The Cold War and After: History, Theory, and the Logic of International Politics

By Marc Trachtenberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The United States and Eastern Europe in 1945:
A Reassessment

THERE WAS A time when it all seemed so simple. The Soviet Union, it was said, sought to communize eastern Europe at the end of World War II; the western powers, and especially the United States, were deeply opposed to that policy; and the clash that developed played the key role in triggering the Cold War. But historians in recent years have been moving away from that sort of interpretation. It is not that there has been a fundamental shift in our understanding of Soviet policy. Some scholars, to be sure, claim that the USSR, even in the latter part of the war, did not plan to communize any of the countries in that region— that “nowhere beyond what Moscow considered the Soviet borders did its policies foresee the establishment of communist regimes.”1 But the prevailing view today is rather different. Soviet leaders might not have had a “master plan” or a “detailed blueprint” for the communization of eastern Europe, but by the end of the war, it is now commonly argued, they did have certain general goals and a certain general strategy for achieving those goals. The USSR, according to that view, would initially take a relatively moderate line and Sovietization would not be on the agenda. But the Communists would “proceed step by step” and would gradually tighten their grip on power. Eventually the “appropriate moment” would come; at that point, as the Soviet leader Josif Stalin himself put it, the “mask” would come off and the “maximal program” would be put into effect.2

A slightly different version of this article originally appeared in the fall 2008 issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies. Copyright © Journal of Cold War Studies, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Reprinted by permission. Documents marked with an asterisk in the footnotes are available on an Internet supplement: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ polis ci/faculty/trachtenberg/usee/usee.html.

1 Vojtech Mastny The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 21. See also Geoffrey Roberts, “Ideology Calculation, and Improvisation: Spheres of Influence and Soviet Foreign Policy, 1939–1945,” Review of Interna tional Studies 25 (1999): 671–73, and Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 245–53. For a more moderate version of this argument, see Melvyn Leffler, “Inside Enemy Archives: The Cold War Reopened,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 4 (1996): 122–24, and Melvyn Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), p. 29.

2 For the comments about “proceeding step by step,” the “appropriate moment,” and

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