Origins of The Cold War

Graphic of Vladimir Lenin, first leader of the Soviet Union, with the crescent moon of Islam and the communist sickle and hammer.

There are many events that led to the Cold War. Some of the events that created tensions between the Soviets and the United States can be traced back before World War II officially ended. Eduard Mark has produced several publications on Soviet-American relations pertaining to the Cold War. He contends that the United States was hoping to limit the control the Soviets had on their neighboring states. The U.S. policy was NOT to keep the Soviets from influencing their neighboring states; but to keep them from dominating the region with the extension of the Soviet system through secret police.[1]  However, the Soviets viewed the policy as a restriction on Soviet regime development in Eastern Europe. This led to further tensions as the U.S refused to recognize Bulgaria and Rumania. Stalin made it clear he did not care whether the U.S. recognized them and was not going to back away from exercising Soviet influence in the area.[2] The U.S. worried that a single power gaining dominance in Europe would threaten their national security; especially when considering the probability of Britain losing influence in the region. Still, the Soviets felt, as Secretary of State Byrnes put it, “ganged up on by the rest of the world.”[3] The Soviets may have in fact been driven by these fears as the Americans did not object to the British imposing their chosen system of government in Greece.[4]

The United States upheld their policy toward the Soviets; contending the goal was not to deny the Soviet Union authority as a great power in the region in relation to smaller countries, but to limit internal influence on these smaller countries in the region. Mark argues there was cause for concern as Stalin intended to dominate the region exercising control over all phases of the neighboring states. This debate bled over into the reconstructive process where the U.S. deliberated with the Soviets on a postwar loan. Thomas Paterson was president of The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and is affiliated with the University of Connecticut. According to Paterson the Soviets were interested in American aid. However, the Americans attached stipulations and restrictions on the loan making it a tool for diplomacy. Paterson notes the United States gave aid to the British in 1946 for reconstruction and argues—that refusing to give similar aid to the Russians has diminished the standard of living for the Russian people, creating harsher Russian policies toward Eastern Europe and damaged Soviet-American relations.[5]  Both, business and government leaders studied the possibilities of a loan to Russia and concluded the Russians would turn to America for materials need to rebuild their war-torn economy and provide the Russian people with a higher standard of living. The treasury department officials also agreed the loan may benefit American’s postwar economy, although not for the same reasons. Their key argument was the U.S. had suffered a depletion in raw material from the war that Russia could provide in exchange for credits. Still, Russia could only export these materials with the initial aid from the U.S. (developmental funds).[6]

Terms for the loan were never agreed upon. Washington’s condition for loaning the funds were tied to Russia’s behavior regarding international relations. Basically, Russia had to conduct their foreign policy according to American standards. Paterson’s narrative seems to support the idea of America’s approach to diplomacy—using economics as a tool to enforce policy and their decision not to loan money to Russia (without restrictions) ushered in the Cold War. He also seems to place the blame solely on the Americans, citing Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace, who believed the events set back the Soviets to their 1939 fears of capitalism and to the belief that the West, including the U.S., was invariably hostile.[7]  However, these conclusions may not reflect Soviet ideology. It was the communist intent and part of their philosophy—to spread communism around the globe. Considering this, it’s doubtful an American loan without restrictions would have improved relations; Stalin would have completely dominated the region regardless. The difference is he was denied the funds the Americans could have provided him with to develop a stronger, possibly aggressive Russia.

In the early twentieth century, when Japan occupied China, the Chinese’s political leadership was struggling to unify China and rid themselves of their Japanese intruders. When Western powers turned them down, i.e. refused to provide them with assistance, they looked toward Eastern Europe. Russia’s foreign minister, Leon Trotsky was eager for the opportunity to spread the revolution abroad. In 1923, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formed. Many communists joined the Nationalist Party, China’s other political party, to form a united front against the intruders.[8] The two parties became suspicious of each other and after China’s “War of Resistance against Japan” ended their civil war began.[9] The Americans and Soviets were both reluctant to get involved; both countries realized the situation in the region could escalate resulting in war with each other. However, they also realized the strategic importance of the opposing country’s influence on the region. The U.S. sent Marines to landing ports in the Northeast to support the Nationalist and the Soviets promised the CCP aid and support for various other regions in China.[10] In 1945, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China met in London to discuss military control over Japan. When the Americans made it clear they alone would exercise authority in Japan, the Soviets responded by hardening their policy in China toward the United States.[11] As tensions intensified, Washington’s only choice was to back the Nationalist Party in China. The conflict between two opposing political parties in China became an internal aspect of the emerging Cold War between the Soviets and the United States.[12]



[1] Eduard Mark, “American Policy Toward Eastern Europe and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1946,” The Journal of American History Vol 68, no. 2 (September 1981) :327, accessed November 14, 2017, JSTOR


[2] Ibid., 328

[3] Ibid., 328

[4] Ibid., 324

[5] Thomas G. Paterson, “The Abortive American Loan to Russia and the Origins of the Cold War, 1943-1946,” The Journal of American History. Vol. 56, no. 1 (January 1969): 71-76, accessed November 14, 2017, JSTOR


[6] Ibid., 74-75

[7] Thomas G. Paterson, “The Abortive American Loan to Russia and the Origins of the Cold War, 1943-1946,” The Journal of American History. Vol. 56, no. 1 (January 1969): 87, accessed November 14, 2017, JSTOR


[8] Rana Mitter, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), 44.

[9] Chen Jian, Mao’s China & the Cold War (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 17.

[10] Ibid., 31.

[11] Chen Jian, Mao’s China & the Cold War (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 31.

[12] Ibid., 36.

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