March 19, 2007

Pacifying Stalin

One of the biggest historical controversies of the last fifty years has been the beggining of the cold war- historians on both sides have led the charge, arguing either that the United States was right to protect its allies in Western Europe or on the other that the Soviet Union was right to think that it needed a buffer between it and the West. Professor Geoffrey Roberts from Yale University has recently written a book about the era and has summarised part of his conclusions about the relationship at the centre of the era, between the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Russian leader Joseph Stalin in this article. Professor Roberts suggests that Roosevelt had the ear of Stalin and that his strategy of appeasing the Russian dictator was a success, he beleives that Stalin genuinely beleived in a rapprochement with the Western allies. Professor Roberts beleives that the death of Roosevelt and the events after 1945 led to the increased alienation of Russia from the Western Alliance and an increased paranoia and defensiveness within Russia.

Its interesting to read Professor Roberts's account- definitely its a mistake to see Roosevelt through the prism of the cold war. Yet he left me unpersuaded that there could ever have been an alternative to the cold war. What Professor Roberts leaves me in no doubt about is that Stalin's motivations were predominately based upon an ideological assessment of the world around him. He beleived that capitalist powers behaved in certain ways- that they were aggressive and required imperialist expansion to survive. Consequently in my view, and in Professor Roberts's view, Stalin really wanted as much of Europe as possible to be communist. (Professor Roberts beleives that Stalin would have been happy with a 'social democratic' Europe- given that much of Europe was 'social democratic' and given what happened to social democrats in Eastern Europe, I'd have a different counter factual position). Its my inclination that no American President and definitely no British Prime Minister could have let that happen- the cost of not being firm might well have been a war further down the line. The cost of being firm though may well be that Stalin's mindset about capitalism became fossilised- contact could have persuaded him otherwise, we'll never know but my inclination would be to bet the other way.

It is an interesting article though and Professor Roberts's book looks intriguing too- the period is a fascinating one because the decisions made in 1944-7 governed the shape of the rest of the twentieth century.


Vino S said...

I am interested by your article. I commented about it on my blog, as I am not sure that Roosevelt was really that conciliatory to Stalin. He was more reflecting the situation on the ground, when he agreed that the USSR could have domination over Eastern Europe. Additionally, lend-lease and the provision of supplies to the Soviets was somrthing that the US almost needeed to do. After all, the USSR in 1941-4 was bleeding Germany dry. Anything that would help them do that was a good thing from the US point of view, since it meant that - post-D-Day - they would have a weaker German military machine to fight.