The historical period following the World War II is considered to be quite controversial, and often it is criticised, but it is very important to realize the processes that took place in the world at that epoch to better understand the entity of the Cold War and its causes. It is obvious that international policy of two superpowers in the post-war period led to the Cold War, which divided the world into two hostile parts and kept the population of the whole planet under the threat of the World War III, though the latter possibility was rather hypothetical, such a situation, nonetheless, led to the global confrontation of two superpowers, of two political and socio-economic systems.
The post-war era seems to be quite fresh in memory of many specialists and this is why erroneously it is considered to be quite easy to analyse but in actuality the situation is absolutely different and what is probably the most difficult and hidden from the public is the policy and real intention of the USSR headed by Joseph Stalin, a notorious figure in the world history who was perceived as a hero, a rescuer of the nation and, in contrast, as a monster that created a machine using millions of people for its own goals.
It is why this research paper will be mainly focused on Stalin’s policy from the end of the World War II till the Korean War. It is particularly important to analyze the choices made by Stalin in his policy, his reasons and the alternatives he had.
The post-war reality
Speaking about Stalin’s policy after the end of the World War II, it is necessary to analyze the situation in the world in that epoch because it was not only shaped by Stalin and the USSR but also produced a significant impact on its policy and defined the further development of the international policy.
At this respect, it should be pointed out that the end of the World War II led to the clash of interests of two superpowers in the world the USSR and the US. Before there was one common enemy, both countries struggled against but when the Nazi power in Germany has eliminated the winners set their rules of play. Soon it turned to be that only the US and the USSR could be so influential that their policy defined the situation in the whole world while European countries such as the UK or France, were to weakened by the war to remain as powerful as they used to be before.
At first glance, there was nothing dangerous in such a situation neither for the US nor the USSR since they had won the war against Germany and after the end of the World War II, there was no apparent threat to them such as fascism. Unfortunately for both the US and the USSR, such a view on the situation in the world was erroneous, and reality was entirely different.
In fact, on defeating Germany, the former alliances turned into enemies because of the Communist regime in the USSR, which would be more precisely to name the Stalinist system, was not less threat for the US and other capitalist countries of the world. On the other hand, the US was not less serious threat to the stability of Stalin’s regime in the USSR because the antagonism between the communist regime in the USSR and democratic countries have started long before the beginning of the World War II. In such a situation Stalin, as a leader of the USSR could logically apprehend the intervention of western countries in its affairs both domestic and foreign.
Consequently, Stalin’s primary strategically important direction of development and Soviet policy was the prevention of the spread of influence of the US and its western alliances, which were threatening the national security of the USSR. In such a situation Europe, which was in ruin both socio-economic and political, had become an arena of the struggle of two superpowers and gradually such opposition was spread all over the world.
Objectively speaking, the end of the World War two marked the start of new era when there was no third power in the world, such as fascist Germany used to be, and the opposition between the US and the USSR defined the policy of both countries and national and strategic interests of both countries were in strengthening its positions and weakening those of the opponent.
At the same time it is necessary to realise that for Stalin, as a leader of the USSR that suffered from international intervention after the revolution in Russia of 1917, it was vitally necessary to create a kind of buffer that would make the threat of direct military invasion less unexpected and less probable along with the creation of an alternative to western way of development for the countries that were freed from fascist occupation and their future was still obscure. In fact these countries, primarily European ones, had become the first strategic point of the growing opposition between the USSR and the US for they were too weak to resist to either US or Soviet intervention or socio-economic and political influence and at the same time they also were the desired countries to control by the superpowers since they created the basis for further international expansion of both countries because there remained no real alternatives in the world for weak states but to choose either the US or the USSR as an alliance. In such a way the more unions the US or the USSR acquired, the more influential they would be in international policy and more secure their national interests were.
Stalin’s post-World War II policy and its alternatives
Naturally, the reality of the general situation in the world and international circumstances defined the strategic choices made by Stalin from the end of the World War II till the Korean War. Obviously, the choices made by Stalin as a leader of one of the two superpowers may be criticised or justified but what is really important from the historical and strategic point of view is to analyse what made him act in the way he did, what the reasons for his choices were, and whether there were possible alternatives or not.
First of all, one of the primary strategic goals of Stalin after the end of the World War II was to maintain control in European countries, or at least within the countries neighboring on the USSR. Otherwise, European countries would go under the control of the US. In fact, the countries, which were freed by the USSR from Germany, did not become free. De facto they remained under the influence of the USSR though de jure they could choose any way of further development that they wanted. Actually, hypothetically they could choose either communism by joining the USSR as alliances or democracy, in such a case their alliance should be the US.
Apparently, Stalin realized the importance of European countries for the growth of the power of the USSR, and he had to spread the influence of the country he ruled in over a possibly larger number of European countries. This is exactly what he had done within a few years after the end of the World War II. Notably, following the World War II Soviet army “occupied much of the territory that had been formerly held by the Axis countries” (Parker 1997:176). As a result, there were Soviet occupational zones in Germany and Austria. Moreover, Hungary and Poland were also under practical military occupation.
However, the military force of the Soviet Union was not the only way Stalin’s regime influenced countries liberated from German occupation and control. The USSR also widely used socio-economic and political influence on the countries ruined by the war. As a result, the strategic goal to establish control in European countries was achieved for from 1946-1948 communist governments were imposed in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria that were amply supported by the communist government in Moscow. At the same time there were also home-grown dictatorships in Yugoslavia and Albania and naturally, they were quite friendly to the USSR, especially compared to the hostile US and other democratic countries.
In such a way, Eastern and Central Europe turned to be under the Soviet control, and the Eastern borders of the USSR had been much safer than before due to the great buffer zone represented by its European alliances. Moreover, what was not less important is the fact that communism had started to spread dramatically as the dominant ideology in other European countries that was naturally a great success of the Soviet foreign policy. Obviously the choice made by Stalin in favour of establishing control in the countries liberated by the Red Army from fascists was strategically right from the point of view of increasing the role of the USSR in the international relations and its transformation into a superpower because the Stalinist regime acquired international alliances, even if some of them were not really willing to join such an alliance, and the success in Eastern and Central Europe had made the hopes of Soviet communists to spread Marxism-Leninism ideology throughout the world, nourished since the Russian revolution in 1917, more realisable than ever before. Moreover, the USSR had eliminated the status of the ‘outcast’ is the only communist country in the world.
Probably, one may argue whether it was necessary to spread the USSR control over European countries using all means. In fact, the most obvious alternative that could be suggested to Stalin in such a situation was the refusal from intervention in the national policy of European countries liberated by the Red Army and let the countries decide independently what the way of further development they prefer. Moreover, it is even possible to presuppose that the USSR could get communist alliances without military occupation or any other kind of interventions used by Stalin. At this respect, the example of Yugoslavia and Albania where the communist regimes were home-grown could be very persuasive evidence in favor of this argument. Finally, one may doubt whether the Soviet control was necessary at all and this would prevent the world from the Cold War.
Unfortunately, these arguments are not very persuasive, and they were unrealizable in that situation, taking into consideration the ambitions of Stalin and the entity of his regime. First of all, it is evident that Stalin would hardly choose any other way of actions because he simply gets used to totalitarian methods and consequently he would instead choose force and socio-economic and political pressure to become alliances of the USSR rather than diplomatic negotiations with the countries liberated by the Red Army.
Furthermore, the idea that the USSR should not intervene in the policy of liberated European countries is rather utopian because, as it has been mentioned above, international alliances in Europe were vitally important for the USSR and stability of Stalin’s regime. Obviously, Stalin remembered well foreign intervention in communist Russia after the revolution of 1917. He could not admit that American or western European countries, which were extremely terrified by the threat of communism, would lose an opportunity to defeat communism on defeating fascism. Consequently, it was quite a natural reaction of the USSR on the potential threat from former alliances in the World War II. Also one should not forget about the ambitions of communists to establish new order throughout the world, and in such a situation the spread of communism in Europe could be interpreted as the first step to the world hegemony of communism.
Anyway, on refusing from Soviet expansion, Stalin would risk remaining alone and his country, recovering from the consequences of the war, could face the US as a powerful opponent and the only country possessing the nuclear weapon that could eventually defeat communism in this country.
As a result, the strategic goal of Stalin was to establish control and neutralize potentially dangerous states, such as Germany for instance, to maintain personal power and increase the role of the USSR. In such a context, on eventually forming the communist block in Europe in 1948, Stalin could feel safe on western borders, especially when in 1949 the nuclear weapon appeared in the USSR.
Nonetheless, there was Asian region which was also quite perspective for the spread of communism and, on the other hand, was potentially dangerous on the condition that democratic forces led by the US establish control in the whole continent. At this respect, he could not fail to support the Communist revolution in China in 1949, which also contributed to the spread of communism in the world and made the position of the USSR stronger and the ruling regime could feel safer since new alliances in the world opposition to democratic countries had appeared. The recognition of communist China by the USSR was probably the last sign which indicated at the fact that “the relations between the Soviet Union and its former World War II western allies soon broke down, and gave way to a prolonged period of tension and distrust between East and West known as the Cold War” (Parker 1997:369).
At this respect, the Korean War was the most visible symbol that the world is divided into two hostile parts. In the case of Korea, the support of the USSR was even more significant than in the case of China and even though one may argue that the Korean War deteriorated the position of the USSR since it provided the possibility to enlarge American military presence in the region its neutrality could hardly have different results. Finally, Stalin could not simply refuse to support communism movement when it was amply supported by China. Otherwise, the USSR would risk losing leadership in the communist movement, at least in Asia. The latter was a potential threat to the USSR as a superpower because its positions, being weakened in Asia, could be weakened in other regions of the world and in addition to opposition to democratic countries the competition with Asian communist states would be added.
Thus, in conclusion, it is possible to say that the choices made by Stalin were right in the light of the strategic goals he wanted to achieve. Unfortunately, the possible alternatives such as neutrality about China, for instance, were unacceptable for the USSR and the reason is not the abnormal desire of power by Stalin but just a natural instinct and desire to survive. On refusing, from recognition of China, Stalin as a leader of the USSR, would not only acquire a new enemy on its Eastern borders but also split the communist movement in the world which should be as stable as the democratic movement, otherwise communist regimes would not have any chance to win hegemony in the world.
Consequently, the USSR had to spread its control over European countries and support amply communist movement in Asia to survive, become more powerful and influential. Otherwise, there would be neither the Cold War nor probably the USSR as a communist state.
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