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The Cold War has been an international phenomenon that has occupied the attention of
historians, anthropologist and that of political scientist specifically in the academic discipline on
international relations. It lasted for a period of forty-five years and has marked the development
of new theories, namely that of constructivism (Fierke 2010:178), and has led to the
reconsideration of the mainstream theories to address the discrepancies in explaining the era of
tension between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(Soviet Union or USSR).
The Cold War has shaped the foreign policy and domestic politics of nations throughout the
world. The entire world was entangled in the disputes of the cold war as each superpower tried to
maintain its own sphere of influence and allies. The Cold War in fact was not an authentic war
like that of the two world wars the United States and the Soviet Union came into conflict as they
were engaged in various proxy wars but a physical battle between the two superpowers did not
occur. However it was marked by a period of growing fear and distrust between the two world
powers that were left as a result of World War II.
Various perceptions of the Cold War have been deposited by different schools of thought to
explain what they believe to be the considerable causes for the origins of the era defined by
political tensions and a military arms race. The traditionalist (also known as orthodox) account of
the origins of the Cold War is rooted I the perception that the Soviet Union was relentlessly
expansionist and ideologically motivated (Leffler et al. 2005: 2). The answer for the
traditionalists to the question of who started the cold war was simply Stalin and the Soviet
Union, citing the Soviets slow and in some cases never removed their troops from the territories
occupied during the war (Nye 2005: 114). Counter to the traditionalist, the revisionists argued

that the Genesis of the Cold War was instead a result of the USs postwar economic interests
ideological beliefs witnessed by the USs leaders unreasonable hostility to communism
(Macdonald 1996: 154). However in this essay I will argue that the origins of the Cold War was in fact
inevitable due to the anarchy of the international system.

Granted all that has occurred in the period of the Cold War it is difficult to conceive that the USA
and the USSR along with Great Britain fought on the same side against a common enemy in the
Grand Alliance. What has led to the strain relations between the two former members of the
Grand Alliance? What has led to the two changing their position of balancers on the same to side
to balancers opposed to each other?
This essay will apply the structural realist or neorealist international theory to explain the origins
of the Cold War analysed using three main events during 1945 to 1947 which is characterised as
the first phase of the Cold War (Nye). The essay will argue the inevitability of the Cold War due
to the nature of the international system given the two superpowers.

Background of theory
Structural Realism is a branch of realism which has its roots in the genesis of the academic
discipline of international relations. The theory is known for the first great debate of the
academic field in opposition to the assumptions and tenets of the idealist theory challenged by
the realists as being unsystematic and value-driven (Kurki and Wight 2010: 17). The theory
of Structural Realism is one of the various theories available to explain phenomenon in
international relations.
A theory helps us to identify which facts and events matter and which do not (Baylis et al.
2010:3). While in reality most events are interrelated, Kenneth Waltz notes that theories isolate

realms so as to accommodate for intellectual analysis (Waltz 1988:615). The key tenets of
structural realism isolates the realms that best explain the emergence of the Cold War in the postWorld War II era.
Structural realism main proponent and author is that of Kenneth Waltz. Waltz is largely
responsible for the neorealist location of analysis at the third level of analysis (structural or
system level). The international system level is considered by Waltz to be the most important
for explaining the general characteristics of international relations (Buzan 1995:207) and a
system is defined as composed of a structure and of interacting units (Waltz 1979:18). The
Cold War explanations can be located justifiably at the third level of analysis as it continued up
until 1990 despite a change in leadership (decision-makers) in both states given the death of
Stalin and five changes in US presidents therefore the first level would be ineffective in a firm
explanation. While the second level may be credible in Cold War analysis the lack of internal
information and transparency from the Soviet Union makes second level analysis difficult.
States for neorealism is are units interacting in the international system. The international system
is one defined by the ordering principle of anarchy which is the absence of hierarchy or order.
Drawing from the major assumptions of neorealism, anarchy is considered to be a major
assumption for the development of the neorealist however it does not refer to turmoil and
disorder but instead refers to the absence of an overarching world government and is largely
responsible for the behaviour of states interacting under the anarchy of the international system.
Neorealist assumptions about states are that it is a unitary actor and it is rational in its actions.
The unitary actor description of states considers their action on the world stage as an integrated
unit which is assumed to have one policy at any given time on any particular issue (Viotti et

al. 2010: 42). Therefore in analysing the behaviours of the USA and the USSR in the onset of the
Cold War, they are to be considered as black boxes and the separation of any governmental units
of either, such as USs Congress or the USSRs Communist Party is not of particular importance.
States are further assumed to be rational in the decisions and actions that they take. A precursor
to the assumption of rationality is that states main goal is considered to be survival. State
rationality then assumes that they are capable of coming up with sound strategies that maximise
their prospects for survival (Mearsheimer 2010:80).
Another salient assumption of the theory of structural realism as it is to be used to explain the
onset of the Cold War is that of state uncertainty about the true intentions of the other states.
States are unsure if the other states that they interact with in the international system are
revisionist that is they are determined to use force to alter the balance of power or if they are
not interested in changing the present way of the balance of power that is they are status quo
states (Mearsheimer 2010:79). Therefore it can be said that the two sides were uncertain about
their true intentions.
Waltz theorisation with respect to structural realism saw no differentiation between states
between their structures but rather in their capabilities with respect to power. It is assumed in the
neorealist theory that all states possess some offensive military capabilities. The possession of
offensive military capabilities by each state in the international system therefore make them a
potential threat to each other and can inflict some harm on other states in the international system
(Mearsheimer 2010: 79).

Structural Realism and the Cold War

The assumption in the section above when applied to the interactions of the United States of
America and the Soviet Union in the international system after the end of the Second World War,
help provide wholesome explanation for the development of the Cold War. For the analysis of the
gradual onset of the Cold War the Yalta and the Potsdam Conferences as well as the Truman and
the Marshall Plan will be used.

Bipolarity of the International System

It is essential to structural realism to determine the structure of the international system because
structural change affects the behaviour of states and the outcomes their interactions produce
(Waltz 2000: 39). The international structure can be unipolar, bipolar or multipolar defined as
having one great power, two great powers or more than two great powers respectively. The
international system pre-1945 was structurally multipolar with the existence of six great powers
in the international system.
The great powers that existed pre-1945 were France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet
Union and the United States of America. By the time the war was declared over there were only
two nations that possessed the power to shape the world affairs in any significant way. France
was irreversibly weakened, economically, militarily and psychologically after Germany had
launched one of its infamous Blitzkrieg on France in 1940 and weakened the once great power.
Germany was defeated and lay in ruins after it was defeated by the Allies and surrendered in
May 1945. The Japanese imperial empire was devastated after the US dropped two atomic
bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki of August, 1945 bringing the empire to rubbles. The Great

Britain was greatly affected six years of engaging the German military (Leffler et al. 2005: 3).
However despite Great Britains escape from the exact fate of the other three great powers, its
power was still meager in comparison to the USA and the USSR.
World politics after World War II was henceforth structurally a bipolar international system
which meant that the outcomes would be different to that of the multipolar structure pre-1945.
Given that the international systems ordering principle is anarchic the bipolarity of the world led
to events that created the Cold War where the USA and the USSR had to balance against each
other. By the neorealist theory the two states main goals would be that of survival; however as
witnessed during the conferences where they attempted to cooperate and maintain an alliance
between them there existed differences between the two superpowers in their definition of
security and ultimately they both became a threat to each others existence. The USA was much
stronger than the USSR post-war as the US accounted for half the worlds manufacturing
capacity..almost all its financial reserves and held the lead in a wide range of technologies
essential to modern warfare (Leffler et al. 2005:3). The USSR would also had more ground to
fear and balance against the USA because it had no atomic weapons and the USA did at the end
of the war.
Yalta and Potsdam Conferences
The conferences which involved the United States, the Soviet Union and the Great Power were
held so that the two can develop a plan for world order post-WWII. At first the earlier
conferences were marked by the cooperation and agreement between them especially at Tehran
conference in 1943 (McCauley 1995:5). However as mentioned before, disparities later

developed and as described by McCauley an open breach had appeared between Moscow and
Washington by 1947 (9).
At the Yalta Conference held in February between the 4th and the 11th, 1945 in Crimean (Gormly
1990:7) the leaders met for the second time to discuss postwar world order.