How did relations between USA & USSR change in the years 1955-62? Essay

Between the years of 55-62 there were a lot of significant changes in the attitudes of each country. Over the seven-year period each side experienced it’s own ups and downs, as well as awkward situations. Many significant events such as the Warsaw pact and the Arms race occurred creating stressful times for both of the countries leaders. The Warsaw pact was supposedly a counter move by the Soviets against the aggressive NATO alliance that featured a joining of western European states. The pact also formed due to West Germany’s joining of the NATO alliance.

It was similar to NATO in the way that if any one of the countries joined to the treaty, members would support each other. This then started to create more tension after a few years of momentary peace, after the end of the Korean War and the death of Stalin, both in 1953. This caused fear because the armed forces of the Warsaw pact highly outnumbered those of NATO, although NATO was ahead on nuclear technology. During February 1956, a new leader took over the USSR, a man named Khrushchev, he set out his policy of De-Stalinisation, portraying Stalin as a cruel leader of Russia and that his system of government should be dismantled.

These policies then went ahead and he cut back on military spending, closed down the Cominform, changed Stalingrad to Volgograd, reduced the KGB and released many political prisoners. He also said the” two ways for Russia was either a peaceful co-existence with America or the most destructive war in history”. This sent a very powerful message to the other world leaders as it gave a moment of future peace. If peace became apparent though it gave advantages to communism making victory inevitable. These ideas gave hope of people being able to run their own country unlike under Stalin’s rule where the satellites of Russia had been tied to Moscow. 956 gave Khrushchev his first problem under his new job as leader; it was the decision of Imre Nagy the leader of Hungary, to withdraw from the Warsaw pact.

This meant that Khrushchev could not allow much freedom to Hungary because it may cause other countries bound to the Warsaw pact might follow Hungary’s lead and also try to desert it. Khrushchev could also not afford to show any weakness due to the instability of his own position. The Hungarians then held demonstrations in Budapest, which led to fighting with the AVO, the Hungarian secret police, and the demonstrations were for Nagy to become prime minister.

After Nagy was proclaimed leader Soviet tanks and troops entered Budapest and gun battles broke out when the Hungarian army and many freedom fighters fought back. After three days of gun battles Nagy announced a new government consisting members of non-communist parties. After five days of Nagy being named prime minister the Soviet forces withdrew from Budapest. From October 29th to November 1st Nagy announces the end of one party rule and the complete evacuation of the red army from Hungary, they also confirmed their withdrawal from the Warsaw pact.

Then on November 4th the Red army invades Budapest killing over 27,000 Hungarians, then Janos Kadar a pro communist leader takes over. In the West the public supported the Hungarians and were horrified at the killings that took place. The UN also had no impact as USSR continued to use its veto to bloke any actions that may cause its own country to become attacked. This also left the Hungarians rather bitter due to “Roll-back” where USA promised to help the people of East Europe if they revolted against USSR communism. This turned out to be an empty promise and they felt betrayed by the US.

After the Thaw had finished in 1956 East and West relations got worse until 1961 when the Berlin wall was built. Berlin still remained a divided city 10 years after the Berlin airlift. In Geneva 1955 Khrushchev said how “he will never change his mind about the German problem. He had his mind set on pushing the Americans out of Berlin. Many Berliners crossed the border between East and West regularly for both work and leisure. Some known as defectors, never returned to East Germany. The Russians saw Berlin as a thorn in the side of the Iron curtain.

During these times of tension the number of defectors heading west rose. Khrushchev had to decide what to do and had a few options available. If he sealed off Berlin as Stalin had done in 1948 it may cause America to declare war. Khrushchev also wasn’t sure whether or not he could rely on his allies in the Warsaw pact. Gradually the amount of defectors heading west became embarrassing to Khrushchev and a loss to the east. Between 1948-60 250,000 had left the east to join the west, these consisted mainly of skilled, professional workers like doctors and lawyers.

This was seen as an undermining of Soviet control and also it was damaging their economy at the same time. During the Vienna summit in 1961 Khrushchev had tried to bully Kennedy into withdrawing from Berlin. He refused and promised to protect West Berlin, this increased tension. Finally on August 15th 1961 East German police cut Berlin in two with barbed wire, guarded by both soldiers and tanks of the Red army. At this time John Kennedy was the new president of America, all he could do was simply protest to Russia as he wasn’t willing to risk nuclear war over Berlin.

Eventually the barbed wire turned into a wall and all defectors were stopped, still Kennedy was powerless and unable to do anything. This portrayed Khrushchev as a strong leader as no western leaders could challenge him. The results of this were that free access in the city had ended and the flow of refugees also ceased. It also left 1000’s of Berliners separated from their families causing people to try and climb the wall getting executed in the process by East German soldiers. Ultimately Kennedy would not risk nuclear war over the matter of Berlin and eventually he stood his forces down.

This looked as though Khrushchev had accomplished victory over the youth of Kennedy, making him look weak and inexperienced. For many years Cuba had been exploited by America and had been corrupt under the American stooge Batista. Cubans had been kept poor and suppressed for many years, and then in 1958 the Cuban revolution had Batista overthrown by Fidel Castro a pro-Communist leader. By 1962 Americas mood towards Cuba changed after Castro started to nationalised casinos, hotels and even coca-cola. This caused America to establish a trade embargo on Cuba forcing Castro to look to the USSR for help.

The USA’s greatest fears were that it might trigger revolutions in Americas “back yard”. In 1961 America acted with the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was a complete failure, this still made Castro turn to Khrushchev for protection from the USA. On 14th October 1962 a U2 spy plane found that there were 8-10 Soviet missile bases and erectors on Cuba, placing 80 million Americans u8nder threat as well as the capital city. This became a rather large test for Kennedy who couldn’t afford to lose face again to Khrushchev. Kennedy then decided to ring Cuba with warships to stop any more offensive weapons from reaching Cuba.

This was the lowest point for relations but the highest possibility for nuclear war on the other hand. The breakthrough came on 26th October when Khrushchev was finally prepared to talk to Kennedy; he sent him a secret letter. In the letter was an offer that if Kennedy stopped the blockade and promised not to invade Cuba, USSR would withdraw their offensive weapons from Cuba. There was then a second letter received adding a third condition, that USA must withdraw its missiles from Turkey. John Kennedy’s brother Robert suggested to only reply to the first letter, this he did.

Khrushchev accepted the first offer and relations calmed down. After Cuba relations changed and things started to get better, the USA secretly withdrew its missiles from Turkey 6 months after the crisis. A “Hot line” was also set up between Washington and Moscow to try and improve communication. Both side also agreed brinkmanship must never be used again as it nearly led to nuclear war. Kennedy was also hailed as a hero who saved the world from nuclear war, even though Khrushchev had also accomplished everything he had set out to achieve, so in effect they both won the battle as it was solved without nuclear war.


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