Exploring Geneses and Linkages Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:25:56
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The contours of international relations changed dramatically during the 20th century, which saw three great conflicts on the world stage. While the First and the Second World Wars were largely located in Europe but found the participation of every major power across the globe, the Cold War split the international system into two ideologically distinct parts, and escalated the scale and scope of contestation beyond Europe. The aim of this essay is to reflect upon the causes behind each of the great wars of the previous century, and also to explore the linkages (and resulting continuity) between one to the next.

By looking at the origins of the First World War, we shall find the genesis of the Second, and by analyzing the circumstances of the latters conclusion, we shall seek to explicate the onset of the Cold War. The origins of the First World War, which stretched from 1914 to 1918, lay primarily in two distinct geopolitical developments of the late 19th and early 20th century. The first of these was the unification of the German state following the relative period of peace in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1871, the German unification found the dominance of a singular territory at the center of Europe.

Even though thee were initial reservations against German expansionism, the countrys imperial aspirations soon became apparent. A growing population, vast territories, military and industrial growth in an emergent Germany upset the European balance of power at the beginning of the 20th century. As a response, Great Britain, France, and Tsarist Russia formed an alliance, which sought to curtail Germanys increasing search for territory and markets, with North Africa and the Middle East emerging as primary spheres of contention.

While the former alliance maintained that they were safeguarding national interests against German imperialism, the latter claimed it was the victim of the imperial system that restricted access to new opportunities. Matters came to a head in 1914 and war ensued between the imperial alliance and revisionist Germany. A great degree of debate surrounds the causation of the First World Wars outbreak, with some historians squarely placing the blame on Germany, while others arguing that the War resulted out of a series of chain reactions in part due to the manner in which German military plans were conceived.

The War ended with a victory for the Anglo-French alliance, but the Tsar of Russia was overthrown by the (communist) Red Army in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The post-War settlement came at Versailles in 1919, with Britain and France held Germany completely responsible for the conflict. Therefore, the settlement though there were disagreements among the victors over its terms was harsh on Germany, and included a series of reparations that critically undermined Germanys status in Europe.

Germany was forced to demilitarize, while France occupied the strategic and resource-rich territories of the Rhineland. Perhaps the most humiliating of all clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, however, was the War Guilt clause, which demanded heavy economic extractions from Germany. These were presumably done because it was a popular move domestically for the Allies and also because it provided the opportunity to permanently curb German efforts to fight major wars. These strategies, however, proved imprudent in the end.

One of the distinguishing features of the post-First World War world order was the formation of the League of Nations, an international organization based on the premise of common objectives and collective security. Though the League served as the precursor to the United Nations, its implementation left its leading voice American president Woodrow Wilson dissatisfied. The League adopted a policy of appeasement, without bearing down on Italian, German, or Japanese aggression in the 1930s, and precipitated the onset of the Second World War in 1939.

However, World War II (which lasted from 1939 to 1945) had much deeper origins in the Treaty of Versailles than in the failings of collective security. We must remember that the harshness of the Treaty had embittered the German population, and the same set the scene for Adolf Hitlers National Socialist Party to come to power in 1933. Soon after, democratic institutions in Germany were obliterated and replaced by the Nazi propagandist machinery; Hitler began rearming the country and massively investing in industry and technological innovation, while adopting a policy of anti-Semitism socially.

In Europe, a series of crises spiraled out of control and led to the outbreak of war. Italian annexation of Abyssinia, German remilitarization of the Rhineland, and expansion into Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, and sustained civil war in Spain were all contributing factors. Soviet Russia, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, entered into a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, so as to secure its western borders; this provided Hitler with the opportunity to concentrate on the rest of Europe, as he gradually unfurled his plans of continental domination.

There remains a considerably vigorous debate with respect to the origins of the War in Europe, as many historians see it as an extension of the First World War, with the structural imbalances resulting out of the rise of and alliance between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Others claim that it was a war effort carefully constructed and implemented by Hitler, who had prepared meticulously for the War throughout the 1930s, turning the German state into an efficient war machine. It must be noted, however, that the formal declaration of war in 1939 came from Great Britain and France.

A significant difference between the First and Second World Wars was the proliferation of war in the Eastern front, as Japan joined hands with Germany and Italy to form the Axis powers. The Meiji Restoration in Japan, Japanese expansionism in China and the Manchurian Crisis of 1931 opened the casket of war in East Asia, and Japanese aggression on the United States (US) the (in)famous Pearl Harbor bombings in 1941 meant that the latter had to terminate its isolationist policy and enter the War. In Europe, the German invasion of Soviet Russia in 1941 facilitated the alliance of Stalins regime with the Allied Powers.

The last two incidents are noteworthy because these tilted the strategic and military balance in favor of the Allies, leading to an eventual victory in 1945. The Second World War remains the bloodiest military conflict in the history of humanity, and left most of Europe devastated. However, even before the dust could settle on the scourge of war, a new form of conflict emerged, as the US and the Soviet Union (USSR) found themselves vying for supremacy at the world stage; the end of the War had seen the traditional great powers depleted in resources and influence, and this power vacuum attracted both the Americans and the Soviets.

The ensuing Cold War between these two superpowers would define the topography of international politics for the next four and a half decades. There, however, were other lessons to be drawn from the end of the Second World War, which inform us about the onset of the Cold War. The Wartime alliance amongst the US and the USSR had grown fragile by 1945, and serious disagreements ensued over post-War settlements. On the eastern front, World War II in effect ended with Americas explosion of the atomic bomb in Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in 1945.

This also confirmed the US position as the sole nuclear power, while the USSR retained a conventional superiority in Europe. Even before the latter could attain nuclear parity (which happened in 1949), the two superpowers were at loggerheads as both attempted to assert their influence over Europe, culminating in the Berlin Blockade of 1948, which concretized the Iron Curtain that divided Western and Eastern Europe. The Cold War was characterized by a struggle for power between the US and the USSR, in order to achieve global dominance, both in terms of ideology and military might.

The East-West conflict was organized by way of two monumental alliances: the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the USSR-led Warsaw Pact. Further, a nuclear arms race was another defining feature of the Cold War, with massive arsenals stockpiled by either side. Though the world came close to Armageddon more than once (especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), nuclear deterrence preserved the bipolar peace of the Cold War. We find that there are three distinct interpretations of the Cold War.

The first understand the conflict as a contest between rival ideologies liberalism and communism that tore the world asunder from 1945 to 1991. This ideological divide not only resulted from the unique histories and political cultures of the United States and Russia, the ideologies in turn determined policies, further reinforcing the divide. A second explanation of the Cold War casts the conflict as a geopolitical struggle where adversaries of relatively equal strength endeavored to gather more power and influence over other states in the international system.

In this view, the Cold War was nothing but a clash of national interests. Another view sees the Cold War as the result of technological developments, most importantly nuclear weapons, culminating in a deadly arms race between the two superpowers. A major characteristic of the Cold War remained that there was never any direct confrontation, except in diplomatic circles, between the two rivals; instead a series of proxy wars were fought across the globe, designed to advance superpower interests. The end of the Cold War, again, is an event surrounded by debate.

Many suggest that it was the aggressive stance of the Reagan administration that brought an end to the conflict, while others claim that it was a result of changes in Soviet policies under Mikhail Gorbachev. Thus, we find in our exploration of the three major conflicts of the 20th century that there remain several linkages that establish continuity from one to the other. All of these bear historical significance in our understanding of war and, in effect, lead the paths to the present when contemplating about international conflicts.

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