Shortly after World War II came to a definite end, the United States and the Soviet Union quickly discovered their disagreements (although the disagreement was encountered during post-war planning in WWII). Both countries were given the label “imperialist” in reference to what they were doing after WWII. It was apparent during that period of time that both U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were shaping the influence and character of other nations around them. Moreover, both nations were appalled to the label they had just been given. This, in time, would ultimately open up the doors to the Cold War; a war between Stalin’s idea of imperial influence (imposition) and Washington’s push towards a world order (Multilateralism/Internationalism) and the unawareness of both countries. In order to make sense of his argument, John Lewis Gaddis distinguishes the arguments made by both countries.
He begins by describing the structure and ideals of Stalin and his Soviet empire first. With Stalin as the head of the Soviet Union, he envisions not only an authoritarian vision, but an imperial one as well. Which is interesting because he evolves out of an era fighting against the spread of any type of imperialism. Nevertheless, Stalin’s vision was to extend communism and the Soviet spheres as far as those boundaries could reach; to spread its own social systems and squeeze out capitalist order (which he viewed ineffective). Understanding that his allies from WWII would not resist this imperialistic wave— largely due to the fact that they had “earned” the right to do what they desire for its WWII sacrifices made it difficult for western nations to turn on them—Stalin continued his attempt to extend the regime he built inside the Soviet out towards other countries. However, he was not aware that his new Soviet order would not be welcome among the countries with free elections and in time his communist expansion, eventually, would grow hostility from other countries—including America. Not to mention, Moscow would, in the course of time, begin to feel threaten by what they believed as an effort of the U.S. to impose their vision of the postwar upon the Soviets.
For a period of about two decades, America had enjoyed a time of isolation from war. The U.S., then, dismissed the idea to imperialize after the Spanish-American War, Philippine revolution, and WWI. Therefore, there was no imperial motive on the minds of the Americans—especially after avoiding warfare in their own land. However, the isolation state of mind collapsed at the rise of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. The attack of Pearl Harbor would ultimately change the mentality of Americans, leading them to form an empire in order to eliminate any future vulnerability. These events, then, would become crucial in the actions taken during confrontations with the Soviets after WWII. In due time, following WWII, the U.S.S.R. would become an enemy to the United States due to Stalin’s imperialistic action. Afraid of future harm from the Soviet’s movement, the U.S. not only began establishing bases around the world to resist of any possible future aggression, but also attempted to institute international community through the United Nations. Nevertheless, the Soviets would view this as an American imperialistic vision, leading to additional tension between both countries.
In the end it became obvious that these two great powers had differing opinions on how “world order” was going to take its form. Thus the Cold War came down to a simple objective—sphere influence. Many see the Cold War as two nations with conflicting ideas of wielding their power. The underlying problem with this notion, however, is that it does not focus on the broader picture of the real problem; and in essence, it is overlooked. The real problem, nonetheless, focuses on the disagreement of conflicting ideas and the misinterpretation (misjudgment) of both nations to understand the problem and not on the concept of wielding power. Although the Soviet Union believed the United States ultimate objective was to spread its influence—it was not. Imposition vs. Multilateralism thus presents accurately, as an overarching title, the conflict between both nations.
The United States, contrary to Stalin’s push of communism onto the Europeans, pressed towards postwar international order by integrating the elements of self-determination and economic integration. More preferable than communism, America’s multilateral agenda would help the European governments from being swayed by any form of imperialistic movements—including both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.—and say no to imperialism.