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1711
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Topic
#4990

On Balance, Stalin's Foreign Policy During the Cold War Worsened the Soviet Union's Geopolitical Position.

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Finished

The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 1 vote and with 5 points ahead, the winner is...

Trent0405
Parameters
Publication date
Last updated date
Type
Rated
Number of rounds
3
Time for argument
One week
Max argument characters
8,000
Voting period
One month
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Multiple criterions
Voting system
Open
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None
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2
1300
rating
220
debates
44.77%
won
Description

In this debate, I argue that Stalin's leadership worsened the Soviet Union's geopolitical position during the Cold War.

I recommend the following format for this debate:

Round 1: Opening arguments.
Round 2: Rebuttals and new arguments.
Round 3: Closing statements and rebuttals, no new arguments.

Round 1
Pro
#1
Berlin

After the Soviets hoisted the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag, Germany, along with the city of Berlin, was split in two. The resulting borders left West Berlin surrounded by the communists in East Germany, meaning goods had to be shipped through East Germany before they could arrive in the city. Stalin sought to use the precarious position of West Berlin against its civilians by ordering the blockade of the city, forcing West Berlin to join East Germany [2].

Unfortunately for Stalin, and fortunately for the West Berliners, the Soviet Union’s plan to starve out the city failed miserably. The Americans and the British airdropped supplies to accommodate the needs of West Berlin’s civilian population [2]. This created the impression that the Soviets were looking to starve the people of West Berlin for political gain, while the west was intervening to protect them [2, 3]. The blockade hit its zenith when hundreds of thousands of Berliners took to the streets to protest the Soviets, clearly cementing just how big a political disaster the Berlin Blockade had become for Stalin [3]. 

The Berlin blockade also served to demarcate the importance of American power in Europe. Before the blockade, citizens of both America and Europe were weary of aligning themselves toward a common cause in this new global order [3]. However, by 1949, fear of the Soviets from West Berliners and the rest of Europe drove half the continent into the arms of NATO [3]. Perhaps if the Soviets didn’t attempt to starve West Berlin, Europe would have less to fear. However, when you're faced with two great powers, one of which is fighting to save Europeans from starvation and another which is actively facilitating said starvation, the choice of partisanship in the bipolar world seems rather easy.

Germany was a principal battleground in the new Cold War, serving as a microcosm for the split between pro-Soviet communism and pro-American liberalism. In an attempt to flex the power of the former, Stalin’s blockade did nothing but embolden the latter, highlighting the fiasco in Berlin as a geopolitical failure for the Stalin regime.

Yugoslavia

At the end of the Second World War, communism was certainly on the rise. The rise of communism was particularly pronounced in countries formerly occupied by the Nazis. The Yugoslavs were among these many burgeoning communist powers, led by the dedicated socialist, Tito. Tito was, quite ironically, an unswerving supporter of Stalin in the aftermath of WW2, and was more than willing to serve the Soviets in the emerging Cold War [4]. Moreover, Yugoslavian communists fell in lock-step with Stalin’s messaging, clearly cementing themselves as a willing and genuinely communist ally for the Soviet mission of spreading communism around the world [4].

However, Stalin let his ego get the better of his country’s geopolitical strategy. While the Yugoslav occupation of Trieste and their ardent support of the Greek communists drew a rift between Tito and Stalin, it was Tito himself, Stalin’s broken promises, and Stalin’s erratic behaviour which crystallized the split between the two countries. On the first point, Stalin hated how Tito had emerged as a new face of the communist movement, as he wanted to be the sole hegemon [5]. Moreover, Stalin had promised Tito a unified Balkan state consisting of Yugoslavian and Bulgarian territories. The prospect of a united Balkan force for communism seemed alluring to all parties involved, at least at first. However, Stalin inexplicably reneged on his promise to Tito, and not long after, Stalin declared Tito an enemy to Marxism and accused him of planning to conquer Bulgaria [5]. Thus, it would no exaggeration to say that Stalin’s foreign policy turned two countries destined to stand arm and arm in the defining conflict of the second half of the 21st century into bitter rivals.

In short, Yugoslavia fit perfectly into the Soviet Union’s Cold War goals. The Balkan power had a home-grown communist movement led by a popular, pro-Stalin leader, and yet, Stalin managed to compromise this alliance-in-the-making in the strangest and most peculiar way imaginable.

Korea

The Korean War was the defining conflict of the early 1950s, tearing apart a peninsula populated by millions of people. One of the biggest cheerleaders for the Korean was Stalin himself. One reason Stalin was willing to aid Kim was because he thought the Americans lacked the will to fight and die for the South Koreans [6]. Stalin was also frustrated by his failures in Europe, an issue which was punctuated by the abysmal Berlin Blockade [6]. But the Korean War was not destined to occur. As a matter of fact, Stalin was initially weary about supporting Kim il Sung’s ambitions to invade the south, but with America’s unwillingness to get involved in China just years earlier, in conjunction with the aforementioned Berlin Blockade hurting Soviet prestige, Stalin had a change of heart [6]. 

However, while the war is often attributed to Kim il Sung, it is important to note that the war was only possible because of Stalin. Kim il Sung always wanted to invade his southern neighbour, but he “could not act without the Soviets [6].” This is important because it conveys how the Korean War would not have happened without Stalin. Kim may have led the north, but without his communist big brother in Moscow supporting him, he would have lacked the wherewithal to risk provoking the Americans. The importance of Soviet support is only amplified when one observes the preparation for the invasion itself. The Soviets orchestrated the invasion plans for the south, sent military equipment, and sent military experts to ensure that said equipment was maintained properly [7].

Now that I have cemented the role Stalin played in the war itself, I will now attempt to argue that the war was a failure for the Soviet Union’s geopolitical ambitions. For one, you do not need to be a historical scholar to know that the Korean War did not go smoothly for the north. Despite their early gains, the brilliant work of Douglas MacArthur sent Kim’s army running back across the 38th parallel [8]. It was only the intervention of China which stabilized the north and ground the war to a stalemate. In the aftermath of the Korean War, the two Koreas would remain separate, thereby ending Kim’s dream of conquering his southern neighbour. Thus, it is obvious that the Soviet and North Korean goal of uniting the Korean peninsula under a single unified government failed. 

Secondly, the Korean War turned the international community against the Soviet Union. For one, the international community almost universally took the side of the South Korean cause upon the war beginning. The United Nations called for Kim’s North Korea to end their invasion and condemned the war as an affront to the tenuous peace of the post WW2 world [1]. But these were not just empty words. A coalition of 49 UN member countries supplied the south, and an eclectic mix of 15 countries sent military personnel to directly fight the North Korean invaders [1]. Ethiopia was among these 15 countries, a nation which took a stand to defend South Korea in order to affirm the international goal of stopping unprovoked aggression, a mission near and dear to Ethiopian hearts and minds given their history with the Italians [1]. Therefore, it is clear that the international community was firmly opposed to the ambitions of Kim and Stalin. 

The Cold War, from the American and Soviet perspective, was a war of international alliances. Securing ideological allies was the primary foreign policy aim of both major powers, and as indicated by the unprecedented international response, the Soviets did nothing but alienate themselves by endorsing Kim’s aggression. Perhaps worst of all, the Soviets failed to lead their North Korean allies to any permanent military gains.


All book pages are from The Cold War: A World History.

Con
#2
USSR experienced greatest increase in territory and influence during Stalin.
Stalin transformed undeveloped Russia into a superpower that rivaled USA.
He also established greatest ever Communist expansion up until that point.

From these, we see that Stalin was a political and tactical genius, an expert at expansion.

So if certain policies didnt do as good, it probably means that they were still the best possible policies, and better options simply didnt exist at the time.
Round 2
Pro
#3
USSR experienced greatest increase in territory and influence during Stalin.

The growth of the Soviet Union under Stalin was primarily a function of the Soviet victory in the Second World War. This is both outside the scope of this debate, as the resolution specifically pinpoints Stalin's Cold War foreign policy, and highly misleading.

Stalin cannot be given credit for the victory of the Soviet Union over the Nazis. Stalin was not a particularly competent administrator, and with regard to military matters, he would often compromise the effectiveness of the Soviet military for the sake of political expedience. In the late 1930s, for instance, Stalin executed more than 30,000 officers and eight high ranking commanders [1]. How can Stalin get the credit for the Soviet Union's victory when he actively destroyed the integrity of Soviet military leadership? But again, this is outside the scope of the debate.

Stalin transformed undeveloped Russia into a superpower that rivaled USA.

When you industrialize an agrarian country, you are always going to experience growth. That is no surprise. However, Stalin's Soviet Union was not an economic equal to the United States. Despite its improvements from the days of Nicholas II, the Soviet economy never surpassed or even equalled those of the west [2].

So if certain policies didnt do as good, it probably means that they were still the best possible policies, and better options simply didnt exist at the time.

Stalin did not have to support Kim's invasion of South Korea, he did, and suffered for it. Stalin did not have to starve the people of Berlin, he did, and suffered for it. Stalin did not have to jeopardize his relationship with Tito, he did, and suffered for it. There were absolutely better options in all of these cases. As a matter of fact, inaction would have proved more effective than anything Stalin did in the three  foreign policy mishaps I mentioned in my first argument.

Con
#4
Since my opponent conceded that USSR experienced greatest growth during Stalin, I dont see what is there left to argue.

We cannot judge Stalin when he performed better than all others, transformed USSR from peasant country into a superpower, and spread Communism far and wide throughout the world.

Obviously, he had lots of knowledge and his foreign policy during the cold war was probably the best it could have been, especially considering that he was present in the moment and knew the details where we judge from distance and know little details of how and why.
Round 3
Pro
#5
Since my opponent conceded that USSR experienced greatest growth during Stalin, I dont see what is there left to argue.

I argued that the growth of the Soviet Union was not a product of Stalin. Stalin's foreign policy during the Cold War worsened the geopolitical standing of the Soviet Union.

We cannot judge Stalin when he performed better than all others, transformed USSR from peasant country into a superpower, and spread Communism far and wide throughout the world.

I have already refuted this point.

Obviously, he had lots of knowledge and his foreign policy during the cold war was probably the best it could have been, especially considering that he was present in the moment and knew the details where we judge from distance and know little details of how and why.

He made more wrong decisions than correct ones, as I highlighted in my first round. Having good intel does not necessarily mean you will make good foreign policy decisions.
Con
#6
Thank you for the debate.