The Cold War began with the formation of the Eastern Bloc, the implementation of the Marshall Plan, and the Berlin Blockade.
Contrast competing U.S. and Soviet strategies in postwar Europe
Tensions between world powers grew as the Soviet Union began to form the Eastern bloc, turning Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland, Lithuania, and Romania into satellite states.
Western powers viewed Soviet control over the Eastern bloc with suspicion, believing it demonstrated aggression on the part of the Soviet Union.
Announced in 1947, the Marshall Plan was the United States' comprehensive assistance program for Europe. The Soviet Union viewed this plan with suspicion and forbade Eastern bloc states from accepting aid.
In June 1948, the Soviet Union initiated the Berlin Blockade, which cut off all supply routes to the German city. In response to the Blockade, Western powers initiated the Berlin Airlift, the success of which eventually ended the blockade.
A country that is formally independent, but under heavy political and economic influence of or control by another country. The term is used mainly to refer to Central and Eastern European countries during the Cold War, who were "satellites" under the hegemony of the Soviet Union.
The large-scale American program to aid Europe in which the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild economies after the end of World War II in order to prevent the spread of Soviet communism.
The United States and Soviet Union eventually emerged as the two major superpowers after World War II. The 1956 Suez Crisis suggested that Britain, financially weakened by two world wars, could no longer pursue its foreign policy objectives on an equal footing with the new superpowers without sacrificing convertibility of its reserve currency as a central goal of policy.
Despite attempts to create multinational coalitions or legislative bodies (such as the United Nations), it became increasingly clear that the U.S. and Soviet superpowers had very different visions about what the postwar world ought to look like. The two countries opposed each other ideologically, politically, militarily, and economically. The Soviet Union promoted the ideology of communism, characterized by a planned economy and a one-party state. In contrast, the U.S. promoted the ideologies of liberal democracy and the free market.
The division of the world along U.S.-Soviet lines was reflected in the NATO and Warsaw Pact military alliances, respectively. Most of Europe became aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union. These alliances implied that these two nations were part of a world organized into a bipolar balance of power, in contrast with a previously multi-polar world.
Forming the Eastern Bloc
During the opening stages of World War II, the Soviet Union laid the foundation for the Eastern Bloc by directly annexing several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics that were initially ceded to it by Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. These included eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, part of eastern Finland, and eastern Romania. In Asia, the Red Army overran Manchuria in the last month of the war and went on to occupy the large swath of Korean territory north of the 38th parallel.
The Eastern European territories liberated from the Nazis and occupied by the Soviet armed forces were added to the Eastern Bloc by converting them into satellite states. The Soviet-style regimes that arose in the satellite states not only reproduced Soviet command economies, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet secret police to suppress real and potential opposition.
Following the Allies' May 1945 victory, the Soviets effectively occupied Eastern Europe, while strong U.S. and Western allied forces remained in Western Europe. In Allied-occupied Germany, the Soviet Union, United States, Britain, and France established zones of occupation and a loose framework for four-power control. Soviet occupation of Eastern bloc states was viewed with suspicion by Western powers, as they saw this occupation as a sign of Soviet willingness to use aggression to spread the ideology of communism.
In early 1947, Britain, France and the United States unsuccessfully attempted to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for a plan envisioning an economically self-sufficient Germany, including a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, goods, and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets. In June 1947, in accordance with the Truman Doctrine, the United States enacted the Marshall Plan, a pledge of economic assistance for all European countries willing to participate, including the Soviet Union. The plan's aim was to rebuild the democratic and economic systems of Europe and counter perceived threats to Europe's balance of power, such as communist parties seizing control through revolutions or elections. The plan also stated that European prosperity was contingent upon German economic recovery. One month later, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, creating a unified Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council (NSC). These would become the main bureaucracies for U.S. policy in the Cold War.
Stalin opposed the Marshall Plan. He had built up the Eastern Bloc protective belt of Soviet controlled nations on his Western border and wanted to maintain this buffer zone of states and a weakened Germany under Soviet control. Fearing American political, cultural, and economic penetration, Stalin eventually forbade Soviet Eastern bloc countries from accepting Marshall Plan aid. Stalin believed that economic integration with the West would allow Eastern Bloc countries to escape Soviet control, and that the U.S. was trying to buy a pro-U.S. realignment of Europe. The Soviet Union's alternative to the Marshall plan, purported to involve Soviet subsidies and trade with eastern Europe, became known as the Molotov Plan.
The Berlin Blockade
As part of the economic rebuilding of Germany in early 1948, representatives of a number of Western European governments and the United States announced an agreement for a merger of western German areas into a federal governmental system. In addition, in accordance with the Marshall Plan, they began to re-industrialize and rebuild the German economy, including the introduction of a new Deutsche Mark currency to replace the old Reichsmark currency that the Soviets had debased.
Shortly thereafter, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948 – May 12, 1949), one of the first major crises of the Cold War, preventing food, materials, and supplies from arriving in West Berlin. The Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche mark from West Berlin.
In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the city's population. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew more than 200,000 flights in one year, providing the West Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities such as food and fuel each day. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict.
By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On May 12, 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin. The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe.