Friday, July 1, 2011

The Cold War

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During the post-war years of 145-14, the USSR adopted a policy of “sovietization” and set about its expansion into Eastern Europe, by creating Moscow-friendly satellite states. The USSR saw this as a purely defensive action, while the West saw this as evidence of Russia’s expansionist nature. Hence, Soviet Union’s move into Eastern Europe was much cause of the conflict between the West and Russia. One of the motivating forces behind Stalin’s expansionist policy into Europe was that of overseas economic expansion. By this, we mean that one of Stalin’s main reasons for creating satellite states in Eastern Europe was to ensure that he could have enough markets to trade with, and to ensure USSR’s influence over the economies of the other countries. However, there are other more important factors dictating its policy towards Europe, like USSR’s search for security.

Towards the end of World War Two, the Soviet Red Army swept through Eastern Europe as they liberated them from the Nazis. However, the Red Army never left Eastern Europe. The need to restore law and order into these countries provided Stalin with the perfect excuse to station his troops there. This allowed Stalin to tighten his grip over the region later on, making it easier for him to exert the Soviet sphere of influence as the presence of the Red Army gave local communist parties a lot of support. These communist parties then went on to win rigged elections in their own countries. Also, after the war, there was a political vacuum in many countries in Eastern Europe. Their economies were shattered, so, to rebuild them, their governments followed the economic policies of the Soviet Union. The USSR took over all industry, and workers and farmers were told what to produce. As stated earlier on, one of the main factors that dictated this expansionist policy towards Europe was the need to expand into Eastern Europe’s economies. This often meant that the USSR ended up controlling their economies and what they produced and in what quantities etc.

A clear evidence of overseas economic expansion and control on the part of USSR was when the Comecon was set up in 14. Short for the Council for Economic Assistance, its aim was to help the economies of Eastern Europe develop into Soviet-style economies. It was to co-ordinate the industries and trade of the eastern European countries, making sure that members of Comecon traded mostly with one another rather than trading with the West. In practice, Comecon benefited the USSR more than the other countries. It provided the USSR with a market to sell its goods, and also guaranteed it a cheap supply of raw materials. For example, Poland was forced to sell its coal to the USSR at one-tenth of the price that it could have got selling it on the open market. It then received old Soviet machinery in return.

Stalin disassembled the factories of Poland and East Germany and rebuilt them on Russian soil. Part of his collectivization plan moved peasants and factories to the cities. The factory relocation created city slums in Russia and turned the buffer states of Poland and East Germany into agricultural states as he felt that an agricultural state would not be a military threat. Hence, he created a very effective buffer zone out of Eastern Europe. Stalin treated his satellite states like one big factory, imposing upon them what to produce so that this would benefit the USSR, not the countries themselves. They were also forbidden to apply for Marshall Aid. Wages fell, and they faced with massive shortages of coal, milk and meat. Consumer goods like radios, electric kettles and televisions were unavailable. This shows to the large extent how ruthlessly Stalin treated his satellite states. East Germany was no exception. Stalin drained it of its resources. At Potsdam, it was agreed that the USSR would be given 5% of Germany’s industrial goods as reparations. They were also allowed to strip the factories in its zone and send the machines to the USSR. However, by 146, the USSR was going beyond this agreement. It took large quantities of manufactured goods, which was not allowed, and immense amounts of machinery and industrial plant.

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Stalin had many reasons for his economic expansion in Eastern Europe. One of them being the post-war devastation that caused the Soviet economy to be crippled. The war had destroyed many industries, agriculture, and lives. Further more, the US ended its lend-lease aid to the USSR in May 145. This was a huge blow to Stalin as the USSR was in need of aid to help recover its economy. Therefore, Stalin needed to secure markets for Soviet Union’s goods. This could be done by overseas economic expansion into Europe and controlling their market and economies, as Stalin did to his satellite states. This, in turn benefited the USSR’s economy as they could get raw materials at a very cheap price.

However, there were other reasons for USSR’s policy towards Europe, not just overseas economic expansion. Stalin’s policy of expansion and hegemony towards Europe was largely dictated by political and strategic reasons. After the war, one of the main aims of Stalin was to prevent the Soviet Union from another invasion. This was understandable on Stalin’s part as the USSR had been invaded twice in the last thirty years. Naturally, he would want to prevent any possible attempt to invade the USSR again. Stalin set about doing so, by creating Soviet-friendly satellite states, which would act as a buffer zone protecting USSR from the west.

Stalin was also very suspicious of the West. For example, he was told very little about the creation of the atomic bomb at Potsdam, and when its destructive power was demonstrated by the bombing of Japan, Stalin became increasingly worried that the US might use this weapon to destroy the Soviet Union one day. During World War Two, the allies did not open a second front in World War Two until mid 144, even though Stalin had requested for the second front to be opened since Germany had invaded the USSR, three years earlier. This led Stalin to believe that the other allies deliberately delayed the opening of the second front because they had hoped that Germany and USSR would destroy each other. All these events prompted Stalin to regard the West with paranoia and suspicion.

Thus, this increasing fear of the West, and Stalin’s mistrust and paranoia of the US spurred him on to the search for USSR’s security. The Soviet Union had been invaded three times in recent history- World War One, the Russian Civil War, and in World War Two. Over 0 million people died during World War Two. Huge areas of agricultural land and industrial plants were destroyed. Stalin was therefore convinced that in order to secure USSR from any future aggression, he had to extend Soviet influence over its neighbours in Eastern Europe.

Although one of the main reasons for the USSR’s policy towards Europe was overseas economic expansion, there were other reasons which were more important in influencing the Soviet policy. The main desire of Stalin to exert control and influence over the Eastern European states can be seen as a result of his search for security for the USSR. This led him to go about turning Eastern European states into USSR satellite states and he believed this buffer zone would protect the USSR from future attacks. Hence, it could be said that the motivating force behind USSR’s policy towards Europe is its search for security, and that overseas economic expansion was just a result of Stalin’s absolutist conception of security, which entailed total hegemony over all of Eastern Europe.

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