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A European Dimension to the Cold War?

A European Dimension to the Cold War?

Since the declassification of a plethora of official US government documents in the 1990s, many scholars have become inclined to agree, at least to some extent, on a post revisionist perspective of the Cold War period; that being that both the United States of America and Soviet Union are each partially to blame for the decades of tension and paranoia that were the Cold War. However, the importance of many European nations in the period is frequently understated and the idea of a ‘European dimension’ has begun to emerge gradually in modern scholarly thoughts, showing the image of ‘two big dogs chewing on a bone’ as a gross oversimplification of the Cold War years. It is interesting primarily to consider, briefly, to what extent there was a European identity in the Cold War as Britain’s decision to stop funding Greece in 1947 and the Hungarian revolution in 1956 both required intervention from the ‘superpowers’ but the contrast in Eastern and Western life might lead one to question whether they can really be considered as one continental group, and if they cannot then there is an issue with the language of the question. This paper will, considering this, analyse primarily the political state in Europe and to what extent the superpowers can be held responsible, secondly the importance of the economic power of European nations and thirdly how ‘people power’ hindered or advanced the notion of a European dimension. Ultimately this paper aims to conclude evidentially that there was indeed a significant European dimension to the Cold War; it is defining Europe that brings most difficulty. Note also that for the purposes of this question, we will consider the Cold War period as originating during the Second World War.

The notion of a European identity is key to understanding any European dimension to the Cold War. Though geographically there can be no argument made as to the identity of Europe, in ideology, customs and general living standards the juxtaposition of East and West during the Cold War is shocking, even today there is arguably a clear divide. Indeed Western Europe’s recovery after the Second World War was immense and the period 1945-75 saw economy running ‘at unprecedented levels’, in fact the period is considered a ‘golden age’. In a stark contrast, Eastern Europe became ‘economically stagnant and politically static’ in the 30 years post war, showing no signs of the co-operation of its Western continental neighbours. The purpose of this opening point is not to ascertain who is to blame for the contrasting situations or to praise the West and condemn the East, rather it is to show what polar opposites they were for the bulk of tensions in the Cold War. Western and Eastern Europe were, and to some degree are, as different as North and South America, so how can one question to what extent there was a European dimension as a whole in the Cold War? Rather we might question to what extent there was an Eastern and a Western European dimension to the Cold War. It may be that the contributions of both Western and Eastern European nations within their respective Soviet or US spheres of influence were of equal importance, yet this paper considers it important to define the wording of the question cautiously and would proceed considering Western and Eastern Europe as separate entities.



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