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The Cold War: A Product of the geopolitical aftermath of World War I?
By Kevin Brown, 8 October 2007; Revised
Category: 20th Century: Political History
The question of whether the Cold War was a product of misconception and misunderstanding between the United States and other Western Powers is open to different interpretations and views. However, even though there were a series of misunderstandings between the United States and other Western Powers (including the Soviet Union before and after the Second World War), there can be a much different interpretation of the beginning of the Cold War for a number of reasons, including the huge ideological divide between the Western Powers and the USSR. Also, Stalin’s failure to make good on his promises for democracy in the Eastern European nations in the aftermath of WWII made it unacceptable for the Western Powers to regard him as an ally. Last, but not least, the build up to the Cold War (toward the end of World War II), had been brewing for 25 years due to the agreement and conclusions of the Versailles Peace Conference, and, prior to that, the Bolshevik Revolution against the Romanovs in Russia. Therefore, it could be argued that a combination of these two could be responsible for a large part of the Cold War.
First, at the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which overthrew the Provisional Government in 1917, and which was put into place after Czar Nicholas II of the Romanovs abdicated his claim to the throne. However, after the Bolsheviks came to power under Vladimir Lenin with World War I raging, Russia negotiated a peace with the Central Powers and left, withdrew it’s forces from the Eastern front and allowed the Germans to move forces from the Eastern Front to face the main Allied Powers (which Russia was formally a part of) on the Western Front. The Allied powers, which had a lot to lose by the Russian withdrawal from the war, staged an armed intervention against the newly founded Communist Government, which was also fighting a civil war against the Whites (czarist and anti-Bolshevik Russians). One of the main aims of this intervention was to topple the communist Bolshevik government and get Russia back in the war on the side of the Allies in order to reopen the Eastern Front against the Central Powers. The Allied powers failed to topple the Russian Government and, thus, failed to open Eastern Front once more. However, the Allies emerged victorious from WWI due to American armed intervention on the Western Front. After the war and the failed Siberian intervention in Russia, the some of the victorious Allied nations, especially the United States, failed to establish relations with Moscow, especially with very strong anti-Communist and, in general, anti-leftist sentiment widespread throughout the West, especially the United States, which did not establish relations with the USSR until 1931.
After World War I came the Versailles Peace Treaty in which the victorious Allied Powers would shape the Post World War I world and would also partake in the spoils of victory. The USSR, which was still in the middle of the civil War between the Bolsheviks and the Whites, was represented and present at the conference, but did not have much say in the various discussions and agreements that would shake and rock the world geopolitically for decades to come. However, it wasn’t the Soviet Union that was feeling the expense of defeat, but the Germans who were blamed for igniting the war and the damage it caused. The victorious Allies, due to this blame, slapped demands of financial reparations that the Germans were to pay in addition to limits on German military, and political ventures were placed 20 years later. These demands and limits placed on an already weakened post war Germany would come back to haunt them with the rise of the Third Reich under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the subsequent armed aggression against the various nations of Europe. Germany and its allies (the Axis) were defeated. Germany was occupied by the US, Great Britain, France, and USSR (which was also a victim of the Third Reich’s aggression). With Germany occupied by these powers, the Western Allies took the Western area of Germany and the Soviets took responsibility for the Eastern section, with Berlin being a sort of international zone divided among the occupying powers. Also, the USSR took control of most of Eastern Europe and the nations the Germans had conquered and occupied. The allies accepted this as long as Stalin supported free elections and gave the people of these nations their self-determination. Stalin agreed to this, however, he did not make good on his promise.
Combined with all the factors above, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 caused strong tensions between Russia’s new Communist Government and the West. Added with the Versailles Peace Treaty, which indirectly led to the Cold War by putting too much pressure on Germany through financial demands for reparation for WWI damages, combined with sanctions on Germany’s military and political entities on an already political and economically, severely weakened Germany and eventually gave rise to the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler, a staunch anti-Communist who sought lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Then, when Hitler broke the Rippentrop-Molotov Pact (German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact) and attacked the Soviet Union, this action brought the USSR into the Allied fold. After Germany and the other Axis powers where defeated, the Allied Powers got wind of Stalin’s intentions and his dishonoring of various postwar agreements. All of this was brought about when the track of this course of history was laid by a combination of the Bolshevik Revolution and indirectly by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles directed at Germany.
Macmillan, M., Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.