Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

After the last world war

Even amid the largest upsets on the geopolitical chessboard, individual leaders have the power to make a difference, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

This year, on 14 August, marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and, ironically, the end of what was called “the imposed alliance” between the Soviet Union and the US.

This triggered what would develop into the Cold War, which lasted for decades and spread to all regions of the world, from Korea and China, to the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

During the alliance, US President Franklin D Roosevelt had his own views on the necessity of the Soviet Union for the Western alliance against Nazism, particularly after the courage of the Soviet army and sacrifices of the Russian people.

Hitler’s declaration of war days after Pearl Harbour made the US and the Soviet Union official allies. Unity against Nazism transcended all previous differences. In August 1942, Roosevelt instructed his military advisors to accelerate support to Soviet Union.

Three months later, Roosevelt said that engagement of the Soviet Union in the war was necessary for defending the US. He instructed that Russia benefit from the US “Lend-Lease” law, formally known as “An Act to Promote the Defence of the United States,” through which the Soviet Union received $9.3 billion.

Roosevelt wrote to General MacArthur, saying, “Russia is killing soldiers and destructing its military equipment more than the forces of the alliance together.” As for Stalin, he expressed appreciation for the US war effort, saying, “Without the US’s participation in the war, this war will be lost.”

With Roosevelt’s support of the Soviet Union, Stalin believed that there was a possibility to build a post-war world system and to respond to the Soviet Union’s legal and security concerns. The Tehran Conference in 1943 and Yalta meeting in 1945 came as test of these expectations and the intentions of Stalin.

The Poland question, in particular, was pivotal regarding what Roosevelt expected, in terms of establishing a national democratic system. Stalin wanted to see a government in Poland be a “friend of the Soviet Union.”

Nonetheless, Roosevelt reported to Congress on 1 March 1945 that Yalta provided a basis for permanent peace. Following Yalta, however, the Soviet Union indicated different intentions towards Poland and other East European countries.

The death of Roosevelt and the coming to power of of Harry S Truman as US president in 1945 marked a new phase in post-war US-Soviet relations. Contrary to Roosevelt’s views, Truman was suspicious of the intentions of Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Through 1946, Truman sought to manage US policy on a world level. His views clashed with the Soviet Union, first in Germany and then in the Middle East, Asia and the UN. Truman did not share Roosevelt’s pragmatic idealism, believing that he knew best what was good for the world and that had the power to realise it.

Truman’s position led to a simplistic worldview, similar to the distinction between black and white: the post-war world was divided between the good Washington and the evil Moscow. This view led to open hostility towards the Soviet Union.

In turn, Stalin showed hostility towards the United States. A vicious circle was formed and would last throughout the decades of the Cold War, permeating all world issues. Not surprisingly, some historians believe that the Cold War started with the death of Roosevelt and the coming of Truman.

They also question whether the Cold War — including the major confrontation in Europe — was avoidable. Were Soviet stances and suspicions a reaction to initial American hostility? The US, with its military and economic power, was not seriously affected by the war, and even increased its strength during the war.

Despite this, Truman cancelled all economic support previously given under the “lend and lease” law. In response, Stalin introduced a new five-year plan to build Russia’s industrial and technological base. To conclude: the Cold War was the product of a vicious circle of mutual suspicion based on a combination of ideology and national interest.

Truman’s vision is comparable to that of another US president in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan, who started his era with a political, ideological and military confrontation, calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” He refused to meet with its leaders and claimed, “They do not hesitate to lie and cheat to promote their policies.”

In the view of a number of historians, Reagan’s confrontational policy was instrumental in the final collapse of the Soviet Union, and, consequently, brought an end to the Cold War.

The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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