Viewpoint: Yes, the grand coalition of the Allied powers was doomed to collapse after World War II because it was built only on the common interest of defeating the Axis; mutual mistrust and postwar self-interest caused the Cold War.

Viewpoint: No, the collapse of the grand coalition was not foreordained; it was caused by the United States breaking from its pattern of traditional isolationism after the war and the Soviet policy of territorial expansion, among other factors.' >
Viewpoint: Yes, the grand coalition of the Allied powers was doomed to collapse after World War II because it was built only on the common interest of defeating the Axis; mutual mistrust and postwar self-interest caused the Cold War.

Viewpoint: No, the collapse of the grand coalition was not foreordained; it was caused by the United States breaking from its pattern of traditional isolationism after the war and the Soviet policy of territorial expansion, among other factors.' >
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The Postwar Collapse of the Allies' Coalition

Дата публикации: 20 сентября 2007
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) - Soviet Russia (1917-53)
Источник: (c)
Номер публикации: №1190295510 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!

Was the postwar collapse of the Allies' coalition inevitable?

Viewpoint: Yes, the grand coalition of the Allied powers was doomed to collapse after World War II because it was built only on the common interest of defeating the Axis; mutual mistrust and postwar self-interest caused the Cold War.

Viewpoint: No, the collapse of the grand coalition was not foreordained; it was caused by the United States breaking from its pattern of traditional isolationism after the war and the Soviet policy of territorial expansion, among other factors.

The Soviet-American-British coalition against the Axis was based on a negative consensus: the perceived necessity to destroy implacable common enemies. The geography that separated them also imposed different ways of war. Russia could not avoid fighting massive land battles; Britain and the United States spent a good deal of time determining how to get at their enemies. A good amount of effort was required to reconcile the Allies' circumstances.
Personalities played a significant role in the process. Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin related well to each other. Each knew who he was and how he understood the vital issues of his state and system. The three powers also collaborated institutionally with a minimum of understandable friction--whenever the issues at stake involved defeating the Axis.
When wider questions were raised, personalities could do no more than paper over differences. The ideology that legitimized the Soviet Union, with its eschatological vision of Communist triumph, made long-term cooperation with capitalist states impossible for any but instrumental reasons. Russia, moreover, saw itself as a permanent outsider in any relationship with the English-speaking democracies. Churchill's concepts of a postwar world looked backward to an era of empires and balances of power. Britain was so weakened by its wartime efforts that its place in the alliance increasingly depended on finesse rather than power. Roosevelt's concept of a peace structured by the United Nations and maintained by regional hegemonies may have been the most realistic political conceptualization of a postwar order. The free-trade and human-rights principles accompanying it, however, generated much suspicion--not all of it behind the emerging Iron Curtain--that when all was said and done, America would own the half of the cow that gave the milk. The Cold War was not inevitable, but the structural tensions among the partners in the Grand Alliance meant that avoiding it would have required insight, cleverness, and luck--a combination that in international relations can never be counted upon.

Viewpoint: Yes, the grand coalition of the Allied powers was doomed to collapse after World War II because it was built only on the common interest of defeating the Axis; mutual mistrust and postwar self-interest caused the Cold War.

Alliances and coalitions among nations are based on two crucial foundations: trust and common interest. If either is lacking, it requires an extreme amount of the other to create and sustain an alliance. The Grand Alliance--to use Winston Churchill's term for the coalition of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States against Nazi Germany--was based almost entirely on common interest, as there was little trust between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. As an alliance based on common interest, rather than on trust, it collapsed after the achievement of their common aim, the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Germany.

During the course of World War II, the United States and Great Britain developed a close working relationship that was, however, not without strains. The two countries differed on several matters of strategy, such as British support for the deployment of troops to North Africa and the Mediterranean, as opposed to American plans for a cross-Channel invasion in 1942, or 1943 at the latest. Even after troops were ashore in France in 1944, differences abounded. British field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery favored a narrow thrust to cut through German defenses and bring the war to a quick conclusion, but he was overruled by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who favored attacking along a broad front.

As the war drew to a close, further issues arose between the two powers. The United States had long been suspicious of British imperial designs. Franklin D. Roosevelt personally believed the British colonies should be granted independence, in a manner similar to the American plan to grant independence to the Philippines following the war. On the other side of the Atlantic, Winston Churchill insisted he had not become His Majesty's prime minister to oversee the dissolution of the British Empire.

Despite these differences between the two Atlantic allies, they remained relatively close, as compared to the gaps in trust and understanding between the British-American coalition and the Soviets. The two sides had little reason to trust each other, and many reasons for suspicion. Founded on the ruins of Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union had much in common with its predecessor, such as geography, population, and certain ambitions for expansion. The Marxist ideology of the Bolsheviks--the small party of revolutionaries led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who seized power in 1917--made the Soviet Union a fundamentally different state from Imperial Russia. The Bolsheviks believed a worldwide revolution of workers would soon follow their capture of Russia. It did not, leaving the Bolsheviks in a situation for which their theory did not prepare them: leading a lone socialist state in a capitalist-dominated world. Many Soviet leaders, including Joseph Stalin, who rose to almost absolute power in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, believed that ensuring the safety of their country as the bastion of socialism was more important than promoting a worldwide revolution of workers. Nevertheless, Soviet propaganda and agitation worried capitalist countries such as the United States and Great Britain. Especially troubling were the activities of the Comintern, or Communist International, an organization of Communist parties in several countries, directed and funded by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union's avowed goal of the destruction of capitalism, and the steps taken toward that goal, however hesitant, were a major source of concern to Americans and British and a high barrier to trust.

Soviet internal actions led to further distrust in the West. In the 1930s Stalin consolidated his leadership with a series of purges. He sent hundreds of thousands to their deaths, either by ordering their immediate execution or sending them to work camps, known as gulags, to die under horrific conditions. In addition to those deliberately eliminated by Stalin, he allowed millions of peasants, mainly Ukrainians, to starve to death while he exported grain to earn hard currency to fund his plans to industrialize the Soviet Union. The leaders of Great Britain and the United States did not know the full details of Stalin's rule, but they developed a fairly clear picture from the stories of those who fled it.

Soviet foreign-policy activities further damaged its credibility, at least in British and American eyes. In August of 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-Aggression Pact. This pact between dictators convinced many in the West that the Soviet Union was no better than their newfound Nazi ally. The Red Army invaded Poland in the next month, dividing the hapless country with Hitler, and confirming these suspicions. If any doubt remained, it was removed when the Soviet Union launched an unprovoked attack on Finland, known as the Winter War of 1939-1940. The Finns fought bravely and expertly, but they were overwhelmed by Soviet numbers and forced to cede border territories. This attack resulted in the expulsion of the Soviet Union from the League of Nations. Indeed, the British were so incensed with Soviet behavior that they considered sending aid to the Finns, despite the threat they faced from Germany.

The Soviet Union had perhaps even stronger reasons to be suspicious of Great Britain and the United States. Marxist ideology taught eternal hostility between the interests of workers and capitalists. As long as the Soviet Union represented the workers, and the capitalists controlled Great Britain and the United States, there could be no permanent accommodation. While Lenin's and Stalin's modifications to Marxist doctrine allowed for periods of peace, and even cooperation, with capitalist countries, their destruction through revolution was both the final goal of the Soviet Union and, to Marxist ideology, the inevitable outcome of history.

Beyond ideology, the Soviet Union had substantial reasons not to trust the British or Americans. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power, several of Russia's former allies in World War I, including Great Britain and the United States, sent troops to prevent the new government from giving or selling stockpiled war matériel to Germany. This mission quickly expanded to include support for the counterrevolutionary opponents of the Bolsheviks, the Whites, in hopes of keeping Russia in the war. After World War I ended, foreign troops continued to aid the Whites in hopes of eliminating the communists and bringing political democracy to Russia. During the intervention, British and American troops engaged in combat with Russian troops on Russian soil, with casualties on both sides. The Soviet Union never forgot that the United States and Great Britain tried to strangle the revolution in its earliest and most vulnerable days.

Further causes for distrust soon emerged. When Hitler began his rise to power, he appealed both to Germans' fears of a communist takeover and to their contempt for the perceived weaknesses of the liberal democratic West. Stalin saw a common interest with Great Britain and France in resisting German expansionism, but the two western nations rejected Stalin's overtures for alliance, distrusting the Soviet dictator as much as the German. When they followed this rejection with a policy of appeasing German demands, Stalin decided to find his own way to deal with the threat of Hitler, a decision that led to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Stalin tried to channel Hitler's aggression away from himself and toward those who had rejected his friendship. Stalin's diplomacy does not seem so coldhearted when one recalls that many in the West, including future American president Harry S Truman, were hoping, loudly and publicly, that Germany and the Soviet Union would tear each other to shreds, leaving the Western democracies out of the battle of dictators.

Following the fall of Poland in 1939, the Soviet Union remained aloof, and even provided Germany with vital war matériel, until Hitler's surprise attack in 1941 brought the war to the Soviet heartland. Great Britain, though hard-pressed after standing alone against Germany since the fall of France in 1940, immediately extended aid, and the United States extended Lend Lease supplies to the new foe of Hitler's Germany. The United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union had finally found a common national interest strong enough to overcome the long-standing lack of trust. As Churchill reportedly said, if Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.

Even the experience of fighting a common foe, however, built little trust between the two sides. Britons and Americans traveling to Moscow on official business felt isolated and spied upon--which they were. Each side neglected to share significant intelligence and kept operational plans clouded. Efforts by the United States to arrange for bomber bases in the Soviet Union, which would have exposed all of Hitler's empire to attack from the air, resulted only in small shuttle-bombing experiments. Even these were discontinued, in part because of operational difficulties, but also in part to Soviet obstructionism.

The greatest blow to what could have developed into trust between the members of the Grand Alliance was the fate of the Warsaw uprising. As the Red Army approached Warsaw in the summer of 1944, the Polish underground staged an uprising, hoping to liberate the city before the Soviets arrived. Poland had long been a source of contention between the Western allies and the Soviet Union, with each side recognizing different, and mutually hostile, governments-in-exile. As the Germans in the city began to crack down on the brave but underequipped Poles, the Red Army halted its offensive. The Western allies called on the Soviets to advance and relieve the Poles, but Stalin, claiming the army had outrun its supply lines, ordered it to halt. Western leaders believed that Stalin simply wanted to let the Germans exterminate that portion of the Polish population most likely to resist Stalin's own plans for Poland's future. At roughly the same time, evidence emerged in the Katyn Forest that the Soviets had massacred Polish prisoners it had captured in 1939, though at the time, public blame went to the Germans. This atrocity, combined with the Soviet refusal to allow British and American transport planes to land in Soviet-controlled territory after dropping supplies to the beleaguered Poles, effectively preventing such flights, reinforced Western suspicions regarding Stalin's plans. While there was little chance that the Grand Alliance would collapse before Hitler was utterly defeated, the already dim prospects for postwar cooperation grew even dimmer in the smoke over rubble-choked Warsaw.

In April 1945, Hitler committed suicide--killing himself, the Nazi regime, and the Grand Alliance, although the alliance took longer to die than the dictator or his regime. With no great enemy to unite them, the lack of trust that had haunted the Grand Alliance since its founding returned to the forefront. The national interests of the three parties quickly intersected in conflicting and dangerous ways.

Eastern European countries occupied by the Soviet Union were, according to agreements made during the war, to have freely elected governments friendly to the Soviet Union. "Free" but "friendly" governments were contradictions in terms, however, as any government that could not choose hostility to another nation was clearly not free. The Allies even began to argue over the word "democratic," with the United States and Great Britain interpreting it to mean political democracy based on their models, and the Soviet Union interpreting it to mean social democracy based on its own model.

It soon became clear that Stalin was determined to control Europe as far west as possible. When an American diplomat congratulated him on his forces reaching Berlin, Stalin replied that those of Tsar Alexander I had reached Paris. Stalin wanted a buffer zone behind which the Soviet Union, devastated by Hitler's invasion, could recover. This territory would provide defense-in- depth for a country that had faced repeated invasions from the west, not only by Hitler but also by the Teutonic Knights, the Swedes of Charles XII, the French of Napoleon, and the Germans of Kaiser Wilhelm II. This buffer zone would also keep the United States, the world's only atomic power, at bay, perhaps even until frantic Soviet efforts at espionage and research produced their own atomic weapon.

The British were hostile to Soviet expansionism, but they were also old hands at power politics and the balance of power, and were willing to grant the Soviet Union a sphere of influence in Europe, its extent subject to negotiation. Great Britain, however, was now clearly the junior partner of the Grand Alliance. It was still a great power, but the United States and Soviet Union were becoming something the world had never before seen--superpowers. Where they were going, Britain could not follow: its homeland had been spared invasion but had been shattered by aerial attack; its economy was in tatters, with only support from the United States preventing collapse; and its population had suffered heavily. By the closing phase of the war, there were no more young men to recruit or conscript. To replace casualties in the British Army on the Continent, the British had to cull troops from support services and the Royal Air Force. Abroad, nationalist movements shook the empire, dividing British attention between the perceived Soviet menace and the effort to hold the empire together. While the Americans admired Britain's resistance to Hitler and its experience in world diplomacy, Britain could not set the policy for the western pair.

The United States had fought a long, hard war for a set of principles, not for territorial gain. American diplomats were unwilling on principle to concede the Soviet Union's right to retain control of the territory the Red Army had occupied, thus forcing the populations of these nations to trade one foreign dictator for another. Such an outcome to the great crusade could not be endorsed, even if the might of the Soviet Union made it too costly to prevent.

Thus, the Soviet Union's interests and those of the United States were in direct conflict. While the Americans and British disagreed on specific points, their hostility to Soviet expansion was mutual, and they remained closely allied. Soviet postwar moves in Europe, and the U.S. sole possession of the most powerful weapon yet created, added to the long list of reasons not to trust the other side. Without trust, and without a common enemy, the Grand Alliance collapsed.

While it can be argued that the leaders of the Grand Alliance should have reached an accommodation that would have prevented the Cold War, the reality is that there was little incentive for them to do so. The compelling reason for putting aside their distrust lay dead in a Berlin bunker, and the process of bringing him down had done little to engender loyalty. Looking back upon their legacy of mistrust, and forward to the actions their opposite numbers were taking in pursuit of contradictory national interests, the two sides grimly hunkered down to prepare for the next war.

-- Grant Weller, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado

Viewpoint: No, the collapse of the grand coalition was not foreordained; it was caused by the United States breaking from its pattern of traditional isolationism after the war and the Soviet policy of territorial expansion, among other factors.

There was nothing inevitable about the collapse of the Grand Coalition following the end of World War II. On the contrary, that breakdown resulted from two primary events that observers with a long memory would have regarded as unlikely. First, it was essential that the United States abandon its two-decades-old policy of peacetime isolationism in favor of active engagement in Europe and the world. Second, it required Joseph Stalin to abandon his two-decades-old isolationism in favor of an expansionist policy that was a break with his previous track record. These factors were interrelated, of course, and reflected changes that had occurred in both states, as well as in the other nations of Europe, during World War II. In no sense, however, can these outcomes be regarded as inevitable.

American involvement in World War I violated more than a century's worth of tradition of remaining aloof from European affairs. Although America had been far from "isolationist" during the nineteenth century, it had steadfastly avoided involving itself in the complicated and dangerous politics of the European continent. The American continents, and then the Pacific region, were the theaters for American foreign adventures. The old world was regarded with distrust, suspicion, and a certain amount of fear. For a brief period Woodrow Wilson (and German strategic ineptness) broke this tradition and dragged America forthrightly into the center of European politics, but the experience of war restored the tradition with a vengeance. Throughout the interwar period (1919-1939), not only did America turn a blind eye toward Europe, but it also largely ignored dangerous events in the Pacific that would previously have held its attention. The 1920s and 1930s were the period of truest isolationism in American policy--that seemed only to intensify as the storm clouds gathered over Europe.

It was by no means foreordained that America would remain committed to a policy of active involvement in the old world after World War II had passed. With the German threat destroyed once and for all, and the Soviets so clearly weakened that large-scale aggression beyond the bounds of the territories they already occupied was unlikely, it was not at all inconceivable that once more a pacifistic and war-weary populace and Congress might turn away from an internationalist president. The atomic monopoly, moreover, could have served as a powerful argument for an American invincibility that could underwrite complete isolationism. In fact, America's break with its isolationist tradition represented a remarkably determined effort to shoulder the load of global leadership that is unusual in the history of any state, let alone this one.

That America did not turn to isolationism had a great deal to do with the personalities of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman, both of whom were determined to avoid a return to a policy they regarded as dangerous and anachronistic. It is not certain that, even with their will to break with Stalin, a will that Truman manifested much more clearly than Roosevelt ever did, they could have convinced the country at large to support a vigorous involvement in the world. As the Soviet Union gained territory after the war, however, astute observers began to realize that a crisis was brewing. When the Soviets reneged on the agreements they had made at Yalta (4-11 February 1945) and elsewhere to allow free elections in the territories occupied by their armies, American opinion began to tilt more and more toward confrontation. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the process was complete. In short, it was the aggressive expansionism of the Soviet Union more than anything else that combined with Roosevelt's internationalism to break America's previous isolationist pattern.

Stalin's aggressive expansionism after 1945, however, was no more inevitable than America's newfound internationalism. The fight over the role of the Soviet Union in the international arena had been waged without quarter in the early 1920s between Leon Trotsky and his adherents, who pressed for a true communist internationalism, and Stalin and his allies, who argued that the Soviet Union, birthplace of communism, must first be made secure and strong. Stalin, of course, triumphed in that debate, as in all others, adopting as his foreign-policy slogan the need to perfect "socialism in one country." Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Soviets resolutely turned away from large-scale or dangerous adventures in the world, confining their prosecution of the war against capitalism to the support of communist parties and agents in the Western powers.

All that time, Stalin strove resolutely to develop the modern industrial base Russia would need to fight the West on equal terms--a process that was far from complete in 1939. That fact led to the ultimate reversal of Soviet foreign policy with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in that year--a reversal that staved off the inevitable clash with Germany for a bare two years. These years had been important for Stalin, but not sufficient: in 1941 Russia was still woefully ill-equipped to face the modern German army, and in the end, it was, of course, Hitler and not Stalin who broke the Soviet Union out of its isolationism.

The Soviets' situation in 1945 was not such as to encourage foreign adventures either. During the war the Germans had occupied territory that had been home to 40 percent of the Soviet population and a staggering percentage of its industry. The Soviets had survived the war through Allied largesse in the form of the Lend Lease program, and by evacuating both population and industry to the safe distance of the Ural Mountains region and Central Asia. Neither of those regions was well enough served by a transportation or energy infrastructure to become true industrial powerhouses in short order, while the traditional areas that had generated Soviet military power had been gutted, bombed, and destroyed. A conflict between the Soviet Union and the Western powers in 1945, even on the conventional level, then, offered little prospect of lasting success to the Soviets, despite their remarkable achievements against the Germans. Of course, any conflict as well was certain not to remain conventional, for the Americans, and they alone, had atomic weapons and had already demonstrated the will to use them.

Just as Soviet aggressiveness helped to keep the Americans engaged in the world, so had Western passivity helped convince Stalin that he might with safety pursue a much more aggressive policy than his resources would suggest. As Soviet armies swept through Eastern Europe, they rapidly rearranged the political order in the occupied lands in accord with Stalin's wishes. So far from protesting, Roosevelt deliberately avoided taking any action to interfere with these activities. When Churchill pressed him to place Allied troops in the Balkans in 1944, forestalling complete Soviet domination of the area, Roosevelt demurred, refusing to take such actions except in consultation with the Soviet dictator. The matter was dropped.

By the end of the war, Soviet armies were in occupation of all the Eastern European countries, and the Americans had made no demur or complaint about the Red Army's treatment of its occupied territories. Nor did Truman lodge serious protests as Stalin methodically violated the terms of the Yalta agreement following the conclusion of the war. In other words, by its continuous inaction in the face of steady but low-level Soviet aggression, the United States signaled to Stalin that he could safely expand the Soviet Union's power. As he became convinced that it was safe to do so, Stalin also realized the desirability of such expansion. Eastern Europe could be made to support the Soviet recovery and help strengthen the Soviet Union for the fight to come. Stalin would not have embarked on such an adventure, however, if he had not been convinced in advance that the United States would remain passive as he did so.

It is ironic, therefore, that the policies pursued by the Soviet Union and United States, although mutually antagonistic, were also mutually supporting. Without Soviet aggressiveness, American continued involvement in the world was unlikely. Without clear American passivity, Soviet aggressiveness in the immediate postwar years was almost unthinkable. Both states unwittingly conspired, therefore, to bring about the collapse of the Grand Coalition, something that was not foreordained.

-- Frederick W. Kagan, U.S. Military Academy, West Point

The Allies in Action

Although united in a war against the Axis, the soldiers who fought for the Allied nations shared many misunderstandings about each other. The following incident was reported in the memoirs of an American soldier who fought in Europe.

The story concerns one of our better-liked, high-ranking officers who recently paid a visit to a neighboring unit, thereby meeting several Americans lately released from German prison camps. Freed by the Russians, these ex-prisoners had had the opportunity to see our allies in action. According to their report, the Russians are really rough, tough, and nasty, and the famed 1st Division, by comparison, as gently mannered as Girl Guides on a summer outing. The Russians loot, then burn every German house that falls into their hands, and say simply, "So it was done to us!"

Concerning women, the Russians are reputedly a shade more delicate in their approach than were the Germans in Russia two years ago. The Russians do ask first, "Komme sie hier und schlaffen!" Sometimes they even say, "Willst du?" Freedom of choice remains, you see. Of course, if a flat "Nein!" is the answer, the Russian has the last word . . . and a pistol slug puts the final unanswerable period to further reluctant bargaining.

That's the story, now for the denouement! Our officer, listening to these accounts of Russian vigor, reflected upon the soft way we handled civilians, and the comparison made him angry and self-conscious. Riding back to his own headquarters, he considered further, and his anger mounted. Passing a German farmhouse, he suddenly ordered his driver to pull up, and puffed with firm resolution, the officer jumped from the jeep. Studying the farmhouse for a moment, he tilted his helmet and strode up the path. (Incidentally, he stands five feet three and weighs a generous 115 pounds.) He pounded roughly on the door, and when it swung open, he pushed past the cowering frau and walked in. Then, fixing the woman with a stern eye, he stomped his foot, stretched an imperious hand, and said firmly, "Twelve eggs!"

Source: Raymond Gantter, Roll Me Over: An Infantryman's World War II (New York: Ivy Books, 1987), pp. 350-351.



John Charmley, Churchill's Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1940-57 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995);

Jerald A. Combs, American Diplomatic History: Two Centuries of Changing Interpretations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983);

Norman Davies, "Cold War," in The Oxford Companion to World War II, edited by I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 246;

James L. Gormly, The Collapse of the Grand Alliance, 1945-1948 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987);

Warren Kimball, Forged in War: Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War (New York: Morrow, 1997);

Walter LaFeber, "Cold War," in The Reader's Companion to American History, edited by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), pp. 194-197;

Steven Merritt Miner, Between Churchill and Stalin: The Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Grand Alliance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988).

Опубликовано 20 сентября 2007 года

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