones to help out come-exam time. Happy revising!
Cold War causes
The underlying causes of the Cold War in Europe can largely be put down to political differences that dated from the Russian Revolution in 1917, as well as fear and suspicion. While Russia had a Communist economy and a single party state, the US was a democracy with a free-market economy, which couldn’t be more different. So, in a nutshell, the Cold War developed in Europe during the post-war years as a result of these political differences, fear, suspicion and a lack of understanding of the motives of the other side.
Adding to this fear of the unknown, Marshall Aid heightened tensions between the US and Soviet Union as then-Russian leader Joseph Stalin saw the economic aid package as an American attempt to dominate Europe and quash Communism. For this reason, he refused to allow the countries of Eastern Europe (which became Soviet satellite states post-WWII) to accept the help provided by Marshall Aid – even though they really could have used it. However, it wasn’t all in Stalin’s head; the aid was not entirely altruistic as the US wanted Western Europe to rapidly recover from WWII as a trading partner. It was also concerned that in the political vacuum and economic ruin that followed the end of WWII, desperate European populations would turn to Communism as a political and economic solution.
Got all that? Great! Now let’s take a look at Cold War tensions.
Cold War tensions
The Soviet Union’s Brezhnev Doctrine was one of the biggest aggressors during the Cold War era. The policy, which was introduced by Brezhnev himself in 1968, permitted the Soviet Union to intervene in any satellite state where socialism was seen to be under threat. It (understandably) heightened Cold War tensions, and particularly referred to reforming movements within the satellite states that might have led to the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, a reduction in Soviet influence and the loss of Stalin’s post-WWII buffer zone.
Another key tension in the Cold War can be found in then-US President Ronald Reagan’s tough stance on the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. Reagan’s presidency began with an uncompromising stance towards the Soviet Union. He wanted to re-establish America’s strength and the Strategic Defence Initiative (nicknamed Star Wars) was a plan for a defensive shield that would protect the US from incoming missile attacks. Although never built, it altered the balance of power and ended the theory of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction. The Soviet Union had neither the money nor the technology to respond and this hastened an end to the Cold War. At the time, Soviet leader Gorbachev was facing severe economic problems inside the Soviet Union and political unrest inside East Germany, which led him to negotiate with Reagan. Reagan himself was facing budget problems and was therefore also willing to negotiate arms reduction.
Want another tension to add to your list? Well, you’re in luck, because the opening of the Berlin Wall was a huge one! By the time the 80s had swung around, the Wall had come to represent not only the division of Germany, but also the divisions that underpinned the Cold War. More than any other event the opening of the Berlin Wall represented the end of the Cold War. In this way the history of Berlin reflected the development of the Cold War. The Berlin Blockade of 1948 to 1949 marked the beginning of the Cold War, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 represented the high point of tensions and the opening of the Wall in 1989 represented the end of Cold War tensions.