7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 12

Robert Blake on cold war diplomacy

By 1944 Allied victory against th.e Axis was a certainty. If some prophet had at that time correctly predicted the nature of the world ten years later, he would have been regarded as insane. The war aims of victorious powers, admittedly, are seldom realised at all closely. But there are degrees of non-fulfilment. Surely there can never have been quite such an apparent contrast between the objects for which the second world war was fought and the ' settlement ' — insofar as there has been such a thing at all — which followed it. When in 1954 the Cold War finally crystallised the attitudes of the great powers and Europe was divided into two armed alliances glaring at each other across a divided Germany, the last idealistic visions of a new world order conceived during the war faded away. Eighteen years have elapsed since then, long enough for a child to grow up and become of age. Yet in essentials the position in Europe remains much as it was. There is still no peace Treaty with Germany. There is still no chink in the Iron Curtain. We have lived with this situation for so long that we tend to forget how strange it is and how seemingly remote from anything that we expected, even the more cynical among us, when the bombs and shells stopped falling in 1945.

Sir John Wheeler-Bennett and Mr Anthony Nicholls have endeavoured in a vast and most scholarly work to trace the process whereby this happened. They deserve to be congratulated on a magnificent achievement, a work of immense learning yet remarkably easy to follow and read. Moreover,: the mass of documents which occupy the last 200 pages will be an invaluable source for all who study the subject. There already have been critics, and there na doubt will be more, who regard the authdrs' attitude as ' square ' and old fashioned, conventionally Churchillian and pro-British, insufficiently mindful of the ' revisionist ' historians. That is the school which sees the Cold War, not as the product of Communist ideology and Russian imperialism, rather as the defensive reaction of a great power narrowly saved from destruction and deeply suspicious of the machinations of the Western Allies, one of whom had manufactured in strict secrecy a weapon capable of transforming the entire nature of warfare, and did not scruple to use the power thus gained in order to advance her own imperialist designs. The authors make no concession to this theory. They firmly declare very early in the book that Russian foreign policy had:

three basic long term principles which continued adamant, despite all mutations and tergiversations of current diplomacy. These were: first to hold firmly to what remained of the old Russian Empire; secondly to regain the territories lost by the Treaty of BrestLitovsk, at the Paris Peace Conference and by the Treaty of Riga; thirdly to regain for the Soviet Union the territorial strength and political influence which Tsarist Russia had exercised in the past, and, if possible, to exceed it. In all these ambitions, with the exception of the re-annexation of Finland, the Soviet Union was successful at the close of the Second World War.

It has to be conceded that there can be no final conclusion about the merits of these opposing views. The authors have had access to masses of documents in Britain and America. The motives actuating some of the principal figures even in those countries are not always clear. On occasions one can only guess what Roosevelt had in mind at some of the wartime conferences. But assiduous study and personal knowledge — for Sir John Wheeler-Bennett saw much at first hand — enable the authors to construct an accurate picture of British purposes and a picture almost as reliable of American aims. No such ' hard ' knowledge can exist of Stalin's motives. The Kremlin archives, if indeed they contain any information at all, are not likely to be seen by historians in the foreseeable future. Surmise and a broad assessment of probabilities are the only tools which can be used.

It is certainly right in considering Russian policy to allow for the enormous losses which they sustained: over thirty times as many dead as the combined Anglo-American total. The notion became current that the second generation of Western generals conclusively showed their superiority to the Haigs, Nivelles, Foches by their judicious economy of lives. The truth is that in neither war was Germany defeated without gigantic casualties for the victors. The Sommes and Passchendaeles of the second world war were fought on the eastern front of which the Western Allies knew little at the time and know but slightly more even now. Although Stalin's pressure for a 'second front' was exasperating, it was well justified. The Russians had some cause to feel that they bore the brunt of the attack, indeed that they were the true objective of Hitler's conquering ambition. The idiocy of their own foreign policy from 1939 to 1941 would not have diminished that sentiment.

I doubt whether the battle of the ' revisionists' against the 'squares ' is all that important. The authors of this book, to the annoyance of more than one high authority, dismiss the revisionist theory perfunctorily. Perhaps they would have done better to argue their own case more fully for it is a very strong one. Yet they are right not to waste overmuch time on unanswerable questions. Whatever his true motives, Stalin behaved from very early on in a manner which was bound to raise misgivings in the West. After all, the casus belli for Britain was supposed to be Poland. The Katyn massacre — an atrocity of the first magnitude — made it clear enough how the Russians regarded the Poles; and Stalin's conduct over the Warsaw rising in December 1944, although again one cannot prove his motives, inevitably confirmed the darkest suspicions of Churchill, even if for the moment it left the Americans relatively unmoved. It is true that Britain and America kept Russia out of the negotiations with Italy in 1943 and that the Russians could justifiably give tit for tat in their own dealings with their vanquished foes in Eastern Europe later. The post-war behaviour of Russia may just possibly have been defensive. No Western statesman could have banked on it. If every action of an enigmatic former ally of convenience with a dark record can equally well be interpreted as a manifestation of fear or as evidence of predatory imperialism, it is not unreasonable to take no risks and assume the worst.

The post-war settlement produced a Germany partitioned into two hostile republics which the rival alliances — WEU on the one side, the Warsaw Pact on the other — had every interest in revitalising and supporting. But there has so far been no formal peace treaty and neither of the Germanies belong to the UN (which has its advantages in such matters as profitably busting sanctions against Rhodesia). In the Far East the post-war settlement produced a Japan whose national sovereignty unhampered by any restrictions on economic development or military rearmament was fully recognised by the Western Allies and, after an interval, by the USSR too. Peace treaties have been signed and Japan is a member of the UN. Certainly in both cases it was a far cry from any war aims formulated during hostilities. Whatever the Big Three envisaged, it was not that.

But what exactly did they envisage? With Russia as in all other aspects of her policy we cannot tell for certain. As far as the west is concerned, at the beginning of the war a distinction was made by Neville Chamberlain between the German people and their Nazi rulers, the implication being, in the words of the authors, "that once Hitler and the Nazi regime had been disposed of, Germany might expect a generous peace." And they remind us that, incredible though it may seem, there were as late as 1941 those who thought that the Sudetenland and Austria should be part of postwar Germany. It was only in 1942 that Austrian independence became a war aim, and the Munich Pact was abrogated.

The next stage was unconditional surrender' formulated by Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. This was still compatible with a distinction between the leaders and the led. It did not imply the destruction of the German people. Roosevelt, fighting, even as Churchill and Stalin were too in their different ways, the last war as well as the current one, was determined that there should be no repetition of the post 1918 myth of the stab in the back. The authors strongly repudiate the popular notion that this formula kept the Germans fighting longer than they otherwise would have done, pointing out that it applied equally to Italy and did not stop that country from accepting defeat.

But as the war dragged on, opinions hardened. The culmination of this trend was the abortive Morgenthau Plan put forward at Quebec in September 1944. Roosevelt as early as October the previous Year had favoured the partition of Germany. Demilitarisation was of course taken for granted. At Tehran in November 1943 Stalin pressed for much more drastic measures including the liquidation of German industrial strength. Henry Mor genthau, the Secretary of the Treasury, influenced by Harry Dexter White who in 1948 committed suicide after being hauled before a Senate Committee on charges of pro-communist activities, proposed that Germany should be pastoralised ' — a policy which would have involved the deaths of some 40 per cent of the population. Roosevelt was delighted.

Churchill's first reaction was hostile: " I agree with Burke. You cannot indict a whole nition." But he had much to ask of the Americans and, persuaded by Lord Cherwell, signed the document. Cordell Hull and gtimson on the-American side, Eden on the British were furious. The plan was soon dropped, but not before it had been leaked in Drew Pearson's column, whence Goebbels made excellent propaganda use of it. Probably this was something which really did prolong German resistance.

The last wartime meeting of the Big Three — Yalta in January 1945 — did not result in a definite agreement. Stalin and Roosevelt wanted Germany dismembered. Churchill and Eden did not. In the end it was left as the probable outcome of a settlement but not a certainty, • Stalin preferring to concentrate on a staggering bill for reparations and to content himself with a division into zones of military occupation. With the Cold War the boundary between the Russian and western zones became frozen; .there is no sign of a thaw yet.

In the Far East which the authors discuss no less fully, an equally startling departure from war aims •-occurred. This was almost exclusively an American province. All American calculations (and in the long run, one may suspect, most Russian calculations too) were invalidated by the triumph of Mao and the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek. Hence the rapid relaxation of attitudes towards Japan, the signing of a generous peace treaty, and her admission to the comity of nations.

No one should be complacept about the post-war world, but it is possible to be too gloomy. After all we went to war in 1939 not to save Poland, create a world peace organisation or spread parliamentary democracy. We fought above all else to defeat Germany in such a way that she could not menace Britain or the peace of the world again. And she will not. With all allowance for the recklessness of predicting the course of history this is as good a bet as any. Hitler was totally defeated.

Nazism is dead. Germany has been effectively partitioned and is yet reason ably prosperous. No doubt this is the result of the divisions of the victors, not of any enlightened, humane, far-sighted agreement. But it is not such a bad result all the same. Nor is the situation in the Far East one of unmitigated gloom. It may be a strange twist of 'events but one would not be surprised to find Red China playing something of the same part in President Nixon's reckoning as .the China of the Kuomintang was intended to play in Roosevelt's thirty years ago — an irony of history no doubt, but then history often is ironical, and never more so than in the endless saga of war and peace. Lord Blake is Provost of Queen's College, Oxford.