Tug-of-War of Europe: Cold War Escalations (1947–1956)

Affairs in Berlin, Asia and Latin America are omitted. They will be covered in another article.

Truman Doctrine

The situation in Greece and Turkey, allocated $400 million in financial aid to help defeat the communists by the USA, was not truly a Russian-backed uprising, but a home-grown one. However, American fears of expanding communism in Europe moved them to stop it at all costs, desperately trying to quell communist revolution in Greece and Turkey. An uprising in those countries, supposedly allocated to the UK during the Percentages Agreement of 1944, served as another example, in the view of the western leaders, of the defiance and unwillingness to cohere to agreements of Stalin and his government, and further undermined any potential trust or relationship with potential to come to fruition between both sides.

Proposal of the Marshall Plan

However, in the eyes of the majority of western European nations, this was a much-needed olive branch thrown to a continent struggling to recover. The deep poverty of Britain, having lost its empire after the war, and France, practically destroyed by conflict on the western front, necessitated help from a foreign source. The placing of the USA as that friendly source then helped unity within the west, supportive economic aid binding together the USA and the rest of Europe.


For the west, as well as a show of opposing power, the instatement of Cominform also served as evidence of a monolithic communist bloc centred in Moscow. The idea of a centrally-controlled super-state in the hands of Stalin deeply frightened the west, and escalated tensions, as well as increasing fear of the east. Reports of totalitarian influence from Moscow over the satellite states only worked to create deeper rifts between the two sides, the west deeply mistrusting the east for its lack of freedom.

Introduction of the Marshall Plan

However, the Marshall Plan would also prove troublesome within the eastern bloc. Yugoslavia, led by Josip Tito, who had spearheaded his own communist revolution without help from the USSR, had accepted Marshall Plan aid, in defiance of Stalin. Yugoslavia’s constant defiance of Stalin’s directives, often seemingly an overt hatred of Stalin from Tito, then created a rift within the eastern bloc. To stop other eastern countries following Yugoslavia’s example, Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from Cominform, effectively alienating it from the rest of the satellite states. The cracks growing within Stalin’s tightly controlled bloc would create issues in future, not only in Yugoslavia, but in Hungary, Germany and Prague, as countries rebelled against USSR directives done for the large part to spite the west. Many of the satellite states considered the USSR inconsiderate for forcing a refusal of Marshall Aid, creating small rifts between the satellite states and their leader, Stalin.


The imposing of Comecon also increased global tensions, with the west viewing it as further evidence of monolithic communism, Moscow taking every opportunity to control affairs in the east. The imposition of economic control from Comecon, in addition to political control from Cominform, vindicated the fears in the USA of a strictly authoritarian Moscow-controlled communist bloc, posing a threat to the ‘free’ west. By exerting economic control, the USSR aimed to more tightly manage economies within the bloc, but also sought to limit contact with the west. Prohibiting the significant portion of trade a country could do with the west by limiting the scope of their productive capacity through specialisation impaired the economic contact an eastern country could have with the west by trade, and effectively cut off the satellite states from potentially mutually beneficial trade with Britain, the USA, or any of their potential western partners.


“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Uniting the western countries in a defensive treaty also served to create a solidified west, to reduce the threat from a consolidated eastern bloc. Article 5 (an extract is seen above) of the NATO treaty created a formal assertion of collective defence, in which a single military mass of the west would oppose the forces of the eastern bloc in military combat. This idea of the west ‘ganging up’ on the east was not well received in the east, raising tensions as movements to place US military installations across Europe sparked fears across the satellite states and in the USSR. The formation of a military defence organisation, while intended as a deterrent, and a justification for large military presence of the USA in Europe, only increased the possibilities of war, bringing tensions alongside it.

Warsaw Pact

The provocation towards the USSR by NATO and the subsequent response in the form of the Warsaw Pact worried the western states. In solidifying their own military strength to oppose the east, they had caused the east to retaliate with a much stronger and larger force, both sides with nuclear weapons (the USSR having successfully tested atomic bombs in 1949). The retaliation and response of east to west, and west to east, would come to characterise this period of political history, each bloc struggling to maintain dominance and security, in a protective effort to avoid the military attention of the opposing side.

Opinion in East & West


Heightening fears over events in Europe, catalysed by the aggressive policies and military formations of east and west, only served to exacerbate the Red Scare, fear of the Russian atomic bomb increasing alongside fear of the Communist machine slowly moving towards the USA. McCarthyism, denouncing, interrogating and arresting suspected communists, served as a fuel to the fire, once intended to root out communists, but simply becoming another product of it, caught up in a witch-hunt of mythic proportions but little effect in terms of the security of the USA.

De-Stalinisation under Khrushchev

In February of 1956, Khrushchev made his “secret speech” at a meeting of the Soviet government, announcing a new era, and denouncing Stalin’s “cult of personality”. To illustrate change, the USSR released political prisoners, lightened media censorship, and planned a slight increase in the economic and political independence of the eastern bloc from the USSR. This represented a slight decrease in tensions, the USA wary but somewhat willing to look upon the east with fresh eyes and to search for co-operation. New hands, and seemingly more liberal new hands at the helm of the USSR reduced tensions across the world, the era of military and economic competition and hostility seemingly over, marked by the disbanding of Cominform in 1956 as Khrushchev sought to dismantle the controlling apparatus of Stalin’s eastern bloc.

It must be noted, however, that Khrushchev’s reforms were not to be entirely trusted, and were treated with great suspicion by the west. The creation of the Warsaw Pact was a directive led by Khrushchev, and continued oppression in many of the satellite states signified little change to many eyes in the west. Soon enough, Khrushchev would prove to be an equally unforgiving and cruel leader as Stalin had been, in his actions in Hungary, and in Berlin. The new leadership in the Soviet Union signified then, not a liberalisation as such with respect to interactions with the west, but a shift in attitudes and outlook, albeit with little difference in treatment as the west would soon discover.

Academic writer, conductor, performer & composer. Compositional work here: https://bit.ly/3tfKzFH

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