International Relations

International Relations

by Walter A. McDougall

International Relations, study of the relations of states with each other and with international organizations and certain subnational entities (e.g., bureaucracies and political parties).

The field of international relations emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, largely in the West and particularly in the United States as that country grew in power and influence. Its prime focus is diplomatic history, or the history of world diplomacy and events. The purpose of diplomatic history is to explain the origins and the effects of foreign policies, and its focus is each country’s policy-making elite. This involves the historian at once in a complication, however. The statesman exists simultaneously in two realms: the domestic political system whence his authority derives, and the international system in which he represents his state to the world. Pressures and problems, temptations and opportunities arise constantly from both realms. Which one ought to command the historian’s attention? The founders of modern diplomatic history, beginning with Leopold von Ranke, propounded a view known as “the primacy of foreign policy.” Founded on German Idealist philosophy, Rankeanism asserted the primary influence of a state’s geography and external threats in the shaping not only of its foreign policy but of its internal military, political, and cultural institutions as well. An island kingdom like Britain, for instance, free of the constant threat of invasion, could militarily afford and commercially benefit from liberal institutions. Prussia, by contrast, relatively poor and surrounded by potential enemies, required for its survival as a state rigorous centralization and militarization.

The primacy of foreign policy was especially plausible to historians immersed in the diplomacy of medieval and early modern Europe, when foreign policy was a virtual monopoly of the prince and his advisers. The rationalist bias of the Enlightenment reinforced the notion of the international state-system as a kind of self-regulating Newtonian universe in which states revolved about each other in alliance or war according to natural laws of self-interest and balance of power. A wise ruler like Frederick II the Great of Prussia saw himself as “the first servant of the state” and made policy according to raison d’état, the prudent and rational dictate of dynastic interest. This model of the international system, while reductionist, was not determinist, since it made room for the wisdom and folly, courage and cowardice of individual rulers.

The debate over the origins of World War I, and the failure of documentary reconstruction of the diplomatic narrative to resolve the question of responsibility for 1914, threw diplomatic history into a crisis. By the late 1920s historians like Sidney Fay and Pierre Renouvin were looking beyond the documents for the deeper causes of the war, such as militarism or imperialism. Historians influenced by sociology and economics, in turn, located the seeds of the fateful foreign policies preceding the war in the economic and social conflicts of prewar Europe. A young German, Eckhart Kehr, turned Ranke on his head by postulating a “primacy of domestic policy” and argued that a state’s foreign policy derives from domestic social and political forces, not vice versa. In particular, imperialism and militarism were seen to be defensive strategies by which threatened elites attempted to rally their people against a foreign threat as distraction from social tensions at home. If the old history was simplistic and dangerous in its glamorization of the exercise of power, the theory of primacy of domestic policy tended to ignore the fact that governments are obliged to respond to real pressures from abroad regardless of their domestic situation. An empirical approach, therefore, is to examine the internal sources of foreign policy in all states and also the effects of those policies on all other states as they are transmitted through the international system.

The conduct and analysis of diplomacy and war ultimately rest on a calculus of the power of each state in the system and of its perception by others. National power is the product of all those assets, human and material, that contribute to a state’s ability to influence the behaviour of other states by force, threat, or inducement. Human sources of power include population, educational level and work discipline, morale, motivation (through ideology, patriotism, or charismatic leadership), and skill in military and civil administration. Material resources include land area and climate, geographic location, raw materials, and agricultural resources. Last but not least is technology, which is a function of both human and material resources and which can alter the importance of population and geography and render once-effective administrative systems obsolete. Despite the best efforts of political scientists and military planners, these elements of national power are difficult to quantify and compare. Hence misperception by one state of another’s capabilities and intentions is almost the rule rather than the exception. This is why those elusive assets prestige and intelligence are sometimes decisive in diplomacy and war.

International relations are shaped primarily by those states perceived to be Great Powers, countries whose interests and capabilities transcend their own self-defense or region. For some 200 years after the treaties of Utrecht and Nystad (1713–14, 1721), the roster of the Great Powers included the same five states: Great Britain, France, Prussia (and, later, Germany), the Habsburg monarchy (Austria), and Russia. A mere three decades after World War I, however, only one of these venerable powers, Britain, had not undergone two or more radical changes of government, and only one, Russia, was still a Great Power. Between 1914 and 1945 the European system committed suicide, and two global superpowers rose to replace it. Five decades after 1945, the Soviet Union was no more, while the ability of the United States to control events was in turn challenged from many sources, giving rise to speculation that the world might be shifting back into a multipolar balance-of-power system.

This article provides a single integrated narrative of world diplomacy and politics from the outbreak of World War I to the 1990s. Its twin themes are the rivalries of the Great Powers during the age of the world wars and the Cold War and the replacement, largely through the agency of those wars, of the European state system by a world system with many centres of both power and discord. Because domestic affairs figure heavily in the analysis of each state’s foreign policies, the reader should consult the histories of the individual countries for more detail.

For discussion of the military strategy, tactics, and conduct of World War I and World War II, see World Wars, The.

The roots of World War I, 1871–1914

Forty-three years of peace among the Great Powers of Europe came to an end in 1914, when an act of political terrorism provoked two great alliance systems into mortal combat. The South Slav campaign against Austrian rule in Bosnia, culminating in the assassination of the Habsburg heir apparent at Sarajevo, was the spark. This local crisis rapidly engulfed all the powers of Europe through the mechanisms of the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, diplomatic arrangements meant precisely to enhance the security of their members and to deter potential aggressors. The long-term causes of the war can therefore be traced to the forces that impelled the formation of those alliances, increased tensions among the Great Powers, and made at least some European leaders desperate enough to seek their objectives even at the risk of a general war. These forces included militarism and mass mobilization, instability in domestic and international politics occasioned by rapid industrial growth, global imperialism, popular nationalism, and the rise of a social Darwinist worldview. But the question of why World War I broke out should be considered together with the questions of why peace ended and why in 1914 rather than before or after.

The Bismarckian System, 1871–90

The era of the Great Powers

The European map and world politics were less confused in the decades after 1871 than at any time before or since. The unifications of Italy and Germany removed the congeries of central European principalities that dated back to the Holy Roman Empire, while the breakup of eastern and southeastern Europe into small and quarreling states (a process that would yield the term balkanization) was not far advanced. There the old empires, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman (Turkish), still prevailed. The lesser powers of Europe, including some that once had been great, like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain, played little or no role in the affairs of the Great Powers unless their own interests were directly involved. Both physical size and the economies of scale important in an industrial age rendered smaller and less developed countries impotent, while the residual habits of diplomacy dating from the Congress of Vienna of 1815 made the Great Powers the sole arbiters of European politics.

In the wider world, a diplomatic system of the European variety existed nowhere else. The outcome of the U.S. Civil War and Anglo-American settlement of the Canadian border ensured that North America would not develop a multilateral balance-of-power system. South and Central America had splintered into 17 independent republics following the final retreat of Spanish rule in 1820; but the new Latin-American states were inward-looking, their centres of population and resources isolated by mountains, jungle, and sheer distance, and disputes among them were of mostly local interest. The Monroe Doctrine, promulgated by the United States and enforced by the British navy, sufficed to spare Latin America new European adventures, the only major exception—Napoleon III’s gambit in Mexico—occurring while the United States was preoccupied with civil war. When the United States purchased Alaska from the Russian tsar and Canada acquired dominion status, both in 1867, European possessions on the American mainland were reduced to three small Guianan colonies in South America and British Honduras (Belize). North Africa east of Algeria was still nominally under the aegis of the Ottoman sultan, while sub-Saharan Africa, apart from a few European ports on the coast, was terra incognita. The British had regularized their hold on the Indian subcontinent after putting down the Indian Mutiny of 1857–58, while the Chinese and Japanese empires remained xenophobic and isolationist. Thus the cabinets of the European Great Powers were at the zenith of their influence.

Europe itself, by 1871, seemed to be entering an age of political and social progress. Britain’s Second Reform Act (1867), the French Third Republic (1875), the triumph of nationalism in Italy and Germany (1871), the establishment of universal manhood suffrage in Germany (1867), equality for the Hungarians in the Habsburg monarchy (1867), emancipation of the serfs in Russia (1861), and the adoption of free trade by the major European states all seemed to justify faith in the peaceful evolution of Europe toward liberal institutions and prosperity.

International peace also seemed assured once Otto von Bismarck declared the new German Empire a satisfied power and placed his considerable talents at the service of stability. The chancellor knew Germany to be a military match for any rival but feared the possibility of a coalition. Since France would never be reconciled to her reduced status and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine imposed by the treaty ending the Franco-German War, Bismarck strove to keep France isolated. In 1873 he conjured up the ghost of monarchical solidarity and formed a Dreikaiserbund (Three Emperors’ League) with Austria-Hungary and Russia. Such a combination was always vulnerable to Austro-Russian rivalry over the Eastern Question—the problem of how to organize the feuding Balkan nationalities gradually freeing themselves from the decrepit Ottoman Empire.

After the Slavic provinces of Bosnia and Hercegovina rebelled against Ottoman rule in 1875 and Russia made war on the Ottoman Empire two years later, the Dreikaiserbund collapsed. Bismarck achieved a compromise at the Congress of Berlin (1878), but Austro-Russian amity was not restored. In 1879, therefore, Bismarck concluded a permanent peacetime military alliance with Austria, whereupon the tsarist government, to court German favour, agreed to a renewal of the Dreikaiserbund in 1881. Italy, seeking aid for her Mediterranean ambitions, joined Germany and Austria-Hungary to form the Triple Alliance in 1882.

The next Balkan crisis, which erupted in Bulgaria in 1885, again tempted Russia to expand its influence to the gates of Constantinople. Bismarck dared not oppose the Russians lest he push them toward an alliance with vengeful France. So instead he played midwife to an Anglo-Austro-Italian combination called the Second Mediterranean Entente, which blocked Russian ambitions in Bulgaria while Bismarck himself concluded a Reinsurance Treaty with St. Petersburg in 1887. Once more the Eastern Question had been defused and Germany’s alliances preserved.

The nature of the German state

The generation of peace after 1871 rested on Germany’s irenic temper, served in turn by Bismarck’s statesmanship. Should that temper change, or less adept leadership succeed Bismarck, Germany had the potential to become the major disrupter of European stability. For the constitution drafted by Bismarck for the Second Reich was a dysfunctional document designed to satisfy middle-class nationalism while preserving the power of the Prussian crown and the Junker class (the Prussian landed aristocracy). Apparently a federal empire, Germany was in fact dominated by Prussia, which was larger in area and population than all the other states combined. The king of Prussia was kaiser and chief warlord of the German armies; the prime minister of Prussia was the federal chancellor, responsible, not to a majority in the Reichstag, but only to the crown. Furthermore, Prussia retained a three-class voting system weighted in favour of the wealthy. The army remained, in Prussian tradition, virtually a state within the state, loyal to the kaiser alone. In sum, Germany remained a semi-autocratic military monarchy even as it blossomed into an industrial mass society. The lack of outlets for popular dissent and reform was especially damaging given the cleavages that continued to plague Germany after unification: Protestant North versus Catholic South, agriculture versus industry, Prussia versus the other states, Junkers versus middle-class liberals, industrialists versus the (increasingly Socialist) working class. Bismarck manipulated the parties and interests as he did foreign powers. But toward the end of his tenure, even he realized that German politics might someday reduce to a choice between surrender of privilege by the old elites or a coup d’état against the liberal and Socialist groups he labeled Reichsfeinde (enemies of the Reich).

Austria-Hungary and Russia, still overwhelmingly agrarian, faced different challenges by the end of the 19th century. Most acute for Austria-Hungary was the nationality question. An heir to the universalist vision of the Holy Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary was a multinational empire composed not only of Germans and Magyars but also of (in 1870) 4,500,000 Czechs and Slovaks, 3,100,000 Ruthenes, 2,400,000 Poles, 2,900,000 Romanians, 3,000,000 Serbs and Croats, about 1,000,000 Slovenes, and 600,000 Italians. Thus, the Habsburgs faced the challenge of accommodating the nationalism of their ethnic minorities without provoking the dissolution of their empire. In British, French, and, increasingly, Russian opinion, Austria-Hungary was simply out of step with the times, moribund, and, after Turkey, the most despised of states. Bismarck, however, saw Austria-Hungary as “a European necessity”: the organizing principle in an otherwise chaotic corner of Europe, the bulwark against Russian expansion, and the keystone in the balance of power. But the progress of nationalism gradually undermined the legitimacy of the old empires. Ironically, Austria existed from 1815 to 1914 in a symbiotic relationship with her ancient enemy, the Ottoman Empire. For as the Balkan peoples gradually pulled free from Constantinople, they and their cousins across the Habsburg frontier inevitably agitated for liberation from Vienna as well.

Russia was also a multinational empire, but with the exception of the Poles her subject peoples were too few compared to Great Russians to pose a threat. Rather, Russia’s problem in the late 19th century was backwardness. Ever since the humiliating defeat in the Crimean War, tsars and their ministers had undertaken reforms to modernize agriculture, technology, and education. But the Russian autocracy, making no concession to popular sovereignty and nationality, was more threatened by social change even than the Germans. Hence the dilemma of the last tsars: They had to industrialize in order to maintain Russia as a Great Power, yet industrialization, by calling into being a large technical and managerial class and an urban proletariat, also undermined the social basis of the dynasty.

In sum, the decades after 1871 did not sustain the liberal progress of the 1860s. Resistance to political reform in the empires, a retreat from free trade after 1879, the growth of labour unions, revolutionary socialism, and social tensions attending demographic and industrial growth all affected the foreign policies of the Great Powers. It was as if, at its pinnacle of achievement, the very elements of liberal “progress”—technology, imperialism, nationalism, cultural modernism, and scientism—were inviting Europeans to steer their civilization toward calamity.

The impact of industrialism and imperialism

Patterns of population

European demographic and industrial growth in the 19th century was frantic and uneven, and both qualities contributed to growing misperceptions and paranoia in international affairs. European population grew at the rate of 1 percent per year in the century after 1815, an increase that would have been disastrous had it not been for the outlet of emigration and the new prospects of employment in the rapidly expanding cities. But the distribution of Europe’s peoples changed radically, altering the military balance among the Great Powers. In the days of Louis XIV, France was the most populous—and also the wealthiest—kingdom in Europe, and as late as 1789 it numbered 25,000,000 to Britain’s 14,500,000. When the French Revolution unleashed this national power through rationalized central administration, meritocracy, and a national draft based on patriotism, it achieved unprecedented organization of force in the form of armies of millions of men.

The French tide receded, at the cost of more than a million deaths from 1792 to 1815, never to crest again. Population growth in France, alone among the Great Powers, was almost stagnant thereafter; by 1870 her population of 36,000,000 was nearly equal to that of Austria-Hungary and already less than Germany’s 41,000,000. By 1910 Germany’s population exploded to a level two-thirds greater than France’s, while vast Russia’s population nearly doubled from 1850 to 1910 until it was more than 70 percent greater than Germany’s, although Russia’s administrative and technical backwardness offset to a degree her advantage in numbers. The demographic trends clearly traced the growing danger for France vis-à-vis Germany and the danger for Germany vis-à-vis Russia. Should Russia ever succeed in modernizing, she would become a colossus out of all proportion to the European continent.

Population pressure was a double-edged sword dangling out of reach above the heads of European governments in the 19th century. On the one hand, fertility meant a growing labour force and potentially a larger army. On the other hand, it threatened social discord if economic growth or external safety valves could not relieve the pressure. The United Kingdom adjusted through urban industrialization on the one hand and emigration to the United States and the British dominions on the other. France had no such pressure but was forced to draft a higher percentage of its manpower to fill the army ranks. Russia exported perhaps 10,000,000 excess people to its eastern and southern frontiers and several million more (mostly Poles and Jews) overseas. Germany, too, sent large numbers abroad, and no nation provided more new industrial employment from 1850 to 1910. Still, Germany’s landmass was small relative to Russia’s, her overseas possessions unsuitable to settlement, and her sense of beleaguerment acute in the face of the “Slavic threat.” Demographic trends thus helped to implant in the German population a feeling of both momentary strength and looming danger.

Industry, technology, and trade

Industrial trends magnified the demographic, for here again Germany was far and away the fastest growing economic power on the Continent. This was so not only in the basic industries of coal and iron and steel but also in the advanced fields of electricity, chemicals, and internal combustion. Germany’s swift development strained the traditional balance of power in her own society and politics. By the end of the century Germany had become a highly urbanized, industrial society, complete with large, differentiated middle and factory proletariat classes, but it was still governed largely by pre-capitalist aristocrats increasingly threatened by demands for political reform.

Industrialization also made possible the outfitting and supply of mass armies drawn from the growing populations. After 1815 the monarchies of Europe had shied away from arming the masses in the French revolutionary fashion, and the events of 1848 further justified their fear of an armed citizenry. But in the reserve system Prussia found a means of making possible a rapid mobilization of the citizenry without the risk to the regime or the elite officer corps posed by a large standing, and idle, army. (In Austria-Hungary the crown avoided disloyalty in the army by stationing soldiers of one ethnic group on the soil of another.) After Prussia’s stunning victory over France in 1871, all the Great Powers came sooner or later to adopt the German model of a mass army, supplied by a national network of railways and arms industries coordinated in turn by a general staff. The industrialization of war meant that planning and bureaucracy, technology and finance were taking the place of bold generalship and esprit in the soldier’s craft.

The final contribution to the revolution in warfare was planned research and development of weapons systems. Begun hesitantly in the French Navy in the 1850s and 1860s, command technology—the collaboration of state and industry in the invention of new armaments—was widely practiced by the turn of the century, adding to the insecurity that inevitably propelled the arms races. The demographic, technical, and managerial revolutions of the 19th century, in sum, made possible the mobilization of entire populations and economies for the waging of war.

The home of the Industrial Revolution was Great Britain, whose priority in the techniques of the factory system and of steam power was the foundation for a period of calm confidence known (with some exaggeration) as the Pax Britannica. The pound sterling became the preferred reserve currency of the world and the Bank of England the hub of international finance. British textiles, machinery, and shipping dominated the markets of Asia, South America, and much of Europe. The British Isles (again with some hyperbole) were “the workshop of the world” and in consequence from 1846 led the world in promoting free trade. British diplomacy, proudly eschewing alliances in favour of “splendid isolation,” sought to preserve a balance of power on the Continent and to protect the routes to India from Russian encroachment in the Middle East or Afghanistan.

The Pax Britannica could last only as long as Britain’s industrial hegemony. But that hegemony very naturally impelled other nations somehow to catch up, in the short term by imposing protective tariffs to shield domestic industries and in the longer term by granting government subsidies (for railroads and other national development work) and the gradual replication of British techniques. First Belgium, France, and New England, then Germany and other states after 1850 began to challenge Britain’s industrial dominance.

France (1860), Prussia (1862), and other countries then reversed earlier policies and followed the British into free trade. But in 1873 a financial panic, attributed by some to overextension in Germany after receipt of France’s billion-franc indemnity, ended the period of rapid growth. In the depression of 1873–96 (actually years of slower, uneven growth) industrial and labour leaders formed cartels, unions, and lobbies to agitate for tariffs and other forms of state intervention to stabilize the economy. Bismarck resisted until European agriculture also suffered from falling prices and lost markets after 1876 owing to the arrival in European ports of North American cereals. In 1879 the so-called alliance of rye and steel voted a German tariff on foreign manufactured goods and foodstuffs. Free trade gave way to an era of neo-mercantilism. France, Austria, Italy, and Russia followed the new (or revived) trend toward tariff protection. After 1896 the volume of world trade rose sharply again, but the sense of heightened economic competition persisted in Europe.

Social rifts also hardened during the period. Challenged by unrest and demands for reforms, Bismarck sponsored the first state social insurance plans, but he also used an attempt on the Kaiser’s life in 1878 as a pretext to outlaw the Social Democratic Party. Conservative circles, farmers as well as the wealthier classes, came gradually to distrust the loyalty of the urban working class, but industrialists shared few other interests with farmers. Other countries faced similar divisions between town and country, but urbanization was not advanced enough in Russia or France for socialism to acquire a mass following, while in Britain agriculture had long since lost out to the commercial and industrial classes, and the working class participated fully in democratic politics. The social divisions attending industrialization were especially acute in Germany because of the rapidity of her development and the survival of powerful pre-capitalist elites. Moreover, the German working class, while increasingly unionized, had few legal means of affecting state policy. All this made for a series of deadlocks in German politics that would increasingly affect foreign policy after Bismarck’s departure.

The New Imperialism

The 1870s and 1880s, therefore, witnessed a retreat from the free market and a return to state intervention in economic affairs. The foreign counterpart to this phenomenon was the New Imperialism. The Great Powers of Europe suddenly shook off almost a century of apathy toward overseas colonies and, in the space of 20 years, partitioned almost the entire uncolonized portion of the globe. Theories postulating Europe’s need to export surplus capital do not fit the facts. Only Britain and France were capital-exporting countries in 1880, and in years to come their investors preferred to export capital to other European countries (especially Russia) or the Western Hemisphere rather than to their own colonies. The British remained free-trade throughout the era of the New Imperialism, a booming home economy absorbed most German capital, and Italy and Russia were large net importers of capital. Once the scramble for colonies was complete, pressure groups did form in the various countries to argue the economic promise of imperialism, but just as often governments had to foster colonial development. In most cases, trade did not lead but followed the flag.

Why, then, was the flag planted in the first place? Sometimes it was to protect economic interests, as when the British occupied Egypt in 1882, but more often it was for strategic reasons or in pursuit of national prestige. One necessary condition for the New Imperialism, often overlooked, is technological. Prior to the 1870s Europeans could overawe native peoples along the coasts of Africa and Asia but lacked the firepower, mobility, and communications that would have been needed to pacify the interior. (India was the exception, where the British East India Company exploited an anarchic situation and allied itself with selected native rulers against others.) The tsetse fly and the Anopheles mosquito—bearers of sleeping sickness and malaria—were the ultimate defenders of African and Asian jungles. The correlation of forces between Europe and the colonizable world shifted, however, with the invention of shallow-draft riverboats, the steamship and telegraph, the repeater rifle and Maxim gun, and the discovery (in India) that quinine is an effective prophylactic against malaria. By 1880 small groups of European regulars, armed with modern weapons and exercising fire discipline, could overwhelm many times their number of native troops.

The scramble for Africa should be dated, not from 1882, when the British occupied Egypt, but from the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The strategic importance of that waterway cannot be overstated. It was the gateway to India and East Asia and hence a vital interest nonpareil for the British Empire. When the Khedive of Egypt defaulted on loans owed to France and Britain, and a nationalist uprising ensued—the first such Arab rebellion against the Western presence—the French backed away from military occupation, although with Bismarck’s encouragement and moral support they occupied Tunis in 1881, expanding their North African presence from Algeria. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, otherwise an adamant anticolonialist, then established a British protectorate in Egypt. When the French reacted bitterly, Bismarck further encouraged French colonial expansion in hopes of distracting them from Europe, and he then took his own country into the fray by claiming four large segments of Africa for Germany in 1884. In that year the King of the Belgians cast his eye on the entire Congo Basin. The Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884–85 was called to settle a variety of disputes involved in European colonial occupation, and over the next 10 years all the Great Powers of Europe save Austria and Russia staked out colonies and protectorates on the African continent. But whatever the ambitions and rivalries of military adventurers, explorers, and private empire-builders on the scene, the cabinets of Europe came to agreements on colonial boundaries with surprising neighbourliness. Colonial wars did ensue after 1894, but never between two European colonial powers.

It has been suggested that imperial rivalries were a long-range cause of World War I. It has also been said that they were a safety valve, drawing off European energies that might otherwise have erupted in war much sooner. But the links between imperialism and the war are more subtle. The heyday of the New Imperialism, especially after 1894, created a tacit understanding in the European elites and the broad literate classes that the days of the old European balance of power were over, that a new world order was dawning, and that any nation left behind in the pursuit of world power would sink into obscurity. This intuition must surely have fed a growing sense of desperation among Germans, and one of paranoia among Britons, about trends in global politics. A second point, subtler still, is that the New Imperialism, while it did not directly provoke World War I, did occasion a transformation of alliances that proved dangerous beyond reckoning once the Great Powers turned their attention back to Europe.

Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, and within a decade popularizers had applied—or misapplied—his theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest to contemporary politics and economics. This pseudoscientific social Darwinism appealed to educated Europeans already demoralized by a century of higher criticism of religious scripture and conscious of the competitiveness of their own daily lives in that age of freewheeling industrial capitalism. By the 1870s books appeared explaining the outcome of the Franco-German War, for instance, with reference to the “vitality” of the Germanic peoples by comparison to the “exhausted” Latins. Pan-Slavic literature extolled the youthful vigour of that race, of whom Russia was seen as the natural leader. A belief in the natural affinity and superiority of Nordic peoples sustained Joseph Chamberlain’s conviction that an Anglo-American–German alliance should govern the world in the 20th century. Vulgar anthropology explained the relative merits of human races on the basis of physiognomy and brain size, a “scientific” approach to world politics occasioned by the increasing contact of Europeans with Asians and Africans. Racialist rhetoric became common currency, as when the Kaiser referred to Asia’s growing population as “the yellow peril” and spoke of the next war as a “death struggle between the Teutons and Slavs.” Poets and philosophers idealized combat as the process by which nature weeds out the weak and improves the human race.

By 1914, therefore, the political and moral restraints on war that had arisen after 1789–1815 were significantly weakened. The old conservative notion that established governments had a heavy stake in peace lest revolution engulf them, and the old liberal notion that national unity, democracy, and free trade would spread harmony, were all but dead. The historian cannot judge how much social Darwinism influenced specific policy decisions, but a mood of fatalism and bellicosity surely eroded the collective will to peace.

Completing the alliance systems, 1890–1907

Germany’s new course

In 1890 the young Kaiser William II dismissed the aged Bismarck and proclaimed a new course for Germany. An intelligent but unstable man who compensated for a withered arm with military demeanour and intemperate remarks, William felt keenly his realm’s lack of prestige in comparison with the British Empire. William rejected Bismarck’s emphasis on security in Europe in favour of a flamboyant Weltpolitik (world policy) aimed at making Germany’s presence abroad commensurate with her new industrial might. Where Bismarck considered colonies a dangerous luxury given Germany’s geographic position, the Kaiser thought them indispensable for Germany’s future. Where Bismarck sought alliances to avoid the risk of war on two fronts, the Kaiser (and his chief foreign policy official, Baron von Holstein) believed Germany should capitalize on the colonial quarrels among France, Britain, and Russia. Where Bismarck had outlawed the Socialists and feared for the old order in Germany, the Kaiser permitted the anti-Socialist laws to lapse and believed he could win over the working class through prosperity, social policy, and national glory.

The consequences of the new course were immediate and damaging. In 1890 Holstein gratuitously dropped Bismarck’s Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, prompting St. Petersburg to overcome its antipathy to republican France and conclude a military alliance in 1894. The tie was sealed with a golden braid: Between 1894 and 1914 the Russians floated billions of francs in loans on the Paris market to finance factory building, arms programs, and military railroads to the German border. Russia hoped mainly for French support in its colonial disputes with the British Empire and even went so far as to agree with Austria-Hungary in 1897 to hold the question of the Balkans in abeyance for 10 years, thereby freeing resources for the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the penetration of northern China. The German foreign office thus did not take alarm at the alliance Bismarck had struggled so long to prevent.

The Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 signaled the arrival of Japan on the world stage. Having seen their nation forcibly opened to foreign influence by Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1853, the Japanese determined not to suffer China’s fate as a hapless object of Western incursion. Once the Meiji Restoration established strong central government beginning in 1868, Japan became the first non-Western state to launch a crash program of industrialization. By the 1890s its modern army and navy permitted Japan to take its place beside the Europeans as an imperial power. In the war with China, Japan won control of Korea, Taiwan, Port Arthur on the Manchurian mainland, and other advantages. European intervention scaled back these gains, but a scramble for concessions in China eventuated. Russia won concessions in Manchuria, the French in South China, the Germans at Chiao-chou Bay on the Shantung Peninsula. In 1898 the United States annexed the Philippine Islands after the Spanish-American War. The loser in the scramble, besides China, was Britain, which had previously enjoyed a near monopoly in the China trade.

The threats to Britain’s empire

American naval scholar Alfred Thayer Mahan, undated photo. [Credit: U.S. Naval Academy Museum]British fortunes suffered elsewhere during this high tide of imperialism from 1897 to 1907. The South African, or Boer, War (1899–1902) against the independent Boer republics of the South African interior proved longer and costlier than the British expected, and although they won the “dirty little war” the British saw their world position erode. Germany partitioned Samoa with the United States, and the latter annexed the Hawaiian Islands. Germany abandoned her long apathy toward the Middle East and won a concession for Turkish railroads. The Kaiser, influenced by his envy of Britain, his own fondness for seafaring, and the worldwide impact of The Influence of Sea Power upon History by the American naval scholar Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, determined that Weltpolitik was impossible without a great High Seas Fleet. The prospect of a large German navy—next to the growing fleets of France, Russia, Japan, and the United States—meant that Britain would no longer rule the waves alone.

The dawn of the 20th century was thus a time of anxiety for the British Empire as well. Challenged for the first time by the commercial, naval, and colonial might of many other industrializing nations, the British reconsidered the wisdom of splendid isolation. To be sure, in the Fashoda Incident of 1898 Britain succeeded in forcing France to retreat from the upper reaches of the Nile. But how much longer could Britain defend her empire alone? Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain began at once to sound out Berlin on the prospect of global collaboration. A British demarche was precisely what the Germans had been expecting, but three attempts to reach an Anglo-German understanding, between 1898 and 1901, led to naught. In retrospect, it is hard to see how it could have been otherwise. The German foreign minister and, from 1900, chancellor, Bernhard, Fürst von Bülow, shared the Kaiser’s and Holstein’s ambitions for world power. If, as Germany’s neo-Rankean historians proclaimed, the old European balance of power was giving way to a new world balance, then the future would surely belong to the Anglo-Saxons (British Empire and America) and Slavs (Russian Empire) unless Germany were able to achieve its own place in the sun. Bülow agreed that “our future lies on the water.” German and British interests were simply irreconcilable. What Britain sought was German help in reducing Franco-Russian pressure on the British Empire and defending the balance of power. What Germany sought was British neutrality or cooperation while Germany expanded its own power in the world. Bülow still believed in Holstein’s “free hand” policy of playing the other powers off against each other and accordingly placed a high price on German support and invited Britain to join the Triple Alliance as a full military partner. Understandably, the British declined to underwrite Germany’s continental security.

The failure of the Anglo-German talks condemned both powers to dangerous competition. The German navy could never hope to equal the British and would only ensure British hostility. But equality was not necessary, said Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. All Germany needed was a “risk fleet” large enough to deter the British, who would not dare alienate Germany and thus lose their only potential ally in the continuing rivalry with France and Russia. In this way Germany could extract concessions from London without alliance or war. What the Germans failed to consider was that Britain might someday come to terms with its other antagonists.

This was precisely what Britain did. The Edwardian era (1901–10) was one of intense concern over the decline of Britain’s naval and commercial dominance. German firms shouldered aside the British in numerous markets (even though they remained each other’s best trading partners). The new German navy menaced Britain in her home waters. The French and Russian fleets, not to mention the Japanese, outnumbered the Royal Navy’s Asian squadron. The French, Italian, and potential Russian presence in the Mediterranean threatened the British lifeline to India. Soon the Panama Canal would enable the United States to deploy a two-ocean navy. Accordingly, the foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne, set about reducing the number of Britain’s potential opponents. First, he cemented friendly relations with the United States in the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty (1901). He then shocked the world by concluding a military alliance with Japan, thereby securing British interests in East Asia and allowing the empire to concentrate its regional forces on India. But when growing tension between Russia and Japan over Manchuria appeared likely to erupt in war in 1904, France (Russia’s ally) and Britain (now Japan’s ally) faced a quandary. To prevent being dragged into the conflict, the French and British shucked off their ancient rivalry and concluded an Entente Cordiale whereby France gave up opposition to British rule in Egypt, and Britain recognized French rights in Morocco. Though strictly a colonial arrangement, it marked another step away from isolation for both Britain and France and another step toward it for the restless and frustrated Germans.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 was an ominous turning point. Contrary to all expectations, Japan triumphed on land and sea, and Russia stumbled into the Revolution of 1905. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt mediated the Treaty of Portsmouth ending the war, and the Tsar quelled the revolutionary flames with promises of parliamentary government, but the war resonated in world diplomacy. Japan established itself as the leading Asian power. The example of an Oriental nation rising up to defeat a European Great Power emboldened Chinese, Indians, and Arabs to look forward to a day when they might expel the imperialists from their midst. And tsarist Russia, its Asian adventure a shambles, looked once again to the Balkans as a field for expansion, setting the stage for World War I.

The Triple Entente

In 1905 the Germans seized on Russia’s temporary troubles to pressure France in Morocco. Bülow believed he had much to gain—at best he might force a breakup of the Anglo-French entente, at worst he might provoke a French retreat and secure German rights in Morocco. But at the Algeciras Conference in 1906, called to settle the Morocco dispute, only Austria-Hungary supported the German position. Far from breaking the Entente Cordiale, the affair prompted the British to begin secret staff talks with the French military. The United States, Russia, and even Italy, Germany’s erstwhile partner in the Triple Alliance, took France’s side. For some years Italian ambitions in the Mediterranean had been thwarted, and the attempt to conquer Abyssinia in 1896 had failed. The German alliance seemed to offer little, while Rome’s other foreign objective, the Italian irredenta in the Tirol and Dalmatia, was aimed at Austria-Hungary. So in 1900 Italy concluded a secret agreement pledging support for France in Morocco in return for French support of Italy in Libya. The Russo-Japanese War also strengthened ties between France and Russia as French loans again rebuilt Russia’s shattered armed forces. Finally, and most critically, the defeated Russians and worried British were now willing to put to rest their old rivalry in Central Asia. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 made a neutral buffer of Tibet, recognized Britain’s interest in Afghanistan, and partitioned Persia into spheres of influence. Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey also hinted at the possibility of British support for Russian policy in the Balkans, reversing a century-old tradition.

The heyday of European imperialism thus called into existence a second alliance system, the Triple Entente of France, Britain, and Russia. It was not originally conceived as a balance to German power, but that was its effect, especially in light of the escalating naval race. In 1906 the Royal Navy under the reformer Sir John Fisher launched HMS Dreadnought, a battleship whose size, armour, speed, and gunnery rendered all existing warships obsolete. The German government responded in kind, even enlarging the Kiel Canal at great expense to accommodate the larger ships. What were the British, dependent on imports by sea for seven-eighths of their raw materials and over half their foodstuffs, to make of German behaviour? In a famous Foreign Office memo of January 1907, Senior Clerk Sir Eyre Crowe surmised that Weltpolitik was either a conscious bid for hegemony or a “vague, confused, and unpractical statesmanship not realizing its own drift.” As Ambassador Sir Francis Bertie put it, “The Germans aim to push us into the water and steal our clothes.”

For France the Triple Entente was primarily a continental security apparatus. For Russia it was a means of reducing points of conflict so that the antiquated tsarist system could buy time to catch up technologically with the West. For Britain the ententes, the Japanese alliance, and the “special relationship” with the United States were diplomatic props for an empire beyond Britain’s capacity to defend alone. The three powers’ interests by no means coincided—disputes over Persia alone might have smashed Anglo-Russian unity if the war had not intervened. But to the Germans, the Triple Entente looked suspiciously like encirclement designed to frustrate their rightful claims to world power and prestige. German attempts to break the encirclement, however, would only alarm the entente powers and cause them to draw the loose strings into a knot. That in turn tempted German leaders, fearful that time was against them, to cut the Gordian knot with the sword. For after 1907 the focus of diplomacy shifted back to the Balkans, with European cabinets unaware, until it was too late, that alliances made with the wide world in mind had dangerously limited their freedom of action in Europe.

Militarism and pacifism before 1914

Anxiety and the arms race

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Europe before 1914 succumbed to hubris. The conventional images of “armed camps,” “a powder-keg,” or “saber rattling” almost trivialize a civilization that combined within itself immense pride in its newly expanding power and almost apocalyptic insecurity about the future. Europe bestrode the world, and yet Lord Curzon could remark, “We can hardly take up our morning newspaper without reading of the physical and moral decline of the race,” and the German chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke, could say that if Germany backed down again on Morocco, “I shall despair of the future of the German Empire.” France’s stagnant population and weak industry made her statesmen frantic for security, Austrian leaders were filled with foreboding about their increasingly disaffected nationalities, and the tsarist regime, with the most justification, sensed doom.

Whether from ambition or insecurity, the Great Powers armed as never before in peacetime, with military expenditures reaching 5 to 6 percent of national income. Military conscription and reserve systems made available a significant percentage of the adult male population, and the impulse to create large standing armies was strengthened by the widespread belief that firepower and financial limitations would make the next war short and violent. Simple reaction also played a large role. Fear of the “Russian steamroller” was sufficient to expand Germany’s service law; a larger German army provoked the outmanned French into an extension of national service to three years. Only Britain did without a large conscripted army, but her naval needs were proportionally more expensive.

In an age of heavy, rapid-fire artillery, infantry rifles, and railroads, but not yet including motor transport, tanks, or airplanes, a premium was placed by military staffs on mass, supply, and prior planning. European commanders assumed that in a continental war the opening frontier battles would be decisive, hence the need to mobilize the maximum number of men and move them at maximum speed to the border. The meticulous and rigid advance planning that this strategy required placed inordinate pressure on the diplomats in a crisis. Politicians might hold back their army in hopes of saving the peace only at the risk of losing the war should diplomacy fail. What was more, all the continental powers embraced offensive strategies. The French general staff’s “cult of attack” assumed that élan could carry the day against superior German numbers. Its Plan XVII called for an immediate assault on Lorraine. The Germans’ Schlieffen Plan addressed the problem of war on two fronts by throwing almost the entire German army into a sweeping offensive through neutral Belgium to capture Paris and the French army in a gigantic envelope. Troops could then be transported east to meet the slower-moving Russian army. Worked out down to the last railroad switch and passenger car, the Schlieffen Plan was an apotheosis of the industrial age: a mechanical, almost mathematical perfection that wholly ignored political factors. None of the general staffs anticipated what the war would actually be like. Had they glimpsed the horrific stalemate in the trenches, surely neither they nor the politicians would have run the risks they did in 1914.

Above the mass infantry armies of the early 20th century stood the officer corps, the general staffs, and at the pinnacle the supreme war lords: kaiser, emperor, tsar, and king, all of whom adopted military uniforms as their standard dress in these years. The army was a natural refuge for the central and eastern European aristocracies, the chivalric code of arms sustaining almost the only public service to which they could still reasonably lay claim. Even in republican France a nationalist revival after 1912 excited public morale, inspired the military buildup, and both fueled and cloaked a revanche aimed at recovery of the provinces lost 40 years before. Popular European literature poured forth best-sellers depicting the next war, and mass-circulation newspapers incited even the working classes with news of imperial adventures or the latest slight by the adversary.

The peace movements

Various peace movements sprang up to counter the spirit of militarism before 1914. Most numerous and disturbing to those responsible for national defense were the Socialists. The Second International took the Marxist view of imperialism and militarism as creatures of capitalist competition and loudly warned that if the bosses provoked a war, the working classes would refuse to take part. Jean Jaurès defined the proletariat as “masses of men who collectively love peace and hate war.” The 1912 Basel Conference declared the proletariat “the herald of world peace” and proclaimed “war on war.” Sober observers like George Bernard Shaw and Max Weber doubted that any putative sense of solidarity among workers would outweigh their nationalism, but the French government kept a blacklist of agitators who might try to subvert mobilization. Some of Germany’s leaders imagined that war might provide the opportunity to crush socialism by appeals to patriotism or martial law.

A liberal peace movement with a middle-class constituency flourished around the turn of the century. As many as 425 peace organizations are estimated to have existed in 1900, fully half of them in Scandinavia and most others in Germany, Britain, and the United States. Their greatest achievements were the Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907, at which the powers agreed to ban certain inhumane weapons but made no progress toward general disarmament. The liberal peace movement also foundered on internal contradictions. To outlaw war was to endorse the international status quo, yet liberals always stood ready to excuse wars that could claim progressive ends. They had tolerated the wars of Italian and German unification, and they would tolerate the Balkan Wars against the Ottoman Empire in 1912–13 and the great war in 1914. Another solution for many peace advocates was to transcend the nation-state. Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion (1910) argued that it already had been transcended: that interdependence among nations made war illogical and counterproductive. To Marxists this image of capitalism was ludicrous; to Weber or Joseph Schumpeter, it was correct, but beside the point. Blood was thicker than class, or money; politics dominated economics; and irrationality, reason.

The one European statesman most sympathetic to the peace movements was, not surprisingly, Britain’s Liberal foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. Citing the waste, social discord, and international tension caused by the naval arms race, he made several overtures to Germany in hopes of ending it. When these failed, Britain had little choice but to race more quickly than the Germans. Even radical Liberals like David Lloyd George had to admit that however much they might deplore arms races in the abstract, all that was liberal and good in the world depended on the security of Britain and its control of its seas.

The Balkan crises and the outbreak of war, 1907–14

Growing tensions and German isolation

In the end, war did not come over the naval race, or commercial competition, or imperialism. Nor was it sparked by the institutional violence of the armed states, but by underground terrorism in the name of an oppressed people. Nor did it come over the ambitions of Great Powers to become greater, but over the fear of one Great Power that unless it took vigorous action it might cease to exist altogether. It began in the Balkans.

In 1897 Austria-Hungary and Russia had agreed to put their dispute over the Balkans on ice. When the agreement ran out in 1907, the Ottoman Empire still ruled Macedonia, ringed by Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bulgaria. But everything else had changed. For now Austria-Hungary’s only reliable ally was Germany, whose Weltpolitik had led it to join the competition for influence at Constantinople. Russia was looking again at the Balkans for foreign policy advantage and enjoying, for the first time, a measure of British tolerance. In Serbia, the state most threatening to Vienna because of its ethnic tie to the Serbs and Croats inside the Dual Monarchy, a fundamental political shift had occurred. In previous years Vienna had neutralized Serbia by bribing the ruling Obrenović dynasty, but in 1903 the rival Karageorgević clan seized control in Belgrade in a bloody coup d’état and shifted to a violently anti-Austrian policy. Finally, in 1908, a cabal of officers known as the Young Turks staged the first modernizing revolution in the Muslim world and tried to force the Sultan to adopt liberal reforms. In particular the Young Turks called for parliamentary elections, thereby placing in doubt the status of Bosnia and Hercegovina, provinces still under Ottoman sovereignty but administered by Austria-Hungary since 1878. The Austro-Hungarian foreign minister, Aloys Aehrenthal, proposed to settle the Bosnian issue and to crush Serbian ambitions once and for all by annexing the provinces. To this purpose he teased the Russian foreign minister, Aleksandr Petrovich Izvolsky, with talk of a quid pro quo: Russia’s acquiescence in annexation in return for Austria-Hungary’s in the opening of the Dardanelles to Russian warships. When instead Aehrenthal acted unilaterally, and Izvolsky’s straits proposal was rejected, the Russians felt betrayed. Their response was to increase aid and comfort to their client Serbia and to determine never again to back down in the Balkans.

German politics were also approaching a breaking point. Chancellor von Bülow had governed, with the support of Tirpitz, the Kaiser, and the moderate and conservative parties in the Reichstag, on the basis of a grand compromise of which the navy was the linchpin. Agrarian interests continued to demand protection against foreign foodstuffs, but the tariffs imposed to that end harmed German industrial exports. A large armaments program, especially naval, compensated heavy industry for lost foreign markets. The losers in the tariffs-plus-navy-legislation arrangement were consumers, who were taxed for the defense program after they had paid higher prices for bread. Popular resentment tended to increase the Socialist vote, and the other parties could command a majority only by banding together.

Soon, however, the expensive dreadnought race provoked a fiscal crisis that cracked the Bülow bloc and, in 1909, elevated Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg to the chancellorship. He faced the choice of ending the naval race and moderating Germany’s Weltpolitik, or making democratic concessions to the left, or somehow rebuilding the coalition of conservative agrarians and industrialists in the teeth of Socialist opposition. Bethmann showed signs of preferring the first course but was undercut by the pressure of industry, Tirpitz’ naval propaganda, and the Kaiser’s bravado, symbolized by a damaging Daily Telegraph interview (1908) in which he made inflammatory remarks about the British. When in 1912 Lord Haldane was dispatched to Berlin to discuss a suspension of the naval arms race, the Kaiser spoiled chances for an accord by introducing a new naval bill two days before his arrival. The British then accelerated their own dreadnought construction. By now the failure of German policy was apparent. Clearly the British would not permit Germany to challenge their sea power, while the German army agreed in 1912 to tolerate further naval expansion only if the army were granted a sharp increase in funding as well. In the 1912 elections the Social Democrats won 110 seats and became the largest party in the Reichstag.

Domestic and foreign stalemate obsessed Germany’s political and military leadership. Reform at home meant an end to the privileged positions of the various elites; retreat abroad meant the end of Germany’s dreams of world power. A bold stroke, even at the risk of war, seemed the only way out of the double impasse. In 1911 Foreign Minister Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter tried to force the issue in Morocco, where the French clearly aimed at a formal protectorate in defiance of the Algeciras accords. Germany sent the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir in defense of “German interests” there. Britain again stood with France, however, and Kiderlen-Wächter acquiesced in a French Morocco in exchange for portions of French colonies in Central Africa. In France this accommodation of Germany brought down the government of Premier Joseph Caillaux, who was succeeded by Raymond Poincaré, a determined nationalist and advocate of military preparedness who quickly secured passage of an expansion of the standing army. In Britain, Winston Churchill, then first lord of the Admiralty, withdrew his fleet from the Mediterranean to home waters, making mandatory even closer military coordination with France.

This Second Moroccan Crisis confirmed Germany’s isolation, while the British, French, and Russian military buildups meant that time was on the side of the entente. Moltke had already raised the notion of preventive war, and in the Kaiser’s war council of December 1912 he blustered, “War, the sooner the better.” To be sure, jingoism of this sort could be found in every Great Power on the eve of the war, but only the leaders in Berlin—and soon Vienna—were seriously coming to view war not as simply a possibility but as a necessity.

The final prewar assault on the Ottoman Empire also began in 1911. Italy cashed in her bargain with France over Libya by declaring war on Turkey and sending a naval squadron as far as the Dardanelles. Simultaneously, Russian ministers in the Balkans brought about an alliance between the bitter rivals Serbia and Bulgaria in preparation for a final strike against Ottoman-controlled Europe. The First Balkan War erupted in October 1912, when Montenegro declared war on Turkey, followed quickly by Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. The Young Turks ended the conflict with Italy, ceding Libya, but failed to contain the Balkan armies. In May 1913 the Great Powers imposed a settlement; Macedonia was partitioned among the Balkan states, Crete was granted to Greece, and Albania was given its independence. Landlocked Serbia, however, bid for additional territory in Macedonia, and Bulgaria replied with an attack on Serbia and Greece, thus beginning the Second Balkan War in June 1913. In the peace that followed in August, Bulgaria lost most of her stake in the former Turkish lands plus much of the southern Dobruja region to Romania. Serbia, however, doubled its territory and, flushed with victory, turned its sights on the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

The final crisis

How might the Habsburg Empire survive the rise of particularist nationalism in eastern Europe? Austrian statesmen had debated the question for 50 years, and the best answer seemed to be some form of federalism permitting political autonomy to the nationalities. Reforms of this nature had always been vetoed by the Hungarians, who stood to lose their own position vis-à-vis the German-Austrians and the minorities in their half of the empire. Conrad Franz, Graf von Hötzendorf, chief of the general staff, favoured preventive war against Serbia to stifle nationalist agitation for good and reinforce the old order. Archduke Francis Ferdinand wrote, however, “I live and shall die for federalism; it is the sole salvation for the monarchy, if anything can save it.” Out of favour with the court for his morganatic marriage and resented by the Hungarians and by conservatives, the heir apparent was also feared by Slavic radicals as the one man who might really pacify the nationalities and so frustrate their dreams of a Greater Serbia. Hence the archduke was a marked man among the secret societies that sprang up to liberate Bosnia. Such is the logic of terrorism: Its greatest enemies are the peacemakers.

The National Defense (Narodna Odbrana) was formed in Serbia in 1908 to carry on pro-Serbian and anti-Austrian agitation across the border. Its nonviolent methods were deemed insufficient by others, who in 1911 formed the secret society Union or Death (Ujedinjenje ili Smrt), also known as the Black Hand, led by the head of Serbian military intelligence, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević. The latter had been involved in the 1903 assassinations of the Obrenović family and favoured terrorist action over intellectual propaganda. With his support, if not on his direct orders, a band of youthful romantics conspired to assassinate Francis Ferdinand during his state visit to Sarajevo. On June 28, 1914, which happened to be the Serbian national holiday, the Archduke and his wife rode in an open car through the streets of the Bosnian capital. A bomb was thrown but missed. The Archduke completed his official duties, whereupon the governor of Bosnia suggested they deviate from the planned route on the return trip for safety’s sake. But the lead driver in the procession took a wrong turn, the cars stopped momentarily, and at that moment the 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip fired his revolver, killing both royal passengers.

Reaction in Vienna, and Europe generally, was surprisingly restrained. No one imagined that the outrage had more than local importance, much less that Bismarck’s prophecy about “some damned fool thing in the Balkans” starting the next war was about to be fulfilled. Conrad von Hötzendorf saw the deed as pretext for his preventive war against Serbia, but the aged emperor Francis Joseph preferred to await an inquiry to determine the extent of Serbian complicity. Germany, on the other hand, pressed for a firm riposte and in the Kaiser’s famous “blank check” memo promised to support whatever action Austria might take against Serbia. The Germans expected Russia to back down, since its military reforms would not be complete for several years, but even if Russia came to Serbia’s aid, the German high command was confident of victory. Bethmann was less so. A move against Serbia could lead to a world war, he warned on July 7. Yet Bethmann went along in the vain hope of localizing the conflict.

Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold, Graf von Berchtold, now advocated a firm policy toward Serbia lest Austria’s prestige deteriorate further and the Balkan states unite behind Russia. Gróf Tisza, the prime minister of Hungary, insisted, however, that diplomatic and legal justifications precede such a clash of arms: Austria must first present a list of demands for redress. Should Serbia accept, the empire would win a “brilliant diplomatic success”; should Serbia refuse, war could be waged with Austria-Hungary posing as the aggrieved party. In no case was Austria to annex any Serbian territory.

The Russian response to any Austrian initiative would be critical, and by chance the president and prime minister of France, Poincaré and René Viviani, were paying a state visit to St. Petersburg in July. Strangely, there is no record of the Franco-Russian conversations, but it is known that Poincaré assured the Russians that France would stand by her alliance commitments. On July 23, just after the French leaders left for home, Vienna presented its ultimatum to Belgrade, demanding dissolution of the secret societies, cessation of anti-Austrian propaganda, and Austrian participation in the investigation of the Sarajevo crime. Serbia was given 48 hours to respond.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Dmitriyevich Sazonov, erupted at news of the ultimatum and insisted on military measures. The French ambassador, Maurice-Georges Paléologue, with or without instructions from his departed chiefs, encouraged Sazonov. For if Austria’s prestige—and very future—were at stake in the Balkans, so too were tsarist Russia’s, for which the Balkans was the only region left in which to demonstrate its vitality. But now Germany was competing for influence over the Young Turks, courting Bulgaria, and plotting to smash Serbia. The German slogan “From Berlin to Baghdad,” referring originally only to railroads, took on ominous new political meaning. On July 25 the Russian Council of Ministers decided that if Austrian forces entered Serbia, Russia would mobilize its army. This precipitous, indeed anticipatory, decision reflected Russia’s size and the inadequacy of its rail network. Sazonov seems to have considered mobilization a political threat, but given the mechanistic timetables that were integral to the planning of all the European general staffs, it could only provoke countermobilizations and an inexorable drift into war.

On July 25 Serbia accepted all the Austro-Hungarian conditions save those two that directly compromised its sovereignty. Two days later Berchtold persuaded Francis Joseph to initiate war. At the same moment the Kaiser, returning from a yachting expedition, tried belatedly to restrain Vienna. On July 28 Austria declared war and bombarded Belgrade; on the same day the Tsar approved the mobilization of the Russian army against Austria, and alarms went off all over Europe. Sir Edward Grey, Kaiser William, and the Italian government all proposed negotiations, with the Austrians to occupy Belgrade as a pledge of Serbian compliance. The German ambassador in St. Petersburg assured the Russians that Austria meant to annex no Serbian territory. But it was too little and far too late. In St. Petersburg the generals protested that partial mobilization would disrupt their contingency plans: How could Russia prepare to fight Austria-Hungary while leaving naked her border with Austria’s ally Germany? The weak and vacillating Tsar Nicholas II was persuaded, and on the afternoon of July 30 he authorized general mobilization of the Russian army.

The previous day, Poincaré and Viviani had finally arrived back in Paris, where they were met with patriotic crowds and generals anxious for military precautions. In Berlin, anti-Russian demonstrations and equally anxious generals called for immediate action. On the 31st, when all the other powers had begun preparations of some sort, and even the British had put the fleet to sea (thanks to Winston Churchill’s foresight), Germany delivered ultimatums to Russia, demanding an end to mobilization, and to France, demanding neutrality in case of war in the east. But Russia and France could scarcely accede without abandoning the Balkans, each other, and their own security. When the ultimatums expired, the Schlieffen Plan was put into effect. Germany declared war against Russia on August 1 and against France on August 3 and demanded safe passage for its troops through Belgium. Refused again, Germany invaded Belgium in force.

On August 3, Italy took refuge in the fact that this was not a defensive war on Austria-Hungary’s part and declared its neutrality. That left only Britain, faced with the choice of joining its entente partners in war or standing aloof and risking German domination of the Continent. Britain had little interest in the Serbian affair, and the kingdom was torn by the Irish question. The Cabinet was in doubt as late as August 2. But the prospect of the German fleet in the English Channel and German armies on the Belgian littoral settled the issue. On the 3rd Britain demanded that Germany evacuate Belgium, and Grey won over Parliament with appeals to British interests and international law. On August 4, Britain declared war on Germany.

The war-guilt question

The search for causes

Debate over the origins of World War I was from the start partisan and moral in tone. Each of the belligerents published documentary collections selected to shift the blame and prove that it was fighting in self-defense. Serbia was defending itself against Austrian aggression. Austria-Hungary was defending its very existence against terror plotted on foreign soil. Russia was defending Serbia and the Slavic cause against German imperialism. Germany was defending its lone reliable ally from attack and itself from entente encirclement. France, with most justification, was defending itself against unprovoked German attack. And Britain was fighting in defense of Belgium, international law, and the balance of power.

In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the victorious coalition justified its peace terms by forcing Germany and its allies to acknowledge guilt for the war. This tactic was historically dubious and politically disastrous, but it stemmed from the liberal conviction, as old as the Enlightenment, that peace was normal and war an aberration or crime for which clear responsibility—guilt—could be established. Almost at once, revisionist historians examined the thousands of documents that governments made available after 1920 and challenged the Versailles verdict. Yes, the German government had issued the risky “blank check” and urged Vienna on an aggressive course. It had swept aside all proposals for mediation until events had gained irreversible momentum. It had, finally, surrendered its authority to a military plan that ensured the war could not be localized. Indeed, the whole course of German foreign policy since 1890 had been restless and counter-productive, calling into existence the very ring of enemies it then took extreme risks to break. But, on the other hand, Russia’s hasty mobilization expanded the crisis beyond the Balkans, initiated a round of military moves, and contributed to German panic. Given the military realities of the age, Sazonov’s notion of Russian mobilization as a mere “application of pressure” was either disingenuous or foolish. France could be faulted for not restraining Russia and for issuing its own “blank check.” Even the British might have done more to preserve peace, either through more vigorous mediation or by making clear that they would not remain neutral in a continental war, thus deterring the Germans. Finally, what of the states at the heart of the crisis? Surely Belgrade’s use of political terrorism in the name of Greater Serbia, and Austria-Hungary’s determination to crush its tormentors, provoked the crisis in the first place. By the 1930s moderate historians had concluded, with Lloyd George, that no one country was to blame for the war: “We all stumbled into it.”

The failure of documentary research to settle the war-guilt question led other historians to look behind the July 1914 crisis for long-range causes of the war. Surely, they reasoned, such profound events must have had profound origins. As early as 1928 the American Sidney B. Fay concluded that none of the European leaders had wanted a great war and identified as its deeper causes the alliance systems, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, and the newspaper press. (Marxists, of course, from the publication of Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in 1916, held finance capitalism to be accountable for the war.) In this view the polarization of Europe into alliance systems had made “chain-reaction” escalation of a local imbroglio almost predictable. Militarism and imperialism had fed tensions and appetites among the Great Powers, while nationalism and sensationalist journalism had stoked popular resentments. How else could one explain the universal enthusiasm with which soldiers and civilians alike greeted the outbreak of war? Such evenhanded sentiments, along with the abstraction of the terms of analysis that exculpated individuals while blaming the system, were both appealing and prescriptive. In the 1930s British statesmen in particular would strive to learn the lessons of 1914 and so prevent another war. As another generation’s hindsight would reveal, the lessons did not apply to the new situation.

After World War II and the Cold War had left the issues of 1914 passé, a committee of French and German historians agreed that World War I was an unwilled disaster for which all countries shared blame. Only a few years later, however, in 1961, that consensus shattered. The German historian Fritz Fischer published a massive study of German war aims during 1914–18 and held that Germany’s government, social elites, and even broad masses had consciously pursued a breakthrough to world power in the years before World War I and that the German government, fully aware of the risks of world war and of British belligerency, had deliberately provoked the 1914 crisis. Fischer’s thesis sparked bitter debate and a rash of new interpretations of World War I. Leftist historians made connections between Fischer’s evidence and that cited 30 years before by Eckhart Kehr, who had traced the social origins of the naval program to the cleavages in German society and the stalemate in the Reichstag. Other historians saw links to the Bismarckian technique of using foreign policy excursions to stifle domestic reform, a technique dubbed “social imperialism.” Germany’s rulers, it appeared, had resolved before 1914 to overthrow the world order in hopes of preserving the domestic order.

Traditionalist critics of Fischer pointed to the universality of imperialistic, social Darwinist, and militaristic behaviour on the eve of the war. The Kaiser, in his most nationalistic moods, only spoke and acted like many others in all the Great Powers. Did not Sazonov and the Russian generals, in their unrecorded moments, yearn to erase the humiliation of 1905 and conquer the Dardanelles, or Poincaré and General J.-J.-C. Joffre wonder excitedly if the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine were finally at hand, or the Primrose and Navy leagues thrill to the prospect of a Nelsonian clash of dreadnoughts? Germans were not the only people who grew weary of peace or harboured grandiose visions of empire. To this universalist view leftist historians like the American A.J. Mayer then applied the “primacy of domestic policy” thesis and hypothesized that all the European powers had courted war as a means of cowing or distracting their working classes and national minorities.

Such “new left” interpretations triggered intense study of the connections between domestic and foreign policy, leading to the conclusion that a postulation of internal origins of the war, while obvious for Austria and plausible for Russia, failed in the cases of democratic Britain and France. If anything, internal discord made for reticence rather than assertion on the part of their foreign policy elites. The conservative historian Gerhard Ritter even challenged the Fischer thesis in the German case. The real problem, he argued, was not fear of the Social Democrats but the age-old tension between civilian and military influence in the Prussian-German government. Politicians, exemplified by Bethmann, did not share the eagerness or imprudence of the general staff but lost control of the ship of state in the atmosphere of deepening crisis leading up to 1914. Finally, a moderate German historian, Wolfgang J. Mommsen, dispensed with polemics altogether. Germany’s rapid industrialization and the tardiness of modernization in Austria-Hungary and Russia, he concluded, created instabilities in central and eastern Europe that found expression in desperate self-assertion. Echoing Joseph Schumpeter, Mommsen blamed the war on the survival of precapitalist regimes that simply proved “no longer adequate in the face of rapid social change and the steady advance of mass politics.” This interpretation, however, amounted to an updated and elaborated version of the unsophisticated consensus that “we all stumbled into it.” Were the world wars, then, beyond human control?

Thus, the search for long-range causes, while turning up a wealth of new information and insight, ran ultimately aground. After all, if “imperialism” or “capitalism” had caused the war, they had just as assuredly caused the unprecedented era of peace and growth that preceded it. Imperialist crises, though tense at times, had always been resolved, and even Germany’s ambitions were on the verge of being served through a 1914 agreement with Britain on a planned partition of the Portuguese empire. Imperial politics were simply not a casus belli for anyone except Britain. Military preparedness was at a peak, but armaments are responses to tensions, not the cause of them, and they had, perhaps, served to deter war in the numerous crises preceding 1914. Capitalist activity tied the nations of Europe together as never before, and in 1914 most leading businessmen were advocates of peace. The alliance systems themselves were defensive and deterrent by design and had served as such for decades. Nor were they inflexible. Italy opted out of her alliance, the Tsar was not bound to risk his dynasty on behalf of Serbia, or the Kaiser his on behalf of Austria-Hungary, while the French and British cabinets might never have persuaded their parliaments to take up arms had the Schlieffen Plan not forced the issue. Perhaps the 1914 crisis was, after all, a series of blunders, in which statesmen failed to perceive the effects their actions would have on the others.

The centrality of the Habsburg monarchy

Perhaps a long-range view that is still serviceable is precisely the one derived from old-fashioned analysis of the balance-of-power system, forgotten amid the debates over national or class responsibility. This view, suggested by Paul Schroeder in 1972, asks not why war broke out in 1914 but why not before? What snapped in 1914? The answer, he argued, is that the keystone of European balance, the element of stability that allowed the other powers to chase imperial moonbeams at will, was Austria-Hungary itself. The heedless policies of the other powers, however, gradually undermined the Habsburg monarchy until it was faced with a mortal choice. At that point, the most stable member of the system became the most disruptive, the girders of security—the alliances—generated destructive pressures of their own, and the European system collapsed. To be sure, Austria-Hungary was threatened with her own nationality problem, aggravated by Serbia. It could better have met that threat, however, if the Great Powers had worked to ameliorate pressures on it, just as they had carried the declining Ottoman Empire for a full century. Instead, the ambitions of Russia, France, and Britain, and the stifling friendship of Germany, only served to push Austria-Hungary to the brink. This was not their intention, but it was the effect.

The central fact of global politics from 1890 to 1914 was Britain’s relative decline. This occurred naturally, as industrial power diffused, but was aggravated by the particular challenge of Germany. Overextended, the British sought partners to share the burdens of a world empire and were obliged in return to look kindly on those partners’ ambitions. But the resulting Triple Entente was not the cause of Germany’s frustrations in the conduct of Weltpolitik. Rather it was the inability of Germany to pursue an imperial policy à outrance. Situated in the middle of Europe, with hostile armies on two sides, and committed to the defense of Austria-Hungary, Germany was unable to make headway in the overseas world despite her strength. By contrast, relatively weak France or hopelessly ramshackle Russia could engage in adventures at will, suffer setbacks, and return to the fray in a few years. Schroeder concluded: “The contradiction between what Germany wanted to do and what she dared to do and was obliged to do accounts in turn for the erratic, uncoordinated character of German world policy, its inability to settle on clear goals and carry them through, the constant initiatives leading nowhere, the frequent changes in mid-course.” All Germany could do was bluff and hope to be paid for doing nothing: for remaining neutral in the Russo-Japanese War, for not building more dreadnoughts, for letting the French into Morocco, for not penetrating Persia. Of course, Germany could have launched an imperialist war in 1905 or 1911 under more favourable circumstances. It chose not to do so, and German might was such that prior to 1914 the other powers never considered a passage of arms with Germany.

Instead, Triple Entente diplomacy served to undermine Austria-Hungary. Everyone recognized that it was the “sick man of Europe” and that its demise would be inconvenient at very best and would almost certainly expose the ethnic mare’s nest of southeastern Europe to civil war or Russian or German domination. Yet no one did anything about it. France could scarcely afford to—its security was too tightly bound to Russia’s—but France’s policy of wooing Italy out of the Triple Alliance was a grave setback, not for Germany but for Austria-Hungary. Russia brazenly pushed the Slavic nationalities forward, thinking to make gains but never realizing that tsarism was as dependent on Habsburg survival as Austria-Hungary had been on Ottoman survival. Only Britain had the capacity to maneuver, to restrain the likes of Serbia and Russia and take some of the Austro-Hungarian burden off Germany’s shoulders. And indeed it had done so before—in 1815–22, 1878, and 1888. But now the British chose vaguely to encourage Russia in the Balkans, letting Austria-Hungary, as it were, pay the price for distracting Russia from the frontiers of India. So by 1914 Austria was encircled and Germany was left with the choice of watching her only ally collapse or risking a war against all Europe. Having chosen the risk, and lost, it is no surprise that the Germans (as well as the other powers) gave vent to all their prewar bitterness and pursued a thorough revision of world politics in their own favour.

World War I, 1914–18

World War I has aptly been called a war of illusions that exposed in sharp relief all the follies of the prewar generation. The war plans of the generals had misfired at once, and expectations that the intensity of modern firepower would serve the offense, or that the war must be brief, proved horribly false. Germany expected to achieve hegemony in Europe as a step toward world power, and instead world powers were called into play to prevent hegemony in Europe. Socialists thought war would bring general strikes and revolution, and instead the war inspired patriotic national unity. Monarchists hoped war would bolster the old regimes, and instead it cast down the remaining dynasties of eastern Europe. Liberals hoped that war would promote the spread of freedom, and instead it forced even democratic governments to impose censorship, martial law, and command economies subordinated to the dictates of centralized bureaucracy. Each nation in its own way sacrificed one by one those values it claimed to be fighting for in the belief that final victory would make good all the terrible cost. And with terrible irony World War I also ended in various plans for peace as illusory as the plans for war had been. As the historian William McNeill wrote, “the irrationality of rational, professionalized planning could not have been made more patently manifest.”

World War I can be divided, without undue violence to reality, into three periods: the initial battles, struggles for new allies, and mobilization on the home fronts, occupying the period from 1914 to 1916; the onset of ideologized warfare in the Russian revolutions and American entry in 1917; and the final four-way struggle of 1918 among German imperialism, Allied war-aims diplomacy, Wilsonian liberal internationalism, and Leninist Bolshevism.

Military stalemate and new belligerents

From grand plans to the trenches

The first months of war resounded with the collision of the war plans pored over for decades by the general staffs of Europe. The original German plan for a two-front war, drafted by Helmuth von Moltke the elder, had called for taking the offensive against Russia and standing on the defensive in the rugged Rhineland. The plan showed military prudence and complemented the stabilizing diplomacy of Bismarck. But Alfred, Graf von Schlieffen, presided over the German military in the era of Kaiser William’s Weltpolitik and adopted a more ambitious and risky course. His plan, conceived in 1891 and completed by 1905, envisioned a massive offensive in the west to knock out the compact French forces in six weeks, whereupon the army could shift eastward to confront the plodding Russians. But a quick decision could be achieved in France only by a vast enveloping action. The powerful right wing of the German army must descend from the north and pass through the neutral Low Countries. This would virtually ensure British intervention. But Schlieffen expected British aid to be too little and too late. In sum, the Schlieffen Plan represented a pristine militarism: the belief that all factors could be accounted for in advance, that execution could be flawless, that pure force could resolve all political problems including those thrown up by the plan itself. In the event, the Germans realized all of the political costs of the Schlieffen Plan and few of the military benefits.

Like the Germans, the French had discarded a more sensible plan in favour of the one implemented. French intelligence had learned of the grand lines of the Schlieffen Plan and its inclusion of reserve troops in the initial assault. General Victor Michel therefore called in 1911 for a blocking action in Belgium in addition to an offensive into Alsace-Lorraine. But this required twice the active troops currently available. France would either have to give up the Belgian screen or the offensive. The new chief of staff, J.-J.-C. Joffre, refused to believe that Germany would deploy reserve corps in immediate combat and gave up the screen.

The traditional British way of war had been maritime: destroy the enemy’s fleet, impose a blockade, and use land forces only to secure key points or aid continental allies at decisive moments. In Sir John Fisher’s phrase, the army “should be regarded as a projectile fired by the navy.” The prewar conversations with France, however, led the War Office to consider how Britain’s army might help in case of war with Germany. General Henry Wilson insisted that even Britain’s six divisions of professionals could tilt the balance between France and Germany and won his case for a British Expeditionary Force. Privately, he conceded that six divisions were “fifty too few” and hoped for a mass conscript army on continental lines.

By October 1914 all the plans had unraveled. After the German defeat in the Battle of the Marne, the Western Front stabilized into an uninterrupted line for 466 miles from Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast south to Bapaume, then southeast past Soissons, Verdun, Nancy, and so to the Swiss frontier. Both sides dug in, elaborated their trench systems over time, and condemned themselves to four years of hellish stalemate on the Western Front.

The situation was little better on the other front. A necessary assumption of the Schlieffen Plan was the inadequacy of the Russian rail network to support a rapid offensive. By 1914, however, railroads through Poland were much improved, and the Russian general staff agreed to take the offensive in case of war to relieve the pressure on France. Similarly, the Germans had asked the Austrian commander, Conrad von Hötzendorf, to attack Russia and ease the threat to Germany. Austria also had a two-front war, however, and an army too small to fight it. Owing to penury and its nationality problems, the monarchy fielded fewer battalions in 1914 than it had in the war of 1866. As the saying went, Austria was always “en retard d’une armée, d’une année et d’une idée” (“one army, one year, and one idea behind”). Austria’s solution was to send one army south against Serbia and one to Galicia against the Russians and to deploy a third as need required. The reserves, a third of Austria’s already outnumbered forces, spent the opening battles shuttling back and forth on the rails. Austria failed to penetrate Serbian defenses, while the Germans smashed the Russian attack into East Prussia. In the east, too, stalemate set in.

By mid-1915 the Germans had overcome supply problems and were better prepared for trench warfare than the Allies. They also pioneered the concept of “defense in depth,” making a second trench line the main barrier to assault. Allied generals responded with longer and denser artillery bombardments but thereby relinquished the element of surprise. Such tactics turned western battlefields into seas of wreckage, with a “storm of steel” raging above, and condemned hundreds of thousands of men for the sake of a few thousand yards of no-man’s-land. Allied attacks in 1915 cost the British more than 300,000 casualties and the French 1,500,000. The only German initiative, the Second Battle of Ypres, introduced poison gas to the Western Front. But no commander could see a means of breaking the deadlock, and all confessed their strategy to be one of attrition.

The war at sea and abroad

The stalemate on land was matched by stalemate at sea when the British decided to impose a distant rather than close blockade of the German coast. This reduced the danger to the Grand Fleet and, it was hoped, might entice the German navy to venture out for a decisive battle. Admiral von Tirpitz was prepared to run such a risk, believing that the technical superiority of his High Seas Fleet would balance out Britain’s numerical edge. Only by risking all on a major fleet action might Germany break the blockade, but the Kaiser and civilian leadership wished to preserve their fleet as a bargaining chip in eventual peace talks, while the British dared not provoke an engagement, since a major defeat would be disastrous. Admiral John Jellicoe, it was said, was “the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon.”

In the wide world, the Allies cleared the seas of German commerce raiders and seized the German colonial empire. In the Pacific, New Zealanders took German Samoa and Australians German New Guinea. On Aug. 23, 1914, the Japanese empire honoured its alliance with Britain by declaring war on Germany. Tokyo had no intention of aiding its ally’s cause in Europe but was pleased to occupy the Marshall and Caroline archipelagos and lay siege to Germany’s Chinese port of Tsingtao, which surrendered in November. Germany’s African colonies were, on the outbreak of war, immediately cut off from communications and supply from home, but military operations were needed to eliminate the German presence. By early 1916, Togoland (Togo) and Kamerun (Cameroon) fell to Anglo-French colonial forces and German South West Africa (Namibia) to the South Africans. Only in German East Africa was a native force under Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, numbering initially just 12,000 men, able to survive for the entire war, tying down 10 times that number of Allied troops.

Efforts to break the stalemate

Thus all the armies and navies of Europe faced each other across fortified front lines. The prewar plans had succumbed to the technological surprise of 1914–15: that the withering firepower of machine guns, cartridge rifles, and rapid-fire artillery favoured the defense. Infantry in deep trenches, fronted with mines and barbed wire and backed by artillery, could not be dislodged by frontal attack. Accordingly, military and political leaders spent the war groping for means of breaking the stalemate in the trenches. First, neutrals might be enticed to enter the war, perhaps throwing enough weight into the balance to provide victory. Second, new weapons, tactics, and theatres might break the deadlock or achieve strategic goals elsewhere. Third, more and more men and matériel might be squeezed out of the home economy to tip the balance of forces or wear down the enemy by economic attrition. The first of these means determined much of the diplomatic history of the war. The second stimulated technological developments such as poison gas, tanks, and submarines, as well as the peripheral campaigns of southern Europe and the Middle East. The third determined the evolution of war economies and the character of what came to be called total war.

The first of the European neutrals to join the fray was the Ottoman Empire. Having lost the Balkans before 1914 and fearing partition of their Arab possessions by the Triple Entente, the Young Turks under Enver Paşa looked to Germany, whose military efficiency they admired. Enver led in negotiating a secret German-Ottoman treaty, signed Aug. 2, 1914. But the Grand Vizier and others in the Sultan’s court held back, even after extracting a German loan—tantamount to a bribe—of £5,000,000. The war party then resorted to more extreme measures. The Ottoman fleet, reinforced by two German cruisers, entered the Black Sea in October, bombarded Odessa and the Crimean ports, and sank two Russian ships. The commander then falsified his account to make it appear that the enemy had provoked the action. The outraged Russians declared war on November 1. The Ottoman Empire’s alliance with the Central Powers was a serious blow to the Entente, for it effectively isolated Russia from its Western allies and weakened their hand in the Balkan capitals. The Turks concluded, however, that a Triple Entente victory in the war would lead to the partition of their empire even if they remained neutral (Allied negotiations had already begun to this effect), whereas joining forces with Germany gave them at least a fighting chance to survive and perhaps even win some spoils from Russia. Enver also declared a jihad, or holy war, inciting Muslims to rise up against British and Russian rule in India, Persia, and Central Asia.

Turkish forces deployed along the coasts of the Dardanelles and on the Caucasus frontier with Russia, where severe fighting began in the rugged mountains. Enver, with German encouragement, took the strategic offensive when he ordered 10,000 troops from Syria to attack the Suez Canal in late January 1915. After crossing the Sinai Peninsula the tired soldiers found Indian and Australasian divisions in training, as well as gunboats and other equipment they could not match. The Turks fell back to Palestine and never menaced the canal again.

The vulnerability and value of the Dardanelles in turn attracted the British. When Russia requested a Western assault on Turkey to relieve the pressure in the Caucasus, War Secretary Lord Kitchener and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill promoted an attack on the Dardanelles. By capturing Constantinople, the British could link up with the Russians, knock Turkey out of the war, and perhaps entice the Balkan states to rally to the Allied cause. The British War Council created an amphibious force of British, Australians, and New Zealanders to capture the heights of the Gallipoli Peninsula. On April 25 the “Anzac” (Australian and New Zealand) forces went ashore, but their assaults on the heights of Sari Bair were turned back through the charismatic leadership of the young Turkish officer Mustafa Kemal. A sweltering, bloody deadlock dragged on into the summer. Five more divisions and another amphibious landing, at Suvla Bay in August, failed to take the rugged heights in the face of human wave counterattacks by the Turks. Cabinet opinion gradually turned against the campaign, and the Allied force of 83,000 was evacuated—a dangerous operation conducted with great skill—in January 1916. The Turks had lost some 300,000 men, the Allies about 250,000 to battle and disease. Gallipoli was, in Clement Attlee’s words, “the one strategic idea of the war.” Its failure, through bad leadership, planning, and luck, condemned the Allies to seek a decision in bloody battles of attrition on the Western Front.

The other peripheral front that enticed Allied strategists was Austria’s border with Italy. Though a member of the Triple Alliance, the Rome government maintained on Aug. 3, 1914, that it was not bound to fight since Austria had not been attacked nor had it consulted with Italy as the treaty required. Prime Minister Antonio Salandra, a nationalist dedicated to the Irredentists’ goal of recovery of Trentino and Trieste from Austria, announced that Italy would be informed by sacro egoismo. This, he explained, was a mystical rather than cynical concept, but it set off seven months of haggling over what the Allies would offer Italy to enter the war, and what the Central Powers would offer for neutrality. Some considerations were objective: Italy’s 4,160 miles of coastline made defense against the Anglo-French fleet virtually impossible; any gains extorted from the Central Powers for neutrality would hardly be secure should those powers win the war; and neutrality was incompatible with Italy’s tenuous claim to be a Great Power. What was more, all the Central Powers could offer was Trentino, and even that promise had to be forced from Vienna by German pressure.

After a clumsy intervention by the Russian foreign minister, Sazonov, in which he tried to secure Italy’s help and still protect Serbian interests on the Dalmatian coast, negotiations moved to London. Berlin dispatched ex-chancellor Bülow and Roman Catholic statesman Matthias Erzberger to Rome to plead for the Central Powers. On April 26, the day after the first Gallipoli landing, the Treaty of London committed Italy to enter the war against Austria-Hungary within a month. In return the Allies promised Italy Trentino, part of South Tirol, Trieste, a third of Dalmatia (at the expense of Serbian ambitions), a mandate over Albania, a portion of German East Africa, all of Libya, a part of Asia Minor, and a 1,250,000,000-lira war chest from Britain. Still, a month of crisis followed in Rome as journalists like Gabriele D’Annunzio and Benito Mussolini stoked war fever and parliamentary power-broker Giovanni Giolitti (backed by Bülow) maneuvered for peace and parecchio—the “much” that might be obtained from Austria without lifting a rifle. After a Cabinet crisis Salandra returned to power to declare war on Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915 (though Italy did not declare war on Germany until August 1916).

General Luigi Cadorna’s war plan called for a strategic defense in the mountainous Trentino while half the Italian army concentrated for attack along the Isonzo River to the south. In June 1915 he launched the first of 11 battles of the Isonzo, wasting some 250,000 men against the rocky parapets and spirited Austrian defenders. The southern front became another deadlock, while Italy’s weak finances and industry would only make her a continuing drain on Anglo-French resources.

After Turkey and Italy, attention turned to the neutral Balkan states. The entry of the Balkan states on the side of the Central Powers would doom Serbia and open direct communications between Germany and Turkey. Balkan participation on the Allied side would isolate Turkey and complete the encirclement of Austria-Hungary. The Central Powers had the upper hand in Bulgaria, still smarting from its defeat in the Second Balkan War and allied with Turkey as of Aug. 2, 1914. The Allies had little to offer Bulgaria except bribes, especially after their failure at Gallipoli. German offers proved irresistible: Macedonia (from Serbia) and parts of the Dobruja and Thrace should Romania and Greece intervene. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers on Sept. 6, 1915. In Romania the Allies had the upper hand despite a treaty, renewed in 1913, binding Bucharest and its Hohenzollern dynasty to the Triple Alliance. Romania’s main ambition was to annex Transylvania, a Habsburg province populated largely by Romanians, but Prime Minister Ionel Brătianu determined to stay neutral and observe the fortunes of war.

In 1915 those fortunes appeared to favour the Central Powers on the Turkish, Italian, Serbian, and Russian fronts. The Russian front collapsed in the face of a German offensive in May, allowing the Central Powers to reoccupy Galicia, Lithuania, and Courland in the north. In July the Germans resumed the drive and threatened to pincer the entire Russian army in Poland. Warsaw fell on August 5 and Brest-Litovsk on the 26th, whereupon the German armies outran their supplies and halted the drive on a line stretching from Riga on the Baltic to Czernowitz on the Romanian border. Russian losses were apocalyptic: more than a million men captured and at least as many killed and wounded in 1915. Technical inferiority, shortage of munitions, and poor tactics led to terrible wastage of men in the attack and lack of mobility on the defense. The inadequacy of the Russian state and economy in modern war now stood revealed. Desertions increased and morale plummeted. On September 5, Tsar Nicholas himself took over supreme command, a chivalrous move but one that would identify the crown with future disasters.

In 1916 German strategists again turned west with the expressed intention of bleeding France white and breaking her army’s spirit. The object of attack was to be the fortress of Verdun, and the plan called for the substitution of ordnance for manpower as much as possible, thereby using Germany’s industrial might to kill Frenchmen in the most efficient way. The assault began on February 21, following an avalanche of shells and poison gas, and continued without interruption for five months. France’s civilian and military leadership turned Verdun into a national symbol of resistance, symbolized by General Philippe Pétain’s famous order of the day: “Ils ne passeront pas!” Verdun was the most intensive battle in history and cost France and Germany more than 300,000 men each.

In December 1915 an Allied conference at Chantilly had decided to coordinate simultaneous attacks on all fronts. Given Verdun, responsibility for the Western assault fell to the British. After elaborate preparation and a week of bombardment the cream of “Kitchener’s New Army” went over the top on July 1, 1916, and strode in formation toward the German lines. By mid-November the Somme offensive had gained about six and a half miles across a 30-mile front at the cost of 420,000 Britons, 194,000 Frenchmen, and 440,000 Germans.

On the Eastern Front in 1916 the Russian command dutifully took up the offensive to relieve the pressure on Verdun and in coordination with the push on the Somme. But failures in leadership and supply, poor intelligence and tactics again thwarted the courage of Russia’s peasant-soldiers, 100,000 of whom were lost in a March attack that achieved nothing. The last gasp of the tsarist army followed in June. Russian attacks at Lutsk, Buchach, and Czernowitz beginning June 4 achieved total surprise, captured 200,000 men, and overran Bukovina by the end of the month. This apparent revival of Russia’s fortunes prompted the Romanians, finally, to declare war on Austria-Hungary on Aug. 27, 1916. Half the Romanian army—12 divisions—joined the offensive and advanced into Transylvania, expecting to deal the final blow to staggering Austria-Hungary. Instead, Germany, Turkey, and Bulgaria promptly declared war on Romania. The Romanians held out for a month against a German-Austrian-Bulgarian attack at the Vulcan and Szurduk (Surduc) passes, but the Central Powers broke through and captured Bucharest on December 6. The Romanian gambit ended in disaster as the Germans acquired their oil and wheat and the Russians inherited an additional 300 miles of frontline. Meanwhile, the Russian offensive degenerated into frontal assaults and closed in August. Russia had lost 500,000 men—the last trained reserves of the tsarist army.

By the end of 1916 what may be called the traditional phase of the war had run its course. Despite ever greater expenditures of men and matériel and the accession of neutral powers to one side or the other, victory remained elusive. Henceforth the coalitions would rely all the more on breaking the internal cohesion of the enemy or on calling forth global forces to tip the balance. The resort to revolution, especially in Russia, and extra-European powers, especially the United States, would have profound consequences for Europe’s future in the 20th century, while internal mobilization for total war had already gone far to reshape European societies.

War mobilization at home and abroad

The invention of total war

When the first campaigns failed and the belligerents steeled themselves to fight a long war of attrition, World War I became total—that is, a war fought without limitations, between entire societies and not just between armies, with total victory the only acceptable outcome. It became such a war because, for the first time, the industrial and bureaucratic resources existed to mobilize an entire nation’s strength, because the stalemate required total mobilization, and because the tremendous cost and suffering of such a war seemed to preclude settling for a negotiated truce. Only victory might redeem the terrible sacrifices already made by both sides; and if final victory were the only acceptable end, then any means could be justified in pursuit of it.

The first violent battles of 1914 nearly expended prewar munitions reserves. By mid-war the artillerymen of the Western Front might fire more shells in a single day than were expended in the entire Franco-German War. Clearly the home front—the war economy—would be the most decisive of all. And yet the governments, expecting a short war, were unprepared for economic mobilization and had to adjust to emergencies and shortages as they arose. In Germany the process began in the first days of war when private manufacturers, especially Walther Rathenau, suggested a state bureau to distribute raw materials to industry. Over the years it became a model for new agencies, boards, and commissions controlling production, labour, rationing, travel, wages and prices. By late 1917, Germany came to dominate the economies of Austria-Hungary and the occupied regions by the same means. In all the belligerent nations, to a greater or lesser degree, civil and economic liberties, the free market, even national sovereignty, gave way to a kind of military socialism in the crucible of war. All the belligerents met their labour needs through employment of old men, children, and women (a fact that ensured the success of the suffragist movement in Europe after the war). The Allies also engaged in economic war through agreements with neutral countries on the Continent not to re-export goods to Germany and through preemptive purchase of everything from Chilean nitrates to Romanian wheat.

An economic problem that could be postponed was the financial one. The belligerents immediately ended controvertibility of their currencies according to the gold standard and liquidated their holdings overseas. By late 1915 the British and French also began to float sizable loans on the American market, even as they themselves underwrote the war efforts of weaker economies like the Italian and Russian. British, Germans, and Americans covered a fraction of the war’s expense through income and other taxes, but World War I was financed primarily through war bonds and secondarily through loans from abroad. This pattern would exacerbate the diplomatic and domestic political climates after the war, when the bills for the four years’ wastage came due.

The weapon of morale

The mass conscripted army and labour force, the employment of women and children, and the mobilization of science, industry, and agriculture meant that virtually every citizen contributed to the war effort. Hence all governments tried to stoke morale on the home front, subvert that of the enemy, and sway the opinions of neutrals. A variety of techniques for manipulating information were used, including particularly censorship and vilification of the enemy. German propaganda depicted Russians as semi-Asiatic barbarians and the French as mere cannon fodder for the bloated, envious British Empire lusting to destroy Germany’s power, prosperity, and Kultur. The French Maison de la Presse and British Ministry of Information took German war guilt for granted and made great play of the atrocities committed by the “Hun” in Belgium and on the high seas, where defenseless passenger ships were treacherously torpedoed. War hatred whipped up by such propaganda made it all the more difficult to justify negotiating a truce.

The Allies proved more adept than the Germans at psychological warfare. Propaganda was distributed across German lines by shells, planes, rockets, balloons, and radio. Such activities were given into the hands of an Inter-Allied Propaganda Commission in 1918. The Allies also, especially after 1917, identified themselves with such universal principles as democracy and national self-determination, while the German war effort had only a narrow national appeal. The most important target of propaganda was the United States. In the first weeks of war the British cut the German transatlantic cables and subsequently controlled the flow of news to America. German attempts to influence U.S. opinion were invariably clumsy, while the British, aided by the common language, reminded Americans of their common values for which German militarism had no respect. In political warfare, German attempts to arouse the Muslim world and incite India to rebellion were stillborn, while their exploitation of the situation in Ireland, culminating in the Easter Rising of 1916, backfired. The aristocratic and continental German officials seemed out of their element when either trying to appeal to the masses or looking beyond Europe. But their one success was nothing less than the Russian Revolution of 1917 (see below The Russian Revolution).

War aims and peace feelers

War aims of the belligerents

For what were the nations of Europe making such total and mortal commitments? In public each government insisted it was fighting first in self-defense, then for victory and some hallowed national goal like naval security for Britain, Alsace-Lorraine for France, or Constantinople for Russia. But in private, now that peacetime constraints were torn off, each indulged greater ambitions. German war aims took shape at once in the September Program of Bethmann. While debate exists over how much this document reflected Bethmann’s real views, it did come to represent the prevailing view of the military, which in turn came to speak increasingly for Germany as a whole. The dream of world power seemed within reach through the acquisition of Belgian and French colonies that, when joined to Germany’s and perhaps Portugal’s, would constitute a Mittelafrika of immense proportions. In Europe the Germans determined to assure that France and Russia would pose no threat in the future and to create an economic base suitable for a world power. This notion of a single economic bloc from Berlin to Baghdad, including Belgium, the Longwy-Briey mines of France, Poland, Courland, the Ukraine, and the Balkans, was popularized as Mitteleuropa in a 1915 best-seller by Friedrich Naumann. How committed Germany’s civilian leadership was to this hegemonic plan is disputed: Bethmann favoured abandoning much of it in hopes of a negotiated peace. But a war-aims majority held the balance in the Reichstag until 1917 and in the military until the bitter end.

On Sept. 5, 1914, the entente powers solemnly and severally renounced any separate peace, but throughout the war they felt constrained to bolster each other’s will to fight with promises of spoils. Hence the purchase of Italy’s belligerency and the shocking willingness of Britain and France to consign Constantinople to Russia in March 1915. In general, Allied ambitions added up to the partition of the German and Ottoman empires and security against Germany in Europe and on the seas. Partition of Austria-Hungary was not an initial Allied aim. In the spring of 1915 France and Russia exchanged letters promising that both could do as they wished on their borders with Germany, implying a free hand for Russia in Galicia and East Prussia and the same for France on the Rhine. French industry contemplated an advance into the Saar and Rhine regions to end France’s inferiority in coal production (which would only be exacerbated by the return of Alsace-Lorraine with its rich iron deposits). For the French army and foreign ministry, however, the main motive for separating the Rhineland from Germany was security: what Poincaré called “breaking Prussian militarism” and Aristide Briand “guarantees of lasting peace.” In 1917 Paris and St. Petersburg were close to a formal treaty on the German boundaries when the Russian Revolution intervened.

The Allies specified their colonial claims in an agreement of April 1916: Britain won influence in Mesopotamia and part of Syria; France in the rest of Syria, Lebanon, Cilicia, and southern Kurdistan; and Russia in Armenia and northern Kurdistan; Palestine was placed under joint Anglo-French administration. The Sykes–Picot Agreement in May also divided much of the Ottoman Empire into British and French spheres. The Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne of April 1917 promised Italy concessions on the Anatolian coast; one Allied motive in this was to persuade Rome to scale down its claims on Austria-Hungary in hopes of a separate peace with Vienna (see below War-weariness and diplomacy). Finally, the French began in 1916 to formulate a second set of war aims directed, not at Germany, but at their own allies. British currency supports, loans, coal shipments at fixed prices, and other benefits helped sustain the French war effort, and the minister of commerce, Etienne Clémentel, lobbied for an extension of these supports beyond an armistice lest France win the military struggle only to lose the postwar economic struggle. The British agreed at the Allied Economic Conference of 1916, and the following year the French placed even greater hopes of economic solidarity in the newly associated power, the United States.

Attitude of the United States

Since 1783 the United States had acquired a number of foreign policy traditions. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, admonished his young and vulnerable country to avoid alliances that would drag it into disputes in which it had no interest. Thus was born a powerful isolationist and exclusivist tradition. The Monroe Doctrine declared the Western Hemisphere off-limits to European adventurism, giving birth to a regionalist and paternalist tradition vis-à-vis Latin America. After the Civil War, belief in America’s Manifest Destiny directed national attention to the West Coast and beyond. Then the war against Spain in 1898 yielded colonial possessions in the Caribbean and Pacific and inspired the building of a two-ocean navy and of a Panama Canal to serve it. By 1914, when the canal opened, the United States was already the greatest industrial power in the world, yet its tradition of exclusivity and its tiny standing army gave the Europeans excuse to ignore America’s potential might.

In August 1914 President Woodrow Wilson implored the American people to be “neutral in thought as well as deed” with respect to the European war. In so doing he was not only honouring tradition but also applying his own religious principles to foreign policy. His agenda upon entering the White House in 1913 had been domestic reform, and he had written that it would be an irony of fate should foreign policy come to dominate in his administration. Yet when fate so decreed, Wilson preferred to trust his own motives and methods rather than the advice of his secretaries of state or his other advisers. Wilson deplored the war and earnestly wished to bring about a just and lasting peace through U.S. mediation, for what greater mission could Providence assign to that “city on a hill,” the United States of America?

American power began to figure in the balance of war almost from the start. Trading was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange when war broke out, but when it resumed in November 1914, Europeans sold most of the $4,000,000,000 worth of securities they held before the war. U.S. loans to belligerents were at first declared “inconsistent with the true spirit of neutrality,” but the large Anglo-French orders for U.S. munitions, raw materials, and food created an economic boom, and by 1915 the Allies needed credit to continue their purchases. An initial £200,000,000 loan in September 1915 led eventually to billions being floated on the U.S. market and a complete reversal of the financial relationship between the Old World and the New. By 1917 the United States was no longer a debtor nation but the world’s greatest creditor. U.S. firms also inherited many overseas markets, especially in Latin America, which the British and Germans could no longer serve.

To Americans neutrality seemed both moral and lucrative—the United States, said Wilson, was “too proud to fight.” But the failure of his peace initiatives, the German assaults on neutrals’ rights at sea, and the cumulative effect of Allied propaganda and German provocations conjoined to end U.S. neutrality by 1917. On Feb. 4, 1915, Germany declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone in which Allied ships would be sunk, without warning if necessary. While this procedure dispensed with traditional civilities like boarding, search and seizure, and care of civilians, effective submarine warfare required it. Underwater craft relied on stealth and surprise and exposed themselves to easy destruction once they made their presence known. Thus, even though the British blockade interfered with neutral shipping more than the German blockade, the latter appeared far more beastly. The sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, which killed over a thousand passengers, including 128 U.S. citizens, outraged U.S. public opinion despite the rightful German claim that she was carrying munitions (173 tons worth). Two more passenger ships, the Arabic and Hesperia, went down in August and September, respectively, whereupon American diplomatic protests caused civil officials in Berlin to overrule the military command and call off unrestricted submarine warfare, although the issue did not remain settled.

Wilson’s own peace initiatives, including an offer of mediation by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan in 1914 and a trip to Europe by Wilson’s personal aide and adviser, Colonel Edward M. House, in 1915, were unsuccessful. Early in 1916 House returned to Europe and on February 22 in London agreed to a formula whereby the United States would summon a peace conference and—if Germany refused to attend or proved unreasonable—“would leave the conference as a belligerent on the side of the Allies.” Wilson later drew back from the guarantee and added the word “probably” after “would.” But the British themselves shied from promoting such a conference, while the other belligerents also ducked the suggestion lest they compromise the determination of their people or incur the distrust of allies.

By the end of 1916 Germany had 102 U-boats ready for service, many of the latest type, and the chief of the naval staff assured the Kaiser that unrestricted submarine warfare would sink 600,000 tons of Allied shipping per month and force Britain to make peace within five months. Bethmann fought to delay escalation of the submarine war in hopes of another Wilsonian peace move. But the President held off new initiatives during his reelection campaign. When he had still not acted by December 1916, Bethmann was forced to make a deal with his own military, which consented to tolerate a German peace offer in return for Bethmann’s endorsement of unrestricted submarine warfare if the offer failed. But the army helped ensure that the German note (released December 12) would fail by insisting on implicit retention by Germany of Belgium and other battlefield conquests. Wilson followed on the 18th with an invitation to the two camps to define their war aims as a prelude to negotiation. The Allies demanded evacuation of occupied lands and guarantees against Germany in the future. The Germans stuck to their December note, and the military command decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3 and commenced the arming of merchant ships on March 9. Meanwhile, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann, anticipating war with the United States over the U-boat issue, cabled an offer of alliance to Mexico on January 16, promising Mexico its own “lost provinces” of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in case of war with the United States. British intelligence intercepted the Zimmermann telegram and leaked it to Washington, further inflaming American opinion. When U-boats proceeded in mid-March to sink the Algonquin, City of Memphis, Vigilancia, and Illinois (the latter two without warning), Wilson went before Congress and in a lofty and moving address reviewed the reasons why America was forced to take up the sword—why, “God helping her, she can do no other.” On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany, and the United States became an Associated (not an Allied) Power. Henceforth World War I hinged on whether the U-boats could force Britain to her knees and the German armies overwhelm the sagging Western Front before the men and matériel of the aroused Yankees could arrive in France.

The crises of 1917

War-weariness and diplomacy

For every belligerent, 1917 was a year of crisis at home and at the front, a year of wild swings and near disasters, and by the time it was over the very nature of the war had changed dramatically. A French offensive in the spring soon ground to a standstill, sparking a wave of mutinies and indiscipline in the trenches that left the French army virtually useless as an offensive force. The British offensive of July–November, called variously Passchendaele or the Third Battle of Ypres, was a tactical disaster that ended in a viscous porridge of mud. That offensive action could be ordered under such conditions is a measure of how far Western Front generals had been seduced into a gothic unreality. Allied and German casualties “in Flanders Fields, where poppies grow” numbered between 500,000 and 800,000. The British Army, too, neared the end of its offensive capacities.

For two years the Italian front had been left unchanged by the first nine battles of the Isonzo, but the underfinanced and underindustrialized Italian war effort gradually eroded. The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo (May–June 1917) cost Italy dearly, while the Eleventh (August–September) registered a “success” amounting to some five miles of advance at a cost of over 300,000 casualties, pushing the total for the war to more than 1,000,000. With peace propaganda, strikes, and Communist agitation spreading throughout Italy, and the Austrians in need of stiffening, the German high command reinforced the Austrians at Caporetto. Within days the Italian commander had to order a general retreat. The Germans broke the line of the Tagliamento as well, and not until the Italians regrouped at the Piave on November 7 did the front stabilize. Caporetto cost Italy 340,000 dead and wounded, 300,000 prisoners, and another 350,000 deserters: an incredible 1,000,000 in all, suggesting that the Italian army, like the French, was on strike against its own leadership.

Among the Central Powers also, 1917 intensified the yearning for peace. Polish, Czech, and Yugoslav leaders had formed committees in exile to agitate for the autonomy or independence of their peoples, while war-weariness among those at home grew with food shortages, bad news from the front, and desertions among the troops. When Emperor Francis Joseph died in November 1916 after 68 years on the throne, there was a sense that the empire must die with him. Austro-Hungarian officials already had begun to look for a way out of the war—which meant a way out of the German alliance. The new Habsburg foreign minister, the Polish Ottokar, Graf Czernin, raised the issue of war aims and peace at his first ministerial meeting with the new emperor, Charles. A negotiated peace could only be one without victors or vanquished, conquests or indemnities—so said Czernin 10 days before Wilson’s own “Peace Without Victory” speech. The only means of achieving such a peace, however, was for Austria-Hungary’s ally Germany to restore Belgium and, perhaps, Alsace-Lorraine.

The first Austrian demarches, made through Scandinavia, came to nothing, and so Charles, Czernin, and the Empress Zita tried again in late January 1917 through the intermediary of her brother, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, on leave from service in the Belgian army. In March, Charles drafted a letter in which he asked Sixtus to convey to the President of France his “lively sympathies” and support for the evacuation of Belgium and the lost provinces. The cautious French premier, Alexandre Ribot, shared the news in April with Lloyd George, who said simply, “That means peace.” But Baron Sonnino, at the Conference of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, refused to consider peace with Austria-Hungary (the only enemy Italy was interested in fighting) and warned Lloyd George against attempts to split their alliance. Charles’s second letter, in May, which inexplicably told the French and British of an “Italian peace offer” that was never made, only put the Allies on their guard.

Simultaneously the parliamentary forces of Germany rose in protest against the war, the erosion of civilian authority, and the war-aims stubbornness of the military command. A moderate annexationist deputy, Matthias Erzberger, met with Czernin and Emperor Charles in April 1917 and learned that Austria-Hungary’s military strength was near its end. In May a Reichstag committee demanded that the army be placed under civilian control. The Kaiser and the military high command replied with scorn. In July, Bethmann was forced to resign and the army assumed de facto control of Germany. When the Kaiser appointed a nonentity, Georg Michaelis, as chancellor, the Reichstag passed a peace resolution on July 19 by a vote of 212–126. But the resolution could have no bearing on the ruling circles, to whom compromise with the foreign enemy meant surrender to the domestic forces of reform.

In mid-August, Pope Benedict XV tried to preserve momentum toward a truce by calling on all parties to evacuate occupied regions, but the German government again refused to surrender Belgium, while the American reply to the Vatican seemed to insist on the democratization of Germany. Emperor Charles and Czernin were likewise unable to make headway, for the Allies were not at this point seeking a general peace but only a separate peace with Austria-Hungary that would leave Germany stranded. This Vienna could not in honour do, nor Berlin permit. The United States declared war on Austria-Hungary on Dec. 7, 1917, and, when the French government leaked news the following spring of the Austrian peace correspondence, Charles and Czernin were forced to humble themselves before the Kaiser and German high command at Spa. Austria-Hungary had become a virtual satellite of the German military empire.

The Ottoman Empire in 1917 began to give way before the relatively mild but incessant pressure on fronts the other powers considered sideshows. Baghdad fell to British forces in March. Sir Edmund Allenby, having promised Lloyd George that he would deliver Jerusalem to the British people “as a Christmas present,” made good his promise on December 9. The political future of Palestine, however, was a source of confusion. In the war-aims treaties, the British had divided the Middle East into colonial spheres of influence. In their dealings with the Arabs the British spoke of independence for the region. Then, on Nov. 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration promised “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” albeit without prejudice to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.” Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour was persuaded that this action was in British interest by the energetic appeals of Chaim Weizmann, but in the long run it would cause no end of difficulty for British diplomacy.

The one flank on which Turkey had not been besieged was the Balkan, where an Allied force remained in place at Salonika pending resolution of the Greek political struggle. The Allies continued to back Prime Minister Eleuthérios Venizélos, who, because King Constantine still favoured the Central Powers, had fled Athens in September 1916 and set up a provisional government under Allied protection at Salonika. Finally, the Anglo-French forces deposed Constantine in June 1917 and installed Venizélos in Athens, whereupon Greece declared war on the Central Powers. By the end of 1917, therefore, Turkey, like Austria, was exhausted, beleaguered on four fronts, and wholly dependent on German support.

The Russian Revolution

While Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey all survived their crises of 1917 and found the will and stamina for one last year of war, Russia succumbed. In three years of war Russia had mobilized roughly 10 percent of its entire population and lost over half of that number in battle. The home economy was stretched to the limit, and even the arms and food it could produce were subject to vagaries of transport and corruption in the supply services. Inflation and food shortages panicked the towns, and shortages of fuel isolated the countryside. Suddenly, on March 12, 1917, the parliament and Petrograd soviet (workers’ and soldiers’ council) joined forces to form a Provisional Government. Three days later the Tsar abdicated.

Two leading ministers in the new regime, Aleksandr Kerensky and Pavel Milyukov, hoped to streamline the state and invigorate the war effort. Political liberals, they valued Russia’s ties to Britain and France and even looked forward to capturing Constantinople as a means of legitimating the new regime. Kerensky assured the Allies on March 17 that Russia would fight “unswervingly and indefatigably” until victory. The local soviets and leftist parties, however, forced a declaration in April by which “free Russia” renounced domination over other nations and their territories. When Prince Gyorgy Lvov, the prime minister, promised to accept the revolutionary formula of “no annexations, no indemnities” on May 15, Milyukov stepped down as foreign minister. President Wilson was especially moved by the spectacle of Russia embracing democracy, and all the Allies could now truly depict their cause as moral and ideological: “to make the world safe for democracy,” as Wilson said, in opposition to militarism and imperialism. Russia’s ability to fight steadily and rapidly deteriorated, however. The Petrograd soviet called for abolition of the officer corps, and the Provisional Government abolished courts-martial and issued a Declaration of Soldiers’ Rights.

The Provisional Government’s decision to continue the war was a grave disappointment to the Germans. Since 1914 they had dabbled in revolutionary intrigues in hopes of shattering Russia from within. The campaign took two forms: collaboration with nationalist agitators among the Finns, Baltic peoples, Poles, Ukrainians, and Georgians; and support for Russian social revolutionaries. Lenin, leader of the most virulent wing of Russian Marxists, the Bolsheviks, was living in Kraków when the war broke out and was promptly arrested. An Austrian Social Democrat, Victor Adler, persuaded the Austrian minister of the interior that Lenin was an ally in the fight against Russia, whereupon he was released into Switzerland. Another Russian émigré and Socialist, Alexander Helphand, impressed the German ambassador in Constantinople with his revolutionary connections and was soon briefing the German foreign ministry in Berlin. In March 1915 the Germans set aside the first 2,000,000 of what would eventually total 41,000,000 marks spent on secret subversion in Russia.

After the first Eastern Front victories in 1915, Berlin had hoped to entice Russia into a separate peace, and efforts to that end continued up to March 1917. Behind the scenes, however, Helphand’s organization, supported by the German foreign office, worked to spread revolutionary and pacifist ideas inside Russia. After Kerensky’s declaration that Russia would stay in the war, the German command determined to facilitate Lenin’s return to Russia. On April 9, 1917, he and his comrades were placed aboard a special security train in Zürich for the trip across Germany, continued by boat to Sweden and thence by rail to Petrograd.

Bolshevik propaganda penetrated the army, which even the Russian high command confessed was “a huge, weary, shabby, and ill-fed mob of angry men.” In an attempt to restore it to fighting trim, General Lavr Kornilov urged on Kerensky a number of reforms (August 16), but behind Kornilov were conspirators hoping for military dictatorship. Kerensky grasped the danger to himself, forbade troop movements to the capital lest they support a coup, and then had Kornilov arrested. The division between the centre and right gravely weakened the Provisional Government and strengthened the Bolsheviks, who took the lead in denouncing this “counterrevolutionary plot.” The Provisional Government, bereft of authority and will, hoped to hold on until elections for a Constituent Assembly in December. Lenin, knowing that he stood to lose by the fact and the result of free elections, struck in November, and the Provisional Government collapsed in the face of the Bolshevik coup d’état.

One of Lenin’s first acts as revolutionary dictator of Russia was to attempt to transform the European war of nations into a war of classes. His ringing speech of November 8 appealed to workers and soldiers everywhere to force an immediate armistice, end secret diplomacy, and negotiate a peace of “no annexations, no indemnities.” Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Karl Radek promptly organized to spread revolution abroad. The expected uprisings occurred nowhere, but peace was mandatory for Russia if the Bolshevik regime were to survive. On December 15, therefore, Lenin’s regime signed an armistice with the Central Powers.

Last battles and armistice

Russia’s withdrawal from the war

The events of 1917 meant that World War I was no longer a two-sided contest. Rather, four visions of the future competed for the allegiance of governments and peoples. Germany fought on in hope of victory and domination of the Continent. The Allies fought on to frustrate Germany and realize their own ambitious war aims. Wilson’s America fought as an “associated power” for a liberal internationalist agenda opposed to German and Allied imperialism alike. Finally, Lenin’s Russia raised a second challenge to the old diplomacy in the name of Socialist internationalism. German, Allied, Wilsonian, and Bolshevik images of the peace differed so radically that the war was now as much ideological as it was military.

Lloyd George and Wilson replied to Lenin’s peace initiatives with speeches of their own to reassure their peoples, contrast their liberal goals with those of the Germans, and perhaps persuade Russia to remain in the field. Lloyd George insisted before the Trades Union Congress (Jan. 5, 1918) that “we are not fighting a war of aggression against the German people,” and he stressed autonomous development for all peoples, including those of Austria-Hungary. Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech (Jan. 8, 1918) called for (1) open covenants, openly arrived at; (2) freedom of the seas; (3) lowering of economic barriers; (4) reduction of armaments; (5) colonial arrangements respecting the will of the peoples involved; (6) national self-determination for the peoples of Russia; (7) restoration of Belgium; (8) return of all invaded territory plus Alsace-Lorraine to France; (9) Italian recovery of her irredente; (10) autonomy for the nationalities of Austria-Hungary; (11) restoration of the Balkan states and access to the sea for Serbia; (12) autonomy for the peoples of the Ottoman Empire and free navigation through the Dardanelles; (13) an independent Poland with access to the sea; and (14) a “general association of nations” offering “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity.” In his Four Principles (February 11) and Five Particulars (September 27) speeches Wilson elaborated his views on national self-determination, a truly revolutionary idea with global, but unpredictable, implications.

Allied assurances failed to dissuade the Bolsheviks from exiting the alliance. Lenin took power on the slogan “Peace, Bread, and Land,” and he needed to be free of the war in order to consolidate Bolshevik power. A peace conference convened at Brest-Litovsk on Dec. 22, 1917, but it proceeded slowly while the two sides—one imperialist, the other incipiently totalitarian—bickered about the definition of “national self-determination.” On Jan. 7, 1918, Trotsky asked for adjournment, still hoping for revolutionary outbreaks abroad. In fact, a mutiny in the Austrian fleet and a general strike movement in Berlin did occur but were easily suppressed. The Bolshevik leadership now faced three bad choices: to defy the Germans and risk conquest and overthrow; to relent and sign over half of European Russia to German control; or to pursue what Trotsky called “neither war nor peace” while awaiting the revolution in Germany. He also wished to avoid any sign of collusion with the German military, lest the Bolsheviks appear to be collaborationists. In the meantime the Germans and Austrians concluded the Brotfrieden (“bread peace”) with representatives of wheat-rich Ukraine. When, however, Bolshevik forces began to penetrate Ukraine—and the German high command tired of Trotsky’s rhetoric—the Germans broke off talks and ordered the army to resume its advance. The French ambassador immediately offered the Bolsheviks all aid if they would fight the Germans, but Lenin ordered an immediate capitulation. Germany now presented even harsher peace terms, and on March 3 the Bolsheviks signed. The Romanians then made peace on the 5th, and newly independent Finland signed a treaty with Germany on the 7th.

In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the Bolshevik regime turned over to Germany 34 percent of Russia’s population, 32 percent of Russia’s farmland, 54 percent of Russia’s industrial plant, 89 percent of Russia’s coal mines, and virtually all of its cotton and oil. These economic gains in the east, plus the release of troops who could now be shifted to the Western Front, revived German hopes that victory was achievable before the Americans arrived in force.

Negative views of the Bolshevik Revolution predominated from the start in Western capitals, although some people on the left in London, Paris, and Washington sympathized with it or thought it would bring much needed “efficiency” to Russia. The French and British had talked of supporting this or that Russian faction with arms or cash and had agreed on a tentative division of southern Russia into areas of responsibility. The German advance of February then caused the Allied missions to flee Petrograd and reassemble in remote Vologda, where they waited to see what direction the Bolsheviks would take. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk answered the question. It was an unparalleled disaster for the beleaguered Allies, who now had to consider intervention in Russia. First, if they could link up with nationalist Russians and reopen the Eastern Front, they might save their exhausted armies in France from facing the full might of the Central Powers. Second, it would be most helpful if they could save Allied war matériel that had stacked up in Russian ports (some 162,495 tons of supplies in Arkhangelsk alone) from seizure by the Germans or Bolsheviks and distribute it to Russians still willing to fight Germans.

When the German onslaught on the Western Front opened in March, the French and British became desperate for a diversion in the East. In March 1918 an Anglo-French expedition docked at Murmansk, followed in June by an American cruiser and 150 marines. An Anglo-French force occupied Arkhangelsk in August, and 4,500 U.S. soldiers under British command joined them in September. These tiny contingents, totaling about 28,000 men, were never meant to overthrow the Bolshevik regime, although the British hoped they might serve as magnets for White Russian forces opposing the Bolsheviks.

The Japanese, seeking an imperial foothold on the Asian mainland, used Brest-Litovsk as pretext to occupy Vladivostok in April. Wilson then committed U.S. troops to Siberia in order to keep an eye on the Japanese and to make contact with 30,000 Czechoslovak legionnaires, mostly former prisoners of war from the Habsburg armies seeking to escape Russia to fight for an independent Czech state. The Czechoslovak Legion, released and armed by the Kerensky government, at first declared neutrality toward Russian politics, but when the Bolsheviks tried to disarm them, skirmishes ensued, and the legion became strung out along the 6,000-mile-long Trans-Siberian Railway. The Allied interventions also became entangled in the erupting Russian Civil War. Bolsheviks controlled Petrograd, Moscow, and the core regions of Russia, while White governments were established by Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak in Omsk and General Anton Denikin in Odessa.

The eastern minorities

The saga of the Czechoslovak Legion was symbolic of the growing vigour of the national movements inside the Habsburg Empire. Early in the war the subject peoples had remained loyal to beloved old Francis Joseph. But martial law, which fell especially hard on minorities, war weariness, hunger, and the example of the Russian Revolution converted moderates among the Czechs, Galician Poles, and South Slavs to the cause of independence. The Czechs and Slovaks were brilliantly served by Tomáš Masaryk and Edvard Beneš, who lobbied for Allied recognition of a Czech national council. The Polish movement, led by Józef Piłsudski, sought to establish similar national institutions and cooperated with the Central Powers after their Two Emperors’ Manifesto (Nov. 5, 1916) promised autonomy to the Poles. The Polish National Committee in France, and famed pianist Ignacy Paderewski in the United States, also pleaded the Polish cause. Yugoslav (or South Slav) agitation was complicated by rivalries between the Serbs (Orthodox, Cyrillic alphabet, and politically stronger) and the Croats and Slovenes (Roman Catholic, Latin alphabet, politically disinherited), as well as Serbia’s and Italy’s conflicting claims to the Dalmatian coast. In July 1917 the factions united in the Corfu Declaration that envisioned a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. All the committees then gathered in Rome for a Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in April 1918.

The Allies stood aloof from the nationalities while hope persisted of detaching Austria-Hungary from Germany. But in 1918 the Allies took up the revolutionary weapon. In April 1918 Masaryk sailed to the United States, won personal recognition from Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing, and concluded the Pittsburgh Convention by which Slovak-Americans, on behalf of their countrymen, agreed to join the Czechs in a united state. The Czechoslovak National Council won official recognition as a co-belligerent and de facto government-in-exile from France in June, Britain in August, and the United States in September. Only their quarrel with Italy kept the Yugoslavs from achieving the same. Thus, de facto governments were prepared to assume control of successor states as soon as Habsburg authority should collapse, internally or on the military fronts.

Germany’s final battles

Ironically the Germans did not take maximum advantage of Brest-Litovsk after all, leaving about a million men—60 divisions—in the East in order to coerce the Ukrainians into relinquishing foodstuffs, to pursue political goals in the Baltic, and to ensure Bolshevik compliance. Facing virtual starvation as economic exhaustion deepened and the Allied blockade grew more effective, the German high command decided on a series of all-out attacks on the Western Front, beginning in March 1918. But tactical errors, together with the Allies’ creation at last of a unified command and the arrival in strength of eager U.S. divisions, blunted and then turned back the offensives. By late July it was clear that Germany had lost the war. The 1918 offensives cost 1,100,000 men and drained the Reich of reserves. Morale plummeted on the Western Front and at home. Then on Aug. 8, 1918, British, Australian, and Canadian divisions struck on the Somme and overwhelmed German forces not adequately dug in. The 20,000 casualties, and an equal number of prisoners taken in one day, testified to the broken spirit of the German troops. Further Allied successes followed, and on Sept. 29, 1918, General Erich Ludendorff, the chief of staff, informed the Kaiser that the army was finished. The next day the new chancellor, the moderate Maximilian, Prince of Baden, was authorized to seek an armistice. On the night of October 3–4 he requested an armistice from President Wilson on the basis of the Fourteen Points.

While negotiations began for an armistice in the West, Germany’s allies elsewhere collapsed. The collapse of the Bulgarian front before the Franco-Serbian offensive ended with the French cavalry capture of Skopje on September 29, whereupon the Allies accepted Bulgaria’s petition for peace in the Armistice of Salonika. This opened Constantinople to attack and prompted the Turks as well to sue for peace. It also left Austria-Hungary, stymied on the Italian front, with little recourse. On October 4 Vienna appealed to President Wilson for an armistice on the basis of the Fourteen Points. But the U.S. note of the 18th indicated that autonomy for the nationalities no longer sufficed and thus amounted to the writ of execution for the Habsburg Empire. On October 28, in Prague and Kraków, Czech and Polish committees declared independence from Vienna. The Croats in Zagreb did the same on the 29th pending their union with the Serbs, and Germans in the Reichsrat proclaimed rump Austria an independent state on the 30th. The Armistice of Villa Giusti (November 4) required Austria-Hungary to evacuate all occupied territory, the South Tirol, Tarvisio, Gorizia, Trieste, Istria, western Carniola, and Dalmatia, and to surrender its navy. Emperor Charles, his empire gone, pledged to withdraw from Austria’s politics on November 11 and from Hungary’s on the 13th.

The first U.S. note responding to the German request for an armistice was sent on October 8 and called for evacuation by Germany of all occupied territory. The German reply sought to ensure that all the Allies would respect the Fourteen Points. The second U.S. note reflected high dudgeon about Germany’s seeking assurances, given her own war policies. In any case, the British, French, and Italians (fearing Wilsonian leniency and angry about not being consulted after the first note) insisted that their military commands be consulted on the armistice terms. This in turn gave the Allies a chance to ensure that Germany be rendered unable to take up resistance again in the future, whatever the eventual peace terms, and that their own war aims might be advanced through the armistice terms—e.g., surrender of the German navy for the British, occupation of Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhineland for the French. Wilson’s second note, therefore, shattered German illusions about using the armistice as a way of sowing discord among the Allies or winning a breathing space for themselves. The third German note (October 20) agreed to the Allies setting the terms and indicated, by way of appeasing Wilson, that Maximilian’s civilian cabinet had replaced any “arbitrary power” (Wilson’s phrase) in Berlin. The third U.S. note (October 23) specified that the armistice would render Germany incapable of resuming hostilities. Ludendorff wanted further resistance, but the Kaiser instead asked for his resignation on the 26th. The next day Germany acknowledged Wilson’s note.

Some Allied leaders, most notably Poincaré and General John Pershing, bitterly disputed the wisdom of offering Germany an armistice when her armies were still on foreign soil. Marshall Ferdinand Foch drafted military terms harsh enough for the skeptics, however, and Georges Clemenceau could not in good conscience permit the killing to go on if Germany were rendered defenseless. Meanwhile, House, sent by Wilson to Paris to consult with the Allies, threatened a separate U.S.-German peace to win Allied approval of the Fourteen Points on November 4 (excepting a British reservation about “freedom of the seas,” a French one about “removal of economic barriers and equality of trade conditions,” and a clause enjoining Germany to repair war damage). House and Wilson jubilantly concluded that the foundations of a liberal peace were in place: substitution of the Fourteen Points for the Allies’ “imperialist” war aims and the transition of Germany to democracy. The fourth U.S. note (November 5) informed the Germans of Allied agreement and the procedures for dealing with Foch.

Germany, however, seemed to be moving less toward democracy than toward anarchy. On October 29 the naval command ordered the High Seas Fleet to leave port for a last-ditch battle, prompting a mutiny, then full insurrection on November 3. Workers’ and soldiers’ councils formed in ports and industrial cities, and a socialist Republic of Bavaria was declared on the 8th. Two days later Maximilian announced the abdication of Kaiser William II and his own resignation, and the Social Democratic leader Friedrich Ebert formed a provisional government. On the 10th the Kaiser went into Dutch exile. The armistice delegation led by Erzberger, meanwhile, met with Foch in a railway carriage at Rethondes on the 8th. Erzberger, begging for amelioration of the Allies’ terms and especially for the lifting of the blockade so that Germany might be fed, raised the spectre of Bolshevism. Receiving only minor concessions, the Germans relented and signed the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. It called on Germany to evacuate and turn over to Allied armies all occupied regions, Alsace-Lorraine, the left (west) bank of the Rhine, and the bridgeheads of Mainz and Koblenz. A neutral zone of 10 kilometres on the right bank of the Rhine was also to be evacuated, the entire German navy surrendered, and the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest renounced. Germany was also to turn over a large number of locomotives, munitions, trucks, and other matériel—and to promise reparation for damage done.

The collapse of the old order

The four years’ carnage of World War I was the most intense physical, economic, and psychological assault on European society in its history. The war took directly some 8,500,000 lives and wounded another 21,000,000. The demographic damage done by the shortage of young, virile men over the next 20 years is incalculable. The cost of the war has been estimated at more than 200,000,000,000 1914 dollars, with some $36,800,000,000 more in damage. Much of northern France, Belgium, and Poland lay in ruin, while millions of tons of Allied shipping rested at the bottom of the sea. The foundation stone of prewar financial life, the gold standard, was shattered, and prewar trade patterns were hopelessly disrupted.

Economic recovery, vital to social stability and the containment of revolution, depended on political stability. But how could political stability be restored when four great empires—the Hohenzollern, Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman—had fallen, the boundaries of old and new states alike were yet to be fixed, vengeful passions ran high, and conflicting national aims and ideologies competed for the allegiance of the victors? In World War I, Europe lost its unity as a culture and polity, its sense of common destiny and inexorable progress. It lost much of its automatic reverence for the old values of country, church, family, duty, honour, discipline, glory, and tradition. The old was bankrupt. It remained only to decide which newness would take its place.

The damage wrought by war would live on through the erosion of faith in 19th-century liberalism, international law, and Judeo-Christian values. Whatever the isolated acts of charity and chivalry by soldiers struggling in the trenches to remain human, governments and armies had thrown away, one by one, the standards of decency and fair play that had governed European warfare, more or less, in past centuries. Total war meant the starving of civilians through naval blockade, torpedoing of civilian craft, bombing of open cities, use of poison gas in the trenches, and reliance on tactics of assault that took from the private soldier any dignity, control over his fate, or hope of survival. World War I subordinated the civilian to the military and the human to the machine. It remained only for such imperious cynicism to impose itself in peacetime as well, in totalitarian states modeled on war government, until the very distinction between war and peace broke down in the 1930s.

Peacemaking, 1919–22

The bells, flags, crowds, and tears of Armistice Day 1918 testified to the relief of exhausted Europeans that the killing had stopped and underscored their hopes that a just and lasting peace might repair the damage, right the wrongs, and revive prosperity in a broken world. Woodrow Wilson’s call for a new and democratic diplomacy, backed by the suddenly commanding prestige and power of the United States, suggested that the dream of a New Jerusalem in world politics was not merely Armistice euphoria. A century before, Europe’s aristocratic rulers had convened in the capital of dynasties, Vienna, to fashion a peace repudiating the nationalist and democratic principles of the French Revolution. Now, democratic statesmen would convene in the capital of liberty, Paris, to remake a Europe that had overthrown monarchical imperialism once and for all in this “war to end war.”

In fact, the immense destruction done to the political and economic landmarks of the prewar world would have made the task of peacemaking daunting even if the victors had shared a united vision, which they did not. Central and eastern Europe were in a turmoil in the wake of the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman collapses. Revolution sputtered in Berlin and elsewhere, and civil war in Russia. Trench warfare had left large swaths of northern France, Belgium, and Poland in ruin. The war had cost millions of dead and wounded and more than $236,000,000,000 in direct costs and property losses. Ethnic hatreds and rivalries could not be expunged at a stroke, and their persistence hindered the effort to draw or redraw dozens of boundaries, including those of the successor states emerging from the Habsburg empire. In the colonial world the war among the imperial powers gave a strong impetus to nationalist movements. India alone provided 943,000 soldiers and workers to the British war effort, and the French empire provided the home country with 928,000. These men brought home a familiarity with European life and the new anti-imperialist ideas of Wilson or Lenin. The war also weakened the European powers vis-à-vis the United States and Japan, destroyed the prewar monetary stability, and disrupted trade and manufactures. In sum, a return to 1914 “normalcy” was impossible. But what could, or should, replace it? As the French foreign minister Stéphen Pichon observed, the war’s end meant only that “the era of difficulties begins.”

The Paris Peace Conference ultimately produced five treaties, each named after the suburban locale in which it was signed: the Treaty of Versailles with Germany (June 28, 1919); the Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria (Sept. 10, 1919); the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria (Nov. 27, 1919); the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary (June 4, 1920); and the Treaty of Sèvres with Ottoman Turkey (Aug. 10, 1920). In addition, the Washington Conference treaties on naval armaments, China, and the Pacific (1921–22) established a postwar regime in those areas.

Competing visions of stability

The idealist vision

According to the armistice agreement the peace was to be based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points. But the French and British had already expressed reservations about them, and, in many cases, the vague Wilsonian principles lent themselves to varying interpretations when applied to complex realities. Nevertheless, Wilson anticipated the peace conference with high hopes that his principles would prevail, either because of their popularity with common people everywhere, or because U.S. financial leverage would oblige European statesmen to follow his lead. “Tell me what is right,” he instructed his delegation on the George Washington en route to Paris, “and I will fight for it.” Unique among the victor powers, the United States would not ask any territorial gains or reparations and would thereby be free to stand proudly as the conference’s conscience and honest broker.

Wilsonianism, as it came to be called, derived from the liberal internationalism that had captured large segments of the Anglo-American intellectual elite before and during the war. It interpreted war as essentially an atavism associated with authoritarian monarchy, aristocracy, imperialism, and economic nationalism. Such governments still practiced an old diplomacy of secret alliances, militarism, and balance of power politics that bred distrust, suspicion, and conflict. The antidotes were democratic control of diplomacy, self-determination for all nations, open negotiations, disarmament, free trade, and especially a system of international law and collective security to replace raw power as the arbiter of disputes among states. This last idea, developed by the American League to Enforce Peace (founded in 1915), found expression in the Fourteen Points as “a general association of nations” and was to be the cornerstone of Wilson’s edifice. He expected a functioning League of Nations to correct whatever errors and injustices might creep in to the treaties themselves.

Liberal internationalism set the tone for the Paris Peace Conference. European statesmen learned quickly to couch their own demands in Wilsonian rhetoric and to argue their cases on grounds of “justice” rather than power politics. Yet Wilson’s principles proved, one by one, to be inapplicable, irrelevant, or insufficient in the eyes of European governments, while the idealistic gloss they placed on the treaties undermined their legitimacy for anyone claiming that “justice” had not been served. Wilson’s personality must bear some of the blame for this disillusionment. He was a proud man, confident of his objectivity and prestige, and he insisted on being the first U.S. president to sail to Europe and to conduct negotiations himself. He had visited Europe only twice before, as a tourist, and now delayed the peace conference in order to make a triumphant tour of European capitals. Moreover, the Democrats lost their Senate majority in the elections of November 1918, yet Wilson refused to include prominent Republicans in his delegation. This allowed Theodore Roosevelt to declare that Wilson had “absolutely no authority to speak for the American people.” Wilson’s flaws exacerbated the difficulty of promoting his ideals in Paris and at home. Still, he was a prophet in world politics, both as lawgiver and as seer. Only a peace between equals, he said, can last.

The realist vision

Georges Clemenceau also approached peacemaking as a personal quest, stacking the French delegation with loyal supporters and minimizing the influence of the foreign ministry, the army, and parliament. Even political enemies hailed Clemenceau (known as “the tiger”) as “père la victoire,” and he determined not to betray the soldiers’ victory in the peace negotiations to come. But the French vision of a just peace contrasted sharply with Wilson’s. France alone in 1914 had not chosen war, but had been summarily attacked. France had provided the major battleground, suffered the most physical damage, and sacrificed a generation of manhood. France faced the most massive task of reconstruction, the most direct threat of German revenge, and the most immediate responsibility for executing the armistice and peace treaties by dint of its contiguity with Germany. Clemenceau, therefore, sought material advantage from the peace according to a traditional balance-of-power viewpoint and did so with almost universal support in the government. The 77-year-old Clemenceau, who had begun his political career during the German siege of Paris in 1870–71, placed little faith in Germany’s sudden conversion to democracy, nor in Wilson’s lofty idealism, which he characterized with irony as “noble candour.” The French government judged early on that Wilson’s dream of a prosperous German republic taking its place in the council of nations was the primary obstacle to a peace serving France’s real needs. Indeed, his decision to accept the armistice may have been influenced by the fact that a more thorough victory over Germany would also have meant another million American soldiers at the front and proportionally greater U.S. influence over the peace.

Postwar France faced a severe triple crisis. The first involved future security against German attack: Germany remained far more populous and industrial than France, and now France’s erstwhile eastern ally, Russia, was hors de combat. The French would try to revive an anti-German alliance system with the new states in eastern Europe, but the only sure way to restore a balance of power in Europe was to weaken Germany permanently. The second crisis was financial. France had paid for the war largely by domestic and foreign borrowing and inflation. To ask the nation to sacrifice further to cover these costs was politically impossible. Indeed, any new taxes would spark bitter social conflict over which groups would bear the heaviest burdens. Yet France also faced the cost of rebuilding the devastated regions and supporting an army capable of forcing German respect for the eventual treaty. The French, therefore, hoped for inflows of capital from abroad to restore their national solvency. Third, France faced a crisis in her heavy industry. The “storm of steel” on the Western Front made obvious the strategic importance of metallurgy in modern war. Recovery of Alsace-Lorraine lessened France’s inferiority to Germany in iron but by the same token worsened her shortage of coal, especially metallurgical coke. European coal production was down 30 percent from prewar figures by 1919, creating acute shortages everywhere. But France’s position was especially desperate after the flooding of French mines by retreating German soldiers. To realize the industrial expansion made possible by the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine, France needed access to German coal and markets and preferably a cartel arrangement allowing French industry to survive German competition in the peacetime to come.

Wilson’s program was not without promise for France if collective security and Allied solidarity meant permanent British and American help to deter future German attacks and restore the French economy. In particular, the French hoped that the wealthy United States would forgive the French war debts. On the other hand, if Britain and the United States pursued their own interests without regard to French needs, then France would be forced to find solutions to its triple crisis through harsher treatment of Germany.

In some respects, Britain stood between France and the United States. It would be more accurate, however, to view Britain as the third point of a triangle, attached to the interests of France in some cases, to the principles of the United States in others. Hence, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, second only to Wilson in liberal rhetoric, was accused by Americans of conspiring with Clemenceau to promote old-fashioned imperialism, and, second only to the French in pursuing balance of power, was accused by Clemenceau of favouring the Germans. But that was Britain’s traditional policy: to prop up the defeated power in a European war and constrain the ambitions of the victor. To be sure, in the election campaign held after the Armistice, Lloyd George’s supporters brandished slogans like “Hang the Kaiser” and “Squeeze the German lemon til the pips squeak,” but at the peace conference to come, Lloyd George equivocated. Britain would take the toughest stand of all on German reparations in hopes of ameliorating its own financial situation vis-à-vis the United States, but otherwise promoted a united, healthy Germany that would contribute to European recovery and balance the now ascendant power of France. Of course, Lloyd George also demanded a ban on German naval armaments and partition of Germany’s colonies.

Exhausted Italy was even less able than France to absorb the costs of war. Labour unrest compounded the usual ministerial instability and enhanced the public appeal of anti-Communist nationalists like Benito Mussolini. But the hope that the war would prove somehow worthwhile put peace aims at the centre of Italian politics. In April 1918 the terms of the Treaty of London were proclaimed on the floor of Parliament, sparking months of debate between nationalists and Wilsonians over their propriety. By January 1919, however, Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino had won a mandate for a firm position at the peace conference in favour of all Italy’s claims with the exception of that to the entire Dalmatian coast.

The other victorious Great Power, Japan, suffered the least human and material loss in the war and registered astounding growth. Between 1913 and 1918 Japanese production exploded, foreign trade rose from $315,000,000 to $831,000,000, and population grew 30 percent until 65,000,000 people were crowded into a mountainous archipelago smaller than California. Clearly Japan had the potential and the opportunity for rapid expansion in the Pacific and East Asia.

Finally, the defeated Germans also looked with hopes to the peace conference. Throughout the first half of 1919 the new Weimar Republic (so called after the site of its constitutional convention) was in gestation, and the Germans hoped that their embrace of democracy might win them a mild peace. At the very least they hoped to exploit differences among the victors to regain diplomatic equality, as Talleyrand had done for France at the Congress of Vienna. Instead, the Allies found compromise among themselves so arduous that they could brook no further negotiation with Germany. German delegates were not invited to Paris until May, and the “preliminaries of peace” became, with few exceptions, the final treaty. To Germans, Wilson’s promise of “open covenants, openly arrived at” proved a sham, and the final treaty a Diktat.

The Versailles Diktat

Hammering out the treaty

The Paris Peace Conference opened on Jan. 18, 1919, in a politically charged atmosphere. The delegations of 27 nations harassed the Great Powers with their various and conflicting complaints and demands. The Great Powers, in turn, sent five delegates each, supported by sprawling staffs of geographers, historians, and economists. Clearly, peace could not be made in such a global assembly; hence the five leading victors created a Council of Ten—the heads of government and their foreign ministers. But even this proved unwieldy, and since Italy and Japan tended to focus on questions of local interest, major decisions were hammered out in private by an informally constituted Big Three: Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau. The French had tried to impose a schedule of priorities for the conference, but Wilson insisted on tackling the League of Nations first in order to prevent the others from rejecting the League or using it as a bargaining chip in later disputes. The French were skeptical of the idealistic basis of the League but hoped that it might be turned into an instrument of security committing the British and Americans to the defense of the new European order. In this they were disillusioned, for the British viewed the League less as a means for mobilizing force against an aggressor than as a means of preventing future conflicts in the first place. The Covenant of the proposed League provided for a plenary assembly of all members and a council of the Great Powers and outlined a system of sanctions against aggressor states. But the British chose to focus on moral sanctions (not unlike Wilson’s belief in the “court of world opinion”), or at most economic sanctions, and participation in military sanctions was made voluntary. The Covenant also contained machinery for declaring boundary changes, implying that the League’s primary function was to secure peace, not to secure the status quo. Upon final rejection in April of a Franco-Italian plan for tougher collective security and an international force adequate to enforce peace, French newspapers scorned the League as a toothless debating society. And since Clemenceau had succeeded in having Germany barred from the League pending good behaviour, the German press denounced it as a “League of Victors.”

In mid-February Wilson returned to the United States to attend to presidential duties, and in his absence committees went to work on the details of the German treaty. Foremost in the minds of the French was security against future German attack. As early as November 1918 Marshal Ferdinand Foch drafted a memo identifying the Rhine as “the frontier of democracy” and arguing for the separation of the Rhineland from Germany and its occupation in perpetuity by Allied troops. This plan echoed earlier French war aims: The victory of 1871 had created a unified Germany; the defeat of 1918 should undo it. Foch’s occupation forces tried also to locate and encourage the Rhenish autonomist tendencies that grew up for a brief time in 1919 out of the desire to escape the burden of defeat and fear of the Communist agitation in Berlin. But the primary French argument was strategic: Four times in a century German armies had invaded France from the Rhineland (1814, 1815, 1870, 1914), and a united Germany would remain potentially overwhelming. As General Fayolle put it, “One speaks of the League, but what can this hypothetical society do without a means of action? One promises alliances, but alliances are fragile, like all human things. There will always come a time when Germany will have a free hand. Take all the alliances you want, but the greatest need for France and Belgium is a material barrier.”

André Tardieu, Clemenceau’s chief aide, sought to give the Rhineland scheme a Wilsonian gloss in a lengthy memo distributed on February 25. The Rhenish people, he claimed, were largely Celtic, Catholic, and liberal and resented the rule of Germanic, Protestant, and authoritarian Prussia. They had been loyal citizens of the French Republic and Empire from 1792 to 1815. Thus an autonomous Rhineland would serve both self-determination and the defense of democracy. The British and Americans rejected Tardieu’s brief in the strongest terms and warned that dismemberment of Germany would only create “a new Alsace-Lorraine” and the seeds of a new war. In April, after Wilson returned to Paris, he and Lloyd George countered with an unprecedented offer: an Anglo-American guarantee to fight on the side of France in case of future German aggression. The French were again skeptical. In a future war the United States and Britain would need months or years to raise and transport armies, by which time France might be lost. On the other hand, how could Clemenceau refuse an unlimited extension of the wartime coalition? On March 17 he proposed a mixed solution—the guarantee treaties, plus material safeguards including German disarmament, demilitarization, and Allied occupation of the Rhine.

This acrimonious debate over security overlapped with the negotiations over reparations. The latter was perhaps an even more emotional issue, since the financial settlement would affect every taxpayer in every country. The moral issues also seemed clearer: Surely Germany, and not her victims, should pay for reconstruction; surely the wealthy British and Americans should forgive France’s war debt, a small sacrifice beside those made by France in the joint effort. The French government had borrowed 26,000,000,000 francs from its own people during the war and owed another $3,600,000,000 to Britain and the United States. The franc had lost 70 percent of its value. Yet French hopes for Allied economic unity were dashed when the U.S. Treasury refused to discuss abrogation of war debts, rejected French and Italian proposals for a “financial League of Nations,” and opposed economic favouritism of all kinds in accord with the Fourteen Points. The British, in turn, repudiated the resolutions of the 1916 Allied Economic Conference and refused to forgive France her debt so long as the United States insisted on repayment from London.

“If it is France or Germany that must be ruined,” wrote a conservative French journal about the reparations debate, “let us be sure that it is Germany!” The French chamber refused to vote a tax on capital and relied on German payments to cover the cost of repairing the devastated regions. Wilson accepted German responsibility for war damage, but the British vastly inflated reparations by insisting on repayment for “invisible damage” like sunken ships and cargo, lost markets and production, and veterans’ pensions. On the other hand, the British favoured setting a fixed indemnity in the treaty, while the French claimed that Germany should agree to pay whatever reparation ended up costing. When negotiations failed to fix either a total sum or the percentage shares to flow to France, Britain, Belgium, and the others, the U.S. delegation recommended on March 24 that the whole problem be postponed. On April 5 it was agreed that a Reparations Commission would determine, by May 1, 1921, the amount and timing of German payments and be empowered to declare defaults and sanctions in case of noncompliance. But in the meantime Germany would make immediate transfers totaling 20,000,000,000 gold marks. Thus the peace conference obliged the Germans to sign an open account and adjourned without plans to stabilize currencies or settle war debts.

In economic matters the French delegation laboured to improve the imbalance in heavy industry between Germany and France. At first Clemenceau fought hard for annexation of the Saar—the French “frontier of 1814”—and then settled for French control of the Saar coal mines and a League of Nations administration for 15 years, at which time the Saarlanders would hold a plebiscite to decide their permanent status. Germany was also obliged to deliver 20,000,000 tons of coal per year to France and Belgium and to allow the products of Alsace-Lorraine into Germany duty-free for five years.

Such punitive clauses ensured German feebleness for some time to come. France, on the other hand, now possessed both the largest army in Europe and a set of natural allies among the new states in eastern Europe. Not surprisingly, many British observers came to consider France the primary threat to dominate the Continent. In late March Lloyd George’s eloquent Fontainebleau Memorandum warned that vindictiveness in the hour of victory would serve not justice and reconciliation but German revanchism and Bolshevik propaganda. Nevertheless Clemenceau, under attack from President Poincaré, Marshal Foch, and the parliament for “giving up the Rhine,” dared not compromise further. On April 22, Wilson and Lloyd George accepted his material guarantees of security in addition to the Anglo-American pacts. These included the limitation of the German army to 100,000 men with no offensive weapons; demilitarization of a zone extending 50 kilometers east of the Rhine; and an Allied occupation of the left bank of the Rhine, with bridgeheads at Cologne, Koblenz, Mainz, and Kehl. The occupation would be divided into three zones, to be evacuated serially at five-year intervals.

Reaction to the treaty

On May 7 the German delegation was finally summoned to receive the draft treaty. Additional important clauses called for the abolition of the German high seas fleet, the general staff, and conscription; partition of Germany’s African colonies; cession of the Eupen-et-Malmédy district to Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine to France, most of Upper Silesia and West Prussia to Poland, including a corridor to the Baltic that cut Germany in two; plebiscites to determine whether Allenstein and Marienwerder should go to Poland and Schleswig to Denmark; a League of Nations administration for the free city of Danzig (to provide Poland a coastal port); prohibition of Anschluss (union) between Germany and Austria; and abrogation of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Finally, Article 231 enjoined Germany to accept full responsibility for the war caused “by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

The draft treaty caused acute consternation in Germany (though it left Germany intact and was mild compared to Germany’s terms to Russia at Brest-Litovsk), and the German delegation argued without success for substantial revisions. The Germans could not reject the treaty, however, without inviting a continuation of the Allied blockade, revolutionary outbreaks, an Allied military advance, or French intrigues against German unity. (On June 1, Foch’s generals in the occupation implicated themselves in an abortive separatist putsch aimed at creating a “Rhineland Republic” and thereby magnified German—and British—suspicions.) Hence, the German delegation—frock-coated professionals bearing little resemblance to the spike-helmeted militarists the Allies meant to punish—affixed their signatures to the treaty in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on the fifth anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination (June 28, 1919). The Weimar coalition of Democrats, Social Democrats, and the Catholic Centre party ratified the treaty on July 9. German nationalists, however, denounced acceptance of the treaty as treason and immediately began propounding the myth that the German army had been “stabbed in the back” by Socialists and defeatists, the “November criminals” who signed the Armistice, and the liberal parties who signed the Versailles Diktat. The war-guilt clause was particularly damaging, since any historical evidence suggesting that Germany did not bear sole guilt for the war would tend to undermine the treaty’s legitimacy.

Allied delegates and populations were scarcely happier with the treaty than the Germans. British diplomat Harold Nicolson echoed the views of disillusioned Wilsonians when he left the signing ceremony in disgust, “and thence to bed, sick of life.” Economist John Maynard Keynes quit the peace conference in protest and returned to Britain to write a scathing critique of Wilson and the treaty, whose economic clauses, he said, stymied European recovery. Nor were the French satisfied. Marshal Foch despaired of containing the power of a united Germany and prophesied: “This is not peace, but a truce for 20 years.” Poincaré predicted willful German default and Allied disputes over execution. Clemenceau had to exploit all his prestige to win parliamentary ratification, and still he lost the presidential election that followed.

As for Wilson, the treaty he had personally helped to fashion, and the global obligations it imposed on the United States, proved unpopular with various factions in American politics, including nationalists, isolationists, “Monroe Doctrine” regionalists, xenophobes, and tariff protectionists. The immediate postwar years also gave rise to the “red scare,” the first legislation limiting immigration to the United States on an ethnic basis, and the belief that Wilson had been duped by the clever Europeans so that the war redounded only to the benefit of Anglo-French imperialism. But it is not true that the United States retreated at once into isolationism. The debate over Versailles was essentially a debate over the terms on which the United States would continue to play a role in world affairs. Most important was fear that Article 10 of the League Covenant might embroil the United States in foreign quarrels and even violate the Constitution. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, eventually proposed ratification of the Treaty of Versailles subject to 14 reservations, but Wilson insisted on an all-or-nothing strategy and embarked on a hectic national tour to mobilize public support. In October 1919 he suffered a debilitating stroke, and on November 19 the Senate voted down the treaty. Further compromise led to a final vote on March 19, 1920, but Wilson instructed his own loyalists to reject any reservations. The 49–35 vote fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority. By failing to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States also rejected the League of Nations (which its own president had forced on the Europeans), the security guarantee by which Clemenceau had been persuaded to give up the Rhineland, and U.S. commitment to the economic and political reconstruction of Europe. All this gave those who clung to the belief that the French cause had been betrayed the opportunity to deal even more harshly with Germany.

The West and the Russian Civil War

Bolshevik diplomacy

France’s deep fears about a future German threat sprang in large part from the elimination of Russia as a factor in the European balance. Indeed, the Russian question was at least as important as the German one and absorbed as much time and worry at the peace conference. After Brest-Litovsk, Anglo-French policy turned sharply anti-Bolshevik, and Clemenceau and Foch worked to build a cordon sanitaire in eastern Europe against German and Bolshevik expansion alike. The Lenin regime also repudiated the tsarist debts to Britain and France (the latter being more delicate since most of it dated from before the war and was owed to private bondholders). But Wilson still believed in the innate desire of the Russian people for democracy and searched desperately for ways to end the civil war and liberalize the Reds, the Whites, or both. As early as July 1918 he wrote Colonel Edward House: “I have been sweating blood over what is right and feasible to do in Russia. It goes to pieces like quicksilver under my touch.”

After Brest-Litovsk the Bolsheviks came quickly to a two-track policy toward the West. Their rhetoric still condemned Allied and German imperialists in vitriolic terms, but their deeds aimed at securing their own survival at all costs. These included attempts to open negotiations with Allied governments, to exploit differences among them, to persuade them to withdraw support for the Whites, and to encourage the opposition to intervention in Russia that already existed among French and British workers and soldiers. On the other hand, the Red Terror launched by the Bolsheviks in 1918, including the murder of the royal family, convinced many in the West that this new breed was beyond the pale. U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing called Bolshevism “the most hideous and monstrous thing that the human mind has ever conceived.” When, in August 1918, the Cheka (secret police) arrested 200 British and French residents of Moscow, invaded their consulates, and murdered the British naval attaché, opinion spread in Paris and London that the Bolsheviks were thugs and bandits, if not German agents. In the autumn the Allies imposed a blockade on the Moscow regime and broke the last contacts (diplomatic missions and the Red Cross) that still existed.

The Bolsheviks’ paramount need was a breathing spell in which to consolidate their power, mobilize the economy in the lands under their control, and subdue the White armies. By the end of 1918 these forces included the Cossacks of General Anton Denikin in the south, supported by the French from Odessa; the Ukrainian separatists; General Nikolay Yudenich’s army of the Baltic; a puppet government in the north supported by the Anglo-French from Arkhangelsk; and the government of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak at Omsk in Siberia. American and Japanese troops occupied Vladivostok on the Pacific. The Bolsheviks had also invaded Estonia only to be met by local troops, a British naval squadron, Yudenich’s Russian nationalists, and even General Rüdiger von der Goltz’s German veterans seeking to maintain German authority on the Baltic. Against these disparate and uncoordinated forces the Bolsheviks deployed the Red Army under the command of Leon Trotsky. In the opening stages of the Revolution they experimented with a “people’s army” in which ranks were abolished and officers were elected by the troops. This quickly gave way to traditional military practice and even recruitment of ex-tsarist officers and technicians. By the turn of 1919 the Red Army numbered in the millions.

Lenin instructed the new commissar for foreign affairs, Georgy Chicherin, to try to separate the United States from the Allies. In October and November 1918 he addressed long notes to Wilson protesting Allied intervention and proposing a cease-fire in return for Allied evacuation. Then in December, Maksim Litvinov appealed to Wilson in terms drawn from the Fourteen Points, ending with the plea auditur et altera pars (“let the other side be heard”). Some historians have judged these demarches as a genuine opportunity for early reconciliation between the Bolsheviks and the West. Others consider them the equivalent of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations with the Germans, a “peace offensive” designed to serve the internal security of the regime. The Western powers, however, were confused about how to influence events in Russia. In January 1919, Lloyd George showed Wilson an intelligence report indicating that the Allied interventions, if not increased massively, would only strengthen the appeal of the Bolsheviks. He favoured negotiation; Clemenceau favoured a stronger intervention.

Given the Bolsheviks’ single-minded dedication to power and ideology (which was, after all, their sole source of legitimacy), it is difficult to imagine how Allied–Soviet friendship, or a compromise settlement among the Russian factions, could have emerged. Nevertheless, the snarled diplomacy of the two sides during the peace conference widened the gap between them. Lenin had postponed his summons to European Socialists to form the Third (or Communist) International (Comintern) until January lest it spoil his efforts to open negotiations with the West. He finally issued the call on Jan. 25, 1919, just as the Paris Peace Conference finally decided to make an initiative. It appeared, therefore, as if Lenin was intent on remaining an international outlaw seeking to destroy the very governments with which he claimed to want normal relations. The Comintern was founded on March 2, and at its second congress (July 1920) Lenin insisted that member parties accede to 21 conditions imposing rigorous Communist discipline and subordinating local parties to the will of Moscow. It divided European Socialists, most of whom rejected the Communists’ violent tactics, Lenin’s dictatorship, or both. From its inception, therefore, the Comintern was an arm of Soviet foreign policy more than a vehicle of Socialist internationalism.

Allied approaches to the Bolsheviks

Meanwhile, Wilson and Lloyd George agreed on an appeal directed to the White forces (and radioed to the Bolsheviks) to declare a cease-fire and send representatives to the island of Prinkipo (Büyükada), in the Sea of Marmara. This was a fruitless gesture, since neither the Red nor the White regime could survive except by the other’s total destruction. The Bolsheviks ignored the call for a truce but accepted the invitation; the Whites, with French encouragement, candidly declined both. The Big Three were informed of the failure on February 12, two days before Wilson’s return to the United States. Winston Churchill then hurried to Paris to urge on Wilson a vigorous Allied military campaign on behalf of the Whites. But even if the Big Three had agreed to launch an anti-Bolshevik crusade, their war-weary populations, depleted treasuries, and aroused labour unions would not have permitted it.

Five days later Colonel House, who was given charge of Russian matters by Wilson, asked a young American liberal, William Bullitt, to journey to Russia for direct talks with Lenin. Bullitt reached Petrograd on March 8, spoke with Chicherin and Litvinov, then went on to Moscow. Lenin offered an immediate cease-fire and negotiations in return for the cessation of Allied occupation, aid to the Whites, and the blockade. The Bolsheviks, in turn, promised amnesty to all Russians who had collaborated with the Allies. Bullitt returned to Paris in great excitement at the end of March, only to be denied an audience with Wilson and to find the conference near collapse over the Rhineland question. Lloyd George was under pressure from parliamentary Tories to avoid conciliating Lenin, while the general level of Allied anxiety had been raised by declaration of a Soviet republic in Bavaria and Béla Kun’s Communist coup d’état in Hungary on March 21. Kun immediately invaded Czechoslovakia and appealed to Lenin for help (which the Bolsheviks were in no condition to provide). On April 10 a Romanian army attacked Hungary, and successive Red and White terrors ensued. The episodes ended on May 1, when German federal troops deposed the Bavarian Communists, and August 1, when Kun fled the approaching Romanian army.

Historians debate whether the Bullitt mission was a missed opportunity. Considering the Bolsheviks’ final victory, the Allies would have done well to extricate themselves on Lenin’s March 1919 terms. On the other hand, the document held out little hope for a Russia in line with Western principles or interests. Allied acceptance would have obliged them to pull out their own forces, cut off aid to the Whites, and resume trade with the Bolsheviks. If hostilities had then resumed—on any pretext—the Reds would have been able to crush the divided Whites and solidify their control. On the other hand, Lenin was hard pressed in the spring of 1919—Kolchak was launching a major offensive—and was probably sincere in seeking relief. Bullitt himself was consumed with bitterness over his reception in Paris and rebuked Wilson for having “so little faith in the millions of men, like myself, in every nation who had faith in you.” (Bullitt testified before the Senate against the Versailles treaty and retired to France until, in 1933, he was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. Disillusioned with Stalin, he soon resigned.)

The fourth approach by the peace conference to Russia grew out of letters from the director of European food relief, Herbert Hoover (March 28), and the Norwegian explorer and philanthropist Fridtjof Nansen (April 3) urging massive deliveries of food to Russia. The way to fight Communism, they argued, was with bread, not guns. Colonel House procured Allied consent to offer relief to Russia, but only if Russian transportation facilities were placed at the disposal of an Allied commission. The Bolsheviks replied in derisory terms on May 13, since the conditions would have meant de facto Allied control of Russia. (In 1921 the American relief commission nonetheless began distribution of food that saved countless Russians from starvation.)

Consolidation of the Revolution

The peace conference’s inability to frame a common policy toward the Lenin regime meant that Russia’s future was now solely a military matter. By May, Kolchak’s offensive reached its greatest extent, approaching Moscow from the east, and the French and British resolved to recognize the Whites. Wilson also gave up on the Reds and began cajoling White leaders to pledge democratization of Russia in the event of their victory. But the Red Army turned back Kolchak in the summer, and the Allies gave up in the north, evacuating Arkhangelsk, after a number of clashes with Red forces, on Sept. 30, 1919, and Murmansk on October 12.

The Russian Civil War was a vast, protean struggle fought out in five major theatres with rapid thrusts over hundreds of miles made possible by railroads and cavalry. The Reds took good advantage of their interior lines, while their control of Russia’s industrial heartland and trunk rail lines and their ruthless requisitioning (known as “War Communism”) procured enough food and supplies for them to outlast their enemies. The outcome was not inevitable, but the inability of the far-flung White forces to coordinate their actions exposed them to defeat in detail. Denikin took Kiev in September 1919, but a Soviet counteroffensive forced him steadily back until his last base fell in March 1920. Command in the south fell to General Pyotr Wrangel. Meanwhile, the Red Army drove out Kolchak and recaptured Omsk in November 1919. On April 25, 1920, war broke out between the Soviets and Poland as the Polish leader, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, pursued his ambition of a grand Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian empire. On May 7 the Poles captured Kiev, but a Soviet counterstroke drove them out (June 11), captured Vilnius (July 15), and soon threatened Warsaw itself. Alarms arose in western Europe over the possible sovietization of Poland and even a German-Bolshevik alliance to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles. But Piłsudski, with advice from French attaché General Maxime Weygand, hurled back the overextended Reds, took 66,000 prisoners, and recaptured extensive Belorussian territories. Distressed by the resistance of the Poles to the Revolution, Lenin counseled peace, as at Brest-Litovsk, even on humiliating terms. A preliminary treaty (October 12) and final Treaty of Riga (March 18, 1921) fixed the Soviet-Polish border just to the west of Minsk and far to the east of the Curzon Line proposed at Paris.

Peace with Poland freed the Red Army to turn south and eliminate the last resistance from Wrangel, who evacuated the Crimea on Nov. 14, 1921. Soviet forces invested the Caucasus as well, setting up an “autonomous” federation of Communist regimes in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The original anti-imperialism of the Bolsheviks thus gave way to a policy of domination of all the subject nationalities of the Russian Empire that the Bolsheviks could subdue. On Oct. 25, 1922, the Japanese withdrew from Vladivostok under U.S. pressure, bringing all foreign interventions in Russia to a close.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics came into existence on Dec. 30, 1922. In the World War and Civil War, Russia had lost Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia. The Communist government had survived, but the Revolution had failed to spread. Hence, the Bolshevik leaders were left to construct a permanent relationship to an outer world which they defined as implacably hostile. The Western powers, in turn, faced the challenge of living with a Great Power that repudiated, at least publicly, all norms of international behaviour.

Central Europe and the Middle East

The reorganization of central Europe

Although the Habsburg Empire had ceased to exist, the peace conference dealt with the new republics of Austria and Hungary as defeated powers and systematically favoured the interests of the successor states that had arisen from the ruins of the empire in the last weeks of the war. It was Wilson’s hope that peace and self-rule might finally bless the troubled regions between Germany and Russia through strict application of the principle of nationality. But east-central Europe comprised a jumble of peoples with conflicting claims based on language, ethnicity, economics, geography, military considerations, and historic ties. What was more, the new states themselves were in no case homogeneous. The name Yugoslavia could not hide the rivalries within that kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Czechoslovakia was born of an alliance of convenience among Czechs, Slovaks, and Ruthenes. Historic Poland embraced Ukrainians, Germans, Lithuanians, and Yiddish-speaking Jews. Romania, enlarged by the accession of Transylvania and Bessarabia, now numbered millions of Ukrainians, Hungarians, Jews, and other minorities. In short, the Balkanization of central Europe raised as many political disputes as it solved and created many little multinational states in place of a few empires.

Poland was a favourite of the Americans and the French by dint of historic sympathies, the votes of Polish-Americans, and Clemenceau’s hope for a strong Polish ally in Germany’s rear. The Fourteen Points promised Poland an outlet to the sea, but the resulting Polish Corridor and free city of Danzig contained 1,500,000 Kashubians and Germans. In the north, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia won their independence from Moscow and were sheltered by the British fleet. But an example of the difficulties in applying national self-determination was the Polish-Lithuanian quarrel over the disposition of Vilnius. That town (according to 1897 Russian statistics) was 40 percent Jewish, 31 percent Polish, 24 percent Russian, and 2 percent Lithuanian. Vilnius Province, however, was 61 percent Russian, 17 percent Lithuanian, 12 percent Jewish, and 8 percent Polish. In December 1919 the Supreme Allied Council provisionally awarded Vilnius to Lithuania. Poland and Czechoslovakia similarly quarreled over the coal-rich Teschen district. Poles predominated in the district, but historic claims lay with Bohemia. In the end the Great Powers merely ratified the de facto partition effected by occupying Polish and Czech troops—a solution that favoured Czechoslovakia and left a bitterness the two states could ill afford and never overcame. Finally, the Polish-German conflict over Upper Silesia, another coal-rich region of mixed nationality, proved that even the League of Nations could not make an objective judgment. The March 1921 plebiscite called for in the Treaty of Versailles (one of the few concessions awarded the German delegation) showed German preponderance in the region as a whole but Polish majorities in the vital mining districts. The British delegation in the League argued that Germany could hardly be expected to pay reparations if it lost yet another rich source of coal, while the French sought to weaken Germany further and bolster the Polish economy. Finally, in October 1922, Poland was granted the greater portion of the mines.

The Treaty of Saint-Germain disposed of the Austrian half of the former Habsburg monarchy. Tomáš Masaryk and Edvard Beneš, sincere Wilsonians, exploited their personal goodwill to win two major concessions that otherwise violated the principle of national self-determination. First, they retained for Czechoslovakia the entire historic province of Bohemia. This afforded the vulnerable new state the military protection from Germany of the Sudeten mountains, but it also brought 3,500,000 Sudeten Germans under the rule of Prague. Second, Czechoslovakia received territory stretching south to Bratislava on the Danube, providing it with a riverine outlet but creating a minority of a million Magyars. The Austrian boundary with Yugoslavia at Klagenfurt was fixed by plebiscite in Austria’s favour in October 1920, as was the division of the Burgenland district between Austria and Hungary in December 1921.

Italy’s boundaries with Austria and Yugoslavia became one of the most volatile issues of the peace conference owing to Italian truculence and Wilsonian sanctimoniousness. Orlando clung to the Allied promises that had enticed Italy into the war in the first place. But Wilson, offended by the secret war-aims treaties, vented his frustration on Italy. He went so far as to plead his case publicly in the French press on April 24, 1919, a violation of diplomatic etiquette that provoked the Italians to bolt the conference. Upon their return, a compromise of sorts was achieved: Italy received Trieste, parts of Istria and Dalmatia, and the Upper Adige as far as the Brenner Pass with its 200,000 German-speaking Austrians. But Wilson refused to budge on Fiume, a province whose hinterland was Yugoslav but whose port city was Italian. On June 19 Orlando’s government fell over the issue. In August Fiume was declared a free city, and in September a band of Italian freebooters led by the nationalist poet Gabriele D’Annunzio declared Fiume a free state. Such passions among Italians over their “mutilated victory” helped prepare the way for the triumph in 1922 of Mussolini’s Fascists.

The Treaty of Trianon, delayed until 1920 by the Communist coup in Hungary, partitioned that ancient kingdom among its neighbours. Transylvania, including its minority of 1,300,000 Magyars, passed to Romania. The Banat of Temesvár (Timişoara) was divided between Romania and Yugoslavia, Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia passed to Czechoslovakia, and Croatia to Yugoslavia. All told, Hungary’s territory shrank from 109,000 to 36,000 square miles. The armies of rump Austria and Hungary were limited to 35,000 men.

The Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria marked yet another stage in the old struggles over Macedonia dating back to the Balkan wars and beyond. Bulgaria lost its western territories back to the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and nearly all of Western Thrace to Greece, cutting the Bulgarians off from the Aegean. Their armed forces were likewise limited to 20,000 men. Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria also accepted war guilt and reparations obligations, but these were later remitted in light of their economic weakness.

The settlement in east-central Europe was a generally well-meaning attempt to apply the principle of nationality under the worst imaginable circumstances. The new governments all faced aggrieved minorities, not to mention the onerous tasks of state-building—drafting constitutions, supporting currencies, raising armies and police—with no democratic tradition or financial resources beyond what they could borrow from the already strapped British and French. Austria in particular was a head without a body—over a quarter of its population lived in Vienna—yet was forbidden union with Germany. Hungary suffered violations of self-determination to an even greater degree and was bound to become a centre of aggressive revanche. Disputed borders, ethnic tensions, and local ambitions hampered economic and diplomatic cooperation among the successor states and would make them easy prey to a resurgent Germany, or Russia, or both.

The reorganization of the Middle East

The Treaty of Sèvres likewise dismembered the Ottoman Empire. Here again secret war-aims treaties reflected Allied ambitions in the Middle East, but Wilson was less willing to challenge them given his belief that the Arab peoples were not ready for self-rule. To avoid the tinge of imperialism, the victors took control of the former Ottoman (and German) territories under “mandates” from the League: Class A mandates for those lands to be prepared for independence (Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine entrusted to Britain; Syria and Lebanon to France); Class B mandates for those judged not ready for self-rule in the foreseeable future (Tanganyika to Britain, Cameroons and Togoland divided between Britain and France, and Rwanda-Urundi to Belgium); and Class C mandates (German South West Africa to South Africa, Kaiser Wilhelms Land [New Guinea] to Australia, German Samoa to New Zealand, and the Mariana, Marshall, and Caroline islands to Japan).

The victors also agreed, informally, that southeastern Anatolia would be a French sphere of influence, while Italy received the Dodecanese Islands and a sphere in western and southern Anatolia. The Greek government of Venizélos, still a British client, occupied Smyrna (İzmir) and its hinterland, to the consternation of the Italians, who considered this poaching on their zone. Armenia was a special consideration because of its Christian population and the wartime deaths of hundreds of thousands (some claimed millions) of Armenians—through battle, mass murder, or forced deportation—at the hands of the Young Turks, who considered them a seditious element. Talk of an American mandate for Armenia gave way to independence. The collapse of the tsarist regime spared the Allies from having to award Constantinople and the Straits to Russia. The British proposed a League of Nations regime under U.S. administration for these areas, but Wilson refused this responsibility, while Indian Muslims protested any weakening of the Islāmic caliphate. So the status of Constantinople remained in abeyance, although the Straits were demilitarized and an Anglo-French-Italian commission regulated free passage. In August 1920 the helpless sultan’s delegation signed the Treaty of Sèvres.

It was a dead letter. Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish war hero, rallied his army in the interior and rebelled against the foreign influence in Anatolia and Constantinople. Unwilling to dispatch British armies, Lloyd George encouraged the Greeks to enforce the treaty instead. Indeed, Venizélos harboured a dream, the megali idea, of conquering the entire Turkish littoral and making the Aegean Sea a “Greek lake” as in ancient times. The Treaty of Sèvres, therefore, was the signal for the start of a Greco-Turkish War. By the end of 1920 the Greeks had fanned out from İzmir, occupied the western third of Anatolia, and were threatening the Turkish Nationalists’ capital of Ankara. In March 1921 the British and French proposed a compromise that was rejected by the Turks, who nonetheless kept open diplomatic links in an effort to split the Allies. But as Kemal, later called Atatürk, put it: “We could not flatter ourselves that there was any hope of diplomatic success until we had driven the enemy out of our territory by force of arms.” The tide of battle turned in August 1921, and the Greeks were forced to retreat precipitously through a hostile countryside. The French then made a separate peace with Ankara, settled their Syrian boundary, and withdrew support for the Anglo-Greek adventure. In March 1921 Turkey also signed a treaty of friendship with the new U.S.S.R. regulating the border between them and dooming the briefly independent Armenian and Trans-caucasian republics.

Another Allied offer (March 1922) could not tempt Kemal, who now had the upper hand. His summer attack routed the Greeks, who engaged in a panicky naval evacuation from İzmir which the Turks reentered on September 9. Kemal then turned north toward the Allied zone of occupation at Çanak (now Çanakkale) on the Dardanelles Strait. The French and Italians pulled out, and the British commissioner was authorized to open hostilities. At the last moment the Turks relented, and the Armistice of Mudanya (October 11) ended the fighting. Eight days later Lloyd George’s Cabinet was forced to resign. A new peace conference produced the Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923), which returned eastern Thrace to Turkey and recognized the Nationalist government in return for demilitarization of the Straits. The Treaty of Lausanne was to prove a durable solution to the old “Eastern question.”

The Young Turk and Kemalist rebellions were models for other Islāmic revolts against Western imperialism. Persian nationalists had challenged the shah and Anglo-Russian influence before 1914 and flirted with the Young Turks (hence with Germany) during the war. By August 1919, however, British forces had contained both domestic protest and an ephemeral Bolshevik incursion and won a treaty from Tehrān providing for British administration of the Persian army, treasury, and railroads in return for evacuation of British troops. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company already controlled the oil-rich Persian Gulf. In June 1920, however, nationalist agitation resumed, forcing the shah to suspend the treaty. In Egypt, under British occupation since 1882 and a protectorate since 1914, the nationalist Wafd Party under Saʿd Zaghlūl Pasha, agitated for full independence on Wilsonian principles. Their three weeks’ revolt of March 1919, suppressed by Anglo-Indian troops, gave way to passive resistance and bitter negotiations between Zaghlūl and the British high commissioner, Edmund Allenby. On Feb. 28, 1922, the British ended the protectorate and granted legislative power to an Egyptian assembly, though they retained military control of the Suez Canal.

In India, where Britain controlled the fate of some 320,000,000 people with a mere 60,000 soldiers, 25,000 civil servants, and 50,000 residents, the war also sparked the first mass movement for independence. Out of hostility to Britain’s Turkish policies, Islāmic leaders joined forces with Hindus in protest against the British raj. Edwin Montagu promised constitutional reform in July 1918, but the Indian National Congress deemed it insufficient. In 1919 famine, the return of Indian war veterans, and the inspiration of Mohandas Gandhi provoked a series of ever larger demonstrations until, on April 13, a nervous British general at Amritsar ordered his troops to open fire, and 379 Indians were killed. The amīr of Afghanistan, Amānollāh Khān, then sought to exploit the unrest in India to throw off the informal protectorate Britain enjoyed over his country. Parliament hastily approved the Montagu reforms, vetoed a campaign through the Khyber Pass, and so staved off a general uprising. But the Indian independence movement became a British preoccupation.

Other challenges to the empire arose from white minorities. After the Armistice, Lloyd George finally bowed to Irish demands for independence. After much negotiation and a threatened revolt in the northern counties, the compromise of December 1921 established the Irish Free State as a British dominion in the south while predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom. (The Sinn Féin nationalists continued to protest the treaty until, in 1937, Éire achieved complete independence, Ulster remaining British.) In South Africa the war propelled General Jan Smuts to international prominence and an influential role at the peace conference. South African expansionists clung to their own version of manifest destiny and dreamed of absorbing German South West Africa, Bechuanaland, and Rhodesia to forge a vast empire on the southern third of the continent. The British Colonial Office sternly resisted such ambitions. Yet the white minority of 1,500,000, dwarfed by a population of 5,000,000 blacks, 200,000 Indians, and 600,000 Chinese labourers, was itself split among Boer nationalists, “reconciled Boers,” and British. The nationalists cited Wilsonian principles in a symbolic claim to restore the independent Transvaal and Orange republics in 1919 and remained a disaffected nationality within the Union of South Africa.

The non-European revolts, however—in Turkey, Persia, Egypt, India, and China—were the first expressions of what would become a major theme of the 20th century. Native elites, often educated in Europe and citing the anti-imperialist ideas of Wilson or Lenin, formed the first cadre of mass movements for decolonization. Often alienated from Europeans by their colour and customs, but no longer able to fit comfortably into their pre-modern societies, they became deracinated agitators for independence and modernization. Their growing numbers demonstrated that European imperialism, even as it reached its greatest extent through the 1919 treaties, must inevitably be a passing phenomenon.

The new balance in East Asia

The three Pacific powers

World War I also overthrew the power structure in East Asia and the Pacific. Before 1914 six imperial rivals had struggled for concessions on the East Asian coast. But the war eliminated Germany and Russia from colonial competition and weakened Britain and France, leaving the United States, Japan, and China in an uncomfortable triangular relationship that would persist until 1941.

Americans, largely ignorant of Asian realities, harboured a mix of attitudes before 1914. Contemptuous of what seemed to some of them, at least, as a barbaric and frozen Chinese culture, they nevertheless saw China as an unequalled opportunity for both Christian proselytizing and commercial exploitation. American investment in China in 1914 was only a quarter that of Japan and a 10th that of Britain, but moralism and manifest destiny both seemed to endow the United States with a special mission in China. On the other hand, Americans admired Japan for its mastery of modern technology but by the same token feared it as the primary obstacle to U.S. hopes for China. In 1899, a year after American acquisition of the Philippines and a year before the Boxer Rebellion, Secretary of State John Hay circulated his two “Open Door” notes imploring the Great Powers to eschew the dismemberment of China and to preserve free commercial access for all. The growing Japanese fleet worried American naval planners, who drafted at the time of the Russo-Japanese War the “Plan Orange” contingency for war with Japan. (They also conceded the impossibility of defending the Philippines against Japanese attack.)

The Chinese Revolution of 1911–12, inspired by the democratic principles of Sun Yat-sen (educated in Hawaii and British Hong Kong), expelled the Manchu dynasty and elevated the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), to power. But Sun quickly gave way in 1913 to General Yüan Shih-kʾai, whose failure to unify the giant land of 400,000,000 condemned China to a struggle among rival warlords that kept it in turmoil until at least 1928. Even as the Chinese revolted against foreign influence and exploitation, they remained nonetheless vulnerable to imperial predations or, conversely, dependent on foreign protection. In 1913 the Wilson administration entered office with a decidedly pro-Chinese leaning, and at the same time many Americans on the West Coast had become alarmed about the growing presence and success of enterprising Japanese immigrants and had begun to seek, in Washington and California, to legalize various forms of discrimination against them.

Japanese expansion during World War I only magnified American concern. After seizing Germany’s Pacific islands and Chiao-chou Bay on the strategic Shantung Peninsula, Japan imposed on China the “Twenty-one Demands” (January 1915), claiming greatly expanded economic privileges and rights in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia (Sept. 3, 1916). After U.S. entry into the war, the Peking regime (but not the Nationalists in Canton) declared war on the Central Powers (Aug. 14, 1917) in hopes of defending its interests at the peace conference. The United States moved to end the embarrassment stemming from its co-belligerency with both China and Japan through the Lansing–Ishii Agreement of Nov. 2, 1917, in which Japan paid lip service to the Open Door while the United States recognized Japan’s “special interests” in China. Wilson also sent troops to Vladivostok to monitor the Japanese intervention in Siberia.

The Paris Peace Conference exposed the two branches of Japanese expansionism, rooted in a bursting population and a booming industry in need of raw materials and markets. Delegate Saionji Kimmochi demanded the inclusion of a clause in the League of Nations Covenant proscribing racial discrimination, a principle that would have obliged the United States, Canada, and Australia to admit immigrants from Japan on equal terms with those of other nations. This was politically impossible for Wilson and Lloyd George to accept. The Japanese also demanded the rights formerly held by Germany at Chiao-chou, which Peking resisted vehemently. Finally Saionji agreed to drop the racial-equality plank in return for the granting of Japan’s Chinese demands and threatened to reject the League of Nations if they were denied. Against Lansing’s advice, Wilson acquiesced. Announcement of the terms provoked the anti-Western May Fourth Movement in China and caused it to be the only state that refused even to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Japan’s triumph was an inauspicious precedent for diplomatic extortion by imperialist states from liberal states at the expense of helpless third parties.

The organization of power in the Pacific

In the United States, liberal internationalists, balance-of-power realists, Protestant churches with Chinese missions, and xenophobes all decried the cynical expansionism of Japan and what they took to be Wilson’s capitulation. The Republican administration of Warren G. Harding in 1921 therefore determined to continue an ambitious naval construction plan dating from before the war and to pressure London to terminate the Anglo-Japanese Alliance dating from 1902. War debts gave the United States financial leverage over the British, as did American influence (based in a large Irish-American segment of the electorate) in the Irish question then reaching its climax. In June 1921 the British Commonwealth Conference bowed to this pressure and decided not to renew the alliance. This in turn confronted the Japanese with the prospect of a Britain aligned with Washington, not Tokyo, as well as a costly arms race against the world’s two leading naval powers. A postwar business slump and worker unrest also suggested to Tokyo the wisdom of a tactical retreat.

Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes invited the Great Powers to Washington, D.C., to forge a new order for East Asia and the Pacific. A Four-Power Pact negotiated at the conference (November 1921–February 1922) enjoined the United States, Japan, Britain, and France to respect each other’s Pacific island dependencies for 10 years. A Nine-Power Pact obliged all parties to respect “the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of the state of China” and the commercial Open Door. A separate Sino-Japanese agreement provided for Japanese evacuation of Shantung. In a Five-Power Treaty on naval armaments, Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy agreed severally to maintain the naval balance of capital ships in the ratios 5:5:3:1.67:1.67 and agreed not to fortify their Pacific possessions. The latter three powers protested, but the United States frankly threatened to use its superior resources to dwarf the Japanese fleet, while France and Italy could not afford to compete with the British. France was also hoping for British support at this time in the struggle over German reparations (see below The postwar guilt question). Still, domestic displeasure with the treaties forced both the French and Japanese cabinets to resign.

Hughes’s balance-of-power diplomacy for the Pacific seemed to reflect a realist turn in American statecraft in reaction to Wilson’s idealism insofar as the United States flexed its muscle to compel the British and Japanese to keep hands off China and limit armaments. But in so doing the United States assumed responsibility as the balancer and container of Japanese power, for the naval agreement still left the Japanese fleet dominant in Asian waters. Moreover, the Japanese had clearly bowed to force majeure and, while resigned for the time being, would shrug off these constraints as soon as the Great Depression began to sap American resolve. In the long run, East Asian stability could come only through a strong and united China, for a weak and divided China represented constant temptation to a Japan bursting with strength, anxious for outlets, and resentful of Anglo-American containment.

The postwar guilt question

Looking back on 1919–21 from the perspective of World War II, historians easily concluded that the Paris peacemakers had failed. In fact, debate over a “postwar guilt question” began even before the Big Three had completed their work. Anglo-American liberals felt betrayed by Wilson’s failure to fashion a new diplomacy, while exponents of traditional diplomacy ridiculed Wilson’s self-righteous intrusions. As Harold Nicolson put it: “We had hoped to call a new world into existence; we ended only by fouling the old.” In other words, the peace amounted to a self-defeating mixture of contradictory ends or of tough ends and gentle means. Many Britons said the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh, would destroy Germany’s economy and fragile new democracy, and would drive the bitter Germans to embrace militaristic revanche or Bolshevism. Many Frenchmen replied that the treaty was too mild, that a united Germany would resume its drive for hegemony, and that German democracy was sheeps’ clothing put on for Wilson’s benefit. Historians persuaded by the former argument often cast the peace conference as a morality play, with the messianic Wilson frustrated in his lofty mission by the atavistic Clemenceau. Those persuaded by the second argument speculate that the French plan for a permanent weakening of Germany might have made for a stabler Europe but for Wilson’s and Lloyd George’s moralizing, which, incidentally, served American and British interests at every turn. Clemenceau said: “Wilson speaks like Jesus Christ, but he operates like Lloyd George.” And Lloyd George, when asked how he had done at Paris, said, “Not badly, considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon.”

Such caricatures skirt the facts that the war was won by the greatest coalition in history, that the peace could only take the form of a grand compromise, and that ideas are weapons. Once taking them up to great effect in the war on Germany, the Big Three could not cynically shrug them off any more than they could their constituents’ interests, hopes, and fears. A purely Wilsonian peace, therefore, was never a possibility, nor was a purely power-political one on the order of the Congress of Vienna. Perhaps the new diplomacy was revealed as a sham or a disaster, as many professional diplomats claimed. Perhaps Wilson’s moral insinuations only gave all parties grounds to depict the peace as illegitimate, one man’s justice being always another’s abomination. But it was still the old diplomacy that had spawned the hideous war in the first place. The pursuit of power without regard to justice, and the pursuit of justice without regard to power, were both doomed and dangerous occupations—such seemed to be the lesson of Versailles. The democratic states would spend the next 20 years searching in vain for a synthesis.

In the 1960s this portrait of the peace conference as a Manichaean duel gave way to new interpretations. New left historians depicted peacemaking after World War I as a conflict between social classes and ideologies, hence as the first episode in the Cold War. Arno J. Mayer wrote of 1919 as an “international civil war” between the “forces of movement” (Bolsheviks, Socialists, labour, and left-Wilsonians) and the “forces of order” (the Russian Whites, Allied governments, capitalists, and conservative power-politicians). While this thesis attracted overdue attention to the domestic political concerns of the Big Three, it imposed an equally dualistic set of categories, derived from the “primacy of domestic policy” paradigm, on the convoluted events of 1919. Perhaps it is most accurate to describe the Paris Peace Conference as the birthplace of all the major tactics, confrontational and conciliatory, for dealing with the Bolshevik phenomenon that have reappeared time and again to the present day. Prinkipo was the first attempt to get Communists and their opponents to substitute negotiations for force. Bullitt made the first stab at détente: direct negotiation of a modus vivendi. Churchill was the first “hawk,” declaring that the only thing Communists understand is force. And Hoover and Nansen first acted on the theory that Communism is a social disease for which aid, trade, and higher standards of living were the cure.

Thus, to say that the democratic, free-market statesmen at Paris were anti-Bolshevik is to state the obvious; to make this the wheel around which all else turned is to ignore the subtle. As Marshal Foch observed in counseling against exaggeration of the Bolshevik threat: “Revolution never crossed the frontiers of victory.” That is, Communism was a product not just of privation, but of defeat, as in Russia, Germany, and Hungary. Perhaps, as Churchill thought, the Western democracies were not obsessed enough with the Bolshevik threat. They also understood it poorly, differed as to tactics, and were continually absorbed in other issues. Yet the failure to reintegrate Russia into the European order was as poisonous to future stability as the German peace.

Whatever one’s interpretation and assessment of the personalities and policies that collided at Paris, the overall settlement was surely doomed, not only because it sowed seeds of discord in almost every clause, but because all the Great Powers scurried from it at once. Germans denounced Versailles as a hypocritical Diktat and determined to resist it as much they were able. Italians fulminated against the “mutilated victory” given them by Wilson and then succumbed to Fascism in 1922. The Russian Communists, not privy to the settlements, denounced them as the workings of rapacious rival imperialisms. From the start, the Japanese ignored the League in favour of their imperial designs, and they soon held the Washington treaties to be unfair, confining, and dangerous to their economic health. The United States, of course, rejected Versailles and the League. Only Britain and France remained to make a success of Versailles, the League, and the chronically unstable successor states. But by 1920 British opinion was already turning against the treaty, and even the French, bitter over their “betrayal” at the hands of the United States and Britain, began to lose faith in the 1919 system. It was a new order that many yearned to overthrow and few were willing to defend.

A fragile stability, 1922–29

The 1920s are usually depicted as a bridge between the turmoil of the war and the turmoil of the 1930s, a brief truce in the “Thirty Years’ War” of the 20th century. The disputes over execution of the Treaty of Versailles suggest a continuation of the Great War by other means, while the economic and security arrangements of mid-decade, and the era of good feeling they engendered, were flawed from their inception and collapsed with the onset of the Great Depression. Still, the postwar decade was Shakespeare’s “time for frighted peace to pant.” The conflicts of the early 1920s notwithstanding, weary populations had no stomach for war and demanded, in President Harding’s words, a “return to normalcy,” however fragile it might prove.

A broken world

The failure of democratic consensus

But what was normal in a world broken by total war? The pillars of the antebellum system—the balance of power, the non-interventionist state, the gold standard, and the free-market economy—lay in ruins and in any case reflected a faith in the natural play of political and economic forces that many Europeans had ceased to share. Wilsonians and Leninists blamed balance-of-power diplomacy for the war and fled from such normalcy. Technocrats, impressed by the productivity of regulated war economies, hoped to extend them into peacetime to promote recovery and dampen competition. Some economists and politicians even applauded the demise of the gold standard (“a barbarous relic,” said Keynes) since inflation seemed the only means of financing jobs and veterans’ pensions, thus stabilizing domestic societies. Finally, the free-market economy that had made high growth rates and technological dynamism seem normal from 1896 to 1914 was itself challenged by Socialists on the left and corporate interest groups on the right. In every case governments found it easier to try to shift the burden of reconstruction on to foreign powers, through reparations, loans, or inflation, than to impose taxes and austerity on quarreling social groups at home. It soon became clear that the effects of the war would continue to politicize economic relations within and between countries; that the needs of internal stability conflicted with the needs of international stability; that old dreams clashed with new realities, and new dreams with old realities.

The search for a new stability

The lack of consensus on democracy itself also hampered the quest for a new stability. Wilson expected victory to mean a heyday of democracy in which the will of the people would oblige states to value peace and compromise. Instead, Communists and Fascists alike challenged democratic assumptions and elevated social class, race, and the state to the role Wilson reserved for the individual. In terms of the distribution of world power, the 1920s gave rise to a false normalcy, an Indian summer of European Great Power politics thanks to the peripheral roles played by the United States and the Soviet Union. In diplomacy, affairs of state came to be conducted increasingly by politicians meeting in grand conferences or at the League of Nations rather than by experts communicating with precision through written notes. Inevitably, style replaced substance at such meetings as prime ministers worried as much about their political image at home as about the actual issues at hand. The prime ministers of France and Britain held no less than 23 meetings from 1919 to 1923. As French Ambassador Camille Barrère complained, “Politicians have replaced diplomats at these conferences and seem to believe that nations conduct business like deputies in the Palais-Bourbon.” But the trend was irreversible, for the crises of war and peace impressed on voters how much foreign policy affected their pocketbooks and daily lives, and they were sure to hold their elected officials responsible. Technological developments—the telephone, the wireless, and soon the airplane—also tended to reduce the role of professional ambassadors to that of messengers.

Behind the contradictory mixture of old and new in politics lay a profound cultural confusion. For the cultural shock of the Great War had turned modernist iconoclasm from the conceit of bohemian cliques into a new conventional wisdom. Respect for elders, for established authority, for “bourgeois” decency and restraint, died in the trenches. Faith in God and faith in reason, the two abiding fonts of Western culture, withered under the war’s barbarizing bombardment, as did the belief in human progress born of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Science and technology, those engines of progress, had only perfected an economy of death, and turned soldiers and civilians into mere cogs in the war machine. In the 1920s Einsteinian relativity, or a debased and popularized notion of it, replaced the comfortable order of the Newtonian universe, offering skeptics a pseudoscientific justification for their rejection of absolute moral values. Popular Freudianism, depicting man as the victim of irrational, subconscious drives, seemed to describe the behaviour of 1914–18 better than the old Aristotelian psychology of man as a rational, moral creature. Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, implying that in a social Darwinist world compassion and charity were suicidal and force and mastery progressive, became a fad. To vulgar minds on the right and the left, Nietzsche’s critique of modern mass civilization was an anthem for a politics of the violent deed. And while some artists despaired of man’s fate in the crucible of the machine age, there were others, like the German Bauhaus school, who extolled steely power or, like the Italian Futurists, even modern war.

Oswald Spengler’s 1918–22 best-seller The Decline of the West mourned the engulfing of Kultur by the cosmopolitan anthill of Zivilisation and argued that only a dictatorship could arrest the decline. Sociologist Max Weber hoped for charismatic leadership to overcome bureaucracy. Much painting, music, and film of the 1920s illustrated the theme of decline: Paul Klee’s Cubist depiction of literally broken people and societies; George Grosz’s looks beneath the veneer of respectable society to the rot underneath; the broken musical scales of Arnold Schoenberg; and the political drama of Bertolt Brecht. The intelligentsia of the 1920s leveled a comprehensive assault on bourgeois values, forms, and traditions. Tradition won scarcely more respect in the salons of Paris and London. The decade that was to have spawned a democratic diplomacy prepared the way instead for the totalitarian diplomacy of the 1930s.

To be sure, these were the years when European statesmen, in historian Charles Maier’s words, set themselves the task of “recasting bourgeois Europe” and pioneered corporatist compromise among organized interest groups and bureaucracies when the increasingly polarized parliaments were unable to distribute the costs and benefits of reconstruction. By 1925 they had made a good show of it, as currencies and world trade stabilized and food, coal, and industrial production again reached 1913 levels. But the American economy alone boomed following the postwar slump of 1920–21. Between 1922 and 1929, U.S. steel production climbed 70 percent, oil 156 percent, and automobiles 255 percent. Overall, national income soared 54 percent in those years; by 1929 the U.S. economy accounted for 44.8 percent of global industrial output, compared to 11.6 percent for Germany, 9.3 for Britain, 7.0 for France, and 4.6 for the Soviet Union. Yet the demobilization of American armed forces and United States refusal to make political-military engagements abroad meant that this mighty power existed in semi-isolation from the rest of the world. France and Britain, though engaged, lacked the resources and the will to run the risks inherent in trying to reintegrate Germany and Russia into the European order. A world with such disparities in the distribution of power and responsibility could not be returned to normal. It could only be given the appearance of normalcy by pasting paper constitutions, paper money, and paper treaties over the absence of common values, common interests, or a true balance of power.

Reparations, security, and the German question

The continuing problem of Germany

The Great War failed to solve the German question. To be sure, Germany was exhausted and in the shackles of Versailles, but its strategic position actually improved in the war. Britain and France were at least as exhausted, Russia was in chaos and her boundary driven far to the east, and Italy was disaffected from her former allies, so that Germany’s eastern and southern approaches now consisted of a broad ring of weak states. If and when Germany escaped Versailles, therefore, it might pose a greater threat to Europe than in 1914.

This danger obsessed postwar French leaders, but they quarreled among themselves over the proper response: strict execution of the Versailles treaty and perhaps even the breaking of German unity, or a Wilsonian policy of “moral disarmament” and reconciliation? In late 1919 the French electorate returned a staunchly conservative decision. The peace conference had not solved France’s triple crisis of security, finance, and industrial reconstruction. Postwar French governments undertook to replace the abortive Anglo-American guarantee with an alliance system of Germany’s neighbours. Belgium shrugged off neutrality, which had failed spectacularly to shelter it in 1914, and concluded a military alliance with France in September 1920. The Franco-Polish alliance (February 1921) and a Franco-Czechoslovak entente (January 1924) created an eastern counterweight to Germany. But these states, while wedded to the Versailles system, needed more protection than they offered. France could come to their aid only by a vigorous offensive against Germany from the west, which in turn required access to the bridgeheads over the Rhine. Thus, not only French security but that of east-central Europe as well depended on German disarmament and Allied occupation of the Rhineland.

French finances were strained by the costs of rebuilding the devastated regions, the army, imperial obligations, and the refusal of the French chamber to accept sizable new taxes until Germany had paid reparations or France’s war debts were annulled. To the extent that Germany reneged, France would face deficits imperiling its currency. As to industrial reconstruction, France depended on Germany for the coal needed to revive iron and steel production and at the same time was forced to countenance a cartel arrangement to escape Germany’s economic competition.

Far from sympathizing with France’s plight, the United States and Britain quickly withdrew from the Versailles treaty. Britain found itself in the midst of a postwar economic slump magnified by its wartime losses in ships and markets. Lloyd George had promised the veterans a land “fit for heroes,” yet unemployment reached 17 percent in 1921. The war had accelerated the decline of the aging British industrial plant and the economy more generally. Unemployment never dipped much below 10 percent during the decade before the onset of the Great Depression, and in the early 1920s the pressure was on the British government to boost employment by reviving trade. Keynes argued persuasively that while Europe could never recover until the German economy took its natural place at the centre, virtually every clause of the treaty seemed designed to prevent that particular return to normalcy. To be sure, the British needed the reparations debt from Germany on the books to balance against their own war debts to the United States. But soon after the war Lloyd George came to favour German recovery in the interest of trade. The entente with France became strained as early as 1920 over the issues of reparations, Turkey, and the coal shortage of that year, from which Britain garnered windfall profits at the expense of the French.

German politics and reparations

Germany, meanwhile, weathered both the leftist agitation of 1919 and the right-wing Kapp Putsch of March 1920. But elections showed a swing to the centre-right in German politics away from the parties that had voted to ratify Versailles. The insecure coalition cabinets of the early 1920s, therefore, found themselves with little room to maneuver on the foreign stage. They dared not rebel openly against Versailles, but dared not endorse fulfillment too eagerly in the face of domestic opinion. Nor could the weak Berlin government take forceful measures to end inflation, impose taxes, or regulate big business. The industrial magnates of the Ruhr thus acquired a virtual veto power over national policy by dint of their importance to the economy, a fact the embittered French did not fail to notice. German leaders themselves differed over how to win relief from the treaty. Army chief Hans von Seeckt and the eastern division of the foreign office thought in Bismarckian terms and favoured close ties with Russia, despite its obnoxious regime. But other economic and foreign policymakers preferred to rely on Britain and the United States to restrain France and revise the treaty. German diplomats soon synthesized these approaches, threatening closer ties with Moscow in order to win concessions from the West.

The Reparations Commission bickered throughout 1920 over the total sum to be demanded of Germany and its distribution among the Allies. At the Spa Conference (July 1920), France won 52 percent of German payments, Britain 22 percent, Italy 10, and Belgium 8. At the conferences of Hythe, Boulogne, and Brussels, France presented a total bill of 230,000,000,000 gold marks, although the British warned that this was far beyond Germany’s capacity to pay. But when German foreign minister Walter Simons offered a mere 30,000,000,000 (Paris Conference, February 1921), French Premier Aristide Briand and Lloyd George made a show of force, seizing in March the Ruhr river ports of Düsseldorf, Duisburg, and Ruhrort, taking over the Rhenish customs offices, and declaring a 50 percent levy on German exports. Finally, on May 5, 1921, the London conference presented Berlin with a bill for 132,000,000,000 gold marks, to be paid in annuities of 2,000,000,000 plus 26 percent ad valorem of German exports. The Germans protested adamantly that this was “an injustice without equal.” Historians have differed sharply as to whether the obligations were within the capacity of the German economy. But the May 1921 schedule was less harsh than it seemed, for the bill was divided into three series—A bonds totaling 12,000,000,000 marks, B bonds for 38,000,000,000, and the unlikely C bonds in the amount of 82,000,000,000. The latter would not even be issued until the first two series were paid and existed as much to balance against the Allies’ debts to the United States as actually to be paid by Germany. Nevertheless, Chancellor Konstantin Fehrenbach resigned rather than accept this new Diktat, and his successor, Joseph Wirth, acquiesced only under threat of occupation of the Ruhr.

The “fulfillment” tactic adopted by Wirth and his foreign minister, Walther Rathenau, was to make a show of good faith to demonstrate that the reparations bill was truly beyond Germany’s capacity. They were aided in this by the continuing deterioration of the paper mark. The prewar value of the mark was about 4.2 to the dollar. By the end of 1919 it reached 63, and after the first payment of 1,000,000,000 marks under the London plan, the mark fell to 262 to the dollar. The French argued that the inflation was purposeful, designed to feign bankruptcy while allowing Berlin to liquidate its internal debt and German industrialists like Hugo Stinnes and Fritz Thyssen to borrow, expand, and dump exports on the world market. Recent research suggests, however, that the government did not fully understand the causes of the inflation even though it recognized its social utility in stimulating employment and permitting social expenditures. Of course, the reparations bill, while not the cause of inflation, was a strong disincentive to stabilization for Berlin could hardly plead bankruptcy if it boasted a strong currency, a balanced budget, and a healthy balance of payments. And insofar as the German government was dependent on those who benefited most from inflation—the industrialists—it was incapable of implementing austerity measures. This financial tangle might have been avoided by a program of reparations-in-kind whereby German firms delivered raw and finished goods directly to the Allies. The Seydoux Plan of 1920 and the Wiesbaden Accords of 1921 embraced such a mechanism, but the Ruhr magnates, delighted that the French might “choke on their iron” in the absence of German coal, and the British, fearful of any continental cartel, together torpedoed reparations-in-kind. By December 1921, Berlin was granted a moratorium.

Allied politics and reparations

At the Cannes Conference (January 1922) the Allies searched for common ground on reparations, a security pact, and Lloyd George’s scheme for a grand economic conference including Soviet Russia. But the French chamber rebelled, and Briand was replaced as prime minister by the wartime president, Poincaré. A hard-headed lawyer from Lorraine, Poincaré was determined to relieve France’s triple crisis without sacrificing its treaty rights. He approached London for a security pact, only to learn that the British were not willing to guarantee the Rhenish demilitarized zone and demanded French concessions on reparations in return. In June a conference of international bankers in Paris recommended loans to stabilize the German mark, but only if Germany were granted a long moratorium on reparations. (Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress created the World War Foreign Debt Commission to pressure the Allies to fund their war debts.) The grand economic conference promoted by Lloyd George was held at Genoa in April and May 1922 and was the first to bring German and Russian delegations together with the Allies on a status of equality. But the Soviets refused to recognize the tsarist regime’s prewar debts and then shocked the Allies by signing the Treaty of Rapallo (April 16) with Germany, an innocuous document (providing for annulment of past claims and restoration of diplomatic relations) that nonetheless appeared to signal an unholy alliance between the two European outcasts. (Innocuous or not, Rathenau was assassinated by German rightists on June 24; Erzberger, signer of the Armistice, had also been murdered in 1921.) French representatives also bargained directly with the Ruhr magnates late in 1922, hoping for a coal-for-iron exchange and market-sharing, but the German price was evacuation of the Rhineland and substantial revision of the Treaty of Versailles. Meanwhile, the German mark tumbled to 7,500 to the dollar in December. Poincaré concluded that only force would break the deadlock. As he told the Belgians in July, “I will propose a short moratorium subject to guarantees. If England refuses I will act alone. The German industrialists conspire to destroy the mark. They hope to ruin France.”

The new German Cabinet of Wilhelm Cuno made a desperate appeal to the United States. Secretary of State Hughes responded on December 29 with an offer to convene a committee of experts to study means of stabilizing the mark, but he held out no hope that the United States might relent on war debts. When the Reparations Commission declared that Germany had defaulted on its 1922 timber deliveries (Britain dissenting), Poincaré had his mandate to take sanctions. On Jan. 11, 1923, French and Belgian troops began to occupy the Ruhr. If the Germans submitted peacefully, the Ruhr would constitute a “productive guarantee,” generating coal and receipts for France and giving her a valuable bargaining chip. If the Germans resisted, the French might take whatever measures seemed fit, up to and including political change in the Rhineland.

German workers protested the occupation of the Ruhr with an immense sitdown strike that proprietors and the government quickly joined. Berlin supported this passive resistance with unemployment relief that, in seeking to prove that the hated French could not “mine coal with bayonets,” completed the destruction of the German currency. The railroads, mines, factories, and public services in the Ruhr and Rhineland ground to a halt. Poincaré steeled his will and dispatched French engineers and workers to revive the Rhine-Ruhr complex through the Inter-Allied Control Commission for Factories and Mines (MICUM) and a Franco-Belgian directorate for the railroads. The Allied Rhineland Commission (Britain dissenting) seized all executive, legislative, and judicial power in the occupied territories, expelled 16,000 uncooperative German officials (and more than 100,000 persons in all), and sequestered all German government property, energy resources, and transportation. France began covertly subsidizing separatist agitation. The Ruhr adventure thus became an economic war of attrition with stakes potentially as high as in a shooting war. If France retreated, the Treaty of Versailles was as good as dead; if Germany collapsed, the Rhineland might be lost.

The paper mark reached 4,000,000 to the dollar in August, and the Reich treasury was at the end of its tether. Business in non-occupied Germany was choking, and social unrest was spreading. Bavarian rightists called for war or separatism, while the Communist Party made gains in the cities. Gustav Stresemann, the conservative, business-oriented politician who replaced Cuno, finally ended passive resistance in September 1923 “to preserve the life of the nation and the state.” But Poincaré, instead of naming his terms to Germany, apparently threw away the victory and accepted, after nine months’ delay, Hughes’s invitation to form a committee of experts. Poincaré’s inaction baffled contemporaries, but in fact he had little to gain from dealing with Berlin. Only Britain and the United States could cancel France’s war debts, stabilize the mark with loans to fund reparations, and offer security pacts or legitimize an autonomous Rhenish state, while only the Ruhr magnates could satisfy French industrial needs. So Poincaré ordered his Ruhr army commander to negotiate directly with Thyssen, Stinnes, Krupp, and their colleagues for the MICUM Accords (November 23) under which German industry went back to work, while he himself saw to the mandate of the international committee of experts.

Poincaré’s plans misfired, however, for by the time the committee of experts began its deliberations at the turn of 1924, France’s dearly purchased leverage had eroded and Germany had begun to recover. Troops expelled Communists from the governments of Saxony and Thuringia, a Communist putsch in Hamburg misfired, and Bavarian police quashed the Nazi putsch led by Adolf Hitler and Ludendorff. Hjalmar Schacht, recently appointed president of the Reichsbank, halted the inflation with a temporary currency called the Rentenmark, and on New Year’s Day 1924 the president of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman, extended a 500,000,000 gold mark credit to back a new German mark. In October 1923, meanwhile, rowdy bands supported by the French occupation began to seize public buildings from Aachen to Speyer and to proclaim a Rhineland Republic. These separatists had no support from the population or from genuine Rhenish notables like the mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, and their actions only further discredited French policy in the eyes of Britain. By January the separatists had been driven out or murdered by fellow Germans. Finally, the French franc also succumbed to the pressure it had been under since the war. Poincaré tried austerity measures, but a new collapse in March forced him to borrow $89,000,000 from J.P. Morgan, Jr., of New York to stabilize the exchange rate. All these blows to France’s position told in the report of the committee of experts under American Charles G. Dawes, released in April 1924. It called for a grand loan to Germany and the resumption of reparations payments, but made the latter contingent on French withdrawal from the Ruhr and restoration of German economic unity. Jacques Seydoux, an economist in France’s foreign ministry, had predicted this outcome as early as November 1923: “There is no use hiding the fact that we have entered on the path of the ‘financial reconstruction of Europe.’ We will not deal with Germany as conqueror to vanquished; rather the Germans and Frenchmen will sit on the same bench before the United States and other lending countries.” On May 11, 1924, the French electorate defeated Poincaré in favour of the Cartel des Gauches (a leftist coalition) under Édouard Herriot, who favoured a policy of accommodation with Germany.

The agreements of mid-decade

Reparations agreements

Out of the exhaustion of France and Germany after the Ruhr struggle and the desire of American bankers and British diplomats to promote their reconciliation, the period 1924–26 finally produced agreements on reparations, security, and industrial cooperation. An interim reparations plan, the Dawes Plan, emerged from the London conference of July–August 1924. Expecting to join Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour prime minister, in Socialist brotherhood, Herriot instead found himself a supplicant whose bargaining points were few and feeble. France was obliged to evacuate the Ruhr (by August 1925), to end sanctions on the Rhine, and to promise never again to impose sanctions on Germany without the unanimous agreement of the Reparations Commission. The United States would lend $200,000,000 to Germany to “prime the pump,” and Germany would pay from 1,000,000,000 to 2,500,000,000 marks in reparations for five years. The French government, by contrast, issued bonds worth 44,000,000,000 francs from 1919 to 1925 to finance reconstruction of its devastated regions. In the end, Germany received more money in loans than it ever paid in reparations, so that the cost of repairing war damage was borne ultimately by the taxpayers, investors, and consumers of the Allied nations and the United States.

The influx of American capital through the Dawes Plan nevertheless broke the postwar spiral of inflation, default, and hostility and made possible a return to the gold standard. Germany stabilized its currency in 1924, Britain followed in 1925, and France did so in 1926 (officially in 1928). The smaller countries of Europe and Latin America, in turn, pegged their currencies against either the dollar, the pound, or the franc. Finally, the French government agreed in the Mellon–Berenger Accords (April 20, 1926) to fund its war debts at the favourable rates offered by the United States. The new gold standard and the cycle of international transfers, however, depended on a continuous flow of American capital. Should that flow ever cease, the normalcy so painfully achieved would quickly be imperiled.

Security and the League of Nations

With respect to security, France had achieved nothing. Of course, the Versailles restrictions on German armaments were still in force, as was France’s rear alliance system, but in striving for collective security the French suffered a series of disappointments. The League of Nations Assembly Resolution XIV of September 1922 endorsed the disarmament commission’s recommendation for a treaty on collective security. The Czechoslovakian delegation, led by Edvard Beneš, quickly rose to a position of leadership in security matters, with the support of French and British proponents of the League such as Lord Robert Cecil, whose Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance came under discussion in 1923. Beneš rightly criticized the Draft Treaty for requiring unanimity on the League Council to declare sanctions against an aggressor, for only in rare cases was the accused party’s guilt obvious to all, as the 1914 case itself illustrated. Beneš also wanted a mechanism for pacific settlement of disputes before resort to arms. More telling, however, was opposition to the concept of collective security in British opinion. Canada, Australia, and other dominions especially opposed an instrument that might involve them in war over some obscure conflict in eastern Europe. In July 1924 London rejected the Draft Treaty.

Beneš submitted an improved Geneva Protocol (or Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes) in October. Under the protocol, states would agree to submit all disputes to the Permanent Court of International Justice, any state refusing arbitration was ipso facto the aggressor, and the League Council could impose binding sanctions by a two-thirds majority. France enthusiastically supported the Geneva Protocol, but British Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain rejected it in March 1925.

Herriot had made it known that France would not proceed with the first partial evacuation of the Rhineland, scheduled for January 1925, unless he could show the French people some guarantee of security. Chamberlain suggested to Stresemann in February 1925 that the Germans themselves reassure France through a regional security pact. Stresemann took up the idea, seeing in it a way to head off a bilateral Anglo-French alliance. Herriot’s government fell in April, but Aristide Briand stayed on as foreign minister to carry through negotiations. Stresemann and Briand met and embraced at Locarno, swore to put the war behind them once and for all, and signed five treaties (Oct. 16, 1925) designed to pacify postwar Europe. Locarno seemed truly a second peace conference and was greeted with cheers and relief in world capitals. The main treaty, the Rhineland Pact, enjoined France, Belgium, and Germany to recognize the boundaries established by the Treaty of Versailles as inviolate and never again to resort to force in an attempt to change them. Moreover, the pact was guaranteed by Britain and Italy, who pledged to resist whatever country violated the demilitarized Rhineland. Germany also signed arbitration agreements with France, Belgium, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, agreeing to submit future disputes to international authority.

Locarno seemed a giant step forward. Rather than a Diktat, it was a voluntary recognition by Germany of the 1919 borders in the west. Britain had been brought in to guarantee not only France but also demilitarization of the Rhineland. Italy’s adherence was a bonus. Germany had negotiated as an equal and looked forward to further abridgement of the Versailles restrictions. Above all, Briand hoped, Locarno was the start of the “moral disarmament” of Germany. But some contemporaries, and many historians, criticized Locarno for being an incomplete system, as dangerous as it was seductive. By way of granting German equality, Britain had guaranteed Germany against French attack as much as France against Germany. “England,” said Poincaré, “becomes the arbiter of Franco-German relations.” To be sure, France still promised to help Poland and Czechoslovakia in case of German attack, but, after Locarno, Prague and Warsaw discounted the French commitment. What was more, Locarno all but invited German revisionism in the east by explicitly providing not for recognition but for arbitration on Germany’s eastern borders. Changes in French military policy also boded ill for eastern Europe. Since 1919, Foch and Pétain had quarreled over whether to adopt an offensive or defensive contingency plan for the French army. In the wake of Locarno the Pétain faction won, and France began to design an imposing system of concrete fortresses along the border with Germany. This Maginot Line (after Minister of War André Maginot) was not meant to preclude offensive action by the French army but was in effect (in Foch’s words) a “Great Wall of China” that would breed a false sense of security and weaken France’s will to take the offensive on behalf of her eastern allies.

Finally, the aftermath of the Ruhr episode provided French and German industry with a chance to normalize their relations. The evacuation of the Ruhr restored Germany’s coal leverage, and Berlin recovered tariff sovereignty in 1925 under the Treaty of Versailles, but the French inflation of 1924–26 shifted the export price advantage from Germany to France. Long and complicated four-way negotiations (French and German public and private sectors) produced a Franco-German steel syndicate in 1926 providing for coal-for-iron exchanges and an international committee to fix production quotas quarterly. The latter awarded France a 31 percent share compared to 43 percent for Germany, a marked improvement over the 1 to 4 ratio France had suffered before 1914. Franco-German commercial treaties followed in 1926–27.

The agreements of mid-decade ended the bickering and uncertainty of the immediate postwar years and made Germany a partner in the new Europe. In every case, however, the compacts replaced French rights under Versailles with voluntary agreements dependent on both Anglo-American support and German goodwill.

Italy and east-central Europe

Fascism and Italian reality

The peoples of east-central Europe enjoyed a degree of freedom in the 1920s unique in their history. But the power vacuum in the region resulting from the temporary impotence of Germany and Russia pulled in other Great Powers—chiefly Mussolini’s Italy and France—seeking respectively to revise or uphold the 1919 order.

Fascism was the most striking political novelty of the interwar years. Fascism defied precise definition. In practice it was an anti-Marxist, antiliberal, and antidemocratic mass movement that aped Communist methods, extolled the leadership principle and a “corporatist” organization of society, and showed both modern and antimodern tendencies. But the three states universally acknowledged to be Fascist in the 1930s—Italy, Germany, and Japan—were most similar in their foreign, rather than their domestic, ideology and policy. All embraced extreme nationalism and a theory of competition among nations and races that justified their revolts—as “proletarian nations”—against the international order of 1919. In this sense, Fascism can be understood as the antithesis of Wilsonianism rather than of Leninism.

In the first decade of Mussolini’s rule, changes in Italian diplomacy were more stylistic than substantive. But recent historiography argues that this decade of relatively good behaviour was a function of the continuing constraints on Italian ambitions rather than moderation in Fascist goals. Mussolini proclaimed upon taking power that “treaties are not eternal, are not irremediable,” and declared loudly and often his determination to restore Italian grandeur. This would be accomplished by revision of the “mutilated victory,” by the transformation of the Mediterranean into an Italian mare nostrum, and by the creation of “a new Roman Empire” through expansion and conquest in Africa and the Balkans. Such reveries reflected not only Mussolini’s native grandiloquence but also Italy’s relative poverty and surplus rural population and need for markets and raw materials secure from the competition of more developed powers. In this sense, Italy was a sort of weak Japan. And like the Japanese, Italians bristled at the tendency of the Great Powers to treat them, in Mussolini’s words, “as another Portugal.” Still, Fascist bluster seemed safely unmatched in actions, and London in particular was pleased with the tendency of the Fascist foreign minister Dino Grandi to “take refuge on rainy days under the ample and capacious mantle of England” in traditional Italian fashion. More than once Grandi dissuaded Il Duce from provocative actions, taking care not to offend his vanity. The Italian navy’s inferiority to the British and French, and the army’s need for reorganization, also suggested prudence.

Fascist diplomacy

Italian diplomacy in the 1920s, therefore, was a mix of bombast and caution. At the Lausanne Conference, Mussolini dramatically stopped his train to oblige Poincaré and Curzon to come to him. He made Italy the first Western power to offer a trade agreement and recognition to the Bolsheviks and was proud of Italy’s role in the League (though he considered it “an academic organization”) and as a guarantor of the Locarno Pact. In the Mediterranean, Mussolini protested French rule in Tunis and asserted for Italy a moral claim to the province. But he satisfied his thirst for action against weaker opponents. He broke the Regina Agreement with the Sanūsī tribesmen of Libya, which had limited Italian occupation to the coast, and by 1928 completed Italy’s conquest of that poor and weak country.

Italy’s main sphere of activity was the Balkans. When an Italian general surveying the border of a Greek-speaking district of Albania was killed in August 1923, Mussolini ordered a naval squadron to bombard the Greek isle of Corfu. The League of Nations awarded Italy an indemnity, but not the island. In January 1924, Wilson’s Free State of Fiume disappeared when Yugoslav Premier Nikola Pašić granted Italian annexation in the Treaty of Rome. Diplomatic attempts to regularize relations between Belgrade and Rome, however, could not overcome Yugoslavia’s suspicion of Italian ambitions in Albania. In 1924 a coup d’état, ostensibly backed by Belgrade, elevated the Muslim Ahmed Bey Zogu in Tiranë. Once in power, however, Ahmed Zogu looked to Italy. The Tiranë Pact (Nov. 27, 1926) provided Italian economic aid and was followed by a military alliance in 1927 and finally a convention (July 1, 1928) declaring Albania a virtual protectorate of Italy. Ahmed Zogu then assumed the title of King Zog I.

To the north, Italian diplomacy aimed at countering French influence among the successor states. In 1920 the French even courted Hungary and toyed with the idea of resurrecting a Danubian Confederation, but when the deposed Habsburg King Charles appeared in Hungary in March 1921, Allied protests and a Czech ultimatum forced him back into exile. Hungarian revisionism, however, motivated Beneš to unite those states that owed their existence to the Treaty of Trianon. A Czech–Yugoslav alliance (Aug. 14, 1920), Czech–Romanian alliance (April 23, 1921), and Romanian–Yugoslav alliance (June 7, 1921) together formed what was known as the Little Entente. When Charles tried again in October to claim his throne in Budapest, the Little Entente threatened invasion. While France had not midwived the combination, it associated strongly with the successor states through Franco–Czech (Oct. 16, 1925), Franco–Romanian (June 10, 1926), and Franco–Yugoslav (Nov. 11, 1927) military alliances. The latter implied that France would side with Belgrade against Rome in case of war and exacerbated the strained relations between France and Italy.

Mussolini had more luck in the defeated states of central Europe, Austria and Hungary. But in the former case, Italy was not siding with the revisionists. In return for financial aid to end its own hyperinflation, Austria had promised the League of Nations in 1922 that it would not seek Anschluss with Germany. Mussolini proclaimed in May 1925 that he, too, would never tolerate the Anschluss but set out to curry favour with the Austrian government. An Italo-Hungarian commercial treaty (Sept. 5, 1925), a friendship treaty (April 5, 1927) moving Hungary “into the sphere of Italian interests,” and a rapprochement with Bulgaria in 1930 completed Italy’s alignments with the states defeated in the war. Hungary in particular attracted Mussolini’s sympathy. But as long as the combined will of the Little Entente, backed by France, opposed revisionism, Italy alone could force no alterations. On the other hand, military or economic cooperation among the congeries of states in east-central Europe also proved impossible. Czech–Polish rivalry continued, however illogical, and after Piłsudski’s coup d’état in Poland in 1926 even the internationalist Beneš sought to steer German revisionism against Poland rather than Austria and the Danubian basin. The Little Entente and French alliances, therefore, amounted to a fair-weather system that would collapse in the first storm.

The invention of Soviet foreign policy

Lenin’s diplomacy

In November 1920 Lenin surprised Western observers and his fellow Bolsheviks alike by declaring that “we have entered a new period in which we have . . . won the right to our international existence in the network of capitalist states.” By 1921, the generally accepted turning point in Soviet policy, Bolshevism had made the transition from a revolutionary movement to a functioning state. The Civil War was won, the New Economic Policy ended the brutal “War Communism” and restored a measure of free market activity to peasants, and the Soviet government was organized along traditional ministerial lines (though subject to the dictates of the Communist Party). Russia was ready—needed—to pursue traditional relations with foreign powers in search of capital, trade, and technology for reconstruction. The emergence of what Stalin called “Socialism in one country” therefore obliged the Soviets to invent out of whole cloth a “Communist” foreign policy.

That invention took shape as a two-track approach whereby Russia (from 1922 the U.S.S.R.) would on the one hand continue to operate as the centre of world revolution, dedicated to the overthrow of the capitalist powers, and yet conduct an apparently regular existence as a nation-state courting recognition and assistance from those same powers. The first track was the responsibility of the Comintern (Third International) under Grigory Zinovyev and Karl Radek; the second, of the Narkomindel (foreign commissariat) directed from 1920 to 1930 by the timid and cultured prewar nobleman, Georgy Chicherin. The Comintern enjoyed direct access to the Politburo, whereas the Narkomindel had no voice even in the Central Committee until 1925. In practice, however, the foreign policy interests of the U.S.S.R. dominated even the Comintern to such an extent that other Communist parties were not factions in their own country’s politics so much as Soviet fifth columns operating abroad. When subversive activity flagged, diplomacy came to the fore; when diplomacy was unfruitful, revolution was emphasized. The goal was not to encourage “peace” or “progressive reform” in the West, but solely to enhance Soviet power. Thus Lenin instructed Comintern parties “to unmask not only open social patriotism but also the falseness and hypocrisy of social pacifism”; in other words, to do all that was possible to undermine Moscow’s rivals on the left as well as on the right through the infiltration and subversion of Western labour unions, armed forces, newspapers, and schools. Yet Moscow readily ignored or confounded the efforts of local Communists when diplomatic opportunities with foreign countries seemed promising. The scent of betrayal this caused made mandatory the secrecy, discipline, and purges demanded of Communist parties abroad.

At the third congress of the Comintern in 1921 even Trotsky, the impassioned advocate of world revolution, admitted that the struggle of the proletariat in other countries was slackening. At that time the mutiny of Russian sailors at Kronshtadt and widespread famine in Russia impelled the party to concentrate on consolidating its power at home and reviving the economy. The Soviets, therefore, turned to the capitalists who, Lenin jeered, would “sell the rope to their own hangmen” in search of profits. Indeed, Western leaders, especially Lloyd George, viewed the vast Russian market as a kind of panacea for Western industrial stagnation and unemployment. But he and others misunderstood the nature of the Soviet state. Private property, commercial law, and hard currency no longer existed in Russia; one did business, not in a market, but on terms laid down by a state monopoly. What was more, by 1928 the whole point of trade was to allow the Soviet economy to catch up to the West in the shortest possible time and thus achieve complete self-sufficiency. It was, in George Kennan’s words, a “trade to end all trade.”

The Anglo-Russian commercial pact of March 1921 and secret contacts with German military and civilian agents were the first Soviet openings to the Great Powers. Both culminated the following year in the Genoa Conference, where the Soviet representatives appeared, to the relief of their counterparts, in striped pants and on good behaviour. Indeed, having seized power as the minority faction of a minority party, the Bolsheviks sought legitimacy abroad as the most adamant sticklers for etiquette and legalism. But the Western powers insisted on an end to Communist propaganda and recognition of the tsarist debts as prerequisites to trade. Chicherin countered with a fanciful claim for reparations stemming from the Allied interventions, at the same time denying that Moscow bore any responsibility for the doings of the Comintern. As Theodore von Laue has written, “To ask the Soviet regime . . . to refrain from making use of its revolutionary tools was as futile as to ask the British Empire to scrap its fleet.” Instead, a German-Russian knot was tied in the Treaty of Rapallo, whereby the U.S.S.R. was able to take advantage of Germany’s bitterness over Versailles to split the capitalist powers. Trade and recognition were not the only consequences of Rapallo; in its wake began a decade of clandestine German military research on Russian soil.

Upon the occupation of the Ruhr the Soviets declared solidarity with the Berlin government. By August 1923, however, with Stresemann seeking negotiations with France and German society disintegrating, revolutionary opportunism again took precedence. The Politburo went so far as to designate personnel for a German Communist government, and Zinovyev gave German Communists the signal to stage a putsch in Hamburg. When it proved a fiasco, the Soviets returned to their Rapallo diplomacy with Berlin. The political victories of the leftists MacDonald in Britain and Herriot in France then prompted recognition of the Soviet government by Britain (Feb. 1, 1924), Italy (February 7), France (October 28), and most other European states. Later in 1924, however, publication during the British electoral campaign of the infamous (and probably forged) “Zinovyev letter” ordering Communists to disrupt the British army created a sensation. British police also suspected Communists of subversive activities during the bitter General Strike of 1926 and launched the “Arcos raid” on the Soviet trade delegation in London in May 1927. Anglo-Soviet relations did not resume until 1930.

Stalin’s diplomacy

Lenin’s incapacity and death (Jan. 21, 1924) triggered a protracted struggle for power between Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. In foreign policy their conflict seemed one of an emphasis on aiding the European peoples “in the struggle against their oppressors” (Trotsky) versus an emphasis on “building Socialism in one country” (Stalin). But that was largely a caricature meant to discredit Trotsky as an “adventurer.” During the intraparty struggle, however, Soviet foreign policy drifted. The “partial stabilization of capitalism in the West” through the Dawes Plan and the Locarno treaties was a rude setback for Moscow. When Germany later joined the League of Nations, the Soviet press warned Germany against this “false step” into “this wasp’s nest of international intrigue, where political sharpers and thieving diplomatists play with marked cards, strangle weak nations, and organize war against the U.S.S.R.” But the Germans were not about to throw away their Russian card. Negotiations to expand the Rapallo accord produced the Treaty of Berlin (April 24, 1926) by which Germany pledged neutrality in any conflict between the U.S.S.R. and a third power, including the League of Nations. Germany also provided a 300,000,000-mark credit and in the late 1920s accounted for 29 percent of Soviet foreign trade.

From 1921 on, the Politburo judged Asia to be the region that offered the best hope for Socialist expansion, although this required collaboration with “bourgeois nationalists.” The Bolsheviks suppressed their own subject nationalities at the first opportunity, yet declared their solidarity with all peoples resisting Western imperialism. In 1920 they paid homage to the “great and famous Amīr Amānollāh” in cementing relations with the new Afghan leader, and they were the first to sign treaties with Nationalist Turkey. In September 1920 the Comintern sponsored a conference of “the peoples of the East” at Baku. Zinovyev and Radek presided over a contentious lot of Central Asian delegates, whose own quarrels, of which the Armenian-Turkish was the most vitriolic, made a mockery of any notion of regional or political solidarity. Thereafter, Soviet Asian activity went underground, alternately aiding Communists against nationalists like Reza Khan and Mustafa Kemal, and aiding nationalists against the European powers.

The centrepiece of Soviet designs in Asia could only be China, whose liberation Lenin viewed in 1923 as “an essential stage in the victory of socialism in the world.” In 1919 and 1920 the Narkomindel made much of its revolutionary sympathy for China by renouncing the rights acquired by tsarist Russia in its concessionary treaties. But soon the Soviets were sending troops into Outer Mongolia, allegedly at the request of local Communists, and concluding their own treaty with Peking (May 31, 1924) that granted the U.S.S.R. a virtual protectorate over Outer Mongolia—its first satellite—and continued ownership of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria.

The political disintegration of China, and their own devious tactics, inevitably complicated Soviet policy. While pursuing superficially correct relations with Peking, the Politburo placed its future hopes on the Canton-based Nationalists (KMT), whose members were impressed by the Bolsheviks’ example of how to seize and master a vast undeveloped country. In 1922 the Comintern directed Chinese Communists to enroll in the KMT even as Adolf Yoffe renounced all Soviet intentions of importing Marxism into China. The Communist presence in the KMT grew rapidly until, after Sun Yat-sen’s death in March 1925, Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin became the main strategist for the KMT. Still, the Soviets were uncertain how to proceed. In March 1926, Trotsky counseled caution lest precipitate attacks on foreign interests in China impel the imperialists—including Japan—into anti-Soviet action. Indeed, Stalin did his best to woo Tokyo, noting that Japanese nationalism had great anti-Western potential.

On March 20, 1926, Chiang Kai-shek turned the tables with a coup that elevated him within the KMT and landed many Communists in prison. Ignoring the outrage of the Chinese Communists, Borodin remained in Chiang’s good graces, whereupon Chiang staged the northern expedition in which he greatly expanded KMT power with the help of Communist organizations in the countryside. But Borodin also advised leftist KMT members to leave the south for a new base in the Wu-han cities to escape Chiang’s immediate control. This “Left KMT” or “Wu-han Body” was to steer the KMT in a Communist direction and eventually seize control. The Soviet Party Congress in January 1927 even declared China the “second home” of world revolution, and Stalin confided to a Moscow audience that Chiang’s forces were “to be utilized to the end, squeezed out like a lemon, and then thrown away.” But Chiang preempted again by ordering a bloody purge of Shanghai Communists on April 12–13, 1927. Trotsky blamed Stalin’s lack of faith in revolutionary zeal for the debacle, declaring that he should have unleashed the Communists sooner. Instead, the Left KMT eroded, many of its former adherents going over to Chiang. With the party thus fractured, Stalin changed his mind and ordered an armed revolt by Communists against the KMT. This, too, ended in carnage, and by mid-1928 only scattered bands (one under Mao Zedong) remained to take to the hills.

Stalin’s triumph at home and failure in China ended the formative era of Soviet foreign policy. The Politburo had expelled Zinovyev, Radek, and Trotsky by October 1926; the Party Congress condemned all deviation from the Stalinist line in December 1927; and Trotsky went into exile in January 1929. Thenceforth Soviet foreign policy and the Comintern line reflected the will of one man. Communist parties abroad likewise purged all but Stalinists and reorganized in rigid imitation of the U.S.S.R.’s ruthless dictatorship. The Sixth Party Congress (summer 1928) anathematized social democracy in the strongest terms ever and strengthened its call for subversive activities against democratic institutions. Above all, Stalin declared after an ephemeral war scare of 1926 that the era of peaceful coexistence with capitalism was coming to an end and ordered vigorous measures to prepare the U.S.S.R. for war. The New Economic Policy gave way to the First Five-Year Plan (Oct. 1, 1928) for collectivization of agriculture and rapid industrialization, which condemned millions of peasants to expropriation, starvation, or exile to Siberia, but enabled the regime to sell wheat abroad to pay for industrial goods. Stalin imported entire factories from the United States, France, Italy, and Germany as the basis for the Soviet steel, automotive, aviation, tire, oil, and gas industries. In 1927 he launched the first of the show trials of industrial “wreckers” who had allegedly conspired with reactionaries and foreign agents, and in 1929 he purged all those—the “Right Opposition”—who questioned the Five-Year Plan.

The Bolsheviks interpreted their survival and consolidation in the 1920s as confirmation of their reading of the objective forces of history. In fact, Soviet foreign policy could boast of few successes. It was the Allied defeat of Germany in 1918 and the Red Army’s military prowess that permitted the revolution to survive; the Versailles restraints on Germany and cordon sanitaire in eastern Europe that sheltered Russia from the West as much as it sheltered Europe from Bolshevism; American pressure on Japan that restored Vladivostok to the U.S.S.R.; Anglo-French recognition that opened much of the world to Soviet trade; and Western technology that enabled Stalin to hope for rapid economic modernization. The link with Germany was a Soviet achievement, but even it had a double edge, for it helped Germany to prepare for its own remilitarization. Of course, Stalin was ultimately right that a crisis of capitalism and new round of imperialism and war were just around the corner, but in part it was Comintern assaults on Western liberals and Socialists that helped to undermine the fragile stability of the 1920s.

The United States, Britain, and world markets

U.S. leverage in world markets

The economic dislocations and technological advances of the war, the relative rise of American power, and territorial changes in the colonial world all made stabilization of world markets a pressing issue in the 1920s. The resolution of this issue was chiefly the responsibility of the two economies that bestrode the world: the United States and the British Empire. Their interests diverged in many regions. At the Allied Economic Conference of 1916 the British and French had projected a postwar Allied cartel to control raw materials, while in 1918 the British drafted plans for excluding American capital from the British Empire. At the peace conference Wilson and Lloyd George engaged in backstage debate over the allocation of United States and Allied shipping with an eye to expanding their respective countries’ share of world trade. On the heels of the merchant shipping rivalry came naval competition that culminated in the breaking of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the Washington Treaty limitations. Finally, the war debts raised the issue of whether Britain would seek a “debtors’ cartel” with the French to defy Wall Street, or join the United States in a “creditors’ cartel.” At stake in the U.S.–British disputes was their relative global power in coming decades.

Traditional American protectionism triumphed after the electoral victory of the Republicans. The Fordney–McCumber Tariff (September 1922) was the highest in U.S. history and angered the Europeans, whose efforts to acquire dollars through exports were hampered even as the United States demanded payment of war debts. In raw materials policy, however, the United States upheld the Open Door. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover rejected both statist economic competition that bred war and laissez-faire competition that bred cycles of boom and bust. Instead, he advocated formal cooperation among firms of various nations to stabilize the price and supply of commodities, raise living standards, and yet avoid the waste and oppression of regulatory bureaucracies. This “third alternative” would create “a new economic system, based neither on the capitalism of Adam Smith nor upon the Socialism of Karl Marx.” By dint of leverage and persuasion, the United States gradually brought Britain around to this model of informal entente. By late 1922 London bankers also took the American position on war debts, and the two nations also cooperated in such new areas as transoceanic cables and radio. Of surpassing importance for national power in the mechanized 20th century, however, was oil.

After the Great War, known oil reserves outside the industrial powers themselves were concentrated in the British mandates of the Middle East, Persia, the Dutch East Indies, and Venezuela. The Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Anglo-Persian Oil Company dominated oil exploration and production in Asia, but increasingly they confronted revolutionary nationalism, Bolshevik agitation (in Persia), and U.S. opposition to imperialism. When the British and French agreed at San Remo (1920) to coordinate their oil policies in the Middle East, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. State Department protested any exclusion of U.S. firms. What was more, the United States invoked the Mineral Lands Leasing Act of 1920 against the Dutch, denying them access to American reserves in retaliation for Shell’s monopoly in the East Indies. In 1921, Hoover and Secretary of State Hughes encouraged seven private firms to form an American Group, led by Standard Oil of New Jersey, to seek a share of Mesopotamian oil reserves, while State Department expert Arthur Millspaugh outlined a plan for worldwide Anglo-American reciprocity. The British, fearing American retaliation and anxious to have help against native rebellions, granted the American Group a 20 percent share of the rich Mesopotamian fields. In 1922 a similar arrangement spawned the Perso-American Petroleum Company. In 1925 the Iranian nationalist Reza Khan, inspired in part by the Kemalist revolt in Turkey, seized power and had himself proclaimed Reza Shah Pahlavi, but he was unable to play the British and Americans off against each other. Oil politics and nationalism in the Middle East, therefore, presaged events of the post-1945 era. (Another anticipation occurred in Palestine, where the Balfour Declaration encouraged thousands of Jewish Zionists to immigrate, leading to bloody clashes with Palestinian Arabs in 1921 and 1929.) Reciprocity also triumphed in U.S.–Dutch oil diplomacy, and Standard Oil of New Jersey acquired a 28 percent share in the East Indies by 1939.

U.S. leverage in Latin-American affairs

In Venezuela and Central America the situation was the reverse. During the war the State Department endorsed all-American oil concessions, but, in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, Hughes instructed his Latin-American ambassadors in 1921 to respect foreign interests. Latin America in general became far more of an American sphere of influence during the war than ever before owing to the growth of American commerce at Britain’s expense. Central American governments now relied on New York banks to manage their public finance rather than those of London and Paris, while the U.S. share of Latin-American trade totaled 32 percent, double Britain’s share, though British capital still predominated in the economics of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

Ever since the 17 republics of mainland Latin America emerged from the wreck of the Spanish Empire in the early 19th century, North Americans had viewed them with a mixture of condescension and contempt that focused on their alien culture, racial mix, unstable politics, and moribund economies. The Western Hemisphere seemed a natural sphere of U.S. influence, and this view had been institutionalized in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 warning European states that any attempt to “extend their system” to the Americas would be viewed as evidence of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States itself. On the one hand, the doctrine seemed to underscore republican familiarity, as suggested by references to “our sister republics,” “our good neighbors,” our “southern brethren.” On the other hand, the United States later used the doctrine to justify paternalism and intervention. This posed a quandary for the Latin Americans, since a United States strong enough to protect them from Europe was also strong enough to pose a threat itself. When Secretary of State James G. Blaine hosted the first Pan-American Conference in 1889, Argentina proposed the Calvo Doctrine asking all parties to renounce special privileges in other states. The United States refused.

After the Spanish–American War in 1898 the United States strengthened its power in the Caribbean by annexing Puerto Rico, declaring Cuba a virtual protectorate in the Platt Amendment (1901), and manipulating Colombia into granting independence to Panama (1904), which in turn invited the United States to build and control the Panama Canal. In the Roosevelt Corollary (1904) to the Monroe Doctrine the United States assumed “an international police power” in cases where Latin-American insolvency might lead to European intervention. Such “dollar diplomacy” was used to justify—and probably made inevitable—the later “gunboat diplomacy” of U.S. military intervention in Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, and Haiti. In his first term President Wilson also became embroiled in the Mexican Revolution. An affront to U.S. sailors led to his bombardment of Veracruz (1914), and border raids by Pancho Villa prompted a U.S. expedition into northern Mexico (1916). The Mexican Constitution of 1917 then granted to the state all subsoil resources to prevent their exploitation by U.S. firms. Such revolutionary efforts to nationalize resources, however, only meant that they went undeveloped or were exploited at home by corrupt officials, while the United States retaliated by cutting off loans and trade. The Latin-American dilemma of weakness and disunity in proximity to a mighty and united power was thus insoluble through unilateral efforts or a Pan-American movement dominated by Washington.

Wilson’s proposed League of Nations seemed to offer Latin America a means of circumventing U.S. influence. But the United States inserted Article 21 to the effect that “Nothing in this Covenant shall be deemed to affect the validity of international engagements, such as treaties of arbitration or regional understandings like the Monroe Doctrine.” Secretary of State Hughes later defended U.S. behaviour by candidly questioning the ability of some Latin-American states to maintain public order, sound finance, and the rule of law. When the Chaco dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay erupted into war, League of Nations President Briand offered his personal good offices, but he refused to assert League authority for fear of irritating the United States. In the end, the Pan-American Commission of Inquiry assumed jurisdiction.

Latin-American protests grew in volume, especially in 1926, when a Mexican-supported leftist rebellion in Nicaragua prompted U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg to report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “Bolshevist Aims and Policies in Mexico and Latin America.” But intervention by United States marines in Nicaragua only paved the way for the dictatorial regime of the Somozas. At the Pan-American Conference of 1928, rivalry between Argentina and Brazil and the Chaco contestants, and the caution of other states, precluded their presenting a united Latin-American front. But the U.S. administrations of the decade did labour to improve the American image. The Clark Amendment of 1928 repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary, while Hoover toured 10 Latin-American nations after his election as president and repudiated the “big brother” role. In the 1920s, therefore, the United States continued to squeeze out European influence in Latin America but was itself moving slowly toward the “Good Neighbor” policy of the 1930s.

The Locarno era and the dream of disarmament

The Locarno treaties promised a new era of reconciliation that seemed fulfilled in the mid-to-late 1920s as the European and world economies recovered and the German electorate turned its back on extremists of the right and left. Locarno had also anticipated Germany’s entry into the League. But the prospect of expanding the League Council kicked off an indelicate scramble for Council seats as Britain supported Spain, France supported Poland, and Brazil insisted that it represent Latin America (angering the Argentines). Sweden and Czechoslovakia helped to break the deadlock by magnanimously sacrificing their seats, although Brazil in the end quit the League. Finally, on Sept. 8, 1927, Stresemann led a German delegation into the halls of Geneva, pledging that Germany’s steadfast will was to labour for freedom, peace, and unity. Briand, by now the statesman most associated with “the spirit of Geneva,” replied in like terms: “No more blood, no more cannon, no more machine-guns! . . . Let our countries sacrifice their amour-propre for the sake of the peace of the world.” The same month, Stresemann tried to capitalize on the goodwill during an interview with Briand at Thoiry. He suggested a 1,500,000,000-mark advance on German reparations payments (to ease the French fiscal crisis then nearing its climax) in return for immediate evacuation of the last two Rhineland zones. The French chamber would likely have rejected such a concession, and in any case Poincaré, again in power, stabilized the franc soon after.

The very goodwill expressed at Geneva—and removal of the Interallied Military Control Commission from Germany in January 1927—prompted London and Washington to ask why the French (despite their pleas of penury when war debts were discussed) still maintained the largest army in Europe. France clung firm to its belief in military deterrence of Germany, even when isolated in the League of Nations Disarmament Preparatory Commission, but the German demand for equality of treatment under the League Charter impressed the Anglo-Americans. To avert U.S. suspicions, Briand enlisted Secretary Kellogg’s participation in promoting a treaty by which all nations might “renounce the resort to war as an instrument of national policy.” This Kellogg–Briand Pact, signed on Aug. 27, 1928, and eventually subscribed to by virtually the entire world, marked the high point of postwar faith in paper treaties and irenic promises.

On July 3, 1928, Chancellor Hermann Müller (a Social Democrat) and Stresemann decided to force the pace of Versailles revisionism by claiming Germany’s moral right to early evacuation of the Rhineland. In return they offered a definitive reparations settlement to replace the temporary Dawes Plan. The French were obliged to consider the offer—a revival of Thoiry—because the French chamber had refused to ratify the 1926 agreement with the United States on war debts on the ground that it did not yet know what could be expected of Germany in reparations. So another committee of experts under another American, Owen D. Young, drafted a plan that was approved at the Hague Conference of August 1929. The Young Plan projected German annuities lasting until 1989. In return, the Allies abolished the Reparations Commission, restored German financial independence, and promised evacuation of the Rhineland by 1930, five years ahead of the Versailles schedule.

Why did Briand and even Poincaré make so many concessions between 1925 and 1929? Briand, of course, had sincerely hoped for Germany’s “moral disarmament,” and both concluded that France’s treaty rights had become a wasting asset. Better to sacrifice them now in return for concessions and goodwill, since they would expire sooner or later anyway. But Stresemann was far from accepting the status quo. His policy of accommodation was designed to achieve the gradual abolition of the Versailles strictures until Germany recovered its prewar freedom of action, at which time he could set out to restore its prewar boundaries as well. For instance, he showed no interest in an “Eastern Locarno” ensuring the boundaries of the successor states. That is not to say, however, that Stresemann anticipated the use of force or the revival of Germany’s extreme war aims.

As the decade of the 1920s came to a close, most Europeans expected prosperity and harmony to continue. Briand even went so far as to propose in 1929 that France and Germany explore virtual political integration in a European union, asking only that Germany confirm her 1919 boundaries as immutable. But Stresemann died suddenly on Oct. 3, 1929, and three weeks later the New York stock market crashed. In the storms to come, the need for firm, material guarantees of security would be greater than ever. But on June 30, 1930, in accordance with the Young Plan, the last Allied troops departed the German Rhineland for home.

The origins of World War II, 1929–39

The 1930s were a decade of unmitigated crisis culminating in the outbreak of a second total war. The treaties and settlements of the first postwar era collapsed with shocking suddenness under the impact of the Great Depression and the aggressive revisionism of Japan, Italy, and Germany. By 1933 hardly one stone stood on another of the economic structures raised in the 1920s. By 1935 Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime had torn up the Treaty of Versailles and by 1936 the Locarno treaties as well. Armed conflict began in Manchuria in 1931 and spread to Abyssinia in 1935, Spain in 1936, China in 1937, Europe in 1939, and the United States and U.S.S.R. in 1941. See the The 1930s consisted of many individual but significant events that bound the Axis Powers.

The context in which this collapse occurred was an “economic blizzard” that enervated the democracies and energized the dictatorial regimes. Western intellectuals and many common citizens lost faith in democracy and free-market economics, while widespread pacifism, isolationism, and the earnest desire to avoid the mistakes of 1914 left Western leaders without the will or the means to defend the 1919 order. This combination of demoralized publics, stricken institutions, and uninspired leadership led historian Pierre Renouvin to describe the 1930s simply as “la décadence.”

The militant authoritarian states on the other hand—Italy, Japan, and (after 1933) Germany—seemed only to wax stronger and more dynamic. The Depression did not cause the rise of the Third Reich or the bellicose ideologies of the German, Italian, and Japanese governments (all of which pre-dated the 1930s), but it did create the conditions for the Nazi seizure of power and provide the opportunity and excuse for Fascist empire-building. Hitler and Mussolini aspired to total control of their domestic societies, in part for the purpose of girding their nations for wars of conquest which they saw, in turn, as necessary for revolutionary transformation at home. This ideological meshing of foreign and domestic policy rendered the Fascist leaders wholly enigmatic to the democratic statesmen of Britain and France, whose attempts to accommodate rather than resist the Fascist states only made inevitable the war they longed to avoid.

The economic blizzard

Political consequences of the Depression

The debate over the origins of the Great Depression and the reasons for its severity and length is highly political, given the implications for the validity of theories of free market, regulated, and planned economies, and of monetary and fiscal policy. It is usually dated from the New York stock-market crash of October 1929, which choked the domestic and international flow of credit and severely damaged global trade and production. Wall Street prices fell from an index of 216 to 145 in a month, stabilized in early 1930, then continued downward to a bottom of 34 in 1932. Industrial production fell nearly 20 percent in 1930. Unlike previous swings in the business cycle, this financial panic did not eventuate in the expected period of readjustment, but rather defied all governmental and private efforts to restore prosperity for years until it seemed to a great many that the system itself was breaking down.

Mutual recriminations flew across the Atlantic. Americans blamed the Europeans for the reparations tangle, for pegging their currencies too high upon the return to gold, and for misuse of the American loans of the 1920s. Europeans blamed the United States for its insistence on repayment of war debts, high tariffs, and the unfettered speculation leading to the stock-market crash. Certainly all of these factors contributed. More tangibly, however, a sudden contraction of international credit in June 1928 made an international emergency likely. Since the Dawes Plan of 1924, Europe had depended for capital and liquidity on the availability of American loans, but increasingly American investors were flocking to the stock market with their savings, and new capital issues for foreign account in the United States dropped 78 percent, from $530,000,000 to $119,000,000. Loans to Germany collapsed from $200,000,000 in the first half of 1928 to $77,000,000 in the second half and to $29,500,000 for the entire year of 1929. A world crisis was also brewing in basic commodities, a market in which prices had been depressed throughout the decade. Mechanization of agriculture stimulated overproduction, and Soviet dumping of wheat on the world market to earn foreign exchange for the First Five-Year Plan compounded the problem.

The Smoot–Hawley Tariff, the highest in U.S. history, became law on June 17, 1930. Conceived and passed by the House of Representatives in 1929, it may well have contributed to the loss of confidence on Wall Street and signaled American unwillingness to play the role of leader in the world economy. Other countries retaliated with similarly protective tariffs, with the result that the total volume of world trade spiraled downward from a monthly average of $2,900,000,000 in 1929 to less than $1,000,000,000 by 1933. The credit squeeze, bank failures, deflation, and loss of exports forced production down and unemployment up in all industrial nations. In January 1930 the United States had 3,000,000 idle workers, and by 1932 there were more than 13,000,000. In Britain 22 percent of the adult male work force lacked jobs, while in Germany unemployment peaked in 1932 at 6,000,000. All told, some 30,000,000 people were out of work in the industrial countries in 1932.

The Depression naturally magnified European bitterness over the continuing international obligations, but the weakest link in the financial chain was Austria, whose central bank, the Creditanstalt, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In March 1931, Stresemann’s successor as German foreign minister, Julius Curtius, signed an agreement with Vienna for a German–Austrian customs union, but French objections to what they saw as a first step toward the dreaded Anschluss provoked a run on the Creditanstalt and forced Berlin and Vienna to renounce the union on September 3.

The panic then spread to Germany, rendering the Reichsbank unable to meet its obligations under the Young Plan. President Hoover responded on June 20, 1931, with a proposal for a one-year moratorium on all intergovernmental debts. Short of a general recovery or global agreement on the restoration of trade, however, the moratorium could only be a stopgap. Instead, every country fled toward policies of protection, self-sufficiency, and the creation of regional economic blocs in hopes of isolating itself from the world collapse. On Sept. 21, 1931, the Bank of England left the gold standard, and the pound sterling promptly lost 28 percent of its value, undermining the solvency of countries in eastern Europe and South America. In October a national coalition government formed to take emergency measures. The Ottawa Imperial Economic Conference of 1932 gave birth to the British Commonwealth of Nations and a system of imperial preferences, signaling the end of Britain’s 86-year-old policy of free trade.

The Lausanne Conference of June–July 1932 took up the question of what should be done after the Hoover Moratorium. Even the French granted the impossibility of further German payments and agreed to make an end of reparations in return for a final German transfer of 3,000,000,000 marks (which was never made). The United States, however, still insisted that the war debts be honoured, whereupon the French parliament willfully defaulted, damaging Franco-American relations.

Failures of the League

Panicky retrenchment and disunity also rendered the Western powers incapable of responding to the first violation of the postwar territorial settlements. On Sept. 10, 1931, Viscount Cecil assured the League of Nations that “there has scarcely ever been a period in the world’s history when war seemed less likely than it does at the present.” Just eight days later officers of Japan’s Kwantung Army staged an explosion on the South Manchurian Railway to serve as pretext for military adventure. Since 1928, China had seemed to be achieving an elusive unity under Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT), now based in Nanking. While the KMT’s consolidation of power seemed likely to keep Soviet and Japanese ambitions in check, resurgent Chinese nationalism also posed a threat to British and other foreign interests on the mainland. By the end of 1928, Chiang was demanding the return of leased territories and an end to extraterritoriality in the foreign concessions. On the other hand, the KMT was still split by factions, banditry continued widespread, the Communists were increasingly well-organized in remote Kiangsi, and in the spring of 1931 a rival government sprang up in Canton. To these problems were added economic depression and disastrous floods that took hundreds of thousands of lives.

Japan, meanwhile, suffered rudely from the Depression because of her dependence on trade, her ill-timed return to the gold standard in 1930, and a Chinese boycott of Japanese goods. But social turmoil only increased the appeal of those who saw in foreign expansion a solution to Japan’s economic problems. This interweaving of foreign and domestic policy, propelled by a rabid nationalism, a powerful military-industrial complex, hatred of the prevailing distribution of world power, and the raising of a racialist banner (in this case, antiwhite) to justify expansion, all bear comparison to European Fascism. When the parliamentary government in Tokyo divided as to how to confront this complex of crises, the Kwantung Army acted on its own. Manchuria, rich in raw materials, was a prospective sponge for Japanese emigration (250,000 Japanese already resided there) and the gateway to China proper. The Japanese public greeted the conquest with wild enthusiasm.

China appealed at once to the League of Nations, which called for Japanese withdrawal in a resolution of October 24. But neither the British nor U.S. Asiatic fleets (the latter comprising no battleships and just one cruiser) afforded their governments (obsessed in any case with domestic economic problems) the option of intervention. The tide of Japanese nationalism would have prevented Tokyo from bowing to Western pressure in any case. In December the League Council appointed an investigatory commission under Lord Lytton, while the United States contented itself with propounding the Stimson Doctrine, by which Washington merely refused to recognize changes born of aggression. Unperturbed, the Japanese prompted local collaborationists to proclaim, on Feb. 18, 1932, an independent state of Manchukuo, in effect a Japanese protectorate. The Lytton Commission reported in October, scolding the Chinese for provocations but condemning Japan for using excessive force. Lytton recommended evacuation of Manchuria but privately believed that Japan had “bitten off more than she can chew” and would ultimately withdraw of its own accord. In March 1933, Japan announced its withdrawal instead from the League of Nations, which had been tested and found impotent, at least in East Asia.

The League also failed to advance the cause of disarmament in the first years of the Depression. The London Naval Conference of 1930 proposed an extension of the 1922 Washington ratios for naval tonnage, but this time France and Italy refused to accept the inferior status assigned to them. In land armaments, the policies of the powers were by now fixed and predictable. Britain and the United States deplored “wasteful” military spending, especially by France, while reparations and war debts went unpaid. But even Herriot and Briand refused to disband the French army without additional security guarantees that the British were unwilling to tender. Fascist Italy, despite its financial distress, was unlikely to take disarmament seriously, while Germany, looking for foreign-policy triumphs to bolster the struggling Republic, demanded equality of treatment: Either France must disarm, or Germany must be allowed to expand its army. The League Council nonetheless summoned delegates from 60 nations to a grand Disarmament Conference at Geneva beginning in February 1932. When Germany failed to achieve satisfaction by the July adjournment it withdrew from the negotiations. France, Britain, and the United States devised various formulas to break the deadlock, including a No Force Declaration (Dec. 11, 1932), abjuring the use of force to resolve disputes, and a five-power (including Italy) promise to grant German equality “in a system providing security for all nations.” On the strength of these the Disarmament Conference resumed in February 1933. By then, however, Adolf Hitler was chancellor of the German Reich.

A common impression of Herbert Hoover is that he was passive in the face of the Depression and isolationist in foreign policy. The truth was almost the reverse, and in the 1932 campaign his Democratic opponent, Franklin Roosevelt, was the more traditional in economic policy and isolationist in foreign policy. Indeed, Hoover bequeathed to his successor two bold initiatives meant to restore international cooperation in matters of trade, currency, and security: the London Economic Conference and the Geneva Disarmament Conference. The former convened in June 1933 in hopes of restoring the gold standard but was undermined by President Roosevelt’s suspension of the gold convertibility of the dollar and his acerbic message rejecting the conference’s labours on July 3. At home, Roosevelt proposed the series of government actions known as the New Deal in an effort to restore U.S. productivity, in isolation, if need be, from the rest of the world. The Disarmament Conference came to a similar end. In March, Ramsay MacDonald proposed the gradual reduction of the French army from half a million to 200,000 men and the doubling of Germany’s Versailles army to the same figure, accompanied by international verification. But a secret German decree of April 4 created a National Defense Council to coordinate rearmament on a massive scale. Clearly the German demand for equality was a ploy to wreck the conference and serve as pretext for unilateral rearmament.

Negotiations were delayed by a sudden initiative from Mussolini in March calling for a pact among Germany, Italy, France, and Britain to grant Germany equality, revise the peace treaties, and establish a four-power directorate to resolve international disputes. Mussolini appears to have wanted to downgrade the League in favour of a Concert of Europe, enhancing Italian prestige and perhaps gaining colonial concessions in return for reassuring the Western powers. The French watered down the plan until the Four-Power Pact signed in Rome on June 7 was a mass of anodyne generalities. Any prospect that the new Nazi regime might be drawn to collective security disappeared on Oct. 14, 1933, when Hitler denounced the unfair treatment accorded Germany at Geneva and announced its withdrawal from the League of Nations.

The rise of Hitler and fall of Versailles

Failure of the German Republic

The origins of the Nazi Third Reich must be sought not only in the appeal of Hitler and his party but also in the weakness of the Weimar Republic. Under the republic, Germany boasted the most democratic constitution in the world, yet the fragmentation of German politics made government by majority a difficult proposition. Many Germans identified the republic with the despised Treaty of Versailles and, like the Japanese, concluded that the 1920s policy of peaceful cooperation with the West had failed. What was more, the republic seemed incapable of curing the Depression or dampening the appeal of the Communists. In the end, it self-destructed. The first Depression-era elections, in September 1930, reflected the electorate’s flight from the moderate centrist parties: Communists won 77 seats in the Reichstag, while the Nazi delegation rose from 12 to 107. Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, unable to command a majority, governed by emergency decree of the aged president, Paul von Hindenburg.

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis) exploited the resentment and fear stemming from Versailles and the Depression. Its platform was a clever, if contradictory, mixture of socialism, corporatism, and virulent assertion in foreign policy. The Nazis outdid the Communists in forming paramilitary street gangs to intimidate opponents and create an image of irresistible strength, but unlike the Communists, who implied that war veterans had been dupes of capitalist imperialism, the Nazis honoured the Great War as a time when the German Volk had been united as never before. The army had been “stabbed in the back” by defeatists, they claimed, and those who signed the Armistice and Versailles had been criminals; worse, international capitalists, Socialists, and Jews continued to conspire against the German people. Under Nazism alone, they insisted, could Germans again unify under ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Führer and get on with the task of combating Germany’s real enemies. This amalgam of fervent nationalism and rhetorical socialism, not to mention the charismatic spell of Hitler’s oratory and the hypnotic pomp of Nazi rallies, was psychologically more appealing than flaccid liberalism or divisive class struggle. In any case, the Communists (on orders from Moscow) turned to help the Nazis paralyze democratic procedure in Germany in the expectation of seizing power themselves.

Brüning resigned in May 1932, and the July elections returned 230 Nazi delegates. After two short-lived rightist cabinets foundered, Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. The president, parliamentary conservatives, and the army all apparently expected that the inexperienced, lower-class demagogue would submit to their guidance. Instead, Hitler secured dictatorial powers from the Reichstag and proceeded to establish, by marginally legal means, a totalitarian state. Within two years the regime had outlawed all other political parties and coopted or intimidated all institutions that competed with it for popular loyalty, including the German states, labour unions, press and radio, universities, bureaucracies, courts, and churches. Only the army and foreign office remained in the hands of traditional elites. But this fact, and Hitler’s own caution at the start, allowed Western observers fatally to misperceive Nazi foreign policy as simply a continuation of Weimar revisionism.

Adolf Hitler recounted in Mein Kampf, the autobiographical harangue written in prison after his abortive putsch of 1923, that he saw himself as that rare individual, the “programmatic thinker and the politician become one.” Hitler distilled his Weltanschauung from the social Darwinism, anti-Semitism, and racialist anthropology current in prewar Vienna. Where Marx had reduced all of history to struggles among social classes, in which revolution was the engine of progress and the dictatorship of the proletariat the culmination, Hitler reduced history to struggle among biologic races, in which war was the engine of progress and Aryan hegemony the culmination. The enemies of the Germans, indeed of history itself, were internationalists who warred against the purity and race-consciousness of peoples—they were the capitalists, the Socialists, the pacifists, the liberals, all of whom Hitler identified with the Jews. This condemnation of Jews as a racial group made Nazism more dangerous than earlier forms of religious or economic anti-Semitism that had long been prevalent throughout Europe. For if the Jews, as Hitler thought, were like bacteria poisoning the bloodstream of the Aryan race, the only solution was their extermination. Nazism, in short, was the twisted product of a secular, scientific age of history.

Hitler’s worldview dictated a unity of foreign and domestic policies based on total control and militarization at home, war and conquest abroad. In Mein Kampf he ridiculed the Weimar politicians and their “bourgeois” dreams of restoring the Germany of 1914. Rather, the German Volk could never achieve their destiny without Lebensraum (“living space”) to support a vastly increased German population and form the basis for world power. Lebensraum, wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf, was to be found in the Ukraine and intermediate lands of eastern Europe. This “heartland” of the Eurasian continent (so named by the geopoliticians Sir Halford Mackinder and Karl Haushofer) was especially suited for conquest since it was occupied, in Hitler’s mind, by Slavic Untermenschen (subhumans) and ruled from the centre of the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy in Moscow. By 1933 Hitler had apparently imagined a step-by-step plan for the realization of his goals. The first step was to rearm, thereby restoring complete freedom of maneuver to Germany. The next step was to achieve Lebensraum in alliance with Italy and with the sufferance of Britain. This greater Reich could then serve, in the distant third step, as a base for world dominion and the purification of a “master race.” In practice, Hitler proved willing to adapt to circumstances, seize opportunities, or follow the wanderings of intuition. Sooner or later politics must give way to war, but because Hitler did not articulate his ultimate fantasies to the German voters or establishment, his actions and rhetoric seemed to imply only restoration, if not of the Germany of 1914, then the Germany of 1918, after Brest-Litovsk. In fact, his program was potentially without limits.

European responses to Nazism

European reaction to the rise of Nazism was cautious, but not at first overtly hostile. The Four-Power Pact and a concordat with the Vatican (July 20, 1933), negotiated by the Catholic Franz von Papen, conferred a certain legitimacy on the Nazi regime. (Hitler sought to end Vatican support for the Catholic Centre Party while he proceeded to subordinate the churches and to corrupt Christianity into a state-centred form of neo-paganism. Pope Pius XI, like every other European statesmen after him, thought that he could appease and moderate the Nazis.) On Jan. 26, 1934, Hitler shocked all parties by signing a nonaggression pact with Poland. This bit of duplicity neutralized France’s primary ally in the east while helping to secure Germany over the dangerous years of rearmament. The new Polish foreign minister, Józef Beck, was in turn responding to the dilemma of Poland’s central position between Germany and the U.S.S.R. He hoped to preserve a balance in his relations with the two giant neighbours (Poland signed a three-year pact with Moscow in July 1932) but feared the Soviets (from whom Poland had grabbed so much territory in 1921) more than the still-weak Germans. The pact with Germany was meant to run for 10 years.

France was the nation most concerned by the Nazi threat and most able to take vigorous action. But fear of another war, the defeatist mood dating from the failure of the Ruhr occupation, the passivity engendered by the Maginot Line (due for completion in just five years), and domestic strife exacerbated by the Depression and the Stavisky scandal of 1933, all served to hamstring French foreign policy. As in the Weimar Republic, Communists and monarchists or Fascist groups like the Croix de Feu and Action Française battled in the streets. In February 1934 a crowd of war veterans and rightists stormed the parliament, and the Édouard Daladier Cabinet was forced to resign to head off a coup d’état. The new foreign minister, Louis Barthou, had been a friend of Poincaré and made a final effort to shore up France’s security system in Europe: “All these League of Nations fancies—I’d soon put an end to them if I were in power. . . . It’s alliances that count.” But alliances with whom? The French Left was adamantly opposed to cooperation with Fascist Italy, the Right despised cooperation with the Communist Soviet Union. Britain as always eschewed commitments, while Poland had come to terms with Germany. Nevertheless, the moment seemed opportune; both Italy and the U.S.S.R. now made clear their opposition to Hitler and desire to embrace collective security.

To be sure, Mussolini was gratified by the triumph of the man he liked to consider his younger protégé, Hitler, but he also understood that Italy fared best while playing off France and Germany, and he feared German expansion into the Danubian basin. In September 1933 he made Italian support for Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss conditional on the latter’s establishment of an Italian-style Fascist regime. In June 1934 Mussolini and Hitler met for the first time, and in their confused conversation (there was no interpreter present) Mussolini understood the Führer to say that he had no desire for Anschluss. Yet, a month later, Austrian Nazis arranged a putsch in which Dollfuss was murdered. Mussolini responded with a threat of force (quite likely a bluff) on the Brenner Pass and thereby saved Austrian independence. Kurt von Schuschnigg, a pro-Italian Fascist, took over in Vienna. In Paris and London it seemed that Mussolini was one leader with the will and might to stand up to Hitler.

Stalin, meanwhile, had repented of the equanimity with which he had witnessed the Nazi seizure of power. Before 1933, Germany and the U.S.S.R. had collaborated, and Soviet trade had been a rare boon to the German economy in the last years of the Weimar Republic. Still, the behaviour of German Communists contributed to the collapse of parliamentarism, and now Hitler had shown that he, too, knew how to crush dissent and master a nation. The Communist line shifted in 1934–35 from condemnation of social democracy, collective security, and Western militarism to collaboration with other anti-Fascist forces in “Popular Fronts,” alliance systems, and rearmament. The United States and the U.S.S.R. established diplomatic relations for the first time in November 1933, and in September 1934 the Soviets joined the League of Nations, where Maksim Litvinov became a loud proponent of collective security against Fascist revisionism.

Thus, Barthou’s plan for reviving the wartime alliance and arranging an “Eastern Locarno” began to seem plausible—even after Oct. 9, 1934, when Barthou and King Alexander of Yugoslavia were shot dead in Marseille by an agent of Croatian terrorists. The new French foreign minister, the rightist Pierre Laval, was especially friendly to Rome. The Laval–Mussolini agreements of Jan. 7, 1935, declared France’s disinterest in the fate of Abyssinia in implicit exchange for Italian support of Austria. Mussolini took this to mean that he had French support for his plan to conquer that independent African country. Just six days later the strength of German nationalism was resoundingly displayed in the Saar plebiscite. The small, coal-rich Saarland, detached from Germany for 15 years under the Treaty of Versailles, was populated by miners of Catholic or social democratic loyalty. They knew what fate awaited their churches and labour unions in the Third Reich, and yet 90 percent voted for union with Germany. Then, on March 16, Hitler used the extension of French military service to two years and the Franco-Soviet negotiations as pretexts for tearing up the disarmament clauses of Versailles, restoring the military draft, and beginning an open buildup of Germany’s land, air, and sea forces.

In the wake of this series of shocks Britain, France, and Italy joined on April 11, 1935, at a conference at Stresa to reaffirm their opposition to German expansion. Laval and Litvinov also initialed a five-year Franco-Soviet alliance on May 2, each pledging assistance in case of unprovoked aggression. Two weeks later a Czech-Soviet pact complemented it. Laval’s system, however, was flawed; mutual suspicion between Paris and Moscow, the failure to add a military convention, and the lack of Polish adherence meant that genuine Franco-Soviet military action was unlikely. The U.S.S.R. was in a state of trauma brought on by the Five-Year Plans, the slaughter and starvation of millions of farmers, especially in the Ukraine, in the name of collectivization, and the beginnings of Stalin’s mass purges of the government, army, and Communist party. It was clear that Russian industrialization was bound to overthrow the balance of power in Eurasia, hence Stalin was fearful of the possibility of a preemptive attack before his own militarization was complete. But he was even more obsessed with the prospect of wholesale rebellion against his regime in case of invasion. Stalin’s primary goal, therefore, was to keep the capitalist powers divided and the U.S.S.R. at peace. Urging the liberal Western states to combine against the Fascists was one method; exploring bilateral relations with Germany, as in the 1936 conversations between Hjalmar Schacht and Soviet trade representative David Kandelaki, was another.

Italy and Britain looked askance at the Franco-Soviet combination, while Hitler in any case sugar-coated the pill of German rearmament by making a pacific speech on May 21, 1935, in which he offered bilateral pacts to all Germany’s neighbours (except Lithuania) and assured the British that he, unlike the Kaiser, did not intend to challenge them on the seas. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 18, which countenanced a new German navy though limiting it to not larger than 35 percent the size of the British, angered the French and drove a wedge between them and the British.

Italian aggression

The Stresa Front collapsed as soon as Paris and London learned the price Mussolini meant to exact for it. By 1935 Mussolini had ruled for 13 years but had made little progress toward his “new Roman Empire” that was to free Italy from the “prison of the Mediterranean.” What was more, Il Duce concluded that only the crucible of war could fully undermine the monarchy and the church and consummate the Fascist revolution at home. Having failed to pry the French out of their North African possessions, Mussolini fixed on the independent African empire of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Italy had failed in 1896 to conquer Abyssinia, thus to do so now would erase a national humiliation. This spacious land astride Italy’s existing coastal colonies on the Horn of Africa boasted fertile uplands suitable for Italy’s excess rural population, and Mussolini promised abundant raw materials as well. The conquest of Abyssinia would also appear to open the path to the Sudan and Suez. Finally, this landlocked, semifeudal kingdom seemed an easy target. In fact, Emperor Haile Selassie had begun a modernization program of sorts, but this only suggested that the sooner Italy struck, the better.

The Italian army was scarcely prepared for such an undertaking, and Mussolini made matters worse by ordering ill-trained blackshirt brigades to Africa and entrusting the campaign to a Fascist loyalist, Emilio De Bono, rather than to a senior army officer. The military buildup at Mitsiwa left little doubt as to Italian intentions, and Britain tried in June to forestall the invasion by arranging the cession of some Abyssinian territories. But Mussolini knew that the British Mediterranean fleet was as unready as his own and expected no interference.

De Bono’s absurdly large army invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea on Oct. 3, 1935. Adwa, the site of the 1896 debacle, fell in three days, after which the advance bogged down and Mussolini replaced De Bono with Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The League Council promptly declared Italy the aggressor (October 7), whereupon France and Britain were caught on the horns of a dilemma. To wink at Italy’s conquest would be to condone aggression and admit the bankruptcy of the League; to resist would be to smash the Stresa Front and lose Italian help against the greater threat, Germany. The League finally settled on economic sanctions but shied away from an embargo on oil, which would have grounded the Italian army and air force, or closure of the Suez Canal, which would have cut the Italian supply line. The remaining sanctions only vexed Italy without helping Abyssinia. Germany, no longer a League member, ignored the sanctions and so healed its rift with Rome.

In December, Laval and Sir Samuel Hoare, the British foreign secretary, contrived a secret plan to offer Mussolini most of Abyssinia in return for a truce. This Hoare–Laval Plan was a realistic effort to end the crisis and repair the Stresa Front, but it also made a mockery of the League. When it was leaked to the press, public indignation forced Hoare’s resignation. The Italians finally took the fortress of Mekele on November 8, but their slow advance led Mussolini to order a major offensive in December. He instructed Badoglio to use whatever means necessary, including terror bombing and poison gas, to end the war.

The first German move

Hitler observed the Abyssinian war with controlled glee, for dissolution of the Stresa Front—composed of the guarantors of Locarno—gave him the chance to reoccupy the Rhineland with minimal risk. A caretaker government under Albert Sarraut was in charge of France during a divisive electoral campaign dominated by the leftist Popular Front, and Britain was convulsed by a constitutional crisis stemming from King Edward VIII’s insistence on marrying an American divorcée. On March 7, 1936, Hitler ordered a token force of 22,000 soldiers back across the bridges of the Rhine. Characteristically, he chose a weekend for his sudden move and then softened the blow with offers of nonaggression pacts and a new demilitarized zone on both sides of the frontier. Even so, Hitler assured his generals that he would retreat if the French intervened.

German reoccupation and fortification of the Rhineland was the most significant turning point of the interwar years. After March 1936 the British and French could no longer take forceful action against Hitler except by provoking the total war they feared. Why did the French, especially, not act to prevent this calamity to their defensive posture? They were not taken by surprise—Hitler’s preparations had been noted—and Sarraut himself told French radio listeners that “Strasbourg would not be left under German guns.” Moreover, the French army still outnumbered the German and could expect support from Czechoslovakia and possibly Poland. On the other hand, the French army commander, General Maurice Gamelin, vastly overestimated German strength and insisted that a move into the Rhineland be preceded by general mobilization. The French Cabinet also concluded that it should do nothing without the full agreement of the British. But London was not the place to look for backbone. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin shrugged, “They might succeed in smashing Germany with the aid of Russia, but it would probably only result in Germany going Bolshevik,” while the editor of The Times asked, “It’s none of our business, is it? It’s their own back-garden they’re walking into.” By failing to respond to the violation, however, Britain, France, and Italy had broken the Locarno treaties just as gravely as had Germany.

The strategic situation in Europe now shifted in favour of the Fascist powers. In June, Mussolini appointed as foreign minister his son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano, who concluded an agreement with Germany on July 11 in which Italy acquiesced in Austria’s behaving henceforth as “a German state.” The Rome–Berlin Axis followed on November 1, and the German–Japanese Anti-Comintern Pact, another vague agreement ostensibly directed at Moscow, on November 25. Finally, Belgium unilaterally renounced its alliance with France on October 14 and returned to its traditional neutrality in hopes of escaping the coming storm. As a direct result of the Abyssinian imbroglio, the militant revisionists had come together and the status quo powers had splintered.

Meanwhile, on May 5, 1936, Italian troops had entered Addis Ababa and completed the conquest of Abyssinia, although the country was never entirely pacified, despite costly and brutal repression. The Abyssinian war had been a disaster for the democracies, smashing both the Stresa Front and the credibility of the League. As the historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote, “One day [the League] was a powerful body imposing sanctions, seemingly more effective than ever before; the next day it was an empty sham, everyone scuttling from it as quickly as possible.” In December 1937, Italy, too, quit the League of Nations.

British appeasement and American isolationism

The rationale of appeasement

It is time to explore the roots of democratic lethargy in the face of Fascist expansionism in the 1930s. British policy, in particular, which Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would proudly term “appeasement,” conjures up images of naive, even craven surrender to Nazi demands. In the minds of British statesmen, however, appeasement was a moral and realistic expression of all that was liberal and Christian in British culture. First, 1914 cast a dark shadow on the opinion leaders of the 1930s, who determined this time to shun arms races and balance-of-power and commercial competition, and so to spare the world another horrible war. Second, the overextended British Empire lacked the resources to confront threats from Japan in Asia, Italy in the Mediterranean, and Germany in Europe all at once. Wisdom dictated that Britain come to terms with the greatest and closest to home of its potential adversaries, Germany. Third, the British public was understandably provincial about central Europe and had no desire (in the popular French phrase) “to die for Danzig.” This sentiment was even more pronounced in the British dominions. Fourth, many Tory and Labour leaders, while put off by Hitler’s ideology and brutality, shared his antipathy to Versailles and urged “fair play” in cases where German nationals were separated from the fatherland. Thus, Wilsonian national self-determination perversely made the Nazis appear to be on the side of principle. Fifth, the appeasers also presumed that the Nazis would become less rambunctious once their grievances were removed. Sixth, some demoralized Englishmen believed the propagandistic claim that Fascism was the only bulwark against the spread of Bolshevism. Seventh, domestic opinion in Britain favoured a passive reliance on the League of Nations somehow to prevent another catastrophe—Baldwin’s policy of sanctions without war in Abyssinia, as the chief case in point, earned his party a huge electoral victory in November 1935. Nor had pacifism flagged since 1933, when the Oxford Union “Resolved that this house refuses to fight for King and Country.”

Voices of dissent existed. Some Left-Labourites warned that Fascism must be stopped sooner or later, while a few Tory backbenchers led by Winston Churchill demanded rearmament. In the mid-1930s a source in the Air Ministry leaked data to Churchill suggesting that Germany’s air force was rapidly overtaking Britain’s. Fear of the Luftwaffe only provided another excuse for appeasement, however, for aviation had developed to the point that theorists like the Italian Giulio Douhet could argue that air bombardment would win the next war in 48 hours by leveling enemy cities. In an air age, the English Channel no longer sheltered Britain from destruction.

Many of these same considerations afflicted French policy: fear of another total war and of destruction from the air, apathy toward eastern Europe, and ideological confusion. The election of May 3, 1936, brought victory for the Popular Front, which formed a Cabinet under the Socialist Léon Blum, but his economic policies threw France into a turmoil of strikes, capital flight, and recrimination. “Better Hitler than Blum,” said some on the right.

The civil war in Spain

The Spanish Civil War highlighted the contrast between democratic bankruptcy and totalitarian dynamism. In 1931 the Spanish monarchy gave way to a republic whose unstable government moved steadily to the left, outraging the army and church. After repeated provocations on both sides, army and air force officers proclaimed a Nationalist revolt on July 17, 1936, that survived its critical early weeks with logistical help from Portugal’s archconservative premier, António Salazar. The Nationalists, rallying behind General Francisco Franco, quickly seized most of Old Castile in the north and a beachhead in the south extending from Córdoba to Cádiz opposite Spanish Morocco, where the insurrection had begun. But the Republicans, or loyalists, a Popular Front composed of liberals, Socialists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, and anarchists, took up arms to defend the Republic elsewhere and sought outside aid against what they styled as the latest Fascist threat. Spain became a battleground for the ideologies wrestling for mastery of Europe.

The civil war posed a dilemma for France and Britain, pitting the principle of defending democracy against the principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states. The ineffectual Blum at first fraternally promised aid to the Popular Front in Madrid, but he reneged within a month for fear that such involvement might provoke a European war or a civil war in France. The British government counseled nonintervention and seemingly won Germany and Italy to that position, but Hitler, on well-rehearsed anti-Bolshevik grounds, hurriedly dispatched 20 transport planes that allowed Franco to move reinforcements from Morocco. Not to be outdone, Mussolini sent matériel, Fascist “volunteers,” and, ultimately, regular army formations. The Italians performed miserably (especially at Guadalajara in March 1937), but German aid, including the feared Condor Legion, was effective. Hitler expected to be paid for his support, however, with economic concessions, and he also saw Spain as a testing-ground for Germany’s newest weapons and tactics. These included terror bombing such as that over Guernica in April 1937, which caused far fewer deaths than legend has it but which became an icon of anti-Fascism through the painting of Pablo Picasso. International aid to the Republicans ran from the heroic to the sinister. Thousands of leftists and idealistic volunteers from throughout Europe and America flocked to International Brigades to defend the Republic. Material support, however, came only from Stalin, who demanded gold payment in return and ordered Comintern agents and commissars to accompany the Soviet supplies. These Stalinists systematically murdered Trotskyites and other “enemies on the left,” undermined the radical government of Barcelona, and exacerbated the intramural confusion in Republican ranks. The upshot of Soviet intervention was to discredit the Republic and thereby strengthen Western resolve to stay out.

The war dragged on through 1937 and 1938 and claimed some 500,000 lives before the Nationalists finally captured Barcelona in January 1939 and Madrid in March. During the final push to victory, France and Britain recognized Franco’s government. By then, however, the fulcrum of diplomacy had long since shifted to central Europe. The Nationalist victory did not, in the end, redound to the detriment of France, for Franco politely sent the Germans and Italians home and observed neutrality in the coming war, whereas a pro-Communist Spain might have posed a genuine threat to France during the era of the Nazi–Soviet pact.

The return of U.S. isolationism

The extreme isolationism that gripped the United States in the 1930s reinforced British appeasement and French paralysis. To Americans absorbed with their own distress, Hitler and Mussolini appeared as slightly ridiculous rabble-rousers on movie-house newsreels and certainly no concern of theirs. Moreover, the revisionist theory that the United States had been sucked into war in 1917 through the machinations of arms merchants or Wall Street bankers gained credence from the Senate’s Nye Committee inquiries of 1934–36. U.S. isolationism, however, had many roots: liberal abhorrence of arms and war, the evident failure of Wilsonianism, the Great Depression, and the revisionism of American historians, who were among the leaders in arguing that Germany was not solely responsible for 1914. Nor were isolationists restricted only to the Great Plains states or to one political party. Some members of Congress favoured punctilious defense of U.S. interests in the world but rejected involvement in the quarrels of others. Some were full-fledged pacifists even if it meant surrendering certain U.S. rights abroad. Left-wing isolationists warned that another great war would push the United States in the direction of Fascism. Conservative isolationists warned that another great war would usher in socialism.

These factions disputed among themselves over the wording of legislation, but their collective strength was enough to carry a number of bills designed to prevent a recurrence of the events of 1914–17. The Johnson Act of 1934 forbade American citizens to lend money to foreign countries that had not paid their past war debts. The Neutrality acts of 1935 and 1936 prohibited sale of war matériel to belligerents and forbade any exports to belligerents not paid for with cash and carried in their own ships. Thus, the United States was not to acquire a stake in the victory of any side or expose its merchant ships to submarines. (See the Simply by having to amend its own Neutrality Acts of 1935–37, the United States began to … [Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.]video.) The effect of these acts, however, was to preclude American aid to Abyssinia, Spain, and China, and thus hurt the victims of aggression more than the aggressors.

The United States did take steps in the 1930s, however, to mobilize the Western Hemisphere for the purposes of fighting the Depression and resisting European, especially German, encroachments. Roosevelt gave this initiative a name in his first inaugural address: the Good Neighbor Policy. Building on steps taken by Hoover, Roosevelt pledged nonintervention in Latin domestic affairs at the Montevideo Pan-American Conference of 1933, signed a treaty with the new Cuban government (May 29, 1934) abrogating the Platt Amendment, mediated a truce in the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay in 1934 (with a peace treaty following in July 1938), and negotiated commercial treaties with Latin-American states. As war approached overseas, Washington also promoted pan-American unity on the basis of nonintervention, condemnation of aggression, no forcible collection of debts, equality of states, respect for treaties, and continental solidarity. The Declaration of Lima (1938) provided for pan-American consultation in case of a threat to the “peace, security, or territorial integrity” of any state.

Japan’s aggression in China

The first major challenge to American isolationism, however, occurred in Asia. After pacifying Manchukuo, the Japanese turned their sights toward North China and Inner Mongolia. Over the intervening years, however, the KMT had made progress in unifying China. The Communists were still in the field, having survived their Long March (1934–35) to Yen-an in the north, but Chiang’s government, with German and American help, had introduced modern roads and communications, stable paper currency, banking, and educational systems. How might Tokyo best round out its continental interests: by preemptive war or by cooperating with this resurgent China to expel Western influence from East Asia? The chief of the operations section of the Japanese general staff favoured collaboration and feared that an invasion of China proper would bring war with the Soviets or the Americans, whose economic potential he understood. Supreme headquarters, however, preferred to take military advantage of apparent friction between Chiang and a North China warlord. In September 1936, when Japan issued seven secret demands that would have made North China a virtual Japanese protectorate, Chiang rejected them. In December Chiang was even kidnapped by the commander of Nationalist forces from Manchuria, who tried to force him to suspend fighting the Communists and to declare war on Japan. This Sian Incident demonstrated the unlikelihood of Chinese collaboration with the Japanese program and strengthened the war party in Tokyo. As in 1931, hostilities began almost spontaneously and soon took on a life of their own.

An incident at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking (then known as Pei-p’ing) on July 7, 1937, escalated into an undeclared Sino-Japanese war. Contrary to the Japanese analysis, both Chiang and Mao Zedong vowed to come to the aid of North China, while Japanese moderates failed to negotiate a truce or localize the conflict and lost all influence. By the end of July the Japanese had occupied Peking and Tientsin. The following month they blockaded the South China coast and captured Shanghai after brutal fighting and the slaughter of countless civilians. Similar atrocities accompanied the fall of Nanking on December 13. The Japanese expected the Chinese to sue for peace, but Chiang moved his government to Han-k’ou and continued to resist the “dwarf bandits” with hit-and-run tactics that sucked the invaders in more deeply. The Japanese could occupy cities and fan out along roads and rails almost at will, but the countryside remained hostile.

World opinion condemned Japan in the harshest terms. The U.S.S.R. concluded a nonaggression pact with China (Aug. 21, 1937), and Soviet-Mongolian forces skirmished with Japanese on the border. Britain vilified Japan in the League, while Roosevelt invoked the Stimson Doctrine in his “quarantine speech” of October 5. But Roosevelt was prevented by the Neutrality acts from aiding China even after the sinking of U.S. and British gunboats on the Yangtze.

On March 28, 1938, the Japanese established a Manchukuo-type puppet regime at Nanking, and spring and summer offensives brought them to the Wu-han cities (chiefly Han-k’ou) on the Yangtze. Chiang stubbornly moved his government again, this time to Chungking, which the Japanese bombed mercilessly in May 1939, as they did Canton for weeks before its occupation in October. Such incidents, combined with the Nazi and Fascist air attacks in Spain and Abyssinia, were omens of the total war to come. The United States finally took a first step in opposition to Japanese aggression on July 29, 1939, announcing that it would terminate its 1911 commercial treaty with Japan in six months and thereby cut off vital raw materials to the Japanese war machine. It was all Roosevelt could do under existing law, but it set in train the events that would lead to Pearl Harbor.

Anschluss and the Munich Pact

The German-Austrian union

Heightened assertiveness also characterized foreign policies in Europe in 1937. But while Hitler’s involved explicit preparations for war, Britain’s consisted of explicit attempts to satisfy him with concessions. The conjuncture of these policies doomed the independence of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, and set Europe on a slippery slope to war.

By the end of 1936, Hitler and the Nazis were total masters of Germany with the exceptions of the army and the foreign office, and even the latter had to tolerate the activities of a special party apparatus under the Nazi “expert” on foreign policy, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Nazi prestige, bolstered by such theatrics as the Berlin Olympics, the German pavilion at the Paris Exhibition, and the enormous Nürnberg party rallies, was reaching its zenith. In September 1936, Hitler imitated Stalin again in his proclamation of a Four-Year Plan to prepare the German economy for war under the leadership of Hermann Göring. With the Rhineland secured, Hitler grew anxious to begin his “drive to the east,” if possible with British acquiescence. To this end he appointed Ribbentrop ambassador to London in October 1936 with the plea, “Bring me back the British alliance.” Intermittent talks lasted a year, their main topic being the return of the German colonies lost at Versailles. But agreement was impossible, since Hitler’s real goal was a free hand on the Continent, while the British hoped, in return for specific concessions, to secure arms control and respect for the status quo.

Meanwhile, Stanley Baldwin, having seen the abdication crisis through to a finish, retired in May 1937 in favour of Neville Chamberlain. The latter now had the chance to pursue what he termed “active appeasement”: find out what Hitler really wants, give it to him, and thereby save the peace and husband British resources for defense of the empire against Italy and Japan. By the time of Lord Halifax’s celebrated visit to Berchtesgaden in November 1937, Hitler had already lost interest in the talks and begun to prepare for the absorption of Austria, a country in which, said Halifax, Britain took little interest. Hitler had also taken measures to complete the Nazification of foreign and defense policy.

On November 5, Hitler made a secret speech in the presence of the commanders of the three armed services, War Minister Werner von Blomberg, Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath, and Göring. The Führer made clear his belief that Germany must begin to expand in the immediate future, with Austria and Czechoslovakia as the first targets, and that the German economy must be ready for full-scale war by 1943–45. On November 19, Hitler replaced Schacht as minister of economics. Two months later he fired generals Blomberg and Werner von Fritsch in favour of the loyal Walther von Brauchitsch and Wilhelm Keitel and replaced Neurath with Ribbentrop. Historians have debated whether the November 5 speech was a blueprint for aggression, a plea for continued rearmament, or preparation for the purges that followed. But there is no denying that the overheated Nazi economy had reached a critical turn with labour and resources fully employed and capital running short. Hitler would soon have to introduce austerity measures, slow down the arms program, or make good the shortages of labour and capital through plunder. Since these material needs pushed in the same direction as Hitler’s dynamic quest for Lebensraum, 1937 merely marked the transition into concrete time-tables of what Hitler had always desired. Nazification of the economy, the military, and the foreign service only removed the last vestige of potential opposition to a risky program of ruthless conquest.

German intrigues in Austria had continued since 1936 through the agency of Arthur Seyss-Inquart’s Nazi movement. When Papen, now ambassador to Vienna, reported on Feb. 5, 1938, that the Schuschnigg regime showed signs of weakness, Hitler invited the Austrian dictator to a meeting on the 12th. In the course of an intimidating tirade Hitler demanded that Nazis be included in the Vienna government. Schuschnigg, however, insisted that Austria remain “free and German, independent and social, Christian and united,” and scheduled a plebiscite for March 13 through which Austrians might express their will. Hitler hurriedly issued directives to the military, and when Schuschnigg was induced to resign, Seyss-Inquart simply appointed himself chancellor and invited German troops to intervene. A last-minute Italian demarche inviting Britain to make colonial concessions in return for Italian support of Austria met only “indignant resignation” and Anthony Eden’s irrelevant complaints about Italy’s troops in Spain. A French plea for Italian firmness, in turn, provoked Ciano to ask: “Do they expect to rebuild Stresa in an hour with Hannibal at the gates?” Still, Hitler waited nervously on the evening of March 11 until he was informed that Mussolini would take no action in support of Austria. Hitler replied with effusive thanks and promises of eternal amity. In the nighttime invasion, 70 percent of the vehicles sent into Austria by the unprepared Wehrmacht broke down on the road to Vienna, but they met no resistance. Austrians cheered deliriously on the 13th, when Hitler declared Austria a province of the Reich.

The taking of Czechoslovakia

The Anschluss outflanked the next state on Hitler’s list, Czechoslovakia. Once again Hitler could make use of national self-determination to confuse the issue, as 3,500,000 German-speakers organized by another Nazi henchman, Konrad Henlein, inhabited the Czech borderlands in the Sudeten Mountains. Already on February 20, before the Anschluss, Hitler had denounced the Czechs for alleged persecution of this German minority, and on April 21 he ordered Keitel to prepare for the invasion of Czechoslovakia by October even if the French should intervene. Chamberlain was intent on appeasing Hitler, but this meant “educating” him to seek redress of grievances through negotiation, not force. He issued a stern warning to Germany during the spring war scare while pressuring Beneš to compromise with Henlein. Germany, however, had instructed Henlein to display obstinacy so as to prevent agreement. In August a worried British Cabinet dispatched the elderly Lord Walter Runciman to mediate, but Henlein rejected the program of concessions he finally arranged with Beneš. As the prospect of war increased, the British appeasers grew more frantic. In the spring the editor of the leftist New Statesman thought “armed resistance to the dictators was now useless. If there was a war we should lose it.” General Edmund Ironside, ruing the prime minister’s reluctance to rearm, sneered that “Chamberlain is of course right. . . . We cannot expose ourselves now to a German attack. We simply commit suicide if we do.” And a shocking Times editorial called for the partition of Czechoslovakia, a view shared by Hitler at the Nürnberg party rally, where he condemned “Czechia” as an “artificial state.” Chamberlain then journeyed to Berchtesgaden and proposed to give the Germans all they demanded. Hitler, nonplussed, spoke of the cession of all Sudeten areas at least 80 percent German and agreed not to invade while Chamberlain won over Paris and Prague.

The French Cabinet of Édouard Daladier and Georges-Étienne Bonnet agreed, after the latter’s frantic pleas to Roosevelt failed to shake American isolation. The Czechs, however, resisted handing over their border fortifications to Hitler until September 21, when the British and French made it clear that they would not fight for the Sudetenland. Chamberlain flew to Bad Godesberg the next day only to be met with a new demand that the entire Sudetenland be ceded to Germany within a week. The Czechs, fully mobilized as of the 23rd, refused, and Chamberlain returned home in a funk: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” But his sorrowful address to Parliament was interrupted by the news that Mussolini had proposed a conference to settle the crisis peacefully. Hitler agreed, having seen how little enthusiasm there was in Germany for war and on the advice of Göring, Joseph Goebbels, and the generals. Chamberlain and Daladier, elated, flew to Munich on September 29.

The awkward and pitiful Munich Conference ended on the 30th in a compromise prearranged between the two dictators. The Czechs were to evacuate all regions indicated by an international commission (subsequently dominated by the Germans) by October 10 and were given no recourse—the agreement was final. Poland took the opportunity to grab the Teschen district disputed since 1919. Czechoslovakia was no longer a viable state, and Beneš resigned the presidency in despair. In return, Hitler promised no more territorial demands in Europe and consultations with Britain in case of any future threat to peace. Chamberlain was ecstatic.

Why did the Western powers abandon Czechoslovakia, which, by dint of its geography, democracy, military potential (more than 30 divisions and the Škoda arms works), and commitment to collective security, could rightly be called “the keystone of interwar Europe”? No completely persuasive answer is possible, but this height of appeasement can be accounted for by politics, principles, and pragmatism. There is no question that the Munich settlement was extremely popular. Chamberlain returned to London claiming “peace for our time” and was greeted by applauding throngs. So was Daladier. The relief was so evident even in Germany that Hitler swore he would allow no more meddling by “English governesses” to cheat him of his war. Of course, the euphoria was not universal: aside from the Czechs, who wept in the streets, Churchill spoke for a growing minority when he observed that the British Empire had just suffered its worst military defeat and had not fired a shot.

Could Czechoslovakia have been defended? Or was Munich a necessary evil to buy time for Britain to rearm? Certainly British air defenses were unready, while France’s scarcely existed, and the strength of the Luftwaffe, so recently discounted by the British Cabinet, was now exaggerated. The French and Czech armies still outnumbered the German, but French intelligence also magnified German strength, while the army had no plans for invading Germany in support of the Czechs. The Munich powers were criticized for ignoring the U.S.S.R., which had claimed readiness to honour its alliance with Prague. The U.S.S.R., however, would hardly confront Germany unless the Western powers were already engaged, and the ways open to them were few without transit rights across Poland. The West discounted Soviet military effectiveness in light of Stalin’s 1937 purge of his entire officer corps down to battalion level. The Soviets were also distracted by division-scale fighting that broke out with Japanese forces on the Manchurian border in July–August 1938. At best, a few squadrons of Soviet planes might have been sent to Prague.

Of course, the moral cause of liberating the Sudeten Germans was ludicrous in view of the nature of the Nazi regime and was far outweighed by the moral lapse of deserting the doughty Czechs. (French ambassador André François-Poncet, upon reading the Munich accord, choked, “Thus does France treat her only allies who had remained faithful to her.”) That betrayal, in turn, seemed more than outweighed by the moral cause of preventing another war. In the end, the war was delayed only a year, and whatever the military realities of 1938 versus 1939, the appeasement policy was an exercise in self-delusion. Chamberlain and his ilk did not begin their reasoning with an analysis of Hitlerism and then work forward to a policy. Rather, they began with a policy based on abstract analysis of the causes of war, then worked backward to an image of Hitler that suited the needs of that policy. As a result, they gave Hitler far more than they ever gave the democratic statesmen of Weimar and, in the end, the freedom to launch the very war they slaved to prevent.

Hitler had no intention of honouring Munich. In October the Nazis encouraged the Slovak and Ruthene minorities in Czechoslovakia to set up autonomous governments and then in November awarded Hungary the 4,600 square miles north of the Danube taken from it in 1919. On March 13, 1939, Gestapo officers carried the Slovak leader Monsignor Jozef Tiso off to Berlin and deposited him in the presence of the Führer, who demanded that the Slovaks declare their independence at once. Tiso returned to Bratislava to inform the Slovak Diet that the only alternative to becoming a Nazi protectorate was invasion. They complied. All that remained to the new president in Prague, Emil Hácha, was the core region of Bohemia and Moravia. It was time, said Hácha with heavy sarcasm, “to consult our friends in Germany.” There Hitler subjected the elderly, broken-spirited man to a tirade that brought tears, a fainting spell, and finally a signature on a “request” that Bohemia and Moravia be incorporated into the Reich. The next day, March 16, German units occupied Prague, and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.

Technology, strategy, and the outbreak of war

Rearmament and tactical planning

The Anglo-French defection from east-central Europe doomed the balance of power of interwar Europe. That the Western powers were unwilling and unable to defend the balance was in part the product of inadequate military spending and planning over the course of the decade. Still, decisions were taken in the last 24 months of peace that would shape the course of World War II.

The central problem posed for all defense establishments was how to respond to the lessons of the 1914–18 stalemate. The British simply determined not to send an army to the Continent again, the French to turn their border into an impregnable fortress, and the Germans to perfect and synthesize the tactics and technologies of the last war into a dynamic new style of warfare: the Blitzkrieg (“lightning war”). Blitzkrieg was especially suited to a country whose geostrategic position made likely a war on two fronts and dictated an offensive posture: a Schlieffen solution made plausible by the internal-combustion engine. Whether or not Hitler actually planned for the type of war with which the general staff was experimenting is debatable. Perhaps he only made a virtue of necessity, for the Nazis had by no means created a full war economy in the 1930s. Since Blitzkrieg attacks by tank columns, motorized infantry, and aircraft permitted the defeat of enemies one by one with lightning speed, it required only “armament in width,” not “armament in depth.” This in turn allowed Hitler to mollify the German people with a “guns and butter” economy, with each new conquest providing the resources for the next. Blitzkrieg also allowed Hitler to conclude that he might successfully defy other Great Powers whose combined resources dwarfed those of Germany. After Munich, German rearmament accelerated. Hitler may have been right to launch his war as soon as possible, on the calculation that only by seizing the resources of the entire continent could the Reich prevail against the British Empire or the Soviet Union.

After Versailles the British government had established the Ten-Year Rule as a rationale for holding down military spending: Each year it was determined that virtually no chance existed of war breaking out over the next decade. In 1931 expenditures were cut to the bone in response to the worldwide financial crisis. The following year, in response to Japanese expansion, the Ten-Year Rule was abolished, but Britain did not make even a gesture toward rearmament until 1935. These were “the years the locust hath eaten,” said Churchill. Understandably, British strategy fixed on the imperial threats from Japan and Italy and envisioned the dispatch of the Mediterranean fleet to Singapore. But Britain’s defensive posture, budgetary limits, and underestimation of Japan’s capabilities, especially in the air, made for a desultory buildup in battleships and cruisers rather than aircraft carriers. The British army in turn was tied up in garrisoning the empire; only two divisions were available for the Continent.

After March 1936 the Defence Requirements Committee recognized that home air defense must become Britain’s top priority and commanded development of a high-speed, single-wing fighter plane. But two years passed before Sir Warren Fisher finally persuaded the Air Ministry to concentrate on fighter defense in its Scheme M, adopted in November 1938. At the time of Munich, therefore, the Royal Air Force possessed only two squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes, lacked oxygen masks sufficient to allow pursuit above 15,000 feet, and had barely begun deployment of that new wonder, radar. Only after Hitler’s occupation of Prague was conscription reinstated (April 27, 1939) and a continental army of 32 divisions planned. Throughout the era of appeasement the British expected to resist Japan and come to terms with Germany. Instead, by dint of the mistaken choices in naval technology and the eleventh-hour attention to air defense, Britain would be humiliated by Japan and withstand Germany.

Of all the Great Powers, France most expected the next war to resemble the last and so came to rely on the doctrine of the continuous front, the Maginot Line, and the primacy of infantry and artillery. The Maginot Line was also a function of French demographic weakness vis-à-vis Germany, especially after military service was cut to one year in 1928. This siege mentality was the polar opposite of the French “cult of the attack” in 1914 and ensured that Colonel Charles de Gaulle’s 1934 book depicting an all-mechanized army of the future would be ignored. As late as 1939 the French war council insisted that “no new method of warfare has been evolved since the termination of the Great War.” Even though French military spending held steady through the Depression, France’s army and air force were ill-designed and not deployed for offense or mobile defense, even if their aged and hidebound commanders had had the will to conduct them.

Soviet preparations and technical choices also presaged the defeats to come in the early years of the war. Communist doctrine decreed that matériel, not generalship, was decisive in war, and Stalin’s Five-Year plans concentrated on steel, technology, and weapons. Soviet planners also benefited from the work of some outstanding aviation designers, whose experimental planes broke world records and whose fighters performed well in the early days of the Spanish war. But Stalin’s obsession with domestic security outweighed rational planning for national security. In 1937 Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and his weapons research teams were liquidated or consigned to the gulag. Then Stalin ordered the 1936-vintage fighter planes into mass production at the very time the Germans were upgrading their Messerschmidts. The Soviets were sufficiently impressed by Douhet’s theories to invest in heavy bombers that would be of marginal use against a Blitzkrieg and defenseless without fighter cover. Stalin’s advisers also misunderstood the use of tanks, placing them in the front line rather than in mobile reserves. These mistakes almost spelled the death of Bolshevism in 1941.

Little need be said of Italian preparations. Italy’s industrial base was so small, and its leaders so inept, that Mussolini had to order local Fascists to make a visual count of airplanes on fields around the country to contrive an estimate of his air strength. In August 1939, Ciano appealed to Mussolini not to join Hitler in unleashing war, given the deplorable state of Italian armed forces. This apprehensiveness was shared by the Italian generals and indeed by most military leaders of the 1930s. The Great War had revealed the vanity of planning, the vagaries of technical change, and the terrible cost of industrial war. In 1914 the generals had pushed for war while civilian leaders hung back; in the 1930s the roles were reversed. Only in Japan, which had won easy victories at little cost in 1914, did the military push for action.

Poland and Soviet anxiety

Hitler’s cynical occupation of Prague, giving the final lie to all his peaceful protestations after Munich, prompted much speculation about the identity of his next victim: Romania with its oil reserves, the Ukraine, Poland, or even the “Germanic” Netherlands, which suffered an invasion scare in January? Chamberlain himself, offended in conscience and ego, attacked Hitler’s mendacity and evident intention of dominating the continent by force. In a speech on March 17, 1939, he gave voice to the new conviction of “the man on the street” that Hitler could not be trusted and must be stopped. Three days later Hitler renewed his demand for a “corridor across the [Polish] Corridor” to East Prussia and restoration of Danzig to the Reich. On the 22nd he underscored his seriousness by forcing Lithuania to cede Memel (Klaipėda).

After 10 days of hand wringing, during which Colonel Beck repeated Poland’s opposition to seeking help from Moscow, the British Cabinet declared a unilateral military guarantee of Polish security on March 31, solemnized in a bilateral treaty on April 6. It seemed an extraordinary turnaround in British policy: the apparent end of appeasement. In fact, it was a last desperate effort by Chamberlain to preserve appeasement and teach Hitler to settle foreign disputes by diplomacy, as at Munich, and not by force, as at Prague. But the pace of Fascist expansion was irreversible and even contagious. Mussolini had grown irritable over Hitler’s succession of coups and his own junior-partner status, so Italy occupied Albania on April 7 and expelled its erstwhile client King Zog. Hitler, who reacted to the British guarantee with the oath, “I’ll cook them a stew they’ll choke on!” renounced his 1934 pact with Poland and the Anglo-German Naval Treaty on the 28th. Germany and Italy then turned their Axis into a military alliance known as the Pact of Steel on May 22.

How could Britain and France ever make good on their pledges to defend Poland? British planning called only for a naval blockade in the early stages of war, while the French (despite a promise to attack) contemplated no action beyond French soil. The answer was that the Polish guarantee was a military bluff unless the Red Army could somehow be enlisted. So finally, in the late spring of 1939, the Western allies went in search of collaboration with Moscow.

Stalin had witnessed events during the era of appeasement with growing suspicion and moved his pieces on the chessboard with deftness and cynicism. His overriding purpose was to deflect the thrusts of Germany and Japan elsewhere or—if the U.S.S.R. were forced to fight—make certain that the Western powers were likewise engaged. German reoccupation of the Rhineland had been a military setback, since it freed Germany for adventures to the east, but a diplomatic boon, since it enhanced the value of the Soviet alliance for France. The Anti-Comintern Pact had opened the terrible possibility for the Soviet Union of a war on two fronts, but it soon developed that Berlin and Tokyo were both expecting the other to stand guard over Russia while they pursued booty in central Europe and China respectively. Now Britain and France were promising to fight Hitler over Poland, thereby handing Stalin the choice of joining the Western powers in war or dealing separately with Germany to avoid conflict entirely. Fearing that war might unleash rebellion at home, Stalin chose to become the greatest appeaser of all.

It is often said that Munich forced Stalin to conclude that the Western powers were pushing Nazi Germany to the east and thus reluctantly to consider rapprochement with Hitler. But one might just as well interpret Litvinov’s passionate pleas for collective security as a ploy to provoke conflict between Germany and the West while the U.S.S.R. huddled in safety behind its Polish buffer. The incident that made possible the union of the two dictators, as historian Adam Ulam has shown, was not Munich but the British guarantee of Poland. Before that act Stalin faced the prospect of an unopposed German march into Poland, whereupon the U.S.S.R. would be in mortal danger. After that act, Hitler could seize Poland only at the cost of war with the West, whereupon Hitler would need the U.S.S.R. as an ally. The British guarantee thus made Stalin the arbiter of Europe.

In a contest for Soviet friendship, however, the Allies were at a distinct disadvantage. All they could offer Stalin was the likelihood of war, albeit in alliance with them. On May 3, Stalin replaced Foreign Minister Litvinov, pro-Western and a Jew, with Vyacheslav Molotov—a clear signal of his willingness to improve relations with the Nazis. The Western powers accordingly stepped up their appeals to Moscow for an alliance, but they faced two lofty hurdles. First, Stalin demanded the right to occupy the Baltic states and portions of Romania. While Westerners could scarcely expect to enlist the Red Army in their cause without giving something in return, they could not justify turning free peoples over to Stalinist tyranny. Second, the Poles, as always, refused to invite the Red Army onto lands they had wrested from that same army just 18 years before. By July, Stalin was also demanding that a military convention precede the political one to ensure that he was not left in the lurch. Ironically, the only ploy likely to persuade Stalin of Western sincerity was a blunt threat that the West would not fight for Poland unless the U.S.S.R. participated.

Since the spring of 1939 the U.S.S.R. had been sending signals to Berlin that Hitler alternately acknowledged and ignored. His hatred for the Moscow regime was overcome, however, by the urgings of Ribbentrop and the unease of his generals. The Soviets, for their part, were again fighting heavy battles along the Manchurian border and were in need of security in Europe. Soviet bargaining power was enhanced by the fact that Hitler had a timetable: He had ordered the invasion of Poland by August 26. Negotiations dragged on from July 18 to August 21, when Hitler insisted that Stalin receive Ribbentrop and conclude their business two days hence. On Aug. 23, 1939, therefore, Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact in Moscow, then raised their glasses as Stalin, the leader of world Communism, toasted the German people and their beloved Führer and vowed never to betray them. This nonagression pact was in fact a pact of aggression against Poland, which was to be partitioned, roughly along the old Curzon Line. Hitler also granted the U.S.S.R. a free hand in Finland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia.

Hitler expected that his successful wooing of Russia would oblige Britain and France to withdraw their pledge to Poland. The free peoples were indeed shocked by the news from Moscow, but far from succumbing, they steeled their will to resist. The world situation, so cloudy since 1933, suddenly seemed clear, and scales fell from many eyes. The abstract and often effete ideological debate over democratic decadence and the relative merits of Fascism and Communism came suddenly to an end. Both vaunted ideologies now seemed so much lying propaganda, and their patrons so many gangsters. The day after the pact Chamberlain wrote to Hitler to warn that British resolve was as firm as ever, and on the 25th he signed a full alliance with Poland. British determination and the news that Italy was not ready for war prompted Hitler to delay his invasion a week in hopes of detaching Britain with promises of treaties and guarantees of the British Empire. When Chamberlain refused, Hitler demanded that a Polish plenipotentiary be sent to Berlin on August 30 to settle the matter of Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Should the Poles refuse, their obstinacy might give London an excuse to leave them to their fate. Colonel Beck, however, had seen the fate of Schuschnigg and Hácha, and he would not submit to a Hitlerian kidnapping or to another Munich. When Hitler’s ultimatum expired, the German army staged a border incident and invaded Poland in force on the morning of Sept. 1, 1939. The British and French parliaments, confident that their governments had turned every stone in search of peace, declared war on Germany on September 3.

Hitler’s war or Chamberlain’s?

For two decades after 1939, German guilt for the outbreak of World War II seemed incontestable. The Nürnberg war-crimes trials in 1946 brought to light damning evidence of Nazi ambitions, preparations for war, and deliberate provocation of the crises over Austria, the Sudetenland, and Poland. Revelation of Nazi tyranny, torture, and genocide was a powerful deterrent to anyone in the West inclined to dilute German guilt. To be sure, there were bitter recriminations in France and Britain against those who had failed to stand up to Hitler, and the United States and the U.S.S.R. alike were later to invoke the lessons of the 1930s to justify Cold War policies: Appeasement only feeds the appetite of aggressors; there must be “no more Munichs.” Nonetheless, World War II was undeniably Hitler’s war, as the ongoing publication of captured German documents seemed to prove.

The British historian A.J.P. Taylor challenged the thesis of sole Nazi guilt in 1961, coincidently the same year in which Fritz Fischer revived the notion of German guilt for World War I. Taylor boldly suggested that Hitler’s “ideology” was nothing more than the sort of nationalist ravings “which echo the conversation of any Austrian cafe or German beer-house”; that Hitler’s ends and means resembled those of any “traditional German statesman”; and that the war came because Britain and France dithered between appeasement and resistance, leading Hitler to miscalculate and bring on the accident of September 1939. Needless to say, revisionism on a figure so odious as Hitler sparked vigorous rebuttal and debate. If Hitler had been a traditional statesman, then appeasement would have worked, said some. If the British had been consistent in appeasement—or resisted earlier—the war would not have happened, said others.

Fischer’s theses on World War I were also significant, for, if Germany at that earlier time was bent on European hegemony and world power, then one could argue a continuity in German foreign policy from at least 1890 to 1945. Devotees of the “primacy of domestic policy” even made comparisons between Hitler’s use of foreign policy to crush domestic dissent and similar practices under the Kaiser and Bismarck. But how, critics retorted, could one argue for continuity between the traditional imperialism of Wilhelmine Germany and the fanatical racial extermination of Nazi Germany after 1941? At bottom, Hitler was not trying to preserve traditional elites but to destroy the domestic and international order alike.

Soviet writers tried, without success, to draw a convincing causal chain between capitalist development and Fascism, but the researches of the British Marxist T.W. Mason exposed the German economic crisis of 1937, suggesting that the timing of World War II was partly a function of economic pressures. Finally, Alan Bullock suggested a synthesis: Hitler knew where he wanted to go—his will was unbending—but as to how to get there he was flexible, an opportunist. Gerhard Weinberg’s exhaustive study of the German documents then confirmed a neo-traditional interpretation to the effect that Hitler was bent on war and Lebensraum and that appeasement only delayed his gratification.

Publication of British and French documents, in turn, enabled historians to sketch a subtler portrait of appeasement. Chamberlain’s reputation improved during the 1970s as American historians, conscious of U.S. overextension in the world and sympathetic to détente with the Soviets, came to appreciate the plight of Britain in the 1930s. Financial, military, and strategic rationalizations, however, could not erase the gross misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy that underlay appeasement. The British historian Anthony Adamthwaite concluded in 1984 that despite the accumulation of sources the fact remains that the appeasers’ determination to reach agreement with Hitler blinded them to reality. If to understand is not to forgive, neither is it to give the past the odour of inevitability. Hitler wanted war, and Western and Soviet policies throughout the 1930s helped him to achieve it.

World War II, 1939–45

War once again broke out over nationality conflicts in east-central Europe, provoked in part by a German drive for continental hegemony, and it expanded, once again, into a global conflict whose battle zones touched the waters or heartlands of almost every continent. The total nature of World War II surpassed that of 1914–18 in that civilian populations not only contributed to the war effort but also became direct targets of aerial attack. Moreover, in 1941 the Nazi regime unleashed a war of extermination against Slavs, Jews, and other elements deemed inferior by Hitler’s ideology, while Stalinist Russia extended its campaign of terror against the Ukrainians to the conquered Poles. The Japanese-American war in the Pacific also assumed at times the brutal aspect of a war between races. This ultimate democratization of warfare eliminated the age-old distinction between combatants and non-combatants and ensured that total casualties in World War II would greatly exceed those of World War I and that civilian casualties would exceed the military.

Once again the European war devolved into a contest between a German-occupied Mitteleuropa and a peripheral Allied coalition. But this time Italy abandoned neutrality for the German side, and the Soviet Union held out in the east, while France collapsed in the west. Hence Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin took France’s place in meetings of the “Big Three,” together with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The Japanese chose to remain neutral vis-à-vis the U.S.S.R., while the Grand Alliance of anti-Fascist states simmered with conflicts over strategy and war aims. World War II, therefore, comprised several parallel or overlapping wars, while the war in Europe became a kind of three-way struggle among the forces of democracy, Nazism, and Communism. As soon as German and Japanese power were effaced, the conflicts among the victors burst into the open and gave birth to the Cold War. World War II completed the destruction of the old Great Power system, prepared the disintegration of Europe’s overseas empires, and submerged Europe itself into a world arena dominated by the Soviet Union and the United States.

The last European war, 1939–41

Poland and the northern war

At first glance Germany might have seemed the underdog in the war launched by Hitler. The Wehrmacht numbered 54 active divisions, compared to 55 French, 30 Polish, and two British divisions available for the Continent. But the combination of German Blitzkrieg tactics, French inactivity, and Russian perfidy doomed Poland to swift defeat. The German army command deployed 40 of its divisions, including all six panzer (armoured) divisions and two-thirds of its 3,500 aircraft in the east. The so-called Siegfried Line in the west, manned by 11 active divisions and reserve units as they became available, sufficed to block a French advance. Beginning on September 1, 1939, General Fedor von Bock’s northern army corps pinched off the Polish Corridor from East Prussia and Pomerania, while General Gerd von Rundstedt’s more powerful southern army corps drove across the border from Silesia and Slovakia. Polish Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz tried vainly to defend Poland’s industrial regions along the frontier, increasing his army’s vulnerability to Blitzkrieg. German tanks quickly burst into the rear, while dive-bombing Stukas disrupted Polish supply and reinforcements. The Polish air force was destroyed in 48 hours. Within a week two panzer corps advanced 140 miles to the outskirts of Warsaw and the Bug River line to the south. Śmigły-Rydz’s order for a general retreat on the 10th came too late; most Polish forces were already outflanked on the north by General Heinz Guderian’s rapid thrust to Brest-Litovsk and on the south by Paul von Kleist’s panzers advancing from Lvov. On September 17 the pincers closed, the Soviet army invaded from the east, and the Polish government fled to Romania, whence it made its way to London as the first of many European governments-in-exile. The Warsaw garrison surrendered on the 27th.

In a protocol of May 15, 1939, the French had promised to take the offensive two weeks after mobilization. Instead, General Maurice Gamelin contented himself with a brief sortie into the Saar, after which the French withdrew to the Maginot Line. The regime most upset by the German walkover in Poland was Hitler’s new ally, the Soviets. On September 10, Stalin ordered partial mobilization and loudly boasted of the Red Army’s “three million men.” Since a callup of reserve troops was scarcely needed merely to occupy Moscow’s share of Poland under the German-Soviet pact, this maneuver must have reflected Stalin’s fear that the Germans might not stop at the prearranged line. Stalin told the German ambassador on September 25: “In the final settlement of the Polish question anything that in the future might create friction between Germany and the Soviet Union must be avoided.” Three days later Molotov signed a new agreement granting Germany a somewhat larger share of Poland as well as extensive Soviet trade in return for a free hand in Lithuania. Only after this second German-Soviet pact did Communist parties in the West fully embrace their new Nazi ally and oppose Western military resistance to Hitler. Henceforth, Stalin was a fearful and solicitous neighbour of the Nazi empire, and he moved quickly to absorb the regions accorded him. By October 10, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia had been forced to accept Soviet occupation. When Finland resisted Soviet demands for border rectifications and bases, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack on November 30. He expected a lightning victory of his own that would impress Hitler and increase Soviet security in the Baltic. Instead, the Finns resisted fiercely in this “Winter War,” holding the fortified Mannerheim Line in the south and cutting off the road-bound Soviet columns in the north with their mobile ski troops. The disorganized Red Army, by contrast, showed the effect of the recent military purges. In some cases only the machine guns of NKVD (political police) units kept the soldiers at the front. Soviet military prestige suffered a devastating blow.

No major fighting broke out in the West during this period, sardonically dubbed the “Sitzkrieg,” or “Phony War.” After the fall of Poland, while hope still existed that a repetition of World War I might be avoided, Hitler sought to persuade Britain to renege on its commitment to Poland’s defense. In secret contacts and in his “Peace Address” to the Reichstag of October 6 he even hinted at the possibility of restoring a rump Polish state. The Chamberlain Cabinet, betrayed so often by Hitler, refused to acknowledge the demarches, however, and Hitler ordered preparations for an attack in the west by November 12. The army high command protested vigorously against a winter campaign, and bad weather did force a postponement first to January 1940 and then to the spring. Since the French and British were loath to take initiative, the Phony War dragged on. Gamelin’s lame proposal of an advance through the Low Countries was moot given the Dutch and Belgian commitments to neutrality. Combat occurred only at sea. In 1939 alone Germany’s U-boats sank 110 merchant vessels as well as the aircraft carrier Courageous (September 17) and the battleship Royal Oak (October 14). The battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and pocket battleship Deutschland eluded British pursuit and returned safely to port. The Graf Spee, however, caught in the South Atlantic, sank nine merchantmen before sustaining damage from British cruisers. It then put in at Montevideo, Uruguay, causing a diplomatic crisis for the South American states. The naval situation, therefore, came quickly to resemble that of World War I, with the British fleet maintaining a distant blockade in the North Sea and the Germans waging a submarine war against British shipping.

The Russo-Finnish War, however, suggested that Scandinavia might provide a theatre in which to strike a blow at the German-Russian alliance. Beyond the feckless expulsion of the Soviet Union from the League of Nations on December 14, Britain and France contemplated helping the brave Finns—even at the risk of war with Russia—and perhaps cutting the flow of Swedish iron to Germany. The French wanted to send several divisions to Narvik in Norway and thence by land to Finland. The British demurred at such a violation of neutral rights, but Churchill, now first lord of the Admiralty, insisted that “humanity, rather than legality, must be our guide.” In the event, the Allies dithered (as did the United States, which debated granting a loan to Finland, the only nation to pay interest on its World War I debt) until a massive Soviet offensive broke the Mannerheim Line in February. Stalin had given a hint of the future by setting up a Finnish Democratic Republic during the war, under the Comintern agent Otto Kuusinen, but he settled for a treaty with Helsinki on March 12, 1940, in which Finland ceded the Karelian isthmus and leased a naval base to the U.S.S.R. on the Hangö peninsula.

The Finnish fiasco toppled Daladier’s government in favour of a Cabinet under Paul Reynaud. He and Neville Chamberlain hoped at least to deny the Germans possible U-boat bases by mining or occupying Norwegian ports. But the German navy, too, had persuaded Hitler of the strategic importance of Norway, and on April 9, the day after British minelaying began, the Germans suddenly seized the ports from Oslo to Narvik in a brilliant sea and air operation, and occupied Denmark by Blitzkrieg. British troops contested Norway and managed to capture Narvik on May 27, but by then greater events were unfolding on the Continent. The British evacuated Narvik on June 6, and Vidkun Quisling’s collaborationists assumed control of Norway.

The Western front

The Allies’ bungling in Scandinavia lost Chamberlain the confidence of Parliament, and King George VI selected Winston Churchill to head the War Cabinet. In the first of many ringing speeches that would sustain the British spirit, Churchill told his nation: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

In eight months of warfare all the belligerents had vastly expanded their frontline strength. In May 1940 the German army concentrated 134 divisions on the Western front, including 12 panzer divisions, 3,500 tanks and 5,200 warplanes. The French army totalled 94 divisions, the British 10, and the neutral Belgians and Dutch 22 and eight respectively. The French army possessed some 2,800 tanks, but less than a third were concentrated in armoured units. The French air force, disrupted during the Popular Front, was in any case antiquated, and 90 percent of the artillery dated from World War I. More important, French morale was low, sapped by the memory of the first war’s carnage, by political decadence, and by over-reliance on the Maginot Line. Britain’s Royal Air Force had become a prodigious force thanks to 1,700 new planes, but commanders were loath to deflect them from home defense to the Continent. The German plan of attack in the west, meanwhile, had evolved since the previous autumn. Originally favouring a Schlieffen-type attack with the mass concentrated on the right wing in Belgium, the Führer had been won to General Erich von Manstein’s scheme for a panzer attack through the rugged Ardennes Forest of southern Belgium and Luxembourg. Either route bypassed the Maginot Line, but the latter plan took advantage of the panzer army’s ability to pierce French defenses, disrupt the enemy rear, and split Allied forces in two. The concomitant risk was that Allied counterattacks might pinch off and destroy the armoured spearheads at a blow.

The German offensive struck with devastating effect on May 10. Within days the Dutch surrendered. Göring’s Luftwaffe did not get the message and proceeded to devastate the central city of Rotterdam, killing numerous civilians and sending a signal to the city of London. Meanwhile, General Gerd von Rundstedt’s panzer army picked its way through the Ardennes and emerged in force at Sedan. By May 20, German tanks reached the coast at Abbeville and cut the Allied armies in two. On the 28th, King Leopold III instructed the Belgian army to surrender, while the British government ordered Lord Gort, commanding the British Expeditionary Force, to make for Dunkirk and prepare for evacuation by sea.

As the Blitzkrieg in Poland had shocked Stalin, so the German victory in France shocked Mussolini. For 17 years he had preached the necessity and beauty of war, believing that a neutral Italy would cease to be regarded as a Great Power and that he needed war in order to fulfill his expansionist fantasies and permit the full triumph of Fascism at home. Yet in August 1939 he demanded from Germany 6,000,000 tons of coal, 2,000,000 tons of steel, and 7,000,000 tons of oil before he could honour the Pact of Steel. In fact, war preparations under the corrupt and incompetent Fascists remained feeble, and during these months of nonbelligerence, Mussolini himself took sick and at times even considered joining the Allies. On March 18 he met Hitler at the Brenner Pass and was told that the Germans did not need him to win the war but that he would be allowed to participate and thus escape second-rate status in the Mediterranean. Still Mussolini tried to have it both ways, telling his military chiefs that Italy would not fight Hitler’s war, but a “parallel war” to forge “a new Roman Empire.” In reality, he would enter the war only when it seemed clear the Allies were finished and his regime would not be put to the test.

That moment seemed to arrive in June 1940. With French defeat assured, Mussolini declared war on France and Britain on the 10th. “The hand that held the dagger,” said President Roosevelt, “has struck it into the back of its neighbor.” As Mussolini put it to Marshal Pietro Badoglio, “All we need is a few thousand dead” to win a place at the peace conference. The Italian offensive on the Alpine front met contemptuous resistance from the French—Italy’s gains were measured literally in yards—but Mussolini was right about the proximity of victory. With German forces streaming east and south, the French government fled on the 11th to Bordeaux and debated three courses of action: request an armistice; transfer the government to North Africa and fight on from the colonies; ask Germany for its terms and temporize. The choice was complicated by a French promise to Britain not to exit the war without London’s consent. Churchill, concerned that the French fleet not fall into German hands, went so far as to offer Anglo-French political union on June 16. Reynaud wanted to continue the war but was outvoted. He resigned on the 16th, whereupon the ancient Marshal Pétain asked for an armistice. From London, General Charles de Gaulle broadcast a plea to the French people to fight on and set about organizing Free French forces in France’s sub-Saharan colonies. But the armistice was signed at Compiègne, in the same railway car used for the German armistice of 1918, on June 22. The Germans occupied all of northern France and the west coast—60 percent of the country—and the rest was administered by Pétain’s quasi-Fascist collaborationist regime at Vichy. The French navy and air force were neutralized. In another meeting of dictators on the 18th, Hitler disappointed Mussolini with his talk of a mild peace lest French forces be driven to defect to Britain. Instead, Pétain broke relations with London on July 4, following a British attack on the French fleet moored at Mers el-Kebir in Algeria. Hitler at once toyed with the notion of winning the Vichy French to an active alliance, thrusting Mussolini farther into the background.

Britain’s refusal to give up frustrated Hitler, especially since his ultimate goal—Lebensraum—lay in the east. The chief of the army general staff quoted Hitler on May 21 as saying that “we are seeking contact with Britain on the basis of partitioning the world.” But when the carrot failed, Hitler tried the stick, authorizing plans on July 2 for Operation Sea Lion, the cross-Channel invasion. Such an operation required complete air superiority, and Göring promised that the Luftwaffe could smash British air defenses in four days. The Battle of Britain that followed in August 1940 was a massive air duel between Germany’s 1,200 bombers and a thousand fighter escorts and the RAF’s 900 interceptors. But the British Hurricanes and Spitfires were technically superior to all the German fighters except the Me-109, which was restricted in its range to the zone south of London. The British radar screen and ground control network permitted British fighters to concentrate on each German attack. On September 7 Göring made the fatal error of shifting the attack from airfields to London itself (in retaliation for a September 4 raid on Berlin). For 10 days the blitz continued night and day over London, the climax coming on the 15th when nearly 60 German planes were shot down. Two days later Hitler granted that air superiority was not to be had and postponed Operation Sea Lion.

For a full year—June 1940 to June 1941—the British Empire fought on alone (though with growing U.S. aid) against Germany, Italy, and the threat of Japanese action in Asia. Frustrated on sea and in the air, Hitler pondered how his overwhelming land power might be used to persuade Britain to call it quits. A Mediterranean strategy based on the capture of Gibraltar, Malta, and the Suez Canal, did not seem likely to be decisive, nor did it satisfy the Nazis’ Blut und Boden (“blood and earth”) lust for Lebensraum. To be sure, the Germans raised the prospect of an occupation of Gibraltar numerous times with Franco, but the latter always found an excuse to remain neutral. In fact, Franco knew that the Spanish were exhausted after their civil war and that Spain’s Atlantic islands would be lost to the British if it joined the Axis. A Catholic authoritarian, he was also contemptuous of the neo-pagan Fascists. After their last meeting, Hitler confessed that he would rather have his teeth pulled than go through another bout with Franco. Hitler also negotiated with Pétain in July and October 1940 and May 1941, in hopes of enticing France into alliance. But Pétain, too, played a double game, pledging “genuine collaboration” with Germany but reassuring the British that he sought a “cautious balance” between the belligerents.

Hitler’s troublesome ally Italy, however, ensured that Germany would be involved in complications to the south. On July 7, 1940, Ciano visited Hitler seeking approval for an expansion of the war to Yugoslavia and Greece. The Führer instead encouraged the occupation of Crete and Cyprus, which would further the war against Britain. But three days later Italy’s inability to chase the British out of the Mediterranean became apparent when a British convoy off Calabria bumped into an Italian force that included two battleships and 16 cruisers. The Italian commander broke off the action after one hit on one of his battleships, whereupon the Fascist air force arrived to bomb indiscriminately friend and foe alike, doing little damage to either. Frustrated in the Balkans and at sea, Mussolini ordered his Libyan army to cross the Western desert and conquer Egypt. This adventure soon turned to disaster.

The Eastern front

The end of hostilities in western Europe also provoked a jockeying for position in eastern Europe, where Stalin’s fear of the all-conquering Nazis had grown apace. In 1940 Germany signed a pact with Romania for oil and arms transfers. Stalin then forced the Romanian government to hand over Bessarabia and northern Bukovina (June 26, 1940), and annexed Estonia, Latvia (July 12), and Lithuania (August 3) to the U.S.S.R. Hungary and Bulgaria now demanded Romanian territories for themselves, but Hitler intervened to prevent hostilities, lest Stalin see the chance to occupy the Romanian oil fields around Ploieşti. The Treaty of Craiova (August 21) awarded the Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria, and the so-called Vienna Award by Hitler and Mussolini ceded northern Transylvania to Hungary. Romania’s King Carol II abdicated in protest, General Ion Antonescu took power, and a German military mission arrived in Bucharest on October 12.

The Romanian coup provoked Mussolini’s next rash act. “Hitler always faces me with faits accomplis,” he raged. “This time I will pay him back in his own coin.” On October 13, Mussolini ordered Marshal Badoglio to prepare the long-desired attack on Greece for two weeks hence. He would declare his independence from Hitler and consummate his “parallel war.” On Oct. 28, 1940, seven Italian divisions crossed the Albanian border into Greece, provoking Hitler’s adjutant to record: “Führer enraged . . . this is revenge for Norway and France.” In fact, Mussolini’s impetuous attack, combined with the reversals in Africa, would only ensure his humiliation and utter dependence on his northern ally. For the Greek campaign was predictably disastrous, given Italy’s bare numerical superiority and lack of planning and equipment, the rough terrain, and the determination of the Greeks. On November 8, General Alexandros Papagos counterattacked, and within a month the Greeks had turned the tables, occupying one-third of Albania. Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas refused to let the British into Greece for fear of provoking the Germans; indeed, he hoped to drive Italy out of the Balkans before German help might arrive, and to induce Yugoslavia and Turkey to make common cause with Greece against the Fascists.

The Balkan situation seriously interfered with Hitler’s evolving continental strategy. Ribbentrop still hoped to persuade him that Britain could be induced to relent through diplomacy, and his last achievement was the Tripartite (or Axis) Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan on Sept. 27, 1940. Presumably, this alliance would deflect U.S. attention from Europe, threaten the U.S.S.R. with a war on two fronts, and thus drive the British to despair over the prospect of facing Germany alone. But London stood firm, and Hitler grew impatient to get on with his real chore of seizing a Ukrainian empire for the German master race. Upon his return from unsuccessful conferences with Franco at Hendaye (October 23) and Pétain at Montoire (24th), Hitler played host to Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov in Berlin (November 12–14). Though Stalin had meticulously observed his pact with Hitler, their rivalry in the Balkans strained relations. Hitler and Ribbentrop tried to persuade the Soviets to pursue their “natural tendency” to expand in the direction of the Indian Ocean, but Molotov repeatedly interrupted to ask the Germans why they were sending troops to Finland and Romania. These conversations confirmed Hitler’s intention to turn his idle military machine to the east. Conquest of the U.S.S.R. might serve now as both means and end, convincing the British of the hopelessness of their situation, allowing Hitler to realize Nazi racist fantasies, and forging a territorial basis for global empire. On December 18 he ordered the army to prepare Operation Barbarossa by May 15, 1941.

This latest timetable, however, fell victim to Mussolini’s folly and the need to secure Germany’s flank in the Balkans. German troops entered Romania on Jan. 7, 1941, and Bulgaria on February 27. But Italy’s disasters brought into question the very survival of the Fascist regime. Mussolini made Badoglio a scapegoat and in November 1940 issued the first of his pitiful appeals to Hitler to bail him out. At their Berghof meeting on Jan. 20, 1941, Hitler informed Mussolini of his plans to invade Greece. The death of Metaxas in the following days, in turn, led the Greeks to accept a British expeditionary force. Accordingly, Hitler pressured Yugoslavia to permit the passage of German troops, but air force officers in Belgrade staged a coup on March 27 and signed a treaty with Moscow. Furious over such defiance, Hitler ordered a Blitzkrieg for April 6 that broke Yugoslav resistance in five days and overran Greece by the 22nd. Crete then succumbed to a spectacular German airborne assault (May 20–31). Hitler set up puppet regimes in Serbia and “Greater Croatia” and partitioned the rest of Yugoslavia among his client states.

The Balkan campaign postponed “Barbarossa” for six weeks. This did not overly perturb Hitler, who promised his generals victory within a month and denied the need to prepare for cold-weather warfare in Russia. But some generals were skeptical of Blitzkrieg in the vastness of Russia, while others debated whether to force narrow spearheads deep into Russia, emulating the campaign in France, or fight classic battles of envelopment close to the frontier. Hitler’s “infallible intuition” dictated the latter, lest his armies, like Napoleon’s, be sucked too deep into Russia before enemy forces were destroyed. In the spring of 1941 the Wehrmacht assembled 4,000,000 men—the greatest invasion force in history—including 50 Finnish and Romanian and 207 German divisions armed with 3,300 tanks. They faced a Red Army of some 4,500,000 men and perhaps 15,000 tanks. German success depended heavily on surprise, but preparations of such magnitude could scarcely be hidden. Stalin seemed alive to the danger when he signed a neutrality pact with Japan on April 13 (knowing of Japan’s preference for a southern strategy from the espionage of Richard Sorge in Tokyo), then pleaded with Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke: “We must remain friends and you must now do everything to that end.” Yet Stalin also redoubled his efforts to assure Hitler of his good intentions and discounted British warnings of a German attack (they had been making such predictions since June 1940, and even the British thought a German strike against Turkey or England more likely). Stalin may also have dismissed the warnings as attempts to poison his relations with Germany. In any case, the Germans achieved complete tactical surprise, while the Soviets’ forward deployments exposed them to the full force of Blitzkrieg.

The Germans struck on June 22, 1941, along a 2,000-mile-front. Three army groups drove deep into the Soviet Union, occupying vast territories and capturing huge numbers of Soviet troops. But gradually the momentum deserted the invaders. Many myths surround the 1941 campaign. It is said that the Germans were wrong in making for Moscow like Napoleon. But Moscow was of far more military value in 1941 than in 1812; it was the hub of Soviet railroads, communications, and government, and its capture might have crippled the Soviet effort to reinforce the front from the Asian hinterland or have undermined the Communist regime. It is also said that winter defeated the Germans. But they would have had ample time to reach Moscow before winter had they not wasted almost two months in diversions and debate. It is also said that the size of the Soviet Union made swift German victory impossible. But the endless Russian plain actually aided the panzer armies by giving them limitless room to maneuver and form the huge pockets that cost the Red Army 2,500,000 men in the first six months. What did stop the Germans was their own dilatoriness, the mud and unpaved roads, their underestimation of Soviet reserves and resilience, and the Nazis’ own brutality, which alienated a population otherwise hostile to Stalinism.

By December 1941 the German invasion of the U.S.S.R. and the latter’s survival had confirmed precisely that British hope which Hitler had meant to quash. The entry into the war of the United States that same month made German defeat virtually certain—and also brought to a close the last purely European war.

Origins of American belligerence

From neutrality to active aid

The outbreak of war brought a swift change of mood to the United States. While isolationism was still widespread, the vast majority of Americans were sympathetic to Britain, and Roosevelt did not follow Wilson in asking Americans to be neutral in thought as well as deed. Instead he set out to lead public opinion and gradually expand his ability to aid the Allies. On Sept. 21, 1939, his brilliant speech to Congress laid the groundwork for passage of the Pittman Bill, which became law on November 4 and repealed the arms embargo on belligerent nations. Henceforth, the United States might trade with Britain and France, but only on a “cash and carry” basis. Senator Arthur Vandenberg rightly noted that the United States could not “become the arsenal for one belligerent without becoming the target for another.” Still, the President made clear to Churchill (with whom he struck up close relations by correspondence) his desire to aid Britain in every way consonant with the American mood. Only once did Roosevelt make a feint at mediation: In March 1940 he sent Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to Europe on a fact-finding mission that revealed “scant immediate prospect” of peace. When Hitler’s Western offensive followed, even that dubious prospect disappeared, and Churchill assured his House of Commons that Britain would fight on “until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.”

In January 1940, Roosevelt asked for a mere $2,000,000,000 in defense spending, a slight increase over the year before. But the fall of France pushed the pace of U.S. rearmament up to $10,500,000,000 by September. Opinion polls showed the American public heavily favouring a policy of “all aid short of war” to Britain. On May 15, Churchill sought to capitalize on the shifting sentiment with an emergency request for 40 or 50 overage destroyers with which to counter German U-boats. Roosevelt hesitated because of the legal complications, while continuing his efforts to shape opinion by encouraging William Allen White’s Committee to Defend America to foster the idea that “Between Us and Hitler Stands the British Fleet!” On September 2 the United States transferred 50 warships to Britain in return for long-term leases on British naval bases in the Western Hemisphere. Despite Roosevelt’s public relations, isolationist sentiment remained strong. On September 4 the America First Committee arose to challenge Roosevelt’s deceptive campaign for intervention, and Wendell Willkie charged during the presidential campaign that Roosevelt’s reelection would surely mean war. The president responded that “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars,” gliding over the fact that if the United States were attacked, it would no longer be a foreign war.

The next step in U.S. involvement stemmed from Churchill’s warning of Dec. 9, 1940, that Britain was near bankruptcy. Roosevelt responded with lend-lease, a plan to “eliminate the dollar sign” by lending, not selling, arms. If your neighbour’s house is on fire, he argued, you do not sell him a hose, you lend it to him until the fire is out. “If Great Britain goes down,” he warned, “all of us in the Americas would be living at the point of a gun. . . . We must be the great arsenal of democracy.” Churchill added his own ringing appeal on Feb. 9, 1941: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” Willkie asked Republicans to back lend-lease, which became law on March 11.

Unknown to the public, Roosevelt authorized joint U.S.–British staff talks. The two countries also collaborated on how to meet the U-boat menace. Admiral Karl Dönitz’s wolfpack technique, by which eight to 10 U-boats would strike a convoy from the surface at night (thereby avoiding the British Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee device [ASDIC sonar]), cost the British and Americans 320,048 tons of shipping in January 1941 and 653,960 tons in April. American Admiral Harold R. Stark considered the situation “hopeless except as [the United States] take strong measures to save it.” In Hemispheric Defense Plan No. 1 (April 2) Roosevelt authorized the navy to attack German submarines west of 25° longitude and by executive agreement with the Danish government-in-exile placed Greenland under American protection (April 9). U.S. marines also occupied Iceland in July.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union posed the problem of whether to extend lend-lease to the U.S.S.R. Only 35 percent of Americans polled favoured underwriting the Communist regime, but Roosevelt, supporting his acting secretary of state, Sumner Welles, said “Of course we are going to give all aid we possibly can to Russia,” on the theory that anything that contributed to the defeat of Germany enhanced the security of the United States. Aid to the Soviet Union began in July, and a formal agreement followed on August 2. But the initial supplies were too meagre to affect the battles of 1941. Roosevelt meanwhile pressed for amendments to the Selective Service Act to remove the ceiling of 900,000 men on U.S. armed forces and the ban on use of troops beyond the Western Hemisphere and to permit the president to retain draftees in service. This provoked the last great Congressional debate on isolationism versus interventionism; the House passed the bill by a single vote on August 12.

It was during this debate that Roosevelt and Churchill met secretly off the coast of Newfoundland and drafted a manifesto of the common principles that bound their two countries and all free peoples. In this eight-point Atlantic Charter (announced on August 14), reminiscent of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the signatories renounced territorial aggrandizement and endorsed the restoration of self-government to all captured nations and equal access to trade and raw materials for all. According to Churchill, Roosevelt also promised to “wage war but not declare it” and to look for an incident that would justify open hostilities. When the Congress voted on November 7 to arm merchant ships and allow them into the war zone, it seemed that submarine warfare would again be casus belli for the United States. U-boats had already torpedoed the destroyers Kearney and Reuben James (the latter was attacking the submarine, but sank with 115 hands on October 31). But in fact it took dramatic events in another theatre altogether to make Roosevelt’s undeclared war official.

Japan’s challenge

When war broke out in Europe, the Japanese occupation of China was nearing its greatest extent, and there was no sign of Chinese capitulation. Japan was understandably incensed when its ally in the Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany, joined with Moscow at a time when the Japanese were fighting the Soviets in Manchuria and Mongolia. On the other hand, the German victories of 1940 made orphans of the French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia, including mineral-rich Indochina and oil-rich Indonesia. These sources of vital raw materials were all the more tempting after the United States protested Japan’s invasion of China by allowing its 1911 commercial treaty with Japan to expire in January 1940. Thereafter trade continued on a day-to-day basis while U.S. diplomacy sought peaceful ways to contain or roll back Japanese power. But the territorial and trade hegemony that Japan would come to term the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” in 1941 increasingly appeared to be a cover for brutal imperialism and exclusionist trade policies. In June 1940, as France was crumbling, Japan insisted that the new Vichy regime cut off the flow of supplies to China over Indochinese railways. The beleaguered British, fearful of simultaneous war in Asia and Europe, also agreed to close down the Burma Road to China for three months, isolating Chiang Kai-shek. Japanese militarists then arranged a new government in Tokyo under the weak Konoe Fumimaro, expecting that Foreign Minister Matsuoka and War Minister Tōjō Hideki would dominate. On July 27 the Cabinet decided to ally with the Axis and strike into Southeast Asia even as it sought to resume normal trade with the United States.

Japanese assertion posed a dilemma for Washington. Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., believed an embargo on oil and scrap iron would cripple the Japanese war machine, but Secretary of State Cordell Hull feared an embargo would provoke Japan into seizing Southeast Asia. On July 26, 1940, after lengthy debate, the United States banned export of high-grade scrap iron and aviation fuel to Japan. On August 1, Japan forced Vichy to permit a limited occupation of northern Indochina, and the following month it signed the Tripartite (Axis) Pact in which Germany, Italy, and Japan pledged aid to each other should any be attacked by a power not at present involved in the Pacific War (i.e., the United States). But this act of defiance only stoked American indignation. In November, Roosevelt approved a loan of $100,000,000 to the Nationalist Chinese and began to allow American pilots to volunteer for Chinese service in Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers. In December and January all forms of iron, copper, and brass were added to the embargo.

Civilian government had eroded in Japan until censorship, propaganda, and intimidation overwhelmed moderates and placed policy in the hands of militarists devoted to traditional Japanese exclusivism, xenophobia, and the Bushidō code of combat. Of the latter mentality Americans had barely a clue, just as the Japanese looked upon Western notions of self-determination and the Open Door as so much hypocrisy. But although reciprocal misunderstanding and racialist thinking inhibited the quest for peace in the Pacific, Japan’s determination to carve out an Asian empire was clearly the source of the crisis, while American policy was essentially reactive.

The latest U.S. trade restrictions sparked the final peace initiative of the moderate faction composed of Konoe and leading Japanese industrialists. Two American Catholic missionaries served as intermediaries for an alleged Japanese offer to evacuate China and break the Tripartite Pact in return for normal trade with the United States. This was exactly what Roosevelt wanted, and he urged that the offer be placed in writing. A new Japanese ambassador, Nomura Kichisaburo, then arrived in Washington and met privately with Hull 40 times after March 1941. On April 9 the Catholic missionaries delivered a written offer, but it contained no promise of troop withdrawals and instead asked the United States to cut off aid to China. Hull clearly informed Nomura that any accord must be founded on four principles: respect for territorial integrity, noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries, commercial equality, and respect for the status quo in the Pacific. Nomura unfortunately failed to understand and reported that the United States had accepted the April 9 proposal. The Tokyo Cabinet then drafted an even tougher note as a basis for negotiation, prompting Hull to conclude that the Japanese were incorrigible.

Meanwhile, the Japanese military debated the merits of a northern advance against the Soviet Union’s maritime provinces or a southern advance against the French, Dutch, and British colonies. The Russo-Japanese neutrality pact of April 1941 indicated a southern advance, but the German invasion of the Soviet Union indicated a northern one. The course of the war—and the survival of the U.S.S.R.—hung in the balance. Heretofore, Hitler had been at pains to keep Japan out of his Soviet sphere of influence, but at the height of German success in the Soviet Union, Hitler suggested to Ambassador Oshima Hiroshi that the two join forces to liquidate the Soviet empire, a plan endorsed by Matsuoka. If Hitler meant it, he was too late, for the Cabinet in Tokyo decided again after the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22) to exploit German victories rather than take part in them. The Japanese army and navy would move south and establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Emperor endorsed the plan on July 2, and the Americans, having broken the Japanese code with the MAGIC process, knew of the decision at once. On July 26, Japan occupied all of French Indochina, and the United States impounded Japanese assets. On September 5, Hull sanctioned a complete embargo on petroleum.

Japan now faced a choice of abandoning all the conquests made since 1931 or seizing the necessary war matériel to defend its empire. Konoe tried desperately to reverse the tide and requested a summit meeting with Roosevelt. But Roosevelt, on Hull’s advice, insisted on prior Japanese acceptance of the four principles. Konoe was obliged on September 7 to make a deal with his militarists: He could try once more for an agreement, but if the United States did not relent by early October, Konoe would then support the military solution. When the deadlock was confirmed Konoe in fact resigned on October 16, and Tōjō became prime minister. The veteran diplomat Kurusu Saburo then flew to Washington with two final options, Plan A and Plan B. The latter held out some hope, since in it Japan at least promised to make no military moves to the south. But MAGIC deciphered a cable revealing the secret deadline of November 29, while the British, Dutch, and Chinese vetoed any modus vivendi that left Japan a free hand in China. On November 27, American warnings of war were dispatched to the Pacific, and on December 1 a Japanese Imperial conference ratified Tōjō’s conclusion that “Japan has no other way than to wage war . . . to secure its existence and self-defense.”

The final diplomatic exchanges were superfluous, but they included a 10-part American note of November 26 and Roosevelt’s personal appeal to the Emperor on December 6. That same day a 13-part Japanese reply arrived in Washington, which MAGIC deciphered even before the Japanese embassy did. That war was imminent was clear; where the first blow would fall was not. On Sunday, December 7, a 14th part arrived, which the Japanese embassy was slow in translating and typing. By the time the diplomats arrived at Hull’s office at 2:00 pm, news of the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, had already arrived. Hull delivered his opinion of Japanese diplomacy in vitriolic terms and told the ambassadors to get out. The following day Roosevelt named it “a day which will live in infamy” and asked Congress for a declaration of war.

Revisionist historians have argued that Roosevelt should have known of the danger of Japanese attack from the secret intercepts and reports of Japanese fleet movements, or that he did know and purposely suppressed the information so that the United States might enter the European war, unified and irate, “through the back door.” To be sure, American blunders marked the final years of neutrality, and a cover-up of those blunders may have occurred. But certainly no one forced the Japanese to make a direct attack on U.S. territory, nor did anyone expect an attack so bold as that on Hawaii. Nor did the Congress even take that opportunity to enter the European war. That was accomplished on December 11, when Hitler and Mussolini, honouring the Tripartite Pact, declared war on the United States. Hitler considered the “half-Judaized and half-negrified” Americans to be of little military account, especially since, he believed, the Japanese war would prevent U.S. intervention in Europe. His gratuitous declaration of war was in fact a folly surpassing Ludendorff’s provocations of the United States in 1917.

Japan’s war plan was marked by operational brilliance but strategic folly. The notion that Japan could take on the British Empire and the United States at the same time, and win, was the equivalent (in the Japanese simile for courage) of “jumping with eyes closed off the veranda of Kiyomizu Temple.” Still, Admiral Yamamoto devised a bold campaign to destroy Allied striking power for the foreseeable future, whereupon the Americans would presumably sue for peace. He assigned all six of his aircraft carriers to a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor. The rest of the navy—eight battleships, four auxiliary carriers, 20 cruisers, and 112 destroyers—was earmarked for the south, together with 11 infantry divisions and 795 planes. The first force struck at dawn, its dive-bombers penetrating Pearl Harbor’s defenses through the mountain passes of Oahu. They sank four of eight U.S. battleships, damaged four others, sank or disabled 10 other ships and 140 planes, and killed 2,330 troops. By chance, the three U.S. aircraft carriers were at sea and escaped destruction. A second Japanese force destroyed 50 percent of the U.S. aircraft in the Philippines, landed on Luzon on December 10, took Manila on Jan. 2, 1942, and drove the remaining U.S. and Filipino forces into redoubts on the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island. The Japanese also bombed Hong Kong on December 8, took the British outpost from the mainland on the 25th and occupied Bangkok on December 9 and southern Burma on the 16th. Most damaging to the British were the Japanese landings in Malaya after December 8 and the advance through the jungle to Singapore. This mighty fortress, considered impregnable, was the keystone of British strategy in Asia, and Churchill had ordered out the battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse in the expectation of intimidating the Japanese. Instead, Japanese aircraft sank the two ships on December 10. On Feb. 9, 1942, three Japanese divisions overran Singapore, whose defenses were directed seaward, and captured the 90,000-man force. The fall of Singapore crippled British communications and naval power in Asia.

Supporting the assault on the Philippines, the Japanese bombed Wake Island on December 8 and overcame fierce resistance from the tiny U.S. garrison on December 23. By February 10, Guam and Tarawa in the Gilberts and Rabaul and Gasmata on New Britain were occupied. Japan was now master of a vast empire stretching from Manchuria to the East Indies and the border of India deep into the western Pacific.

The turning point, 1942

Within a year after American entry into the war Axis power crested and began to ebb, for critical battles were fought in 1942 in every major theatre. The year also saw the forging of a Grand Alliance among the United States, Britain, and the U.S.S.R. and the first sign of disagreement on strategy and war aims.

After Pearl Harbor, Churchill requested an immediate conference with Roosevelt. The two met for three weeks at the Arcadia Conference in Washington after Dec. 22, 1941. They reaffirmed the “Europe first” strategy and conceived “Gymnast,” a plan for Anglo-American landings in North Africa. They also created a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee and issued, on Jan. 1, 1942, the United Nations Declaration in the spirit of the Atlantic Charter. But Sir Anthony Eden had traveled to Moscow in late December and returned with troubling news: Stalin demanded retention of all the territory gained under the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact and grumbled that the Atlantic Charter was apparently directed against him, not Hitler. The Soviets also first made what was to become their incessant demand that the Allies open a second front in France to take the pressure off the Red Army. Roosevelt sent Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to London to argue for a cross-Channel invasion by April 1943, but the British deemed it impossible. London reassured Molotov by concluding an Anglo-Soviet alliance (May 26, 1942) to last for 20 years. In late June, Churchill and Roosevelt met again in Washington, D.C., and confirmed plans for a joint operation in Africa despite the misgivings of American generals, who suspected the British of being more concerned for the defense of their empire than the rapid defeat of Hitler. In the end the British won, and on July 25 the Allies approved the renamed operation “Torch”—a combined invasion of North Africa planned for the autumn. Churchill then traveled to Moscow in August 1942, where Stalin berated him for postponing the second front and suspending Arctic convoys because of German naval action. Despite his suspicions and fears, Stalin could take grim satisfaction from the events of 1942, for by December of that year the German advance into the Soviet Union had been stopped, though at enormous cost.

The Allied landings in North Africa, where British forces had finally turned back General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps at el-Alamein, were targeted for Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. (Hence, the first American initiative in the war was to be an unprovoked and undeclared attack against neutral territory.) Vichy France promptly severed diplomatic relations with Washington and ordered French forces in North Africa to resist. Brief but serious fighting resulted at Oran and Casablanca. The allies had been seeking a French leader with the prestige and willingness to rally French Africa against the Axis, but the nominal commander was Admiral François Darlan, an ardent collaborationist in the Vichy Cabinet. The Allies preferred General Henri Giraud, a heroic escapee from a prison camp, but he insisted on being given command of the whole Allied invasion force. When Darlan surprisingly turned up in Algiers, U.S. Ambassador Robert Murphy negotiated a deal whereby Eisenhower recognized Darlan as political chief of North Africa in return for Darlan’s ordering French forces to cease resistance. The Americans soon escaped the embarrassment of having bargained with a leading Fascist when a French royalist shot Darlan on December 24. De Gaulle was able to outmaneuver the vain but inept Giraud to become de facto leader of Free French forces.

In the Pacific, the naval Battle of Midway in June, the landing of U.S. forces on Guadalcanal in August, and the creation of an “island-hopping” strategy against Japan’s sudden and far-flung empire similarly blunted the string of the Axis’ early victories. Meanwhile, General Douglas MacArthur rallied Allied forces in Australia in anticipation of fulfilling his departing promise to the Filipinos: “I shall return.” A Japanese invasion force landed near Gona at the southeastern end of New Guinea in July 1942 and drove Australian troops back to within 32 miles of Port Moresby. But MacArthur executed a series of landings behind the Japanese and secured the entire Papuan coast by late January 1943. Thenceforth Japan, too, went on the strategic defensive.

The economic and scientific wars

How could the Axis powers have imagined that they might win the war, given their narrow base of land area, population, and production, and the size and strength of the enemies they themselves forced into the war? The answer was Blitzkrieg, which involved more than simply a set of tactics for mobile combat but was rather an encompassing theory of total war. The theory posited a strategically mobilized and organized economy meant to avoid a repetition of the war of attrition that wore Germany down in 1914–18. By overrunning their neighbours one by one in swift assaults, the Germans constantly added to their own manpower and resource base while shrinking that available to the enemy. In addition, armament in breadth rather than depth provided the flexibility necessary to shift production from one set of weapons to another depending on the needs of the next campaign, and it permitted constant innovation of weapons systems. Most tellingly, Blitzkrieg shifted the burdens of war from Germany to the conquered peoples. By June 1940 the British were unable to budge a Nazi empire that drew on the resources of the entire continent. But Hitler also realized by late 1940 that all the resources of America would eventually be made available to Britain; hence his decision to break the stalemate by unleashing Blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union. Soviet survival, however, turned the Blitzkrieg into a gigantic war of attrition after all, one in which Germany could never prevail.

The German economy and the Jews

Cut off from foreign sources of capital, Germany paid for World War II through taxes and ruthless exploitation of occupied regions. Levies on conquered peoples amounted to 40 percent of the income raised by internal taxation, and 42 percent of that tribute came from France. The number of slave labourers deployed by various arms of the regime peaked at 7,100,000 in 1944; this figure included prisoners of war and “racial enemies” condemned to slavery until death in SS camps.

Seen only in cold economic terms, Nazi genocide against Jews and other groups, racially or ideologically or otherwise defined, was the height of irrationality. As early as January 1939 Hitler gave vent to his pathological hatred and fear of the Jews before the Reichstag: “If the international Jewish financiers . . . succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war the result will be the obliteration of the Jewish race in Europe.” The war gave Hitler the opportunity to seek a “final solution.” In 1939–40 the Nazis considered using Poland or Madagascar as dumping grounds for Jews. But the invasion of the U.S.S.R. emboldened Hitler, Göring, and SS leaders Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich to decide instead on mass extermination in camps at Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz. Large numbers of SS troops, as well as railroads and rolling stock, were absorbed in capturing, transporting, and putting to death as many as 12,000 Jews per day. The total by war’s end would reach 6,000,000, almost half from Poland, and some 2,000,000 others including Gypsies, clergy, Communists, and other resisters. SS troops accompanied the regular army into the Soviet Union in 1941 and made racial war on the Slavs as well in order to prepare the farmlands of the Ukraine for German settlement.

News of the Holocaust reached the West slowly but surely, although Auschwitz was able to keep its monstrous secret for more than two years after the first gassings in May 1942. Richard Lichtheim of the Jewish Agency in Geneva served as a conduit for information about what was occurring in Nazi Europe, but his and others’ efforts to promote action on the part of the Allies broke against political and practical barriers. The British, worried by the prospect of Arab revolt, limited Jewish emigration to Palestine, while quotas elsewhere in the world meant that even those Jews who managed to escape Europe sometimes had nowhere to go. Reports appearing in Western newspapers inspired the Allies to make a declaration on Dec. 17, 1942, condemning “this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination,” and on Jan. 22, 1944, Roosevelt established a War Refugee Board “to forestall the plan of the Nazis to exterminate all Jews and other minorities.” But the Allies were unable to take direct action of any sort until the capture of Italy brought Allied bombers within range of the camps. Jewish leaders were then misled by hints that the Germans might negotiate about the Jews. Finally, after June 1944, when escapees confirmed the existence and nature of Auschwitz, the World Jewish Congress requested bombing of the gas chambers. But the Allied Bomber Command judged that its efforts should be directed only at military targets and that the best way of helping the Jews was to hasten the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Strategic bombing

Allied strategic bombing was the most deadly form of economic warfare ever devised and showed another side of the indiscriminateness of industrial war. But in mid-1941 the British Chiefs of Staff soberly concluded that morale, not industry, was Germany’s most vulnerable point and ordered Sir Arthur Harris of the RAF Bomber Command to concentrate on “area bombing” of cities. Churchill’s scientific adviser Professor L.A. Lindemann of Oxford (later Lord Cherwell) concurred in April 1942 that one-third of all Germans could be rendered homeless in 15 months by strategic bombing of cities. The Royal Air Force accordingly assigned its new Lancaster four-engine bombers to a total war on German civilians. After attacks on Lübeck and the Ruhr, Harris sent a thousand planes against Cologne on May 30–31 in an attack that battered one-third of the city. In 1943, after an interlude of bombing German submarine pens, the Lancasters launched the Battle of the Ruhr totaling 18,506 sorties and the Battle of Hamburg numbering 17,021. The fire raids in Hamburg killed 40,000 people and left a million homeless. The Royal Air Force then hit Berlin (November 1943 to March 1944) with 20,224 sorties, avenging many times over all the damage done by the Luftwaffe to London.

By early 1943 the U.S. 8th Air Force joined in the air campaign but eschewed terror bombing. Its B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators conducted daylight precision bombing of industrial targets. As a result, they suffered heavy losses that climaxed in October 1943 over the Schweinfurt ball-bearing plants, when the United States lost 148 bombers in a week. The Army Air Forces suspended daylight sorties for months until the arrival of a long-range fighter, the P-51 Mustang. Bombing then resumed and concentrated on the German oil industry, creating a serious shortage that virtually grounded the Luftwaffe by the time of the D-Day invasion. The effectiveness of strategic bombing is a subject of great debate, since German war production actually increased over the years 1942–44. German engineers became masters at shielding equipment, restoring it to operation in a matter of days, or even moving plants underground. Nor did the German people crack under British devastation of their towns and homes. But the air offensive did force the Germans to divert as many as 1,500,000 workers to the constant task of rebuilding and established the Allied mastery of the air that permitted the success of the Normandy landings.

Allied economic management

Britain was only in the early stages of rearmament when the war broke out, but after the fall of France the transition to a World-War-I-type command economy was precipitous. Churchill replaced some 60 interdepartment committees for war economics with the single Lord President’s Committee under Sir John Anderson. Within 18 months Anderson organized the most centralized and complete war mobilization of any nation. It included controls on trade, foreign exchange, wages and prices, and raw materials. The National Service Act of December 1941 outdid even the U.S.S.R. by making every man under 50 and every woman under 30 liable to government assignment. Of the 2,800,000 new war workers, 79 percent were female. The state also cut consumer production to a minimum: 67 percent of the work force was employed in war-related jobs. Once again, the British exercised financial responsibility by raising taxes, deferring wages, and compelling savings.

Even before the war, and despite the Depression, the American gross national product (GNP) of $88,600,000,000 dwarfed that of any other country. Under the impulse of war it increased by 1944 to $135,000,000,000, of which 40 percent was directed to military purposes. About 60 percent of all the munitions used by the Allies in 1944 was made in the United States. In addition to arming its own immense air and sea forces, the United States provided $32,500,000,000 in lend-lease support, including $13,500,000,000 to Britain and $9,000,000,000 to the U.S.S.R. Total U.S. production included 300,000 aircraft, 51,400,000 tons of shipping, 8,500,000 tons of warships, and 86,700 tanks. The government financed this phenomenal buildup largely through war bonds in the early years and later through taxation.

The American war effort was also achieved without the rigid centralized control of Britain. In January 1942 the War Production Board emerged, staffed with “dollar-a-year” volunteers from business, while the Office of War Mobilization (May 1943) under James F. Byrnes served less as a dictator than an umpire in matters involving labour, business, and the military.

The Soviet Union also made a stupendous economic effort in the war despite conditions as difficult as the American ones were favourable. Within a few months in 1941 the U.S.S.R. lost to the enemy over half its industrial capacity and richest farmland and countless skilled workers. Yet the Soviets rebounded quickly, relocating over 1,300 factories to the Urals region in an effort that involved perhaps 10,000,000 people. Coal, oil, electricity, and food never regained prewar levels, but arms production boomed. The Soviets managed to turn out 136,800 aircraft and 102,500 tanks by 1945, surpassing the Germans in both. The centrally directed Gosplan and party apparatus, of course, had initiated a ruthless command economy as early as 1928, and Soviet appeals to patriotism (as opposed to Marxism), the network of forced-labour camps, and severe austerity made the effort possible. Despite punishing taxation and subsistence wages (40 percent of the 1940 level) state income covered only half the budget over 1941–45, laying the basis for the inflation that would lead to postwar devaluation. The Soviet war economy, however, like that of the United States, prepared the country for postwar superpower status.

Japan’s strategy was similar to Germany’s Blitzkrieg in that the swift conquest of isolated territories was designed to create a self-sufficient empire capable of withstanding any blow from without. Once again, precise operational planning permitted Japan to increase weapons production steadily from the inception of a full war economy in 1942 to early 1945, when U.S. bombing intensified. By 1944, naval ordnance production was more than five times that of 1941 and aviation more than four and a half times. The Japanese, like the Nazis, exploited their conquered peoples and even more than the Nazis subjected prisoners of war to slavery or death. But the fact that attacking Pearl Harbor would “awaken a sleeping giant” was lost on Japanese planners. By 1944 military expenditures absorbed 50 percent of the Japanese GNP, a degree of concentration second only to that of the Soviet Union. Yet the United States, with half its effort diverted to Europe, still overwhelmed the Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Science and technology in wartime

Of the many wartime innovations, those in macroeconomics and management techniques were among the most important, for the rapid increase achieved in labour productivity would make possible the economic miracles of many nations after the war as well. U.S. merchant vessels that took 35 weeks to build before the war were being launched in 50 days by 1943. The Soviet Ilyushin II-4 airplane absorbed 20,000 man-hours before the war and 12,500 in 1943. By the end of the war the British government was choosing contractors on the basis of management, rather than technical, experience. The industrial world was reaching a new plateau of efficiency.

World War II was unprecedented in the fillip it delivered to science and technology and the maturation of planned research and development (R and D). What Churchill called “the wizard war” between scientists to devise new weapons and electronic countermeasures for air and sea combat began before 1939 in the R and D laboratories of German and British firms and institutes. The Soviet Union had since 1919 made the “scientific pursuit of science” a pillar of the regime, and the 1,650,000,000 rubles budgeted for R and D in 1941 was far and away the largest effort in the world. The Fascist regimes also made a fetish of technological progress. Mussolini established a National Council of Research in 1936 under the famed radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. Hitler took for granted the preeminence of German science, and he showed a lively interest in new weapons technology. The totalitarian regimes’ insistence on “Communist science” or “Fascist science,” their secrecy, persecutions, and suppression of intellectual freedom, however, meant that their R and D investment yielded less than that of the liberal states. Stalin’s fear that technical experts might turn to political opposition led him to consign thousands of scientists and engineers to the Gulag, where they worked under the eye of the secret police. Nazi persecution chased dozens of brilliant Jews and others (especially nuclear physicists) out of Europe, thereby enriching the brain pool of Britain and the United States. The dictators’ personal interventions in matters of weapons research and deployment, while sometimes breaking bottlenecks and ending jurisdictional feuding, more often skewed the work of scientists in less productive or dead-end directions. In short, World War II made planned R and D a permanent and mighty tool of state power while demonstrating that too much state control or ideological content in research inevitably brought diminishing returns.

The liberal states, by contrast, responded quickly and effectively to the scientific challenge. Nowhere was this more evident than in cryptanalysis and espionage, in which the Allies repeatedly bested the otherwise secretive and devious Axis. As early as 1931, Captain Gustave Bertrand of French intelligence procured documents from a German traitor concerning the cryptographic rotor device Enigma. The brilliant Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski cracked Enigma by 1938, only to have the unsuspecting Germans add two rotors to the machine. Britain’s scientists in the Ultra project then worked on methods to generate keys for Enigma until they devised the cumbersome Colossus machines, which some consider the first electronic computers. Ultra not only compromised every German spy in Britain but also provided the British with decryptions of German directives and deployments for the whole of occupied Europe for the entire war.

Following the Battle of Britain, to which radar made such a vital contribution, Churchill established a Scientific Advisory Committee under L.A. Lindemann. He and his rival Sir Henry Tizard helped to direct the research programs that discovered various means of jamming the German bombers’ radio navigation systems. By autumn 1940 the Germans countered with their X-Gerät, which broadcast its signal on several frequencies, but this was overcome in turn by British airborne radar that allowed fighters to home in on bombers individually. A similar situation occurred in the air battles over Germany and inspired the development of devices that guided night bombers to their targets despite jamming, the H2S system that permitted crews to “see” through cloud cover, and the use of billows of aluminum strips dropped from bombers to confuse German radar. Microwave radar helped search planes locate submerged U-boats after March 1943.

Roosevelt entrusted the American effort to Vannevar Bush’s Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), which channeled contracts of $1,000,000 or more to over 50 universities during the war. The OSRD, the Naval Research Laboratory, and army arsenals produced such innovations as the antitank bazooka rocket, the proximity fuse, the DUKW amphibious vehicle, the first use of DDT to combat malaria, and mass production of the antibiotic penicillin for war wounds (1943). Soviet researchers, despite the handicaps imposed by invasion and their own regime, developed the devastating Katyusha rocket-cluster (its launcher was called the Stalin Organ), the sturdy T-34 tank, and, by war’s end, a prototype jet fighter. The Germans eased their shortages of vital materials through processes for coal gasification (5,700,000 tons’ worth in 1943) and for producing synthetic rubber. They were also first with an operational combat jet aircraft, the Me-262, but the Nazi regime instead chose to allocate steel and fuel to submarines, ending any chance that Germany might regain control of the skies.

The four technological developments that would come to define the postwar strategic environment were radio-electronics, the electronic computer, the ballistic missile, and the atomic bomb. The medium-range ballistic missile A-4 (called the Vengeance weapon, V-2, by Goebbels) was the brainchild of German rocket engineers who had first come together as amateur spaceflight enthusiasts in the 1920s. The German army began funding their research in 1932 and built a large test range at Peenemünde after 1937. There, Commander Walter Dornberger and Chief Engineer Wernher von Braun developed and tested the A-4 by 1942. The program did not receive top priority until 1943, however, at which time a British air raid on Peenemünde forced construction of an underground factory in the Harz mountains to construct the rockets. The V-2s, of which 4,300 were fired (half of them at Antwerp) after September 1944, did considerable damage until the Allies captured the launch sites in the Netherlands.

Nuclear physics had advanced to the point by 1938 that the German physicists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann were able to demonstrate nuclear fission. Scientists in Britain, France, Germany, the U.S.S.R., and the United States all speculated on the possibility of building an atomic explosive device, and in 1939 Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt personally, urging a crash program to perfect such a bomb before the Nazis. The resulting Manhattan Project absorbed $2,000,000,000 of the $3,850,000,000 spent by the United States on R and D in World War II. Churchill, too, approved a nuclear program, code-named the Directorate of Tube Alloys, in Britain’s dark days of 1941. But by 1943 the Americans had built up a sizeable lead and agreed at the Quebec Conference to share results with the British. German atomic research depended on heavy water from Norway, but British commandos and the Norwegian underground sabotaged the plant in 1943. The scientists also failed to press for top priority, which went instead to the missile program. Soviet atomic research kept abreast of the West until the invasion, and in June 1942, Stalin authorized a crash program that by war’s end had begun to produce fissionable uranium in quantity. In no country was much official thought apparently given to the moral and long-range consequences of this potentially devastating invention.

A final, though lesser known, scientific breakthrough of World War II was the application of methods from the physical and social sciences to problems of production, logistics, and combat. Known as “operational research,” this application of science to practical problems was a major step in the process by which military men in the 20th century lost primacy in their profession to civilian specialists. Whether in the scientific study of various antisubmarine tactics, the selection of targets for strategic bombing, or the optimal size and pattern for naval convoys, operational research completed the mobilization by governments of the world’s intellectual community.

Strategy and diplomacy of the Grand Alliance

Allied strategy to the fall of Italy

In the wake of Operation “Torch,” Roosevelt and Churchill met at Casablanca (January 1943) to determine strategy for the coming year. Once again Roosevelt conciliated Churchill, agreeing to put off opening a second front in France in favour of more modest operations against Sicily, Italy, and the “soft underbelly” of Europe after the liberation of North Africa. General George Marshall and Admiral Ernest King succeeded in winning approval for offensives in Burma and the southwest Pacific. The French rivals, de Gaulle and Giraud, were persuaded at least to feign unity and later to create a French Committee of National Liberation under their joint chairmanship (May 1943). But the main event was Roosevelt’s parting announcement that “peace can come to the world only by the total elimination of German and Japanese military power . . . (which) means unconditional surrender.” This surprise declaration was not spontaneous, as Roosevelt claimed; it was a considered signal to Stalin of Allied resolve, especially necessary after General Eisenhower’s ignominious “Darlan deal.” But it also rashly committed the United States to a power vacuum, rather than a balance of power, in postwar Europe, and may have discouraged Germans from attempting to oust Hitler in hopes of escaping utter defeat.

Stalin’s reaction to Casablanca was predictably sour. In March he expressed great anxiety about repeated postponement of the second front in France. On the other hand, the Battle of Stalingrad had more or less assured eventual Soviet victory. Would it not have served Soviet interests more to delay the Allied presence in Europe as long as possible? It is likely that Stalin’s continued pressure for a second front was a function of his perennial fears for internal Soviet security. Stalin may have wanted to recapture his lost ground, especially the Ukraine, as quickly as possible lest anti-Soviet movements take hold there or in neighbouring countries. At this time Stalin also began to denounce the London Poles as reactionaries and sponsored a new Union of Polish Patriots in Moscow as a rival government-in-exile. The final breach between the London Poles and Stalin followed in April 1943, when the Germans uncovered a mass grave in the Katyn forest containing the corpses of over 4,000 Polish officers captured by the Russians in 1939. (Another 10,000 Polish officers were killed in Soviet secret police concentration camps.) Churchill advised Władysław Sikorski, prime minister in the London government-in-exile, not to pursue the issue out of deference to Stalin, who blamed the massacre on the Germans. But the Poles invited an International Red Cross investigation that strongly suggested the Soviets had committed the crime in the spring of 1940, presumably to exterminate Poland’s non-Communist leadership class. Stalin’s seemingly benign dissolution of the Comintern in May 1943 was likewise inspired by postwar planning. The party purges and the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico (August 1940) placed foreign Communists so securely under Moscow’s thumb that the formal apparatus of control was no longer needed, while the appearance of independence on the part of Communist parties would ease their participation in coalition governments after the war.

At the Trident Conference in Washington (May 1943) Churchill and Roosevelt finally projected a 29-division invasion of France for May 1944. The long delay was the consequence of the need to build up troop strength, landing craft, and supplies, and to ensure complete command of air and sea. But Stalin again castigated Allied bad faith and initiated a series of vitriolic communications with Churchill.

The final defeat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps opened the way for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. The Allies’ rapid success there gradually undermined Mussolini’s eroding Fascist regime. Badoglio, Ciano, and Grandi had all denounced Mussolini’s leadership and had been sacked by February 1943. Other Fascist leaders insisted on convening the Grand Council in July and after violent debate voted 19 to 8 in favour of restoring “the prerogatives of the King and parliament.” Mussolini resigned the next day, and Badoglio took power in the face of a complex dilemma. Italy wanted peace, but to break the alliance with Hitler might provoke a German attack and condemn Italy to prolonged fighting. Thus, while feigning continued loyalty to Germany, Badoglio made secret contact with Eisenhower in the hope of synchronizing an armistice and an Allied occupation. But the Americans insisted on August 11 that Italy give an unconditional surrender and would not promise to land as far north as Rome. With tension and German suspicions mounting—and two British corps crossing the Straits of Messina—Badoglio agreed secretly to invite Allied occupation on September 3. The armistice was announced on the 8th, and Allied landings followed that night in the Bay of Salerno south of Naples. Four days later Hitler sent a crack team of commandos under Otto Skorzeny to rescue Mussolini and set him up as a puppet dictator in the north of Italy.

The new Italian government, far from exiting the war, was obliged to do a volte-face and declare war on Germany on October 13. The Allies did not take Naples until October 1 and made no dent in the Germans’ reinforced Gustav Line until 1944.

Early war-aims agreement

The Quebec Conference (Aug. 14–24, 1943) was the first in which Roosevelt and Churchill spent more time discussing the Pacific War than the European. They gave green lights to General MacArthur to fight northward toward the Philippines and to the U.S. Navy to drive straight across the Pacific to the Ryukyu Islands. The British even reluctantly accorded the U.S. Navy program top priority. The Allies also confirmed the invasion of France for May 1944, and thenceforth the American strategy of concentration would take precedence over British peripheral strategy. Eden and Hull then journeyed to Moscow (October 19–30), where they assured Stalin of the date for a second front. They also won his approval of the arrangements made for Italy, according to which the interallied commission requested by Stalin would merely advise the Anglo-American commanders on the spot rather than govern on its own. When Soviet armies later entered eastern European states, Stalin would point to the Italian precedent to justify unilateral Soviet military control.

At the Cairo Conference (November 22–26), Roosevelt, Churchill, and Chiang discussed the Burma theatre and made the Cairo Declaration, which prescribed as terms for ending the Pacific War the Japanese surrender of Manchuria, Formosa, Korea, the Pescadores, and Pacific islands acquired since 1914. It also established Chiang as one of the Great Power allies, a point that did not please Churchill.

The first Big Three summit meeting followed in Tehrān from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 1943. From the Soviet point of view, the results could only have been satisfactory, for Stalin saw with his own eyes the conflicts that Communist theory predicted must erupt between the “imperialist” powers. In fact, Roosevelt and Churchill displayed the inevitable divergences between a moralizing democracy recently forced out of isolation and a world empire committed for 250 years to preserving the balance of power. What was more, Churchill had no illusions about the Soviet dictator, whereas Roosevelt preferred to believe that he could reason with “Uncle Joe” if only he could allay Soviet suspicions. Roosevelt made a point of chiding Churchill in Stalin’s presence and advocating an end to European colonialism after the war. For his part, Stalin again demanded his 1941 frontiers, and the Baltic coast of East Prussia as well, and the others acquiesced in the restoration of the Curzon Line frontier, provided Poland was compensated with territories taken from Germany in the west. As to Germany itself, the Western powers had discussed breaking up the country and turning the Danubian regions of Austria, Hungary, and Bavaria into a “peaceful, cowlike confederation,” while Churchill spoke of similar federations for eastern Europe. Stalin viewed such notions with suspicion, since they were reminiscent of the cordon sanitaire idea of 1918 and in any case would interfere with the piecemeal communization of the small states. His plan was to Balkanize eastern Europe, punish France for her surrender and strip her of her colonies, and keep Poland and Italy weak. As U.S. diplomat Charles E. Bohlen recorded at Tehrān: “The result would be that the Soviet Union would be the only important military power and political force on the continent of Europe.” Roosevelt did win an agreement in principle on formation of a postwar international organization to be led by the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and China. Whether unity among them would survive victory was a question Churchill and others brooded on in silence.

The defeat of Nazi Germany

In 1944 the German forces in Soviet territory shrank from attrition and transfers to the west, while geography and Hitler’s reluctance to authorize retreats gave his generals no prospect of shortening the front. Soviet advances were limited only by their own supply capacity. A three-pronged offensive in March squeezed the Germans out of the southern Ukraine. Only the Carpathian Mountains kept the Red Army from the Hungarian Plain, and on March 20 Hitler ordered German occupation of Hungary to prevent the regent Admiral Miklós Horthy from defecting to the Allies. The Red Army entered Bessarabia and northern Romania in April. In the south, Odessa fell on April 10, and Sevastopol on May 9. In the far north, German forces withdrew from Leningrad to Lake Peipus, relieving that city after more than two years of siege and combat that killed 632,000 civilians, mostly from starvation. A two-month pause followed in the Soviet Union, during which the western Allies finally opened the second front in France.

The Allied invasion of Europe

While preparations for D-Day reached their final stages the Allies made a fateful decision to campaign vigorously on the Italian front in hopes of drawing off German reserves from France. But German resistance was fierce, and by October autumn rains curtailed Allied attacks, ending their dream of bursting into Austria from the south.

By spring 1944 the Germans had mustered 59 divisions in France and the Low Countries, but only 10 were motorized and almost 30 were in static defense positions. As the Allied buildup in England reached huge proportions, the Germans tried to divine where the blow would come. Hitler and Rommel thought Normandy; the theatre commander, Rundstedt, believed Calais. Their deployments reflected a compromise. Meanwhile, Roosevelt and Marshall chose Eisenhower to command Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), and he managed the preparation of “Overlord,” the cross-Channel invasion, with tact and skill. More than 3,000,000 men crowded into southern English bases and ports, anxiously awaiting a D-Day on which 176,475 soldiers, 20,111 vehicles, 1,500 tanks, and 12,000 planes would move by air and sea across the Channel. Eisenhower described them as being “as tense as a coiled spring.” Elaborate deceptions kept the Germans guessing about the point of attack, and Normandy was chosen in part because it was not the easiest or nearest French beachhead. On June 6, American, British, and Canadian forces went ashore, but seven tense and bloody weeks passed before the Allies broke out of the Norman peninsula. The initial campaign, thanks to Allied courage and matériel and German blunders, removed more divisions from the Wehrmacht’s order of battle than even the great Soviet offensive of June 1944.

As Allied armies raced westward and northward to liberate France, Eisenhower faced the problem of what to do with Paris. He had no desire to interrupt the drive for a difficult urban battle, nor to undertake the chore of feeding 4,000,000 inhabitants. But the Parisian police went on strike on August 19, and de Gaulle secretly ordered French forces to seize the capital. Meanwhile, Hitler had ordered that the landmarks of Paris be blown up before the Germans retreated. But garrison commander Dietrich von Choltitz refused to carry out the order and negotiated a surrender that opened the city to Allied forces on the 25th. Eisenhower gave the honour of leading the parade to de Gaulle and General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc.

Soviet advances in the east

In five months from D-Day the Western Allies liberated France and Belgium and advanced 350 miles. In the midst of the Normandy campaign, on June 22, the Red Army launched its summer offensive. Armoured spearheads chased German remnants to the East Prussian border and the banks of the Vistula by July 31, an advance of 450 miles in five weeks. By October the Baltic coast was cleared of Germans. These massive victories carried the Red Army to the borders of nine states that had been independent before 1939, making possible the sovietization of eastern Europe. The first episode in that process stemmed from an uprising by the Polish Home Army in Warsaw, underground allies of the London Poles. Expecting momentary liberation from across the Vistula, the Home Army rebelled against the German occupation and seized control of the city. But Stalin called it a “reckless venture,” and the Soviets sat idly by while Hitler ordered in SS divisions to crush the resistance and flatten the ancient city. To be sure, the Red Army had just finished a huge advance that stretched its supply lines to the limit. But Stalin shed no tears over the slaughter of the non-Communist Warsaw Poles, who held out bravely for eight weeks, and even hindered U.S. and British planes from supplying Warsaw by denying them landing rights in Soviet territory. On August 22, Stalin simply dismissed the Warsaw Poles as “criminals” and set up his Moscow Poles in Lublin as the acting government of “liberated Poland.” In the north, the Finns sued for peace in early September, accepting their 1940 losses and giving up in addition the Arctic port of Petsamo (Pechenga), and a $300,000,000 indemnity, terms confirmed in the treaty of peace concluded in 1947. The U.S.S.R. allowed the Finns self-rule so long as Helsinki coordinated its foreign policy with that of the U.S.S.R. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, however, were reannexed.

The Soviets unleashed another major offensive in August through Bessarabia, even though the Balkan front was irrelevant to the quick defeat of Germany. King Michael concluded an armistice with Moscow on September 12. Citing the Italian precedent, Molotov brushed aside the Western Allies’ attempts to win a share of influence over Romanian affairs. Bulgaria, which was not at war with the U.S.S.R., tried to establish its neutrality, but the Red Army occupied it anyway and set up a “Fatherland Front” in which Communists were predominant. When Soviet and Romanian troops invaded Hungary in October, Horthy tried to extract his country from the war. But the SS arranged his overthrow, and fighting continued until the fall of Budapest on Feb. 13, 1945. A foolish waste of troops for the Nazis, the battle of Budapest was equally irrational for Stalin unless his true goal was political. Meanwhile, Yugoslav partisans under a local Communist, Josip Broz Tito, captured Belgrade on Oct. 20, 1944, and evicted the Germans.

One by one the states of eastern Europe were falling to Communist forces in circumstances prejudicing their future independence. When Churchill arrived in Moscow on Oct. 9, 1944, he tried to contain the march of Communism into central Europe by making a deal with Stalin on spheres of influence: Romania to be 90 percent Soviet; Greece 90 percent British; Yugoslavia and Hungary 50–50; Bulgaria 75 percent Soviet, 25 British. While apparently a realistic response to Soviet ambitions—and presence—in contrast to Roosevelt’s reliance on vague principles, Churchill’s proposal was in fact rather silly. Stalin was unlikely to grant Western influence in countries under Soviet occupation (like Hungary), while the meaning of such numbers as “75–25” was unfathomable. Poland was not mentioned at all. On the other hand, Churchill did forestall Soviet aid to the Communist partisans in Greece and may have helped to shield the crucial Mediterranean from Soviet influence for years after the war.

The final Allied agreements

In February 1945 the Big Three held their last summit conference, at Yalta on the Crimean Peninsula. It was a last chance to forestall the disintegration of the alliance upon victory or, conversely, for the British and Americans to take firm measures against Soviet control in eastern Europe. Roosevelt was now mortally ill and exhausted by the strenuous journey. Controversy later raged over his decision to attend the conference at all, his eagerness to conciliate Stalin, and the sinister presence in his entourage of Communist agent Alger Hiss. Postwar critics would charge that Roosevelt had been duped at Yalta and had “sold out” eastern Europe to the Communists. Doubtless if Churchill’s advice had been followed, the policy of trust might have given way to one of hard bargaining and clear haggling over boundaries and governments in Europe and Asia. But in fact there was little the Western powers could have done to frustrate Stalin other than threatening a new world war. Nor could Churchill and Roosevelt have openly relinquished any liberated states to Stalin without abrogating the principles on which the war had been fought and alienating the millions of U.S. voters of eastern European descent. As for Asia, the United States was yet facing a campaign that might cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. Purchasing Soviet help against Japan seemed both realistic and humane. Roosevelt could not predict that the atomic bomb would render Soviet aid superfluous.

Of the three great allies Britain was the weakest and most interested in restoring a balance of power in Europe. Churchill, a keen critic of Bolshevism since 1919, had lobbied all throughout the summer of 1944 for an Italian campaign in hopes that the Allies might reach the Danube before the Red Army, and in October he had made the “spheres of influence” deal with Stalin. But the war map—and Roosevelt’s unwillingness to strain the alliance—defeated all these tactics. On the eve of Yalta, Churchill wondered whether “the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.” American war aims, by contrast, were nebulous to nonexistent, except for a reprise of Wilsonian internationalism. There is little evidence of economic motives in U.S. policy and, incredibly, no contingency plans for a breakdown in relations with the U.S.S.R. While Roosevelt feared another American retreat into isolationism, he also believed in the possibility of a postwar Great Power condominium. He was prepared to show Stalin that the Anglo-Saxons were not ganging up on him and wanted Soviet participation in a United Nations Organization. But Stalin pursued the old-fashioned way of postwar security: military and political control of eastern Europe to create a buffer for the U.S.S.R. and to ensure Soviet domination over its own repressed nationalities.

At the Yalta Conference, Big Three unity seemed intact, but only because the participants resorted to vagueness or postponements on the most explosive issues. A joint European Advisory Commission, it was decided, would divide Germany into occupation zones, with the Soviet zone extending to the Elbe and a French zone carved out of the Anglo-American spheres. Berlin would likewise be placed under four-power control. The Western Allies repudiated the extreme plans broached at Quebec for the pastoralization of Germany and favoured German industrial recovery under international control. But the Soviets insisted on the right to strip Germany of $20,000,000,000 worth of machinery and raw materials. The issue was assigned to a reparations commission. As for the political future of Germany, Stalin revived earlier Big Three talk of breaking Germany into several states, but the Western Allies now perceived the danger of further Balkanization in central Europe in light of Soviet power. This matter, too, was left for study.

Poland was, as always, a most difficult problem. The Western Allies reiterated their Tehrān approval of the Curzon Line, now modified slightly in Poland’s favour, as the Soviet–Polish border. But the assignment of 2,700,000 Germans to Poland in the West worried Churchill: “It would be a pity to stuff the Polish goose so full of German food that it died of indigestion.” Hence Poland’s western frontier would be left to a peace conference. As for the Polish government, the most the Western Allies achieved was a vague promise from Stalin that he would reorganize the Lublin Committee and permit free elections among “non-Fascist elements” within a month after peace. But Stalin reserved the right to decide who was “Fascist” and rejected international supervision of the elections. Roosevelt proposed a Declaration on Liberated Europe, by which the Big Three promised to help all liberated peoples “to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems” through “free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people.” Stalin signed, probably considering this more high-flown American rhetoric meant for domestic consumption. In the Communist lexicon words like democratic and free implied conditions virtually the opposite of what Roosevelt intended. Since Roosevelt also announced (to Churchill’s despair) that the United States would evacuate its troops from Europe within two years, Stalin may have felt that he could safely ignore the Declaration on Liberated Europe.

Stalin did prove conciliatory on the United Nations, which had already been discussed at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference between Aug. 21 and Oct. 7, 1944. The Soviets had demanded that all 16 constituent republics of the U.S.S.R. be represented (ostensibly to balance the British Empire nations that would vote with London) and that permanent members of the Security Council retain a veto on all issues, not just those involving sanctions or threats to peace. At Yalta, Stalin settled for three seats in the General Assembly and a limited veto. Like Wilson at Versailles, Roosevelt put great stock in international organization and was prompted to remark, “The Russians have given in so much at the conference that I don’t think we should let them down.” Finally, Stalin promised to declare war on Japan within 90 days of the German surrender in return for southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, retention of Outer Mongolia, and a promise of U.S. support for Soviet rights at Dairen (Lü-ta) and Port Arthur (Lü-shun)—all the old objects of Russian imperialism in east Asia. Within a month news from the various commissions established at Yalta indicated that the Soviets did not intend to meet Western expectations. When Molotov announced on March 23 that most of the London Poles were disqualified from Polish elections, Roosevelt reportedly banged his fist on his wheelchair: “Averell [Harriman, ambassador in Moscow] is right. We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.” Roosevelt then retreated, disillusioned, to Warm Springs, Ga., where he died on April 12.

The Allied advance from the west was stalled for six weeks by the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last offensive, but by February 1945 German resistance was near its end. Some Soviet and Western leaders were openly describing the last campaigns as a “land-grab” directed as much against their distrustful allies as against the Germans. But the commanders in the West still took steps to prove that they were supporting the Soviet advance. The worst product of this policy was the Allied bombing of Dresden on Feb. 13–14, 1945, allegedly to destroy a key communications centre for Germans facing the Red Army. The two-day incendiary raid created a firestorm, however, that consumed the medieval city and killed up to 25,000 civilians, to virtually no military purpose.

Another product of Western efforts to reassure Stalin was the refusal to order British and American armies to race the Soviets to Berlin. On March 7, 1945, General George Patton’s tanks broke through weak German lines and the 1st Army infantry captured intact a Rhine bridge at Remagen. Churchill pleaded for a rapid thrust in order to secure Berlin and Prague: “Highly important that we shake hands with the Russians as far to the east as possible.” Stalin, in turn, tried to lull his allies by saying that “Berlin has lost its former strategic importance,” while in fact ordering his generals to make for it as soon as possible. Eisenhower, backed by Marshall, confined himself to military considerations alone, however. The Allied armies would close the Ruhr pocket, then advance in breadth in case the rumours were true of a Nazi “Alpine redoubt” in the south. When the Western armies exceeded the limits of their occupation zones in April, Eisenhower even called them back. Soviet forces, meanwhile, captured Vienna and Königsberg on April 9 and encircled Berlin by the 25th. Five days later a despairing Hitler declared that Germany had proved unworthy of him and committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. Hitler’s successor, Admiral Karl Dönitz, opened negotiations with the Western powers, hoping to save as many troops and refugees as possible from Soviet reprisals. But the U.S.S.R. refused to recognize the surrender ceremony at Eisenhower’s headquarters on May 7, necessitating a second surrender, and a separate Soviet V-E Day, in Berlin on May 8. The war in Europe was over.

The defeat of Japan

The encirclement of Japan

By January 1944 the American buildup in the Pacific permitted both the army and navy commands to accelerate the rollback of Japanese power. Indeed, the United States had by then deployed as many men and planes and more ships in the Pacific theatre as in the European. The army under General MacArthur aimed at the liberation of the Philippines, thereby cutting Japanese communications with the East Indies and the sea route to Southeast Asia. The navy under Admiral Chester Nimitz moved up the Marshall and Mariana chains to bring U.S. bombers within range of the Japanese home islands. In both cases the Americans employed the tactic of island-hopping and relied on superior firepower to inflict appalling casualties on fanatical Japanese defenders who preferred death to the shame of surrender.

In the central Pacific, the navy’s material superiority allowed Nimitz to pierce Japan’s “absolute national defense sphere” almost at will. By 1943 the United States was producing 100,000 planes per year, compared to Japan’s total of 63,000 for the entire war. By the summer of 1944 the United States had nearly 100 carriers of all types in the Pacific, compared to Japan’s total of 20 for the war. The Japanese also lost more than 80 percent of the 6,000,000 tons of shipping with which they had begun the war (half to U.S. submarines) and were forced to expose their proud navy to destruction in a vain effort to supply their far-flung garrisons. The U.S. advance was limited only by its own supply lines, which stretched 5,000 miles from Pearl Harbor and 8,000 from the continental bases of California.

The bombing of the Japanese home islands achieved a new plateau of horror when the U.S. Army Air Forces adopted Britain’s European tactics of low-level nighttime raiding on urban areas. On the night of March 9–10, 1945, napalm area bombing of largely wooden Tokyo stoked fire storms that destroyed a quarter of the city, killed 80,000 civilians, and left 1,000,000 homeless. Similar devastating fire raids were launched against Ōsaka, Kōbe, Yokohama, and other cities.

The atomic decision

By April, Japan lay open to direct assault by land as well as air and sea. How could the United States bring Tokyo to surrender? Three means suggested themselves: invasion, inducement, and shock. The first would involve a lengthy, brutal campaign in which, it was estimated, hundreds of thousands of American and perhaps 2,000,000 Japanese lives would be lost. Yet the Joint Chiefs had no choice but to prepare for this eventuality, and by May 25 they had instructed MacArthur to plan Operation “Olympic,” an invasion of Kyushu, for November 1. The second means, inducement, was clearly preferable, and on May 8, the day after the German surrender, President Harry S. Truman tried it. Unconditional surrender, he said, would mean “the termination of the influence of the military leaders who have brought Japan to the present brink of disaster,” but did not mean “the extermination or enslavement of the Japanese people,” who would be free to “return to their families, their farms, their jobs.” Unfortunately, Truman did not include (as the State Department advised) a promise that the Japanese might retain their emperor, the god-king of their Shintō state religion. On the other hand, the Japanese government foolishly dismissed Truman’s appeal as propaganda and began to mobilize the home front to resist an invasion.

The third means of achieving a surrender—by shock—had become a possibility on Dec. 30, 1944, when General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, reported that it was “reasonably certain” that a gun-type atomic bomb equivalent to 10,000 tons of TNT and an implosion-type bomb would be ready for testing by the summer of 1945. On April 25, soon after Truman’s accession to the presidency, Secretary of War Stimson impressed on him the significance of this development: “Within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city.” He then formed an Interim Committee of statesmen and scientists to debate how the bomb should be employed. On May 31 and June 1 the committee received scientific briefings and held discussions on whether to share the secret with the Soviets, how long it would take other nations to develop their own atomic bomb, how international control might be achieved, whether the U.S. monopoly might help Washington in its relations with Moscow, and whether the bomb would be a universal blessing or a Frankenstein’s monster.

In the matter at hand, however, the committee concluded that the bomb should be used to end the war as soon as possible; that it should be dropped on a military-urban target so as to demonstrate its full force; and that a demonstration or warning should not be made beforehand, lest the bomb lose its shock value. The scientific panel under J. Robert Oppenheimer concurred on June 16. As he later said, “We didn’t know beans about the military situation in Japan. . . . We did say that we did not think exploding one of these things as a firecracker over a desert was likely to be very impressive.”

The first atomic test near Alamogordo, N.M., on July 16, 1945, yielded an explosion equivalent to that of 15,000 tons of TNT and stunned Oppenheimer and his colleagues with its elemental power. At that moment Truman was attending the final Big Three meeting at Potsdam, and he casually mentioned to Stalin that the United States had “a new weapon of unusual destructive force.” Stalin said that he was glad to hear of it and hoped that the United States would make good use of it against the Japanese. Though little else was agreed upon at Potsdam, the Big Three did jointly invite Japan on July 26 to surrender unconditionally or face “prompt and utter destruction.” When no surrender was forthcoming, Truman gave the Army Air Forces on Tinian Island the green light. He wrote later that he never lost a moment’s sleep over his decision.

A specially equipped B-29, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the military port of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The heat and blast effaced everything in the vicinity, burned 4.4 square miles, and killed some 70,000 people (lingering injuries and radiation sickness brought the death toll past 100,000 by the end of the year). Two days later the U.S.S.R. declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. On August 9 the second atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki, killing 39,000 people. On that day the Voice of the Sacred Crane—the emperor’s command—summoned the Cabinet to an audience. Hirohito expressed his wish that Japan accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration on the sole condition that the emperor remain sovereign. To continue the war, he said, would be suicidal. And then, perhaps realizing the irony of that remark, he turned to the military men and noted that their performance had fallen rather short of their promises. Even at that late date some fanatical officers attempted a coup on the palace grounds rather than submit. On Sept. 2, 1945, however, General MacArthur received the Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, and the greatest war in history came to a close.

The coming of the Cold War, 1945–57

The symbolic first meeting of American and Soviet soldiers occurred at Torgau, Ger., on April 25, 1945. Their handshakes and toasts in beer and vodka celebrated their common victory over Nazi Germany and marked the collapse of old Europe altogether; but their inarticulate grunts and exaggerated smiles presaged the lack of communication in their relationship to come. Grand wartime coalitions invariably break up once the common fight gives way to bickering over division of the spoils, but feuding victors after the wars of Louis XIV and Napoleon or World War I at least negotiated treaties of peace, while the rancour among them was moderated by time or the danger that the common enemy might rise again. After 1945, however, no grand peace conference convened, no common fear of Germany or Japan survived, and the quarrels among the victors only grew year by year into what the U.S. presidential adviser Bernard Baruch and the pundit Walter Lippmann termed a Cold War.

The U.S.–Soviet conflict began in 1945 over treatment of occupied Germany and the composition of the Polish government. It grew during 1946 as the Soviets communized the lands under their occupation and the victors failed to agree on a plan for the control of atomic energy. From 1947 to 1950 the reactions of Washington and Moscow to the perceived threats of the other solidified the division of Europe and much of the world into two blocs, and the Cold War became universalized, institutionalized, and militarized.

The settlement after World War II, therefore, was a peace without treaties, and the Cold War magnified, distorted, or otherwise played upon the other historical trends given impetus by the world wars of the 20th century: Asian nationalism, decolonization, the seeming culmination of the 37-year-old Chinese Revolution, the evolution of independent Communist parties in Yugoslavia and Asia, and western Europe’s drive to end four centuries of conflict through economic integration. The early Cold War was not a decade of fear and failure alone but also a creative time that gave birth to the closest thing to a world order that had existed since 1914. With the sole major exception of the later Sino-Soviet split, the boundaries, institutions, and relationships fashioned in the late 1940s were very nearly the same ones that shaped world politics through the 1980s.

The Cold War guilt question

As early as 1948 American left-liberals blamed the Truman administration for the icy tone of its relations with Moscow, while rightists blamed the Communists but accused Roosevelt and Truman of appeasement. Moderates of both parties shared a consensus that Truman’s containment policy was, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote, “the brave and essential response of free men to communist aggression.” After all, Stalin’s tyranny was undeniable, and his seizure of countries in eastern Europe one by one was reminiscent of Hitler’s “salami tactics.” To be sure, Roosevelt may have helped to foster mistrust by refusing to discuss war aims earlier and then relying on vague principles, and Truman may have blundered or initiated steps that solidified the Cold War. Those steps, however, were taken only after substantial Soviet violation of wartime agreements and in fearful confusion over the motivations for Soviet policy. Was the U.S.S.R. implacably expansionist, or were its aims limited? Was it executing a plan based on Communist faith in world revolution, or reflecting the need of the regime for foreign enemies to justify domestic terror, or merely pursuing the traditional aims of Russian imperialism? Or was it only Stalin’s own paranoia or ambition that was responsible for Soviet aggression?

The fact that Western societies tended to parade their disagreements and failures in public, in contrast to the Soviet fetish for secrecy, guaranteed that historical attention would fix on American motivations and mistakes. In the late 1950s and the 1960s, traditional left-liberal scholars smarting from the excesses of McCarthyism and new leftists of the Vietnam era began publishing revisionist interpretations of the origins of the Cold War. The “hard revisionism” of William Appleman Williams in 1959 depicted the Cold War in Marxist fashion as an episode in American economic expansion in which the U.S. government resorted to military threats to prevent Communists from closing off eastern European markets and raw materials to American corporations. Less rigidly ideological “soft revisionists” blamed the Cold War on the irascible Truman administration, which, they charged, had jettisoned the cooperative framework built up by Roosevelt at Tehrān and Yalta and had dropped the atomic bombs on Japan as a means of frightening the Russians and forcing an “American peace.” These revisionist interpretations were based not so much on new evidence as on new assumptions about U.S. and Soviet motives, influenced in turn by the protest movements against the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, and the alleged domination of American society by the “military-industrial complex.” Looking back to the years after 1945, the revisionists argued that Stalin was not a fanatical aggressor but a traditional Soviet statesman. After all, the Soviet Union had been brutally invaded and had lost 20,000,000 lives in the war. Stalin could thus be excused for insisting on friendly governments on his borders. He was betrayed, said revisionists, by American militancy and Red-baiting after the death of Roosevelt.

Traditional historians countered that little evidence existed for most of the revisionist positions. To be sure, American hostility to Communism dated from 1917, but the record proved Roosevelt’s commitment to good relations with Stalin, while no proof at all was forthcoming that American policy makers were anxious to penetrate eastern European markets, which were, in any case, of minor importance to the U.S. economy. Williams rebutted that policy makers so internalized their economic imperialism that they did not bother to put their thoughts on paper, but this “argument from no evidence” made a mockery of scholarship. The preponderance of evidence also indicated that the atomic decision was made for military considerations, although isolated advisers did hope that it would ease negotiations with Moscow. These and other examples led most historians to conclude that, while the revisionists brought to light new issues and exposed American aimlessness, inconsistency, and possible overreaction at the end of World War II, they failed to establish their primary theories of American guilt.

Historians with a longer perspective on the Cold War transcended the passions of Vietnam-era polarization and observed that deeper forces must have been at work for the Cold War to have persisted for so long after 1945. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how leaders of the two countries could have sat down agreeably and settled the affairs of the world. The new superpowers were wrenched out of isolationism and thrust into roles of world leadership, they nurtured contrary universalist ideologies, and they mounted asymmetrical military threats (one based on conventional weapons, sheer numbers, and land power; the other on nuclear might, technological superiority, and air and sea power). To these liabilities could be added the fact that both countries had been forced into World War II by sneak attacks and had resolved never again to be seduced into appeasement or to be taken by surprise.

Even such a balanced long-range view should not be taken uncritically. It remains the case that the Cold War grew out of specific diplomatic disputes, among them Germany, eastern Europe, and atomic weapons. Could those disputes have been avoided or amicably resolved? Certainly some prior agreement on war aims might have softened the discord after 1945, but Roosevelt’s policy of avoiding divisive issues during the war, while wise in the short run, enhanced the potential for conflict. It might, without undue exaggeration, be said that the United States entered the postwar period with only a vision of a postwar economic world and few political war aims at all, and thus had little excuse for indignation once Stalin set out methodically to realize his own aims. But this does not justify a Soviet policy bent on denying self-rule to neighbouring peoples and imposing police states as cruel as those of Hitler. Although the Soviets had lost 20,000,000 in the war, Stalin had killed at least an equal number of his own citizens through deliberate famine and purge. American hegemony, if it can be called that, was by contrast liberal, pluralistic, and generous.

The question has been posed: Is it not an expression of American exclusivism, self-righteousness, or cultural imperialism to insist that the rest of the world conform to Anglo-Saxon standards of political legitimacy? Even if so, critics must take care not to indulge in a double standard: excusing the U.S.S.R. for being “realistic” and damning the United States for being insufficiently “idealistic.”

Wasteland: the world after 1945

The ruin of Europe and Japan

Harry Truman had been an artilleryman in World War I and remembered well the lunar landscape of the Western Front. Yet, while driving from Potsdam to Berlin in July 1945, he exclaimed, “I never saw such destruction!” Almost all the great cities of central and eastern Europe were jagged with ruined buildings, pitted roads, wrecked bridges, and choked waterways. Amid it all were the gaunt survivors, perhaps 45,000,000 of them homeless, including 25,000,000 in those lands—Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia—that had been overrun and scorched two or three times. European communications and transportation reverted to 19th-century levels: 90 percent of French trucks and 82 percent of French locomotives were out of commission, as were over half the rolling stock in Germany and two-thirds of the Balkan railroads. European coal production was at 40 percent of prewar levels, and more than half the continent’s merchant marine no longer existed. Some 23 percent of Europe’s farmland was out of production by war’s end. Of course, people could be fed with American aid while the rubble was cleared away and utilities restored, but World War II cost Europe more in monetary terms than all its previous wars put together. The war also set in train the greatest Völkerwanderung—movement of peoples—since the barbarian incursions of the late Roman Empire. During the Nazi onslaught some 27,000,000 people fled or were forced out by war and persecution, and 4,500,000 more were seized for slave labour. When the Red Army advanced westward, millions more fled before it to escape reprisals or Communism. All told, about 60,000,000 people of 55 ethnic groups from 27 countries were uprooted. Finally, 7,000,000 Axis prisoners of war were in Allied hands, along with 8,000,000 Allied prisoners of war liberated from the Axis and 670,000 survivors of Nazi death camps.

The landscape in much of Japan was just as barren, its cities flattened by bombing, its industry and shipping destroyed. Large parts of China had been under foreign occupation for up to 14 years and—like Russia after World War I—still faced several years of destructive civil war. Indeed, World War II had laid waste every major industrial region of the globe except North America. The result was that in 1945–46 the United States accounted for almost half the gross world product of goods and services and enjoyed a technological lead symbolized by, but by no means limited to, its atomic monopoly. On the other hand, Americans as always wanted to demobilize rapidly and return to the private lives and careers interrupted by Pearl Harbor. The Soviet Union, by contrast, was in ruin, but its mighty armies occupied half a dozen states in the heart of Europe, while local Communist parties agitated in Italy and France. The United States and the Soviet Union thus appeared to pose asymmetrical threats to each other.

U.S. vision of reconstruction

American planners envisioned postwar reconstruction in terms of Wilsonian internationalism but were determined to avoid the mistakes that resulted after 1918 in inflation, tariffs, debts, and reparations. In 1943 the United States sponsored the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to distribute food and medicine to the stricken peoples in the war zones. At the Bretton Woods Conference (summer of 1944) the United States presided over the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The dollar was returned to gold convertibility at $35 per ounce and would serve as the world’s reserve currency, while the pound, the franc, and other currencies were pegged to the dollar. Such stability would permit the recovery of world trade, while a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (ratified in 1948) would ensure low tariffs and prevent a return to policies of economic nationalism. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau tried to entice the Soviets to join the Bretton Woods system, but the U.S.S.R. opted out of the new economic order.

The American universalist program seemingly had more luck in the political realm. Roosevelt was convinced that the League of Nations had been doomed by the absence of the United States and the Soviet Union and thus was anxious to win Soviet participation in the compromises at Yalta. The Big Four powers accordingly drafted the Charter of the United Nations at the San Francisco Conference in April 1945. Roosevelt wisely appointed several leading Republicans to the U.S. delegation, avoiding Wilson’s fatal error and securing the Senate ratification of the UN Charter on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89–2. Like Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman hoped that future quarrels could be settled peacefully in the international body.

The end of East–West cooperation

By the time of the Potsdam Conference, Truman was already aware of Soviet unwillingness to permit representative governments and free elections in the countries under its control. The U.S.S.R. compelled the King of Romania to appoint a Communist-dominated government, Tito’s Communists assumed control of a coalition with royalists in Yugoslavia, Communists dominated in Hungary and Bulgaria (where a reported 20,000 people were liquidated), and the Red Army extended an invitation to “consult” with 16 underground Polish leaders only to arrest them when they surfaced. As Stalin said to the Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas: “In this war each side imposes its system as far as its armies can reach. It cannot be otherwise.” On April 23, 1945, Truman scolded Molotov for these violations of the Yalta Accords and, when Molotov protested such undiplomatic conduct, replied, “Carry out your agreements and you won’t get talked to like that.” On May 11, three days after the German surrender, Truman abruptly ordered the termination of Lend-Lease aid to the U.S.S.R. Two weeks later Stalin replied in like terms to the envoy Harry Hopkins by way of protesting the suspension of Lend-Lease, Churchill’s alleged plan to revive a cordon sanitaire on Russia’s borders, and other matters. Hopkins, however, assured him of American goodwill and acquiesced in the imprisonment of the Polish leaders and the inclusion of only a few London Poles in the new government. The United States and Britain then recognized the Warsaw regime, assuring Soviet domination of Poland.

The short-lived détente was to be consummated at Potsdam, the last meeting among the Big Three. In the midst of the conference, however, the British electorate rejected Churchill at the polls, and the Labour Party leader Clement Attlee replaced him in the councils of the great. Aside from the Soviet promise to enter the war against Japan and Truman’s hint that the United States had developed the atomic bomb, the Potsdam Conference dealt with postwar Europe. The U.S.S.R. was authorized to seize one-third of the German fleet, extract reparations-in-kind from its eastern German occupation zone, and benefit from a complicated formula for delivery of industrial goods from the western zones, 15 percent to be counted as payment for foodstuffs and other products sent from the Soviet zone. The conference provided for peace treaties with the defeated countries once they had “recognized democratic governments” and left their drafting to the Council of Foreign Ministers. Finally, the Potsdam nations agreed to prosecute Germans for war crimes in trials that were conducted at Nürnberg for a year after November 1945. Potsdam, however, left the most divisive issues—the administration of Germany and the configuration of eastern European governments—to future discussion. At the first such meeting, in September, the new U.S. secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, asked why Western newsmen were not allowed into eastern Europe and why governments could not be formed there that were democratic yet still friendly to Russia. Molotov asked on his own account why the U.S.S.R. was excluded from the administration of Japan.

Truman enumerated the principles of American foreign policy in his Navy Day speech of October 27. Its 12 points echoed the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson, including national self-determination; nonrecognition of governments imposed by foreign powers; freedom of the seas, commerce, expression, and religion; and support for the United Nations. Confusion reigned in Washington, however, as to how to implement these principles in league with Moscow. As the political commentator James Reston observed, two schools of thought seemed to compete for the ear of the President. According to the first, Stalin was committed to limitless expansion and would only be encouraged by concessions. According to the second, Stalin was amenable to a structure of peace but could not be expected to loosen his hold on eastern Europe so long as the United States excluded him from, for instance, Japan. Truman and the State Department drifted between these two poles, searching for a key to unlock the secrets of the Kremlin and hence the appropriate U.S. policy.

Truman’s last attempt to win the Soviets to his universalist vision was the Byrnes mission to Moscow in December 1945. There the Soviets promptly accepted an Anglo-American plan for a UN Atomic Energy Agency meant to control the development and use of nuclear power. Stalin also conceded that it might prove possible to make some changes in the Romanian and Bulgarian parliaments, though conceding nothing that might weaken his hold on the satellites. George F. Kennan of the U.S. embassy in Moscow called the concessions “fig leaves of democratic procedure to hide the nakedness of Stalinist dictatorship,” while Truman’s own dissatisfaction with the results at Moscow and growing domestic criticism of his “coddling” of the Russians were pushing him toward a drastic reformulation of policy.

Why, in fact, did Stalin engage in such a hurried takeover of eastern Europe when it was bound to provoke the United States (magnifying Soviet insecurity) and waste the opportunity for access to U.S. loans and perhaps even atomic secrets? Was not Stalin’s policy, in retrospect, simply unwise? Such questions cannot be answered with assurance, since less is known about the postwar Stalinist era (1945–53) than any other in Soviet history, but the most tempting clue is again to be found in Stalin’s domestic calculations. If the Soviet Union were to recover from the war, not to mention compete with the mighty United States, the population would have to be spurred to even greater efforts, which meant intensifying the campaign against alleged foreign threats. What was more, the Soviets had only recently regained control of populations that had had contact with foreigners and, in some cases, collaborated with the invaders. Ukrainians in particular had tried to establish an autonomous status under the Nazis, and they persisted in guerrilla activity against the Soviets until 1947. If Soviet citizens were allowed widespread contact with foreigners through economic cooperation, international institutions, and cultural exchanges, loyalty to the Communist regime might be weakened. Firm control of his eastern European neighbours helped assure Stalin of firm control at home. Indeed, he now ordered the utter isolation of Soviet life to the point that returning prisoners of war were interned lest they “infect” their neighbours with notions of the outside world. Perhaps Stalin did not really fear an attack from the “imperialists” or consider a Soviet invasion of western Europe, but neither could he welcome the Americans and British as genuine comrades in peace without undermining the ideology and the emergency that justified his own iron rule.

A swift return to Communist orthodoxy accompanied the clampdown on foreign contacts. During the war the U.S.S.R.’s leading economist, Evgeny Varga of the Institute of World Economy and World Politics, argued that government controls in the United States had moderated the influence of monopolies, permitting both dynamic growth and a mellower foreign policy. The U.S.S.R. might therefore benefit from East–West cooperation and prevent the division of the world into economic blocs. Stalin appeared to tolerate this nontraditionalist view as long as large loans from the United States and the World Bank were a possibility. But the suspension of Lend-Lease, opposition to a Soviet loan in the State Department, and Stalin’s renewed rejection of consumerism doomed these moderate views on the world economy. The new Five-Year Plan, announced at the start of 1946, called for continued concentration on heavy industry and military technology. The war and victory, said Stalin, had justified his harsh policies of the 1930s, and he called on Soviet scientists to overtake and surpass Western science. Soviet economists perforce embraced the traditional view that Western economies were about to enter a new period of inflation and unemployment that would increase the imperialist pressure for war. Andrey Zhdanov, the Communist leader of Leningrad, was a bellwether. In 1945 he wanted to reward the Soviet people with consumer goods for their wartime sacrifices; in early 1947 he espoused the theory of the “two camps,” the peace-loving, progressive camp led by the Soviet Union and the militaristic, reactionary camp led by the United States.

American confusion came to an end after Feb. 9, 1946, when Stalin’s great speech inaugurating the Five-Year Plan reiterated clearly his implacable hostility to the West. Kennan responded with his famous “Long Telegram” from Moscow (February 22), which for years to come served as a primer on Soviet behaviour for many in Washington. The Kremlin’s “neurotic view of world affairs,” he wrote, was the product of centuries of Russian isolation and insecurity vis-à-vis the more advanced West. The Soviets, like the tsars, viewed the influx of Western ideas as the greatest threat to their continued power, and they clung to Marxist ideology as a cover for their disregard for “every single ethical value in their methods and tactics.” The U.S.S.R. was not Nazi Germany—it would not seek war and was averse to risk taking—but it would employ every means of subverting, dividing, and undermining the West through the actions of Communists and fellow travelers. Kennan’s advice was to expect nothing from negotiations but to remain confident and healthy, lest the United States become like those with whom it was contending.

Kennan’s analysis implied several important conclusions: that the Wilsonian vision inherited from Roosevelt was fruitless; that the United States must take the lead in organizing the Western world; that the Truman administration must prevent a renewal of isolationism and persuade the American people to shoulder their new responsibilities. Churchill, though out of office, aided this agenda when he warned the American people (with Truman’s confidential endorsement) from Fulton, Mo., on March 5, 1946, that an “iron curtain” had descended across the European continent.

The Cold War in Europe

Peace treaties and territorial agreements

The early spring of 1946 was a turning point when the United States gave up its hopes of cooperation in favour of what would soon be called “containment.” The first manifestation occurred in March 1946, when the U.S.S.R. failed to evacuate Iran on schedule and Secretary of State Byrnes was obliged to go to the UN Security Council and even hint at hostilities to get Moscow to retreat. This incident, together with Soviet pressure on Turkey and Yugoslav involvement in the Greek civil war, seemed to indicate that Communists were prepared to use force to expand.

The year 1946 saw many meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers, which ultimately produced treaties of peace with Italy, Hungary, Romania, Finland, and Bulgaria, signed on Feb. 10, 1947. Border questions after World War II were comparatively minor—a somewhat ironic fact, given the interwar attacks on Versailles by all parties. Romania ceded northern Bukovina and Bessarabia back to the U.S.S.R., which also claimed Petsamo and the Karelian Isthmus from Finland and the Carpatho-Ukraine region from Czechoslovakia. Hungary returned northern Transylvania to Romania. Italy ceded the Dodecanese islands to Greece and surrendered its overseas colonies, although a Soviet demand for a trusteeship over Libya was denied. Trieste was contested by Italy and Yugoslavia and remained under Western occupation until 1954. The major change affected Poland, which was figuratively picked up and moved some 150 miles to the west. This meant that large portions of eastern Germany came under Polish administration, while the U.S.S.R. absorbed the entire Baltic coast as far as the venerable German port of Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The U.S.S.R. was the only power to make significant territorial gains from the war.

Four-power cooperation in Germany continued to deteriorate. The Americans had agreed at Potsdam to reparations-in-kind but opposed extreme efforts by the Soviets and the French to pauperize the Germans lest the burden of feeding them fall entirely on the American taxpayer. What was more, the Soviets would be unwilling (in Kennan’s view) to countenance centralized German institutions unless they were in a position to use them to communize the entire country. In early May 1946, General Lucius Clay, commanding the U.S. zone, refused to authorize shipments out of western Germany until agreement was reached on treating Germany as a unit under four-power control. On September 6, Byrnes then announced a new policy: if unification of all Germany proved impossible, the United States would instead promote “maximum possible unification” (i.e., in the western zones only). This ensured that Germany would remain divided long afterward.

Atomic energy

The superpowers also failed to join hands on atomic energy. Despite resistance from powerful circles in the press, Congress, and the military against any giveaway of atomic secrets, Byrnes appointed a committee in January 1946 to draft proposals for international control of atomic energy. The resulting (Dean) Acheson–(David) Lilienthal Report called for a UN authority to survey and control all uranium deposits and ensure that atomic research was conducted for peaceful purposes only. Once controls were in place, the United States would relinquish its arsenal and scientific information to the world community. Truman entrusted the diplomatic task to Baruch, who insisted that nations not be allowed to employ their Security Council veto in atomic matters. He then appealed to the UN on June 14, 1946: “We are here to make a choice between the quick and the dead.” The Soviet plan, presented by Andrey Gromyko, called instead for immediate prohibition of all manufacture and use of atomic weapons. Measures to ensure compliance would follow, but there could be no tampering with the Security Council veto. Western delegates pointed out that the Soviets were asking the United States to give up its monopoly and make public all its data in return for a paper promise of compliance. Gromyko countered that the United States was asking all other countries to reveal the state of their own research before it gave up its own arsenal. At the final vote in December, the U.S.S.R. and Poland vetoed the Baruch Plan, and international control of atomic energy ceased to be a possibility. While the United States was not as forthcoming as it might have been, the Soviet refusal to allow on-site inspection would frustrate disarmament for the next 40 years.

The economic battle with Communism

By the turn of 1947 it appeared that Truman’s foreign policy was foundering. His secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, had been outspoken in criticism of the Baruch Plan and of the policy of “getting tough” with the Soviets. Upon resigning he became a leader of those whom Truman privately described as the “Reds, phonies and the parlour pinks” that he feared were “a sabotage front for Uncle Joe Stalin.” The 1946 elections then returned a Republican Congress bent on cutting costs and “bringing the boys home.” Yet the United States was on the verge of the greatest reversal of its foreign policy traditions since 1917. On Feb. 21, 1947, the British government announced that its economic difficulties would force it to suspend economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey by March 31. Greece was embroiled in civil war provoked by Communists. Turkey was under Soviet pressure for bases and naval passage through the Dardanelles. If those countries succumbed to Communist influence, the Mediterranean and the entire Middle East might follow. Truman, his new secretary of state, George C. Marshall, and Marshall’s deputy, Dean Acheson, resolved at once that the United States must step in. On February 27 Acheson impressed congressional leaders with a vivid account of the Soviet strategy of expansion and its implications for American security. After a tense silence, Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg vowed to support the new policy if Truman would explain it with equal clarity to the American people. On March 12, Truman accordingly told Congress that “at the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. . . . It must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure.” He asked for $400,000,000 in aid specifically for Greece and Turkey, but the Truman Doctrine thus propounded universalized the American commitment to contain the spread of Communism.

The mobilization of American might for this task followed swiftly. On June 5, 1947, at Harvard University, Marshall called for a massive program of foreign aid to help the European states recover. In July, Kennan, signing himself “X,” educated the public on “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” and outlined the strategy of containment in the journal Foreign Affairs. The National Military Establishment Act of 1947 (in the works since the war) created a permanent Joint Chiefs of Staff, a single secretary of defense, the U.S. Air Force as a separate service with its nuclear-armed Strategic Air Command, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Kennan himself soon criticized the Truman Doctrine as indiscriminate and excessively military. Drawing on classical geopolitics, he narrowed U.S. interests to the protection of those industrial regions not yet in the hands of the Soviet Union (North America, Britain, Germany, and Japan). In practice, however, defense of those regions seemed to require defense of contiguous areas as well. Japanese security, for instance, depended on the fate of Korea, and European security on not being outflanked in the Middle East. American responsibilities, therefore, could easily appear to be global.

The Marshall Plan was born in the State Department in response to the fact that western Europe was making little progress toward prosperity and stability. Britain was exhausted and committed to the Labour government’s extensive welfare programs. In France, Charles de Gaulle’s postwar government quickly gave way to a Fourth Republic paralyzed by quarreling factions that included a large, disciplined Communist party. In Italy, too, Communists threatened to gain power by parliamentary means. All suffered from underproduction, a shortage of capital, and energy shortages exacerbated by the severe winter of 1946–47. Marshall therefore put forward a plan for cash grants to a joint European economic council “to assist in the return of normal economic health, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”

The British foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, spoke for western Europe when he told Parliament, “When the Marshall proposals were announced, I grabbed them with both hands.” At Kennan’s insistence, Marshall aid was offered to all of Europe, including the Soviet bloc, but Stalin denounced the plan as a capitalist plot. The one eastern European state not yet communized, Czechoslovakia, attempted to join the Marshall Plan, but Communist pressure forced it to back out. In February 1948, less than 10 years after Munich, the Czech Communist party subverted the republic and Czech democracy again fell to totalitarian rule, a tragedy punctuated by the suicide—or murder—of Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk. Stalin reinforced his attack on the Marshall Plan by reviving the Communist International, now called the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), in October 1947 and by escalating ideological warfare against the West.

The new hope kindled in western Europe by the Marshall Plan helped secure the defeat of the Communists in the 1948 Italian election (the $1,000,000 of CIA funds for the Christian Democrats was hardly decisive) and stabilize politics elsewhere in western Europe. Under the Marshall Plan, the United States then transferred $13,600,000,000 to the stricken economies of western Europe in addition to $9,500,000,000 in earlier loans and $500,000,000 in private charity.

The division of Europe

The Marshall Plan’s manifold effects included the hardening of the division of Europe, the movement for integration within western Europe, and the creation of the two Germanies. “Bizonia,” the product of an economic merger between the U.S. and British occupation zones, was announced on May 29, 1947, and a new U.S. policy followed on July 11 that ended Germany’s punitive period and aimed at making its economy self-sufficient. When in March 1948 some of the western European states responded to the coup in Czechoslovakia by signing the Brussels Treaty and pressing ahead with the establishment of a West German currency and government, the Russians walked out of the Allied Control Council. On June 24, Soviet occupation forces in the eastern zone blocked Allied road and rail access to the western zones of Berlin. This first Berlin crisis, made possible by the anomaly of a U.S.-British-French interest 100 miles inside the Soviet zone, forced Truman to define the limits of his “get tough” policy. Clay and Acheson advocated sending an armed convoy along the access routes to assert Allied rights, but neither the Joint Chiefs nor the British and French were prepared to risk war. Instead, the United States responded with an enormous airlift, totalling 277,264 sorties, to keep western Berlin supplied with food, fuel, and medicine. Perhaps Stalin hoped to drive the Allies from Berlin, or to prevent the setting up and possible rearmament of a West German state, or to induce the American electorate in 1948 to return to isolationism. In the event, the blockade only frightened the Western powers into stronger new measures. On April 4, 1949, the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Canada founded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Washington, D.C., providing for mutual aid in case of attack against any member. On May 8, the West German parliamentary council adopted a constitution, and on May 23 the Federal Republic of Germany came into being. Stalin acknowledged defeat in Berlin and lifted the blockade on May 12, but the Soviets countered by creating mirror institutions—the German Democratic Republic (Oct. 7, 1949) and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) in the Soviet bloc.

The parallel and hostile German states and regional alliances institutionalized and militarized the Cold War even as the Communist ideological offensive and the Truman Doctrine had universalized it. Before this first phase of the Cold War closed, however, two events called into question root assumptions of the two sides. The first was the West’s assumption that Communism was a monolithic movement controlled from the Kremlin. In June 1948 the world became aware of a rift between Stalin and Tito that threatened to shake the Soviet empire of “people’s democracies.” This rift could be traced to the war, in which Tito’s Communist partisans had expelled the Nazis from Yugoslavia without large-scale aid from the Soviet Union. As a national hero, Tito had strong domestic support and thus was not personally dependent on Stalin. He even persevered in support for the Greek Communists while Stalin was adhering to his 1944 agreement with Churchill to keep hands off Greece. When Stalin and Molotov vetoed his plans for a Balkan confederation, Tito purged Yugoslav Communists known to be in the pay of Moscow. Stalin countered with brutal threats and a purge of Communists in the satellites accused of Titoist tendencies. But Tito held firm: Yugoslavia would “choose its own path to Socialism,” seek economic ties with the West, and indirectly place itself under Western protection. Tito also ceased to support the Greek Communists, and the civil war there soon ended in a victory for the royal government (October 1949).

The second assumption of the early Cold War was shattered in August 1949 when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. Its development might have been hastened by espionage, but Soviets had been among the leaders in nuclear physics before the war, and knowledgeable observers had known that a Soviet atomic bomb was only a matter of time.

The Cold War in the Middle East and Asia

The creation of Israel

Islāmic and South Asian nationalism, first awakened in the era of the first World War, triumphed in the wake of the second, bringing on in the years 1946–50 the first great wave of decolonization. The British and French fulfilled their wartime promises by evacuating and recognizing the sovereignty of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in 1946 and Iraq in 1947. (Oman and Yemen remained under British administration until the 1960s, Kuwait and the Trucial States [United Arab Emirates] until 1971.) The strategic importance of the Middle East derived from its vast oil reserves, the Suez Canal, and its position on the southern rim of the U.S.S.R. While the Islāmic kingdoms and republics were not drawn to Communist ideology, the Soviets hoped to expand their influence by pressuring Turkey and Iran and involving themselves in the intramural quarrels of the region. Chief among these was the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The Zionist movement of the late 19th century had led by 1917 to the Balfour Declaration, by which Britain promised an eventual homeland for Jews in Palestine. When that former Ottoman province became a British mandate under the League of Nations in 1922, it contained about 700,000 people, of whom only 58,000 were Jews. By the end of the 1920s, however, the Jewish community had tripled, and, with the encouragement of Amīn al-Ḥusaynī, grand mufti of Jerusalem and admirer of the Nazis, Arab resentment exploded in bloody riots in 1929 and again in 1936–39. For self-protection the Jews formed Haganah (Defense), an underground militia that by 1939 had grown into a semiprofessional army. The Zionist cause then began to benefit from the worldwide sympathy caused by the Nazi Holocaust and by Haganah cobelligerency in the British war against Germany. The Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization), a Zionist terror organization under Menachem Begin, and the Abraham Stern Group, which found even the Irgun too mild, turned against the British occupation in 1944 despite vehement opposition from Chaim Weizmann and others promoting the Jewish cause overseas. The newly formed Arab League, in turn, pledged in March 1945 to prevent the formation of any Jewish state in Palestine.

Meanwhile, Zionists concentrated on the United States, whose large Jewish voting bloc was believed likely to influence policy. In the 1944 campaign Roosevelt endorsed the founding of a “free and democratic Jewish Commonwealth,” and U.S. policy subsequently clashed with Britain’s, which aimed at maintaining paramountcy in the region through good relations with the Arabs. Foreign Secretary Bevin opposed and Truman endorsed a proposal in April 1946 by an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to allow another 100,000 Jews into Palestine, an idea dwarfed by David Ben-Gurion’s demand for 1,200,000. Jewish terrorism exacerbated British hostility through such incidents as the flogging and murder of British soldiers, culminating in the bombing of the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946, in which 41 Arabs, 28 British, and 22 others died. All told, Jewish terrorists killed 127 British soldiers and wounded 331 from 1944 to 1948, as well as thousands of Arabs. On the other hand, heartrending tales of Jewish survivors of Nazi Europe being turned back from their “promised land” also tugged at Western consciences.

On April 2, 1947, Bevin washed his hands of Palestine and placed it on the docket of the UN, which recommended partition into Jewish and Arab states. The United States and Britain feared that the Arabs would turn to the Soviets for aid, but the U.S.S.R. mystified all parties in October by agreeing with the American plan for partition. The Soviets apparently hoped to hasten British withdrawal, insinuate themselves into Middle Eastern diplomacy, and profit from the discord following partition. The General Assembly approved partition on November 29, granting to Jews some 5,500 square miles, mostly in the arid Negev. When the Arab League proclaimed a jihad (holy war) against the Jews, Truman’s advisers began to reconsider partition, for the loss of Arab oil might cripple the Marshall Plan and the U.S. military in case of war. When, however, the British pulled out and Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, Stalin and Truman (whether out of sympathy or domestic politics) immediately advanced recognition.

At the moment of partition the number of Jews had risen to some 35 percent of the total population of Palestine, and they were faced with Arab League forces totaling 40,000 men. The Haganah fielded about 30,000 volunteers armed with Czechoslovakian weapons sent at the behest of the U.S.S.R. On the day after partition the Arab League launched its attack, but the desperate Jewish defense prevailed on all five fronts. The UN called for a cease-fire on May 20 and appointed Folke, Count Bernadotte, as mediator, but his new partition plan was unacceptable to both sides. A 10-day Israeli offensive in July destroyed the Arab armies as an offensive force, at the cost of 838 Israeli lives. Members of the Stern Group assassinated Bernadotte on September 17. A final offensive in October carried the Israelis to the Lebanese border and the edge of the Golan Heights in the north and to the Gulf of Aqaba and into the Sinai in the south. Armistice talks resumed on Rhodes on Jan. 13, 1949, with the American Ralph Bunche mediating, and a truce followed in March. No Arab state recognized Israel’s legitimacy, however. More than a half-million Palestinian refugees were scattered around the Arab world. Between 1948 and 1957 some 567,000 Jews were expelled from Arab states, nearly all of whom resettled in Israel. The 1948 war thus marked only the beginning of trouble in the region.

South Asia

The British faced a similar problem on a much larger scale in India, whose population included 250,000,000 Hindus, 90,000,000 Muslims, and 60,000,000 distributed among various ethnic and religious minorities. Between the wars Mohandas Gandhi’s passive-resistance campaigns had crystallized Indian nationalism, which was nurtured in part by the relative leniency of British rule. Parliament set in motion the process leading to home rule in 1935, and the Attlee Cabinet rewarded India for its wartime loyalty by instructing Lord Mountbatten on Feb. 20, 1947, to prepare India for independence by June 1948. He did so, too hastily, in only six months, and the partition of the subcontinent into a mainly Hindu India and a mainly Muslim but divided Pakistan (including part of Bengal in the east) at midnight on Aug. 14–15, 1947, was accompanied by panicky flight and riots between Hindus and Muslims that claimed between 200,000 and 600,000 lives. Perhaps a bloodbath was inevitable whatever Mountbatten did or however long he took to do it. Nothing, however, tarnished Britain’s colonial record in India so much as its termination. The Congress Party of Jawaharlal Nehru then took firm control and governed the Dominion (after 1950 the Republic) of India in parliamentary style and made India one of the first decolonized states to adopt a posture of nonalignment among the great powers. Disputes with Pakistan, especially over the contested province of Jammu and Kashmir, however, ensured continued strife on the subcontinent.

Elsewhere in South Asia the colonial powers expelled the Japanese only to confront indigenous nationalist forces. The British fought a successful counterinsurgency against Communist guerrillas in Malaya, but the French waged a protracted and ultimately unsuccessful war with the Communist Viet Minh in Indochina, while the Dutch failed to subdue nationalists in Indonesia and granted independence in 1949. The United States transferred power peacefully in the Philippines in 1946.

In Japan, the American occupation under General Douglas MacArthur effected a peaceful revolution, restoring civil rights, universal suffrage, and parliamentary government, reforming education, encouraging labour unions, and emancipating women. In the 1947 constitution drafted by MacArthur’s staff Japan renounced war and limited its military to a token force. During the Korean War a majority of the Allies signed a separate peace treaty and the United States entered into a mutual security pact with Japan (Sept. 8, 1951). These policies laid the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous Japan, but the United States took upon itself the burden of defending the western Pacific for the foreseeable future.

The Chinese civil war

The Asian future would be determined above all by the outcome of the civil war in China, a war that had never totally ceased even during the Japanese invasion and occupation. In 1945, Truman reaffirmed America’s commitment to a “strong, united, and democratic China” and dispatched Marshall to seek a truce and a coalition government between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists at Chungking and Mao Zedong’s Communists in Yen-an. Neither side, however, had any intention of compromising with the other, and fighting resumed in October 1946. At first the United States imposed an arms embargo, but after May 1947 it extended aid to Chiang—a policy aptly described as “neutrality against the Communists.”

Stalin, having blundered badly in China in the 1920s, kept up correct relations with the Nationalists on the assumption that Chiang was too strong to defeat but not strong enough to defy Soviet interests in Manchuria, Mongolia, and Sinkiang. The U.S.S.R. concluded a treaty of friendship with the Nationalist government on Aug. 14, 1945. Soviet policy at that time was to depict Mao as a mere agrarian reformer and to call for a coalition government. Having won Chiang’s blessing, the Soviets systematically looted Manchuria of industrial equipment and reassumed their old rights on the Chinese Eastern railway. At the same time, Molotov insisted that the United States withdraw its advisers.

Chiang’s forces advanced on all fronts until they captured Yen-an itself in March 1947, but the rapid occupation of North China and Manchuria, with American aid but against American advice, overextended the Nationalist army and tied it to cities and railroad lines. Corrupt officers also sold vast numbers of U.S. weapons to the enemy and siphoned off much of the $2,000,000,000 in U.S. aid into personal fortunes. When the Communists counterattacked at the end of 1947, Nationalist units were left isolated in the cities or simply melted away. The Communists took Tientsin and Peking in January 1949 and opened a southward offensive in April. By June their army had grown to 1,500,000 men and Chiang’s had shrunk to 2,100,000. On August 5 a State Department White Paper announced the cessation of all aid to the Nationalists and concluded that “the ominous result of the civil war in China is beyond the control of the government of the United States.” The remaining Nationalists fled to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), and the Communists officially proclaimed the People’s Republic of China at Peking on Oct. 1, 1949. Only then did Stalin recognize the Maoist regime and negotiate to return Port Arthur and the Manchurian railway to Chinese control.

The fall of China to Communism, following hard on the Berlin blockade and the first Soviet A-bomb test, was a terrific blow to the United States. The disaster gave Republicans a stick with which to beat the Truman administration, while the perjury of Alger Hiss (a high-ranking State Department officer, president of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, and erstwhile Communist agent) lent credence to charges that Communist sympathizers were at work in Washington. On Feb. 9, 1950, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy claimed to know the identities of 205 State Department officials tainted by Communism. Over the course of four years of congressional hearings McCarthy used innuendo and intimidation to propound charges that, in virtually every case, proved groundless. Nonetheless, the tide of suspicion he incited—or exploited—ironically made him, as Truman said, “the greatest asset that the Kremlin has.” Not only did his behaviour besmirch the image of the United States but it also bequeathed the charge of “McCarthyism” as an impregnable defense to be used by all manner of leftists.

The original question—Who lost China?—had been answered by the White Paper: America was not omnipotent and China was not America’s to lose. Misperception of Asian realities and the “Europe-first” bias of the East Coast establishment, most Democrats, and the army certainly contributed to the debacle, however. “Asia-firsters,” including the much less influential West Coast establishment, most Republicans, and the navy, rued the equanimity with which the administration witnessed the collapse of the Nationalists. For his part, Stalin must have found it equally mysterious that the United States would go to the brink of war over Berlin and spend billions to aid western Europe, then stand aside while the world’s most populous nation went Communist and shrug that it would “wait for the dust to settle” (Acheson’s phrase).

The Korean War

Events in neighbouring Korea determined that the dust would not settle for another 20 years. In 1945 Soviet and American troops occupied the peninsula, ruled by Japan since 1910, on either side of the 38th parallel. In North Korea indigenous Marxists under Kim Il-sung took control with Soviet assistance and began to organize a totalitarian state. In South Korea General John R. Hodge, lacking firm instructions from Washington, began as early as the autumn of 1945 to establish defense forces and police and to move toward a separate administration. He also permitted the return of the nationalist leader Syngman Rhee. By the time Washington and Moscow noticed Korea, the Cold War had already set in and the de facto partition, as in Germany, became permanent. South and North Korean governments formally arose in 1948, each claiming legitimacy for the whole country and threatening to unify Korea by force. Between October 1949 and June 1950 several thousand soldiers were killed in border incidents along the parallel. The war that followed, therefore, was not so much a new departure as a denouement.

On Jan. 12, 1950, Acheson outlined his Asian policy in a speech before the Press Club in Washington, D.C. He included Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines within the American line of defense but excluded Taiwan and Korea. Five months later, on June 25, 1950, the North Koreans invaded across the 38th parallel. Conventional wisdom had it that Kim was acting on Stalin’s orders and that Acheson’s omission had “invited” the attack. The declassification of documents of the period, however, has led to a reconsideration of the question of the origins of the Korean War. The United States had not ignored Korea; rather, the State Department considered South Korea vital to the defense of Japan. It is more likely that Acheson’s failure to mention Korea meant that the United States did not intend to station its own forces in Korea, unlike the countries mentioned, and that the United States was purposely withholding unequivocal support from Rhee lest he take it as encouragement to invade the north. Thus, Acheson was trying to prevent a war but probably trying also to ensure that if hostilities did occur the Communists would be to blame. Perhaps that is why he later referred to North Korea’s attack not as an act of perfidy or aggression but as one of stupidity.

Stalin always behaved toward his client states with similar caution and strove to keep them under control. Why then should he “unleash” Kim and expose North Korea to a U.S. counterattack that might become a precedent for pushing Communism back elsewhere? The possibility exists that Kim (like Ho Chi Minh) acted on his own in pursuit of a united national Communist state. On the other hand, Stalin may indeed have encouraged North Korea to attack in order to keep Kim—and Mao—dependent on the U.S.S.R. or to create a costly diversion for the Americans. According to Khrushchev’s memoirs, Kim initiated the idea of invading and Stalin, almost casually and certainly foolishly, approved it.

The Truman administration responded with alacrity, viewing Korea as a test case for the policy of containment. The United States appealed to the Security Council (which the Soviets were boycotting for its continued seating of Nationalist China) and obtained a condemnation of North Korea and an affirmation of collective security. Once the South Korean rout was evident, Truman ordered MacArthur to transfer forces from Japan to Korea, where they barely established a perimeter around the port of Pusan. Against Senator Robert A. Taft’s protest of Truman’s actions as a usurpation of Congress’ right to declare war, most Americans accepted Truman’s analogy with the 1930s and his determination not to appease the aggressor. Ultimately, 16 UN member states provided troops for this “police action,” but U.S. and South Korean troops bore the brunt of the fighting.

In September 1950, following MacArthur’s brilliant amphibious landing at Inch’ŏn, Truman approved operations north of the 38th parallel, and soon UN forces were driving through North Korea toward the Yalu River border with China. When the UN General Assembly adopted a U.S. resolution (October 7) to establish a unified, democratic Korea, it appeared that the Western alliance was going beyond containment to a “rollback” strategy: Communists who attacked others ran the risk of being attacked themselves. In November, however, contrary to MacArthur’s confident predictions, Chinese forces attacked across the Yalu. By the new year, UN armies had retreated south of the 38th parallel and MacArthur demanded the right to expand the war. If American boys were dying, he asked, how could the government in good conscience fail to attack the enemy’s home base or use every weapon at its disposal? Prime Minister Attlee, speaking for the allies, strongly opposed a wider war or the use of nuclear weapons. By April 1951 the UN forces had recaptured Seoul and regained the 38th parallel.

The effects of the Korean War reverberated around the world. Europeans feared that Korea was a diversion and that Stalin’s real aim was to attack in Europe. Accordingly, Acheson agreed in September 1950 to contribute U.S. divisions to a NATO army under the command of General Eisenhower. “Asia-firsters” objected strenuously and kicked off what was known as “the great debate.” Herbert Hoover even called for the United States to write off western Europe and to make the Western Hemisphere the “Gibraltar of Western Civilization.” The Truman administration, backed by eastern Republicans and Eisenhower himself, persuaded Congress to commit four additional divisions to Europe. The Korean War also hastened implementation of NSC-68, a document drafted by Paul Nitze that called for a vigorous program of atomic and conventional rearmament to meet America’s global commitments.

As American and allied publics grew increasingly impatient with the bloody deadlock in Korea, Truman determined to seek a negotiated peace. MacArthur tried to undermine this policy, issuing his own ultimatum to Peking and writing Congress that “there is no substitute for victory,” whereupon in April 1951 Truman fired him for insubordination. The popular warrior and proconsul went home to a hero’s welcome, and the Senate held hearings on the propriety of the “limited war” strategy. Marshall defended the President, arguing that a wider war in Asia would expose Europe to attack, while General Omar Bradley insisted that MacArthur’s plans would “involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy.” MacArthur retorted that limited war was a form of appeasement.

Truce negotiations opened at Kaesŏng on July 10 after the Chinese had dropped their demands for withdrawal of all foreign troops from Korea and admission of the People’s Republic to the UN in place of Nationalist China. The talks broke off in August, then resumed at P’anmunjŏm in October. Bitter fighting continued for two more years as each side sought to improve its tactical position. The talks centred on two issues: the demarcation line between North and South Korea and the repatriation of more than 150,000 Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war, many of whom did not want to return home. After hinting that the United States might resort to use of the atomic bomb, the newly elected president Dwight Eisenhower achieved an armistice signed at P’anmunjŏm on July 27, 1953, that separated the armies with a demilitarized zone and otherwise restored the status quo ante bellum. Chinese torture of U.S. prisoners and anti-American propaganda, combined with U.S. refusal to recognize the Peking regime and the conclusion of a defense treaty with Nationalist China (Taiwan), ensured continued hostility between Washington and Peking. Indeed, documents declassified in the late 1980s showed that both Truman and Eisenhower saw early on the potential for a Sino-Soviet split and that maximum pressure on Peking, not conciliation, was the way to bring it on.

Asian wars and the deterrence strategy

While war raged in Korea, the French were battling the nationalist and Communist Viet Minh in Indochina. When a French army became surrounded at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, Paris appealed to the United States for air support. American leaders viewed the insurgency as part of the worldwide Communist campaign and at first propounded the theory that if Indochina went Communist other Southeast Asian countries would also fall “like dominoes.” Eisenhower, however, was reluctant to send U.S. troops to Asian jungles, to arrogate war-making powers to the executive, or to sully the anti-imperialist reputation of the United States, which he considered an asset in the Cold War. In any case both he and the American people wanted “no more Koreas.” Hence the United States supported partition of Indochina as the best means of containing the Viet Minh, and after French Premier Pierre Mendès-France came to power promising peace, partition was effected at the Geneva Conference of 1954. Laos and Cambodia won independence, while two Vietnams emerged on either side of the 17th parallel: a tough Communist regime under Ho Chi Minh in the north, an unstable republic in the south. National elections intended to reunite Vietnam under a single government were scheduled for 1956 but never took place, and, when the United States assumed France’s former role as South Vietnam’s sponsor, another potential “Korea” was created.

The Korean War and the new administration brought significant changes in U.S. strategy. Eisenhower believed that the Cold War would be a protracted struggle and that the greatest danger for the United States would be the temptation to spend itself to death. If the United States were obliged to respond to endless Communist-instigated “brushfire wars,” it would soon lose the capacity and will to defend the free world. Hence Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles determined to solve “the great equation,” balancing a healthy economy with only what was essential by way of military force. Their answer was a defense policy whereby the United States would deter future aggression with its airborne nuclear threat. As Dulles put it, the United States reserved the right to reply to aggression with “massive retaliatory power” at places of its own choosing. In implementing this policy, Eisenhower cut overall defense spending by 30 percent over four years but beefed up the Strategic Air Command. The diplomatic side of this new policy was a series of regional pacts that linked the United States to countries ringing the entire Soviet bloc. Truman had already founded the NATO alliance, the ANZUS pact with Australia and New Zealand (1951), the Pact of Rio with Latin-American nations (1947), and the defense treaty with Japan (1951). Now Dulles completed an alliance system linking the 1954 Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), stretching from Australia to Pakistan, to the 1955 Baghdad Pact Organization (later the Central Treaty Organization [CENTO]), stretching from Pakistan to Turkey, to NATO, stretching from Turkey (after 1952) to Iceland.

Dulles viewed the postwar world in the same bipolar terms as had Truman and, for that matter, Stalin. Asian independence, however, not only expanded the arena of the Cold War but also spawned the third path of nonalignment. In April 1955 delegates from 29 nations attended the Bandung (Indonesia) Afro-Asian Conference, which was dominated by Nehru of India, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Sukarno of Indonesia. In theory the delegates met to celebrate neutrality and an end to “the old age of the white man”; in fact they castigated the imperialist West and praised, or tolerated, the U.S.S.R. Although most of the Bandung leaders were sloganeering despots in their own countries, the movement captivated the imagination of many guilt-ridden Western intellectuals.

The pace of European integration

The nature and role of Germany

The shared horror of World War II and the decline of Europe from the seat of world power into an arena of U.S.–Soviet competition revived the ancient dream of European unity. In modern times, Roman Catholics, liberals, and Socialists had all conceived of one means or another to transcend nationalism, and after 1945 a combination of factors made the dream plausible. First, the Soviet threat gave western Europeans an incentive to unite for defense and economic recovery. Second, the very scale of the superpowers suggested that Europeans must pool their resources if they hoped to play a major role in world affairs. Third, two world wars and the Fascist interlude had discredited nationalism and propelled moderate Christian Democrats and Social Democrats to prominence in postwar Europe. Fourth, integration was a means by which German economic and military power might be safely revived. Fifth, centralized planning, which had evolved naturally with the war economies, made economic integration seem possible and attractive. Finally, the United States used its leverage through the Marshall Plan to encourage multinational institutions, cooperation, and free trade.

In early disputes over the occupation of Germany, France often sided with the U.S.S.R. in order to keep Germany weak and obtain reparations. The Berlin crisis of 1948, however, convinced the French that a way must be found to reconcile German recovery with their own security. The architects of an integrationist solution were the French technocrat Jean Monnet and Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. The Schuman Plan of May 1950 called for a merger of the western European coal and steel industries to hasten recovery, forestall competition, and make future wars between France and Germany impossible. The patriarchal chancellor of the new West German republic, Konrad Adenauer, embraced the offer at once, for the primary foreign policy goal of his new state was economic and political rehabilitation. The founding of the West German state was his first success; the drafting of a sturdy democratic constitution was the second; his adoption, with Ludwig Erhard, of a dynamic free-market economic policy was the third. Once Marshall Plan aid arrived, West Germany was well on its way to Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the 1950s, but it remained for Adenauer to achieve security and full sovereign rights for West Germany. The Cold War permitted him to do both at once. By moving West Germany into the democratic free-market camp he earned protection and trust from the West. Of course, Adenauer could not ignore the emotional issue of German reunification, and thus he refused to recognize the East German regime or Polish control of the lands east of the Oder-Neisse rivers. The Hallstein Doctrine extended this nonrecognition to all countries that recognized East Germany. Adenauer knew, however, that to base policy on the prospect of reunification was unrealistic. The Soviets’ Prague Proposals of October 1950 had envisioned a united, demilitarized German state—Kennan now endorsed such a neutral zone in central Europe to separate the Cold War rivals—but the Soviets insisted on a Constituent Council with equal representation for East and West Germany, even though the West had twice the population. At best, the East German delegation could block progress indefinitely while preventing West Germany from joining the Western bloc. At worst, the Soviets might subvert or coerce a disarmed Germany into alignment with Moscow. In the atmosphere of the Korean War, the Prague Proposals could not be taken up with confidence.

Instead, Adenauer endorsed the Schuman Plan and helped to found the European Coal and Steel Community among “the Six”: France, West Germany, Italy, and the Benelux countries. The Korean War sparked the next initiative toward integration when the United States, bogged down in Asia, requested a sizable increase in the European contribution to NATO. In 1951 the French and British cabinets both fell over the costly issue of rearmament before a committee managed to work out an acceptable distribution of burdens in October. The obvious solution was German rearmament, something the nervous French refused to countenance unless the German army were merged into an international force, a European Defense Community (EDC). The implications were profound, for a common western European army would require a common defense ministry, coordinated foreign policy, a joint defense budget, even a common parliament to approve spending and policy. In sum, the EDC would go far toward creating a United States of Europe. The West German parliament was first to ratify the EDC, in March 1953, but Britain, still clinging to the vestiges of empire and its “special relationship” with the United States, opted out. As Anthony Eden put it, joining a European federation “is something which we know, in our bones, we cannot do.” The French, in turn, debated the issue until Stalin’s death and the Korean armistice eroded the sense of emergency. French Communists, of course, opposed the EDC, while Gaullists blanched at merging France’s proud services into a European potpourri. Despite Dulles’ threat of an “agonizing reappraisal” of U.S. policy should the EDC fail, the French parliament voted it down on Aug. 30, 1954. An alternate solution quickly followed: West Germany was simply admitted to NATO and its Bundeswehr (armed forces) placed under Allied command. The Soviets responded in 1955 by creating the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of the U.S.S.R. and its eastern European satellites.

Postwar European recovery

The first postwar decade was one of anxiety and crisis for Europe but one also of astounding economic recovery. Thanks to rational planning, labour–management cooperation, emphasis on production, the Marshall Plan, and the very destructiveness of the war, which made new plant construction necessary and thorough, the members of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation all exceeded their prewar production levels by 1950 and achieved an annual average growth rate of 5 to 6 percent through 1955. The political stability wrought by the Cold War and the Western alliance and by the American military umbrella, which permitted western Europeans to devote more resources to building the welfare state, made for unprecedented prosperity. Eastern Europe also recovered from the war, but more slowly and not always to its own benefit. In the late 1940s the U.S.S.R. forced one-sided trade treaties on its satellites so that Polish and Romanian foodstuffs and Czechoslovakian and East German technology flowed to the U.S.S.R. rather than to world markets. Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, sparked hopes for a thaw in the eastern bloc and in the Cold War. The ephemeral collective leadership that succeeded him executed the hated secret-police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and released thousands from prison camps. Riots in East Germany and Poland also induced Moscow to scale back its exploitation of the satellites and to reduce reparations from East Germany. A Soviet delegation even visited Belgrade in 1955 to attempt a reconciliation with Tito. That same year the Austrian State Treaty provided for the first Soviet military withdrawal since the war and brought into being a neutral Austrian state.

In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the new Soviet premier and shocked the 20th Party Congress with his midnight speech denouncing Stalin’s “cult of personality” and manifold crimes against the party. De-Stalinization, however, even though carefully undertaken, created a crisis of legitimacy for the Soviet empire. In the summer of 1956 Władisław Gomułka rose to leadership of the Polish Communist Party on a wave of strikes and riots. When Moscow received his reassurances and allowed him to stay in power, other eastern Europeans were tempted to test the limits of de-Stalinization. The Hungarians reached them in October 1956 after the reformist premier Imre Nagy was deposed and protests spread that Soviet troops already on the scene were unable to quell. Nagy returned to power to announce the end of the one-party state and to release the Roman Catholic primate József Cardinal Mindszenty from his long imprisonment. Nagy also promised freedom of speech and the withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. While Hungary’s fate hung in the balance, the Western powers had their attention diverted by a second Middle Eastern war.

The Suez Crisis

The Arab states, after their defeat in 1948, passed through a period of political unrest. The most critical change occurred in Egypt, where in 1952 a cabal of young army officers backed by the Muslim Brotherhood forced the dissolute King Farouk into exile. In 1954 Nasser emerged to assume control. Nasser envisioned a pan-Arab movement led by Egypt that would expel the British from the Middle East, efface Israel, and restore Islāmic grandeur. Egypt began sponsoring acts of violence against Israel from the Gaza Strip and cut off shipping through the Strait of Tīrān. The British were understandably hostile to Nasser, as were the French, who were battling Islāmic nationalists in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Israel had used the years since 1948 to good effect, developing the arid country and training a reserve force of 200,000 men and women armed primarily with French weapons. Ben-Gurion believed that the Arabs would never accept the existence of Israel except by force. U.S. policy was to play down the Arab–Israeli dispute and alert all parties to the danger of Communist penetration. To this end, Eisenhower dispatched a futile mission in January 1956 in hopes of reconciling Cairo and Tel Aviv. In addition, the United States agreed to contribute $56,000,000, and $200,000,000 through the World Bank, to Egypt’s project for a new dam on the Nile at Aswān. Nasser’s flirtations with Moscow, however, alienated Dulles. Then, on July 26, 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal.

The conservative Cabinet in London, the French, and the Israelis resolved to thwart Nasser. They could cite as precedent a CIA-backed coup d’état in Iran (August 1953) that overthrew the ascetic nationalist Mohammad Mosaddeq, who had expropriated foreign oil interests and also looked for support to the U.S.S.R. In any case, British, French, and Israeli planners met to work out a joint strike at the Sinai and Suez that might permit a far-reaching realignment in the Middle East. Eisenhower got wind of Israeli military preparations but believed that the blow would fall on Syria. He especially opposed hostilities before the U.S. election lest he lose Jewish votes by having to scold Israel. Moshe Dayan, however, quietly mobilized all of Israel’s mobile brigades, which struck on October 29 and took the Egyptians—and the Americans—by surprise. Israeli war aims included the elimination of the Egyptian army as an offensive threat, neutralization of Palestinian bases in Gaza, and capture of the Strait of Tīrān. The Anglo-French goals were to secure the Suez Canal and possibly to topple Nasser and thus strike a blow at Arab radicalism.

An Israeli airborne assault secured the Mitla Pass in the Sinai while armoured columns penetrated the peninsula. The Anglo-French then issued an ultimatum to Cairo and proceeded to bomb Egyptian bases. The Egyptian army evacuated the Sinai. Eisenhower, preoccupied with Hungary and the election, was furious at this act of insubordination on the part of his allies and sponsored a UN resolution for a cease-fire on November 1. Egypt frustrated the Anglo-French plan by the simple expedient of scuttling ships in the canal, but the Anglo-French went ahead with a landing at Port Said. The superpowers then forced an evacuation and the insertion of UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai and Gaza Strip. There matters stood for 10 years.

The only one who gained in the Suez muddle was the U.S.S.R. With the West in disarray and involved in a campaign that looked very much like old-fashioned imperialism, Soviet tanks returned to Budapest on November 4, crushed the Hungarians fighting with their homemade weapons, and liquidated their leaders. In 1957 the Soviets declared a new policy of “centralism” for the satellites and denounced both “dogmatism” (a code word for Stalinism) and “revisionism” (a code word for liberty).

The events of October 1956 nevertheless helped to renew momentum for European integration. Hungary reminded western Europeans of the nature and proximity of the Soviet regime; Suez made them resentful of American tutelage. Inspired by Monnet and the Belgian economist Paul-Henri Spaak, “the Six” drafted the Euratom Treaty for a joint nuclear energy agency and the Treaty of Rome to expand the coal and steel community into a full-fledged Common Market. The treaties were signed on March 25, 1957, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 1958. The European Economic Community provided for internal and external tariff coordination, free movement of labour and capital, and a common agricultural pricing policy. Integration theorists hoped that international economic institutions would sustain a momentum leading to political unity as well.

Nuclear weapons and the balance of terror

The race for nuclear arms

The postwar arms race began as early as 1943, when the Soviet Union began its atomic program and placed agents in the West to steal U.S. atomic secrets. When the U.S.S.R. rejected the Baruch Plan in 1946 and U.S.–Soviet relations deteriorated, a technological race became inevitable. The years of the U.S. monopoly, however, were a time of disillusionment for American leaders, who discovered that the atomic bomb was not the absolute weapon they had first envisioned. First, the atomic monopoly was something of a bluff. As late as 1948 the U.S. arsenal consisted of a mere handful of warheads and only 32 long-range bombers converted for their delivery. Second, the military was at a loss as to how to use the bomb. Not until war plan “Half Moon” (May 1948) did the Joint Chiefs envision an air offensive “designed to exploit the destructive and psychological power of atomic weapons.” Truman searched for an alternative, but balancing Soviet might in conventional forces with a buildup in kind would have meant turning the United States into a garrison state, an option far more expensive and damaging to civic values than nuclear weapons. A few critics, notably in the navy, asked how a democratic society could morally justify a strategy based on annihilation of civilian populations. The answer, which had been evolving since 1944, was that U.S. strategy aimed at deterring enemy attacks in the first place. “The only war you really win,” said General Hoyt Vandenberg, “is the war that never starts.”

Nuclear deterrence, however, was subject to at least three major problems. First, even a nuclear attack could not prevent the Soviet army from overrunning western Europe. Second, the nuclear threat was of no use in cases of civil war, insurgency, and other small-scale conflicts, a fact Stalin evidently relied on in several instances. Third, the U.S. monopoly was inevitably short-lived. By 1949 the Soviets had the atomic bomb, and the British joined the club in October 1952. The United States would be obliged to race indefinitely to maintain its technological superiority.

The first contest in that race was for the “superbomb,” a hydrogen, or fusion, bomb a thousand times more destructive than the atomic fission variety. Many scientists opposed this escalation. The dispute polarized the political and scientific communities. On the one hand it seemed as if the Cold War had created a climate of fear that no longer permitted principled dissent even on an issue involving human survival; on the other hand, it seemed as if the dissenters, inadvertently or not, were promoting the interests of the U.S.S.R. In January 1950, Truman gave his approval to the H-bomb project, and the first fusion bomb was tested successfully at Enewetak atoll in November 1952. No debate occurred in the Soviet Union, where scientists moved directly to fusion research and exploded their first bomb in August 1953.

In the meantime, Soviet agitprop agencies laboured abroad to weaken Western resolve. A prime target was NATO, which the Kremlin evidently viewed as a political threat (since its inferior order of battle was scarcely an offensive military threat). After 1950 the Soviets alternately wooed the western Europeans with assurances of goodwill and frightened them with assurances of their destruction if they continued to host American bases. Cominform parties and front organizations (such as the World Peace Council) denounced the Pentagon and U.S. “arms monopolies” and exploited fear and frustration to win over intellectuals and idealists. The Stockholm Appeal of 1950, initiated by the French Communist physicist Frédéric Joliot-Curie, gathered petitions allegedly signed by 273,470,566 persons (including the entire adult population of the U.S.S.R.). Similar movements organized marches and protests in Western countries against nuclear arms (no such manifestations occurred in the Soviet bloc).

Eisenhower’s defense policy brought a sharp increase in research and development of warheads and long-range bombers and the construction of air bases on the territory of allies circling the U.S.S.R. The H-bomb breakthrough, however, also triggered a race to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The United States entered the postwar era with an advantage in long-range rocketry, thanks to the suspension of the Soviet program during the war and the decision by the Germans’ V-2 rocket team, led by Wernher von Braun, to surrender to the U.S. Army. In the budget-cutting of the late 1940s, however, the Truman administration surmised that the United States, possessed of superior air power and foreign bases, did not need long-range guided missiles. The first atomic weapons, bulky and of limited yield, also suggested that no rocket large and accurate enough to destroy a target 6,000 miles distant was then possible, but the vastly greater yield of fusion bombs and the expectation of smaller warheads changed that calculation. The U.S. ICBM project received top priority in June 1954. The Soviets, by contrast, needed to find a means of threatening the United States from Soviet soil. As early as 1947, therefore, Stalin gave priority to ICBM development.

Arms control and defense

How could the arms race be headed off before the world became locked into what Churchill called “the balance of terror”? The UN Disarmament Commission became a tedious platform for the posturings of the superpowers, the Americans insisting on on-site inspection, the Soviets demanding “general and complete disarmament” and the elimination of foreign bases. Eisenhower hoped that Stalin’s death might help to break this deadlock. Churchill had been urging a summit conference ever since 1945, and once de-Stalinization and the Austrian State Treaty gave hints of Soviet flexibility, even Dulles acquiesced in a summit, which convened at Geneva in July 1955. The Soviets again called for a unified, neutral Germany, while the West insisted that it could come about only through free elections. On arms control, Eisenhower stunned the Soviets with his “open skies” proposal. The United States and the Soviet Union, he said, should exchange blueprints of all military installations and each allow the other side to conduct unhindered aerial reconnaissance. After some hesitation, Khrushchev denounced the plan as a capitalist espionage device. The Geneva summit marginally reduced tensions but led to no substantive agreements.

“Open skies” reflected the American fear of surprise attack. In 1954 a high-level “Surprise Attack Study” chaired by the scientist James Killian assured the President of a growing American superiority in nuclear weapons that would hold until the 1958–60 period but warned that the U.S.S.R. was ahead in long-range rocketry and would soon achieve its own secure nuclear deterrent. The panel recommended rapid development of ICBMs, construction of a distant early warning (DEW) radar line in the Canadian Arctic, strengthened air defenses, and measures to increase intelligence-gathering capabilities, both to verify arms control treaties and to avoid overreaction to Soviet advances. The Killian report gave birth to the U-2 spy plane, which began crisscrossing the U.S.S.R. above the range of Soviet air defense in 1956, and to a research program to develop reconnaissance satellites to observe the U.S.S.R. from outer space.

In 1955 both the United States and the Soviet Union announced programs to launch artificial Earth satellites during the upcoming International Geophysical Year (IGY). The Eisenhower administration, concerned that the satellite program not interfere with military missile programs or prejudice the legality of spy satellites to come, entrusted its IGY proposal to the small, nonmilitary Vanguard rocket. While Vanguard development crept ahead, the Soviet program won the first space race with Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957. The Soviet achievement shocked the Western world, challenged the strategic assumptions of every power, and thus inaugurated a new phase in the continuing Cold War.

Total Cold War and the diffusion of power, 1957–72

The concomitant arrival of the missile age and of an independent and restive Third World multiplied the senses in which politics had become global. Intercontinental rockets not only meant that the most destructive weapons known could now be propelled halfway around the world in minutes but also, because of the imminent nuclear standoff they heralded, that a Cold War competition would now extend into other realms—science and technology, economic growth, social welfare, race relations, image making—in which the Soviets or Americans could try to prove that their system was the best. At the same time, the decolonization of dozens of underdeveloped states in Asia and Africa induced the superpowers to look beyond the original front lines of the Cold War in Europe and East Asia.

These technological and political revolutions would seem to have raised the United States and the Soviet Union to unequaled heights of power. The Soviets and Americans advanced rapidly in the high technology required for spaceflight and ballistic missiles, while techniques for the mobilization and management of intellectual and material resources reached a new level of sophistication, especially in the United States, through the application of systems analysis, computers, bureaucratic partnership with corporations and universities, and Keynesian “fine-tuning” of the economy.

By the mid-1960s the vigorous response of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to the Cold War challenge seemed to ensure American technological, economic, and military primacy for the forseeable future. A mere five to seven years later, however, it became clear that the 1960s, far from establishing an American hegemony, had in fact wrought a diffusion of world power and an erosion of the formerly rigid Cold War blocs. Western Europe and Japan, now recovered from the war, also achieved dynamic economic growth in the 1960s, reducing their relative inferiority to the United States and prompting their governments to exercise a greater independence. The Sino-Soviet split, perhaps the most important event in postwar diplomacy, shattered the unity of the Communist bloc, and Third World countries often showed themselves resistant to superpower coercion or cajoling. By 1972 the U.S.S.R., despite its achievement of relative parity in nuclear weapons, was obsessed with the prospect of a hostile China, while the United States, having squandered its wealth, prestige, and domestic tranquillity in the Vietnam War, was trying to scale back its global commitments. The Nixon Doctrine, détente with Moscow, the opening to China, and uncoupling of the dollar from gold were the symptoms of this American retreat.

The world after Sputnik

Soviet progress and American reaction

Premier Khrushchev anticipated the new correlation of forces in his foreign policy address to the 20th Party Congress in 1956. Soviet H-bombs and missiles, he said, had rendered the imperialists’ nuclear threat ineffective, the U.S.S.R. an equal, the Socialist camp invincible, war no longer inevitable, and thus “peaceful coexistence” inescapable. In Leninist doctrine this last phrase implied a state of continued competition and Socialist advance without war. The immediate opportunities for Socialism, according to Khrushchev, derived from the struggle of the colonial peoples, which the U.S.S.R. would assist through foreign aid, propaganda, subversion, and support for “wars of national liberation.”

The Soviet successes in outer space just 40 years after the Bolshevik Revolution were powerful evidence for Khrushchev’s claims that the U.S.S.R. had achieved strategic equality and that Communism was the best system for overcoming backwardness. Sputnik restored Soviet prestige after the 1956 embarrassment in Hungary, shook European confidence in the U.S. nuclear deterrent, magnified the militancy of Maoist China, and provoked an orgy of self-doubt in the United States itself. The two Sputnik satellites of 1957 were themselves of little military significance, and the test missile that launched them was too primitive for military deployment, but Khrushchev claimed that long-range missiles were rolling off the assembly line “like sausages,” a bluff that allowed President Eisenhower’s opponents—and nervous Europeans—to perceive a “missile gap.” Khrushchev in turn tried to capitalize on the apparent gap in a series of crises, but his adventurous policy only provoked perverse reactions in China, the United States, and Europe that undermined his own political support at home.

Eisenhower was apprised in advance of Soviet missile progress thanks in part to overflights of the U-2 spy plane. By the time of Sputnik the Pentagon already had several parallel programs for ballistic missiles of various types, including the advanced, solid-fueled Polaris and Minuteman. The great fleet of B-47 and B-52 intercontinental bombers already deployed also assured continued American strategic superiority through the early 1960s. The frugal Eisenhower thus tried to play down the importance of Sputnik and to discourage a race for arms or prestige, but he was frustrated by a coalition of Democrats, journalists, academics, and hawks of both parties who insisted that the United States not only leapfrog the Soviets in space and missiles but also increase federal support to education, extend more military and economic aid to the Third World, and expand social programs at home intended in part to polish the American image abroad—in short, pursue the Cold War more vigorously. Eisenhower conceded to this mood in 1958 by sponsoring creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and passage of the National Defense Education Act, accelerating weapons programs, and deploying intermediate-range missiles in England, Italy, and Turkey. He also acknowledged the expanded Soviet threat in his State of the Union address in 1958: “Trade, economic development, military power, arts, science, education, the whole world of ideas—all are harnessed to this same chariot of expansion. The Soviets are, in short, waging total cold war.” A similarly total American response to this challenge, requiring virtually wartime levels of national mobilization to outdo a totalitarian system in whatever field of endeavour it chose to emphasize, would, in Eisenhower’s mind, however, have undermined the free market and fiscal soundness that were the foundation of American strength in the first place. Liberal economists argued in response that a sharply expanded role for the federal government was a matter of survival in the “space age” and would even stimulate economic growth, military prowess, and social progress.

The Sino-Soviet split

A still more energetic U.S. riposte would await the end of Eisenhower’s term, but “Mr. Khrushchev’s boomerang” (as Dulles termed Sputnik) had an immediate and disastrous impact on Soviet relations with the other Communist giant, China. Under their 1950 treaty of friendship, solidarity, and mutual assistance, Soviet technical aid flowed to Peking during the Korean War and helped support China’s successful Five-Year Plan after 1953. Western observers looked in vain for ways to split the Communist bloc. As early as 1956, however, Chinese leaders showed displeasure over Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Kremlin’s tendency to treat the Chinese party as it did those of the lesser satellites, and the new Soviet leaders themselves, whom Mao evidently considered mediocrities. Mao also denounced “peaceful coexistence” as decadent and revisionist, a position shared by the tiny Stalinist dictatorship of Albania. Russian leadership in the world Communist movement was thus challenged for the first time.

Mao was a romantic revolutionary with an unquestionable bent for cruel or irrational theatrics on a gigantic scale. In the mid-1950s he paraded the slogan “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom,” ostensibly to encourage the voicing of new ideas on national development but perhaps rather to entice potential dissenters into revealing themselves. In 1958 this campaign was suddenly replaced by the “Great Leap Forward,” by which all 700,000,000 Chinese were to form self-sufficient communes devoted to local industrialization. Large-scale industries and infrastructure collapsed, much to the disgust of Soviet guest engineers. By 1960–61 the economic chaos had become so severe that famine claimed 6,000,000–7,000,000 lives. Nevertheless, the Chinese leadership seized upon Sputnik as proof that the “East wind” was prevailing over the “West wind” and insisted that the Soviets use their new superiority to press the revolution worldwide and, to the same end, provide China with atomic bombs and rockets. If the imperialists insisted on unleashing nuclear war, lectured Mao, and “half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world become Socialist.” The Soviets were appalled, especially since their superiority was, for the time being, a sham. At a November 1958 summit Mao learned that the Soviets would insist on retaining control over any warheads sent to China and would not share missile technology. When the Soviets also failed to back the Chinese in their 1958–59 conflicts with Taiwan and India, Sino-Soviet tensions increased. In the end Khrushchev refused to deliver a prototype nuclear warhead, whereupon the Chinese angrily repudiated “slavish dependence” on others and pledged to create their own nuclear arsenal. On July 16, 1960, the U.S.S.R. recalled all its specialists from China.

The Sino-Soviet split shattered the strict bipolarity of the Cold War world (though the United States would not take advantage of that fact for more than a decade) and turned the U.S.S.R. and China into bitter rivals for leadership in the Communist and Third worlds. The fundamental causes of the split must be traced to contradictions in the Soviet role as both the leader of the Communist movement and a great power with its own national interests. Before 1949 the U.S.S.R. had been able to subordinate the interests of foreign Communists to its own, but the Communist triumph in China, paradoxically, was a potential disaster for the U.S.S.R., for Mao and the Chinese would inevitably refuse to play the role of pupil. Once the Korean War was over and Stalin dead, the Chinese asserted themselves, learned the limits of “Socialist internationalism,” and angrily began to plot their own course. While the ideological rift served, in the short run, to invigorate both Communist rivals as they competed for prestige and influence among the world’s revolutionaries, it destroyed the myth that Communism transcended nationalism and power politics. This meant that the U.S.S.R. was delicately situated between the nuclear-armed NATO powers and the fanatical (and numerous) Chinese, and to appease either meant to alienate the other. Accordingly, Khrushchev played a risky double game from 1958 to 1962, alternately holding out hope for arms control to the NATO powers and leveling demands backed by rocket-rattling. The historian Adam Ulam has seen in this a “grand design” by which Khrushchev hoped to ingratiate himself with the West (for instance, through a nuclear test-ban treaty) in return for the evacuation of West Berlin, recognition of the East German government, and permanent denial of nuclear weapons to West Germany—all of which might demonstrate Soviet commitment to the Communist cause while providing a pretext for denial of nuclear weapons to China. Whether a grand design or an improvisation, Soviet diplomacy had to reckon at every turn with Peking’s reactions and their likely effect on the rest of the Communist bloc.

Soviet diplomatic offensive

The Polish foreign minister, Adam Rapacki, was chosen to open Moscow’s post-Sputnik campaign with a proposal to the UN General Assembly in October 1957 for a ban on nuclear weapons in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the two Germanies. This initiative, like others before and after, was a no-lose stratagem for the U.S.S.R. Given the Warsaw Pact’s superiority in conventional weapons, any reduction of the West’s nuclear deterrent in Europe stood to weaken NATO, even as the burden of seeming to oppose arms control would fall on the West if it refused. At the same time, the U.S.S.R. combined open and covert support for Western antinuclear movements with loud reminders of its ability to destroy any nation that foolishly hosted American bases. NATO leaders resisted the Rapacki Plan but had immediately to deal with a March 1958 Soviet offer to suspend all nuclear testing provided the West did the same. Throughout the 1950s growing data on the harmful effects of nuclear fallout had been increasing pressure on the nuclear powers to take such a step. The United States and Britain were caught in the midst of testing warheads for the many new missiles under development, but a one-year test ban did go into effect in November 1958. With the Chinese making noises about a Soviet sellout to the West, however, Khrushchev immediately provoked a new crisis in Berlin, demanding that the Allies withdraw from West Berlin within six months. Khrushchev also indicated that the best way to solve the Berlin question would be to neutralize and disarm the two German states. In January 1959 the Soviets expanded their proposed nuclear-free zone to include East Asia and the whole Pacific Ocean area—a clear hint of their desire to prevent China from going nuclear.

The Berlin deadline passed without incident as Khrushchev accepted an invitation to become the first Soviet premier to visit the United States. The increased recognition by the United States and the U.S.S.R. that each had interests in coexistence which outweighed their ideological loyalties was made manifest in August 1958, when Chinese artillery began an intense bombardment of the Nationalist-held offshore islets of Quemoy and Matsu. Peking may have hoped to force Moscow to support its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, while Chiang may have hoped to drag the United States into supporting an invasion of the mainland. Neither superpower, however, was willing to risk war. The U.S. 7th Fleet resupplied Chiang’s forces, while the Soviets pledged to defend mainland China, but both discouraged offensive action.

By September 1959, when Khrushchev arrived in the United States, Dulles had died, and Eisenhower was intent to use personal diplomacy in an attempt to put a cap on the arms race. The tour itself—from New York City to Iowa to Hollywood—was a sensation, though Khrushchev professed distaste for American consumerism and predicted “your grandchildren will live under Communism.” His talks with Eisenhower produced an ephemeral “spirit of Camp David” and the scheduling of a follow-up summit conference for May 1960 in Paris. Meanwhile, Khrushchev’s last-ditch efforts to mend relations with Peking exploded in the spring of 1960. Mao himself reportedly authored an article cryptically condemning Khrushchev’s détente policy as vile revisionism and reiterating Chinese willingness to confront nuclear war. The Chinese observer at a Warsaw Pact meeting in February 1960 declared in advance that any arms agreements reached at the U.S.–Soviet summit would not be binding on Peking. On the eve of the Paris summit an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the U.S.S.R. When Eisenhower refused to apologize for the incident and assumed personal responsibility, Khrushchev had little choice but to walk out.

Decolonization and development

Events in the other new arena of the post-Sputnik era—the Third World—likewise antagonized relations among the U.S.S.R., the United States, and China. All three assumed that the new nations would naturally opt for the democratic institutions of their mother countries or, on the other hand, would gravitate toward the “anti-imperialist” Soviet or Maoist camps. The United States had urged Britain and France to dismantle their empires in the aftermath of World War II, but, once those countries became Washington’s most potent allies in the Cold War, the United States offered grudging support for Anglo-French resistance to nationalist and Communist forces in their colonies. President Truman’s Point Four Program mandated U.S. foreign aid and loans to new nations lest they “drift toward poverty, despair, fear, and the other miseries of mankind which breed unending wars.” When the Eisenhower administration cut back on foreign aid, a great debate about its efficacy ensued among American experts. Critics insisted that the Marshall Plan was not a valid analogy for Third World aid because the former had been a case of helping industrial populations rebuild their societies, while the latter was a case of sparking industrial or even merely agricultural development in primitive economies. Foreign aid did not necessarily serve U.S. interests, since many Third World rulers chose neutralism or Socialism, nor did it promote economic growth, since most new nations lacked the necessary social and physical infrastructure for a modern economy. Proponents of aid replied that U.S. capital and technology were needed precisely to build infrastructure, to assist “nation building,” and to fortify recipients against Communists and others who might subvert the development process in its early stages. In the late 1950s, U.S. economic aid averaged about $1,600,000,000 per year, compared with about $2,100,000,000 in military aid to friendly regimes. The Soviet line, by contrast, held that new nations would not be truly independent until they freed themselves from economic dependence on their former masters, but the Soviets invariably expected a political return for their own assistance. The claim of the People’s Republic of China to be the natural leader of Third World revolt also obliged Khrushchev to make bolder endorsements of wars of national liberation. By 1960 it was already clear, however, that local politics and culture made every Third World situation unique.

The Middle East had reached an unstable deadlock based precariously on the UN-administered cease-fire of 1956. The eclipse of British and French influence after the Suez debacle made the United States fearful of growing Soviet influence in the region, symbolized by the Soviet offer to take over construction of the Aswān High Dam in Egypt. In January 1957 the U.S. Congress authorized the President to deploy U.S. troops in the region if necessary and to dispense $500,000,000 in aid to friendly states. This Eisenhower Doctrine appeared to polarize the region, with Middle East Treaty Organization members in support and Egypt, Syria, and Yemen in opposition. When, in July 1958, nationalist generals backed by a variety of factions, prominent among which were Communists, overthrew the pro-Western Hāshimite monarchy in Iraq, and unrest spread to Jordan and Lebanon, Eisenhower responded at once. The 14,000 U.S. troops that landed in Beirut allowed the Lebanese president to restore order on the basis of a delicate compromise among radical, Muslim, and Christian factions. Khrushchev denounced the intervention, demanded that the U.S.S.R. be consulted, and tried without success to convene an international conference on the Middle East. His extension of an invitation to India, but not China, needlessly alienated Peking and signaled a new Soviet interest in relations with New Delhi.

The climactic year of African decolonization was 1960, and the first Cold War crisis on that continent occurred when, in that year, Belgium hastily pulled out of the vast Belgian Congo (now Congo [Kinshasa]). Tribal antagonisms and rival personalities made even the independence ceremonies a catastrophe, as the Congolese nationalist leader and first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, supported an insurrection by Congolese army units that involved the murder of whites and blacks alike. No sooner had Belgian troops returned to restore order than Moise Tshombe declared the secession of the iron-rich Katanga province. UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld intervened against the Belgians and Katangese (thereby setting an ominous precedent of UN toleration for black violence against blacks or other races), while the Soviets accused Tshombe of being a dupe for imperialist mining interests and threatened to send arms and Soviet “volunteers” to the leftist Lumumba. Hammarskjöld then organized a UN armed force to subdue Katanga and save the Congo—and Africa—from Cold War involvement. The clumsy UN efforts did not prevent, and may have incited, the spread of civil war. Lumumba tried to establish his own secessionist state, but he then fell into the hands of the Congolese army headed by Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko), a former sergeant, and was murdered by the Katangese in January 1961. Hammarskjöld himself died in a plane crash in the Congo in September 1961. UN troops remained until 1964, but as soon as they were withdrawn rebellion returned, and Mobutu seized control in a military coup d’état in 1965. The Katangan revolt was not quelled until 1967.

In Southeast Asia the Geneva Accords disintegrated rapidly after 1954. The planned elections to reunify Vietnam were never held, since South Vietnam’s leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, both feared the results and denied the possibility of free elections in the Communist north. Ho Chi Minh’s regime in Hanoi then trained 100,000 native southerners for guerrilla war and launched a campaign of assassination and kidnapping of South Vietnamese officials. In December 1960 the Viet Cong (as Diem dubbed them) proclaimed the formation of a National Liberation Front (NLF), with the avowed aim of reuniting the two Vietnams under a Hanoi regime. American advisers tried vainly to arrest the disintegration of South Vietnam with advice on counterinsurgency and state-building techniques.

In neighbouring Laos the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the two northernmost provinces of the country in defiance of the neutral government under Prince Souvanna Phouma agreed upon after Geneva. Those provinces sheltered the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply route bypassing the demilitarized zone between the two Vietnams. When a new, assertive Laotian government sent troops to enforce its authority over the provinces in 1958–59, civil war appeared inevitable. A military coup d’état led by Kong Le briefly returned Souvanna to power, but when Kong Le was in turn driven out in December 1960, he joined forces with the Pathet Lao in their strategic stronghold in the Plain of Jarres. Having secured the Laotian territory needed for infiltration and assault on South Vietnam, North Vietnam persuaded China and the U.S.S.R. in December 1960 to approve Ho’s plan for a “nonpeaceful transition to socialism” in Vietnam.

Latin-American problems

Finally, Cold War rivalry and Third World problems intersected devastatingly in America’s own backyard. Before the era of Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, the United States had frequently been accused of meddling too much in the affairs of other states in the hemisphere. By the 1950s the contradictory charge was leveled that the United States was not involving itself enough, as evidenced by the fact that the United States spent $12,600,000,000 on aid to Asia and the Middle East in the period 1953–57 compared with $1,900,000,000 on Latin America. Resentment over the CIA’s role in toppling an allegedly Communist-backed government in Guatemala in 1954 and violent protests against Vice President Richard M. Nixon during his trip to Caracas and Lima in 1958 alerted Washington to the dangers inherent in neglecting the genuine needs of the region. The United States agreed to fund an Inter-American Development Bank, while the State Department sought to avoid too close an association with unpopular, authoritarian regimes. Whatever the overall merits of such a policy, it had immediate and disastrous effects in Cuba.

In 1952 Fulgencio Batista established a corrupt dictatorship in Cuba, and four years later a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro took to the Sierra Maestra with 150 comrades and made pretensions of fighting a guerrilla war. In fact, Castro’s campaign was largely propaganda (the insurgents lost only 40 men in the largest engagement), and the real struggle for Cuba was fought out in the arenas of Cuban and American public opinion. After Nixon’s tour, liberal opinion and the State Department deserted Batista, and the new ambassador to Havana was ordered to preside over his fall. In March 1958 the United States suspended arms sales to Cuba, and on Jan. 1, 1959, a triumphant Castro entered Havana without the necessity of fighting a battle. Contrary to his image as a populist and democrat, Castro made himself the new dictator, nationalized hundreds of millions of dollars worth of American property, and declared that he was and always had been a Marxist. His actions gradually alienated whatever sympathy he had in the United States. Castro invited Soviet aid and came to rely on it heavily after the United States curtailed Cuba’s sugar import quota in July 1960. Eisenhower instructed the CIA to explore means of removing Castro, who made Cuba into an immensely valuable Soviet satellite 90 miles from the United States.

By 1960, therefore, the post-Sputnik world posed new challenges for the Western alliance stretching from outer space to Third World jungles. Polls showed that a majority of western Europeans believed Khrushchev’s propaganda about Soviet superiority and that a majority of Americans no longer believed in Eisenhower’s low-key approach to Cold War issues.

Superpower relations in the 1960s

Policies of the Kennedy administration

The inauguration of John F. Kennedy as president of the United States infused American foreign policy with new style and vigour. He had promised to “get America moving again,” and he appointed a Cabinet and staff who shared his belief that the United States could be doing far more to prove its technological and moral superiority over the U.S.S.R., win the “hearts and minds” of Third World peoples, and accelerate social progress at home. His administration also overturned Eisenhower’s policy on economy and defense and held that Keynesian fiscal policy and large programs for research, education, and human resources would foster the rapid growth needed to pay for the new federal activism. Kennedy’s inaugural address was thus an exhortation and warning: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” He and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara accordingly increased the U.S. defense budget by 30 percent in their first year in office and approved deployment of a strategic triad of weapons—the land-based Minuteman ICBMs, submarine-launched Polaris missiles, and B-52 bombers. The Kennedy advisers had also been highly critical of the policy of reliance on massive retaliation and determined to make the United States capable of flexible response by expanding conventional armed forces as well. Kennedy paid special attention to the training of counterinsurgency “special forces.”

On May 25, 1961, Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that “the great battlefield for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the whole southern half of the globe—Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.” The enemies of freedom were seeking to capture these rising peoples “in a battle of minds and souls as well as lives and territories.” Expanded aid programs, the Peace Corps, active promotion of democracy through the U.S. Information Agency, and military support against guerrilla warfare would, he declared, all help in cases “where the local population is too caught up in its own misery to be concerned about the advance of Communism.” Kennedy also underscored the impact of the Soviet space program on world opinion (Yuri Gagarin had become the first man to orbit the Earth on April 12) and asked that Congress commit the United States to a program to land a man on the Moon by 1970. Kennedy’s call for the creation of an International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium bespoke his desire to associate the United States with the peaceful uses of outer space.

The new attitude toward the Third World was perhaps the clearest break in American diplomacy. Basing its policy on W.W. Rostow’s “non-Communist manifesto” describing stages of economic development, the Kennedy administration increased foreign aid for Third World nations whether or not they were politically aligned with the United States. The Alliance for Progress, created in March 1961, especially targeted Latin America. By 1965 U.S. foreign aid reached $4,100,000,000 as compared with $2,300,000,000 contributed by all other developed countries. The validity of Rostow’s investment model for economic “takeoff” was debated for two decades, but perhaps the greatest weakness in U.S. aid programs was the assumption that local rulers could be persuaded to put their own people’s welfare first. Instead, aid money often fed corruption, bolstered power-hungry leaders or Socialist bureaucracies, or helped to finance local conflicts. What was more, the Soviets had some natural advantages in dealing with such leaders, since they offered no moralistic advice about democracy and human rights, while their own police-state methods served the needs of local despots. On the other hand, sustained world economic growth and measures to stabilize commodity prices helped the developing countries to achieve an average annual growth rate of 5 percent during the 1960s (compared with 5.1 percent for industrial countries). But the crushing rate of Third World population growth (2.6 percent annually) meant that even in the best of times foreign aid only just offset the effects of Third World fertility.

Kennedy’s first crisis stemmed from his endorsement of the CIA plan to unseat Castro. The CIA had trained Cuban exiles in Guatemala and flown them to Florida, whence they were to stage an invasion of Cuba in expectation of a popular revolt there. Instead, the landing at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, was a fiasco. No coordination had been achieved with dissidents inside Cuba, while the failure to provide U.S. air cover (perhaps for fear of retaliation in Berlin) doomed the invasion. Castro’s army killed or captured most of the 1,500-man force in two days. The U.S.S.R. reaped a propaganda harvest and pledged to defend Cuba in the future. Kennedy had to content himself with a promise to resist any efforts by Castro and the guerrilla leader Che Guevara to export revolution elsewhere in Latin America.

Kennedy and Khrushchev held a summit meeting in Vienna in June 1961. With Berlin and the Third World uppermost in his mind, Kennedy proposed that neither superpower attempt to upset the existing balance of power in any region where the other was already involved. Khrushchev evidently considered the young president to be weak and on the defensive and tried to intimidate him with a new ultimatum, threatening to turn over control of Western access to West Berlin to the East German government. (Khrushchev was being pressured by the East German leader Walter Ulbricht to stem the tide of thousands of skilled workers who were fleeing across the zonal boundary into West Berlin.) Kennedy responded by pledging to defend West Berlin and calling up 250,000 reservists. On Aug. 13, 1961, Soviet and East German troops closed down interallied checkpoints and proceeded to build the Berlin Wall, sealing off the western city. Just as in 1948, the U.S. leadership debated whether to respond with force to this violation of the Potsdam Accords, but the hesitancy of the NATO allies and the timidity—or prudence—of Kennedy limited the West to a reassertion of access rights to West Berlin.

The Cuban missile crisis

In the midst of this crisis the Soviets unilaterally broke the moratorium on nuclear testing, staging a series of explosions yielding up to 50 megatons. Soviet technology had also perfected a smaller warhead for the new Soviet missiles now ready to be deployed, like the Minuteman, in hardened silos. Khrushchev, his nation still behind in strategic nuclear firepower, tried to redress the balance by insinuating 42 medium-range missiles into Cuba, whence they could reach most of the continental United States. He apparently hoped that these missiles, once in place, could then serve as a bargaining chip in negotiations leading to a neutralized Germany, which in turn might help Moscow persuade the Chinese to cease their own nuclear program. Instead, the ploy brought the world to the brink of war. On Oct. 14, 1962, U-2 spy planes photographed the missile sites under construction in Cuba. Two days later Kennedy convened a secret crisis-management committee that leaned at first toward a surgical air strike to destroy the sites. The President, however, opted for a less risky response: a naval quarantine to prevent Soviet freighters from reaching Cuba and an ultimatum demanding that the bases be dismantled and the missiles removed. On October 18, Soviet Ambassador Andrey Gromyko met with Kennedy and denied that the U.S.S.R. had any offensive intentions with respect to Cuba. On October 22 the President informed the nation of the crisis and called on Khrushchev to pull back from “this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.” For two days the world waited anxiously, and on the 24th Soviet ships in transit abruptly changed course away from Cuba. On the 26th Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message offering to withdraw the missiles in exchange for a U.S. pledge never to invade Cuba. The next day a harsher message arrived with a new demand that the United States withdraw its own missiles from Turkey. Those antiquated Jupiters, deployed in the early post-Sputnik scare, were already due for removal, but Kennedy would not do so under Soviet threat. Hence Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggested a ploy: simply reply to Khrushchev’s first note as if the second had never been sent. On the 28th the Soviets agreed to dismantle the Cuban bases in return for a no-invasion pledge. Several months later the United States quietly removed its missiles from Turkey.

The Cuban missile crisis seemed at the time a clear victory for Kennedy and the United States and was widely attributed to American superiority in nuclear weapons. In fact, neither side showed the slightest willingness even to bluff a nuclear strike, and it was probably the overwhelming U.S. superiority in conventional naval and air power in its home waters that left the U.S.S.R. no option but retreat. Nor was the crisis an unmitigated American victory. Kennedy’s pledge never to overthrow Castro by force meant that the United States would have to tolerate whatever mischief he, backed by $300,000,000 a year in Soviet aid, might contrive in the future. To be sure, Kennedy warned that the United States would never tolerate any expansion of Communism in the hemisphere. (This pledge was underwritten by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 when he sent U.S. troops into the Dominican Republic to prevent a leftist takeover, but such interventionism only reminded Latin Americans of past “Yankee imperialism” and gave credence to Castro’s anti-American propaganda.) The existence of a Communist base in the Caribbean, therefore, was to be a source of unending vexation for future American presidents. What is more, the Cuban missile crisis hardened Soviet determination never again to be humiliated by military inferiority. Khrushchev and his successors accordingly began the largest peacetime military buildup in history, which, by the 1970s, accorded the Soviet Union parity with the United States in nuclear forces and the ability to project naval power into every ocean of the world.

On the other hand, the Cuban missile crisis marked the final frustration of Khrushchev’s efforts to force a German peace treaty and prevent the deployment of nuclear weapons on German or Chinese soil. Peking, of course, had supported the Soviets’ bid to place missiles in Cuba and had taken the opportunity to attack India (see below China, India, and Pakistan), and the precipitous Soviet retreat prompted Chinese charges of “capitulationism.” The Chinese nuclear program proceeded apace, with the People’s Republic exploding its first atomic device in 1964. Never again would the Soviet leadership hope to control the foreign policy of the other Communist giant.

Renewed U.S.–Soviet cooperation

U.S.–Soviet relations, by contrast, markedly improved after the sobering visit to the brink of war. Hopes for a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty ran afoul of the U.S.S.R.’s customary refusal to permit on-site inspection to monitor underground tests, but a partial Test-Ban Treaty was signed by the United States, Britain, and the U.S.S.R. on Aug. 5, 1963, prohibiting nuclear explosions in the air, under the sea, and in outer space. The superpowers also established a direct communications link between Washington and Moscow for use in crisis situations. Other powers anxious to join the nuclear club, notably China and France, refused to adhere to the Test-Ban Treaty. Instead, the Chinese denounced Soviet collaboration with “the leader of world imperialism.” Mao resurrected all of China’s territorial claims against the Soviet Union dating from tsarist Russian imperialism and advocated partition of the Soviet empire. The Soviets, in turn, branded Mao with their most hateful current epithet: he was “another Stalin.”

President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, and Khrushchev was removed from power by the Politburo in October 1964, a victim of his own failures in foreign policy and agriculture and of the Communist Party’s resistance to his attempted reforms. The bilateral effort to pursue arms control survived under President Johnson and under Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin. The Outer Space Treaty ratified in 1967 banned nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Earth’s orbit and on the Moon. A U.S.–Soviet draft Non-proliferation Treaty was also adopted by the UN in June 1968. (Once again, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to sign.) None of the arms-control instruments of the 1960s, however, put a cap on the arms race or restrained the signatories from doing anything in the strategic area they had a desire to do anyway. The superpowers were able to modernize their arsenals through underground nuclear testing; outer space was an awkward and vulnerable place to deploy warheads in any case; and neither superpower had an interest in seeing nuclear weapons spread to more countries. Rather, American nuclear policy aimed, at least in the short run, at ensuring the continued stability of U.S.–Soviet deterrence, lately dubbed “mutual assured destruction.” Adopting the views of the strategist Bernard Brodie, McNamara concluded early on that the Soviets must eventually catch up and that a state of parity was the best that could be achieved in the nuclear age. Soon each side would be capable of obliterating the other in a retaliatory strike, even after a sneak attack. At that point, any attempt by either side to achieve an illusory superiority would only destabilize the balance and tempt one or the other into launching a first strike. Whether the Soviets ever shared this doctrine of deterrence is dubious. Marshal Sokolovsky’s volumes on military strategy in the 1960s, while granting that nuclear war would be an unprecedented disaster for all, still committed the U.S.S.R. to a war-winning capability.

China, meanwhile, succumbed to another series of Maoist actions that completed that country’s drift into chaos and isolation. In February 1966, Mao gave the nod to the young and fanatical Red Guards to make, by force, a Cultural Revolution. Violence swallowed up schools, factories, bureaucracies, cultural institutions, and everything that smacked of foreign or traditional Chinese influence. Countless victims suffered internal exile, public humiliation, forced “self-criticism,” or death, while attacks on foreign embassies and denunciations of the superpower “condominium” persuaded Americans and Soviets alike that the Chinese were, for the moment at least, the major threat to world peace.

By the late 1960s, therefore, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union underwent a marked thawing. At the same time, however, the Soviets and Americans alike had to acknowledge a growing lack of control over their once coherent Cold War camps.

The Europe of the fatherlands

Great Britain and decolonization

The Suez crisis of 1956, followed by Soviet space successes and rocket-rattling after 1957, dealt serious blows to the morale of western Europe. Given the potential of the war scares over Berlin to fracture NATO, the United States had to reassure its allies and try to satisfy their demands for greater influence in alliance policy. American efforts largely succeeded in the case of Britain, an ally much depleted in power and will. American policy largely failed in the case of France, an ally stronger and more stable than at any time since 1940.

Since World War II, Britain had tried to maintain the appearance of a global power, developing its own nuclear weapons, deploying conventional forces around the world, and keeping hold of its African colonies. Churchill, returned to office in the early 1950s, had vowed never to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Likewise, the British held aloof from the continental experiments with integration and saw their role rather as the vertex of three great world systems: the English-speaking peoples, the British Commonwealth, and the old European Great Powers. All this came to a sudden end when a combination of factors—sluggish economic performance by the world’s oldest industrial power, growing pressure to decolonize, demands for greater social expenditures at home, and the superpowers’ leap into the missile age—convinced London that it could no longer afford to keep up appearances in foreign policy. A defense White Paper of 1957 signalled a shift away from conventional armed forces toward reliance on a cheap, national nuclear deterrent. Sputnik then convinced the British government to cancel its own ballistic-missile program and rely on its special relationship with the United States to procure modern weapons. Eisenhower agreed to sell the Skybolt air-launched missile to Britain by way of healing the wounds inflicted by Suez and shoring up NATO after Sputnik. When McNamara subsequently cut the Skybolt program in his campaign to streamline the Pentagon, the British government was acutely embarrassed. Kennedy met with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan at Nassau in December 1962 and offered Polaris submarines instead. It was hoped at the time that the British deterrent would be subsumed in a multilateral NATO force. The Conservative government also made the hard decision in 1963 to seek admission to the Common Market, only to be vetoed by the French. Not until 1973 was Britain’s application, together with those of Ireland and Denmark, approved and the European Communities broadened.

The period 1957–62 was also the climax of decolonization. As early as 1946–47, when Britain was granting independence to India and states of the Middle East, the Attlee government sponsored the Cohen–Caine plan for a new approach to West Africa as well. It aimed at preparing tropical Africa for self-rule by gradually transferring local authority from tribal chiefs to members of the Western-educated elite. Accordingly, the Colonial Office drafted elaborate constitutions, most of which had little relevance to real conditions in primitive countries that had no natural boundaries, no ethnic unity or sense of nationalism, and no civic tradition. When the Gold Coast (Ghana) elected the radical leader Kwame Nkrumah, who then demanded immediate independence and got it in 1957, the British felt unable to deny similar grants to neighbouring colonies. Britain had, in fact, when the matter was faced squarely, little desire to hang on, given the exorbitant financial and political costs of late imperialism. In 1959 the Cabinet quietly decided to withdraw from Africa as soon as it won reelection. Macmillan then announced the new policy in Cape Town on Feb. 3, 1960, when he spoke of “the winds of change” sweeping across the continent. Nigeria, Togo, and Dahomey (Benin) became sovereign states in 1960, Tanganyika (Tanzania), Uganda, and Kenya in East Africa between 1961 and 1963, and Malaŵi and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in the south in 1964. White residents of Southern Rhodesia, however, declared their own independence in defiance of London and the UN. The Republic of South Africa and the surviving Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique made those portions of southern Africa the last refuges of white rule on the continent.

Most new African states had little more to support their pretensions to nationhood than a paper constitution, a flag, and a London-backed currency. The leaderships blamed African underdevelopment on past exploitation rather than on objective conditions, thus rejecting the American and European development theories that saw political stability as possible only within the context of economic growth. Nkrumah lectured to his Pan-African Congress in 1963 that “the social and economic development of Africa will come only within the political kingdom, not the other way around.” Indeed, Africa’s politicians invariably styled themselves as charismatic leaders whose political and even spiritual guidance was the prerequisite for progress. Nkrumah himself seized all power in Ghana and made himself a quasi-divine figure until the army overthrew him in 1966. Togo’s government fell to a military coup in 1963, and mutinies broke out in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. In the latter country, Julius Nyerere, much admired in Europe and the United States, declared a one-party dictatorship based on his ideology of ujamaa (familyhood) and courted aid from Communist China. Other leaders contrived similar ideologies to justify personal rule. By 1967 black Africa had suffered 64 attempted coups d’état, many born of tribal hatreds, and most Africans had fewer political rights than under colonial rule.

With the exception of Congo (Brazzaville), Cold War rivalries were absent from Africa in the 1960s, while the African regimes themselves wisely declared the inviolability of their boundaries lest the artificial lines drawn by the colonial powers provoke endless warfare. When Igbo tribes-people seceded from Nigeria in 1967 and formed the rebel state of Biafra, only four African nations supported their cause. Nigeria suppressed the secession in a bloody civil war. Decolonization nonetheless had a profound effect on international relations through the medium of the UN. The three dozen or so new African states combined with those of Asia and the Soviet bloc to form a permanent majority made up mostly of one-party dictatorships nevertheless claiming moral superiority over the Western “imperialists.” Thus, the founders’ dreams that the UN might become a “parliament of the world” and bulwark of democracy and human rights were undermined by the very process of what, with one or another degree of irony, was called “liberation.” Instead, the UN degenerated into a forum for polemics and a playground for intrigue.

France’s independent course

Where Britain was enervated by the advent of the missile age and the Third World, France was invigorated. The weak Fourth Republic had suffered defeat in Indochina and was embroiled in a civil war between French settlers and native Muslims in Algeria. When de Gaulle was called back to power eight months after Sputnik 1, he set about to forestall a threatened coup d’état by the French army, stabilize French politics, end the Algerian debacle (independence was granted in 1962 in the Treaty of Évian), and restore French power and prestige in the world. His constitution for a Fifth Republic established presidential leadership and restored France’s political stability, itself an achievement of great value to the West. De Gaulle’s vision of France, however, involved neither la plus grande France of the colonial empire nor the Atlanticist France of NATO nor the European France of the Common Market (EEC). Rather, de Gaulle proclaimed that a France without grandeur was not France at all and set out to reestablish French military, technological, and diplomatic independence.

France’s decolonization proceeded as rapidly as Britain’s, culminating in 1960 with the partition and independence of French West Africa. De Gaulle, however, refused to exhibit any guilt or doubt about France’s mission civilisatrice and offered the populations a choice between going it alone or joining a linguistic, monetary, and development community with the former metropole. Only Guinea elected to follow a Marxist leader who sought ties with the U.S.S.R.

In defense matters, de Gaulle bristled at NATO’s reliance on the United States and publicly doubted whether the U.S. nuclear umbrella over Europe was still reliable after Sputnik. Would the Americans really risk a nuclear attack on New York City or Washington, D.C., to defend Berlin or Paris? Therefore, de Gaulle accelerated the quiet development of a nuclear capacity begun under the Fourth Republic, and France exploded its first atomic bomb in 1960. He also quintupled French spending on research and development, built independent bomber, missile, and submarine forces—the nuclear force de frappe—and made France the third space power with the launch of an Earth satellite in 1965. Gaullist France’s rebellion against the tutelage of a superpower unwilling to accord it diplomatic equality or help it develop nuclear weapons bore genuine comparison to Maoist China. Like the U.S.S.R., the United States tried various means to rein in its obstreperous ally, first trying to dissuade France from developing nuclear weapons, then inviting it to join a multilateral nuclear force (MLF) under NATO command. First suggested in December 1960, the MLF was pushed by Kennedy and Johnson, but de Gaulle responded with contempt, while Adenauer feared to join lest he damage West German relations with France. The idea of an MLF died in 1965, and in July 1966 de Gaulle took the final step of withdrawing French armed forces from NATO (though France remained a political member of the alliance). NATO headquarters were then moved from Paris to Brussels.

De Gaulle similarly distrusted the movement for European integration, preferring what he termed “the Europe of the fatherlands” stretching “from the Atlantic to the Urals”—the latter phrase provocatively including the European portion of the Soviet Union. He tolerated European institutions such as the EEC, but only on terms of strict French leadership in partnership with West Germany; hence his veto of Britain’s application in 1963. Moreover, de Gaulle viewed European cooperative programs in atomic and space research as ways to tap foreign contributions for the improvement of French national competitiveness, not as ways for France to contribute to European unity. Adenauer eagerly accepted de Gaulle’s leadership in order to complete Germany’s postwar rehabilitation and retain the EEC market for Germany’s booming industry. De Gaulle, however, crushed any lingering hopes for European political integration by boycotting the EEC in 1965–66 rather than allow the federalist commissioner Walter Hallstein to enhance the decision-making power of the EEC Parliament. Finally, de Gaulle delighted in open criticism of American foreign policy and courted closer relations with Moscow (which in return seized upon what appeared to be an opportunity to split the alliance), culminating in the pomp of a state visit in 1966. In all these ways Gaullist policy was a constant vexation to Washington, but in the long run it was probably a boon to the Western alliance for the technological dynamism, political stability, and military might it restored to France.

Asia beneath the superpowers

The first rebellions against the European imperial system had occurred on the rimlands of Asia at the start of the 20th century: the Russo-Japanese War, the Indian home-rule movement, and the Chinese and Young Turk revolutions. By the 1960s the southern tier of Asian states had given birth to local systems of power and rivalry beyond the control of the Great Powers. Several factors set these nations and their conflicts apart. First, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Indochina all seethed with ethnic conflicts that had little to do with the Cold War. Second, eastern and southern Asia continued to undergo a demographic explosion that made China and India by far the most populous states in the world and non-Soviet Asia the home of 55 percent of the human race. Third, the politics of these societies, involved as they were in the awakening of vast peasant masses, the breakdown of traditional village agriculture, religious and dynastic structures, and programs for rapid modernization, did not easily fall into categories familiar to Soviet and American planners of the 1950s. Fourth, most of the Asian rim was remote from the European Soviet Union and North America, making direct intervention there expensive and risky. Nevertheless, continued Soviet efforts to win influence in the Middle East, Chinese claims to natural leadership of the poor southern half of the globe, and American attempts to preserve a structure of containment of the Communist world necessarily involved the Great Powers in Asian diplomacy. The fate of half of mankind could not, it seemed, be a matter of indifference to countries that claimed universal missions.

The Six-Day War

In the Middle East, Nasser’s star began to decline in the 1960s from its post-Suez peak. The Syrian Baʿth Party, though socialist, resented Nasser’s assumption of Arab leadership and in 1961 took the country out of the United Arab Republic, which it had formed with Egypt in 1958. Likewise, the presence of 50,000 Egyptian troops in Yemen failed to overcome the forces supporting the Yemeni imam, who was backed in turn by Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the Cairo Conference of 1964 succeeded in rallying pan-Arab unity around resistance to Israel’s plans to divert the waters of the Jordan. Also with both eyes on Israel, the conference restored an Arab High Command and elevated the Palestinian refugees (scattered among several Arab states since 1948) to a status approaching sovereignty, with their own army and headquarters in the Gaza Strip. Syria likewise sponsored a terrorist organization, al-Fatah, whose raids against Jewish settlements provoked Israeli military reprisals inside Jordan and Lebanon. Syria was divided principally between the socialist Baʾth, led by the minority ʿAlawite community that dominated the army, and pro-Nasser pan-Arabists. In 1966 a military coup established a radical Baʿthist regime, but the army itself then split into rival factions. Nasser took the initiative to prevent a rightist reversal in Syria and reassert his leadership of the Arab cause.

Armed with Soviet tanks and planes, Nasser claimed his option under the 1956 accord to demand withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces from the Sinai. Secretary-General U Thant complied on May 19, 1967. Four days later Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. The Soviets apparently urged Nasser to show moderation, while President Johnson told Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban to remain calm: “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone.” Neither superpower, however, was able to restrain its client. When Egyptian and Iraqi troops arrived in Jordan, giving every sign of an imminent pan-Arab attack, the Israeli Cabinet decided on a preemptive strike. The Israeli air force destroyed Nasser’s planes on the ground, and in six days of fighting (June 5–10) the Israeli army overran the Sinai, the West Bank of the Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem, and the strategic Golan Heights in Syria. The UN Security Council arranged a cease-fire and passed Resolution 242, calling for a withdrawal from all occupied regions. The Israelis were willing to view their conquests (except Jerusalem) as bargaining chips but insisted on Arab recognition of the right of Israel to exist and firm guarantees against future attack. The so-called frontline Arab states were neither able (for domestic reasons) nor willing to give such guarantees and instead courted Soviet and Third World support against “U.S.–Israeli imperialism.” Hence Israel remained both greatly enlarged and possessed of shorter, more defensible borders, although it did acquire the problem of administering more than a million Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank.

China, India, and Pakistan

The Indian subcontinent comprised another system of conflict focused on border disputes among India, Pakistan, and China. Nehru’s Congress Party had stabilized the political life of the teeming and disparate peoples of India. The United States looked to India as a laboratory of democracy and development in the Third World and a critical foil to Communist China and in consequence had contributed substantial amounts of aid. The U.S.S.R. also began an effective aid program in 1955, and Nehru looked to the U.S.S.R. for support against China once the Sino-Soviet split became evident. The Peking regime had brutally suppressed the buffer state of Tibet in 1950 and disputed the border with India at several points between the tiny Himalayan states of Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. American military aid to Pakistan (a member of CENTO) also gave the Indians and Soviets reason to cooperate. In 1961, when President Ayub Khan of Pakistan earnestly sought Kennedy’s mediation in the dispute over Kashmir, U.S. pressure proved inadequate to bring Nehru to the bargaining table.

Nehru was humbled, however, when the Chinese suddenly attacked in force across the disputed boundaries, choosing as their moment the height of the Cuban missile crisis. Indian forces were soundly defeated, 7,000 men having been killed or captured, and the lowlands of Assam lay open to the invaders. The Chinese leadership apparently had expected a Soviet triumph in Cuba, or at least a drawn-out crisis that would prevent superpower intervention in India, but the swift resolution in Cuba in favour of the United States permitted Washington to respond to Nehru’s request for help. The Chinese then halted the offensive and soon afterward withdrew.

The Kennedy administration used its newly won leverage to urge Nehru to settle his quarrel with Pakistan, but the negotiations failed to overcome Hindu–Muslim antipathy and the fact that the conflict was a unifying element in the domestic politics of both countries. Pakistani troops crossed the cease-fire line in Kashmir in August 1965, and India responded by invading Pakistan proper. Both superpowers backed U Thant’s personal quest for a cease-fire, and the Indians withdrew. The U.S.S.R. was able to regain influence with New Delhi, especially after the accession to power of Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. In 1971 India and the U.S.S.R. concluded a 20-year Treaty of Peace and Friendship and Cooperation, an indication of how much the United States (not to mention Britain) had lost touch with the once model Third World democracy. Pakistan, meanwhile, was in ferment. President Ayub Khan was forced to step down in 1969 in favour of Yahya Khan, while elections in 1970 polarized the geographically divided country. West Pakistan chose Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as prime minister, but densely populated East Pakistan (Bengal) voted almost unanimously for a separatist party under Mujibur Rahman. When talks between the two leaders broke down, Bhutto gambled on sending in troops and jailing the secessionists. Vicious fighting broke out in Bengal, flooding India with some 10,000,000 refugees and provoking Indian intervention. The Soviets cautioned restraint but clearly favoured India, while U.S. President Nixon sent a carrier task force into the Bay of Bengal and openly favoured Pakistan, influenced by the country’s role as intermediary between Washington and Peking. In two weeks of fighting (Dec. 3–16, 1971) the Indians defeated the Pakistanis on all fronts, and East Pakistan became the new state of Bangladesh, comprising the delta of the Indus River. Pakistan thus lost well over half its population. Once Nixon’s opening to China bore fruit, the subcontinent seemed to be polarized around a U.S.S.R.–India axis and a U.S.–Pakistan–China axis, though the United States resumed aid and food shipments during the Indian famine of 1972.

To the south and east of the Asian mainland lay the vast, populous archipelago of Indonesia, where another romantic revolutionary, Sukarno, had played host to the Bandung Conference of 1955. Like Nasser, Nehru, and Mao, he ruled his 100,000,000 people by vague, hortatory slogans that added up to a personal ideology with nationalist and Communist overtones. The Kennedy administration had tried to appease Sukarno with development aid and even obliged the Dutch to cede Irian Barat (Irian Jaya) in the face of Sukarno’s threats in 1963. Sukarno still turned to Moscow for support and gave himself over to profligate personal behaviour and foreign adventures, most notably an attempted attack on Malaysia in 1963. By 1965 Indonesia was $2,400,000,000 in debt and suffering widespread famine. In January of that year Sukarno withdrew his country from the UN over a dispute with Malaysia. The Soviets were clearly disgusted with Sukarno’s regime, while the rival Chinese persuaded (perhaps blackmailed) him into approving a savage pro-Communist putsch in October 1965. Suharto, however, put down the uprising and exacted a violent revenge in which as many as 300,000 Communists and their supporters were killed. Indonesia subsequently concerned itself with its internal problems, frustrating Soviet, Chinese, and American hopes for a strong ally.

The destruction of Indonesian Communism, achieved without the slightest American effort, was a source of great comfort for the United States. A diametrically opposite course of events had, by 1965, begun to unfold in the last theatre of Asian conflict, Vietnam.

The war in Southeast Asia

Cold War assumptions and the quagmire

As the Vietnam War began to recede into the past, the entire episode, from a neutral perspective, increasingly came to seem incredible. That the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth should undertake 15 years of wasting conflict against a tiny state 10,000 miles from its shores—and lose—almost justifies the historian Paul Johnson’s phrase “America’s suicide attempt.” Yet the destructive and futile U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia was a product of a series of trends that had been maturing since World War II. The early Cold War gave rise to U.S. leadership in the containment of Communism. Decolonization then thrust the United States into a role described by advocate and critic alike as “the world’s policeman”—protector and benefactor of the weak new governments of the Third World. The potential of guerrilla insurgency, demonstrated in Tito’s resistance to the Nazis and especially in the postwar victories of Mao, the Viet Minh, and Castro, made it the preferred mode for revolutionary action around the world. The emerging nuclear stalemate alerted Washington to the need to prepare for fighting limited (sometimes called “brushfire”) wars sponsored by the Soviet Union or China through proxies in the Third World. In this era of Khrushchevian and Maoist assertiveness the United States could not allow any of its client states to fall to a Communist “war of national liberation” lest it lose prestige and credibility to Moscow and Peking. Finally, the “domino theory,” to the effect that the fall of one country would inexorably lead to the communization of its neighbours, magnified the importance of even the smallest state and guaranteed that sooner or later the United States would become entangled under the worst possible conditions. One or even all of the assumptions under which the United States became involved in Vietnam may have been faulty, but very few in the government and the public questioned them until long after the country was committed.

By 1961, Diem’s fledgling government in South Vietnam was receiving more U.S. aid per capita than any other country except Laos and South Korea. Authoritative reports detailed both the Viet Cong’s campaign of terror against government officials in the south and widespread discontent over Diem’s corrupt and imperious rule. In the face of both Khrushchev’s renewed vow to support wars of national liberation and de Gaulle’s warning (“I predict you will sink step by step into a bottomless military and political quagmire”), Kennedy chose Vietnam as a test case for American theories of state building and counterinsurgency. He approved a proposal by Rostow and General Maxwell Taylor to assign advisers to every level of Saigon’s government and military, and the number of Americans in Vietnam grew from 800 to 11,000 by the end of 1962.

Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnamese considered the struggle against Diem and his American sponsors merely the next phase of a war that had begun against the Japanese and had continued against the French. Their determination to unify Vietnam and conquer all of Indochina was the principal dynamic behind the conflict. The total number of Communist troops in the South grew by recruitment and infiltration from some 7,000 in 1960 to more than 100,000 by 1964. Most were guerrilla militiamen who served also as local party cadres. Above them were the Viet Cong (formally the National Liberation Front, or NLF), deployed in regional military units, and units of the People’s Army of North Vietnam (PAVN) entering the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. U.S. Special Forces tried to counter Communist control of the countryside with a “strategic hamlet” program, a tactic used with success by the British in Malaya. Diem instituted a policy of relocating the rural population of South Vietnam in order to isolate the Communists. The program caused widespread resentment, while Diem’s persecution of local Buddhist sects provided a rallying point for protests. When Buddhist monks resorted to dramatic self-immolation in front of Western news cameras, Kennedy secretly instructed Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to approve a military coup. On Nov. 1, 1963, Diem was overthrown and murdered.

South Vietnam then underwent a succession of coups d’état that undermined all pretense that the United States was defending democracy. The struggle was thenceforth viewed in Washington as a military effort to buy time for state building and the training of the South Vietnamese army (Army of the Republic of Vietnam; ARVN). When two American destroyers exchanged fire with a North Vietnamese torpedo boat eight miles off the North’s coast in August 1964 (an event whose occurrence was later disputed), Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the President to take whatever measures he deemed necessary to protect American lives in Southeast Asia. Johnson held off escalating the war during the 1964 electoral campaign but in February 1965 ordered sustained bombing of North Vietnam and sent the first U.S. combat units to the South. By June, U.S. troops in Vietnam numbered 74,000.

The Soviet Union reacted to American escalation by trying to reconvene the Geneva Conference and bring pressure to bear on the United States to submit to the peaceful reunification of Vietnam. China bluntly refused to encourage a negotiated settlement and insisted that the U.S.S.R. help North Vietnam by pressuring the United States elsewhere. The Soviets, in turn, resented Peking’s assertion of leadership in the Communist world and had no desire to provoke new crises with Washington. The North Vietnamese were caught in the middle; Ho’s ties were to Moscow, but geography obliged him to favour Peking. Hence North Vietnam joined in boycotting the March 1965 Communist conference in Moscow. The Soviets, however, dared not ignore the Vietnam War lest they confirm Chinese accusations of Soviet “revisionism.”

The conduct and cost of the war

Meanwhile, the United States slid ineluctably into the quagmire predicted by de Gaulle. U.S. forces reached a peak of 543,000 men in 1969. (Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines also sent small contingents, and South Korea contributed 50,000 men.) The U.S. strategy was to employ mobility, based on helicopters, and firepower to wear down the enemy by attrition at minimal cost in U.S. lives.

The war of attrition on the ground, like the bombing in the North, was designed less to destroy the enemy’s ability to wage war than to demonstrate to the enemy that he could not win and to bring him to the bargaining table. But stalemate suited Hanoi, which could afford to wait, while it was anathema to the Americans. Johnson’s popularity fell steadily. Most Americans favoured more vigorous prosecution to end the war, but a growing number advocated withdrawal. Antiwar dissent grew and spread and overlapped with sweeping and violent demands for social change. The American foreign policy consensus that had sustained containment since the 1940s was shattered by Vietnam. In retrospect, Johnson’s attempt to prevent the war from disturbing his own domestic program was vain, and his strategic conception was grounded in folly and hubris. He and his advisers had no clear notion of what the application of American force was supposed to achieve. It was merely assumed to be invincible.

Hanoi understood that the classic Maoist strategy of isolating cities by revolutionizing the countryside was inapplicable to Vietnam because the cities could still hold out with foreign support. Accordingly, in mid-1967 the North Vietnamese Politburo approved a plan for urban attacks throughout South Vietnam. General Vo Nguyen Giap insisted, however, that NLF guerrillas, not PAVN units, be risked. The expectation was that direct attacks on cities would undercut American claims of pacification and magnify domestic American dissent. On Jan. 30, 1968 (the Tet holiday, during which many ARVN troops were home on leave), an estimated 84,000 Communist troops infiltrated South Vietnamese cities, attacked government installations, and even penetrated the American embassy in Saigon. The Tet Offensive was carried out at a terrible cost to Communist strength, but American press reports turned the offensive into a psychological defeat for the United States. Instead of ordering a counterattack, Johnson removed himself from the 1968 presidential campaign, ordered a bombing halt, and pledged to devote the rest of his administration to the quest for peace. Negotiations began in Paris, but the rest of the year was spent bickering over procedural issues.

For more than 25 years after 1941 the United States had maintained an unprecedented depth of involvement in world affairs. In 1968 Vietnam finally forced Americans to face the limits of their resources and will. Whoever succeeded Johnson would have little choice but to find a way to escape from Vietnam and reduce American global responsibilities.

Nixon, Kissinger, and the détente experiment

Détente as realism

After eight years in the shadow of Eisenhower and eight more years out of office, Richard Nixon brought to the presidency in 1969 rich experience as an observer of foreign affairs and shrewd notions about how to prevent the American retreat from global commitments from turning into a rout. In broad outlines, the Nixon strategy included a phased withdrawal of ground forces from Vietnam, a negotiated settlement saving the Saigon regime, détente with the U.S.S.R., resumption of relations with mainland China, and military support for selected regional powers that permitted them to take over as local “policemen” in lieu of direct American involvement. In a period of just four years, 1969–72, the United States abandoned once-unshakable Cold War attitudes toward the Communist nations, while scaling back its own exposure in response to the Sino-Soviet split, imminent Soviet strategic parity, and the economic and psychological constraints on U.S. action stemming from the new American imperative of “no more Vietnams.” Nixon believed that his own record as an anti-Communist and tough negotiator would quiet conservative opposition to détente, while liberals would find themselves outflanked on their own peace issue. In both ends and means American foreign policy evinced a new realism in stark contrast to the “pay any price, bear any burden” mentality of the Kennedy–Johnson years. In his inaugural address Nixon spoke instead of an “era of negotiation.”

Détente, however, was not meant to replace the abiding postwar American strategy of containment. Rather, it was meant to be a less confrontational method of containing Communist power through diplomatic accords and a flexible system of rewards and punishments by which Washington might moderate Soviet behaviour. Journalists dubbed this tactic “linkage” insofar as the United States would link positive inducements (e.g., arms control, technology transfers, grain sales) to expected Soviet reciprocity in other areas (e.g., restraint in promoting revolutionary movements). Nixon had no illusions that U.S.–Soviet competition would disappear, but he expected that this carrot-and-stick approach would establish rules of the game and recognized spheres of influence. Pulling the Soviets into a network of agreements, and thus giving them a stake in the status quo, would create a stable structure of peace. Finally, expanding economic and cultural ties might even serve to open up Soviet society.

By 1971, Leonid Brezhnev, now established as the new Soviet leader, was ready to welcome American overtures for a variety of reasons. In 1968 relations with the eastern European satellites had flared up again when leaders of the Czechoslovakian Communist party under Alexander Dubček initiated reforms promoting democratization and free speech. A wave of popular demonstrations added momentum to liberalization during this “Prague Spring” until, on August 20, the U.S.S.R. led neighbouring Warsaw Pact armies in a military invasion of Czechoslovakia. Dubček was ousted and the reforms undone. The ostensible justification for this latest Soviet repression of freedom in its empire came to be known as the Brezhnev Doctrine: “Each of our parties is responsible not only to its working class and its people, but also to the international working class, the world Communist movement.” The U.S.S.R. asserted its right to intervene in any Communist state to prevent the success of “counterrevolutionary” elements. Needless to say, the Chinese were fearful that the Brezhnev Doctrine might be applied to them. In 1969 they accused the U.S.S.R. of “social imperialism” and provoked hundreds of armed clashes on the borders of Sinkiang and Manchuria. Soviet forces arrayed against China, already raised from 12 weak divisions in 1961 to 25 full ones, now grew to 55 divisions backed by 120 SS-11 nuclear missiles. In August 1969 a Soviet diplomat had carefully inquired about the likely American reaction to a Soviet nuclear strike against China. In sum, the need to repair the Soviet image in the wake of the Prague Spring and the fear of dangerous relations with Peking and Washington at the same time, as well as the chronic Soviet need for agricultural imports and access to superior Western technology, were all powerful incentives for seeking détente.

From a longer perspective, however, détente had been the strategy of the U.S.S.R. ever since 1956 under the rubric “peaceful coexistence.” Brezhnev repeated Khrushchev’s assertion that Soviet nuclear parity took the military leverage from the hands of the bourgeois world, forcing it to accept the legitimate interests of other states, to treat the U.S.S.R. as an equal, and to acquiesce in the success of “progressive” and revolutionary struggle. Détente was thus for the Soviets a natural expression of the new correlation of forces, a means of guiding the weakened Americans through the transition to a new phase of history—and was certainly not meant to preserve the status quo or liberalize the U.S.S.R. One Western proponent of détente described the Soviet conception of it as a way “to make the world safe for historical change” and pointed out the implicit double standard—i.e., that it was admissible for the U.S.S.R. to continue the struggle against the capitalist world during détente but a contradiction for the Western powers to struggle against Communism. From the Marxist point of view, however, this was merely another reflection of objective reality: Now that nuclear balance was a fact, greater weight accrued to conventional military strength and popular political action, each of which strongly favoured the Socialist bloc.

The contrasting U.S. and Soviet conceptions of détente would eventually scotch the hopes placed in it on both sides. From 1969 to 1972, however, those differences were not yet apparent, while the immediate incentives for a relaxation of tensions were irresistible.

Scaling back U.S. commitments

The first indications of a new American sense of limits in foreign policy were in the economic sphere. Since World War II the global market economy had rested on the Bretton Woods monetary system, based on a strong American dollar tied to gold. Beginning in 1958 the United States began to run annual foreign-exchange deficits, resulting partly from the costs of maintaining U.S. forces overseas. For this reason, and because their own exports benefitted from an artificially strong dollar, the Europeans and Japanese tolerated the U.S. gold drain and used their growing fund of “Eurodollars” to back loans and commerce. By the mid-1960s de Gaulle began to criticize the United States for exploiting its leadership role to “export its inflation” to foreign holders of dollars. The Johnson administration’s Vietnam deficits then added the prospect of internal American inflation. By 1971 the American economic situation warranted emergency measures. Nixon imposed wage and price controls to stem inflation, and Secretary of the Treasury John Connally abruptly suspended the convertibility of dollars to gold. The dollar was allowed to float against undervalued currencies like the deutsche mark and yen, in consequence of which foreign holders of dollars took sharp losses and foreign exporters faced stiffer competition from American goods. New agreements in December 1971 stabilized the dollar at a rate 12 percent below Bretton Woods, but the United States had sorely tried allied loyalty.

The American retreat from an overextended financial position and insistence that its allies share the burden of stabilizing the U.S. balance of payments was the economic analog to the Nixon Doctrine in military affairs. The new president enunciated this doctrine in an impromptu news conference on Guam during his July 1969 trip to welcome home the Apollo 11 astronauts from the Moon. Nixon announced that the United States would no longer send Americans to fight for Asian nations but would confine itself to logistical and economic support: “Asian hands must shape the Asian future.” In accord with this effort to shift more of the burden of containment to threatened peoples themselves, Nixon planned to assist regional pro-Western powers like Iran in becoming bulwarks of stability by providing them with sophisticated American weapons.

Before the Nixon Doctrine could be credible, however, the President had to extricate the United States from Vietnam. In March 1969 he outlined a policy of Vietnamization, comprising a phased withdrawal of American ground troops and additional material and advisory support to make the ARVN self-sufficient. Nixon also hoped to enlist the Soviets in the cause of peace, but Moscow had less influence over Hanoi than he imagined and could not afford to be seen as appeasing the United States. Nixon then shifted to a subtler approach—long-term pressure on Hanoi combined with better relations with both Communist giants. Late in 1969 secret talks began in Paris between Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s adviser for national security, and the North Vietnamese Politburo member Le Duc Tho. At the same time, however, Nixon stepped up pressure on the North. When the anti-Communist general Lon Nol overthrew Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia in March 1970, Nixon acceded to the U.S. army’s long-standing desire to destroy Communist sanctuaries inside that country. The U.S.-ARVN operation fell short of its promise and provoked protests at home and abroad. Despite public disfavour and congressional attempts to limit such actions, Nixon ordered continued secret American bombing inside Cambodia and also supported an ARVN operation into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The opening to China and Ostpolitik

The linchpin of Nixon’s strategy for a settlement in Vietnam was détente with Moscow and Peking. He was known as a firm supporter of the Nationalist regime on Taiwan, but he had softened his stance against mainland China before taking office. In 1969 he moved to signal Peking through the good offices of de Gaulle and Yahya Khan of Pakistan. Direct contacts, conducted through the Chinese embassy in Warsaw, were broken off after the 1970 U.S.-ARVN attacks on Cambodia, but Nixon and Kissinger remained hopeful. The Cultural Revolution ended in a serious power struggle in the Chinese leadership. Army commander Lin Biao opposed relations with the United States but died when his plane crashed in unclear circumstances. Zhou Enlai and Mao (presumably) contemplated the value of an American counterweight to the Soviets, concessions on the status of Taiwan, and technology transfers. The Nixon Doctrine also promised to remove the obnoxious U.S. military presence in Asia.

The Pakistani channel bore fruit in December 1970, when Yahya Khan returned from Peking with an invitation for an American envoy to discuss Taiwan. The following April the Chinese made the surprising public gesture of inviting an American table tennis team to the championship tournament in Peking. This episode of “Ping-Pong diplomacy” was followed by a secret trip to Peking by Kissinger. Kissinger’s talks with Zhou and Mao yielded an American promise to remove U.S. forces from Taiwan in return for Chinese support of a negotiated settlement in Vietnam. The Chinese also agreed to a presidential visit in February 1972. The American people’s long-latent fascination with China immediately revived, and Nixon’s trip was a sensation.

The Soviets watched with palpable discomfort as Nixon and Mao embraced and saluted each other’s flags, and they quickly raised the premium on improving relations with Washington. Efforts to this end had been frustrated by a series of crises: a buildup of Soviet jets in Egypt and Jordan, the discovery of a Soviet submarine base under construction in Cuba in 1970, and Nixon’s escalations of the war in Southeast Asia. Substantial moves toward East–West détente had already been made in Europe, however. Following de Gaulle’s lead, the West German foreign minister, Willy Brandt, a Socialist and former mayor of West Berlin, had made overtures toward Moscow. After becoming chancellor in 1969 he pursued a thorough Ostpolitik (“eastern policy”) that culminated in treaties with the U.S.S.R. (August 1970), renouncing the use of force in their relations, and with Poland (December 1970), recognizing Germany’s 1945 losses east of the Oder–Neisse Line. Brandt also recognized the East German government (December 1972) and expanded commercial relations with other eastern European regimes. Both German states were admitted to the UN in 1973. Support for Ostpolitik among West Germans reflected the growing belief that German reunification would more likely be achieved through détente, rather than confrontation, with the Soviet bloc.

The United States, Britain, and France seconded Brandt’s efforts by concluding a new Four Power accord with the U.S.S.R. on Berlin in September 1971. The Soviets made what they considered a major concession by agreeing to retain their responsibility under the Potsdam Accords for access to West Berlin and achieved in return Western recognition of the status quo in eastern Europe and access to West German technology and credits.

Arms-limitation negotiations

The centrepiece of a bilateral U.S.–Soviet détente, however, had to be the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which began in 1969. After a decade of determined research and deployment the Soviet Union had pulled ahead of the United States in long-range missiles and was catching up in submarine-launched missiles and in long-range bombers. Indeed, it had been American policy since the mid-1960s to permit the Soviets to achieve parity in order to stabilize the regime of mutual deterrence. Stability was threatened, however, from the technological quarter with the development of multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), by which several warheads, each aimed at a different target, could be carried on one missile, and antiballistic missiles (ABMs), which might allow one side to strike first while shielding itself from retaliation. In the arcane province of strategic theory, therefore, offense (long-range missiles) became defense, and defense (ABM) offense. Johnson had favoured a thin ABM system to protect the United States from a Chinese attack, and in 1969 Nixon won Senate approval of ABM deployment by a single vote. He intended, however, to use the program as a bargaining chip. The Soviets had actually deployed a rudimentary ABM system but were anxious to halt the U.S. program before superior American technology left theirs behind. The public SALT talks stalled, but back-channel negotiations between Kissinger and Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin produced agreement in principle in May 1971 to limit long-range missiles and ABM deployment. The American opening to China made the Soviets increasingly eager for a prompt agreement and summit meeting, while the Americans hoped that Moscow would encourage North Vietnam to be forthcoming in the peace talks.

Since 1968 North Vietnamese negotiators had demanded satisfaction of Premier Pham Van Dong’s “four points” of 1965, including cessation of all U.S. military activity in Indochina, termination of foreign military alliances with Saigon, a coalition government in the South that included the NLF, and reunification of Vietnam. The United States demanded withdrawal of all foreign troops from the South, including the PAVN. This deadlock, plus Hanoi’s anxiety over the possible effects of détente, prompted another North Vietnamese bid for victory on the battlefield. In March 1972 they committed 10 of their 13 divisions to a massive offensive. Nixon responded by ordering the resumption of bombing of the North for the first time since 1969 and the mining of the harbour at Haiphong, North Vietnam’s major port. The offensive stalled.

Nixon’s retaliation against North Vietnam prompted speculation that the U.S.S.R. would cancel the planned summit meeting, but Soviet desire for détente prevailed. Kissinger visited Moscow in April 1972 to work out details on SALT and draft a charter for détente. Nixon instructed him “to emphasize the need for a single standard; we could not accept the proposition that the Soviet Union had the right to support liberation movements throughout the world while insisting on the Brezhnev Doctrine inside the satellite orbit.” The Soviets, however, refused to make explicit concessions and defined détente as a means of preventing the inevitable struggle between “progressive” and “reactionary” forces from escalating into war. The result was a vague statement of 12 “basic principles of mutual relations” committing the two parties to peaceful coexistence and normal relations based on “sovereignty, equality, non-interference in internal affairs, and mutual advantage.” Nixon then proceeded to Moscow in May 1972 and signed 10 documents providing for cooperation in economics, science and technology, outer space, medicine, health, and the environment. Most important were the SALT accords: an Interim Agreement limiting ballistic-missile deployment for five years and the ABM Treaty limiting each side to two ABM sites, one protecting the national capital, the other a long-range missile site. The treaty also enjoined the signatories not to interfere with each other’s “national technical means of verification,” a de facto recognition of each side’s space-based reconnaissance satellites.

The preliminary SALT agreement appeared to be a significant achievement, but there was in some ways less to it than met the eye. The treaty mandated controlled increases, not decreases, in the Soviet arsenal, while failing to ban development of cruise missiles, space-based weapons, or the MIRVing of existing launchers by the United States or the U.S.S.R. Thus the superpowers sacrificed the right to defend their attack missiles with ABMs while failing to ensure the stability of mutual deterrence. In sum, the limitation of one sort of nuclear launcher (long-range missiles) did not preclude a continuing arms race in other sorts of launchers or in technological upgrades. To be sure, the mere fact of a U.S.–Soviet agreement seemed of psychological value, but only if both sides were genuinely seeking to reduce arsenals and not simply to maneuver diplomatically for a future advantage. Hence the practical value, or danger, of SALT would be revealed only by superpower behaviour in years to come.

End of the Vietnam War

The American achievement of détente with both Moscow and Peking and the failure of North Vietnam’s spring 1972 offensive moved both protagonists in that conflict to bargain as well. In October the secret talks in Paris between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho finally produced an agreement on a cease-fire, the release of prisoners of war, evacuation of remaining U.S. forces within 60 days, and political negotiations among all Vietnamese parties. South Vietnam’s president, Nguyen Van Thieu, then balked: The plan might indeed allow the Americans to claim “peace with honour” and go home, but it would leave Thieu to deal with the Communists while 100,000 PAVN troops remained in his country. When North Vietnam sought to prevent any last-minute changes by releasing in public the Paris terms, Kissinger was obliged to announce on October 26 that “peace is at hand.” After his landslide reelection a week later—a victory aided by the prospect of peace—Nixon determined to force compliance with the terms on both Vietnamese states. Nixon ordered 11 days of intensive bombing over Hanoi itself (December 18–28) while sending Thieu an ultimatum threatening a separate peace and cessation of U.S. aid if Saigon did not accept the peace terms. The United States was castigated worldwide for the “Christmas bombing,” but, when talks resumed in January, Hanoi and Saigon quickly came to terms. A Vietnam cease-fire went into effect on Jan. 27, 1973, and the last American soldiers departed on March 29.

Vietnam had been America’s longest and most divisive war, and public and congressional opinion flatly opposed any resumption of the agony. The 1973 accords, therefore, were a fig leaf hiding the fact that the United States had just lost its first war despite an estimated expenditure of $155,000,000,000, 7,800,000 tons of bombs (more than all countries dropped in all of World War II), and some 58,000 American lives. Estimates of Vietnamese dead (North and South) totaled more than 2,000,000 soldiers and civilians. In its proportional impact on Vietnamese society, the Vietnam War, 1955–75, was the fourth most severe in the world since 1816.

The end of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia also brought to a close 15 years of astounding change in world politics that featured the arrival of the space and missile age, the climax of decolonization, the assertions of Maoist China and Gaullist France, the shattering of the myth (fostered by Washington and Moscow alike) of a monolithic Communist world, and the relative decline of American power. In 1969, the very moment when astronauts were setting foot on the Moon to fulfill Kennedy’s pledge to prove American superiority, Nixon and Kissinger were struggling to adjust to the new realities and manage a limited American retreat. They succeeded brilliantly in establishing a triangular relationship with Moscow and Peking and appeared to have replaced Cold War with détente. Likewise, they appeared to have escaped from Vietnam and implemented the Nixon Doctrine. New crises and reversals were in the offing, however, that would prove that the American decline had not yet been arrested. Given these reversals, détente might be judged as much an exercise in American presumption as the Vietnam War. The U.S.S.R. could not be expected to cease its quest for real values in world competition just because the United States was prepared to acknowledge it as a military equal. Rather, with the United States less able to cope, that very equality opened up new opportunities for Soviet expansion. Khrushchev’s boast about the new correlation of forces in the world may have brought the Soviets a series of embarrassments from 1957 to 1962, but a decade later it seemed perversely justified.

Dependence and disintegration in the global village, 1973–87

Events after the 1960s seemed to suggest that the world was entering an era both of complex interdependence among states and of disintegration of the normative values and institutions by which international behaviour had, to a reliable extent, been made predictable. Perhaps this was not an anomaly, for if modern weapons, communications satellites, and global finance and commerce really had created a “global village,” in which the security and well-being of all peoples were interdependent, then by the same token the opportunities had never been greater for ethnic, religious, ideological, or economic differences to spark resentment and conflict among the villagers.

In a world so seemingly out of control, it was perhaps a wonder that politics were not even more violent and anarchic, for the liberal dreams of progress nurtured in the 19th century had surely proved false. The spread of modern technology and economic growth around the world had not necessarily increased the number of societies based on human rights and the rule of law, nor had multilateral institutions like the United Nations or financial and economic interdependence created a higher unity and common purpose among nations, except within the durable and democratic North Atlantic alliance.

Instead, the world after the 1960s saw a proliferation of violence at every level except war among developed nations, a world financial structure under tremendous strain, the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and reduced growth rates thereafter, recurrent fears of an energy crisis, the depletion of resources and concurrent global pollution, famine and genocidal dictators in parts of Africa and Asia, the rise of an aggressive religious fundamentalism in the Muslim world, and widespread political terrorism in the Middle East and Europe. The superpowers never ceased to compete in the realms of strategic weapons and influence in the Third World and thus failed to sustain their brief experiment with détente. As President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, concluded: “The factors that make for international instability are gaining the historical upper hand over the forces that work for more organized cooperation. The unavoidable conclusion of any detached analysis of global trends is that social turmoil, political unrest, economic crisis, and international friction are likely to become more widespread during the remainder of this century.”

The decline of détente

General Secretary Brezhnev and President Nixon were understandably optimistic in the wake of the endorsement by the 24th Party Congress of the Soviet peace program in 1971 and Nixon’s landslide reelection in 1972. Both expected their new relationship to mature over the course of Nixon’s second term. Détente, however, had fragile foundations in foreign as well as domestic policy. The Soviets viewed it as a form of mere peaceful coexistence in which revolutionary forces could be expected to take advantage of the new American restraint, while the U.S. administration implicitly sold détente as a means of restraining Communist activity around the world. American conservatives were bound to lose faith in détente with each new incident of Soviet assertiveness, while liberals remained hostile to Nixon himself, his realpolitik, and his predilection for the use of force. Between 1973 and 1976 Soviet advances in the Third World, the destruction of Nixon’s presidency in the Watergate scandal, and congressional actions to limit the foreign policy prerogatives of the White House undermined the domestic foundations of détente. After 1977 the U.S.S.R. seemed to take advantage of the Carter administration’s vacillations in Third World conflicts and in arms-control talks, until the Democrats themselves reluctantly announced the demise of détente following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The distraction of Watergate

Analysts with a sufficiently historical point of view tended to see in the Watergate affair and Nixon’s 1974 resignation the culmination of a 30-year trend by which war and the Cold War had greatly expanded, and ultimately corrupted, executive power. Liberals who, in Eisenhower’s time, had called for strong presidential leadership now bemoaned “the imperial presidency.” With what were widely understood to be the lessons of Vietnam fresh in the nation’s mind, and a majority in Congress and the press hostile to the sitting president, the moment arrived for a legislative counterattack on the executive. This interpretation is borne out by the subsequent congressional acts designed to limit executive freedom in foreign policy. The War Powers Act of 1973 restrained the president’s ability to commit U.S. forces overseas. The Stevenson and Jackson–Vanik amendments imposed conditions (regarding Soviet policy on Jewish emigration) on administration plans to expand trade with the U.S.S.R. In 1974–75 Congress prevented the President from involving the United States in a crisis in Cyprus or aiding anti-Communist forces in Angola and passed the Arms Export Control Act, removing presidential discretion in supplying arms overseas. New financial controls limited the president’s ability to conclude executive agreements with foreign powers, of which some 6,300 had been signed between 1946 and 1974 as compared with only 411 treaties requiring the Senate’s advice and consent. Finally, revelations of past CIA covert operations, including schemes to assassinate Fidel Castro, inspired complicated congressional oversight procedures for U.S. intelligence agencies. These assaults on executive prerogative were meant to prevent future Vietnams, prevent unelected presidential aides from engaging in secret diplomacy, and restore to Congress an “appropriate” role in foreign policy. Critics of the limitations held that no great power could conduct a coherent or effective foreign policy under such a combination of openness and restrictions, especially in a world populated increasingly by totalitarian regimes, guerrilla movements, and terrorists.

The Nixon–Brezhnev summits of 1973–74 produced only minor follow-ons in the area of arms control—the uncontroversial Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War and an agreement to reduce the number of ABM sites from the two permitted in 1972 to one. Gerald Ford, president from August 1974, and Henry Kissinger, who remained as secretary of state, attempted to restore the momentum of détente through a new SALT agreement regulating the dangerous race in MIRVed missiles, which SALT I had not prevented. The United States proposed strict equality in nuclear delivery systems and total throw weight, which meant that the United States would be allowed to MIRV more of its missiles to offset the greater size of Soviet missiles. Since the United States had no plans for a unilateral buildup in any case, however, the Soviets had no incentive to make such a concession. Instead, Ford and Brezhnev signed an Interim Agreement at Vladivostok in November 1974 that limited each side to 2,400 delivery vehicles, of which 1,320 could be MIRVed. While the Soviets claimed that this was a concession, since they declined to count the 90 British and French missiles aimed at them, the Soviets’ giant SS-18s, able to deliver up to 10 MIRVs, ensured the U.S.S.R. an advantage in ICBM warheads. The repeated failure to restrain the growth of Soviet offensive systems soon sparked fears that the United States might become vulnerable to preemptive attack.

Meanwhile, the mid-1970s brought to a logical conclusion the process of détente in Europe. Nixon and Kissinger, aware that the United States had seemed to ignore its European allies during the 10 years of Vietnam, declared 1973 “the year of Europe” and hoped to forestall NATO governments from bargaining with Moscow on their own. Watergate and the Arab–Israeli war of that year (the Yom Kippur War) turned this initiative into a public-relations failure, however. Instead, the United States was obliged to follow the European lead in the ongoing Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and negotiations toward a “mutual and balanced force reduction” treaty covering NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in central Europe. The climax of the security talks was the Helsinki summit of 35 nations in the summer of 1975 and an agglomeration of proposals divided into three “baskets.” (A fourth basket dealt with the question of a follow-up conference.) In Basket I the signatories accepted the inviolability of Europe’s existing borders and the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other states—thereby recognizing formally the Soviet gains in World War II and the Soviet-bloc states. Basket II promoted exchanges in science, technology, and commerce, expanding Soviet access to Western technology and opening the Soviet market to western European industry. Basket III, the apparent Soviet concession, aimed at expanding cultural and humanitarian cooperation among all states on the basis of respect for human rights. Not surprisingly, Western opinion of the Helsinki Accords, and of détente in general, came to rest heavily on whether the U.S.S.R. would voluntarily comply with Basket III. American leaders of both parties considered Helsinki misguided and empty, especially after Moscow stepped up the persecution of dissidents and jailed those of their citizens engaged in a “Helsinki watch” on Soviet compliance. In sum, Helsinki (and U.S. demands on behalf of Soviet Jews) pointed up another contradiction in détente, this time between American insistence on Soviet liberalization and Soviet insistence on noninterference in the domestic politics of other states.

Events in Southeast Asia and Africa

During final negotiations at Helsinki, events in Southeast Asia compounded the American sense of humiliation and growing discontent with détente. The North Vietnamese had never viewed the 1973 peace accords as anything other than an interlude permitting the final withdrawal of American forces. In the year following they built up their strength in South Vietnam to more than 150,000 regulars armed with Soviet tanks, artillery, and antiaircraft weapons. The ARVN was poorly trained, suffered from low morale after the Americans were gone, and faced an enemy able to attack at times and places of its own choosing. The American withdrawal also removed at a blow some 300,000 jobs from the local economy, and President Thieu made matters worse by trying to establish one-party bureaucratic rule without the charisma or prestige to sustain it. By October 1974 the Politburo in Hanoi concluded that the Saigon regime was ripe for collapse. Large-scale probes of ARVN defenses in January 1975 confirmed their optimism. By the end of the month 12 provinces and 8,000,000 people had fallen to the Communists. On April 10, unable to obtain congressional approval of $422,000,000 in further military aid, President Ford declared that the Vietnam War was over “as far as America is concerned.” The final North Vietnamese offensive reached Saigon on April 30, 1975, as the last remaining Americans fled to helicopters atop the U.S. embassy. Hanoi triumphantly reunified Vietnam politically in July 1976 and confined thousands of South Vietnamese to “reeducation camps,” while thousands of “boat people” risked death in the South China Sea to escape reprisals and Communism.

The end in Cambodia had already occurred. The Communist Khmer Rouge cut off the capital, Phnom Penh, in January 1975. When the U.S. Congress denied further aid to Cambodia, Lon Nol fled, and in mid-April the Khmer Rouge took control. Its leader, Pol Pot, was a French-educated disciple of Maoist “total revolution” to whom everything traditional was anathema. The Khmer Rouge reign of terror became one of the worst holocausts of the 20th century. All urban dwellers, including hospital patients, were forced into the countryside in order to build a new society of rural communes. Sexual intercourse was forbidden and the family abolished. More than 100,000 Cambodians, including all “bourgeois,” or educated people, were killed outright, and 400,000 succumbed in the death marches; in all, 1,200,000 people (a fifth of the Cambodian nation) perished. The Khmer Rouge, however, were not allied with Hanoi, and in 1979 PAVN forces invaded Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge and install a puppet regime. This action completed the conquest of Indochina by North Vietnam, for Laos, too, became Communist after the fall of Saigon. Thus the domino theory was at last put to the test and to a large extent borne out.

Events in Africa as well seemed to bear out the Soviet expectation that “progressive forces” would gain ground rapidly during the new era of superpower parity. Angola and Mozambique, coastal states facing the oil-tanker routes around the Cape of Good Hope, were finally slated to achieve independence from Portugal following a leftist military coup in Lisbon in April 1974. Three indigenous groups, each linked to tribal factions, vied for predominance in Angola. The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) of Agostinho Neto was Marxist and received aid from the U.S.S.R. and Cuba. The FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) in the north was backed by Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Congo [Kinshasa]) and initially by a token contribution from the CIA. In the south the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) of Jonas Savimbi had ties to China but came to rely increasingly on white South Africa. In the Alvor agreement of January 1975 all three agreed to form a coalition, but civil war resumed in July. By the end of the year the MPLA had been reinforced by 10,000 Cuban soldiers airlifted to Luanda by the U.S.S.R. In the United States the imperative of “no more Vietnams” and congressional ire over CIA covert operations frustrated Ford’s desire to help non-Communist Angolans. Neto accordingly proclaimed a People’s Republic of Angola in November 1975 and signed a Treaty of Friendship with the U.S.S.R. the following October. The rebel factions, however, remained in control of much of the country, and Cuban troop levels eventually reached 19,000. A Marxist government also assumed power in Mozambique.

American uncertainty

In winning the presidential election of 1976, Jimmy Carter capitalized on the American people’s disgust with Vietnam and Watergate by promising little more than an open and honest administration. Though intelligent and earnest, he lacked the experience and acumen necessary to provide strong leadership in foreign policy. This deficiency was especially unfortunate since his major advisers had sharply divergent views on the proper American posture toward the Soviet Union.

Carter’s inaugural address showed how much he diverged from the realpolitik of Nixon and Kissinger. Such a sentiment as “Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere” recalled Kennedy’s 1961 call to arms. But Carter made clear that his emphasis on human rights applied at least as much to authoritarian governments friendly to the United States as to Communist states, and that such idealism was in fact, as he put it on another occasion, the most “practical and realistic approach” to foreign policy. He hoped to divert American energies away from preoccupation with relations with the U.S.S.R. toward global problems such as energy, population control, hunger, curbing of arms sales, and nuclear proliferation. Carter’s first initiative in the perilous field of arms control was an embarrassing failure. Rejecting his own secretary of state’s advice to take a gradual approach, he startled the Soviets with a deep-cut proposal for immediate elimination of as much as 25 percent of the U.S. and Soviet strategic missiles and a freeze on new long-range missile deployment. Brezhnev rejected it out of hand, and Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko called this attempt to scrap the Vladivostok formula a “cheap and shady maneuver.”

Carter was to gain one stunning success during his term, a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (see below Palestinian terrorism and diplomacy), but he was unable to stem the growth of Soviet influence in Africa. Somalia, on the strategic Horn of Africa astride the Red Sea and Indian Ocean shipping lanes, had been friendly to Moscow since 1969. In September 1974 a pro-Marxist military junta overthrew the government of neighbouring Ethiopia, had Emperor Haile Selassie confined in his palace (where he was later suffocated in his bed), and invited Soviet and Cuban advisers into the country. The Somalis then took advantage of the turmoil—perversely, from Moscow’s point of view—to reassert old claims to the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and to invade, while Eritrean rebels also took up arms against Addis Ababa. The Soviets and Cubans stepped up support for Ethiopia, while Castro vainly urged all parties to form a “Marxist federation.” Carter at first cut off aid to Ethiopia on the ground of human-rights abuses and promised weapons for the Somalis. By August he realized that the arms would only be used in the Ogaden campaign and reversed himself, making the United States appear ignorant and indecisive. Somalia broke with the U.S.S.R. anyway, but 17,000 Cuban troops and $1,000,000,000 in Soviet aid allowed Ethiopia to clear the Ogaden of invaders and in 1978 to suppress the Eritrean revolt. Ethiopia signed its own treaty of friendship and cooperation with the U.S.S.R. in November. The failure of the Carter administration either to consult with the Soviets or to resist Soviet–Cuban military intervention set a bad precedent and weakened both détente and U.S. prestige in the Third World.

The events in the Horn of Africa, which Brzezinski interpreted as part of a Soviet strategy to outflank the oil-rich Persian Gulf so vital to Western economies, encouraged the United States to seek help in balancing Soviet power in the world. The obvious means of doing so was to complete the rapprochement with China begun under Nixon. Some advisers opposed “playing the China card” for fear that the Soviets would retaliate by calling off the continuing SALT negotiations, but Brzezinski persuaded the President that closer ties between the United States and China would oblige the U.S.S.R. to court the United States, as had occurred in 1972. Brzezinski went to Peking in May 1978 to initiate discussions leading toward full diplomatic recognition. His cause was aided by important changes in the Chinese leadership. Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong had died in 1976. Hua Guofeng won the initial power struggle and ordered the arrest and trial of the radical Gang of Four led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. Both superpowers hoped that the suppression of radicals in favour of pragmatists in the Chinese government might portend better relations with Peking. The rehabilitation of the formerly condemned “capitalist roader” Deng Xiaoping led to a resumption of Soviet–Chinese border clashes, however, and the clear shift of Vietnam into the Soviet camp strengthened Washington’s hand in Peking. Hua and Carter announced in December 1978 that full diplomatic relations would be established on Jan. 1, 1979. The United States downgraded its representation in Taiwan and renounced its 1954 mutual defense treaty with the Nationalist Chinese.

The spectre of a possible Sino-American alliance may have alarmed the Soviets (Brezhnev warned Carter not to sell arms to China) but was never a real possibility. The Chinese remained Communist and distrustful of the United States. They made clear that China was no card to be played at will by one or the other of the superpowers. Nor could China’s underdeveloped economy sustain a large conventional war or the projection of force overseas (which the United States would not want in any case), while in nuclear systems China was as weak vis-à-vis the Soviet Union as the Soviet Union had been vis-à-vis the United States in the 1950s. Ties to the United States might provide China with high technology, but the United States was no more willing to place nuclear or missile systems in Chinese hands than Khrushchev had been. To be sure, the United States had an interest in preventing a Sino-Soviet rapprochement (an estimated 11 percent of the Soviet military effort was devoted to the Chinese front), but any pause given the U.S.S.R. by Sino-American cooperation was probably more useful to China than to the United States. Indeed, Peking was quite capable of playing its U.S. card to carry out adventures of its own.

After their 1975 victory the North Vietnamese showed a natural strategic preference for the distant U.S.S.R. and fell out with their historic enemy, neighbouring China. In quick succession Vietnam expelled Chinese merchants, opened Cam Ranh Bay to the Soviet navy, and signed a treaty of friendship with Moscow. Vietnamese troops had also invaded Cambodia to oust the pro-Peking Khmer Rouge. Soon after Deng Xiaoping’s celebrated visit to the United States, Peking announced its intention to punish the Vietnamese, and, in February 1979, its forces invaded Vietnam in strength. The Carter administration felt obliged to favour China (especially given residual American hostility to North Vietnam) and supported Peking’s offer to evacuate Vietnam only when Vietnam evacuated Cambodia. The Soviets reacted with threats against China, but Chinese forces performed abysmally even against Vietnam’s frontier militia, and after three weeks of hard fighting, in which Vietnam claimed to have inflicted 45,000 casualties, the Chinese withdrew. The results for U.S. policy were all negative: Chinese military prestige was shattered, Cambodia remained in the Soviet-Vietnamese camp, and the tactic of playing the China card was rendered ridiculous.

To the chagrin of Peking, the Sino-Vietnamese War failed to forestall a planned U.S.–Soviet summit meeting and the signing of a second arms agreement, SALT II. After Carter’s first deep-cut proposal, negotiations had resumed on the basis of the Vladivostok agreement and had finally produced a draft treaty. The summit was held in Vienna in June 1979, and Carter returned to seek congressional approval for SALT II as well as most-favoured-nation trade status for both the U.S.S.R. and China. The treaty inspired widespread suspicion in the U.S. Senate on its own merits. The modest limits on nuclear forces and allowances for upgrading existing missiles did not seem sufficient to prevent the Soviets’ superior long-range missile forces from threatening the survival of U.S. land-based missiles. The American will to upgrade its own deterrent, meanwhile, seemed to be sapped by the SALT process itself. Confusion reigned over how the MX missile might be deployed so as to survive a Soviet first strike, and Carter cancelled programs to deploy the B-1 strategic bomber and an antitank neutron bomb designed for Europe. There also was widespread doubt over whether Soviet compliance with SALT II could be adequately monitored. The treaty foundered as well on growing American impatience with Communist expansion in the Third World.

Any chance of Senate ratification of SALT II disappeared on Dec. 25, 1979, when the U.S.S.R. launched an invasion of Afghanistan to prop up a friendly regime. Even after a decade of détente the American public still thought viscerally in terms of containment, and this latest and most brazen Soviet advance pushed the President over the fence. “This action of the Soviets,” said Carter, “has made a more dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets’ ultimate goals are than anything they’ve done.” Calling the Afghan invasion “a clear threat to peace,” Carter ordered an embargo on sales of grain and high-technology equipment to the U.S.S.R., canceled U.S. participation in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, reinstated registration for the draft, withdrew the SALT II treaty from the Senate, and proclaimed the Carter Doctrine, pledging the United States to the defense of the Persian Gulf. It was clear to all that détente was dead.

Postmortem

Was détente a failure because the Soviets refused to play by the rules, because the United States was unwilling to accord the U.S.S.R. genuine equality, or because détente was never really tried at all? Or did the differing U.S. and Soviet conceptions of détente ensure that, sooner or later, American patience would wear thin? The last explanation is, in foreshortened perspective, at least, the most convincing. From the Soviet point of view the United States had been a hegemonic power from 1945 to 1972, secure in its nuclear dominance and free to undertake military and political intervention around the world. The correlation of forces had gradually shifted, however, to the point where the U.S.S.R. could rightly claim global equality and respect for “peaceful coexistence.” Under détente, therefore, the United States was obliged to recognize Soviet interests in all regions of the world and to understand that the U.S.S.R. was now as free as the United States to defend those interests with diplomacy and arms. Those interests included, above all, fraternal aid for “progressive” movements in the Third World. Détente certainly could never mean the freezing of the status quo or the trends of history as understood in Marxist theory. Instead, in the Soviet view, the United States continued to resent Soviet equality in armaments, to shut the U.S.S.R. out of regional diplomacy (as in the Middle East), to interfere in Soviet domestic policy, to support counterrevolutionary movements, and, in violation of the spirit of détente, to attempt to organize the encirclement of the U.S.S.R. in league with NATO and China.

From the American perspective, Soviet policy from 1945 to 1972 was characterized by a Marxist-Leninist drive to export revolution and achieve world dominion by dividing and bullying the West and exploiting the struggles of Third World nations. At the same time the growing maturity of the U.S.S.R. itself, the split in world Communism, and the realization that the Western world was not about to collapse (from either “the contradictions of capitalism” or Soviet subversion) had made Cold War obsolete. Under détente, therefore, the U.S.S.R. was obliged to accept the responsibilities as well as the benefits of membership in the comity of civilized states, to reduce its exorbitant military spending and subversive activity, and to cease trying to turn the domestic problems of other countries to unilateral benefit. Instead, in the American view, the U.S.S.R. continued to exploit Western restraint, to build up its nuclear and conventional forces far beyond the needs of deterrence, and to exploit Communist proxy forces to take over developing nations.

Each view had a basis in reality, and, given the differing assumptions of the two governments, each was persuasive. The burden of compromise or dissolution of the relationship fell inevitably on the democratic, status quo power, however, and in time American opinion would cease to tolerate Soviet advances made under the guise of détente. The notion of détente was flawed from the start in two crucial points. First, with the exception of preventing nuclear war, the United States and the U.S.S.R. still shared no major interests in the world; and second, the specific agreements on respect for spheres of influence included Europe and isolated regions elsewhere but not the bulk of the Third World. Americans inevitably viewed any Soviet assertiveness in such undefined regions as evidence of the same old Soviet drive for world domination, while the Soviets inevitably viewed any American protestations as evidence of the same old American strategy of containment. Within a decade, the hopes raised by Nixon and Brezhnev stood exposed as illusory.

The “arc of crisis”

Among the manifestations of the diffusion of political power in the world after 1957 was the rise of regional powers and conflicts with only distant or secondary connections to the rivalries of the Cold War blocs, of multilateral political and economic pressure groups, and of revolutionary, terrorist, or religious movements operating across national boundaries (“nonstate actors”). The politics of the Middle East after 1972 comprised all three and so frustrated attempts by the industrial states to control events in the region that by 1978 Brzezinski was describing the old southern tier of states reaching beneath the U.S.S.R. from Egypt to Pakistan as the “arc of crisis.”

Palestinian terrorism and diplomacy

The sweeping Israeli victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 had forced every Arab state to rethink its own foreign policy and the extent of its commitment to the cause of Arab unity. Egypt, having lost the Sinai, faced Israelis entrenched in the Bar-Lev line directly across the Suez Canal. Jordan, having lost the West Bank, faced Israeli troops directly across the Jordan River. Syria, having lost the Golan Heights, faced Israeli forces within easy striking distance of Damascus itself. The notion of united Arab armies sweeping the Jews into the sea had clearly proved to be romantic, while political unity among the Arabs suffered from the abiding division between nationalist and socialist states like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq and traditional Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), organized in 1964 to represent some 2,000,000 refugees from the Palestine mandate who were scattered around the Arab world and from 1968 led by Yāsir ʿArafāt, was also divided between old families of notables, whose authority dated back to Ottoman times, and young middle-class or fedayeen factions anxious to exert pressure on Israel and the West through terrorism. The latter included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), formed three months after the 1967 war. Over the next year the PFLP hijacked 14 foreign airliners, culminating in its spectacular destruction of four planes at once in Jordan. In 1970–71 the moderate King Hussein of Jordan lost patience with the autonomous PLO formations in his territory and expelled them, provoking a sharp military exchange with Syria. The PLO moved its central offices to Lebanon, whence terrorists could cross the frontier to commit atrocities against civilians inside Israel. The PFLP and other Palestinian groups also linked up with extreme leftist and rightist (because anti-Semitic) conspiracies in Italy, Austria, and Germany to form a terrorist network that left no European or Mediterranean state free from the fear of random violence. In September 1972 terrorists from an organization calling itself Black September took nine Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympic Games; all the hostages and five terrorists died in the ensuing gun battle with police.

The terrorist network benefited mightily from the financial support, training, or refuge provided by established pro-Soviet states like Cuba, East Germany, Bulgaria, Algeria, Syria, Yemen (Aden), and especially Libya. In 1969 the Libyan monarchy was overthrown in a military coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, a fanatical adherent of Nasser’s pan-Arabism. Following Nasser’s death in 1970 and the development of rich oil deposits in Libya, Qaddafi styled himself as the new leader and financier of the radical Arab cause. In imitation of Mao, he issued a little Green Book describing his “new gospel. . . . One of its words can destroy the world.” The ideology was a mixture of Third World-ism, Socialism, and Muslim fundamentalism, and it called forth a “heroic politics.” In the eyes of the West, the rhetoric masked a crazed cruelty, and even in Arab eyes it seemed at best antiquated in the wake of the 1967 war.

Another new feature of Middle Eastern politics was the assertiveness of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), composed of oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula as well as Libya, Nigeria, and Venezuela. The members of this producers’ cartel accounted for a large percentage of the world’s oil reserves and wielded tremendous potential power over the Europeans and Japanese, who relied on imports for more than 80 percent of their energy needs. In the past, oil prices had been kept artificially low by the Western oil companies through bilateral agreements with producer states. By 1970, however, most host governments had taken over ownership of the production facilities, and they saw in a drastic rise of oil prices a means of accumulating capital for development and purchases of arms, as well as a way to pressure the Western states into respecting their grievances against Israel.

The most populous frontline (i.e., bordering Israel) Arab state, but one without oil revenues, was Egypt. Since 1955 Egypt had undergone a demographic explosion. Population was growing at a rate of 1,000,000 per year, and 35,000,000 people were crowded into the Nile valley and delta. The numbers and youth of the Egyptians (over half were under 25 in 1980) and the country’s economic weakness meant that frustrated and unemployed youth posed the constant threat of political instability. Certainly Egypt could no longer afford an endless crusade against Israel. These considerations dominated the thinking of Nasser’s successor as president, Anwar el-Sādāt. He could not, however, abandon Nasser’s legacy, especially with the Sinai under Israeli occupation, without losing his legitimacy at home. Accordingly, Sādāt laid a risky and courageous plan to extricate his country from its foreign and domestic stalemates. Husbanding the arms provided by the U.S.S.R. after 1967, he abruptly expelled 20,000 Soviet advisers in July 1972 and opened a secret channel to Washington, hinting that Egypt and the United States together could eliminate Soviet involvement in the Middle East. Only the Americans, he reasoned, might influence the Israelis to return the occupied regions. Then, on Oct. 6, 1973, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, he launched the fourth Arab–Israeli war.

The Egyptian army moved across the Suez Canal in force and engaged the Bar-Lev line. For the first time it made substantial progress and inflicted a level of casualties especially damaging for the outnumbered Israelis. Syrian forces also stormed the Golan Heights. The United States and the Soviet Union reacted with subtle attempts to fine-tune the outcome by alternately withholding or providing arms to the belligerents and by urging or discouraging a UN cease-fire. Nixon denied Israel an airlift of arms until October 13, preventing Israel from launching a prompt counterattack and thereby signaling Sādāt of American sympathy. Once assured of U.S. aid, however, the Israelis struck on both fronts, regained the Golan Heights, and crossed the Suez Canal. Kissinger, alarmed that the Israeli victory might be so complete as to hinder a lasting settlement, quickly agreed to call, with the Soviet Union, for a UN cease-fire. The cease-fire broke down at once, and Israeli forces encircled a 20,000-man Egyptian army corps. Brezhnev curtly warned Nixon of possible Soviet military intervention, which the United States moved to deter, perhaps recklessly, with a worldwide alert of its military forces. Finally, Kissinger threatened a cutoff of arms deliveries unless Israel halted its offensive, and peace was restored.

The 1973 war saved Egyptian honour and solidified Sādāt’s prestige to the point where he could afford to be conciliatory. The United States emerged as the “honest broker” between Egypt and Israel. As Kissinger put it, “The Arabs can get guns from the Russians, but they can get their territory back only from us.” Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” between Tel Aviv and Cairo secured an Israeli withdrawal beyond the Suez in January 1974, the reopening of the canal, the insertion of a UN force between the antagonists, and, in September 1975, an Israeli retreat from the crucial Mitla and Gidi passes in the Sinai. The United States flooded both countries with economic and military aid, and Sādāt repudiated Nasser’s Socialism in favour of policies stimulating domestic private enterprise.

The limited rapprochement that emerged from the 1973 war was purchased at great economic cost, for the Arab OPEC nations, led by Saudi Arabia, seized the opportunity to enact a five-month embargo of oil exports to all nations aiding Israel. More telling still was the price revolution that preceded and followed. OPEC had already engineered a doubling of the posted price of oil to $3.07 per barrel by the eve of the war. In January 1974 it nearly quadrupled the price again, to $11.56 per barrel. The importance of this sudden rise cannot be exaggerated. The resulting shortages and exorbitant costs accelerated the growing inflation in the Western world, exposed the energy-dependency of the industrial nations, created a vast balance-of-payments deficit in many industrial states, wiped out the hard-won economic progress of many developing nations, and placed massive sums of petrodollars in the hands of a few underpopulated Middle Eastern states. The political upshot was that the United States and Europe would have to pay close attention to the desires of those Arab states in foreign policy as long as OPEC unity survived.

In November 1977, Sādāt shocked the Arab world by announcing his willingness to go to Jerusalem personally to seek peace. When his talks with the new Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, broke down, President Carter invited them both to Camp David in September 1978. During 11 days of intensive discussion, Carter succeeded in bringing the rivals together. The Camp David Accords provided for complete Israeli evacuation of the Sinai, gradual progress toward self-rule for West Bank Palestinians over a five-year period, and a peace treaty signed by Begin and Sādāt at the White House in March 1979. This historic settlement dismayed other Arab states and split the PLO asunder, the so-called rejectionists refusing to recognize the settlement. Qaddafi purchased huge amounts of Soviet arms and expanded Libya’s training and supply of terrorists. In December 1979, 300 Muslim fundamentalists seized the holiest of all Islāmic shrines in Mecca. Sādāt himself was assassinated by Arab extremists in 1981.

The Iranian revolution

Carter’s success in Middle Eastern diplomacy was likewise undercut by the collapse of the strongest and staunchest American ally in the Muslim world, the Shah of Iran. Since the monarchy had been restored by a CIA-aided coup in 1953, Reza Shah Pahlavi had used Iran’s oil revenues to finance rapid modernization of his country and the purchase of American arms. Nixon had chosen Iran to be a U.S. surrogate in the vital Persian Gulf, and as late as 1977 Carter praised the Shah for making Iran “an island of stability.” Clearly, American intelligence services failed to detect the widespread Iranian resentment of modernization (meaning, in this context, materialism, emancipation of women, and secularization), middle-class opposition to the autocracy, and the rising tide of Shīʾite fundamentalism that were undermining the Shah’s legitimacy. Fundamentalist movements and conflicts between Sunnite and Shīʾite Muslims have arisen periodically in the course of Islāmic history, but the outbreaks of the late 20th century were especially notable in light of the Western assumption that less developed countries would naturally secularize their politics and culture as they modernized their society and economy. Instead, rapidly developing Iran succumbed to a religious revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. By November 1978 the beleaguered Shah saw his options reduced to democratization, military repression, or abdication. Despite the importance of Iran for U.S. interests, including the presence there of critical electronic listening posts used to monitor missile tests inside the U.S.S.R., Carter was unable to choose between personal loyalty toward an old ally and the moral argument on behalf of reform or abdication. In January 1979 the Shah left Iran; the next month, when he requested asylum in the United States, Carter refused lest he give offense to the new Iranian regime. The gesture did not help the United States, however. An interim government in Tehrān quickly gave way to a theocracy under Khomeini, who denounced the United States as a “great Satan” and approved the seizure in November 1979 of the American embassy in Tehrān and the holding of 52 hostages there. The hostage drama dragged on for nearly 15 months, and most Americans were infuriated by the unfathomable Khomeini and frustrated by Carter’s apparent ineffectiveness.

Carter reacted to the crisis by adopting Brzezinski’s formula that the Middle East and South Asia constituted an arc of crisis susceptible to Soviet adventurism. In his State of the Union address of January 1980 he enunciated the Carter Doctrine, declaring that any attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf would be viewed as an attack on the vital interests of the United States, and he pledged to form a Rapid Deployment Force to defend the region. Whether the U.S. military was truly capable of sustained combat in that remote region was doubtful. When diplomacy failed to free the hostages in Tehrān, Carter resorted in April 1980 to a military rescue mission, hoping to repeat the success of a brilliant Israeli commando raid that had freed 103 airline passengers at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, but the operation was a humiliating failure. Only in January 1981, after the overwhelming defeat of his reelection bid, did Carter achieve the release of the hostages.

The Soviets in Afghanistan

Brzezinski’s fears that the U.S.S.R. would take advantage of the arc of crisis seemed justified when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It is likely, however, that the Soviets were responding to a crisis of their own rather than trying to exploit another’s. Remote and rugged Afghanistan had been an object of imperialist intrigue throughout the 19th and 20th centuries because of its vulnerable location between the Russian and British Indian empires. After 1955, with India and Pakistan independent, the Afghan government of Mohammad Daud Khan forged economic and military ties to the U.S.S.R. The monarchy was overthrown by Daud Khan in 1973 and was succeeded by a one-party state. The small Afghan Communist party, meanwhile, broke into factions, while a fundamentalist Muslim group began an armed insurrection in 1975. Daud Khan worked to lessen Afghanistan’s dependence on Soviet and U.S. aid, and he reportedly had a heated disagreement with Brezhnev himself during a visit to Moscow in April 1977. Leftists in the Afghan officer corps, perhaps fearing a blow against themselves, murdered Daud Khan in April 1978 and pledged to pursue friendly relations with the U.S.S.R. Thus Afghanistan, under the rule of Nur Mohammad Taraki, was virtually in the Soviet camp. When Taraki objected to a purge of the Afghan Cabinet, however, the leader of a rival faction, Hafizullah Amin, had him arrested and killed. These intramural Communist quarrels both embarrassed the Soviets and threatened to destabilize the Afghan regime in the face of growing Muslim resistance. In the fall of 1979 the Soviets built up their military strength across the border and hinted to American diplomats that they might feel obliged to intervene. On Dec. 25, 1979, the Soviet army began its occupation, and two days later a coup d’état led to the murder of Amin and the installation of Babrak Karmal, a creature of the KGB who had been brought into the country by Soviet paratroops.

The Soviets would probably have preferred to work through a pliant native regime rather than invade Afghanistan, but Amin’s behaviour and Moscow’s unwillingness to risk a domestic overthrow of a Communist regime forced their hand. The invasion, therefore, appeared to be an application of the Brezhnev Doctrine and was all the more pressing given that the Central Asian provinces of the Soviet Union were also vulnerable to the rise of Islāmic fundamentalism. The United States was tardy in responding to the 1978 coup despite Carter’s concern over the arc of crisis and the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Kabul in February 1979. At the same time, the Soviet invasion aroused American suspicions of a grand strategy aimed at seizing a warm-water port on the Indian Ocean and the oil of the Persian Gulf. Over the course of the next decade, however, the puppet Afghan regime lost all authority with the people, Afghan soldiers defected in large numbers, and the Muslim and largely tribal resistance, armed with U.S. and Chinese weapons, held out in the mountains against more than 100,000 Soviet troops and terror bombing of their villages. More than 2,000,000 Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Western observers soon began to speak of Afghanistan as the Soviets’ Vietnam.

The Shīʿite revolution in Iran, meanwhile, provoked and tempted neighbouring Iraq into starting yet another war in the arc of crisis. The secular Iraqi regime was nervous about the impact Iranian events might have on its own large Shīʿite population. The Kurdish minority, which had resorted to terrorism in pursuit of its goal of a Kurdish state to be carved out of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, also presented an intractable problem. Finally, the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein hoped to use the opportunity of Iran’s apparent near-anarchy to seize the long-disputed Shaṭṭ al-ʿArab waterway at the mouth of the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Bolstered by arms purchased with oil revenues, Hussein unilaterally abrogated a 1975 accord on the waterway and launched a full-scale invasion of Iran in September 1980. After initial victories the Iraqis were surprisingly thrown back and a war of attrition commenced. The Iraqis employed poison gas and were building a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium until the Israeli air force destroyed the facility in a surprise raid in June 1981. The Iranians relied on human-wave assaults by revolutionary youths assured of a place in paradise for dying in battle.

Both sides employed imported planes and missiles to attack each other’s oil facilities, tanker ships, and, occasionally, cities. Attacks then spread to neutral shipping as well, and oil production in the entire gulf region was placed in jeopardy. Neither superpower had direct interest in the war, except for a common opposition to any overthrow of the local balance of power, but the Soviets tended to benefit from a prolongation of the conflict. In 1987 the United States sharply increased its presence in the gulf by permitting Kuwaiti oil tankers to fly the U.S. flag and by deploying a naval task force to protect them in passage through the gulf. Compared to the situation of the 1950s, when John Foster Dulles’ CENTO arrangement seemed to ensure a ring of stable, pro-Western governments in the South Asian region, that of the 1980s was almost totally unpredictable.

Rhetorical cold war revived

The Reagan administration

As the 1980s opened, few predicted that it would be a decade of unprecedented progress in superpower relations. All pretense of détente had disappeared in 1979, and the election of 1980 brought to the White House a conservative Republican, Ronald Reagan, who was more determined to compete vigorously with the U.S.S.R. than any president had been since the 1960s. He bemoaned an “arms control process” that, he said, always favoured the Soviets and sapped the will of the Western allies and a détente that duped gullible Americans into acquiescing in unilateral Soviet gains. Reagan sounded like Dulles when he denounced the Soviet Union as “an evil empire,” and he echoed John F. Kennedy in calling for America to “stand tall” in the world again. Like Kennedy, he cut taxes in hopes of stimulating the stagnant U.S. economy, expanded the military budget (a process begun in Carter’s last year), and stressed the development of sophisticated military technology beyond the means of the U.S.S.R. Reagan insisted that history was on the side of freedom, not Communism, and together with his close friend British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher he sought to dispel the “malaise” that had afflicted the United States during the late 1970s. To be sure, Reagan had to work within the constraints caused by growing federal deficits, Soviet parity in nuclear arms, and congressional limits on executive action. Hence his actual policies resembled more the cautious containment of the Eisenhower era than the aggressive interventionism of the Kennedy–Johnson years. The one novel means adopted by the administration for combatting Soviet power and influence was to extend aid to irregular forces engaged in resisting pro-Soviet governments in the Third World. Such “freedom fighters,” as Reagan termed them, in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua seemed to offer hope that the United States could contain or even overthrow totalitarian regimes without getting itself involved in new Vietnams. This Reagan Doctrine was thus a natural corollary of the Nixon Doctrine.

As American diplomacy recovered its self-confidence and initiative, Soviet foreign policy drifted, if only because of the advanced age of Brezhnev and the frequent changes in leadership after his death in November 1982. Early in the decade a recurrence of serious unrest in eastern Europe, this time in Poland, also kept the attention of the Kremlin close to home. During the period of détente the Polish government had expanded an ambitious development plan financed largely by western European credits. Economic performance foundered, however, foreign debt mounted to $28,000,000,000, and the state imposed successive price hikes on staples. By 1979–80 a popular protest movement had grown up around the officially unsanctioned Solidarity trade union and its charismatic leader, Lech Wałęsa. The strong Roman Catholic roots of Polish popular nationalism were evident in the movement, especially in light of the accession in 1978 of Karol Cardinal Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 456 years, who in 1981 survived an assassination plot probably hatched in Bulgaria, a Soviet satellite. As unrest mounted in Poland, NATO countries warned against a Soviet military intervention, holding in reserve the threat of declaring Warsaw in default on its debts. In December 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law, sparing Poland a Soviet invasion at the price of military rule and the suppression of Solidarity. The United States responded by suspending Poland’s most-favoured-nation trade status and blocking further loans from the International Monetary Fund. Reagan held the Soviet Union responsible for martial law; his attempts to extend the sanctions to an embargo on high-technology exports to the U.S.S.R., however, angered western Europeans, who feared losing access to eastern European markets and who were in the process of completing a huge pipeline from Siberia that would make western Europe dependent on the U.S.S.R. for 25 percent of its natural gas. In both the debt and pipeline issues, it seemed that the web of interdependence woven during détente served to constrain Western countries more than it did the U.S.S.R.

Brezhnev’s successor as general secretary of the Communist Party, the former KGB chief Yury Andropov, declared that there was no alternative to détente as the Soviets understood it. He denounced Reagan’s “militaristic course” as a new bid for U.S. hegemony. It was Reagan’s image of the U.S.S.R., however, that seemed confirmed when a Soviet jet fighter plane shot down a civilian South Korean airliner in Soviet air space in September 1983, killing 269 people. Some in the West supported the Soviet claim that the plane was on a spy mission, but they produced no persuasive evidence to that effect. Andropov’s demise after a year and a half elevated Konstantin Chernenko, another member of the older generation of the Politburo who would himself survive only until March 1985. Given these frequent changes in leadership and the drain on Soviet resources caused by the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the Kremlin was even less able than the White House to mount new initiatives in foreign policy until late in the 1980s.

Renewal of arms control

The most serious consequence of the collapse of détente and the failure of the SALT II Treaty (judged by Reagan as “seriously flawed”) appeared to be an acceleration of the arms race between the superpowers. Liberal critics feared that Reagan would unleash a new arms race; his supporters asserted that the Soviets had never stopped racing even during the era of SALT. Reagan waffled on arms policy, however, because of stiff domestic and European opposition to the abandonment of arms control. Programs to upgrade the three elements of strategic deterrence were approved only after being cut back, yet they drew complaints from the Soviet Union that the highly accurate MX missile, the new Poseidon nuclear submarines, and air-launched cruise missiles for the B-52 force were first-strike weapons. A serious NATO worry stemmed from Soviet deployment of the new SS-20 theatre ballistic missile in Europe. In 1979 the Carter administration had acceded to the request by NATO governments that the United States introduce 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles into Europe to balance the 900 SS-20s. The European antinuclear movement, however, now officially patronized by the British Labour Party, the Greens in West Germany, and Dutch and Belgian social democrats, forced Reagan to link Pershing deployment with intermediate nuclear forces (INF) talks with the U.S.S.R. Reagan tried to seize the moral high ground with his “zero-option” proposal for complete elimination of all such missiles from Europe and a call for new Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) to negotiate real reductions in the superpower arsenals. The Soviets, however, refused to scrap any of their long-range missiles or to trade existing SS-20s for Pershings yet to be deployed.

In March 1983, Reagan announced a major new research program to develop antiballistic missile defenses based in outer space. This Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, dubbed “Star Wars” by opponents) was inspired by the emergence of new laser and particle-beam technology that seemed to have the potential to devise an accurate, instantaneous, and nonnuclear means of shooting down long-range missiles in their boost phase, before their multiple reentry vehicles had a chance to separate. The President thus challenged his country to exploit its technological edge to counter the threat of Soviet offensive missiles and perhaps liberate the world from fear of a nuclear holocaust. Scientific and political critics ridiculed SDI as naive (because it would not work or could be easily countered), expensive beyond reckoning, counterproductive (because it implied repudiation of the 1972 ABM Treaty), and dangerous (because the Soviets might stage a preemptive attack to prevent its deployment). The alarmed Soviets, however, weakened the case of American critics by launching their own propaganda campaign against SDI, implying that they took seriously its prospects for success. Evidence also mounted that the U.S.S.R. had been engaged in similar research since the mid-1970s. A $26,000,000,000, five-year American program was approved, although Congress limited future funding and arms-control advocates pressured the President to use SDI as a bargaining chip in the START talks. The Soviets broke off the INF and START talks at the end of 1983 but resumed talks two years later, apparently with hopes of stalling SDI research.

Regional crises

U.S.–Soviet competition in the Third World also continued through the 1980s as the Soviets sought to benefit from indigenous sources of unrest. The campaign of the Communist-led African National Congress (ANC) against apartheid in South Africa, for instance, might serve Soviet strategic aims, but the black rebellion against white rule was surely indigenous. White-supremacist governments in southern Africa might argue, correctly, that the standard of living and everyday security of blacks were better in their countries than in most black-ruled African states, but the fact remained that African blacks, like all human beings, preferred to be ruled by their own tyrant rather than one of some other nationality or race. What was more, the respect shown by African governments for international boundaries began to break down after 1970. Spain’s departure from the Spanish (Western) Sahara was the signal for a guerrilla struggle among Moroccan and Mauritanian claimants and the Polisario movement backed by Algeria. The Somali invasion of the Ogaden, Libyan intrusions into Chad and The Sudan, and Uganda’s 1978 invasion of Tanzania exemplified a new volatility. Uganda had fallen under a brutal regime headed by Idi Amin, whom most African leaders tolerated (even electing him president of the Organization of African Unity) until Julius Nyerere spoke out, following Uganda’s invasion of his country, about the African tendency to reserve condemnation for white regimes only.

The black revolt against white rule in southern Africa was a timely consequence of the decolonization of Angola and Mozambique and of the Lancaster House accord under which white Southern Rhodesians accepted majority rule, resulting in 1980 in the full independence of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, who in 1984 declared his intention to create a one-party Marxist state. South Africa tried to deflect global disgust with its apartheid system by setting up autonomous tribal “homelands” for blacks, but no other government recognized them. United States diplomacy sought quietly to promote a comprehensive settlement of South Africa’s problems by pressuring Pretoria to release South West Africa (Namibia) and gradually dismantle apartheid in return for a Cuban evacuation of Angola and Mozambique. This policy of “constructive engagement,” by which the U.S. State Department hoped to retain leverage over Pretoria, came under criticism every time a new black riot or act of white repression occurred. Critics demanded economic divestment from, and stringent sanctions against, South Africa, but supporters of the policy argued that sanctions would inflict disproportionate economic harm on South African blacks, drive the whites to desperation, and encourage violence that would strengthen the hand of Communist factions. Congressional pressure finally forced the administration to compromise on a package of sanctions in 1986, and U.S. firms began to pull out of South Africa.

The Middle East remained crisis-prone despite the Egyptian–Israeli peace. In 1978 an Arab summit in Baghdad pledged $400,000,000 to the PLO over the next 10 years. A comprehensive Middle East peace was stymied by the unwillingness of rejectionist Arab states to negotiate without the PLO and by the U.S.-Israeli refusal to negotiate with the PLO. In June 1982 the Begin government determined to put an end to terrorist raids by forcibly clearing out PLO strongholds inside Lebanon. In fact the Israeli army advanced all the way to Beirut in a bitter campaign that entrenched Syrian occupation of the strategic al-Biqāʿ valley and intensified what already amounted to a Lebanese civil war among Palestinians, Muslims of various sects and allegiances, and Christian militiamen. The United States sent Marines to Beirut to facilitate the evacuation of the PLO, while it tried without success to piece together a coalition Lebanese government and induce the Israelis and Syrians to withdraw. In October 1983 terrorists blew up the U.S. Marine barracks, killing more than 200 Americans. The Middle East peace process begun by Kissinger and continued by Carter seemed to have unraveled by the late 1980s. Western governments tried to coordinate policies on terrorism, including a firm refusal to bargain with kidnappers, but concern for the lives of hostages and fear of future retaliation insidiously weakened their resolve. In October 1985, however, the Israeli air force dispatched planes to bomb the PLO headquarters in Tunis. When Libyan-supported terrorists planted bombs in airports in Rome and Vienna in December 1985 and in a discotheque in Berlin in April 1986, Reagan ordered U.S. jets to attack terrorist training camps and air-defense sites in Libya. The raid was applauded by the American public, and terrorist incidents did seem to decline in number over the following year. Qaddafi suffered another reverse in the spring of 1987 when French-supported Chadian troops drove the Libyan invaders from their country.

In the Persian Gulf the Reagan administration held publicly aloof from the war between Iraq and Iran. Intelligence that Shīʿite terrorists were behind the kidnapping of Americans in Beirut, however, prompted the administration secretly to supply arms to Iran in return for help, never forthcoming, in securing the release of hostages. There was also a notion that such a deal might forge links to moderate Iranians in hopes of better relations in the event of the aged Khomeini’s death. While the motives were humanitarian and strategic, this action directly contradicted the policy of shunning negotiations with terrorists that the United States had been urging on its allies. When the operation was exposed, the Reagan administration lost credibility with Congress and foreign governments alike.

Latin-American upheavals

Marxism and the Cuban role

After a tour of Latin America in 1950, the American diplomat George Kennan wrote a memo despairing that the region would ever achieve a modest degree of economic dynamism, social mobility, or liberal politics. The culture itself was, in his view, inhospitable to middle-class values. As late as 1945 almost all the Latin-American republics were governed by landowning oligarchies allied with the church and army, while illiterate, apolitical masses produced the mineral and agricultural goods to be exported in exchange for manufactures from Europe and North America. To Castro and other radical intellectuals, a stagnant Latin America without strong middle classes was precisely suited for a Marxist, not a democratic, revolution. Before 1958 the United States—the “colossus to the north”—had used its influence to quell revolutionary disturbances, whether out of fear of Communism, to preserve economic interests, or to shelter strategic assets such as the Panama Canal. After Castro’s triumph of 1959, however, the United States undertook to improve its own image through the Alliance for Progress and to distance itself from especially obnoxious authoritarian regimes. Nonetheless, Latin-American development programs largely failed to keep pace with population growth and inflation, and frequently they were brought to naught by overly ambitious schemes or official corruption. By the 1980s the wealthiest and largest states like Brazil and Mexico faced a crushing burden of foreign debt. Neo-Marxist economists of the 1960s and ’70s argued that even the more enlightened policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations kept Latin America in a condition of stifling dependence on American capital and markets and on world commodity prices. Some endorsed the demands of the Third World bloc in the UN for a “new world economic order,” involving a massive shift of resources from the rich countries to the poor or the “empowerment” of the developing countries to control the terms of trade along the lines of OPEC. Others advocated social revolution to transform Latin states from within. At the same time the example of Cuba’s slide into the status of a Communist satellite fully dependent on the U.S.S.R. revived the fear and suspicion with which Americans habitually regarded Third World revolutions.

Even after the Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis, Cuba retained a certain autonomy in foreign policy, while the Soviets exhibited caution about employing their Cuban clients. Castro preferred to place himself among the ranks of Third World revolutionaries like Nasser, Nyerere, or Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah rather than follow slavishly the Moscow party line. He also elevated himself to leadership of the nonaligned nations. When relations between Havana and Moscow cooled temporarily in 1967–68, Brezhnev applied pressure, holding back on oil shipments and delaying a new trade agreement. Castro tried to resist the pressure by exhorting and mobilizing his countrymen to produce a record 10,000,000-ton sugar harvest in 1970. When the effort failed, Castro moved Cuba fully into the Soviet camp. The U.S.S.R. agreed to purchase 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 tons of sugar per year at four times the world price, provide cheap oil, and otherwise subsidize the island’s economy at a rate of some $3,000,000,000 per year; thenceforward, 60 percent of Cuba’s trade was with countries in the Soviet bloc. Brezhnev himself visited Cuba in 1974 and declared the country “a strong constituent part of the world system of Socialism.” Castro, in turn, voiced the Soviet line on world issues, played host to Latin-American Communist party conventions, used the forum of the nonaligned nations movement to promote his distinctly aligned program, and made tens of thousands of Cuban troops available to support pro-Soviet regimes in Africa.

Soviet domination of Cuba, however, may have harmed their chances elsewhere in Latin America, since it alerted other leftists to the dangers of seeking Soviet support. Moreover, the Soviets simply could not afford such massive aid to other clients. This limitation appeared to be crucial even when Communists had a chance of prevailing in one of the largest, most developed South American states, Chile. The Communist party there was a charter member of the 1921 Comintern and had strong ties to the Chilean labour movement. The party was outlawed until 1956, whereupon it formed an electoral popular front with the Socialists, and it narrowly missed electing Socialist Salvador Allende Gossens to the presidency in 1964. The Christian Democratic opponent, Eduardo Frei Montalva, had warned that an Allende victory would make Chile “another Cuba.” From 1964 to 1970, when Cuba was plying an autonomous course, the Chilean Castroites staged violent strikes, bombings, and bank robberies in defiance of the regular Communist party directed from Moscow. The latter’s strategy was subtler. Hinting that it might support the Christian Democratic candidate rather than rival leftists, the Communist party provoked the extreme right to run its own candidate in protest, thus splitting the conservative vote. The Nixon administration tried clumsily to influence the nominating process or foment a military coup, but Allende won an electoral victory in 1970. Once in office, he seized U.S. property and forged close ties to Cuba at the very time Castro was being reined in by Brezhnev. The U.S.S.R., however, held back from extending large-scale aid, even after a fall in copper prices, radical union activity, and Allende’s policies had plunged Chile into economic chaos. In September 1973, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte and the army overthrew Allende and established an authoritarian state. The Soviets and Allende sympathizers in North and South America depicted the denouement in Chile as the work of Fascists in league with U.S. imperialists.

The poor image of the United States in Latin America was of special concern to Jimmy Carter because of his dedication to the promotion of human rights. During his first year in office Carter sought to counter the traditional notion of “Yankee imperialism” by meeting the demands of the Panamanian leader, General Omar Torrijos Herrera, for a transfer of sovereignty over the Panama Canal. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty (which called for a staged transfer, to be completed in 1999) by a bare majority, but most Americans opposed transfer of the canal. Conservatives also held Carter’s human rights concerns to be naive, because the linking of U.S. government loans, for instance, to a regime’s performance on human rights damaged American relations with otherwise friendly states while exercising no influence on human rights practices in Communist states. Supporters of Carter retorted that the pattern of U.S. support for cruel oligarchies on the excuse of anti-Communism was what drove oppressed Latins toward Communism in the first place.

The first hemispheric explosion in the 1980s, however, occurred in the southern cone of South America when the Argentine military ruler, Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri—apparently to distract attention from the abuses of his dictatorship and an ailing economy at home—broke off talks concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and invaded the remote archipelago in April 1982. The British government of Margaret Thatcher was taken by surprise but began at once to mobilize supplies, ships, and men to reconquer the islands some 8,000 miles from home. The United States was torn between loyalty to its NATO ally (and political friend of President Reagan) and the fear of antagonizing South Americans by siding with the “imperialists.” When U.S. diplomacy failed to resolve the dispute, however, the United States supplied Britain with intelligence data from American reconnaissance satellites. The Royal Navy and ground forces began operations in May, and the last Argentine defenders surrendered on June 14. In the wake of the defeat, the military junta in Buenos Aires gave way to democratization.

Nicaragua and El Salvador

Problems in Central America, however, commanded the attention of the United States throughout the 1980s. In Nicaragua the broadly based Sandinista revolutionary movement challenged the oppressive regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, whose family had ruled the country since the 1930s. In accordance with its human rights policies, the Carter administration cut off aid to Somoza, permitting the Sandinistas to take power in 1979. They appeared to Americans as democratic patriots and received large sums of U.S. aid. A radical faction soon took control of the revolution, however, and moderates either departed or were forced out of the government in Managua. The Sandinistas then socialized the economy, suppressed freedom of the press and religion, and established close ties to Cuba and other Soviet-bloc countries. By the time Reagan took office, neighbouring El Salvador had also succumbed to violence among leftist insurgents, authoritarian landowners supporting right-wing death squads, and a struggling reformist government. Reagan vigorously affirmed a last-minute decision by Carter to grant military aid to the Salvadoran government. Although Nicaragua and Cuba were identified as the sources of the insurgency, Americans became increasingly confused by evidence of atrocities on all sides and were again torn between their desire to promote human rights and their determination to halt the spread of Communism. Opponents of U.S. involvement warned of another Vietnam in Central America, while supporters warned of another Cuba.

Nicaragua, meanwhile, built up one of the largest armies in the world in proportion to population, expanded its port facilities, and received heavy shipments of arms from the U.S.S.R. The CIA used this military buildup to justify the secret mining of Nicaraguan harbours in February 1984, which was, when revealed, universally condemned. The CIA also secretly organized and supplied a force of up to 15,000 anti-Sandinista “freedom fighters,” known as Contras, across the border in Honduras and Costa Rica, while U.S. armed forces conducted joint maneuvers with those states along the Nicaraguan border. The ostensible purpose of such exercises was to interdict the suspected flow of arms from Nicaragua to the Salvadoran rebels. In fact, American policy aimed at provoking a popular revolt in hopes of overthrowing the Sandinistas altogether.

Cuban and Soviet influence with leftist governments on the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Trinidad, and Grenada also appeared to be on the increase, a trend that the Reagan administration tried to counter with its 1982 Caribbean Basin Initiative, an Alliance for Progress confined to the islands. Grenada, a tiny island that had won independence from Britain in 1974, initially came under the control of Sir Eric Gairy, whose policies and conduct verged on the bizarre. In March 1979, Gairy was overthrown by the leftist New Jewel Movement led by the charismatic Maurice Bishop. Over the next several years the Bishop regime socialized the country, signed mutual-assistance agreements with Soviet-bloc states, and hastened construction of a large airstrip that the United States feared would ultimately be used by Soviet aircraft. The evident incompetence of the New Jewel leadership, however, prompted a split in 1982 between Bishop’s supporters and hard-line Leninists. In October 1983 the revolution came apart when Bishop was arrested and, when protest demonstrations broke out, shot. The Organization of East Caribbean States thereupon invited American intervention, and U.S. forces, together with small contingents from neighbouring islands, landed on Grenada to restore order and protect a group of American medical students. Free elections returned a moderate government to Grenada in 1984, but the self-destruction and overthrow of the New Jewel Movement, while a setback for Castroism in the region, also lent credence to Nicaragua’s often and loudly voiced fear of an American invasion.

The U.S. public emphatically supported the Grenadan intervention but was split almost evenly on the question of support for the Nicaraguan Contras. While the Reagan Doctrine of supporting indigenous rebels, such as Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola or the mujahideen in Afghanistan, appeared to be a low-risk means of countering Soviet influence, Americans remained nervous about the possibility of deeper U.S. involvement. Congress reflected this public ambivalence by first approving funds for the Contras, then restricting the ability of federal agencies to raise or spend funds for the Contras, then reversing itself again. In 1986 investigations of the secret U.S. arms sales to Iran revealed that National Security Council officials had kept supplies flowing to the Contras while the congressional restrictions were in effect by soliciting funds from private contributors and friendly Arab states and by diverting the profits from the Iranian arms sales.

In 1987 Congress launched lengthy investigations into the Iran-Contra Affair that virtually paralyzed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Central America for more than a year. Reagan himself denied any knowledge of the secret arms sales and diversions of funds, although he granted that “mistakes had been made.” Evidence emerged that William Casey, the director of the CIA, had known of the plan, but he died in May 1987. National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his aide, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, were eventually indicted for obstructing justice, although North’s eloquent appeal to patriotism and anti-Communism in the televised hearings garnered much public support for the administration’s ends, if not means.

In retrospect, the Iran-Contra Affair was another skirmish in the struggle between the executive and legislative branches over the conduct of foreign policy. Reagan and his advisers evidently believed, in light of the changed mood of the country after 1980 and his own electoral landslides, that they could revive the sort of vigorous intelligence and covert activities that the executive branch had engaged in before Vietnam and Watergate. The Democrats, who controlled both houses of Congress again after 1986, argued that covert operations subverted the separation of powers and the Constitution. The Iran-Contra Affair was especially obnoxious, in their view, because it contradicted the express policy not to deal with terrorists or governments that harboured them. The administration’s defenders retorted that the United States would be impotent to combat terrorism and espionage without strong and secret counterintelligence capabilities and that, since the Congress had effectively hamstrung the CIA and too often leaked news of its activities, personnel of the National Security Council had taken matters into their own hands. The proper roles of the branches of the U.S. government in the formulation and execution of foreign policy thus remained a major source of bitterness and confusion after almost half a century of American leadership in global politics.

The world political economy

In 1980 the Soviet Union appeared to be stealing a march on a demoralized Western alliance through its arms buildup, occupation of Afghanistan, and influence with African and Central American revolutionaries, while the United States had been expelled from Iran and was suffering from inflation and recession at home. Eight years later the Reagan administration had rebuilt American defenses, presided over the longest peacetime economic expansion in 60 years, and regained the initiative in superpower relations. Because the “Reagan Revolution” in foreign and domestic policy was purchased through limits on new taxes even as military and domestic spending increased, the result was annual federal deficits measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars and financed only by the influx of foreign capital. Once the world’s creditor, the United States became the world’s biggest debtor. Moreover, American economic competitiveness declined to the point that U.S. trade deficits surpassed $100,000,000,000 per year, owing mostly to American imports of oil and of Japanese and German manufactured goods.

The sudden collapse of prices on the New York Stock Exchange in October 1987 compelled the White House and Congress alike to address the issue of American “decline.” In 1988 Paul Kennedy, a Yale professor of British origin, published the best-seller The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. He developed the thesis that a great state tends to overextend itself in foreign and defense policy during its heyday and thereby acquires vital interests abroad that soon become a drain on its domestic economy. Over time, new economic competitors unburdened by imperial responsibilities rise to challenge and eventually replace the old hegemonic power. It certainly seemed that the United States was such a power in decline: Its share of gross world production had fallen from almost 50 percent in the late 1940s to less than 25 percent, while Japan and West Germany had completed their postwar economic miracles and were still growing at a faster rate than the United States, even during the Reagan prosperity. New light industries, such as microelectronics, and even old heavy industries like steel and automobiles had spread to countries with skilled but relatively low-paid labour, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Financial power had fled to new global banking centres in Europe and East Asia. In the 1960s, 9 of the 10 biggest banks in the world were American; by 1987 none were American, and most were Japanese. These trends were in part natural, as other industrial regions recovered from their devastation in World War II and new ones arose. Whether natural or not, however, they seemed to indicate that the United States could no longer afford to uphold either the liberal trade environment it had founded after World War II or the worldwide responsibilities that devolved upon the “leader of the free world.”

European growth, led as always by the dynamic West German economy, also signalled a change in the global distribution of power. Yet, even as the European Community expanded in terms of both production and size (Greece became its 10th member in 1981), it failed to demonstrate unity and political leverage commensurate with its economic might. For years EC officials, the so-called Eurocrats, had quarreled with member governments and among themselves over whether and how Europe should seek deeper as well as broader integration. Finally, in 1985, Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, steered through the European Parliament in Strasbourg the Single European Act, which set 1992 as the target date for a complete economic merger of the EC countries, for a single European currency, and for common EC foreign and domestic policies: in short, a United States of Europe.

The immediate result was a seemingly endless round of haggling among European cabinets about this or that point of the 1992 plan. Was the abolition of the venerable pound sterling, the French franc, and the deutsche mark in favour of the ecu (European currency unit) really necessary? Could all member states coordinate their labour and welfare policies, or be willing to countenance the free movement of peoples across national borders? Would national governments in fact prove willing to relinquish part of their sovereignty in matters of justice, defense, and foreign policy? The moderate governments of the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl in West Germany and Socialist President François Mitterrand in France, as well as those of Italy and the smaller countries, remained committed to “1992.” Only Thatcher of the United Kingdom voiced doubts about merging Britain into a continental superstate. The alternative, however, would seem to leave Britain out in the cold, and so, despite Thatcher’s opposition, plans for European unity went ahead. (In 1990, members of Thatcher’s own party forced her resignation over the issue.)

Why did Europe resume the long-stalled drive for a more perfect union only in the mid-1980s? Some of the reasons are surely internal, having to do with the activities of the Eurocrats and the proclivities of the member governments. External factors also must have been important, including the debate over whether to base American missiles in Europe; the whole question of arms control, which affected Europe most directly but over which it had limited influence; widespread disaffection in Europe with Carter and (for different reasons) Reagan and hence a desire for a stronger European voice in world politics; and, last but not least, the Europeans’ concern over the influx of Japanese manufactures. The world appeared by the late 1980s to be moving away from the ideals of national sovereignty and universal free trade and toward a contradictory reality in which international dependence increased at the same time that regional and increasingly competitive economic blocs coalesced.

To many analysts it seemed that the Cold War was simply becoming obsolete, that military power was giving way to economic power in world politics, and that the bipolar system was fast becoming a multipolar one including Japan, a united Europe, and China. Indeed, China, though starting from a low base, demonstrated the most rapid economic growth of all in the 1980s under the market-oriented reforms of the chairman Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng. Paul Kennedy and many other analysts concluded that the United States could simply no longer afford the Cold War and would have to end it just to maintain itself against the commercial and technological competition of its own allies. For the U.S.S.R., the Cold War had to end if it was to maintain itself as a Great Power at all.

The end of the Cold War

In retrospect, the course of the Cold War appears to have been cyclical, with both the United States and the U.S.S.R. alternating between periods of assertion and relaxation. In the first years after 1945 the United States hastily demobilized its wartime military forces while pursuing universal, liberal internationalist solutions to problems of security and recovery. Stalin, however, rejected American blueprints for peace, exploited the temporarily favourable correlation of forces to impose Communist regimes on east-central Europe, and maintained the military-industrial emphasis in Soviet central planning despite the ruination done his own country by the German invasion. Soviet policy prompted the first American outpouring of energy, between 1947 and 1953, when the strategy of containment and policies to implement it emerged: the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the Korean War, and the buildup in conventional and nuclear arms. Then the Americans tired; Eisenhower accepted a stalemate in Korea, cut defense spending, and opened a dialogue with Moscow in hopes of putting a lid on the arms race. Khrushchev then launched a new Soviet offensive in 1957, hoping to transform Soviet triumphs in space and missile technology into gains in Berlin and the Third World. The United States again responded, from 1961 to 1968 under Kennedy and Johnson, with another energetic campaign that ranged from the Apollo Moon program and nuclear buildup to the Peace Corps and counterinsurgency operations culminating in the Vietnam War. The war bogged down, however, and brought on economic distress and social disorder at home. After 1969 Presidents Nixon and Ford scaled back American commitments, withdrew from Vietnam, pursued arms control treaties, and fostered détente with the U.S.S.R., while President Carter, in the wake of Watergate, went even further in renouncing Cold War attitudes and expenditures. It was thus that the correlation of forces again shifted in favour of the Soviet bloc, tempting Brezhnev in the 1970s to extend Soviet influence and power to its greatest extent and allowing the U.S.S.R. to equal or surpass the preoccupied United States in nuclear weapons. After 1980, under Reagan, the United States completed the cycle with a final, self-confident assertion of will—and this time, the Soviets appeared to break. In May 1981, at Notre Dame University, the recently inaugurated Reagan predicted that the years ahead would be great ones for the cause of freedom and that Communism was “a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.” At the time few took his words for more than a morale-boosting exhortation, but in fact the Soviet economy and polity were under terrific stress in the last Brezhnev years, though the Soviets did their best to hide the fact. They were running hidden budget deficits of 7 or 8 percent of GNP, suffering from extreme inflation that took the form (because of price controls) of chronic shortages of consumer goods, and falling farther behind the West in computers and other technologies vital to civilian and military performance. The Reagan administration recognized and sought to exploit this Soviet economic vulnerability. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and his aide Richard Perle tightened controls on the export of strategic technologies to the Soviet bloc. CIA Director William Casey persuaded Saudi Arabia to drive down the price of oil, thereby denying the U.S.S.R. billions of dollars it expected to glean from its own petroleum exports. The United States also pressured its European allies to cancel or delay the massive pipeline project for the importation of natural gas from Siberia, thereby denying the Soviets another large source of hard currency.

Such economic warfare, waged at a time when the Soviet budget was already strained by the Afghan war and a renewed strategic arms race, pushed the Soviet economy to the brink of collapse. Demoralization took the form of a growing black market, widespread alcoholism, the highest abortion rate in the world, and a declining life span. In an open society such symptoms might have provoked protests and reforms, leadership changes, possibly even revolution. The totalitarian state, however, thoroughly suppressed civil society, while even the Communist party, stifled by its jealous and fearful nomenklatura (official hierarchy), was incapable of adjusting. In sum, the Stalinist methods of terror, propaganda, and mass exploitation of labour and resources had served well enough to force an industrial revolution in Russia, but they were inadequate to the needs of the postindustrial world.

Gorbachev and the Soviet “new thinking”

Young, educated, and urban members of the Communist elite came gradually to recognize the need for radical change if the Soviet Union was to survive, much less hold its own with the capitalist world. They waited in frustration as Brezhnev was followed by Andropov, then by Chernenko. The reformers finally rose to the pinnacle of party leadership, however, when Mikhail Gorbachev was named general secretary in 1985. A lawyer by training and a loyal Communist, Gorbachev did not begin his tenure by urging a relaxation of the Cold War. He stressed economics instead: a crackdown on vodka consumption, laziness, and “hooliganism” said to be responsible for “stagnation”; and, when that failed, a far-reaching perestroika, or restructuring, of the economy. It was in connection with this economic campaign that surprising developments in foreign policy began to occur. Not only were the costs of empire—the military, KGB and other security agencies, subsidies to foreign client states—out of all proportion to the Soviet GNP, but the U.S.S.R., no less than in earlier times, desperately needed Western technology and credits in order to make up for its own backwardness. Both to trim the costs of empire and to gain Western help, Gorbachev had to resolve outstanding disputes abroad and tolerate more human rights at home.

As early as 1985 the “new thinking” of the younger Communist apparatchiks began to surface. Gorbachev declared that no nation’s security could be achieved at the expense of another’s—an apparent repudiation of the goal of nuclear and conventional superiority for which the Soviets had worked for so long. Soviet historians began to criticize Brezhnev’s policies toward Afghanistan, China, and the West and to blame him, rather than “capitalist imperialism,” for the U.S.S.R.’s encirclement. In 1986 Gorbachev said that economic power had supplanted military power as the most important aspect of security in the present age—an amazing admission for a state whose superpower status rested exclusively on its military might. He called on the Soviets to settle for “reasonable sufficiency” in strategic arms and urged NATO to join him in deep cuts in nuclear and conventional weapons. He reiterated Khrushchev’s remark that nuclear war could have no winners and de Gaulle’s vision of a “common European house” from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. Finally, Gorbachev hinted at a repudiation of the Brezhnev Doctrine—i.e., the assertion of the Soviets’ right to intervene to protect Socialist governments wherever they might be threatened.

Western observers were divided at first as to how to respond to this “new thinking.” Some analysts considered Gorbachev a revolutionary and his advent a historic chance to end the Cold War. Others, including the Reagan administration, were more cautious. Soviet leaders had launched “peace offensives” many times before, always with the motive of seducing the West into opening up trade and technology. Gorbachev was a phenomenon, charming Western reporters, crowds, and leaders (Thatcher was especially impressed) with his breezy style, sophistication, and peace advocacy. He published two best-sellers in the West to enhance his reputation, which for a time caused Europeans to rate Reagan and the United States the greatest threats to peace in the world. What convinced most Western observers that genuine change had occurred, however, was not what Gorbachev said but what he allowed others to say under his policy of glasnost, or openness.

As Western experts had predicted, perestroika, an attempt to streamline a fatally flawed Communist system, was doomed to failure. What the Soviets needed, they said, was a profit motive, private property, hard currency, real prices, and access to world markets. But Gorbachev, still thinking in Communist categories, blamed bureaucratic resistance for the failure of his reforms and thus declared glasnost to encourage internal criticism. What he got was the birth of a genuine Soviet public opinion, a reemergence of autonomous organizations in society, and more than 300 independent journals (by the end of 1989) publicizing and denouncing Communist military and economic failures, murder and oppression, foreign policy “crimes” such as the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and the invasion of Afghanistan, and even Communist rule itself.

Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and Ronald Reagan signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) … [Credit: AFP/Getty Images]By 1987 most Western observers still called for deeds to match the words pouring forth in the Soviet Union, but they were persuaded that an end to the Cold War was a real possibility. The Reagan administration made its first show of trust in Gorbachev by engaging in negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons from Europe. In 1987 Gorbachev surprised the United States by accepting the earlier American “zero-option” proposal for intermediate-range missiles. After careful negotiation a treaty was concluded in Geneva and signed at a Washington summit in December. This controversial Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons and allowed, for the first time, extensive on-site inspection inside the Soviet bloc. Critics still feared that stripping Europe of nuclear missiles might only enhance the value of the Soviets’ conventional superiority and called for parallel agreements through the mutual and balanced force reduction talks on NATO and Warsaw Pact armies. In Moscow in mid-1988, Reagan and Gorbachev discussed an even bolder proposal: reduction of both strategic nuclear arsenals by 50 percent. A mellower Reagan, interpreting the Soviets’ new flexibility as a vindication of his earlier tough stance and having thereupon repudiated his “evil empire” rhetoric, now seemed eager to bargain as much as possible with Gorbachev.

Finally, Gorbachev and his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, reached out in all directions—China, Japan, India, Iran, even South Korea and Israel—in hopes of reducing military tensions, gaining access to trade and technology, or just creating new possibilities for Soviet statecraft. Gorbachev’s most celebrated moment came in December 1988 at the United Nations, when he announced a unilateral reduction in Soviet army forces of half a million men and the withdrawal from eastern Europe of 10,000 tanks. Henceforth, he said, the U.S.S.R. would adopt a “defensive posture,” and he invited the NATO countries to do the same.

Throughout his first four years in power Gorbachev inspired and presided over an extraordinary outpouring of new ideas and new options. Western skeptics wondered whether he meant to dismantle Communism and the Soviet empire and, if he did, whether he could possibly avoid being overthrown by party hard-liners, the KGB, or the army. He had maneuvered brilliantly in internal politics, always claiming the middle ground and positioning himself as the last best hope for peaceful reform. His prestige and popularity in the West were also assets of no small value. In June 1988 he persuaded the Communist party conference to restructure the entire Soviet government along the lines of a partially representative legislature with a powerful president—himself. Was the Gorbachev phenomenon merely an updated version of earlier, limited Russian and Soviet reforms designed to bolster the old order? Or would Gorbachev use his expanding power to liquidate the empire and Communism?

In truth, Gorbachev faced a severe dilemma born of three simultaneous crises: diplomatic encirclement abroad, economic and technological stagnation at home, and growing pressure for liberal reform in Poland and Hungary and for autonomy in the non-Russian republics of the U.S.S.R. Thoroughgoing détente, perhaps even an end to the Cold War, could solve the first crisis and go far toward ameliorating the second. His policy of glasnost, deemed vital to economic progress, had the fatal side effect, however, of encouraging repressed ethnic groups, at home and in eastern Europe, to organize and express their opposition to Russian or Communist rule. Of course, the Soviet government might simply crush the nationalities, as it had in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, but that in turn would undo the progress made in East–West relations and put Gorbachev back where he had started. If, on the other hand, the Soviet government relinquished its satellites abroad, how could it stop the process of liberation from spreading to the subject nationalities inside the U.S.S.R.? If it repudiated its Marxist-Leninist global mission in the name of economic reform, how could the regime legitimize itself at all, even in Russia?

1989: annus mirabilis

Liberalization and struggle in Communist countries

George Bush was elected to succeed Ronald Reagan as president of the United States in November 1988. The new administration’s foreign policy team, led by Secretary of State James Baker, was divided at first between the “squeezers,” who saw no logic in attempts to bail out a troubled Soviet Union, and the “dealers,” who wanted to make far-reaching agreements with Gorbachev before he was toppled from power. For five months Bush played his cards close to his vest, citing the need to await the results of a comprehensive study of Soviet–American relations.

Signs of unmistakable and irreversible liberalization in the Soviet bloc began to appear in the form of popular manifestations in eastern Europe, which the Kremlin seemed willing to tolerate and even, to some extent, encourage. Czechoslovaks demonstrated against their Communist regime on the anniversary of the 1968 Soviet invasion. In Poland, the Solidarity union demanded democratic reforms. The Sejm (parliament) legalized and vowed to return the property of the Roman Catholic church, and the government of General Jaruzelski approved partially free elections to be held on June 4, 1989, the first such in over 40 years. Solidarity initially won 160 of the 161 available seats and then took the remaining seat in a runoff election. On May 2, Hungary dismantled barriers on its border with Austria—the first real breach in the Iron Curtain.

Gorbachev was less tolerant of protests and separatist tendencies in the U.S.S.R. itself; for instance, he ordered soldiers to disperse 15,000 Georgians demanding independence. He moved ahead, however, with reforms that loosened the Communist party’s grip on power in the Soviet Union, even as his own authority was increased through various laws granting him emergency powers. In March, protesters in Moscow supported the parliamentary candidacy of the dissident Communist Boris Yeltsin, who charged Gorbachev with not moving fast enough toward democracy and a market economy. On the 26th of that month, in the first relatively free elections ever held in the Soviet Union, for 1,500 of the 2,250 seats in the new Congress of People’s Deputies, various non-Communists and ethnic representatives emerged triumphant over Communist party candidates. Three days later Gorbachev told the Hungarian premier that he opposed foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Warsaw Pact states—a loud hint that he did not intend to enforce the Brezhnev Doctrine.

In late spring Bush spoke out on his hopes for East–West relations in a series of speeches and quietly approved the subsidized sale of 1,500,000 tons of wheat to the Soviets. In a Moscow meeting with Secretary Baker, Gorbachev not only endorsed the resumption of START, with the goal of deep cuts in strategic arsenals, but also stated that he would unilaterally withdraw 500 warheads from eastern Europe and accept NATO’s request for asymmetrical reductions in conventional armaments. In response, Bush announced that the time had come “to move beyond containment” and to “seek the integration of the Soviet Union into the community of nations.” Western European leaders were even more eager: Chancellor Kohl and Gorbachev agreed in June to support self-determination and arms reductions and to build a “common European home.”

For Gorbachev the policies of glasnost, free elections, and warm relations with Western leaders were a calculated risk born of the Soviet Union’s severe economic crisis and need for Western help. For other Communist regimes, however, Moscow’s “new thinking” was an unalloyed disaster. The governments of eastern Europe owed their existence to the myth of the “world proletarian revolution” and their survival to police-state controls backed by the threat of Soviet military power. Now, however, the Soviet leader himself had renounced the right of intervention, and he urged eastern European Communist parties to imitate perestroika and glasnost. Eastern European bosses like Erich Honecker of East Germany and Miloš Jakeš of Czechoslovakia quietly made common cause with hard-liners in Moscow.

Chinese leaders were in a different position. Ever since the late 1950s the Chinese Communist party had regularly and officially denounced the Soviets as revisionists—Marxist heretics—and Gorbachev’s deeds and words only proved their rectitude. Even so, since the death of Mao Zedong the Chinese leadership had itself adopted limited reforms under the banner of the Four Modernizations and had permitted a modicum of highly successful free enterprise while retaining a monopoly of political power. When Hu Yaobang, a former leader, died on April 15, 1989, however, tens of thousands of students and other protesters began to gather in Chinese cities to demand democratic reforms. Within a week 100,000 people filled Tiananmen Square in Peking and refused to disperse despite strong warnings. The 70th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, the first student movement in modern Chinese history, propelled the protests, as did Gorbachev’s own arrival for the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years. By May 20 the situation was completely out of control: more than 1,000,000 demonstrators occupied large sections of Peking, and on the 29th students erected a statue called the “Goddess of Democracy” in Tiananmen Square.

Behind the scenes a furious power struggle ensued between party chiefs advocating accommodation and those calling for the use of force; it remained uncertain whether the People’s Liberation Army could be trusted to act against the demonstration. Finally, on June 3, military units from distant provinces were called in to move against the crowds; they did so efficiently, killing hundreds of protesters. Thousands more were arrested in the days that followed.

The suppression of the democratic movement in China conditioned the thinking of eastern European officials and protesters alike for months. Taking heart from Gorbachev’s reformism, citizens hoped that the time had finally come when they might expand their narrow political options. They moved cautiously, however, not wholly trusting that the Soviet Union would stand aside and fearing that at any moment their local state security police would opt for a “Tiananmen solution.” Nonetheless, in July, at the annual Warsaw Pact meeting, Gorbachev called on each member state to pursue “independent solutions [to] national problems” and said that there were “no universal models of Socialism.” At the same time Bush toured Poland and Hungary, praising their steps toward democracy and offering aid, but saying and doing nothing that would embarrass the Soviets or take strategic advantage of their difficulties. So it was that for the first time both superpower leaders indicated with increasing clarity that they intended to stand aside and allow events in eastern Europe to take their course independent of Cold War considerations. Gorbachev had indeed repealed the Brezhnev Doctrine, and Bush had done nothing to impel him to reimpose it.

The results were almost immediate. In August a trickle, then a flood of would-be émigrés from East Germany tried the escape route open through Hungary to Austria and West Germany. In the same month the chairman of the Soviet Central Committee admitted the existence of the secret protocols in the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact under which Stalin had annexed Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. On the 50th anniversary of the pact, August 23, an estimated 1,000,000 Balts formed a human chain linking their capitals to denounce the annexation as illegal and to demand self-determination. In September the Hungarian government suspended its effort to stave off the flight of East Germans, and by the end of the month more than 30,000 had escaped to the West. Demonstrations for democracy began in East Germany itself in late September, spreading from Leipzig to Dresden and other cities. On October 6–7 Gorbachev, visiting in honour of the German Democratic Republic’s 40th anniversary, urged East Germany to adopt Soviet-style reforms and said that its policy would be made in Berlin, not Moscow.

Against this background of massive and spreading popular defiance of Communist regimes, Western governments maintained a prudent silence about the internal affairs of Soviet-bloc states, while sending clear signals to Moscow of the potential benefits of continued liberalization. When Gorbachev’s nemesis Yeltsin visited the United States in September, the administration kept a discreet distance. Later that month Shevardnadze held extensive and private talks with Baker; he dropped once and for all the Soviet demand that the American SDI program be included in the START negotiations. In the first week of October the European Community, West Germany, and then (at the insistence of Congress) the United States offered emergency aid totalling $2,000,000,000 to the democratizing Polish government. The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board went to Moscow to advise the Soviets on how they, too, might make the transition to a market economy, and Secretary Baker proclaimed, “We want perestroika to succeed.” A month later Gorbachev gave the first indication of the limits to reform, warning that Western efforts to “export capitalism” or “interfere with east European politics would be a great mistake.” By that time, however, the collapse of Communism in the satellite states, at least, was irreversible.

Hungary became the second (after Poland) to seize its independence when the National Assembly, on October 18, amended its constitution to abolish the Socialist party’s “leading role” in society, legalize non-Communist political parties, and change the name of the country from the “People’s Republic” to simply the “Republic of Hungary.” East Germany, one of the most repressive of all Soviet-bloc states, was next. By late October crowds numbering more than 300,000 rose up in Leipzig and Dresden to demand the ouster of the Communist regime. On November 1 the East German cabinet bowed before the unrelenting, nonviolent pressure of its people by reopening its border with Czechoslovakia. On November 3 the ministers in charge of security and the police resigned. The next day a reported 1,000,000 demonstrators jammed the streets of East Berlin to demand democracy, prompting the resignations of the rest of the cabinet.

People from East and West Berlin gathering at the Berlin Wall on November 10, 1989, one day after … [Credit: AP]After 50,000 more people had fled the country in the ensuing week, the East German government threw in the towel. On November 9 it announced that exit visas would be granted immediately to all citizens wishing to “visit the West” and that all border points were now open. At first, citizens did not dare believe—hundreds of East Germans had lost their lives trying to escape after the Berlin Wall went up in August 1961—but when some did, the news flowed like electricity that the Berlin Wall had fallen. A week later the dreaded Stasis, or state security police, were disbanded. By December 1 the East German Volkskammer (parliament) renounced the Communist Socialist Unity Party’s “leading role” in society and began to expose the corruption and brutality that had characterized the Honecker regime. A new coalition government took control and planned free national elections for May 1990.

Czechoslovaks were the fourth people to carry out a nonviolent revolution, though at first frustrated by the hard-line regime’s continued will to repress. A demonstration on November 17 in Wenceslas Square in Prague was broken up by force. The Czechoslovaks, emboldened by events in East Germany and the absence of a Soviet reaction, turned out in ever larger numbers, however, demanding free elections and then cheering the rehabilitated hero of the 1968 Prague Spring, Alexander Dubček. The entire cabinet resigned, and the Communist Central Committee promised a special congress to discuss the party’s future. The dissident liberal playwright Václav Havel denounced the shake-up as a trick, crowds of 800,000 turned out to demand democratic elections, and Czechoslovak workers declared a two-hour general strike as proof of their solidarity. The government caved in, abandoning the Communist party’s “leading role” on November 29, opening the border with Austria on the 30th, and announcing a new coalition cabinet on December 8. President Gustav Husák resigned on the 10th and free elections were scheduled for the 28th. By the end of the year Havel was president of Czechoslovakia and Dubček was parliamentary chairman.

The fifth and sixth satellite peoples to break out of the 45-year Communist lockstep were the Bulgarians and Romanians. The former had an easy time of it after the Communist party secretary and president, Todor Zhivkov, resigned on November 10. Within a month crowds in Sofia called for democratization, and the Central Committee leader voluntarily surrendered the party’s “leading role.” Romania, however, suffered a bloodbath. There the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu had built a ferocious personal tyranny defended by ubiquitous and brutal security forces. He intended to ride out the anti-Communist wave in eastern Europe and preserve his rule. Thus, when crowds of Romanian citizens demonstrated for democracy in imitation of events elsewhere, the government denounced them as “Fascist reactionaries” and ordered its security forces to shoot to kill. Courageous crowds continued to rally and regular army units joined the rebellion, and, when the Soviets indicated their opposition to Ceauşescu, civil war broke out. On December 22 popular forces captured Ceauşescu while he attempted to flee, tried him on several charges, including genocide, and executed him on the 25th. An interim National Salvation Front Council took over and announced elections for May 1990. By the end of the year the Czechoslovaks and Hungarians had already concluded agreements with Moscow providing for the rapid withdrawal of Soviet military forces from their countries.

Aftermath of the breakup

In the span of just three months the unthinkable had happened: all of eastern Europe had broken free of Communist domination and won the right to resume the independent national existences that Nazi aggression had extinguished beginning in 1938. The force of popular revulsion against the Stalinist regimes imposed after World War II was the cause of the explosion, and advanced communications technology permitted the news to spread quickly, triggering revolts in one capital after another. What enabled the popular forces to express themselves, and succeed, however, was singular and simple: the abrogation of the Brezhnev Doctrine by Mikhail Gorbachev. Once it became known that the Red Army would not intervene to crush dissent, as it had in all previous crises, the whole Stalinist empire was revealed as a sham and flimsy structure. For decades, Western apologists for the Soviet bloc had argued that eastern European Socialism was somehow indigenous, even that the East Germans had developed a “separate nationality,” and that the Soviets had a legitimate security interest in eastern Europe. Gorbachev himself proved them wrong when he let eastern Europe go free in 1989.

What were his motives for doing so? Certainly the Soviet army and the KGB must have watched in horror as their empire, purchased at terrific cost in World War II, simply disintegrated. Perhaps Gorbachev calculated, in line with the “new thinking,” that the U.S.S.R. did not need eastern Europe to ensure its own security and that maintaining the empire was no longer worth the financial and political cost. At a time when the Soviet Union was in severe economic crisis and needed Western help more than ever, jettisoning eastern Europe would unburden his budget and do more than anything to attract Western goodwill. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that Gorbachev ever intended things to work out as they did. It is far more likely that he intended merely to throw his support to progressive Communists eager to implement perestroika in their own countries and thereby strengthen his own position vis-à-vis the hard-liners in the Soviet party. His ploy, however, had three attendant risks: first, that popular revolt might go so far as to dismantle Communism and the Warsaw Pact altogether; second, that the eastern European revolution might spread to nationalities within the U.S.S.R. itself; and third, that the NATO powers might try to exploit eastern European unrest to its own strategic advantage. The first fear quickly came true, and as 1989 came to an end, Gorbachev’s foreign and domestic policies were increasingly directed toward forestalling the second and third dangers.

Concerning possible Western exploitation of the retreat of Communism, Shevardnadze expressed as early as October the Soviet Union’s desire to pursue the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and NATO military alliances. (Of course, the Warsaw Pact was in the course of dissolving from within.) Then, in November, Gorbachev warned against Western attempts to export capitalism. Western European leaders were anxious to reassure him, as was President Bush at the December 2–3 Malta summit. Only a few days before, however, Chancellor Kohl had alerted the Soviets and the world that he intended to press forward at once on the most difficult problem of all arising from the liberation of eastern Europe: the reunification of Germany. That prospect, and the conditions under which it might occur, would dominate Great Power diplomacy in 1990.

Gorbachev had every reason to fear that his second nightmare would come true: the spillover of popular revolt into the Soviet Union itself. The first of the subject nationalities of the U.S.S.R. to demand self-determination were the Lithuanians, whose Communist Party Congress voted by a huge majority to declare its independence from the party’s leadership in Moscow and to move toward an independent, democratic state. Gorbachev denounced the move at once and warned of bloodshed if the Lithuanians persisted. In January 1990 his personal visit to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, to calm the waters provoked a rally of 250,000 people demanding the abrogation of the Soviets’ “illegal” 1940 annexation. When in that same month Soviet troops entered the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, and killed more than 50 Azerbaijani nationalists, fears arose that the Baltic states might suffer the same fate. Gorbachev let it be known that, the liberation of eastern Europe notwithstanding, he would not preside over the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.

The reunification of Germany

From skepticism to reality

Even before they had succeeded in chasing the Communists out of their government, East Germans had already begun to “unify” the country with their feet: 133,000 people picked up and moved westward in the month after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such an influx of people placed tremendous strains on West Germany and all but forced Chancellor Kohl to begin immediate measures toward reunification in order to stem the tide. On Nov. 28, 1989, he shocked the world with his announcement of a 10-point plan under which the East and West German governments would gradually expand their cooperation on specific issues until full economic, then political unity was achieved. He proposed no timetable and sought to appease the Soviets and western European powers alike by emphasizing that the process must occur within the contexts of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE; now the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), the European Community, and East–West disarmament regimes.

The Kohl plan was more than an emergency response, however; it was also the culmination of a West German policy dating back to the founding of the two Germanies in 1949. Reunification was provided for in the West German Basic Law (constitution) and had remained the primary goal, no matter how distant, of its foreign policy. Even Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik in 1969 had differed only in regard to means, looking to increased contacts and aid to educate East Germans about the freedom and prosperity prevailing in the West, and so gradually and peacefully to undermine the legitimacy of the East German regime.

Almost no one was entirely comfortable with the prospect of a reunited Germany. West Germany alone had become the economic colossus of Europe; augmented by the East, it might come to dominate the European Community. Moreover, how was a united Germany to be prevented from aspiring to military power or hegemony in the power vacuum of eastern Europe? The Soviets seemed unlikely to countenance a united Germany fully allied with the United States and the EC, while a neutral Germany might become a loose cannon vacillating between Moscow and the West. So it was that on the day after the Malta summit, President Bush declared his support for a gradually reunited Germany to remain in NATO and the EC, within a “Europe whole and free.” French President Mitterrand warned the Germans against pushing it too hard, while British Prime Minister Thatcher was openly skeptical. Gorbachev was expected to demand large concessions in return for his approval. Bush presumably had reassured him at Malta that events would not be allowed to get out of control. To underscore their intention to assert their rights in Germany dating back to the 1945 Potsdam conference, the Soviets requested a meeting of the old Allied Control Council in Berlin. To underscore their intention to respect Soviet feelings, the other World War II Allied powers (the United States, Great Britain, and France) agreed to meet on December 11.

The reunification of Germany, for so long thought impossible and, by many, perhaps most people in the U.S.S.R., France, Britain, and the United States, even undesirable, now suddenly appeared inevitable. Whatever their misgivings, the Allies could hardly deny Germany the right to the self-determination they claimed for themselves and all other peoples. When members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact convened at Ottawa, on Feb. 11, 1990, Bush skillfully won universal agreement to a prudent format for talks on the unification of Germany. The French, British, and Soviets had considered involving the four powers from the start in group negotiations with the Germans, thereby calling into question German sovereignty. Bush’s plan, however, would permit the German states themselves to work out their future and then submit their wishes to the four powers for final approval. These “two plus four” talks were expected to be a slow, deliberative process.

In fact, the overwhelming will of the German people and the press of events brought negotiations quickly to a head. First, the East German elections on March 18 revealed a strong majority in favour of immediate unification. Second, the East German economy underwent sudden collapse after the disappearance of Communist discipline and the flight of hundreds of thousands of people. Third, the East German infrastructure was now revealed as decrepit and backward, the environment grossly polluted, and the currency worthless. Talks began at once on an emergency unification of the two Germanies’ economies, and in April, after much hand-wringing, Kohl and the Deutsche Bundesbank accepted a plan to replace the East German currency with deutsche marks on a one-to-one basis. The “two plus four” talks moved to the foreign ministerial level in May, and within two weeks East and West Germany published their terms for their imminent merger. Moreover, it would not be achieved by the laborious crafting of a new constitution but by the quicker provisions of Article 23 of the West German Basic Law, whereby new provinces could adhere to the existing constitution by a simple majority vote. The Bundestag approved these terms on June 21, and West and East Germany were unified economically on July 1.

Assurances were required to the effect that a united Germany, far from making NATO more threatening, would in fact be constrained by its membership in the U.S.-led alliance; that German military power would be limited by treaty and that Soviet troops might remain in East Germany for a time as a guarantee; that Soviet–German relations would improve after unification and yield vital economic assistance for the Soviet Union; and that the new Germany would recognize and respect existing international boundaries. Bush moved to satisfy the first and second of these desiderata at the NATO summit in July; its declaration defined NATO and the Warsaw Pact as no longer enemies, renounced NATO’s long-standing policy on first use of nuclear weapons, agreed to limits (proposed by Shevardnadze) on the size of the German army, and invited the Warsaw Pact countries to establish “regular diplomatic liaison with NATO.”

The third desideratum—improved Soviet–German relations—was, of course, up to Chancellor Kohl to satisfy. He offered to cut the German army to 370,000 men, renounce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and aid in financing Soviet troops during an eventual withdrawal over a 3–4-year transition period. He also extended $5,000,000,000 in credits, with an expectation of more to follow. In return he secured Gorbachev’s acceptance of a united, sovereign, democratic German state to remain a full member of the Western alliance and the EC. Kohl also took pains to reassure the French that the new united Germany would pose no threat. In the ongoing EC deliberations about the greater unification to take effect in 1992, Kohl sided constantly and strongly with the French position. He made it as clear as possible that the Germans were “good Europeans” and that their unity would occur harmlessly within the context of greater European and Atlantic communities.

Meanwhile, the bilateral talks between East and West Germans proceeded at an emergency pace. The two governments signed the terms for their political union on August 31. The four Allied powers then ratified them in their own Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. Those signatures, affixed in Moscow on September 12, formally brought World War II to an end. The next day Germany and the U.S.S.R. signed a treaty of 20 years’ duration pledging to each other friendly relations and recognition of borders and renouncing the use of force. The four Allied powers renounced their rights in Germany on October 1, the final settlement took effect on Oct. 3, 1990, and Germans tearfully celebrated their reunification.

One final issue remained—that of Germany’s permanent boundaries. Western powers and especially the Polish government had pressured Kohl from the beginning to recognize for all time the inviolability of the Oder–Neisse border and thus the permanent loss to Germany of Silesia, eastern Pomerania, Danzig (Gdańsk), and East Prussia. At first Kohl hung back, earning for himself much abuse from Western statesmen and scaremongers. His tactic seems to have been to make a show of standing up for Germany’s lost territories in the east in order to send a message to the Polish government about the need to respect the rights of ethnic Germans in Poland, as well as to minimize the appeal of the right-wing Republikaner party to the German electorate. As soon as German unity was assured, Kohl accepted Germany’s boundaries as permanent, and he signed a treaty to that effect with Poland on November 14.

Five days later the second CSCE summit convened in Paris to proclaim the end of the Cold War. In the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the NATO and Soviet sides each pledged to limit themselves to 20,000 battle tanks and 20,000 artillery tubes, 6,800 combat aircraft, 30,000 other armoured combat vehicles, and 2,000 attack helicopters. The CSCE member states signed the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, in which the Soviets, Americans, and Europeans both east and west announced to the world that Europe was henceforth united, that all blocs—military and economic—had ceased to exist, and that all member states stood for democracy, freedom, and human rights.

Why the Soviet retreat?

On Oct. 15, 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev travelled to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace in honour of his having done much to bring the Cold War to a close. While few people in Europe and North America denied that Gorbachev’s restraint in 1989 was largely responsible for the liberation of eastern Europe or criticized the directions of his reforms in the Soviet Union, the Nobel Prize seemed to imply standards of historical and moral judgment that struck many critics as, at best, strange. Was the Soviet president to be credited with the world’s most prestigious prize for not sending in tank columns to crush innocent and unarmed people in foreign countries? What about the eastern European peoples themselves, who bravely seized their freedom in spite of the risks? Or the Western leaders whose denunciations of the Soviet empire encouraged the Polish Solidarity movement and other eastern European resisters?

Indeed, as soon as people in the West caught their breath after the cascade of events in 1989–90, they began to argue over why the Cold War had ended, why it ended when it did, and to whom the credit should go. Academic and liberal opinion favoured theories crediting Gorbachev and the generation of “new thinkers” in the Soviet Union for the transformations. Conservatives preferred to give the credit to the statesmen of containment who had stood up to Soviet pressure for 40 years. (When President Bush visited Poland upon the invitation of Lech Wałęsa in 1989, thousands of Poles lined the streets to cheer and wave banners reading “Thank you!”)

Historians have argued over the end of the Cold War as intensely as they argued over its beginning, but some general observations can be made. First, the Cold War ended because the special sources of conflict and distrust between the Soviet Union and the West disappeared in 1989. That is not to say that geopolitical rivalry disappeared, or that conflicts of interest would not recur in many parts of the world. Great Power politics would go on. At the same time, the liberation of eastern Europe, unification of Germany, reduction of armaments, and suspension of Leninist ideological war against the outer world were symptomatic of the changed nature of superpower relations. Second, those relations changed their nature over the years 1985–90 because the Soviet leadership lost the ability or the will, or both, to prosecute the Cold War and seemingly came to realize that even the gains they had made in the Cold War were not in the best interests of the Soviet Union. Rather, the U.S.S.R. and its satellites and client states constituted a network of obligations that seriously strained the resources of the central economy and that had called into being a hostile alliance consisting of all the other major industrial powers of the world: the United States, Britain, France, West Germany, Japan, and China. What was more, the Communist (or Stalinist) command structure had proved woefully inadequate to the demands of a technological age. In sum, the Soviet Union had embarked under Stalin on a Sisyphean struggle against the entire outer world, only to discover over time that its huge conventional army was of doubtful utility, its nuclear arsenal unusable, its diplomatic attempts to divide the enemy alliance unsuccessful, its Third World clients expensive and of dubious value, and its pervasive apparatus for espionage, disinformation, terror, and demoralization of temporary effect only. Always the Western peoples recovered their will and dynamism; always the Soviet Union fell further behind, until finally, after 40 years, the empire fell, exhausted, to the ground.

That was when the younger generation came to the fore, promoting the “new thinking” that had sprung up from disgust with the rigid and brutal structures dating from Stalin and the rigid and counterproductive policies dating from Brezhnev. Perhaps Gorbachev himself remained a committed Marxist-Leninist—he said so at every opportunity—but the practical effect of his repudiation of old structures and policies was to dismantle much that had provoked the fear and hostility of the West in the first place. Nor would releasing eastern Europe suffice to reverse the inevitable decline of the Communist empire. The age of microelectronics, computers, space technology, and global communications was also an age in which human creativity, not brute labour, was the most valuable asset in a nation’s economic and military strength. Far from unleashing creativity and spontaneous production, as Marxist theory predicted, Soviet Communism had stifled it—through terror, bureaucratization, the lack of a profit motive and market mechanism, and hierarchical, centralized decision making. Eventually, if the Soviet Union were to remain even a great power, much less a superpower, it would have to jettison not only its subject empire but also Communism itself.

George Kennan predicted in his famous “Long Telegram” of 1946 and “X” article of 1947 that the Soviets would ultimately fail to digest the empire they had swallowed and would have to disgorge it. In the meantime, the West had to contain Soviet influence, neither retreating into isolationism nor overreacting militarily, and above all remaining confident about its basic human values. He was right. The most fundamental, long-range reason for the end of the Cold War was that Communism was based on profound contradictions and a misreading of human nature. So long as other nations refused to surrender to their fear, the Soviet system could never prevail. Perhaps the exhortations and policies of Reagan and Thatcher did determine the timing of the Soviet collapse, but the collapse was bound to
come sooner or later.

Students of Soviet history with a more sociological bent offered yet another explanation for the Gorbachev phenomenon, based on irrepressible trends within Soviet society itself. For whatever horrors he committed against his own people, Stalin had made the U.S.S.R. into a modern, industrial, and primarily urban country. Khrushchev introduced television and spaceflight, and Brezhnev, through détente, multiplied the foreign contacts and experience of Soviet citizens. By the late 1970s a great percentage of Soviet people had ceased to be illiterate peasants easily suppressed, propagandized, and drafted into massive military, agricultural, or construction projects. Instead, a second- or third-generation urban population had grown up that inevitably came to demand more access to the information, political influence, and material rewards available to people of their station in the West. Once glasnost gave them a voice, these new “middle classes” loudly expressed their dissatisfaction with a regime that had become not only inhumane but irrational, even on its own materialistic terms. According to this view, therefore, Sovietism was doomed even by its relative success: the more modern the U.S.S.R. became, the less legitimate its party dictatorship became in the eyes of its educated classes.

A final, long-range interpretation laid stress on the nationality crisis in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. was the world’s last great multinational empire. The Communist party maintained its tight control over the Balts, Ukrainians, Moldavians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Armenians, and a dozen other major peoples by a combination of economic controls, censorship and propaganda, police methods, suppression of national cultures and churches, Russification, dispersal of populations, and in the last resort, force—all justified by the myth that Marxism transcended “bourgeois” nationalism and ensured equality and prosperity to all. Glasnost, however, released the real and abiding national sentiments of all the peoples under the Soviet yoke, allowing them to organize and agitate, while the economic breakdown gave the lie to Soviet promises. Finally, the discrediting of Communism itself removed the last justification for the very existence of the empire. Gorbachev did not foresee how far his policy of limited free expression would get out of hand, and by the time he did it was too late. He then gave up trying to hold eastern Europe and concentrated instead on trying to hold the U.S.S.R. together. It remained to be seen whether he, or his successor, could achieve even that.

Disengagement in the Third World

The three main arenas of Cold War competition had always been divided Europe, strategic nuclear arms competition, and regional conflicts in the Third World. By the end of 1990 the superpowers had seemingly pacified the first arena, made substantial progress in the second, and at least stated their intention of disengaging in the third. Ever since the 1950s, when the U.S.S.R. first bid for allies and client states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the superpowers had wrestled for influence through programs of military and economic assistance, propaganda, and proxy wars in which they backed opposing states or factions. When Gorbachev came to power, the Soviets still possessed patron–client relationships with North Korea, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Angola, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan and exercised considerable influence with Iraq, Syria, Yemen (Aden), and the frontline states confronting white-ruled South Africa. Moreover, the United States faced opposition to friendly regimes in the Philippines, El Salvador, and, of course, Israel. The Soviet Union’s financial crisis increasingly limited its ability to underwrite client states, however, while its troubles in eastern Europe and at home afforded the United States the opportunity to resolve regional conflicts to its liking. Thus, events in disparate theatres of the world in the last half of the 1980s added up to a certain disengagement and reduction of Cold War-related tensions in the Third World.

The Philippines and Central America

In 1986 the corrupt autocrat of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, a long-standing ally of the United States, lost his grip on power. Crowds backed by leading elements in the Roman Catholic church, the press, labour unions, and a portion of the army rose up to demand his resignation. The Reagan administration, like previous U.S. administrations, had tolerated Marcos in light of his determined opposition to the Communist guerrilla movement in the Philippines and his support for two major U.S. military bases on the island of Luzon. It now had to decide, however, whether Marcos’ continued rule might in fact strengthen the appeal of anti-American leftists. In hopes of avoiding “another Iran” (referring to President Carter’s abandonment of the Shah, only to see him replaced by the Ayatollah), Reagan sent a personal envoy to Manila to engineer Marcos’ departure in favour of free elections and the accession to power of Corazon Aquino, the widow of a popular opposition leader who had been murdered. The United States had evidently managed to remove an embarrassing dictator without doing serious harm to its strategic position in East Asia.

Closer to home, the United States continued to face not only the aggressively hostile Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and the leftist rebellion in El Salvador (backed, the White House said, by Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union) but also a growing rift with the Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega. For decades Noriega had collaborated with U.S. intelligence agencies, serving as an informant on events in Cuba and a supporter of the Contras in Central America. It came to light, however, that in addition to grabbing all power in Panama he had amassed a personal fortune by smuggling illegal drugs into the United States, and in 1988 a U.S. grand jury indicted Noriega on drug-trafficking charges. The Reagan administration offered to drop the charges if Noriega would agree to step down and leave Panama, but he refused.

In May 1989, Panama staged elections monitored by an international team that included former U.S. President Carter. Although the opposition civilian candidate, Guillermo Endara, appeared to win by a 3-to-1 margin, Noriega annulled the vote, declared his own puppet candidate the victor, and had Endara and other opponents beaten in the streets. President Bush dispatched 2,000 additional soldiers to U.S. bases in the Panama Canal Zone, and the Organization of American States (OAS) called for a “peaceful transfer of power” to an elected government in Panama. In December 1989, Noriega bade the Panamanian National Assembly to name him “maximum leader” and declare a virtual “state of war” with the United States. Within days a U.S. soldier was ambushed and killed in Panama, an incident followed by the shooting of a Panamanian soldier by U.S. military guards.

President Bush now considered that he had a pretext to act. A Panamanian judge taking refuge in the Canal Zone swore in Endara as president, and 24,000 U.S. troops (including 11,000 airlifted from the United States) seized control of Panama City. Noriega eluded the invaders for four days, then took refuge with the papal nuncio. On Jan. 3, 1990, he surrendered himself to U.S. custody and was transported to Miami to stand trial. The OAS voted 20 to 1 to condemn what seemed to many Latin Americans an unwarranted “Yanqui” intervention.

The U.S. conflict with the Nicaraguan revolutionary regime of Daniel Ortega also reached a climax in 1989. On February 14 five Central American presidents, inspired by the earlier initiatives of the Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace laureate Oscar Arias, agreed to plans for a cease-fire in the entire region, the closing of Contra bases in Honduras, and monitored elections in Nicaragua to be held no later than February 1990. In April Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the plan and passed laws relaxing the Sandinistas’ prohibitions of free speech and opposition political parties. Because the Sandinistas’ prospects for continued, large-scale aid from Cuba and the U.S.S.R. were slim in light of the Soviet “new thinking,” Ortega concluded that he must, after all, risk the fully free elections he had avoided ever since his takeover 10 years before. The five Central American presidents announced in August their schedule for the demobilization of the Contras, and in October the U.S. Congress acceded to Bush’s request for nonmilitary aid to the Nicaraguan opposition.

The elections were held on Feb. 25, 1990, and, to the surprise of almost everyone on both sides of the struggle, the Nicaraguan people favoured National Opposition Union leader Violeta Barrios de Chamorro by 55 to 40 percent. Ortega acknowledged his defeat and pledged to “respect and obey the popular mandate.” The United States immediately suspended the aid to the Contras, lifted the economic sanctions against Nicaragua, and proposed to advance economic assistance to the new regime.

Afghanistan

The resolution of regional conflicts at the end of the 1980s extended to Asia as well. In Afghanistan the Soviet Union had committed some 115,000 troops in support of the KGB-installed regime of President Mohammad Najibullah but had failed to eliminate the resistance of the mujahideen. The war became a costly drain on the Soviet budget and a blow to Soviet military prestige. In the atmosphere of glasnost even an antiwar movement of sorts arose in the Soviet Union. A turning point came in mid-1986, when the United States began to supply the Afghan rebels with surface-to-air Stinger missiles, which forced Soviet aircraft and helicopters to suspend their low-level raids on rebel villages and strongholds. In January 1987 Najibullah announced a cease-fire, but the rebels refused his terms and the war continued.

In February 1988 Gorbachev conceded the need to extract Soviet forces from the stalemated conflict. In April, Afghan, Pakistani, and Soviet representatives in Geneva agreed to a disengagement plan based on Soviet withdrawal by February 1989 and noninvolvement in each other’s internal affairs. The Soviets completed the evacuation on schedule but continued to supply the Kabul regime with large quantities of arms and supplies. The regime abandoned its strategy of seeking out the mujahideen and instead pulled back into strong defensive bastions in the fertile valleys, maintaining control of roads and cities. The rebels lacked the tanks and artillery to launch major offensive operations, and internal feuds among the rebel leaders also inhibited their operations. Thus, the predictions of Western journalists that Kabul would soon fall were proved wrong; the Soviets’ client state in Afghanistan survived into the 1990s.

The Middle East

Iraqi troops constructing a floating bridge near Khorramshahr, Iran, during the Iran-Iraq War, 1981. [Credit: © Francoise de Mulder/Corbis]Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (left) being greeted by his supporters in Tehrān, 1979. [Credit: AFP/Getty Images]The war between Iraq and Iran, which began in 1980, also reached a conclusion. The war had been conducted with the utmost ferocity on both sides. The Iraqi leader, Hussein, employed every weapon in his arsenal, including Soviet Scud missiles and poison gas purchased from West Germany, and the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khomeini ordered its Revolutionary Guards to make human-wave assaults against fortified Iraqi positions. Total casualties in the conflict numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The Soviets and Americans remained aloof from the conflict but tilted toward Iraq. The primary Western (and Japanese) interests were to preserve a balance of power in the Persian Gulf and to maintain the free flow of oil from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the emirates. In May 1987, after two Iraqi missiles struck a U.S. naval vessel in the gulf, the United States announced an agreement with Kuwait to reflag 11 Kuwaiti tankers and assign the U.S. Navy to escort them through the dangerous waters. Western European states and the U.S.S.R. deployed minesweepers.

The Iran–Iraq War entered its final phases in February 1988, when Hussein ordered the bombing of an oil refinery near Tehrān. The Iranians retaliated by launching missiles into Baghdad, and this “war of the cities” continued for months. In March, with the front stalemated along the Shaṭṭ al-ʿArab waterway, dissident Kurdish populations in the north of Iraq took advantage of the war to agitate for autonomy. Hussein struck back at the Kurds in genocidal fashion, bombing their villages with chemical weapons and poison gas. In May 1988 Iraq launched a massive surprise attack that drove the Iranians out of the small wedge of Iraqi territory they had occupied 16 months earlier, and after eight years of warfare the two sides were back where they started. Although Khomeini called the decision “more deadly than taking poison,” he instructed his government to accept UN Resolution 598 calling for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal to prewar boundaries. Iraq refused, and Hussein ordered a final air and ground offensive with extensive use of poison gas. The Iraqis advanced 40 miles into Iran. UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar persevered in talks with the foreign ministers of the belligerents and announced finally that the two sides had agreed to a cease-fire beginning Aug. 20, 1988.

To outsiders, Khomeini’s militant Shīʿite regime in Tehrān appeared to be the most extreme, irrational, and dangerous government in the region. In fact, it was the secular revolutionary tyranny of Hussein that had begun the war and harboured the aggressive aims of seizing the mouth of the Tigris-Euphrates river system and establishing Iraq as the hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf. Iraq had assumed the strategic offensive, escalated the war, and initiated the use of weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction imported from Western and Soviet-bloc states alike.

In all these regions of the world long-standing conflicts either dissipated or lost their Cold War significance in the years 1986–90. One conflict, however, always remained volatile—and perhaps even more so for the retreat of the superpowers and their stabilizing influence: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Throughout his years as U.S. secretary of state, George Schultz had tried to promote the peace process in the Middle East by brokering direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Such talks would require the PLO to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist, but the PLO (which the Israeli ambassador Abba Eban said “never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity”) refused to make the requisite concessions.

In December 1987, Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip killed an Arab youth engaged in a protest. Widespread unrest broke out in the Israeli-occupied territories, leading to 21 deaths in two weeks. This was the start of the intifada (“shaking”), a wave of Palestinian protests and Israeli reprisals that lent new urgency to Middle East diplomacy. Israeli military rule of the West Bank then hardened, and the Fatah faction of the PLO stepped up its terrorism from bases in Lebanon.

A first apparent breakthrough for U.S. policy occurred in November 1988, when the Palestine National Council, meeting in Algiers, voted overwhelmingly to accept UN Resolutions 242 and 338, calling for Israel to evacuate the occupied territories and for all countries in the region “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.” Did this imply PLO recognition of Israel’s right to exist? At first the PLO chairman, Yāsir ʿArafāt, refused to say, whereupon the United States denied him a visa to make a trip to the UN. He did in fact speak to a reconvened UN in Geneva but again failed to be explicit about PLO policy. The next day, in a news conference, ʿArafāt finally recognized Israel’s right to exist, and he renounced terrorism as well. Schultz immediately announced that the United States would conduct “open dialogue” with the PLO. The Israelis, then in the midst of a cabinet crisis, were unable to respond decisively.

In March the new Israeli foreign minister, Moshe Arens, visited Washington, by which time the new Bush administration was also ready to make its first foray into the Arab–Israeli thicket with a plan for liberalized Israeli rule on the West Bank in return for PLO action to moderate the intifada and suspend raids on Israel from Lebanon. The Israelis had a plan of their own based on elections in the occupied territories, but without PLO participation or international observation. The Arab League endorsed the idea for a peace conference and held that Palestinian elections on the West Bank could occur only after an Israeli withdrawal. The Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, retorted that elections could occur only after the intifada had ended, insisted on continuing Israeli settlement on the West Bank, and denied the possibility of ever creating a Palestinian state. The deadlock in the Middle East was thus as intractable as ever.

In fact, the situation had hardened in the late 1980s for a variety of reasons. First, the Arabs themselves were seriously divided. Egypt, the most populous Arab state, had no desire to disturb its peace with Israel dating from the Camp David Accords. Saudi Arabia and the other wealthy oil states were preoccupied with the Persian Gulf crisis and nervous about the presence in their countries of thousands of Palestinian guest workers. Syria’s president, Ḥafiz al-Assad, a bitter rival of Saddam Hussein, was busy absorbing a large chunk of Lebanon. King Hussein of Jordan was caught between Syria and Iraq, a prisoner of his large Palestinian refugee population, and yet in no condition to challenge Israel militarily. Meanwhile, the liberalization of emigration policy in the U.S.S.R. and the pervasive anti-Semitism there led to the influx of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews, whom the Israelis began to settle on the West Bank. Finally, the fading of the Cold War did little to enhance the ability of the superpowers to impose or broker a settlement in the region. Gorbachev hoped to improve relations with Israel while maintaining the Soviets’ traditional ties to the radical Arab states and at the same time doing nothing to damage his détente with the United States. The Americans wanted to maintain their alliance with Israel but could not afford to alienate—or compromise—the moderate Arab governments so important to the stability of the oil-rich gulf.

The first post-Cold War crisis: war in the Persian Gulf

For nearly two years after the UN-brokered cease-fire in the Persian Gulf, the governments of Iraq and Iran failed to initiate conversations toward a permanent peace treaty. Suddenly, in July 1990, the foreign ministers of the two states met in Geneva full of optimism about the prospects for peace. Why Saddam Hussein now seemed willing to liquidate his decade-long conflict with Iran and even give back the remaining land occupied at such cost by his armies began to become clear two weeks later, when he stunned the Arab world with a vitriolic speech in which he accused his small neighbour Kuwait of siphoning off crude oil from the Ar-Rumaylah oil fields straddling their border. He also accused the Persian Gulf states of conspiring to hold down oil prices, thereby damaging the interests of war-torn Iraq and catering to the wishes of the Western powers. The Iraqi foreign minister insisted that Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the gulf emirates make partial compensation for these alleged “crimes” by cancelling $30,000,000,000 of Iraq’s foreign debt; meanwhile, 100,000 of Iraq’s best troops concentrated on the Kuwaiti border. In sum, a frustrated Hussein had turned his sights from giant Iran to the wealthy but vulnerable Arab kingdoms to the south.

Iraq’s brash and provocative demands alarmed the Arab states. President Hosnī Mubārak of Egypt initiated negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait in Saudi Arabia, hoping to pacify the situation without the intervention of the United States and other outside powers. Hussein, too, expected no interference from outside the region, but he made only the poorest show of accepting mediation. He broke off negotiations after just two hours and the next day, August 2, ordered his army to occupy Kuwait.

Hussein had risen to the position of leader of the Baʾth socialist party and military dictator of Iraq in a postcolonial environment of intrigue, paranoia, and genuine political threats. Iraq, situated in the Fertile Crescent of the ancient Babylonian emperors, was a populous and wealthy country torn by ethnic and religious divisions. Iraq’s boundaries, like those of all other states in the region, had been drawn up by British and French colonialists and either were arbitrary or conformed to their own interests rather than to the ethnic and economic needs of the region. In fact, the trackless deserts of the Middle East had never known stable national states, and Kuwait in particular struck Iraqis as an artificial state carved out of Iraq’s “natural” coastline—perhaps for the very purpose of preventing the Persian Gulf’s oil fields from falling under a single strong Arab state. In addition to coveting Kuwait’s wealth, Hussein hated its monarchical regime even as he accepted its billions in aid to support his own military establishment and war with Iran. Hussein rationalized his hatred for the gulf monarchies, the Iranian Shīʾites, and the Israelis in Arab nationalist terms. A disciple of Egypt’s Nasser, he saw himself as the revolutionary and military genius who would someday unify the Arabs and enable them to defy the West.

Hussein made the first in a series of fatal miscalculations, however, when he judged that his fellow Arabs would tolerate his seizure and despoliation of Kuwait rather than call upon outsiders for help. Instead, the government of Kuwait, now in exile, and the fearful King Fahd of Saudi Arabia looked at once to Washington and the United Nations for support. President Bush condemned Hussein’s act, as did the British and Soviet governments, and the UN Security Council immediately demanded that Iraq withdraw. Bush echoed the Carter Doctrine by declaring that the integrity of Saudi Arabia, now exposed to Iraqi invasion, was a vital American interest, and two-thirds of the 21 member states of the Arab League likewise condemned Iraq’s aggression. Within days the United States, the European Community, the Soviet Union, and Japan all imposed an embargo on Iraq, and the Security Council voted strict economic sanctions on Iraq (with Cuba and Yemen abstaining).

The same day King Fahd requested American military protection for his country. President Bush at once declared Operation Desert Shield and deployed the first of 200,000 American troops to the northern deserts of Saudi Arabia, augmented by British, French, and Saudi units and backed by naval and air forces. It was the largest American overseas operation since the Vietnam War, but its stated purpose was not to liberate Kuwait but to deter Iraq from attacking Saudi Arabia and seizing control of one-third of the world’s oil reserves. In President Bush’s words, the Allies had drawn a line in the sand.

Hussein was not impressed. On August 8 he formally annexed Kuwait, referring to it as Iraq’s “19th province,” an act the UN Security Council immediately condemned. Egypt offered to contribute troops to the Allied coalition, followed by 12 of the Arab League’s member states. Hussein responded by condemning those states as traitorous and proclaiming a jihad, or holy war, against the coalition—despite the fact that he and his government had never upheld the Muslim cause in the past. He tried to break the Arab alliance with the Western powers by offering to evacuate Kuwait in return for Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories—despite the fact that he had never upheld the Palestinian cause either. When his efforts failed to weaken the coalition’s resolve, Hussein detained as hostages all foreigners caught in Kuwait and Iraq and moved to conclude permanent peace with Iran, thereby freeing his half-million-man army for battle.

The skies over Kuwait filling with smoke from burning oil wells during the Persian Gulf War, 1991. [Credit: Robert Van Der Hilst—Stone/Getty Images]Thus began the first post-Cold War world crisis. It can be described as such not only because it occurred after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in Europe and the dramatic moves toward East–West détente but also because of the characteristics of the crisis itself. The stakes in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait did not place Soviet and Western interests in direct conflict. Rather than falling into competition over how to handle the crisis, the United States and Soviet Union appeared in full agreement as the votes at the UN indicated. To be sure, a cutoff of oil exports from the Middle East would harm the Western states and perhaps even help the U.S.S.R. as the world’s largest oil producer, but Gorbachev was counting on large-scale economic aid from the West. If he opposed President Bush’s efforts to deal with the crisis, both the economic damage done to the West and the political hostility his opposition would arouse might end Gorbachev’s hopes for economic assistance. Bush, in turn, openly described the Persian Gulf crisis as a test case for the “new world order” he hoped to inaugurate in the wake of the Cold War: a test of the United Nations as a genuine force for peace and justice, and thus of Soviet–Western cooperation.

UN coalition and ultimatum

Bush demonstrated extraordinary energy and deftness in building and maintaining the UN coalition against Iraq. His preferred medium of diplomacy was the telephone, and he kept in constant touch with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and all other states represented either in the UN Security Council or in Operation Desert Shield. In some cases he doubtless had to make concessions on other diplomatic issues to win full support or, in the case of the Chinese, abstention, but he succeeded in presenting Hussein with a united front. Only the vulnerable neighbouring kingdom of Jordan, along with Algeria, The Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, and the PLO, openly sided with Iraq. Finally, this was clearly a post-Cold War crisis inasmuch as a large portion of the American contingent in Saudi Arabia was transferred there from bases in Germany, a clear indication that the United States no longer considered the Red Army a clear and present danger in Europe.

As the crisis deepened, American observers applauded Bush for his skill in building the coalition, but critics also began to question his strategy. Would economic sanctions suffice to pry the Iraqis out of Kuwait? If so, would the coalition hold together long enough for that to occur, or would military threats be necessary to convince Hussein that he must retreat? Would Bush’s insistence on working through the UN backfire? It seemed unlikely that all the world could be brought to endorse so bold and controversial an action. Not since the Korean War had the UN authorized offensive military action, and then only because the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council. However, by working gradually and calmly and in constant consultation with the Allies, Bush succeeded in convincing the Security Council to give him the authorizations he requested. On August 25 it voted to permit Allied ships in the Persian Gulf to use force to enforce the embargo against Iraq. On September 9, Bush and Gorbachev met in Helsinki and issued a joint declaration calling for Iraq to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait.

Despite these demonstrations of unanimity, Hussein was not convinced that Bush could back up his promise that “the annexation of Kuwait will not stand.” In early September he began releasing foreign nationals being detained in Kuwait, thereby eliminating the fears in many countries of a prolonged hostage crisis. Whatever his motive, this first act of leniency on Hussein’s part raised hopes that a diplomatic solution might still be found. The months from October 1990 to January 1991, therefore, brought numerous and hectic efforts by the French and Soviet governments to initiate negotiations and to head off an outbreak of hostilities.

In October, after an emissary had flown to Baghdad to urge Hussein to withdraw, the Soviets announced that Iraq would be willing to negotiate if it could be assured that it could keep the Ar-Rumaylah oil fields and two strategic islands offshore. The United States, however, stood by the UN resolution calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal lest Hussein seem to be rewarded in any way for his aggression. Instead, Bush succeeded in getting the Security Council to stiffen its requirements with a resolution holding Iraq liable for reparations for all damage caused in Kuwait by its invasion and occupation. Then, on November 8, Bush announced that he was doubling the size of the Desert Shield forces from 200,000 to more than 400,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, so that Allied forces would, if necessary, have “an adequate offensive military option.” Hussein countered by reinforcing his own army of occupation to the level of 680,000 men.

What was U.S. policy at this time? Most observers believed that Bush would not or could not go to war on behalf of Kuwait and would sooner or later employ the multiple UN resolutions as bargaining chips—sacrificing some in return for an Iraqi withdrawal. Even the new military buildup did not imply an imminent war, since it could be justified by the argument that Hussein would not negotiate seriously unless faced with a threat of force. No sign of compromise emanated from the White House, however. Instead, Bush and his advisers repeated their insistence that Iraq comply with the UN resolutions unconditionally. Moreover, Middle East analysts and intelligence agencies began to question whether a mere Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait would suffice to pacify the region. After all, Hussein had proved twice that he considered aggressive war an acceptable tool of policy. He had built up a huge army and spent 10 years’ worth of oil revenues on the most sophisticated weapons he could obtain, including chemical and biological agents and nuclear weapons facilities that were within a year or two of producing warheads. In other words, to oblige the Iraqis simply to withdraw from Kuwait would not prevent them from attacking there, or elsewhere, at some future time of their choosing. Genuine security in the gulf region would seem to require the destruction of the offensive capability of the Iraqi army and preferably the removal of Hussein himself. Such goals, however, could be achieved only through war, not by any sort of diplomatic compromise. On November 29, contrary to all expectations, Bush and the United States received authorization from the Security Council to use all means necessary in the gulf if Iraq failed to comply with all UN resolutions by Jan. 15, 1991.

To bow to this ultimatum would be humiliating for Hussein, an admission of the bankruptcy of his policy and of his impotence to resist the coalition. To some observers it seemed that Bush was unwilling to leave Iraq the sort of opening that might avert a war. Bush argued that it was not his responsibility to provide Hussein with a way out and that he would not permit Hussein to appear, in the eyes of the Arab masses, as a hero who had stood up to the American imperialists. Saddam Hussein refused to respond constructively to French and Soviet overtures, remained defiant, and escalated his rhetoric. Meanwhile, his occupation force looted Kuwait city and dug an elaborate defensive line along the Kuwaiti–Saudi border.

President Bush’s refusal to compromise seemed to contradict his stated readiness to talk. While he had shown great determination and skill in building the coalition, Bush had failed to communicate clearly the purpose of this vast military exercise. At one point, while the President was emphasizing that the conflict was about resisting aggression and defending the sovereign rights of nations and while protesters were chanting “no blood for oil,” Secretary Baker said that the conflict was in fact about jobs. He meant that a cutoff in oil exports might so damage the world economy as to spark a great depression, but it came out sounding as if the administration did not know what it was proposing to fight for.

In the final months of 1990 a strange alliance sprang up in opposition to Bush’s policy, consisting of liberals and peace activists on the one hand and neo-isolationist conservatives on the other. After a sober January debate, the Senate finally voted 52–47, and the House 250–183, to authorize the President to use force. Given this mood in the Congress, Iraq probably could have tied Bush’s hands just by making a conciliatory gesture of some kind. Instead, Hussein played into Bush’s hands.

Hussein had called what he thought was an American bluff by allowing the January 15 UN deadline to come and go. Instead, just a day later, Bush announced that Operation Desert Shield had become Operation Desert Storm and that the liberation of Kuwait had begun. He was not starting a war—the war, he reminded the world, had been started by Iraq the previous August—but he was launching the counterattack to drive back the aggressor. Hundreds of U.S. bombers, augmented by French, British, Saudi, and Kuwaiti planes and U.S. Navy cruise missiles, dropped precision-guided bombs on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. It was the start of the most intense campaign of strategic bombing in history, aimed in the first weeks at Iraqi command and control centres, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons plants, conventional weapons facilities, electrical utilities, bridges and dams, and all manner of military and government installations. From the first it was evident that Iraq was unable to mount meaningful resistance. Its radar and air defense network was destroyed, and most of its warplanes fled to airfields in neutral Iran to escape destruction.

Hussein’s reaction to the outbreak of war was to strike back with words, threats, terror weapons, and ploys to break the unity and resolve of the UN coalition. He decreed a holy war against the United States, called on all Muslims to unite against the Satanic enemy, and warned that in this “mother of all battles” the Americans would drown in “pools of their own blood.” He made good on his prewar pledge to attack neutral Israel, firing 39 Soviet-made Scud surface-to-surface missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Most fell harmlessly, none contained the poison gas warheads Hussein had threatened to use, and after the first days many were destroyed in flight by American Patriot antimissile missiles. Furthermore, Hussein’s purpose in launching the Scuds at neutral Israel was not achieved. He had hoped to provoke an Israeli counterstrike and thereby detach the Syrians and Egyptians from the enemy coalition. The Israelis were understandably furious at the unprovoked attacks against defenseless civilian targets but understood Bush’s appeals to them not to respond. The Arab-Western coalition hung together.

Hussein tried every technique at his disposal to discredit the Allied operation. He opened Kuwaiti oil pipelines into the sea and created a huge oil slick in hopes of clogging Saudi freshwater plants and shocking American opinion with the extent of the environmental consequences of the war. He mistreated Allied airmen taken prisoner and televised trumped-up propaganda reports alleging that the Allies were purposely bombing civilian targets. All this only proved to Western populations, however, that he was indeed a madman, and it steeled their will to see him defeated. The only way left for Hussein to win the war was to entrap the Americans in a close-fought ground war and to inflict so many casualties that American public opinion would turn against the President.

Soviet unrest at home and diplomacy abroad

While the world’s attention remained tuned to the war in the Persian Gulf, important changes occurred in the U.S.S.R. Gorbachev faced increasing, and increasingly bold, internal opposition from all sides. His economic reforms had failed utterly, and the Soviet GNP continued to fall through the years 1989–90. Shortages grew worse, and even the old Soviet command structure broke down as the constituent republics, one by one, set up their own economic systems and voted to subordinate the laws of the Soviet Union to local laws. Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leader, resigned from the Communist party and became the acknowledged leader of democratic forces throughout the U.S.S.R. Separatism spread among the republics, with the Baltic states taking the lead in hopes of winning complete independence. At the same time, hard-liners in the KGB, the army, and the Communist party gradually regrouped after the buffetings of previous years and criticized Gorbachev for being too soft on dissent. The middle ground of moderate reformism was disappearing from beneath Gorbachev’s feet. Late in 1990 he began to issue sterner warnings to Yeltsin to cease and desist, and he insisted that the Baltics and other republics submit to his newly drafted union treaty regulating the relationship between them and the Soviet central government. He also won still greater emergency powers for himself as president from the Congress of People’s Deputies.

Westerners were awakened to the likelihood of a crackdown in the U.S.S.R. in December 1990, when Shevardnadze, Gorbachev’s reformist friend and a main architect of détente with the West, suddenly resigned as foreign minister and warned of imminent dictatorship in the U.S.S.R. Indeed, no sooner had the Western powers opened the war against Iraq in January 1991 than Soviet security forces entered Vilnius and forcibly evicted Lithuanian patriots from public buildings, at the cost of several lives. Just as in Hungary in 1956, when the Western powers were distracted by the Suez crisis, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, when the United States was bogged down in Vietnam, the Kremlin took advantage of the Persian Gulf War to order a crackdown on challenges to its empire.

Gorbachev suddenly distanced himself from the UN coalition and began playing a separate game. He would extend his good offices, he said, to persuade Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and thereby render a ground war unnecessary. His motives might have included any of a number of concerns: to end a war that had become a showcase for high-tech American weapons and thus was magnifying American prestige at the expense of the Soviets; to appease the U.S.S.R.’s own Muslim populations in Central Asia (though they were Turkic peoples and not necessarily in sympathy with Iraq); to reclaim the Soviets’ traditional role as friend of the radical Arab states and advocate for the Palestinians; to save for the U.S.S.R. a seat at the peace conference even though it had contributed no forces and no money to the Allied effort.

Gorbachev’s gambit began on February 15, when Iraq announced its “readiness to deal with” the demand that it evacuate Kuwait. Bush denounced the announcement as a cruel hoax inasmuch as Hussein had known for months the UN conditions and could at any time have chosen to observe them. Gorbachev hailed the announcement, however, and invited the Iraqi foreign minister to Moscow. The Soviet plan called for a withdrawal from Kuwait, in return for which the U.S.S.R. would see that Hussein was spared the terms of the other UN resolutions, including punishment for war crimes and reparations to Kuwait. Gorbachev also promised to work for a Middle East peace conference after the war, thereby linking the Kuwaiti situation to the Palestinian. The Soviets (and Iraqis) were betting that Western publics would lose their stomach for a possibly bloody ground war once Iraq had promised to fulfill their main goal—the liberation of Kuwait. If they won their bet, Hussein would not only survive in power, but his army would be largely intact and he could claim a victory of sorts for having advanced the “Arab cause.” Bush consulted with the Allies and then set a final deadline for unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

The Soviets and Iraqis then produced yet another plan under which Iraq would withdraw. The linkage to the Palestinians was dropped this time, but a number of other conditions remained that flew in the face of Bush’s demand for “unconditional withdrawal” from Kuwait. Bush’s deliberate policy of channelling all decisions through the UN now paid off. The Soviets called an emergency session of the Security Council and presented their plan as the best chance for peace, but the member states refused to throw out their own resolutions. The alliance held, the Soviet gambit failed, and Gorbachev himself then backed off and expressed support for the UN effort.

The ground war

U.S. Marines entering Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War, February 1991. [Credit: © Christopher Morris—Black Star/PNI]When the final deadline was passed on February 23, the carefully planned UN ground offensive began at once. Saudi and Kuwaiti forces moved up the coast of the Persian Gulf toward Kuwait city, and U.S. Marines punched through the main Iraqi defenses on the southern Kuwaiti border, while more Marines on board ship feinted at making an amphibious landing to tie down Iraqi reserves. The main thrust came far inland on the desert flank, where American and Anglo-French armoured columns swept around the flank of the Iraqi army and turned eastward through southern Iraq on a line toward Basra. The Iraqi units in Kuwait were trapped in a pocket. The Republican Guards near the Iraqi–Kuwaiti border were engaged and destroyed by Allied tanks and aircraft. Within three days Hussein’s massive army ceased to exist; 100,000 Iraqis had surrendered and tens of thousands more were trying to flee homeward. On February 27 the Allied forces had achieved all their major objectives, and Bush announced a cease-fire to take effect just 100 hours after the ground war had begun. Though Hussein still refused to make the personal confession of failure that Bush desired, the Iraqi government conceded defeat by announcing its willingness to abide by all 12 UN resolutions.

In retrospect, the war was a product of grave miscalculations on both sides. Throughout the 1980s U.S. policy had favoured Iraq in its war against Iran and permitted the continued export of strategic materials to Hussein despite repeated indications of his fanaticism and ambition. Hussein’s errors were even more egregious and deadly. In light of the Vietnam War and the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979–80, he judged the United States to be unwilling and unable to take up a serious challenge in Asia, even one mounted by a Third World country. Having decided to invade, he threw away his advantage of surprise by stopping in Kuwait instead of sweeping down the gulf coast and conquering Saudi Arabia and the emirates as well. He then waited five months, affording the United States time to mobilize international support and send military forces halfway around the world. Finally, he failed to extend his heavily fortified defense lines westward along the Saudi–Iraqi border.

The war in the Persian Gulf thus proved to be an American and UN victory beyond the most sanguine hopes even of its military designers. The Iraqi military suffered more than 100,000 casualties at a cost to the Allies of some 340 killed; it was the most one-sided major engagement in the history of modern warfare. Kuwait was freed, albeit at the cost of terrible damage, since the Iraqis practiced a scorched-earth policy that included setting ablaze hundreds of oil wells. Above all, the UN had shown itself to be truly united and possessed of the will to back up its resolutions with force. What the Bush administration did not accomplish, however, was the overthrow of Hussein himself. On the advice of General Colin Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Bush decided not to press on to Baghdad or to destroy all Iraq’s Republican Guard units. Hussein proceeded to crush challenges to his authority from the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shīʿite dissidents in the south. In the first instance, Bush was restrained by the interests of Turkey, which also contained a large Kurdish minority. In the latter case, he was restrained by fear that Iran’s Shīʿite regime might try to expand its own reach at Iraq’s expense. U.S. forces did provide humanitarian relief to 1,000,000 Kurdish refugees and enforce no-fly zones to stop Iraqi attacks on civilians, but American policy clearly meant to uphold Iraqi unity so as to preserve the regional balance of power. Bush probably expected Hussein to be overthrown by the Iraqis themselves, but the dictator suppressed a military coup on July 2, 1992, and was still in power long after Bush himself was out of office.

The collapse of the Soviet Union

Meanwhile, Gorbachev’s efforts to crack down on dissident Soviet ethnic groups failed miserably. Within weeks of the January 1991 bloodshed in Lithuania, hundreds of thousands of Muscovites defied the ban on public demonstrations, six Soviet republics boycotted a referendum on Gorbachev’s new union plan, and Ukrainian coal miners went on strike. When Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian republic with 60 percent of the vote on June 12, he clearly emerged as a more legitimate apostle of reform. Western governments observed these challenges to Soviet authority with a mixture of delight and dismay. American conservatives urged the White House to support the republics’ struggle for freedom, but Bush insisted on caution. He had worked closely with Gorbachev to end the Cold War peaceably and feared that his fall from power would mean either the return of Communist hard-liners or the crack-up of the U.S.S.R. into quarreling regions. Moreover, given his lack of experience and reputation as a hard-drinking, impulsive populist, Yeltsin seemed suspect. In what proved to be a final bid to help Gorbachev, Bush flew to Moscow on July 29 to sign the START treaty for reduction of nuclear arsenals, then delivered a speech, later mocked as his “Chicken Kiev” speech, in which he warned the Ukrainian parliament against “suicidal nationalism.”

Gorbachev’s fate was sealed, however, on August 19 when a so-called Emergency Committee of Soviet hard-liners removed him from office while he was vacationing in the Crimea and imposed martial law. The task of resistance fell to Yeltsin, who branded the coup leaders as traitors, barricaded himself inside the Russian parliament surrounded by his supporters, and dared the military to attack their fellow citizens. After one brief clash, the soldiers indeed wavered and the coup collapsed within 48 hours. Gorbachev was returned to the office of Soviet president but never regained real power, which had clearly passed to the courageous Yeltsin. Moreover, the failed coup destroyed the last remnants of fear or loyalty that had held the Soviet empire together. Estonia and Latvia joined Lithuania by declaring independence, and this time the United States immediately extended recognition. On August 24 Ukraine declared independence, Belorussia (Belarus) the next day, and Moldavia (Moldova) on the 27th. The Russian parliament, in turn, granted Yeltsin sweeping emergency powers to liberalize the economy and suppress the Communist party. Even then Gorbachev tried to salvage some sort of economic and security union, but he gave up on December 1 when Ukrainian voters approved independence in a referendum. On the 8th Yeltsin and the newly elected presidents of Ukraine and Belarus declared that the U.S.S.R. had ceased to exist and replaced it with the loose Commonwealth of Independent States. The U.S. ambassador, Robert Strauss, finally acknowledged that Gorbachev was “in decline” and that henceforth Yeltsin’s government “are the people with whom we’ll deal.” Gorbachev resigned on December 25, the hammer-and-sickle flag was lowered from the Kremlin, and in its place rose the white, blue, and red flag of Russia.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union completed the liquidation of the Cold War by extinguishing Leninism in its homeland. Happily, the chaos feared by the Bush administration did not erupt, but the emergence of 15 independent states from the wreckage posed a plethora of new problems. All the states were in economic distress as they began to make the transition from centrally planned to market economies. All contained significant national minorities; none had secure, legitimate boundaries; and Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan possessed sizable stocks of nuclear weapons. Thus, the world might be less scary in the short run, but it did not promise to be more stable.

The quest for a new world order, 1991–95

In the run-up to the Persian Gulf War, Bush had summoned the United Nations to the task of building a new world order. He was seeking to place the resistance to Iraqi aggression on a high moral plane but was also responding to critics who accused him of lacking “vision.” In fact, American opinion was sharply divided on how to take advantage of the sudden, surprising victory in the Cold War. Neo-isolationists urged the United States to pare back foreign commitments, neo-nationalists wanted the country to look more to its own interests abroad, liberals hoped for a “peace dividend” that could be applied to a domestic agenda ranging from education to health care and crime, and all hoped to address the yawning deficits in the U.S. budget and trade balance. Internationalists of both parties, however, insisted that Americans would miss a historic opportunity if they turned inward after the Cold War. Twice before in the 20th century the United States had led the world to victories over tyranny only to see its plans for a democratic world order frustrated. As the only nation with the unique combination of military, economic, and ideological strengths needed to lead, the United States now had a duty to “win the peace.”

Was bold leadership in fact all that was needed to fashion a secure and free world order? Or must the post-Cold War international system, like all previous ones, evolve according to the play of power and interest among states? Would the end of the bipolar world eventuate in a unipolar one led by the UN? Or would it fragment into a multipolar system, with new sorts and sources of threats, such as ethnic and regional violence, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to second-level states, some of them hostile to Western values?
Prospects for peace

The Middle East

At least two abiding conflicts did seem ripe for resolution in the wake of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War. In the Middle East mutually reinforcing changes on the international, regional, and domestic fronts breathed new life into the peace process. First, the American commitment to gulf security raised U.S. prestige and influence throughout the entire region. Second, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab governments cut financial support for the PLO. Third, the foremost “rejectionist” Arab states like Syria and Iraq were marginalized—the former because of the loss of its Soviet patron, the latter by military defeat. Fourth, weary Palestinians and Israelis began to look for an alternative to the ongoing strife of the intifada in the disputed territories. Sensing the opportunity born of these changes, Bush sent Secretary of State Baker to the Middle East twice in the spring of 1991 in order to revive the peace process, then joined Gorbachev on July 31 in calling for a Middle East peace conference. Other hopeful signs included Jordan’s tentative moves away from Iraq and toward a more representative government at home and the renewal of diplomatic relations with Israel by the U.S.S.R., China, and India. In June 1992, the Labour Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin, defeated the Likud in elections, bringing to power a more flexible Israeli cabinet. Bush then extended $10,000,000,000 in American loan guarantees to Israel, and Jerusalem in turn announced a moratorium on new Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Thanks to Bush’s leadership, the conference that opened in Madrid on October 30, 1991, spawned three diplomatic tracks: Israeli–Palestinian discussions on an interim settlement; bilateral talks between Israel, on the one hand, and Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, on the other; and multilateral conferences designed to support the first two tracks. Syria’s President Assad signalled a new flexibility when he first used the word “peace” in September 1992, and he later indicated that the total return of the Golan Heights was no longer a precondition for negotiations. A crucial breakthrough was made in May 1993 as Israel began secret negotiations with the PLO that bore fruit in August when—just as the delegates were gathering for the 11th multilateral round of talks—the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, made the surprise announcement that an accord had been reached with the PLO. Secret talks held in Norway had resulted in a plan to establish Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and in Jericho. As part of the agreement ʿArafāt repudiated before the Israelis the long-standing Palestinian denunciation of Israel’s “right to exist.” The signing of a Declaration of Principles based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, presided over by U.S. President William J. Clinton, followed on September 13. Speculation ensued as to whether ʿArafāt would survive to enforce the accord against the will of terrorist groups like Ḥamās. Despite continued violence, however, an implementation accord was reached on May 4, 1994, that in turn allowed the consummation of peace between Jordan and Israel on October 26. As the year ended, hopes were high that Syria would also agree to terms. Several sticky points remained between Jerusalem and Damascus, however, while the Israelis and Americans discussed whether or not U.S. peacekeeping forces should be deployed on the Golan Heights to monitor an agreement.

South Africa

The end of the Cold War also promoted progress in the long-standing South African conflict. To be sure, Western and Soviet-bloc states had ritually condemned apartheid and imposed economic sanctions against the white government. So long as South Africa could point to the Communist backing received by the African National Congress (ANC) and neighbouring states like Angola and Mozambique, however, it had a certain leverage with which to resist black demands for majority rule. It was the disappearance of the Communist threat and the example of brave eastern Europeans throwing off their chains that finally allowed President F.W. de Klerk to persuade even the ardent Afrikaaners of his National Party to accept reform. So, too, did the ANC, which affirmed its readiness, in January 1990, to engage the South African government in peaceful negotiations. The following month de Klerk released the ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison. Talks began on May 2, complicated by intramural violence among competing black factions, especially the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) of the Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. De Klerk pressed on, however, and in June 1991 Parliament repealed its requirement that citizens be categorized by race. The following month Bush, citing the progress made, lifted American sanctions against South Africa.

The final act began in December 1991 when de Klerk and Mandela sat down to design an interim constitutional arrangement for the transfer of power. Mandela insisted on “one man, one vote” at once, while whites, fearing retribution from an all-black government, insisted on a guaranteed voice in the new regime. The stalemate was broken in September at the expense of the IFP, which broke relations with Pretoria. De Klerk and Mandela proceeded bilaterally, and on February 12, 1993, they arrived at a formula for a transitional “government of national unity.” They eventually fixed the date for the first all-South African free elections for April 1994. Ongoing factional violence in the black townships threatened to derail the plan, but in the final weeks the IFP agreed to permit its KwaZulu territory to participate. In the voting on April 26 Mandela won a landslide victory, and he was inaugurated as president on May 10. He called on all citizens “to heal the wounds of the past,” respect “the fundamental rights of the individual,” and construct “a new order based on justice for all.” As the historic year closed, it appeared that inter- or intraracial bloodbaths and confiscations would not occur and that South Africa might truly be born anew.

Assertive multilateralism in theory and practice

George Bush’s apparent triumphs in foreign policy failed to ensure his reelection in 1992, however. Instead, Americans turned their attention to domestic issues and seemed to hunger for change. Bush lost in a three-way race to William J. (Bill) Clinton, a self-styled “New Democrat” with little experience or interest in world affairs. His campaign staff’s reminder to themselves—“It’s the economy, stupid!”—epitomized their candidate’s desire to take advantage of the U.S. public’s discontent over economic issues. Like Woodrow Wilson, however, who had the same desire, Clinton was harassed by overseas crises from the start.

Clinton’s foreign policy team, led by Secretary of State Warren Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, included veterans of the Carter administration, which had emphasized human rights. They, in turn, were influenced by academic theories holding that military power was now less important than economic power and that the end of the Cold War would finally permit the United Nations to provide a workable system of global collective security. Clinton symbolized this neo-Wilsonian bent when he elevated UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright to cabinet rank. She defined American policy as “assertive multilateralism” and supported Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s call for a more ambitious UN agenda.

Three tests

The crises awaiting Clinton quickly revealed the pitfalls on the road to a new world order. The most abiding was the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the most immediate impact came in Somalia. That East African state had suffered a total breakdown of civil authority, and hundreds of thousands of people were dying of famine as warlords fought for control. During his last days in office Bush had approved Operation Restore Hope for the dispatch to Somalia of some 28,000 American troops. He styled it a humanitarian exercise, and in December 1992 Marines landed safely in Mogadishu, with the aim of turning control of the operation over to the UN as soon as possible. The Clinton administration, however, supported a UN resolution of March 26, 1993, that expanded the mission to include “the rehabilitation of the political institutions and economy of Somalia.” Albright lauded this effort at state-building as “an unprecedented enterprise aimed at nothing less than the restoration of an entire country.”

Clinton officials articulated the principles of their new foreign policy in a series of speeches. Lake explained on September 21, 1993, that democracy and market economics were in the ascendent, so that, just as the United States had previously laboured to contain communism, it should now work for “enlargement” of the community of free nations. Albright outlined the moral, financial, and political benefits of multilateral action in regional disputes, and Clinton defined his goal as nothing less than “to expand the reach of democracy and economic progress across the whole of Europe and to the far reaches of the world.” Within three weeks of Lake’s speech this bold agenda began to unravel. On October 3–4, more than 75 U.S. Army Rangers were wounded in an effort to capture the renegade Somali warlord General Maxamed Farax Caydiid (Muḥammad Farah Aydid), and two American corpses were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu before television cameras. American opinion immediately turned against the intervention, especially when it was revealed that the troops were fighting under UN commanders and had been denied heavy weapons by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. Clinton was obliged to announce a deadline of March 31, 1994, for evacuation of the troops, which in turn meant abandoning the state-building mission.

Just a week later, the enlargement agenda received another public relations blow when a mob of armed Haitians at Port-au-Prince forced the withdrawal of American and Canadian troops sent to prepare the return of the ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That dispute dated from September 30, 1991, when a military coup led by Brigadier General Raoul Cédras had exiled Aristide and imposed martial law. The United States imposed economic sanctions but was preoccupied for the rest of Bush’s term with the question of what to do with the thousands of Haitian boat people fleeing the country for American shores. Clinton embraced Aristide despite his communist sympathies and record of political violence and brokered the Governors Island accord of July 1993, in which Cédras agreed to reinstate Aristide in return for amnesty and the lifting of sanctions. Aristide refused to return, however, until the generals had left Haiti, while Cédras stepped up violence against Aristide’s supporters. It was then that a U.S. ship attempted to intervene, only to be turned back at the dock.

The embarrassments in Somalia and Haiti and the indecision on Bosnia and Herzegovina, combined with military budget cuts exceeding those planned by Bush, provoked charges that the Clinton administration had no foreign policy at all, or an exceedingly ambitious one run from the UN and beyond the capabilities of the U.S. armed forces. To stem the criticism, Clinton issued a presidential directive that outlined precise rules for future deployments abroad. They included the stipulations that a given crisis be susceptible to a military solution with a clearly defined goal, that sufficient force be employed, that a clear end point be identifiable, and that U.S. forces go into combat only under U.S. command. Trimming their sails, Lake and Albright said that the administration would henceforth take multilateral or unilateral action on a case-by-case basis. Dubbed “deliberative multilateralism,” it seemed another example of reactive ad hoc policy making.

A final crisis inherited by Clinton was sparked by the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung’s apparent intention to build nuclear bombs and the missiles needed to deliver them. One of the few remaining hard-line Communist regimes, North Korea had agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985 as the price for receiving Soviet technical aid for its civilian nuclear program. When communism collapsed in Europe, the North Koreans also gave signs of wanting to shed their pariah status. In December 1991 they joined South Korea in a pledge to make the peninsula nuclear-free (thereby obliging the United States to withdraw its own nuclear warheads from the South). By the end of Bush’s term, however, evidence had come to light that the North Koreans were cheating, first, by diverting enriched uranium to military research and, second, by inhibiting inspections. They threatened repeatedly to suspend adherence to the NPT.

Western experts pondered what Kim was up to. Did he mean to go nuclear, perhaps as a last-ditch demonstration to prevent the collapse of his regime? Did he intend to sell bombs and missiles abroad to boost his failing economy? Or did he intend to use his nuclear potential as a bargaining chip in exchange for foreign economic aid? The situation posed a terrible dilemma for the Clinton administration, which had made nonproliferation a top priority. Sooner or later the United States would have to threaten the use of force, either because Kim refused to allow inspections or because inspections revealed that North Korea was in fact building bombs. A threat of force, however, might provoke the mysterious regime in P’yŏngyang into unleashing nuclear or conventional attacks on its neighbours. South Korea and Japan urged caution, while China, North Korea’s only possible ally in the dispute, refused to say whether or not it would support sanctions or help to resolve the dispute. The United States alternated between brandishing carrots and sticks, to which North Korea replied with a bewildering mix of signals that culminated in a June 1994 threat to unleash war against the South.

At the moment of greatest tension, when Clinton was engaging in a military buildup in East Asia and lobbying the UN for sanctions, he suddenly seemed to lose control of policy altogether. On June 15, former President Carter travelled to P’yŏngyang and engaged Kim in negotiations that resulted, four days later, in a tentative agreement. North Korea would gradually submit to international inspections in return for a basket of benefits. At times Clinton seemed unaware of Carter’s activities and at one point even denied that the former president’s words reflected American policy. Negotiations were then delayed by the death of Kim and the accession to power of his son Kim Chong Il. On August 13, however, a nuclear framework accord was signed under which North Korea would remain within the NPT and cease to operate the reactors from which it extracted weapons-grade plutonium. In exchange, the United States would provide North Korea with two light-water reactors, to be paid for by Japan and South Korea, and guarantee North Korea against nuclear attack. The United States would also supply oil to the North to compensate for the energy production lost during the transition and would work toward full diplomatic and economic relations. Because it appeared to reward nuclear blackmail and did not preclude possible future cheating, the pact was criticized in Congress. For the moment, however, Carter’s intervention relieved the crisis.

Almost the same course of events followed in Haiti, only this time with Clinton’s approval. Through September 1994 the Haitian military junta continued its harsh rule in defiance of sanctions and American threats. Clinton’s credibility would suffer further if he failed to act, and he was also under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus to help Haiti and was anxious to stem the flow of refugees. After receiving UN approval for an invasion, Clinton issued an ultimatum on September 15, advising General Cédras that “Your time is up. Leave now or we will force you from power.” Republicans, however, warned of more bloodshed like that in Somalia if the United States sent in Marines, and so Clinton searched for a way to oust the junta without having Americans fight their way in. On the 17th, even as military units converged on Haiti, he sent Carter and a blue-ribbon delegation to Port-au-Prince. After 36 hours of intense discussions, Cédras agreed to leave the country and order his soldiers not to resist a U.S. occupation, in return for amnesty. The first contingents of Operation Uphold Democracy arrived on the 19th, and President Aristide returned home on October 15. U.S. forces remained until March 1995 and were then replaced by a UN force.

Developments in free trade

Throughout 1993 and 1994 Republicans accused Clinton of naïveté and vacillation. Opinion polls showed that the American people lacked confidence in U.S. foreign policy, while European and Asian leaders were dismayed by what they saw as weak leadership from Washington. On issues of international trade, however, Clinton scored major successes, albeit with Republican help. As befitted a president who wanted to focus on the economy, Clinton stood forth as the strongest proponent of free trade in decades. First, he completed negotiations begun under Bush for a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to forge a common market among Canada, Mexico, and the United States and won its passage in Congress in November 1993. Clinton then dispelled fears that NAFTA might divide the world into hostile commercial blocs when he won passage in December 1994 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), dedicated to reducing trade barriers worldwide and establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The November 1994 elections transformed the environment of American foreign policy making by giving the Republican Party control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Indications were that the new Congress would insist on higher military budgets but be less willing to see armed forces deployed in regional crises. Beyond that all one could predict was that Clinton’s foreign policy was likely to tilt more toward the “realistic” direction and less toward the “idealistic” one that had informed the sanguine rhetoric of assertive multilateralism.

Europe adrift after the Cold War

For 45 years Europe had been divided by the Iron Curtain. Though tragic and often tense, the Cold War nonetheless imposed stability on Europe and allowed the western sector, at least, to prosper as never before. The end of Communism, therefore, posed several vexing questions. Would a united Germany dominate Europe economically and waver dangerously between East and West in foreign policy? Could the new democracies of east-central Europe achieve Western levels of prosperity and avoid the ethnic strife that had sparked two world wars? In the short run, the worst fears were not realized. Chancellor Kohl took every opportunity to reaffirm Germany’s commitment to the idea of a united Europe, while the high cost of rehabilitating the former East Germany allayed fears of a German economic hegemony. Europe’s long-term stability, however, depended on the continued vitality of institutions built up during the Cold War. Would the EC and the NATO alliance remain vigorous in the absence of a Soviet threat?

In the 1980s the dynamic Jacques Delors had revived the momentum of European integration by promoting the Single European Act, under which EC members were to establish full economic and monetary union, with substantial coordination of foreign and social policies, by 1992. Most of Delors’s provisions were embodied in the Maastricht Treaty approved by the 12 EC member states (Spain and Portugal had been admitted in 1986) in December 1991. This unprecedented surrender of national sovereignty worried governments and voters, however. A national referendum in France barely approved the treaty, the Danes rejected it the first time around, and the government of John Major, Thatcher’s successor as British prime minister, nearly fell from power before persuading Parliament to ratify Maastricht in July 1993. The treaty went into effect on November 1. In order to create “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,” Maastricht replaced the old EC with a new European Union (EU), enhanced the powers of the European Parliament at Strasbourg, promised monetary union by 1999, promoted common policies on crime, immigration, social welfare, and the environment, and called for “joint action” in foreign and security policy. The EU promptly voted to “broaden” as well as “deepen” its membership by approving the applications on March 29 of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Austria (although Norwegian voters later rejected joining).

Relations with Russia

Even the prospect of a unified Europe could not ensure peace and prosperity unless two other issues were addressed: the future of NATO and the relationship among the EU, the United States, and the struggling democracies of eastern Europe, above all Russia. Western relations with the new Russia began auspiciously. In early 1992 Yeltsin toured western Europe and signed friendship treaties with Britain and France in exchange for aid and credits. On January 3, 1993, Bush and Yeltsin signed the START II pact, promising to slash their long-range nuclear arsenals by two-thirds within a decade. After a personal appeal from former President Richard Nixon, the Bush administration also approved an economic assistance package for Russia, and Congress voted funds to help Russia dismantle its nuclear weapons. On April 4, 1993, at a summit meeting with Yeltsin at Vancouver, Clinton pledged an additional $1,600,000,000 in aid. It remained unclear, however, how much the Western powers could influence Russia’s future. Did outside assistance hasten Russia’s progress toward capitalism, or just help it to subsidize old, inefficient industries? Should Western leaders urge “shock therapy” to propel Russia quickly into capitalist modes even at the risk of high unemployment, or should they advise Yeltsin to reform slowly? Should NATO stand firm against signs of Russian assertion in foreign policy, or might accommodationist policies boost Yeltsin’s popularity at home?

Such questions became paramount after September 1993 when a coalition of Yeltsin’s opponents in the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies challenged his reforms and emergency powers and called for the President’s ouster. On September 21 Yeltsin dissolved the parliament, and the latter promptly impeached him in favour of deposed Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoy. Violence soon erupted between security forces and mobs of Communist and nationalist sympathizers marching in support of the insurgent deputies. On October 4, Yeltsin ordered army units to attack the parliament with heavy weapons, resulting in an estimated 142 deaths. He clearly was acting in “undemocratic” fashion, but he did so to suppress opponents of democracy who had been elected under the Communist constitution. When fully free elections were held in December 1993, however, ex-Communists and extreme nationalists led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky won stunning victories. Clinton’s expert on Russian affairs, Strobe Talbott, immediately called for “less shock, more therapy” in Russian economic policy, and Yelstin proceeded to dismiss his more liberal ministers. He also took a harder line in foreign policy in hopes of deflecting the criticism that he was too eager to please his Western benefactors. This ominous turn of events called into question the fundamental assumption of Russian partnership that underpinned Clinton’s foreign policy.

The role of NATO

Russian assertiveness complicated Clinton’s efforts to recast NATO for the post-Cold War world. American neo-isolationists thought that the alliance had outlived its purpose, but moderates of both parties shuddered to think of a world without it and recalled that its function had been not only to “keep Russia out” but also to “keep the Americans in and the Germans down.” Another slogan, “out of area or out of business,” expressed the view that NATO should assume the task of defending Western interests outside Europe. Still others urged NATO to expand eastward and embrace the eager Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians. Yeltsin, after initially assenting to Polish and Czech membership, announced in September 1993 that Russia would oppose NATO expansion unless Russia were included. Defense Secretary Aspin floated Clinton’s attempt at a solution on October 21, 1993, when he announced that NATO would offer less formal partnerships for peace to former Soviet-bloc states, including Russia. Clinton toured Europe in January 1994—after the Russian elections—to promote this so-called Partnership for Peace, but he was met with disappointment in Warsaw and Prague and continued intransigence from Moscow. In May 1994 the Russian defense minister, Peter Grachev, insisted that if NATO was bent on expansion it must subordinate itself to the CSCE, an unwieldy organization that included all the former Soviet republics. Then, on June 22, Russia insisted on a voice in the Partnership for Peace that reflected its “weight and responsibility as a major European, international, and nuclear power.” Meanwhile, American critics pointed out that not to expand NATO implied recognition of a continued Russian sphere of influence over eastern Europe, while to expand NATO would require the West to guarantee boundaries beyond its capabilities. (The Kohl–Gorbachev accord on the reunification of Germany prohibited NATO deployments east of the old Iron Curtain.) Finally, to admit new nations would simply “draw a line” against Russia farther east. Clinton denied such an intent, but if he honoured Russia’s wishes he would be permitting Russia to draw lines against NATO. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar accordingly dismissed the Partnership for Peace as “an artful dodge,” while Yeltsin, in December 1994, warned of a “Cold Peace.”

Russian assertiveness was more evident with regard to its “near abroad,” the former republics of the Soviet Union. These states were indisputably within Russia’s sphere of influence, and their economic, demographic, and security interests overlapped with Russia’s. Moscow also claimed a right to intervene in its near abroad in order to keep the peace and defend Russian minorities and economic interests, a claim the United States had little choice but to tolerate because of its similar assertions regarding Panama and Haiti. By 1994 Belarus and several Central Asian republics were coordinating their financial, economic, and security policies with Moscow, and all the former Soviet states feared incurring Moscow’s displeasure.

The Balkans

There was a growing disarray within NATO and the EU in the post-Cold War world, a fact evident in their ineffective and vacillating policies toward the former Yugoslavia. From its inception in 1918, Yugoslavia had been subject to strong centrifugal tendencies as its many constituent ethnic groups harboured ancient and current grievances against each other. World War II resistance leader Josip Broz Tito restored Yugoslav unity but only through the imposition of Communist ideology and complicated mechanisms for doling out benefits. This balance teetered after Tito’s death in 1980, then collapsed after January 1990. By July, Slovenians voted for autonomy and the Serb minority in Croatia sought to unite with Serbia. In December Serbians elected a fiery nationalist and ex-Communist, Slobodan Miloševic, who exploited his waning power over Yugoslav institutions to seize national assets on behalf of the Serbs. Slovenia declared independence in December. As fighting erupted over disputed territories of mixed population, the presidents of the six republics—Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro—failed to revive a loose confederation. On June 25, 1991, Croatia declared independence, and the fighting spread.

During the Cold War the United States patronized Yugoslavia because of its independence from the Soviet bloc. The Bush administration, preoccupied elsewhere, regarded the Yugoslav breakup as a European problem. The EC, in turn, did not want to wade into a civil war and could not agree on a common posture until Germany abruptly recognized Slovenia and Croatia. In late 1991 and early 1992 Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence, the EC and the United States imposed sanctions on Yugoslavia, a UN delegation sought Serbian support for a cease-fire and peacekeeping forces, and the Security Council approved the dispatch of 14,400 UN peacekeepers (mostly British and French). A UN plan, which would have divided Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia into a crazy quilt of cantons based on local ethnic majorities, pleased no one, and fighting escalated throughout 1992 amid atrocities and evidence of “ethnic cleansing” by the Serbs. UN sanctions, imposed in May, had little effect, and the UN peacekeeping forces had no peace to keep and no power to impose one.

During the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, Clinton criticized Bush for his ineffectual Balkans’ policy. After Christopher toured European capitals in early 1993, however, it became clear that the NATO powers were unwilling to discipline the Serbs unless the United States contributed ground troops. The bombing of a crowded market in Sarajevo in February 1994 forced Clinton to threaten Serbia with air strikes. Russia then argued in support of Serbia and promoted its own plan for a partition of Bosnia. Clinton vetoed any plan that rewarded “Serbian aggression,” yet he also refused to lift the arms embargo on the beleaguered Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs).

By mid-1994 the confused battle lines had somewhat clarified themselves. Slovenia was independent and at peace. Macedonia was admitted to the UN under the curious name (in deference to Greek sensibilities) The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and a small international force, including Americans, protected it. Croatia controlled almost all its putative territory, including the Dalmatian coast. What remained of Yugoslavia included Serbia, Montenegro, and portions of Bosnia and Herzegovina inhabited or claimed by Bosnian Serbs, including a corridor stretching almost to the Adriatic Sea. The would-be state of Bosnia was strangled within this noose as the fighting among Serbs, Bosnian Serbs, Bosniacs, Muslim renegades, and Croats shifted from Sarajevo to Goražde to Bihać. To combat Serb aggression, the UN, NATO, and the United States debated whether to retaliate with air strikes. Each time a truce seemed near, fighting broke out anew. By the autumn of 1994 UN peacekeepers were literally being held hostage by the Serbs, and it was estimated that as many as 50,000 additional troops might be needed to extricate the UN force. Clinton pledged 25,000 American troops to such an effort, but everyone—not least the Serbs—hoped to avoid a deeper Western involvement.

There was little progress toward resolving the conflict between 1991 and December 1994. Carter then embarked on his third mission as a freelance mediator, and in the days before Christmas he shuttled between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniacs and fashioned an interim truce of at least four months’ duration, which was reaffirmed in a UN-brokered accord on December 31. Although the truce gradually began to break down, by December 1995 a peace accord was drafted that created a loosely federalized Bosnia and Herzegovina divided roughly between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (a decentralized federation of Croats and Bosniacs) and the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic).

Toward a new millennium

Conflict and peacemaking, 1996–2000

The second half of the 1990s was marked by conflict between age-old enemies and efforts to bring peace to the world’s trouble spots. The Middle East peace process suffered a series of delays and breakdowns. In November 1995 a Jewish extremist opposed to negotiations with the Palestinians assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiated the Hebron agreement, which provided for the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from that city, with ʿArafāt in January 1997, new Jewish settlements were constructed and each side accused the other of undermining the agreement.

With Oslo’s deadline of May 4, 1999, looming for the resolution of all outstanding issues, fears arose that the Palestinians might independently declare statehood—a move that would escalate tensions with Israel. In 1998 at Wye Mills, Maryland, Netanyahu and ʿArafāt signed an accord in which the Palestinians agreed to amend the provision in their charter that called for the destruction of Israel and Israel agreed to grant the Palestinians an additional 14 percent of the West Bank. The agreement immediately began to unravel, however, and Netanyahu—citing continued Palestinian violence and making new demands—refused to proceed with the second phase of Israel’s withdrawal.

Netanyahu’s landslide defeat by Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections raised hope that a final agreement would be reached. Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, and later that year Clinton arranged a summit at Camp David between Barak and ʿArafāt. Despite far-reaching concessions by both sides, the summit failed. Meanwhile, a visit by Ariel Sharon, the new Likud party leader, to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to emphasize Israeli sovereignty over the city sparked Palestinian protests and the worst violence in the region in decades. As the fighting intensified, Barak came under increasing domestic pressure and called an early prime ministerial election. Sharon’s landslide victory in February 2001 signaled a more cautious Israeli approach to the peace process.

In the former Yugoslavia, civil protest gave way to wide-scale fighting between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in February 1998, when Miloševic ordered troops into the province to regain territory controlled by the Kosovo Liberation Army. In October Miloševic agreed to a truce and the removal of Serbian troops from Kosovo, though the fighting continued, as did the slaughter of ethnic Albanians. To force Serbia’s withdrawal, NATO launched air strikes against Serbia. The 78-day bombing campaign exacerbated atrocities in the short term, but by June it had forced Miloševic to accept a peace plan jointly sponsored by Russia, the EU, and the United States. In 2000 Miloševic was forced to resign following massive street demonstrations held to protest his fraudulent attempt to declare himself the winner (over Vojislav Koštunica) in the first round of the Yugoslavian presidential election. Miloševic was later arrested and extradited to the Netherlands to stand trial before the UN war crimes tribunal.

Negotiations in Northern Ireland produced the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) in 1998. After voters in both Ireland and Northern Ireland ratified it, power was officially devolved on December 2, 1999, to an elected assembly headed by a Protestant first minister, David Trimble of the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party, and his Roman Catholic deputy, Seamus Mallon of the moderate Roman Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party. However, the issue of decommissioning (disarmament) of paramilitary groups continued to undermine the agreement into the 21st century. Less than three months after devolution, direct rule from London was restored, though the assembly was recalled again in May. The resignation of Trimble as first minister in 2001 over the IRA’s continued resistance to decommissioning highlighted the tenuous nature of the peace process.

After 155 years of British rule, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the political formula of “one country, two systems,” which preserved much of Hong Kong’s economic autonomy. In the run-up to Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, China held military exercises and fired missiles off Taiwan’s coast to discourage moves toward independence. Relations between China and Taiwan further deteriorated in 1999 when Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui announced his opposition to the “one China” policy, a move that was interpreted as a declaration of independence. In March 2000 Ch’en Shui-bian, who had earlier supported Taiwan’s independence, was elected president. Chen sought to placate China by foregoing independence as long as China did not threaten Taiwan. However, China spurned Chen’s offer and demanded that he endorse their version of the “one China” policy.

In a 1998 attack allegedly organized by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born leader of an international terrorist network, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, killing nearly 300 people and injuring more than 5,000. The United States responded by bombing suspected terrorist training bases in The Sudan and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the Taliban (Persian: “Students”), an extremist Islamic group, consolidated its rule, though largely because of the regime’s repressive methods—including public floggings and stoning to enforce rigid social restrictions and prohibitions on many activities by women (e.g., attending school, working, or appearing in public unaccompanied by a male relative)—it was not recognized by most countries. Reports estimated that more than one million people died as a result of the constant warring in Afghanistan and that there were more than three million refugees. Despite international protests, in 2001 the Taliban destroyed much of the country’s pre-Islamic past, including two large Buddha statues (standing 175 feet [53 metres] and 125 feet [38 metres] high, respectively) that had been carved in the mountains at Bamiyan more than 1,500 years earlier.

In 1998 India and Pakistan conducted a series of nuclear tests despite the opposition of world leaders; Iraq ended its cooperation with UN arms inspectors; and, after widespread antigovernment protests and rioting, Indonesian President Suharto resigned under pressure after 32 years. In 1999, his successor, B.J. Habibie, ordered a referendum on independence in East Timor. After nearly 80 percent voted in favour of independence, paramilitaries—aided in some cases by Indonesian soldiers and police—burned and looted major towns and villages and forced tens of thousands of refugees to flee to Australia and neighbouring islands. After intense international pressure, Habibie allowed UN peacekeeping forces to secure the territory.

The new century brought hope to the Korean peninsula. In 2000 South Korean President Kim Dae Jung visited the North Korean leader, Kim Chong Il, thereby becoming the first South Korean leader to visit North Korea. A summit followed, and in August, 100 North Koreans traveled to Seoul for a reunion with family members, while 100 South Koreans arrived in Pyongyang. In September, 63 North Koreans held in South Korean prisons as spies and political prisoners—some for more than 40 years—were allowed to return to North Korea. North Korea also reestablished relations with Italy and Australia and opened a consulate in Hong Kong.

Economic globalization brought benefits and concerns in the late 1990s. An economic crisis in Asia threatened to undermine the region’s governments and to destabilize the world economy. The WTO, which was established in 1995 to liberalize trade and enforce trade agreements, was targeted by anticapitalist groups, who viewed it as an undemocratic tool of wealthy countries that would undermine economic development and labour, health, and environmental standards. Protests at IMF, World Bank, and WTO meetings—including one in Seattle, Washington, in 1999, which involved approximately 50,000 people—became common and threatened to hamper the efforts of these international institutions.

The world at the beginning of the 21st century

The 1990s revealed how difficult it would be to design a global structure of peace that was based on institutions and values shared by all the leading powers and capable of imposition upon the lesser ones. After the collapse of communism, some analysts had talked buoyantly of the triumph of capitalism and human rights, of the “end of history,” of a new world order. By the late 1990s, however, Russia was in such a dire condition—lawlessness and organized crime were rampant, in 1998 alone inflation was nearly 85 percent, Yeltsin fired two prime ministers, and the Duma launched impeachment proceedings against him—that analysts began to wonder if it would implode. The rosy scenarios gave way to suggestions that the world might soon be rent by a “clash of civilizations” pitting the democracies against militant Islam and an imperial China; by the spread of “chaos” as millions of refugees from the southern half of the world invaded the wealthy lands of the north; by ecological and demographic disasters touched off by the spread of industry and disease in the developing world; or by the spread of nuclear and missile technology into the hands of terrorists. These visions were perhaps overly pessimistic, but there were serious strains in the relationships of the great powers. Relations between the United States and Russia were often tense—especially because of Russia’s opposition to NATO’s use of force in the Balkans—and China’s dealings with the United States were likewise strained over Taiwan and China’s human-rights policies. The 1990s showed how vital it was for the world’s predominant powers to act together and with other countries to prevent conflict and to meet the many challenges facing the globe. At the very least, the leaders of the 21st century might derive hope from the fact that humanity had survived the 20th century and acquire wisdom from its turbulent history.

The study of international relations has always been heavily influenced by normative considerations, such as the goal of reducing armed conflict and increasing international cooperation. At the beginning of the 21st century, research focused on issues such as terrorism, religious and ethnic conflict, the emergence of substate and nonstate entities, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and efforts to counter nuclear proliferation, and the development of international institutions.

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