Mary Reynolds April 24, 2000 Dr. Boitano U.S. Foreign Policy The Rise of the Superpower Russia and the United States grew to become the main superpowers in the arena of international relations during a specific time in history. The emergence of these two countries as superpowers can be traced back to World War II. In order to be a superpower, a nation needs to have a strong economy, an overpowering military, immense political power, and a strong national ideology (Aga-Rossi 65). It was World War II, and its results that caused each of these countries to experience such a plurality of power (Ovyany 97). Before the war, both nations were fit to be described as great powers, but it would be incorrect to say that they were superpowers at that point.
To understand how the second World War impacted these nations so greatly, the causes of the war must be examined. The United States gained its strength in world affairs from its status as an economic power. Prior to the war, America was the worlds largest producer. During the same time in Russia, Stalin was implementing his “five year plan” to modernize the Soviet economy. From these situations, similar foreign policies resulted.
It is important to discuss the leaders and their strategies during this time to understand how these countries became superpowers. Many U.S. citizens believed that America entered the war in order to save capitalist investments in Europe. Whether this is the case or not, President Roosevelt signed the Neutrality Act of 1935, making it illegal for the United States to ship arms to the antagonists of any conflict (Aga-Rossi 68). The act also stated that the antagonists could only buy non-armaments from the U.S., and even these were only to be bought with cash (Aga-Rossi 69). In contrast, although Stalin was interested in European affairs it was only to the extent to keep Russia out of war. Stalin wanted to consolidate Communist power and modernize the countrys industry.
The Soviet Union was committed to collective action for peace, as long as that commitment did not mean that the Soviet Union would in turn face a potential Nazi attack. Examples of this can be seen in the Soviet Unions attempts to achieve a mutual assistance treaty with Britain and France. These treaties, however, were designed more to create security for the West, as opposed to keeping all three signatories from harm. At the same time, Stalin was attempting to polarize both the Anglo-French, and the Axis powers against each other. The important result of this was the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which petitioned Poland and allowed Hitler to start the war (Divine 31). Another side-effect of Stalins policy of playing both sides was that it caused incredible distrust towards the Soviets from the Western powers after 1940.
Author Robert A. Divine adds, “this was due in part to the fact that Stalin made several demands for both influence in the Dardanelles, and for Bulgaria to be recognized as a Soviet independent” (31). The seeds of superpowerdom lies here, R.J. Overy wrote “stability in Europe might have been achieved through the existence of powers so strong that they could impose their will on the whole of the international system, as has been the case since 1945” (215). At the time, there was no power in the world that could achieve such a feat.
Britain and France were in sovereign decline, and more concerned about colonial economics than the stability of Europe. Both imperial powers assumed that”empire-building” would necessarily be an inevitable feature of the world system. German aggression could have been stifled early, had the imperial powers acted simultaneously. The memories of World War One, however, were too powerful and the general public would not condone a military solution at that point (Morrison 35). After the economic crisis of the 1930s, Britain and France lost much of their former international standing. As the world markets plummeted, so did their relative power.
The two nations were determined to maintain their status as great powers, without relying on the U.S. or Russia for support of any kind. They went to war only because further appeasement would have only served to remove from them their little remaining world standing and prestige (LeFerber 127). The creation of a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany can be viewed as an example of imperial decline as well. The common desire of many of the great European powers for a change in the world state system meant that either a massive war would have to be fought; or that one of the great powers would need to attempt a leap to superpower status (Dukes 101).
One of two ways war could have been avoided was for the United State or Russia to have taken powerful and vigorous action against Germany in 1939. Robert A. Divine holds that “superpowerdom gives a nation the framework by which a nation is able to extend globally the reach of its power and influence” (32). This can be seen as the ability to make other nations, especially in the Third World, to act in ways that the superpower prefers, even if this is not in the weaker nations self interest. The question must be raised, were the United States and Russia superpowers even then, could certain actions taken by them have had such significant ramifications for international order? It must be concluded that, while they were not yet superpowers, they certainly were great powers with an incredible amount of influence that accompanies such status. Neither the U.S.
nor the Soviet Union possessed the international framework necessary to be a super power at this time. It is likely that frameworks similar to NATO or the Warsaw Pact could have been developed, but such infrastructures would have been on much a smaller scale (Smith 7). At this time, neither the U.S. nor Russia had developed the overwhelming advantages that they possessed at the end of the war. The United States did not become a superpower by accident. Roosevelt had a definite European policy that was designed from the start to secure a leading role for the United States.
After the war, Roosevelt perceived that the way to dominate world affairs was to reduce Europes international role. The creation of a permanent superpower rivalry with Russia was seen as the safest way to ensure world stability. Regarding Roosevelts policy, author Elena Aga-Rossi states, “Roosevelt sought to reduce Europes geopolitical role by ensuring the fragmentation of the continent into small, relatively powerless, and ethnically homogenous states” (81). These goals are very similar to those of Stalin. Roosevelt was certain that World War II would destroy continental Europe as a military and economic force, removing Germany and France from the stage of world powers (Aga-Rossi 82).
This would leave the United States, Great Britain, and Russia as the last remaining European world powers. It might be asked why Roosevelt did not plot the fall of the British Empire as well. A cynical answer to this is that Roosevelt understood that the United States was not powerful enough to check the Soviet Unions power in Europe by itself. It made sense because the United States and Britain are cultural cousins, the most extensive solution would be to continue the tradition of friendliness. As far as economic or military competition, Roosevelt knew that if he could open the British Empire to free trade it would not be able to effectively compete with the United States.
It is fair to say that Roosevelt had originally planned to have a system of three superpowers. Those powers being, the U.S., the UK, and the USSR. After it was seen that either the Germans or the Russians would dominate Eastern Europe, the plan was forced to change. It shifted from one where the U.S. and Great Britain would keep order in Europe, to one where Great Britain and Russia woul …