To what extent did economic interests rather than ideology lead to the breakdown of the grand alliance between 1943 and 1949?

 From the May 2017 IBDP History Paper 2 Exam.

In-class timed essay written by a student who ended up receiving a 7 for the course.




The statement that ideology was the most important cause of Cold War crises calls for a thorough assessment. In addressing this proposition, it is pertinent to consider two significant crises of the Cold War era: the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which occurred in the Americas, and the Berlin Crisis that reached its height in 1961, within Europe. In examining these crises, the role of ideology as a root cause, alongside other contributory factors such as national security interests, geopolitical calculations, and strategic power dynamics, will be analysed.

The Cuban Missile Crisis epitomises one of the highest points of Cold War tensions. However, to attribute its causation primarily to ideology requires rigorous scrutiny. There is no doubt that ideology played a part. As historian Richard J. Walton posited, the crisis was, in part, a product of ideological antagonism, with the communist doctrine of the USSR diametrically opposed to the democratic-capitalist principles of the USA. The introduction of Soviet nuclear arms in Cuba can be seen as an ideological mission to spread and safeguard communism. However, Walton’s perspective downplays the centrality of geopolitical considerations.

The USSR, under Khrushchev's leadership, was notably concerned with the military imbalance between the two superpowers, particularly the American Jupiter missiles stationed in Turkey, an existential threat to the USSR. Moreover, the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which established America's supremacy in the western hemisphere, compounded the USSR's strategic concerns. Historian Aleksandr Fursenko argued that Khrushchev's decision was less about ideology and more about redressing the strategic power balance, with Cuba acting as a counterbalance to American missiles in Turkey. Evidently, while ideology was an undercurrent, geopolitical and security considerations appear to have been more decisive factors in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Contrastingly, the Berlin Crisis of 1961 provides a more convincing case for the primacy of ideological conflict. The crisis was characterised by the construction of the Berlin Wall, effectively splitting Berlin into East and West. Historian Frederick Taylor argues that this physical embodiment of the Iron Curtain epitomised the ideological divide between the communist East and capitalist West. Ideological fears of 'contamination' from either side were rampant, with each bloc regarding the other's ideology as an existential threat. However, although ideological fears were crucial, geopolitical and strategic considerations were once again significant. The construction of the wall was also a calculated strategy to halt the mass exodus of citizens from East Germany, thereby stabilising the East German state, a crucial buffer for the USSR against the West. Historian Hope M. Harrison further underscores this point, stating that the wall was a geopolitical imperative to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Hence, while ideology was an important factor in the Berlin Crisis, it was intricately interwoven with pragmatic geopolitical concerns.

In conclusion, the assertion that ideology was the most important cause of Cold War crises can be sustained to a certain extent but is not entirely definitive. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, ideological concerns were less prominent than geopolitical and security considerations. Conversely, the Berlin Crisis had a more pronounced ideological dimension, although strategic factors were still crucial. It is therefore more accurate to conclude that ideology was a vital component of the Cold War crises, but it was one factor among several, often interconnected with geopolitical, strategic, and security considerations. In the complex interplay of causes that sparked the crises of this era, no single factor can be exclusively singled out as the most important. This evaluation challenges the traditional binary perspective of the Cold War as a simple ideological confrontation, suggesting instead a multifaceted combination of causes. By acknowledging the complexity and variety of factors that underpinned the Cold War crises, a more nuanced understanding of this pivotal period in history can be gained.