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Christian Dellavella

Political Science 14 Paper-Professor Lemke


The King of the Global Jungle

As the last words of his address to Congress escaped from his mouth, President Harry S.

Truman decided it was time to flex the muscles of his country and destroy any communist

adversary in the way of democracy. After Great Britain announced that they could no longer

provide aid to countries who were threatened by communism such as Greece and Turkey

following World War II, President Truman took matters into his own hands (“Truman Doctrine”; Knowing that if Greece and Turkey were to fall to the evils of communism than

other countries could too, he approached Congress with his own plan. The Truman Doctrine, first

voiced to Congress on March 12, 1947, declared that the United States would immediately assist

any country that remained vulnerable to the Soviet Union and their principles of communism

(“Truman Doctrine 1947”; Many believe this to be the start of the Cold War,

one of the tensest periods of time in recent world affairs and the topic of this paper. I will use

realism, a political structure of thoughts, as a lens to see the event through. More specifically, I

will focus on offensive realism, an aggressive variant of the theory. Realism works as one of the

most effective tools to analyze the Cold War through, as the entire so called “war” was based on

a variety of countries, but especially the United States and the Soviet Union racing to dominate

each other through international affairs. Realism can be used to analyze the Cold War in a

plethora of ways. Its belief of uncertainty regarding the actions of other countries can be applied

to how both the United States and Russia kept a very close eye on each other, making sure to be
cautious of nuclear warfare and any possibility of global expansion. This led to the realist idea of

self-help and can be seen in the Cold War as both the communist Soviet Union and the

democratic United States bolstered their power and influence to spread their proposed ideas of

how a government and society should operate around the world.

As I mentioned above, many believe the announcement of the Truman Doctrine to be the

start of the Cold War despite there being no official start date. However, tensions had been

mounting between the Soviet Union and America long before the United States chose to

intervene. In order to understand their relationship, we must go back to August 23, 1939, just

about a mere week before Adolf Hitler and his Nazi army invaded Poland to initiate the

beginning of World War II. On that day, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the

Nonaggression Pact, which meant that neither country would wage war on the other (“German-

Soviet Nonaggression Pact”; This seemed to be an alliance to the rest of the world

at the time, causing other countries to denounce the Soviets. The pact also contained an incentive

for the Soviets to comply. If they would follow the terms of the agreement, Germany would grant

the Soviet Union all of the Baltic States, which included Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, and a

section of Poland. The Soviet Union was further criticized by many in 1939 when they invaded

Finland, leading to their expulsion from the League of Nations the following year.

The only reason the Soviets eventually chose to fight the Germans was because the Nazis

invaded their country just two years later, forcing the Soviet Union into the allied powers.

However, this did not mean that they became friendly with those countries. Rather, they were

simply the enemy of our enemy. Then-President Franklin Roosevelt famously spoke that in order

to defeat the massive Nazi army, the United States would have to “hold hands with the devil,”

referring to Joseph Stalin, the leader of the communist Soviet Union (“U.S.-Soviet Alliance,
1941–1945”; During the war, the Soviets showed off the strength and courage

of their military forces, successfully fending off the Nazi invasion of their country. They suffered

an unbelievable number of casualties, with most estimates surpassing the 20 million mark, but

their fear of Stalin ensured that they would not stop fighting until they were dead (“World War II

Statistics”; Stalin’s apathetic attitude towards the lives of his

soldiers and the Red Army’s determination to do whatever it takes to drive back the Nazis

showed that they held true power, which may have scared the United States. Stalin knew that his

ruthlessness helped the Soviet Union significantly impact the war, and he saw his country’s

potential flash before his eyes.

As the deadliest war in human history came to a close, the Cold War was just starting to

heat up. Stalin planned to expand the Soviet Union by installing communist governments in the

countries of Eastern Europe that were close to Russia (“Soviet power in Eastern Europe”; This included countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, Yugoslavia,

Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. However, America was ready to retaliate to the

Soviet expansion into Europe. The United States brought about two major pieces of legislation in

1947 to combat communism, as well as taking a new stance that was referred to as

“containment.” The goal of this was to literally contain communism and stop it from spreading.

As I mentioned earlier, the Truman Doctrine guaranteed American aid to any country threatened

by communism. America also introduced the Marshall plan, which was designed to aid the

economies of a variety of European countries that were left decimated after the war so that they

could avoid communism without remaining unbearably poor. Stalin promised to severely punish

any countries that accepted this aid. Additionally, Due to this highly tense era, President Truman

signed the National Security Act of 1947, which created the Central Intelligence Agency, the
National Security Council, and the Department of Defense (“Cold War”; The

Soviets had also just rejected the Baruch Plan, an American proposal to “provide for

international control and inspection of nuclear production facilities” (“The United States presents

the Baruch Plan”; In 1949, it was documented that the Soviets tested their own

atomic bombs (“Cold War History”; This was the start of an absolutely terrifying

period of time in which both countries feared that they would be bombed by the other.

After successfully helping European countries like Germany overthrow their communist

governments, the United States further expanded its sphere of influence by merging their west

German areas of control with Britain. The economy was to be rebuilt after the Soviets had

debased their currency, the Reichsmark. Stalin saw this as an attack on his land, and instituted

the Berlin blockade, which thwarted much needed food and supplies from arriving in West

Germany. Many allied countries such as the United States, France, Canada, and Britain

countered the blockade by airlifting the supplies into Germany. The Soviets responded by

aggressively pursuing the rest of Eastern Europe. By 1949, nearly every government in Eastern

Europe was communist. It has been documented that Stalin was so aggressive that he would

“imprison civilians and force them to join the Soviet military” (“The North Atlantic Treaty

Organization (NATO)”; To combat his advancing threat, the North Atlantic Treaty

Organization (NATO) was formed. This was a formal alliance between countries such as

America, Britain, Canada, and France that was created with the intention of protecting each other

from Soviet expansion.

The Cold War also involved other parts of the world. Communism landed a significant

victory in 1949 when communist leader Mao Zedong and his army overthrew China and formed

an alliance with the Soviet Union. Back in 1945, just a few days before Japan’s surrender, the
United States realized that Japanese territories would have to be organized until local

governments could be setup. Korea was one of these areas, and it was cut in half on August 10 so

that the Americans could ensure that the capital, Seoul, would be controlled by the United States.

The Japanese surrendered five days later, effectively ending the war. However, the Soviet Union

took the task of dominating the half of the country north of the 38th line of latitude, while

America dominated the area south of it. In 1950, the Soviet-backed northern side invaded the

American-backed southern side (“Korean War”; Many viewed this to be a

communist attack on democracy. It wasn’t until 3 years later, when Stalin finally died, that an

armistice was approved. While the death of Joseph Stalin helped to ease the tension of the Cold

War, newly assigned leader Nikita Khrushchev made it clear that he was also interested in

expanding communism’s influence. Shortly after becoming leader, he organized the Warsaw Pact

with many Eastern European countries such as East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania.

The pact would unify the militaries and allow for Soviet military members to occupy the other

member states (“Warsaw Pact”; The United States also saw a change in their

leader with Dwight Eisenhower taking the White House in 1953.

By the late 1950’s, the Soviet Union was beginning to fade militarily. However, a new

competition emerged. The Space Race began in October of 1957 when the Soviets released

Sputnik, an artificially made satellite, into space. It was the first man-made object to be released

into Earth’s orbit. America believed it was essential for them to be technologically ahead of the

Soviets, especially in regards to space. Each side knew that they had to reach the moon first. A

few months later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed. Even

though Russia was the first to send a man into space, America won the race by landing Apollo 11

on the moon in July of 1969. Although it may seem trivial compared to the technology we
possess today, winning this competition was a momentous victory for America and democracy as

a whole. With the Soviet Union beginning to fade, new communist enemies emerged. Fidel

Castro had just successfully overthrown the government in Cuba and become the new leader. In

what is now known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, newly elected President John Kennedy

attempted and miserably failed to overthrow the government through force (“The Bay of Pigs

Invasion”; It was a complete embarrassment for the United States and led to the Soviets

promising to provide support to Cuba. This led to an increase in the Soviets confidence, which

they used to demand that the allied forces remove their troops from West Berlin. When the allied

forces denied the request, a barbed-wire roadblock was constricted. This eventually was

transformed into the Berlin Wall.

February of 1962 caused one of the scariest and most memorable moments of the Cold

War, now referred to as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets planned on installing missiles in

Cuba to protect Fidel Castro. President Kennedy caught wind of the Soviet’s plans and planted a

naval blockade. For 13 days each country refused to back down, having their missiles ready to

fire at each other which would have caused the deaths of millions (“History of the Cuban Missile

Crisis”; Thankfully, the Soviets backed down and no missiles were fired.

However, new Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was much more aggressive than Khrushchev. He

immediately invaded Czechoslovakia and announced his own doctrine in 1968. The Brezhnev

Doctrine would allow him to breach the sovereignty of any country attempting to switch their

government to capitalism. These were two of the last significant advances the Soviets made

during the Cold War before communism fell in Eastern Europe in the 1980’s.

Realism is a school of thought that focuses on anarchy and uncertainty in the

international system. Realists believe that international relations are dominated by anarchy
because there is no central governing authority of the Earth. There is no institution to control the

affairs of each and every state simultaneously. This leads states to be uncertain about the

intentions or desires of other states, which can be very frightening. This anarchy and uncertainty

lead counties to what realists call “self-help.” This is the process in which states maximize their

power through things such as upgrading their military, expanding their economy, and possibly

invading and taking over other states. The problem with this is that once that particular state

begins to maximize their power, other states will become fearful of that specific state’s potential.

This will lead those other countries to also maximize their power in order to match the first

country’s level of dominance. This has a domino effect, trickling down to various states at a

quick rate. This is known as the security dilemma and is unfortunately very difficult to prevent. It

leads to a world laden with conflict and constant dangerous clashes because different states

typically have conflicting interests. Offensive realism is a specific theory within the group that

focuses on how aggressive countries can get in a realist’s view. The Cold War perfectly

demonstrates this hostility that can build up between multiple competing states. In a realist’s

view, the state is the complete and sole dominant actor. Its own interests and power are what

matter more than anything else. Realists also believe that the main way of achieving international

goals through politics is by bargaining. Coercion is of course one of their beloved methods.

Realism, and particularly offensive realism, apply to the events of the Cold War in a

variety of ways. First and foremost, the aggression and constant threat of nuclear war was ever

present between the United States and the Soviet Union. America and others saw the potential

power and danger that the Soviet Union posed as their empire of communism grew. Whenever

the Soviets would maximize their power by acquiring land in either Eastern Europe or Korea,

America also maximized their power in a way that could counter the Soviet’s move. This lead to
one of the most important security dilemmas in recent world history and is seen in events such as

the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. These acts maximized the power and influence of

America in order to limit the power of the Soviet Union. Similarly, the Soviets would counter

America’s moves with moves of their own. This is present in acts such as the Berlin blockade

and the support of North Korea’s invasion. Additionally, it is clear that the Cold War would fall

under the category of offensive realism because of the constant threat of unbelievably

catastrophic warfare because of the weapons each side wielded. For the first time in human

history, two super powers possessed weapons of mass destruction. They both knew that at any

point in time a simple command could send nuclear bombs hurdling towards the enemy’s

country, which would kill hundreds of millions and could cause hundreds of billions in damages.

That threat seeped down into the everyday lives of the citizens, forcing them to adopt security

measures in case the threat was to happen.

One can easily see how each country believed that only their agenda and power mattered,

as if they both were the only dominant actors in the world. With completely different ways of

governing their people, of course their interests were in conflict. One can even see how

bargaining plays a role. Several times throughout the war one side would attempt to bargain or

reason with the other in order to achieve a greater good. This is seen in events such as when the

Soviets requested for the Allied powers to remove their troops from West Germany or when

America gave the Soviets an ultimatum during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, the core of the

conflict is the same core of realism. There is complete and utter anarchy within the international

system. The world does not have a government of its own to judge the actions of different states

during different international relations. Unless powerful alliances between strong nations are

formed, states with influential leaders can almost do whatever they want. At first, no one was
there to stop Hitler during World War II. At first, no one was there to stop Stalin from taking

Eastern Europe in the years after World War II. The core of the problem lies in the fact that there

is not an overseeing government to judge what is right and what is wrong. International relations

are simply anarchic, and that was on full display for the entirety of the Cold War.

However, with that being said, some events took place that realists probably would not

have anticipated. Realists generally believe that since the international system is brimming with

conflict that cooperation is unlikely and international organizations are ineffective. The Cold War

proved this part of the theory to be completely inconsistent. In fact, without cooperation between

many of the Allied states that create international organizations, both World War II and the Cold

War may have ended much differently. No single country was able to defeat the Soviet Union

themselves. It was through agreements like NATO that the Soviet Union and communism in

Eastern Europe was eventually taken down. Of course, it helped that the countries who were able

to cooperate had similar interests and also were all attempting to maximize their power together.

However, we know that America was able to prosper financially from the mid 1940’s until the

1960’s, covering most of the Cold War. This means that America was able to maximize their

individual power while still cooperating with others. This seemingly contradicts the notion of

realism that explains that states do not cooperate because it will not benefit them individually.

Judging by the fact that countries with a communist government supported the Soviet Union we

can say that it is possible that countries may care more about pushing their agenda and ideas onto

the rest of the world rather than maximizing their own individual power.

Unpacking the Cold War was a much more challenging experience than I had anticipated.

Before this paper, I didn’t quite know all of the seemingly hundreds of events that took place. I

had no idea how many countries were involved in the event, either. One of the first critiques I
can give is that I would need more room to write. I am already on the tenth page of this essay,

but I could have easily written at least five more just on the events and using realism to analyze

them. The Cold War was a much more complex and dragged out event than I had imagined. I

could not fully elaborate on each event, and some events I had to leave out entirely. Another

critique I could give is the simplicity of realism. I understand that this may sound rather

unintelligent because I still ran out of room, but I believe that there are more connections that the

school of thought could make. Looking at other events connected to realism, it seems that the

theory could have also connected the dots on more topics. It seems to me that international

politics wouldn’t be mostly based on bargaining in a realist’s view. In fact, bargaining would be

just a small subset of political action. In most cases, the more powerful state will be able to get

what it wants simply because of its power and its ability to crush the smaller state if need be. It

also fails to realize the true power of cooperation between states and how that can facilitate

power much greater than one state can do for itself. I understand that realism is simply a mindset,

but I think that it is important to be always looking out for possibilities to increase the number of

ways that the school of thought connects to current and past international relations. With all of

that being said, I still believe that the Cold War is one of the absolute best examples of realism

that can be presented. Nearly every aspect of the competitive war between the Soviets and the

Americans made for a great showing of uncertainty (especially in regard to the other’s intentions

of nuclear warfare), self-help (especially in regards to each countries expansion in Europe), and

anarchy (especially in regards to the complete chaos that ensued for years while each country

attempted to gain leverage on the other through any means possible.) The Cold War presents a

clear picture of what realism truly looks like on an international stage.
Works Cited:

“About the Crisis • Cuban Missile Crisis.” Cuban Missile Crisis,

“Cold War History.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,

“German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact.”, A&E Television

Networks, 2009,


“Korean War.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,

Lake, Kacie. “The Cold War Museum.” Cold War Museum,

“Soviet Power in Eastern Europe.”


“The Bay of Pigs Invasion.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence

Agency, 18 Apr. 2016,


“Truman Doctrine.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

5 Mar. 2018,
“Truman Doctrine (1947).” Our Documents - Truman Doctrine (1947),

“U.S.-Soviet Alliance, 1941-1945.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department

of State,

“Warsaw Pact.” Encyclopædia Britannica,


“World War 2 Statistics.” WW2 Timeline,