The blame for the Cold War cannot be placed on one person -- it developed as a series of chain reactions as a struggle for supremacy. It can be argued that the Cold War was inevitable, and therefore no one's fault, due to the differences in the capitalist and communist ideologies. It was only the need for self-preservation that had caused the two countries to sink their differences temporarily during the Second World War. Yet many of the tensions that existed in the Cold War can be attributed to Stalin's policy of Soviet expansion. It is necessary, therefore, to examine the role of Stalin as a catalyst to the Cold War.
Stalin's foreign policies contributed an enormous amount to the tensions of the Cold War. His aim, to take advantage of the military situation in post- war Europe to strengthen Russian influence, was perceived to be a threat to the Americans. Stalin was highly effective in his goal to gain territory, with victories in Poland, Romania, and Finland. To the western world, this success looked as if it were the beginning of serious Russian aggressions. The western view of the time saw Stalin as doing one of two things: either continuing the expansionist policies of the tsars that preceded him, or worse, spreading communism across the world now that his "one-state" notion had been fulfilled. It also must be mentioned that Stalin is seen as wanting "unchalleged personal power and a rebuilt Russia strong enough to withstand caplitalist encirclement.'"1
Admittedly, the first view of Stalin, as an imperialist leader, may be skewed. The Russians claim, and have always claimed, that Stalin's motives were purely defensive. Stalin's wished to create a buffer zone of Communist states around him to protect Soviet Russia from the capitalist West. In this sense, his moves were not aggressive at all -- they were truly defensive moves to protect the Soviet system. His suspicions of Western hostility were not unfounded: the British and U.S. intervention in the Russian Civil War (1918- 1920) were still fresh in Stalin's memory when he took power. Furthermore, Stalin was bitter because he was not informed of U.S. nuclear capabilities until shortly before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Compounding tensions was the fact that Stalin's request that Russia be allowed to participate in the occupation of Japan was denied, even though Russia had declared war on Japan on 8th August (the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 10th August) and had been responsible for annexing south Sakhalin as agreed to at Yalta. This failure to be included in the Western world's politics created an even deeper rift between the two superpowers.
Clashes between Stalin and the West first appear at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences in February and July 1946, respectively. Though the mood at Yalta was more or less cooperative, Stalin agitated matters by demanding that all German territory east of the Rivers Oder and Neisse be given to Poland (and thus remain under Soviet influence). Both Roosevelt and Churchill refused to agree to these demands. The Soviet Union responded bluntly, saying "..the Soviet Government cannot agree to the existence in Poland of a Government hostile to it."2 The atmosphere at the Potsdam Conference was noticeably cooler, with Truman replacing Roosevelt as the representative from the United States. " Truman...had been kept in complete ignorance by Roosevelt about foreign policy," 3 which meant that Truman was not aware of the secret assurances of security Roosevelt had made to Stalin. His policy towards Soviet Russia, then, was much more severe than that of Roosevelt. He was quoted as saying "We must stand up to the Russians...We have been too easy with them."4 Both Truman and Churchill were annoyed because Germany east of the Rivers Oder and Neisse were being occupied by Russian troops and were being run by the pro-communist Polish government, who expelled...