Desktop version

Home arrow Political science

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

The division of Europe

A series of summits held by the allies from 1943-1945 had set some parameters for the post-war Europe. Now widely condemned as a cynical bargain, the idea of Soviet and Western spheres of influence was accepted, along with the partition of Germany into Soviet, American, British and French zones of occupation. Following the German surrender in May 1945, the partition of Europe effectively matched the military situation at this time. The advancing Soviet and American armies met at the Elbe. As Keylor (2011) argues, the two zones reflected the preferences of their liberating armies, as they re-established political systems and economic and foreign policies. This did not happen overnight: for several years after the war non-Communist parties took part in Central and Eastern European governments, while Communist parties were strong in many Western European states. However, Stalin was determined to establish proSoviet client states in the Soviet sphere of influence, and the political divisions began to harden.

By the end of the Second World War, the European continent was devastated. It was not just the physical destruction in terms of housing, communications, agricultural and industrial production, but also the human costs of large-scale displacements of people. This was not just the question of the repatriation or resettlement of Holocaust victims, refugees, forced labourers and prisoners-of-war, it was also about the movement of minority groups. As Judt (2005) points out, with the exception of Poland, which saw major border changes (losing territory to the East, but gaining territory in the West that had belonged to Germany), the post-1945 settlement saw the forced resettlement of national minorities, leaving states with much more homogenous populations. This was in comparison to the First World War peace settlement, which brought many border changes, but largely left people where they were.

The USA became deeply concerned with the vulnerability of Western European states to Soviet domination because of their inability to recover from the war economically. The US Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, in 1947 made an unprecedented offer of foreign economic aid to the states of Europe, including the Soviet Union and its satellites, in return for economic cooperation within Europe. This was considered but rejected by the Soviet Union and its allies. The 16 nations who agreed to take part drew up a four-year recovery plan, and, between 1948 and 1952, grants and credits worth $13.2 billion were disbursed (Keylor, 2011). The success of the Marshall Plan saw Western Europe embark on a period of rapid economic recovery and expansion, which further solidified the gap between the two blocs.

The search for a viable Western European security architecture design was already being discussed during the Second World War, with the British Foreign Office drawing up ideas about a Western European Security Group, based on a core Franco-British alliance (Greenwood, 1983). The Franco-British 1947 Treaty of Dunkirk established an alliance and mutual assistance guarantee. Both this treaty and the 1948 Brussels Pact, which extended the agreement to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, were ostensibly to counter fears of any further German aggression (Germany is mentioned in both treaties). However, Greenwood (1983) and Trachtenberg (1999) both argue that declassified documents show that the fear was really about potential Soviet aggression, but that none of the signatories wanted to provoke the Soviets. Greenwood (1983) further states that the UK motivation for signing the Treaty of Dunkirk was to strengthen the French government and minimise the influence of the French Communist Party. For both London and Paris, the rapid post-war demobilisation of the American armed forces and the USA’s domestic preference for a disengagement from Europe, were matters of real security concern. Paris was similarly concerned about how committed the UK was to the defence of mainland Europe. By 1947, however, the Greek civil war and Iranian and Turkish straits crises had shown the USA that the Soviet Union was committed to expansionism, and that the weakened British were unable to stop them. As a result, US President Truman announced that the USA was committed to bolstering friendly states on the periphery of the Soviet bloc if they were put under pressure, and duly sent assistance; a policy of containment that became known as the Truman Doctrine (Keylor, 2011).

Throughout 1947 and 1948, a gradual process of economic integration brought the three Western zones of occupation in Germany together, and, in June 1948, a common currency was launched. Moscow saw these developments as threatening, and began the Berlin blockade by halting surface deliveries of supplies to the enclave of West Berlin. This was counteredby an American-British airlift, which delivered supplies until Stalin ended the blockade in May 1949. This incident did much to strengthen the process started by the Truman Doctrine, which was the conviction among the American political elite that their traditional isolationism was unsustainable and that they needed to offer a firm commitment to the defence of Western Europe (for more on US motivations, see Chapter 4).

Britain made two important proposals in the late 1940s. First, in 1946, Winston Churchill called for the creation of a Council of Europe. The CoE was founded by the Treaty of London in 1949. It is best known for the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention created the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which remains an important adjudicator on human rights cases brought by citizens against member states. A further British proposal of linking the Brussels Pact states with the USA and Canada in the form of a North Atlantic security system was taken up by the US State Department, and negotiations began in July 1948. The Brussels Pact states, the USA and Canada were joined by Italy, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Portugal in these negotiations and the North Atlantic Treaty, which contained a mutual defence clause (Article Five), was signed on 4 April 1949. Greece and Turkey would accede in 1952 and Spain in 1982, after the death of General Franco and its consequent return to democracy. The subsequent US military aid package to Western Europe formed the underpinnings of what became known as NATO. It is fair to say that NATO was sold in the various national capitals in different and not always coherent ways, and the eventual evolution of the institution was not immediately apparent. The first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, is famously cited as claiming the purpose of NATO was ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down* (Ismay, injudt, 2005, p. 150), but this was already deceptive. The huge disparity in terms of ground forces meant the NATO allies were outnumbered 12-1 in Europe (Keylor, 2011). American military aid was helping to rearm and reform the NATO European armies, but it was clear that the USA's nuclear advantage would not form a sufficient defence and that West Germany would need to be rearmed, if NATO was to mount a credible defence of Western Europe.

Rearming West Germany, so soon after the disarmament process at the end of the Second World War, was decidedly politically unpalatable to many West European governments, but particularly to France. It was not universally popular in West Germany, either. There was also marked resistance to the idea from the West German population as a whole (Onslow, 1951) and from business and industry, which saw rearmament, and the industrial capacity that would be needed, as a threat to the civilian economic renaissance of the Federal Republic. Nevertheless, it took place, mainly because the government of Konrad Adenauer saw rearmament as a vital step towards its two prime foreign policy goals: regaining German sovereignty, and binding the Federal Republic more closely into Western Europe as a whole and the Western Alliance in particular (Schwarz, 1997). The French proposed two plans in 1950 to neutralise potential German power by enmeshing it into Western European structures: the Schumann plan and the Pleven plan. The Schuman plan would lead to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the precursor to the EU, which put the member states’ coal and steel production under a common high authority, thus preventing unilateral rearmament by West Germany, as increasing coal and steel production were vital to any rearmament process at that time. The 1957 Treaty of Rome would formally found the European Economic Community, which became the EU, and which would play a crucial role in the reconciliation process between Western European states by promoting increasing economic, and then political, cooperation. The Pleven plan would have created a European Defence Community (EDC - see Box 2.1).

Box 2.1 The European Defence Community (EDC)

In 1950, the then French Prime Minister, René Pleven, proposed a European Defence Community. The idea was to find a way in which West Germany could rearm, to contribute to Western defences, without their government having a sovereign armed force. It was to include France, Italy, West Germany and the Benelux countries. The EDC would have had a common budget, armaments procurement strategy and institutions, as well as having direct control over West German forces. Following negotiations, a treaty was signed on 27 May 1952, but the French National Assembly voted against ratification in 1954, meaning the EDC never came into being. French concerns centred around the threat to national sovereignty (especially while they were losing militarily in French Indochina) and the question of British commitment to Western European defence, as the UK would not join the EDC.

The demise of the EDC left all concerned in a difficult position. The British government, however, managed to propose a solution that was acceptable to all parties, which was the extension of the Brussels Pact to cover Italy and West Germany. This entailed a commitment on the part of the British to station troops in Europe (what became known as the British Army of the Rhine), thus placating French fears. In October 1954, the Brussels Pact five, plus West Germany and Italy, signed an agreement that created the Western European Union (WEU). Britain, the USA and France terminated the occupation ofWest Germany and allowed it to rearm (with the condition that it would not manufacture chemical, biological or atomic weapons on its territory), and, in 1955, West Germany joined NATO.

The Soviet Union had tried to stop these developments. The Stalin Note of March 1952 had proposed the reunification of a demilitarised Germany with no political or economic interference, but this was rejected by the West. Ten days after West Germany joined NATO and the military occupation came to an end in 1955, the Soviet Union announced the formation of the Warsaw Pact. This brought together Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union in an alliance of cooperation and mutual assistance. Moscow also accepted the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, and brought it into the Pact (Judt, 2005). These developments institutionalised the security arrangements that would prevail until the end of the Cold War and solidified the division of Europe.

Cold War military alliances

Figure 2.1 Cold War military alliances

Source: Wikimedia Commons (2006), 'Cold War Europe military alliances map', Available at: https://commons. (accessed: 19 January 2019).

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics