Compare and contrast the impact of two leaders, each from a different region, on the development of the Cold War

From the IBDP Paper 2 exams 
for May 2010, May 2018, May 2019, May 2023

From the markscheme:

Candidates will give an account of the similarities and differences between the impact of two leaders on the development of the Cold War, referring to both leaders throughout. While the focus of the response must be within the timeframe of this topic, the chosen leaders need not have been contemporaries. They must, however, be drawn from different regions. The response must compare specifically the ways in which the chosen leaders affected the course of the Cold War and this could be addressed with reference to their policies that may or may not have improved or worsened superpower relations. Alternatively, leaders of smaller states may have had considerable impact on the course of the Cold War by commencing actions that may have led to wars or crises.

From a student who received a final grade of '7' in the course in May 2022 (click to enlarge):


Example II:


From the May 2023 paper 2 exam:

With reference to two leaders, each from a different region, evaluate their impact on the development of the Cold War.

(This essay received

As the Cold War unfolded from the years following World War II to 1991, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union soured and were mired in tension. However, the development of these tensions heavily relied on the leaders in power in the United States and the USSR, as well as their attitudes towards their respective adversaries. U.S. President Harry Truman's aggressive foreign policy heightened tensions for the U.S. following World War II, whereas Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership helped ease these tensions and bring an end to the Cold War.

Harry Truman assumed the role of U.S. President after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, just as World War II was ending. The U.S. was still involved in the grand alliance between the British Empire and the Soviet Union. However, while Roosevelt got along with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Truman and Stalin disliked each other, and relations soured until the great alliance was broken down. Under Truman's leadership, the Soviet Union went from an ally to an adversary.

The U.S. transformed into an adversary through several foreign policy decisions following the "Long Telegram" from U.S. ambassador to the USSR, Kennan, which warned of Soviet hostilities towards the U.S. Truman and U.S. officials adopted the theory of containment, which advocated for preventing the spread of communism anywhere in the world. This led to the adoption of the domino theory, which suggested that if one nation fell to communism, the countries in the surrounding region would also fall. These aggressive foreign policies were also influenced by NSC-68 in 1950, which claimed that America's vital interests were global and advocated for military intervention to prevent the spread of communism. These policies led Truman to adopt the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and the Marshall Plan in 1948, both of which offered economic assistance to European countries as long as they rejected communism. Containment and the domino theory not only influenced Truman's Cold War foreign policy but also continued throughout other presidencies, justifying U.S. involvement in Vietnam and various Latin American countries such as Chile, Guatemala, and Grenada. Truman's aggressive foreign policy heightened tensions that were maintained for several decades thereafter.

Gorbachev's leadership was also significant in the development of the Cold War. He was the Soviet leader during two crises: the Berlin blockade and subsequent airlift of 1948 to 1949, and the Korean War from 1950 to 1951. During the Berlin blockade, Stalin blocked all supply lines from the West to West Berlin, leaving nearly two million citizens without basic supplies and electricity. Truman and the Western allies were forced to think creatively to support these citizens while avoiding war, resulting in the airlift. Truman defied Stalin's inhumane decision-making and chose to protect U.S. interests. Similarly, Truman sought to protect U.S. anti-communist interests by sending UN troops, mainly comprised of U.S. soldiers, to protect South Korea from falling to communism. The Korean War was the first of many instances when containment and the domino theory were used to justify intervention. Thus, while the Cold War was mainly a heightening of superpower tensions, Truman set the status quo for U.S. military intervention to protect its interests and fight against communism.

While Truman heightened tensions in the early days of the Cold War, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policies and attitudes helped ease tensions between the U.S. and the USSR from 1985 to 1991. When Gorbachev came into power in 1985, he ushered in a new era of much younger leadership that was open to reform. With the Soviet economy stagnant, food prices rising, and internal opposition growing, Gorbachev decided to implement change. Starting in 1986, he introduced a policy of perestroika or restructuring, overseeing economic reforms that spilled into political reforms. The next year, Gorbachev introduced democratization, allowing elements of democracy to integrate into Soviet society. Then, in 1988, Gorbachev announced glasnost or openness, allowing citizens to discuss the past and critique the government. With these new reforms, Gorbachev completely shifted the modalities of power used to maintain communist control in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's policies not only influenced internal decisions but also reignited diplomatic relations. In 1987, Gorbachev negated the Brezhnev Doctrine, which allowed Soviet intervention to protect communist interests in Warsaw Pact countries and told satellite states they needed to follow their own path. This contributed to the rebellion of many states like Poland and Czechoslovakia, who transitioned to democratic stages of governance in the years after. After this major change in foreign policy in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan and met with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to establish the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and engage in strategic arms reduction talks. With the easing of nuclear warfare tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, tensions decreased until Gorbachev disbanded the Soviet Union in 1991 and established the Commonwealth of Independent States, thereby ending the Cold War. Thus, because of Gorbachev's domestic and diplomatic policies, as well as his cooperation with the U.S., the Cold War was brought to an end.

In conclusion, Truman's hardline stance and aggressive policies to deter communism heightened tensions at the beginning of the Cold War. However, Gorbachev's policies and cooperation allowed for the dissolution of tension and the end of the Cold War. Clearly, through their leadership, the impact of leadership in the development of the Cold War is seen.

Based on the provided mark bands, I would grade the essay as follows:

Focus and structure: 10-12 (Band 2) The essay demonstrates an understanding of the question and maintains a generally well-structured and organized approach. However, there are instances of repetition and lack of clarity in some areas, which prevent it from reaching the highest mark band.

Knowledge and context: 10-12 (Band 2) The essay displays mostly accurate and relevant knowledge of the world history topic. It effectively places events in their historical context, although there could be a deeper understanding of historical concepts to reach the highest mark band.

Examples and links/comparisons: 10-12 (Band 2) The examples chosen are appropriate and relevant, and they are used effectively to support the analysis and evaluation. The essay also makes some effective links and comparisons, but there could be more depth and specificity to achieve a higher mark band.

Analysis, perspectives, and conclusion: 13-15 (Band 1) The essay contains clear and coherent critical analysis. It evaluates different perspectives and integrates this evaluation effectively into the answer. The majority of the main points are substantiated, and the response argues to a consistent conclusion. The essay meets the descriptors of the highest mark band in this category.

Overall, based on the mark bands, I would award this essay a grade of 12 out of 15. It meets three descriptors of the 10-12 mark band and one from the 13-15 mark band. The areas for improvement would be to address any instances of repetition or lack of clarity in the structure, deepen the understanding of historical concepts, and provide more specific and in-depth links/comparisons for a stronger analysis.

Compare and contrast the impact of two leaders, each from a different region, on the development of the Cold War.

It is true that American and Soviet leaders had a significant impact on the development of the Cold War. But not necessarily the most significant. Often depicted simply as a battle between the communist East and capitalist West, the Cold War was, in fact, also a fight within communism itself. Yugoslavia and China are only two of several communist countries that deviated from the Soviet model, which under the unique leadership of Josip Broz Tito and Mao Zedong had the greatest impact on the development of the Cold War. Not only did these two leaders sometimes unnecessarily escalate the tensions between the two major powers, but they also transformed the Cold War: whilst Tito created a third, neutral side, Mao replaced the ‘bipolar world’ with a tripolar one.

Both leaders initially increased rivalry between the USSR and the US, as well as choosing to detach their countries from Soviet alliance to redefine the confrontations throughout the Cold War. On the one hand, Tito brought the USSR and the US into the first Cold War crisis in May 1945, when deciding that Trieste, the region he liberated during World War II, formerly Italian, should become a part of Yugoslavia. The USSR, who did not want the newly capitalist Italy to get the territory, supported Tito, but the US, fearing a communist expansion, backed the Italians. Although often overlooked as a crisis, Trieste is crucial because it brought the already-existing friction between the superpowers into sharp focus, which laid the foundations in which the Cold War developed in Europe. Another instance in which Tito increased tensions between the USSR and the US was in deciding to support the communists in the Greek Civil War, as, according to the Percentages Agreement between Stalin and Churchill in 1944, Greece had been given to the West unofficially. In supporting the communists, the West wrongly interpreted it as Stalin ordering Tito to do so, hence increasing tensions between capitalism and communism further. Similarly, it was Mao who caused the Soviets to intervene in the Korean War in April 1950, and consequently have the Americans get involved. Shen Zhizhua, a historian specialized in the Korean War, argues that Stalin’s only motivation to support North Korea was the ability to use China’s Lushün, more commonly known as Port Arthur, and the CER, the Chinese Eastern Railway. The Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance forced Stalin to return them to Mao, yet they agreed on a clause in which, if the USSR found themselves in a war in Asia, they would be allowed to use them. And that war was in Korea. Meanwhile, the fact that Mao took power in China is what pushed the US to intervene in Korea, as they found containment to be ineffective and developed a more assertive approach, rollback, through NSC-68. Additionally, Mao attempted to invade Taiwan in 1958, which was again erroneously believed to be Khrushchev ordering Mao to do so by the Americans, which once again led to escalating tensions between the East and the West. On the other hand, both leaders would soon antagonize the USSR and undergo a ‘rapprochement’ to the US. The Tito-Stalin Split came in June 1948 during a Cominform meeting in Bucharest, and the Sino-Soviet Split between Mao and Khrushchev between 1960 and 1989. Both showed the world that communist countries were not a unified force under the leadership of the Soviet Union, contrary to what the Americans believed. The breaking alliances are crucial due to the way it redefined the Cold War, since, in the case of both Yugoslavia and China, their leaders chose to align themselves with the US against the USSR, meaning the conflict was no longer communism against capitalism. In Yugoslavia, the US began to aid Tito economically and even militarily by the early 1950s, offering them a place in NATO as well, although Tito declined. In China, trade restrictions were eased, and the US would recognize the People’s Republic of China in the UN, amongst other agreements through Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Overall, Tito and Mao increased tensions between the USSR and the US in Trieste and Greece, as well as Korea and Taiwan respectively, which subsequently increased tensions between the USSR and their countries, and eventually resulted in ‘rapprochement’ to the US against the Soviet Union, redefining the Cold War from a purely ideological to geopolitical conflict.

Contrastingly, Tito and Mao’s distinct ideologies caused their paths after their respective split from the Soviet Union to differ, Tito moving from an alliance to the US to an alliance with neither America or the Soviet Union and Mao choosing to move from an aggressively anti-capitalist foreign policy to cooperating with the US as it recognized the USSR as their number one enemy. Tito believed in allowing countries to find their own way to socialism, what became known as ‘national communism’. After an initial alliance with the USSR and later cooperating with the US, Tito realized that he did not want Yugoslavia to have to support either country, but rather wanted to be neutral. Other countries, such as India, Ghana, Egypt and Indonesia, had the same issue. This desire to remain at peace transformed, in 1961, into the Non-Aligned Movement, which is mostly thanks to Tito himself, an organization of countries that “sought to create an independent path in world politics that would not result in member States becoming pawns in the struggles between major powers”, as stated by the NMA itself. Being in place still today, the NMA was considered the ‘third, peaceful option’ to NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Differently, Mao found an all-out war with the US to end capitalism necessary, yet his animosity was not only directed to America. He denounced Khrushchev after the Secret Speech for his ‘de-Stalinisation’ plans and his policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’, believing that he was ‘soft’ in his attitude toward the US. Even with the removal of Soviet support in the nuclear development of China, Mao managed to be part of the ‘nuclear club’ in 1964. In 1960, the Soviet Union shot down a US U2 spy plane, and the pilot, Gary Powers, was captured. Whilst the USSR and the US wanted to avoid conflict, Mao promoted a military reaction on behalf of the Soviet Union, which Khrushchev rejected. Khrushchev’s ‘softness’ came again in the Cuban Missile Crisis. All these events are highly important, as it demonstrates Mao’s aggressiveness toward both the US and the USSR, which Yugoslavian Tito did not have. Mao made China a sort of third superpower, being, unlike Tito, arguably more assertive than the USSR and the US themselves. Overall, Tito and Mao led different paths in terms of developing the Cold War because, whilst Tito created the ‘third, peaceful option’ in the NA Movement, Mao created a third, hostile superpower.

In conclusion, both Tito and Mao increased tensions between superpowers and underwent a split from the Soviet Union, a rapprochement to the US, and developed a so-called ‘third-way’ in the Cold War, both promoting their country’s independence, but whilst Tito desired peace, Mao wanted war. Yugoslavia and China are often overlooked in teaching the Cold War, prioritising the USSR and the US and defining the Cold War as the ideological battle between communism and capitalism. Yet both leaders, Tito and Mao, show the many layers of the Cold War.

“The actions of individual leaders had a significant impact on the development of the Cold War”. Discuss with reference to two leaders, each from a different region.

From the May 2019 paper 2


Truman and Stalin can certainly be considered amongst the most significant leaders in the development of the cold war, with Truman pioneering America’s new foreign policy and international involvement that we can still see today, to Stalin’s actions in Europe and Asia that were notably responsible in escalating the cold war tensions between the two powers.

One significant impact on the cold war that Truman was responsible for was America’s radical change in foreign policy, which first manifested itself in the form of the Truman Doctrine. Truman announced his “Truman Doctrine” to Congress on March 12, 1947, a response to the Soviet Union expanding its sphere of influence through Eastern Europe. The Truman Doctrine was implemented as a means of countering the Soviet geopolitical expansion, by stating America would support the nations threatened by Soviet communism, further pledging to aid Greece and Turkey. Truman taking a hard line against the USSR became the foundation of America’s new foreign policy, shifting the US’ attitude towards the Soviet Union from a relaxed co-existence to a containment of communist expansion. The Truman Doctrine was joined by the Marshall plan, in which the United States invested 13 billion into numerous European countries aimed to help rebuild postwar Europe, which led to Stalin creating Comecon in October of 1948. Furthermore, Truman was responsible for leading the Berlin airlift in 1948, a campaign that delivered food and supplies to the city in response to the Soviet imposed blockade. Whilst it ended successfully, it resulted in a significant increase in tensions with the USSR, further developing the cold war on an international level. However, one of the most significant impacts of Truman’s foreign policy of containment was the outbreak of the Korean war. Along with marking the first proxy war between the two powers, it was also the first and only time the United Nations would get militarily involved in an armed conflict. After the North Korean invasion of the Southern peninsula, the United States led a UN military force in the war against the northern invaders. This armed conflict, ‘puppeteered’ by the United States and Soviet Union, resulted in the rapid escalation of cold war tensions, which would be soon followed by a number of proxy wars and actions in Europe. Before 1947, the US was isolationist. Truman’s radical change of American foreign policy resulted in the US joining the world bank, NATO, UN, and a plethora of other international associations. Without Truman, the United States would not have been involved in rebuilding the European economy, and certainly would not have been able to guarantee the Asian prosperity we see today.

Where Truman’s impact on stemmed from his reactions to these cold war crises, Stalin was significant due to being the main perpetrator of said events. In 1948, Stalinist forces took control over Czechoslovakia, with Stalin also backing the communist forces in the Greek Civil War and making territorial claims in Turkey, all of which instigated American responses that further increased tensions between the two countries. One of Stalin’s most significant actions was the blockade of West Berlin, which resulted in Europe becoming divided into two opposing sides – the US-backed NATO in the West, and USSR driven Warsaw Pact in the East. The Berlin Blockade developed the cold war tensions from being sheer political disagreements, to opposing pacts that entailed members agreeing to go to war if any of them were to be attacked. Along with unnecessarily giving the green light to allow North Korea to invade the south, Stalin can even be said to have caused the outbreak of the cold war in the first place, having taken an aggressive stance against the West at Yalta with his sphere of influence and inability to cooperate with the other leaders, along with his rapid Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe. As stated by the late [sic] Andrew Roberts, “Stalin embarked straight on to the cold war as soon as the world war was over”.


“The actions of individual leaders had a significant impact on the development of the Cold War.”

In 1950 Stalin gives the green light to North Korea and invade South Korea heightening the tensions between the two powers: America and Russia. Both Truman and Stalin played crucial roles in creating radical and important changes that set the course of the Cold War. Due to Stalin’s significant actions in the years 1947 to 1950, Truman had no choice but to counter the aggressive Soviet leader. By looking at Stalin and Truman, one can see how one action from one leader influenced the other, creating a domino theory of events that made the Cold War what we know it as today.

Truman played a crucial role in the development of the Cold War in. The Truman doctrine in March 1947 was created, providing economic means in order to contain communism. Truman had even stated that it was now “America’s duty” to interfere. The late Tony Judt believes that the doctrine was as much directed towards Britain as it was Stalin, never the less, the doctrine changed the very definition of American foreign policy. One can see the significance of this when considering that before the doctrine America was isolationist, therefore, getting involved in any way created a very radical and crucial change in America’s foreign policy. Truman also created the Marshall plan in March of 1948. This was sparked by the British telling Truman that they were declaring bankruptcy, meaning that they could no longer afford to keep their soldiers in Greece. The initial ask was 17 Billion dollars for aid, which was not given by the government who were not fond of the idea. It was not until USSR invaded Czechoslovakia that the Marshall aid was agreed to for 13 Billion. However, Stalin did not want countries under his rule to receive money, which can be seen through the creation of Comecon – this allowed Stalin control of the Communists countries in Europe. To understand how important Truman was as a leader, one can look at his elections: To many it seemed unlikely Truman would win, which can be seen in the Chicago Newspaper with the headline ‘Dewey defeats Truman’ before the president has been announced. Despite this, Truman was elected President in 1948. If Truman hadn’t had won the election, there would have been no Marshall plan. Truman’s leadership can also be seen in the Berlin Blockade where he had absolute control over America’s response to the crisis. It Truman was the one who ordered the airlift, despite having the military go against it. This led to the creation of NATO and showed American leadership - United States could ensure the balance of power in Europe. In conclusion without Truman and America would not have been a part of European recovery.

If Truman was seen to have a significant impact of the Cold War, then Stalin must hold equal significance because it was Stalin who has begun all of the crises. Stalin had created Comecon, initiated the Berlin Blockade and unnecessarily gave North Korea the ‘Green Light’ to allow them to attack South Korea. The impact on Korea can still be seen to this day, where there is still a division between North and South. The late Tony Judt argues that Stalin’s biggest mistake was not accepting Marshall Aid - there was nothing that was stopping him from accepting it. He could have helped to rebuild Germany in way in which everyone else had supported, he could have gotten allies for example France. Instead he chose to create the war for his own domestic policies. Stalin has used Potsdam to his advantage in order to further his own policies. He took this opportunity to as Stalin had been the only one who was there for all three conferences Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. In Yalta, he had agreed to have democratic elections, in which he signed the declaration of liberated Europe. However, this was never done – going back on everything Stalin had agreed on. This also leads to the iron curtain. Churchill responded to the iron curtain arguing that that was not what they had agreed on and it was definitely not what they had fought for. 100,000 Americans and British did not die just so people in Poland could go swiftly from one dictator to another. This suggests that Stalin was the one creating the crises with his significant actions which lead to others responding as well.

In conclusion, both leaders’ actions influenced not only the Cold War but how they responded to each other’s decisions. With every aggressive act that came from Stalin, came an equal counter attack from Truman. 


"The actions of individual leaders had a significant impact on the development of the Cold War"

The cold war was at its peak during the reign of Truman and Stalin. President Truman adopting an explicit attitude of anti-Soviet policy with his Truman Plan, historic tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union erupted which shows how the Cold War developed so quickly under both leaders Stalin and Truman. By using Truman and Stalin this essay will argue that both leaders had a significant impact on the development of the cold war as they acted in their independent capacity to further their country's personal interests.

Firstly, looking at Truman one could argue that he was significant in the development of the Cold war as he introduced a hard-line foreign policy. This is significant as before Truman came to power America was an isolationist country that wished to remove itself from any conflict with other countries. Truman changed that by introducing the Truman Doctrine in alignment with the Marshall plan that was focused on promoting Capitalism and Democracy abroad. Truman strongly believed in the threat of communism and with Britain, a capitalistic and democratic country, being weak and bankrupt meant America needed to ensure that there wouldn't be a loss in support. Therefore, he initiated the Truman doctrine which stated that through the USA, military and economic means would be used to stop the spreading of communism and contain it to the USSR. In spite of the fact that he said he had no personal experience in foreign matters, Truman convinced the USA to support the Truman Doctrine, which formalized an arrangement of Soviet control and the Marshall Plan, which was designed to help modify postwar Europe. To get Congress to spend a large amount of money important to restart the weak European economy, Truman utilized an ideological contention, contending that Communism thrives in financially denied territories. This triggered a change in the Cold war as it meant that Truman would do anything to prevent communism from growing. In 1947 the introduction of Marshall aid ensured that the 13 billion USD would be used to rebuild Europe and ensure a reduction in poverty. However, the aid triggered Comecon, a response from the USSR that would prevent Eastern European countries from accepting the Marshall aid that they were offered. The quick changeover meant that a response to all these events sparked the blockade which was a crisis that meant that Truman had to take action in creating the airlift in beating Stalin.

If Truman only reacted to Stalin without creating his own decisions, why did he still play a large role in the development of the Cold War? The Soviet Union had created communist supporting governments in Eastern European countries which implied growth in support for Stalin. Truman saw this as a threat as he and the allies feared the spread of communism which assisted in the creation of the Truman Doctrine, Marshall aid, and the Berlin blockade and airlift. Stalin is said to have been the main reason for the development of the Cold war to escalate tensions between the countries, as the development was so drastic and quick. Stalin was taking over Eastern Europe through "Salami tactics" which included alliance systems and threats to rival countries.  When Czechoslovakia became communist in March of 1948, this led to the response of the Truman Doctrine.

The actions of both leaders meant that the escalation of tensions of the Cold war was significant. Truman specifically worked with the Marshall plan in order to rebuild Europe whereas Stalin took money out of Eastern Europe, in a plan known as Comecon, to rebuild Russia and encouraged trade and industry within Eastern Europe while discouraging trade with the West. Which was used to encourage economic development in Eastern Europe. Truman designed the Truman Doctrine in order to promote and defend capitalism abroad. Compared to Stalin who initiated the Berlin Blockade which aimed to keep all Eastern European citizens in Berlin from seeing how capitalism could improve their lives. Stalin's ultimate aim was to force Western influence out of Berlin altogether and to make it communist.  In response to the Berlin, Blockade, Truman initiated the airlift to continue the capitalist support that he encouraged and promoted. The East saw the other capitalist citizens and their quality of life.  This meant that Stalin had to forcefully prevent this and invaded Czechoslovakia.

In conclusion, both leaders had direct actions that resulted in escalating tension between the USA and the USSR. Therefore the development of the Cold war meant that both leaders made significant decisions that meant that in their respective countries they had unilateral positions that left no room for compromise. 


The actions of individual leaders had a significant impact on the development of the Cold War. Discuss with reference to two leaders, each from a different region.

Truman was known for his anti-communist attitude and anti-Soviet policy, which led to tensions between the United States and the USSR, and eventually ended up as the so called Cold War. In 1947, when the Truman Doctrine was introduced, tensions between the two nations reached its peak, as the Doctrine was offering financial and military aid specifically to countries threatened by communism and hence the Soviets. This obviously angered Stalin and only stirred up more anger. Stalin started the Berlin Blockade in response, which quickly collapsed. Both Truman and Stalin had an impact on the development of the cold war, as they only provoked each other and increased tensions leading to more war and bloodshed.

President Harry Truman and his foreign policy took a hard line against the Soviet Union, once they started noticing that the USSR was expanding its influence and politic into Eastern Europe. Truman managed to meet the American public opinion with his actions and turned a whole nation against another one. It was common belief that the USSR intended upon world domination through expanding its influence. Due to that belief, Truman received a lot of support when he introduced the Truman Doctrine, which sought to provide financial, economic and military aid to those nations threatened by Soviet communism in Europe. This obviously angered Stalin and only provoked more tension between the USSR and USA. Fleming argues that the Truman Doctrine was “a formalization of the long-term goals of Truman himself”. The US felt threatened by Stalin’s ambitions for world domination and used the policy to make their intentions and opinions very clear to the USSR. This showed Stalin, that the USA would remain in Europe and always protect it against Communism. The Truman Doctrine was the fundamental reason for the long-term conflicts between America and Russia, and for the outbreak of the Cold War.
Another significant impact of Truman was in connection with the Korean War. In June 1950, Kim Il-Sung attacked South-Korea. Stalin “planned, prepared and initiated” the invasion and was therefore responsible for the outbreak of the Korean War. Truman sent aid to South Korea, supporting them against Stalin and North-Korea, which eventually led to Stalin and the north-Koreans to retreat and the stopping of the invasion. Stalin however insisted on Korea and China continuing to fight, even though both nations were exhausted and did not see a reason to fight. Truman did not do anything against that.
In 1948, Stalin blocked off all railway and street access into and out of Berlin, in hope of driving the Allies out of Berlin and Western Germany, to introduce his communist politic and as a response to Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. He was starving Berlin of food and supplies, causing many citizens to die from hunger and the cold. This turned Germany and most of Europe against him, making it harder for Stalin to proceed with his ambition for world domination. The Allies eventually started an airlift, providing Berlin with supplies and food on a massive scale. This lasted for about a year, until Stalin eventually caved in and opened access to Berlin again. However, the airlift continues for several months after that, which increased tensions between Stalin and Truman massively, as Stalin had been embarrassed and degraded in front of the whole world.
When it became known in September 1949, that the USSR had successfully tested a nuclear bomb, the USA immediately took action and produced a hydrogen bomb. This resulted in an arms race between the USSR and USA. The American bomb was primarily to show off their strength to Russia, and to intimidate Stalin to not start a war with them, otherwise they would be destroyed. This caused even more tension between the two nations, as Stalin felt that America was not taking him seriously and making another attempt to publicly degrade and embarrass him, to show off their strength. When Stalin used North-Korea to indirectly start a dispute with America, Truman responded with nations that were against communism, supporting South-Korea and ending the impact of Russia on North-Korea; Stalin was shut down one more time.

In conclusion, Truman had a major impact on the development of the Cold War, especially with his foreign policies and his anti-communist policies. Stalin tried numerus times to beat America and takeover Eastern Europe, however he failed every time and only provoked the outbreak of the Cold War with his many attempts to make Europe communist.

(Written under exam conditions)


Great men had a significant impact on wars throughout history, most significantly on the cold war. In this essay, the two leaders whose disagreements effectively started the cold war, Joseph Stalin and Harry S. Truman will be considered. Two crises, the Berlin blockade in 1948 and the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950 will be evaluated in order to determine the impact of these two leaders. According to orthodox historians, both crises were orchestrated by Stalin, with Truman taking a more reactive approach. According to the great man theory Truman essentially saved South Korea and Berlin, yet there is little acknowledgement of his heroics, no street names or statues are put up in his name. On the other hand, Stalin has an immortal image in history as a tyrannical, genocidal dictator. This essay will take an orthodox approach, arguing that Stalin and Truman were both instrumental in the development of the cold war, with Stalin orchestrating it and Truman reacting to Stalin’s aggression.


The Berlin blockade was an act of aggression by the Soviet Union, to which the western powers, under Truman’s leadership responded peacefully and effectively. The blockade began on the 12th of May 1948, after the introduction of the Deutschmark and unification of the British, French and American sectors on the 10th of May in 1948. This was a breaking of both the Yalta and Potsdam agreements and was considered an act of aggression by Stalin and the Soviet Union. This can be seen by foreign minister Molotov claiming that the west was united in “acting against the interest of the Soviet Union”. This directly indicates that Stalin considered this to be an act of aggression, therefore responding in kind. This would suggest that Truman took the role of the aggressor and Stalin was simply defending the interests of the Soviet Union and respecting the treaties signed. This is further supported by the fact that the Deutschmark was being distributed in Berlin and was the sole legal tender in West Germany, being worth 10 times the Reichsmark which was the only legal tender in East Germany. This created instability within Berlin, as the new Deutschmark would allow the west to take economic control of the city. The entire city was open, meaning people could travel from east to west, with the Deutschmark having the potential to create economic instability within all east Germany. Therefore, officially, the reason Stalin initiated the blockade was to stop the Deutschmark from entering the German Democratic Republic. On the other hand, it would have been impossible for the Soviets to plan out such a logistical nightmare in one day, highlighting that it had been in the works for months. This would suggest that Stalin was planning to do this anyways, highlighting that he simply used the introduction of the Deutschmark as an excuse to block the west out of west berlin and attempt to seize the city. This seems far more plausible, as Stalin has been proven to be a calculated, evil man who capitalises on opportunities presented to him to consolidate his power. It is clear to see that Stalin initiated this development in the cold war.


Truman, while not directly initiating this rise in tensions, was largely responsible for Stalin’s response. The introduction of the Deutschmark and unification of the three western sectors of Germany was clearly against both Yalta and Potsdam and Truman must have been aware of the fact that the Soviets would not have allowed the Deutschmark into west Berlin. He was therefore clearly instrumental in the start of this crisis. However, his impact on the development of the cold war can more clearly be seen in the western response to the blockade. The fact that west Berlin was still completely supplied by the Americans and British highlights Truman’s impact on the war. He showed the world that the Americans were willing to protect their allies and would do anything to stop the spread of communism. Over 250 thousand flights went into Berlin during the blockade, with a plane landing once every three seconds at the height of the blockade. Therefore, west Berlin was supplied through the air, rendering the soviet blockade ineffective and making them seem like aggressors and the Americans like liberators. The majority of Truman’s generals, such as Lucius clay were demanding an attack on east Germany, yet Truman ordered them to stand down, highlighting that he understood the impact a war with the Soviet Union would have on the world. Therefore, although Truman’s actions to an extent led to the blockade, the fact he chose not to engage in conflict highlights that he to an extent deescalated the crisis in Berlin. However, the planes flying in embarrassed the soviets, heightening tensions as can be seen by the outbreak of the Korean war.


The outbreak of the Korean war was completely orchestrated by Stalin. This can be seen by the green light he gave Kim Il-Sung, which was recently found in the Prague archives. He told Kim Il-Sung that he could invade South Korea if he did so quickly before the United States could intervene, as long as Mao agreed to it. Furthermore, he supported the North Koreans with 20000 trained soldiers and commanders, who taught them military tactics and trained them, and supplied them with over 200 fighter planes as well over 300 tanks. They had a far superior military to the south Koreans, largely due to Stalin’s support. This allowed them to take Seoul within 6 days and drive the South Koreans all the way back to Pusan within two weeks.


On the other hand, the outbreak of the war can be attributed to Dean Acheson’s defense perimeter speech, in which he either purposefully or accidentally ignored south Korea. This, while not necessarily orchestrated by Truman, suggested to Stalin that the United States were not willing to defend South Korea and that they could therefore conquer it without facing much conflict. In response to the invasion, Truman called for a United Nations assembly, in which the US gathered UN troops to liberate South Korea. The Soviet Union, under Stalin’s orders, failed to attend this meeting as they were staging a walkout due to easter bloc countries not having a seat in the UN. The fact that the UN supported South Korea globalized the war, increasing tensions between the US and USSR and isolating the Soviet Union, making them believe the UN was under American control. Therefore, Truman developed and increased tensions by supporting south Korea, which was unavoidable however as Stalin had invaded the country. However, later in the war, Truman had a significant impact on the development of the cold war when firing general McArthur, who was planning on firing nuclear weapons on China, significantly deescalating the conflict as the UN army was no longer led by the man who chose to illegally invade North Korea. All in all, while Truman is considered to have taken a more reactive role in the Korean Civil war, Dean Acheson’s (his secretary of state’s defense perimeter speech clearly had a large impact on the increase in tensions, however his decision to fire general McArthur had a positive impact, decreasing tensions and positively developing the Cold war.


In conclusion, the great man theory applies to these two men, who largely singlehandedly caused the cold war and the crises within it. The paranoia and fear within both of them led to the conflict, one which is still felt to this day. This essay clearly highlights that while Stalin always took the first aggressive action, this action was always done in response to American policy. It also portrays that Truman’s reactions to Stalin’s aggression had a significant impact on the de-escalation of the first two crises of the cold war.