Thursday, March 14, 2013

Britain and the post-Second World War plans for Europe

I think watching The Americans has given me a real case of Cold War nostalgia.

Fraser Harbutt in his diplomatic history of Second World War diplomacy among the US, Britain and the USSR, Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads (2010) examines the wartime diplomacy that ultimately issued into the Cold War, whatever the intentions of the participants. Harbutt emphasizes the intra-European dimension of wartime negotiations over the shape of the postwar Europe, of which the British-Soviet relationship was the most important. As he describes it, he traces "the basic distinction ... between an autonomous European political arena (where Stalin could rely for practical cooperation upon his preferred association with Britain) and the very different American polity, with its introspective and effusively moralistic political culture." (p. 134)

He points out that Churchill's own accounts of wartime diplomacy and those of his admirerers have "done much to give it an East/West cast," at the expense of recognizing the often ruthlessly pragmatic approach to postwar questions in which the Soviet Union and Britain both indulged. He writes:

All this needs some radical qualification. It is of course true that Churchill was the dominating figure in Britain's wartime affairs. But he was decidedly more "European" than "Anglo-American" in his approach to the war's international politics. It is also true that he made a great show throughout the war of fidelity to the ideal of Anglo-American fraternity. It is not at all clear, however, how deeply felt or sincere this was. It is often overlooked that Churchill had throughout his long public life exhibited a lively apprehension of American hegemonial ambitions. And, as we have just seen, he saw Europe as his "primary concern." It seems likely, on the whole, that the taproot of his wartime commitment to the Anglo-American alliance was British necessity and self-interest rather than the transatlantic romanticism that often bubbles effervescently in World War ll's memoir literature. The fact is that British necessity during the war required the United States for survival and then for the maintenance of its war effort. It also needed the Soviet Union for victory and postwar political tranquility. Churchill behaved accordingly. [my emphasis]
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