The Causes of the Cold War

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Ever since the outbreak of the Cold War after WWII, American historians have depicted it as a battle pitting good versus evil, American democracy, capitalism, and desire for world peace, against Soviet communism, totalitarianism, and desire to take over the world. However, this categorization of the Cold War has been proven false by many documents made public since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. Over the course of this essay, I will attempt to explain the true causes of the Cold War, and some of the reasons it progressed the way it did. My analysis will begin with a general discussion of how nuclear proliferation impacted the decision making of both American and Soviet leaders. It is, I believe, important to understand this before delving any deeper, as nuclear proliferation’s affect on decision making was arguably the key dynamic operating throughout the entire Cold War. Then, I will analyze more specifically the causes of the Cold War and the reasons it progressed the way it did. My main contention will be that both sides were operating primarily under a doctrine of realpolitik, but that ideology, especially in the case of the Soviets, distorted perceptions of reality and led to false assumptions. I will also show, that on both sides, these false assumptions led to the misinterpretation of defensive actions as offensive and thus the escalation of tensions.

Three points of view exist on the relationship between nuclear proliferation and the maintenance of peace during the Cold War. The first of these, the realist perspective, concludes that nuclear proliferation was positively correlated to peace. Realist theorists generally base this inference on three basic postulates: 1) States want to mainta...

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... Stanford University Press; 1 edition, 1995

Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein "We All Lost the Cold War" Princeton University Press; Reprint edition, 1995

Vladislav Zubok "A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev" The University of North Carolina Press; 2009

Kathryn Weathersby “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War" 1993

Works Consulted

Norman M. Naimark, "Stalin and Europe in the Postwar Period, 1945-1953: Issues and Problems," Journal of Modern European History 2 (2004): 28--56;

Vladimir O. Pechatnov, "The Soviet Union and the Outside World, 1944-1953," Cambridge History of the Cold War, ed. by Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, 3 vols. (London: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

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