uneasy wartime alliance between the United States and Britain on the
one hand and the Soviet Union on the other began to unravel soon
after the surrender of Nazi Germany. Western leaders were seriously
concerned about the USSR’s growing influence in the postwar world.
The Soviet victory over a fascist capitalist state served to enhance
the international appeal of the Communist ideology. The Americans
and the British feared the Soviet domination of eastern Europe and
the threat of Soviet-influenced Communist parties coming to power in
the democracies of Western Europe. Less than a year after their
grand common victory, the Allied powers found themselves on the
opposite sides of an “iron curtain,” to use the famous phrase coined
by the former British prime minister Winston Churchill in his speech
made in Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946:
shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied
victory. . . . I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant
Russian people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin. . . . It
is my duty, however, . . . to place before you certain facts about
the present position in Europe.
Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain
has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the
capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe . . .
subject in one form or another . . . to a very high . . . measure of
control from Moscow. . . . [T]his is certainly not the liberated
Europe we fought to build up.
Soviets were determined to maintain control of eastern Europe to
safeguard against any possible renewed threat from Germany, and also
for the ideological reasons of spreading communism worldwide. By
1948 local Communists, directly or indirectly supported by Soviet
bayonets, took power in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania.
Soviet expansion into eastern Europe led to counteractions by the
Western powers designed to curb any further enlargement of the
Soviet sphere of influence and the spread of the Communist ideology.
These included the Truman Doctrine of containment of Soviet
expansion proclaimed in March 1947 by U.S. President Harry S. Truman
and the offer in June of that year by U.S. Secretary of State George
Marshall of a recovery program to Europe. Containment of communism
was enforced by setting up a network of U.S. military bases close to
the USSR’s borders in Greece and Turkey and by support of
anti-Soviet elements in the Soviet bloc countries.
Americans also sought to establish a military-political alliance of
Western nations under their leadership. This was successfully
achieved in 1949 with the setting up of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) as a unified military command to resist the
Soviet presence in Europe. The political and military integration of
the West was facilitated by the massive economic assistance provided
to Western Europe under the Marshall Plan. It helped to integrate
those countries’ economies with the United States’ economy, thus
bringing Western Europe under American influence.
WARSAW PACT (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
interpreted the American strategy of containment as part of a master
plan to encircle and subjugate the Soviet Union and responded by
measures designed to consolidate the alliance of the socialist bloc
countries. In 1949 it set up the Council for Mutual Economic
Assistance (Comecon), charged with coordinating economic assistance
to Communist regimes. In 1955 several Comecon countries established
a military-political alliance—the Warsaw Pact—to counterbalance
However, the USSR did not possess economic muscle to enable it to
compete on equal terms with its powerful trans-Atlantic antagonist.
The world war had opposite effects on the economies of the two
countries: the Soviet economy was exhausted, whereas the American
economy was revitalized. Despite its relative economic weakness in
comparison to the United States, the USSR scored some success in
projecting its global influence through its support of foreign
Communist parties, including those in Western countries. Moscow also
backed national-liberation movements in the third world, where the
collapse of European overseas colonies often led to the emergence of
countries of “socialist orientation.” Finally, Moscow did not
refrain from using armed force to suppress antisocialist risings in
some of the Soviet bloc countries.