Is patriotism ultimately destructive to international relations

International Relations I

Already during the common struggle against National Socialist Germany, the power and ideological contradictions of the anti-Hitler coalition became apparent. After the end of the Second World War it broke up.

After the conclusion of the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allied heads of state Winston Churchill (Great Britain), Franklin D. Roosevelt (USA) and Josef Stalin (USSR) had their photos taken. (& copy Wikimedia)


The East-West conflict was the defining feature of world politics from 1945 to 1990. It was characterized by the power-political rivalry between the USA and the USSR and the ideological contrast between communism and western democracy. The conflict between the opposing systems initially took the form of a "cold war" and escalated several times to the brink of nuclear war. After the experience of the Berlin and Cuba crises in 1961/62, efforts in both camps intensified for relaxation and peaceful coexistence in order to avoid a self-destructive nuclear war. But only after the collapse of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe in the wake of the revolution of 1989 and the subsequent self-dissolution of the Soviet Union through the termination of the Union Treaty of 1922 and the establishment of the "Commonwealth of Independent States" (CIS) did the East-West conflict - at least provisional - end.

Often predicted since the 19th century as a conflict between "Eastern" and "Western" civilization and since the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 as a struggle between liberal capitalist principles and state socialist ideas, the international system was replaced by the East-West after the Second World War. Conflict significantly shaped. The double event of the October Revolution in Russia and the entry of the USA into the war of the European powers, which thereby expanded into World War I, created a constellation as early as 1917 in which later developments became apparent. But it was Hitler's war and the associated destruction of the political structures of Central Europe, which allowed the "marginal powers" USA and Soviet Union to fill the political vacuum in Europe, that made the East-West confrontation possible.

Rise of the USA and the USSR

The Second World War marked a deep turning point in international relations. The changes brought about by the war started by Hitler not only led to the smashing of the power of Germany and Italy in Europe and Japan in the Far East, but also to the end of the "European age" in world politics. At the same time they opened the floodgates for the increasing influence of the previous "marginal powers" USA and Soviet Union on international politics. The USA and the USSR replaced the classic European great powers as determining factors and rose to become world and superpowers themselves.

In the 1930s, the USA and the Soviet Union had great difficulty in establishing themselves in terms of foreign policy. After taking office in 1933, the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt was faced with serious economic problems that had been brought about by the Great Depression - from 1929 onwards. He tried to overcome the economic and social difficulties with an extensive development and aid program within the framework of the so-called "New Deal". Initially, there was little room for an active foreign policy.

In addition, a strict law of neutrality passed by Congress in 1935 tied the President's hands so that US intervention in military conflicts that were not in the US's immediate security interests was impossible. It was not until October 1937 that the president gave up his foreign policy restraint: In view of the totalitarian movements in Europe and the military action by Japan against China in the Far East, he called for the isolation of all aggressive states from the international community in his famous "quarantine speech". But the energetic words were initially not followed by action.

The Soviet Union was also largely self-absorbed at the time. Stalin sought to secure his power by brutally suppressing any resistance to his policies and by having at least eight million people locked up in camps and prisons or killed between 1936 and 1938 alone. At the same time, he pushed ahead with his collectivization and industrialization plans and thereby pushed through the transformation of the Soviet Union from an agricultural country to an industrial state, with great deprivation of the population. It was only the burgeoning threat from German National Socialism, which was compounded by the Russian-Japanese border incidents in the Far East, that finally forced Stalin to turn to foreign policy as well.

In view of the appeasement policy of the Western powers towards National Socialist Germany, which culminated in the Munich Agreement of September 1938, Stalin now even sought an alliance with Hitler's Germany. Before that, in the run-up to the Munich Conference, he had unsuccessfully proposed a joint declaration by Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union on the protection of Czechoslovakia and the development of a defense plan. Since Stalin had to fear that Hitler would turn to the east with new claims after the concessions made by the Western powers in Munich, he endeavored to adapt Soviet foreign policy to the changed international environment. The result was the German-Soviet non-aggression pact signed in August 1939 as well as a secret additional protocol in which the partition of Poland, the annexation of the Baltic States to the Soviet Union and the German disinterest in Bessarabia were agreed.

With the conclusion of the "Hitler-Stalin Pact" on August 31, 1939, which caused great surprise and consternation in Western Europe and the USA, it became clear that the fate of Poland, to which Hitler made similar demands as to Czechoslovakia, was sealed. Even in the USA, where in previous years there had been a tendency to leave European policy largely to the British and French, people began to understand that developments could no longer be watched idly. Initially, however, Roosevelt only made personal appeals to Hitler, Mussolini and the Polish President Moscicki to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict. After the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which sparked World War II, Roosevelt reaffirmed the neutrality of the United States.

This did not change even then when the Soviet army marched into eastern Poland on September 17 and the Germans and Russians signed a border and friendship treaty on September 28, in which they placed Poland under German and Soviet sovereignty after the surrender. But the moral outrage over this disregard for all principles of international law was just as great in the USA as it was in Great Britain, for example, which had already declared war on Germany on September 1st. It increased when, after defeating Poland, the Soviet Union also brought Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia under its control (they were incorporated as Soviet republics in August 1940) and, in October 1939, the Finnish government finally confronted the Finnish government with imposing territorial claims Winter War 1939/40 partially riddled with armed violence. Above all, the Soviet behavior towards the Finns, who enjoyed great sympathy in the Anglo-American world, contributed to the fact that the anti-Soviet mood in the West reached a new high point.

In 1940 the Soviet Union was therefore excluded from the League of Nations. The US government also imposed a so-called "moral embargo" to prevent American companies from exporting strategic goods such as aircraft, fuel and metals to the Soviet Union. In 1940, however, the indignation in the American public about the German and Soviet striving for power was still insufficient to support US intervention in the war, which still did not pose a direct threat to American security.