Read this article to learn about the European diplomatic history between 1917 to 1945.
The twenty- eight years which elapsed between the wars of 1917 and 1945 have achieved a unity of their own. They have revealed certain well-defined traits which enable us to connect the present with the past and to discern in the confused welter of modern happenings the underlying trends in world politics and economics. The two dominating motifs, in the light of which we may unravel the chequered pattern, are, first, the attempt to establish a new international order on the basis of collective security.
And, second, as the sequel to its failure, the retreat from Versailles accompanied by the decay of liberalism in those European countries where free institutions were not deeply rooted in the traditions of their people. Here we shall be concerned with the new picture of Europe.
With the rise and decline of the League of Nations, with the growth of dictatorships, with creation of workers’ Republics and with the economic consequences of distorted nationalism, namely, the partial strangulation of the world economy, a new development is discernible which reveals before our eyes a memorable age, a dramatic intensity, which seems destined to mark it out as no ordinary phase of History.
The year 1917 was crowded with disaster for the Allied cause, though it also foreshadowed its ultimate triumph. In the East the position of affairs was completely transformed by a political upheaval in Russia. After the first revolution (March 1917) the Provisional Government proclaimed its intention to prosecute the war with renewed vigour and under pressure from the Allies an offensive was launched in Galicia in June but without success.
The second revolution (November 1917) profoundly affected the fortunes of the war. The Bolsheviks in 1918 concluded with Germany the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. By it Russia withdrew herself from the war and surrendered to Germany all her western provinces, including Poland and the Baltic Provinces. This, according to Thomson, enabled Germany to transfer a large body of troops to the Western Front rendering the position of the Allies very critical.
This, in fact, imposed a new and mighty burden upon the Allies, a burden which threatened to be too great for them to bear. The Bolsheviks, Hazen maintains, wished and intended to desert Russia’s allies and to make a separate peace with her enemies despite the fact that Russia had signed a treaty promising not to make a separate peace. However, they concluded with the Germans an armistice at Brest Litovsk (December 15, 1917). For this act Hazen reprimanded the Soviet authorities saying “Honor was not word in their vocabulary.”
The withdrawal of Russia from the European conflict was more than redressed by a momentous event which occurred in the same year — the entry of the United States in the war with her unlimited resources. It placed at the disposal of the Allies enormous resources in men and money. America joined the war as a protest against the unrestricted submarine campaign carried on by Germany in violation of all international law and the dictates of humanity. The entry of Americans, however, doomed the future of Germany’s war capability.
The Treaty of Versailles was the price Germany had to pay after her defeat. It was largely through President Wilson’s efforts that the League of Nations came into existence. Soviet Union was excluded from Paris Peace Conference (1919), deprived of its membership of League of Nations and debarred from all international political adjustments organised by the Western Powers.
The history of Europe between 1917 to 1945, A. J. P. Taylor points out, revolved round the German problem. The Bolshevik Peril, Taylor goes on saying, was never as acute as people thought. There was not the slightest prospect between the two wars that Communism would triumph any-where in Europe beyond the Russian frontiers.
The denial of United States’ Congress to become the member of the League, combined with the exclusion of Germany and Russia from it, proved to be decisive in making the League a mere buttress of the existing settlement. The situation was exploited by Britain- who became the leader of almost the whole of the world. But the rise of Germany under Hitler brought about a change in the permutation-combination of world politics.
While the Anglo-French policy was to throw German military might towards East to destroy Soviet Union once for all, the Kremlin’s Policy was to restrict Germany from Eastward invasion. This culminated to conclude the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact in 1939. Meanwhile, being suspicious of the aggressive activities of militant Japan and Hitlerite Germany Stalin abandoned his former attitude of indifference to the League of Nations and brought Russia into it in 1934 to safeguard her position.
Next year Stalin concluded a Franco-Soviet pact of mutual assistance (1935). But his policy of collective security based on cooperation with France and Britain underwent a radical change because of the result of the turn of events in Central Europe. He came to distrust the leadership of London and Paris when Britain and France agreed to accept Hitler’s demands at Munich in 1938.
To the Czechs the Munich Agreement was a sullen tragedy. To Britain it brought time to rearm, and also a shock to the national honour and dignity which meant the real end of the policy of appeasement. It was a policy which, instead of appeasing, stimulated the ferocious appetite of Hitler. Within a short time Hitler bullied Lithuania into surrendering Memel.
In the post-war period France was bent upon securing a guarantee of security for her Eastern frontier but both Great Britain and United States failed to provide. She felt both cheated and vulnerable and looked eastwards for security. She concluded treaties of military alliance with Poland in 1921, with Czechoslovakia in 1924, with Rumania in 1926 and with Yugoslavia in 1927.
These alliances were, however, not sufficient for France, she sought additional means of security. The result was the Geneva Protocol of 1924, Locarno Pact of 1925 and the World Disarmament Conference of 1932; but none of these bore any fruit, for, Germany under Hitler intended to rearm despite the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles.
Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936 and Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan in the same year might have alerted USSR and, therefore, in order to strengthen her frontier, she occupied Finland in 1939 and was forced out of the League. Japan conquered Manchuria in 1931 and left the League. Germany left the League in 1933. The United States followed a policy of isolation except in Latin America and Far East. The selfish policy of the Great Powers doomed the League to ultimate failure. The Nazi-Soviet honeymoon was over on June 22, 1941. The roar of Hitler’s guns along several hundreds of miles of front had blasted it forever.
In December 1941 Hitler declared war against Soviet Union. Until 1941 Britain, United States and France were deadly enemies of Soviet Union and the latter maintained friendship with Germany concluding Non-Aggression Pact. But ‘Operation Barbarossa’ compelled Soviet Union to come close to the Allied Powers. Churchill at once pledged full support to Soviet Union. In July 1941 Britain and the Soviet Union signed a mutual aid agreement, and at the end of 1941 America undertook to send aid.
Eventually America sent eleven billion dollars’ worth of Lend-Lease supplies to Russia. The alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western powers was formed, but it was, Thomson remarks, “in origin a marriage of necessity and convenience”. Hopkins Mission was sent by President Roosevelt in July 1942 to Stalin and pledged to support him with money and materials. Robert Sherwood has identified Hopkins Mission as the turning point in the war time relations of Britain and the United States with the Soviet Union. The combination set up by the three powers against Germany has been identified as Grand Alliance.