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“More a result of mutual misunderstanding than of expansionist policies by either the U.S.A or the U.S.S.R.” Discuss this view of the out break of the Cold War in the period 1945-53.
This view of the outbreak of the Cold War in 1945-53 refutes the extremism of the orthodox and revisionist views, attesting a middle ground of “mutual understanding” that avoids appropriating blame to the policies of either superpower. However, the issue is less dichotomous than the hypothesis allows for. To call the Soviet Union’s foreign policy “expansionist” indicates that it has been interpreted as such, and is therefore subject to a possible misunderstanding of their motives for doing so.
For example, Melvyn Leffler stresses the “reasonable criterion” when judging American and Soviet security demands, emphasizing that especially in the case of the Soviet Union, security was very much a reasonable imperative given their historical experience with invasions from contiguous states. In this case, Soviet policy may be defended as security-motivated, but was perceived by the U.S. as expansionist, based on the misunderstanding that the Soviet Union was entirely motivated by ideology.
Conversely, Marc Thachtenberg defends the American point of view, arguing that Leffler’s interpretation understates the reality of Soviet threat, therefore justifying an increased American political and economic presence in global geopolitics (e.g. the Marshall Plan, 1947). Therefore, the Sovietization of Eastern Europe and the Americanization of the Western Bloc (both perceived as expansionist policies by the other) could be said to have arisen from mutual misunderstanding of each other’s motives.
The period 1945-53 was replete with examples of both Soviet and American expansionism. Even as early as February 1945, Stalin had already made it clear at Yalta that territorial expansionism was to be one of his imperatives. By 1948, fully communist government presided over the states of Eastern Europe and the Berlin blockade of Soviet design on West Germany.
A similar inclination was demonstrated in Turkey, Northern Iran and Korea. While the Soviet incursions into Iran have been defended as a desire only to control its oil fields (an objective also shared by the West) and pressure on Turkey may have been viewed as a matter of security. Robert Jevis points out that if either of these probes had succeeded, further Soviet gains would have been likely, a consideration that Stalin would hardly have missed. This suggests that Stalin’s approach to expansionism was opportunist rather than inexorably purposeful. In other words, he was driven by realpolitik rather than ideology.
However, Nigel Gould-Davies insist that Stalin was “immersed in ideology”, citing the congruence of Stalin’s theoretical work, Economic Problems of Socialism, with the premises that Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program. Further, in the case of Korea, while Western leaders and many later scholars, such as Alexander George; construe the attack on South Korea as evidence of Soviet expansionism. Recent evidence presented by Kathryn Weathersby contends that Stalin authorized the invasion solely because he was mistakenly convinced that the U.S.A would resist.
The diversity of opinion demonstrates how easily a superpower’s policies could be misconstrued depending on how motives were perceived. In the U.S, thanks to the ominous views of Soviet leadership espoused by George Kennan, leaders were increasingly convinced of Stalin’s desire for world revolution, and inaccurately equated Soviet expansionism with this goal without considering, for example, Soviet security needs.
Equally, apprehension in the U.S Administration was mirrored on the Soviet side. Stalin understandably perceived the Marshall Plan as a “blatant American device” for gaining control of Western and (if not worse) Eastern Europe. Concerning Korea, Anotaly Dobrynin asserts that by the 1950s, Stalin “saw U.S. plans and actions as preparations for an all out war of unprovoked aggression against the Soviet Union.” The rollback policy did little to assuage this fear, and even thought its pursuit by General MacArthur proved to be an unfortunate divergence from the Truman Administration policy, the Soviets had already been convinced of American expansionism.
It can be seen again, therefore, that mutual misunderstanding on both sides led to perceptions of the other’s policies as being expansionist, which in turn, sowed the distrust and reason from retaliatory action that set the Cold War in motion. In conclusion, barring other factors, the outbreak of the Cold War in 1945-53 was more a result of mutual misunderstanding than of expansionist policies by either superpower.