Rise of the Superpowers (USA and USSR)

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Rise of the Superpowers (USA & USSR) from events prior
to and during WWII World War II: the process of
superpowerdom It is often wondered how the superpowers
achieved their position of dominance. It seems that the
maturing of the two superpowers, Russia and the United
States, can be traced to World War II. To be a
superpower, a nation needs to have a strong economy, an
overpowering military, immense international political power
and, related to this, a strong national ideology. It was this
war, and its results, that caused each of these superpowers
to experience such a preponderance of power. Before the
war, both nations were fit to be described as great powers,
but it would be erroneous to say that they were superpowers
at that point. To understand how the second World War
impacted these nations so greatly, we must examine the
causes of the war. The United States gained its strength in
world affairs from its status as an economic power. In the
years before the war, America was the world’s largest
producer. In the USSR at the same time, Stalin was
implementing his five year plans’ to modernise the Soviet
economy. From these situations, similar foreign policies
resulted from widely divergent origins. Roosevelt’s
isolationism emerged from the wide and prevalent domestic
desire to remain neutral in any international conflicts. It
commonly widely believed that Americans entered the first
World War simply in order to save industry’s capitalist
investments in Europe. Whether this is the case or not,
Roosevelt was forced to work with an inherently isolationist
Congress, only expanding its horizons after the bombing of
Pearl Harbour. He signed the Neutrality Act of 1935,
making it illegal for the United States to ship arms to the
belligerents of any conflict. The act also stated that
belligerents could buy only non-armaments from the US, and
even these were only to be bought with cash. In contrast,
Stalin was by necessity interested in European affairs, but
only to the point of concern to the USSR. Russian foreign
policy was fundamentally Leninist in its concern to keep the
USSR out of war. Stalin wanted to consolidate Communist
power and modernise the country’s industry. The Soviet
Union was committed to collective action for peace, as long
as that commitment did not mean that the Soviet Union
would take a brunt of a Nazi attack as a result. Examples of
this can be seen in the Soviet Unions’ attempts to achieve a
mutual assistance treaty with Britain and France. These
treaties, however, were designed more to create security for
the West, as opposed to keeping all three signatories from
harm. At the same time, Stalin was attempting to polarise
both the Anglo-French, and the Axis powers against each
other. The important result of this was the Nazi-Soviet
non-aggression pact, which partitioned Poland, and allowed
Hitler to start the war. Another side-effect of his policy of
playing both sides was that it caused incredible distrust
towards the Soviets from the Western powers after 1940.

This was due in part to the fact that Stalin made several
demands for both influence in the Dardanelles, and for
Bulgaria to be recognised as a Soviet dependant. The seeds
of superpowerdom lie here however, in the late thirties. R.J.

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Overy has written that “stability in Europe might have been
achieved through the existence of powers so strong that they
could impose their will on the whole of the international
system, as has been the case since 1945.” At the time,
there was no power in the world that could achieve such a
feat. Britain and France were in imperial decline, and more
concerned about colonial economics than the stability of
Europe. Both imperial powers assumed that empire-building
would necessarily be an inevitable feature of the world
system. German aggression could have been stifled early had
the imperial powers had acted in concert. The memories of
World War One however, were too powerful, and the
general public would not condone a military solution at that
point. The aggression of Germany, and to a lesser extent that
of Italy, can be explained by this decline of imperial power.

They were simply attempting to fill the power vacuum in
Europe that Britain and France unwittingly left. After the
economic crisis of the 1930’s, Britain and France lost much
of their former international standing–as the world markets
plummeted; so did their relative power. The two nations
were determined to maintain their status as great powers
however, without relying on the US or the USSR for support
of any kind. They went to war only because further
appeasement would have only served to remove from them


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