To What Extent was the Cold war Caused by Ideological Differences?

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The Cold War, a period of sustained political and military tension between the USA and the USSR, resulted in various viewpoints concerning the cause of the tension emerging. Until today the question remains unresolved, even after the 1991 release of Soviet archives. The main point of disagreement relates to the roles that ideology played in the events between 1945 and 1949. Was it the strongly opposing ideologies, capitalism and communism, or power and material interest that drove both superpowers to the decades of struggle for global supremacy.

The orthodox view regarding the cause of the Cold War, formed the standard interpretation between the 1940s and early-1960s. The breakdown of the wartime alliance and the expansion of Soviet power in Europe, the ‘loss’ of China to communism, the Korean War, and domestically the rise of McCarthyism with its anti-communist hysteria eventually mixed into this school of thought. Orthodox historians argued that the USSR’s expansionist policy in Eastern Europe and beyond, driven by the ideological goal of exporting world revolution, started the Cold War. According to Michael Hart, “the Cold War was caused by the military expansionism of Stalin and his successors. The American response… was basically a defensive reaction. As long as Soviet leaders clung to their dream of imposing Communism on the world, the West had no way (other than surrender) of ending the conflict…”. In fact, one could argue that the first interpretation of the origins of the Cold War was made by policy maker George Kennan. In 1947, under the pseudonym Mr. X, he published the article ‘Sources of Soviet Conduct’. Kennan claimed that the Soviet’s desired to expand their empire and Stalinist ideology in order to offer resista...

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...than academic, since they were expressed without access to sufficient primary sources making and secondly the later views benefited from the opening of Soviet Archives.

But considering that it lies in the nature of capitalism to have foreign markets to trade with and that it was part of early Communist ideology to spread it, then the actions of both superpowers were in fact justified by their ideology. Of course, it was self-interest that strained their relations, but in regards to their ideology, it was all “fair” play. One could say that the Cold War was caused by their conflicting self-interests due to their opposing ideologies.

Therefore, the superpowers expansionistic actions from 1945 to 1949 were an attempt to spread their opposing ideologies, but this expansion of their sphere of influence was ultimately to aid them in securing their national interests.

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