A Year of Peacemaking

VOLUME 178

NUMBER 6

DECEMBER, 1946

89th YEAR OF CONTINUOUS PUBLICATION

by WALTER LIPPMANN

FIFTEEN months have elapsed, as this article goes to press, since Potsdam, where the Big Three decided to approach the settlement of the world war by negotiating treaties for the European satellite states. A phase of this first chapter of the peacemaking ended with the adjournment in Paris on October 15 of the conference of the twenty-one nations. The Big Four, France having been admitted after Potsdam, are now at work in New York trying to conclude these treaties. They have fixed on the end of November as the time to begin to discuss a settlement with Germany. They have no agreement about when they will discuss Austria. They have not yet begun to discuss when they will begin to discuss the settlement with Japan.

The calendar and the agenda of the peacemaking are extraordinary, indeed astonishing. After no great war of modern times have the victors allowed so much time to pass before treating with their principal enemies. And though this is supposed to be the global settlement of a war that made this “one world,” we have thus far confined our peacemaking to one region of the world.

If we ask why there has been this unusually long delay in coming to grips with the main issues of a settlement, why instead there has been this prolonged preoccupation with the satellites, the explanation would, I suppose, be that it is inordinately difficult to deal with Soviet Russia. Now there is no doubt that Mr, Truman and Mr. Byrnes, Mr. Attlee and Mr. Bevin, have found it inordinately difficult to deal with Soviet Russia. But this is not a sufficient explanation. For while it might explain a failure to reach agreement for a general settlement, which would require a settlement for Germany and Japan, it does not explain the fact that fifteen months have passed without a serious attempt to begin to negotiate a general settlement.

We must look for the explanation by asking how it happened, and why, contrary to all precedents in the making of peace, the Allies decided to postpone the settlements with the chief enemy states and to deal instead with the satellites of Germany. They took this decision at Potsdam. They took it, I believe, as the consequence of three considerations which at the time seemed of paramount importance to the Soviet Union, to Britain, and to the United States. The first was that Russia insisted on fixing de facto a new eastern frontier for Germany on the fine of the Oder and the western Neisse. The second was that Britain had been given the sole control of Northwestern Germany, which contains 70 per cent of the pre-war German heavy industry, and is the most important economic region of Europe. The third was that the United States insisted that we should have the sole control and the deciding voice in the occupation of Japan. By these three decisions each of the Big Three powers got what each of them most wanted immediately. After that a general settlement of the war, which would have had to deal with Germany and Japan, was postponed indefinitely.

Had Germany been put first on the agenda for Europe, the concession to the Soviet Union on the eastern frontier would have been reopened at once. The British control of the Ruhr and of German heavy industry would have had to be re-examined. There would have had to be negotiations about all the frontiers of Germany, not merely about the eastern. Silesia would have had to be examined along with the Ruhr, and East Prussia along with the Rhineland, and instead of the simple decision conceding the claims of Poland and the Soviet Union, there would have had to be an equal consideration of the claims of France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It would have been necessary to strike a balance that took into account the security of all of Germany’s victims, and their right to reparations, and the future of Germany itself as a viable state. It would have been necessary, in short, to negotiate, and not to postpone, a European settlement.1

Copyright 1946, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston 16, Mass. All rights reserved.

But the United States was inhibited from insisting upon a European settlement around Germany because the Russians would have countered by asking for a simultaneous settlement in Eastern Asia around Japan. We were as little anxious to negotiate immediately about Japan as the Russians or the British were about Germany. Russia and Britain and America would each have had to surrender the special and peculiar position it had obtained — Russia because she had played the main part in defeating Germany and was at the Elbe, Britain because Mr. Churchill had persuaded President Roosevelt to let him have the Ruhr, we because we had conquered Japan and were in possession of it.

2

WHENT the Potsdam Conference had confirmed the Russian position in Eastern Germany, the British position in the Ruhr, and our position in Japan, the Allies had left on their agenda only the European satellites. And so, contrary to all precedents in settling wars, they chose to begin their peacemaking with the satellites of their principal enemy.

This meant that they would attempt to govern the moon in order to regulate the sun. For a satellite is by definition a secondary planet which revolves around a larger one. Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, and also Austria, were, are, and are destined to remain, secondary powers. What becomes of them, what should be done with them and for them, and what can be done, depend on the structure of Europe as a whole. Europe cannot be reconstructed around the satellites: the satellites have to be fitted into the reconstruction of Europe. For this reason no statesmen interested in a general world settlement would have considered it possible or wise to deal with the satellites until there had been a settlement among the great powers. But after Potsdam the Allied statesmen had foreclosed a general settlement.

They were confirmed in their choice of the satellites as the subject of their labors by two opposite but complementary purposes. The Soviet Union was interested in dealing with the satellites first. For this meant that the settlements would be made while the Red Army was still near its maximum power and prestige. Excepting Italy, all the satellites were under Russian military occupation, and, therefore, Russia would have the first word and t he last in the negotiations. In the case of Italy the Russian and the Yugoslav claims had a better chance if they were pressed before a settlement with Germany had removed the reason for maintaining huge armies in the heart of Europe.

The British and Americans were also preoccupied with the satellites. Mr. Churchill was most particularly concerned about the strength of the Red Army and its advance to the Elbe River. Now Mr. Bevin and Mr. Byrnes were unable to force the Red Army to retire from Central Europe. But they undertook to make the Red Army retire by concentrating on the satellites. The Russians were as far west as they were because they were occupying the satellites. Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin thought that if they could conclude treaties of peace with the satellites, the Russians would then have to evacuate Central and Eastern Europe. This would, they told themselves, arrest the spread of communism, would re-establish democracy and liberty behind the iron curtain, and would restore the balance of power in Germany and in Europe, which had been so radically upset by the advance of the Red Army to the Elbe River.

From the London Conference of September, 1945, through the Paris Conference which closed in October, 1946, they worked on this particular project, to the exclusion of all other projects for the settlement of the world war.

The Big Three chose to begin the settlement of the world war in the eastern half of Europe. This was a gigantic blunder, made by men who had had no part in the strategic conduct of the war, and failed to take into account its strategic consequences. For it narrowed the issue between Russia and the West to the very region where the conflict was sharpest and a settlement the most difficult.

Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Finland had been occupied by the Red Army. The greater part of Venezia Giulia to the suburbs of Gorizia and Trieste was occupied by the Yugoslav Army. The Italian peninsula, up to the line to which Tito’s troops were pushed back, was occupied by British and American troops. The Italian colonial empire was occupied by British troops. Given the military position at the end of the war, it would not have been possible to choose a worse theater of diplomatic negotiation in which to initiate a world settlement.

Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin had set themselves an impossible task. While they held firmly for the Western powers the whole position in Africa and the Mediterranean — which they had won by defeating Italy — and the whole of Western Germany containing 46 million Germans to 18 million in the Russian zone, containing the greater part of the demobilized and disbanded veterans of the Wehrmacht and 70 per cent of Germany’s pre-war heavy industry, they undertook by negotiation and diplomatic pressure to reduce the position in Eastern Europe — which the Soviet Union had won because the Red Army had defeated two thirds of the German Army.

I am not saying that it was not a desirable and a necessary thing to reduce the military expansion of Russia. I have no doubt that it is. But I am saying that it was an impossible thing to do immediately, and as our prime object, in the first few months after the war. Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin, armed only with the Atlantic Charter and the Yalta Declaration, were attempting to take by frontal assault the main positions held by the Red Army. These positions are looked upon by all Russians as the British look upon the Low Countries, as we look upon the Caribbean region — as vital to the security of Russia against invasion. Air. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin picked the one region of the globe where the Soviet Union was the strongest, and we most nearly impotent. In this region the Russians were in possession and could act; Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin could only argue and protest.

In any other region they had power, influence, and possessions with which to bargain. They had two thirds of Germany, much the best part of Germany. They had Japan. They had the leading position in China. They had as their close partners France and the highly civilized nations of Western and Northern and Southern Europe. They had the Mediterranean. They had the Middle East. They had the whole of Africa. They had Southern Asia. They had the whole colonial world. They had the whole democrat ic world. They had the whole capitalist system. They were preponderant in the organization of the United Nations. They had command of all the seas. They had command of the air. They had the atomic bomb.

The one thing they did not have was ground armies to match the Red Army in the region which the Red Army had just conquered triumphantly, and at a terrible cost of blood and treasure. Yet that was the region where they elected to put to the test their relations with the Soviet Union and the whole great business of a world settlement.

Was it not certain that here they must fail, as in fact they have failed, and in the failure to reach a settlement where it was most difficult to reach it, that they must make it infinitely difficult to make any general settlement? Let no one seek to explain away the failure by pointing out how brutal, how stubborn, how faithless, how aggressive the Russians have proved themselves to be. The worse one t hinks of the Russians, the greater must be deemed the error of having elected to challenge the Russians first of all on the ground where they were most able to be, and were most certain to be, brutal, stubborn, faithless, and aggressive.

3

WHEN Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin decided to concentrate their efforts on Eastern Europe, they may have believed that they could not deal with Germany, with Europe as a whole, with the Alediterranean, the Middle East, the Far East, and the colonies unless they could first reduce the power of the Soviet Union. But they had no way of compelling the Soviet Union to relax its grip on Eastern Europe. There may have been as many as 200 Soviet divisions within reach of that region of the world, whereas the British and American forces were being withdrawn and demobilized rapidly.

If, as many of Mr. Byrnes’s advisers believed, the Russians wished to keep the non-Soviet world unsettled while they consolidated their own conquests behind the iron curtain, then Machiavelli himself could not have devised a plan which served better this Russian purpose. Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin have spent their energies assaulting the strongest position of Russia’s vital interests. Thus they have furnished the Soviet Union with reasons, with pretexts, for an iron rule behind the iron curtain, and with ground for believing what Russians are conditioned to believe: that a coalition is being organized to destroy them.

At the same time Mr. Bevin and Mr. Byrnes have subjected the small nations, which they meant to befriend, to the cruel ordeal of having to stand up publicly every day and, in the presence of Messrs. Alolotov anti Vishinsky, to say whether they are with the Soviet Union or with the Anglo-Americans. As a result we have compromised the political leaders and parties in Poland and elsewhere who wished to be independent of Moscow. We have sponsored them without in fact being able to support them. All this Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin have done with the best of intentions, in the interest of the Atlantic Charter, the Yalta Declaration, and the Four Freedoms. But the strategical plan of their efforts ignored the realities, and was self-defeating: they have led from our own weakness against the strongest position of the Soviet Union, and they became so preoccupied with this unequal struggle that they have neglected to exert our own influence where it was in fact much greater than Russia’s.

For the effective answer to the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was to lay the foundations in Western Europe of a general settlement in which the whole of Europe could eventually be included. Though geographically Europe is divided in half, the western half is, as respects power, population, resources, and its cultural importance, by all odds the more important half. The three western zones of Germany contain three quarters of the German population and nearly three quarters of the industry of Germany. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are incomparably the strongest part of Europe. Had we labored among them and with them for agreements on the political structure of Germany, on the place of German industry in the economy of Europe, the situation would have been radically different today.

The question would not have been whether we can intervene in the Russian orbit. It would have been whether the Soviet Union could prevent the Germans, the Poles, the Czechs, the Hungarians, and the others from participating in the general settlement of Europe. But as long as the future of Trieste, Silesia, and the Danube were separated from the future of Hamburg, the Rhine, and the Ruhr; as long as the political structure of Eastern Europe was debated apart from the political structure of Germany, the peacemakers could have no general plan of a European settlement and reconstruction. They were doomed to treat Europe as the stakes of the diplomacy of the three nonEuropean great powers.

The question, then, was not how peace could be made. It was, as the newspaper headlines have testified, how in the event of war Europe could be controlled by the non-Europeans. By trying to solve separately and in the first instance the problem of Russian expansion in Eastern Europe before they attempted a European settlement, they followed the course which was most certain to divide Europe. It is no answer to this criticism to say that we have moral obligations under the Atlantic Charter and the Yalta Declaration. Of course we have. The independence of Poland and the other small nations of Eastern Eiirope is a necessary objective of our policy and it is a moral obligation to persevere in achieving it. My contention is that we have fought, the battle of freedom, nobly, perhaps, but that we have not fought it well.

Poland is no more independent than it was — though we have pounded on the iron curtain for more than a year. For Poland cannot be made an independent state simply by detaching Poland from Russian domination. The fact is that Poland cannot live independently in a political vacuum. Poland can be independent only if she is attached to a European system which has settled with Germany. The same holds for Austria, for Hungary, and for Czechoslovakia. They cannot, they will not, they dare not, detach themselves from Russia unless there is something else to which they can attach themselves. That something else cannot be the waning power of Britain or the distant power of the United States. It can be only a framework for continental Europe.

It was not. possible, obviously, for the Western powers to establish a general European system without Russian consent. But it was possible, and it may still be possible, for them to organize a very large part of Europe with a view to creating a European system. The issue with the Russians would then have been whether they would participate in a settlement which completed the European system. Had the Russians refused to come in, they would have isolated themselves and the captive states. That would have been unfortunate for us. But it would have been more unfortunate for them. For Russia can perhaps endure isolation, and even profit by isolation, if the rest of the world is unsettled. But to be isolated in a world where the strongest and richest, the morally and technologically most progressive, of the nations have become united would not be attractive. It would not be a profitable, or a practicable, kind of isolation.

The answer to Russian domination in Eastern Europe was to confront them with the solidarity of the West, as an accomplished fact. Then, instead of our pushing against and picking at the Russian orbit, we should have been pulling the people of Europe away from it, pulling them not into a BritishAmerican orbit but into the orbit of Europe itself. The peoples of Eastern Europe would have had another place to go. They would have had reason for going there. But now, as we have managed the matter, we have invited them to quarrel with the Russians though we can give them only our moral support. We have not offered them the prospect of the solidarity of Europe but a choice between the Russians and ourselves — with the Continent as the appointed theater of another war.

4

IT IS most significant, I think, that in this country and in Great Britain, the men who have been trying to settle the war are a different set of men from those who conducted the war. This is most unusual. The leading figures at the Congress of Vienna and at the Paris Conference of 1919 were the leading figures of the war. But this time they have not been. Roosevelt was dead, Churchill was out of office, and Stalin had withdrawn into the recesses of the Kremlin.

Yet if, as Clausewitz taught, war and diplomacy are the same process using different means, then surely it has been a great disadvantage that the transition from war to peace has been managed by men who had no personal experience and responsibility for the strategical conduct of the war. That may help to explain the fact that the peacemakers have had no conception of a general settlement and so great a misconception of the strategical situation which the war had produced.

Messrs. Truman, Byrnes, Attlee, and Bevin have meant to carry on and complete what their predecessors began. They have been faithful to the promises. But they have not, I believe, understood the operation by which the promises were to be fulfilled. They had not participated in the crucial deliberations and decisions where high strategy and high politics are inseverably connected. They meant to maintain the unity of the Big Three. But they had not participated in creating it, and thus they did not know at first hand how the coalition had been put together, and how it had been nursed, protected, and maintained.

Churchill and Roosevelt had formed and guided the British-American combination, and had drawn around it the whole Atlantic community of states. Roosevelt had kept the connection with China. Churchill had made the alliance with the Soviet Union. Churchill had been the intermediary between Roosevelt and the French resistance. Roosevelt had been the intermediary between Chiang Kai-shek and Churchill and later between Stalin and Churchill.

By a singular coincidence and good fortune both Roosevelt and Churchill had a great natural aptitude, a lifelong interest, experience during the First World War, in just that field where diplomacy and military strategy come together. Churchill, who knew himself to be the descendant of Marlborough and the heir of Pitt, was not only a Prime Minister but the generalissimo of the armed forces of Britain and of Western Europe. Had he worn a regular uniform, and not merely the costumes he enjoyed wearing, he would be recognized as one of the greatest of the military commanders of modern times.

Roosevelt had been the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the First World War, and in fact the acting head of the Navy as a fighting force. Long before he was a New Dealer, he had learned to think of himself as the Roosevelt who would follow in the footsteps of the great Theodore. T.R. was the first President to recognize that the century of isolation under the aegis of British sea power was over, and that America was a world power in its own right and responsibility. F.D.R. became the President under whom the change was consummated.

In the complex nature of Franklin D. Roosevelt the deepest of his faculties were those which he exercised in diplomacy and the strategical conduct of war. Here he was, so to speak, in his native element; here he had instinct, intuition, a passionate interest, and knowledge of a quite different order and quality from that which he could draw upon elsewhere. He was never thoroughly at home in the field of domestic reform and civil administration. There he was not the professional, but spasmodically, when he was at his best, the inspired amateur. For his knowledge was not original. It was acquired, and his interest was not instinctive but sustained by an effort of will. Though he was a reformer who inaugurated and presided over momentous changes in the internal life of the country, his knowledge of his own measures was never deeply grounded or critically disciplined. He was casual, almost frivolous, in much that he did because he was, I believe, at bottom indifferent and quickly bored. Ho had been persuaded that he had to deal with these subjects. But he did not love to deal with them, and when he dealt with them, he had not the craftsman’s pleasure or his artistic integrity.

But in the councils of war and peace, in the map room and in his intercourse with chiefs of state and of commanders, he was a different man. With the generals and the admirals, with ambassadors and ministers, with Churchill and Stalin, he was in no sense the layman among professionals, the mere civilian and the amateur. He was in the full meaning of the term the Commander-in-Chief, who knew how to take, who was prepared to take, the final responsibility in the strategic conduct of war and the relationship of the powers. It was as Commander-in-Chief that he dealt with Churchill and with Stalin. Their meetings were councils of men who brought together the whole power of the three great states, and the whole array of their interests.

When Roosevelt and Churchill ceased to bo the chieftains in the West, the inner council of the coalition dissolved. Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin were left to deal with M. Molotov and M. Vishinsky. The council of heads of governments was reduced to a council of heads of departments. At the critical moment the commanders-in-chief of the coalition were replaced by civilians who had had no part in organizing and directing the coalition.

The death of Roosevelt, moreover, was followed by the disappearance of almost all the key men who had played a leading part in shaping the high strategy of the war, and had known at first hand the issues which had been resolved in order to organize successfully the military coalition of the United Nations. Admiral Leahy alone remained of the principal figures. For one reason and another Hopkins, Stimson, Marshall, King, McCloy — the principal advisers of President Roosevelt on the crucial issues of war and peace — ceased abruptly to bo the advisers of President Truman. Not only the captain was dead. His lieutenants too were gone. Thus the connecting threads were broken, and though Mr. Truman and Mr. Byrnes meant to carry on the “Roosevelt policy,” the men who knew how to operate it were suddenly removed.

5

THE unity of the Big Three was not a contract which would automatically fulfill itself. It was a complex and delicately balanced operation conducted by three men who were at one and the same time heads of governments and commanders-in-chief. They united in themselves the indivisible functions of war and diplomacy. They did not all want the same things. They wanted many differing things. But they bore the same kind of responsibilities, they had the same kind of authority, and all three were versed in the calculations of power and in the art of strategical judgment. Thus they knew how to respect and to exert the inducements and the compulsions by which a unity in diversity is achieved through an equilibrium of power.

As the war was concluded and before it could be settled, Roosevelt and Churchill were replaced by Truman and Attlee, Byrnes and Bevin. The peacemakers for the Western world were men to whom the problems of war and the settlement of war were novel. They had experience only in the internal politics of the two democracies, where the consideration of high strategy and high diplomacy plays no part. The settlement of the war, which was integral with the conduct of the war, was abruptly transferred from the commanders-in-chief to civilian politicians.

Mr. Attlee and Mr. Bevin had, to be sure, been members of the War Cabinet, and had no doubt been kept reasonably well-informed by Mr. Churchill and Mr. Eden about the course of the war. But they had been immersed in domestic affairs and neither of them had, I believe, ever participated in any of the international councils of war before they took over at Potsdam. Mr. Truman had been a Senator who investigated aspects of our own mobilization. He had had no part in the direction of the war. Mr. Byrnes had been at the White House, and therefore much closer to the center of things. But until he attended the Yalta Conference, his task was to act for the President on matters that were not in the field of high policy, so that the President would be free to devote his main attention to the strategy and diplomacy of the war.

The civilian politicians, suddenly and unexpectedly charged with the settlement of the war, were unable to learn quickly the vocabulary and the grammar of diplomacy. Thus they mistook the strategical realities, and committed themselves to the task of negotiating the Soviet Union out of the sphere of its maximum interest and influence. When they found that they could not do this by arguing with M. Molotov, they fell back on the procedure and the tactics which they had learned to use against their opponents in domestic politics.

They tried to operate a peace conference as if it combined the best features of a legislature and a party convention. Mr. Byrnes, Mr. Vandcnberg, Mr. Connally, and Mr. Truman had been schooled in the Senate, and Mr. Bevin in the Trades Union Congress and in Parliament. Unable to induce or compel M. Molotov by what they regarded as diplomacy, they sought to outvote him, and to arouse public opinion against him. The theory of this procedure was that by bringing issues to a public vote, an aroused public opinion would do to the Russians what it has done now and then to Tammany Hall and Mayor Hague, to Mr. Joe Martin and Senator Taft.

But to apply the methods of domestic politics to international polit ics is like using the rules of checkers in a game of chess. Within a democratic state, conflicts are decided by an actual or a potential count of votes — as the saying goes, by ballots rather than bullets. But in a world of sovereign states conflicts are decided by power, actual or potential, for the ultimate arbiter is not an election but war.

To apply among sovereign states the procedures of a democratic state is, therefore, to invite trouble. The voting cannot decide the issue. But the issues are sharply defined by the voting. This causes everyone to speculate on the chances of war. Mr. Byrnes came home from Paris and deplored the amount of talk about war. But if day after day the use of public votes has advertised — the apologists say “clarified” — a conflict among armed states, and if it is demonstrated day after day that a majority of votes does not decide the issue, it is inevitable that men should think about war, which is the only arbiter that can decide an irreconcilable issue among great powers.

So what the world has seen is not the triumph of democracy but a failure of diplomacy. Yet it is only by diplomacy that the interests of sovereign nations can be modified, adjusted, and reconciled.

This failure of diplomacy is not necessarily fatal and irreparable. The first year of peacemaking may prove to have been the hardest and the worst. For while the peacemakers have not advanced towards a settlement, or even conceived in outline the form and structure of a settlement, their peoples realize it. They themselves may realize it. What they have come to is a deadlock and a stalemate. But since everywhere the hatred of war is much stronger than the willingness to fight a war, there is a margin of safety in the diplomatic failure.

The actual situation is what it was at the end of the war. There has been no substantial change in the military boundary lines which mark the zones of influence among the victors. The orbits of the powers are what they were on V-J Day. And it may be that events have now demonstrated to all of them that none can reduce the orbits of the others or expand its own. Therefore the opportunity may be at hand when the British and Americans will recognize, as Castlereagh said at the beginning of the Congress of Vienna, that “no effectual progress can be made in business until some plan of European settlement can be prepared ready to be submitted.” The realization that the strategical relationship of the great powers is deadlocked has already in all the leading countries caused men to examine the results of the first post-war year. It will cause them increasingly to reconsider the assumptions and the reasoning by which the settlement of the war has been thus far so badly muddled.

  1. Speaking in the House of Commons on October 23, 1946, Mr. Bevin said: “For the sake of the security of the future the two main aggressive nations of the world are being left till last on the ground that it is essential to continue to exercise such control over them, and occupation, as to prevent their ever becoming aggressor nations again.” For that reason, he said, “we are proceeding from the circumference instead of from the center.” But if the need to control Germany and Japan was the reason, then why is November, 1946, a better time than November, 1945, to talk about Germany? Are not Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin agreed that the control of Germany may have to last forty years? If Mr. Bevin’s explanation of the agenda of the peacemaking is correct, a settlement with Germany ought to have been postponed not for one year but for thirty-nine years!