The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991

By Ronald E. Powaski | Go to book overview

Introduction:
The United States
and Czarist Russia

Idealism and Realism

It seems, in hindsight, that the Cold War was inevitable. From the very beginning of the Russian-American relationship, except for a brief period in 1917, the ideologies of the two nations were fundamentally incompatible. Founded in 1776, the young United States was republican and democratic; Russia, on the other hand, was an old autocracy, hostile to democracy, xenophobic, and known for ruthless suppression of its numerous subjects.

Although their political, social, and economic systems were divergent in the extreme, U.S. -- Russian relations, though never really cordial, nevertheless were correct through most of their common history. To be sure, Americans were uneasy about the Holy Alliance, a union of absolutist states which Czar Alexander I fashioned in 1815 to crush liberal and national revolutions in Europe. But while Americans had the deepest sympathy for the revolutionists, they felt no compulsion to intervene on their behalf. In the minds of Americans during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Europe was still a long way from the United States. Not only did Americans feel relatively secure being bounded by two oceans, they also were too preoccupied with their own internal affairs, including territorial expansion, industrialization, and the slavery issue, to countenance participation in foreign revolutions.

Keenly aware of these constraints on U.S. foreign policy, American leaders nevertheless appreciated the role Russia played in balancing the power of Britain and France. As a result, they did all they could, in this age of rising revolutionary fervor, to keep America's relations with autocratic

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