This article first appeared in the print edition of the Journal of International Affairs, Spring 1977.
Just before relinquishing office, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger observed that "World War I is a better guide to our dangers than World War II." With the qualification that pre-World War I and pre-World War II would be more accurate expressions, the judgment aptly portrays what might be described as the wheel come full circle after passage of a half century. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the elements of similarity between the two situations, that of the opening years of the century and the present. Hence the title, "From Berlin to Moscow."
The Pre-1914 Situation
What were the essentials of the pre-1914 international situation? The world outside the Western hemisphere, in which an extended and reinterpreted Monroe Doctrine prevailed, was dominated by Europe. Despite the flexing of American imperial muscle that was the Spanish-American War, the consequent acquisition of the Philippines, expression of a Far Eastern interest of which advocacy of the Open Door in China was but another facet, and the extension of American power in the Caribbean, the United States’ role in the colonial imperialism of the two decades before 1914 remained comparatively small.
Likewise, the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War, if it earned Japan great power status and confirmed the launching of that country on imperial path, did not extend her ambitions very far beyond waters adjacent to the Nipponese Islands. In contrast, the interests of the great European powers were truly world-wide.
There were six great European powers, two of which could almost be set aside. For largely domestic reasons, Austria-Hungary's interests did not extend beyond the Balkans. Italy, on the other hand, was a marginal case, bordering between great and small, with interests, like Japan's, confined to a limited adjacent locale, the Ottoman Empire and the Red Sea. The acquisition of Tripolitania gave rise to the quip that Italian colonialism was an enterprise in the collection of deserts.
The other four, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia, had world-wide interests though there were significant differences in the manners in which they pursued grandiose-scale imperial expansion. Thus, Lenin's Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, valid in a broad sense, stood in need of qualifying distinctions.
The Russian case was unique in two respects. For one, unlike Britain or Germany, Russia was a backward state in need of internal development. Russia did not need more territory for her people though it was necessary to secure free access to open waters. Also, Russia’s expansion took place in territory contiguous to the initial Russian core, thus giving rise to the possibility of integrating absorption, whereas the other European powers were forced, of necessity, to reach overseas.
Where Britain was concerned, empire and mastery of the seas had become equated with her very existence, and the primacy of her power was acknowledged by all during the nineteenth century. The growth of her imperial possessions from the 1880s was enormous, not a little of it the result of "defensive" expansion. The term "defensive" is not meant hypocritically, for the fact is that Britain's economic growth, if continuing, was doing so at a rhythm slower than that of others, the United States and Germany in particular. Germany's steel production had surpassed Britain's at the close of the century, symbolizing the relative decline of the British position, even though the overall margin of the latter's advantage was such that the condition did not become generally recognized until a later time.
Whether imperial activity made sense at all for France was a relevant question that was in fact debated in that country. Though more economically advanced than Russia, France could have relied upon her considerable capital resources for internal development rather than for foreign investment. A unique case of demographic stagnation, France at the turn of the century had markedly receded from the position of second-ranking industrial power. For France, especially after the Franco-Prussian War, it was a case of maintaining, as much as possible, a relatively declining position, a decline far clearer than Britain's. The issue was resolved, by her leaders at least, in favor of the imperial solution, an endeavor that the Third Republic implemented with considerable success.
For France the imperial solution was, to a degree, a matter of prestige and tradition. Its consequence was the continuation of the centuries-old imperial competition with Britain. The Fashoda incident of 1898, when France wisely opted for defeat without the test of actual armed confrontation, was in this context a wholly logical occurrence, a characteristic episode in a familiar and continuing story. But what is of interest is that within six years of Fashoda, the Entente Cordiale agreement was concluded.
Thought the Entente was a limited and fragile instrument that many thought would have no morrow, it proved to be a major turning point in international affairs, for the real significance of the conjunction, clearer and better understood in retrospect, was the registration of an increasing similarity of defensive positions vis-à-vis the rest of the world. With a time differential of roughly fifty years the curves of British and French power followed parallel downward paths. The two countries, little made to understand each other, were and remained thereafter in the same boat; the Entente merely registered the new relationships of power.
In an immediate sense, the chief architect of the Anglo-French agreement was Germany. Her unity achieved in connection with the Franco-Prussian war, Germany not only displaced France as the ranking power on the continent, but also launched on an astounding success story, comparable in some respects to that of the United States in the same period.
Following Germany’s defeat in the first World War, the Treaty of Versailles contained the famous war guilt clause:
The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.
That sweeping indictment invited dispute. The debate over the origins of and the responsibility for the First World War soon prospered, giving rise to an immense literature, revisionist to considerable measure, that naturally flourished in Germany but also in the English-speaking world where much of it was characterized by a tone of guilt. With the passage of the years, detailed analysis of the diplomacy of July 1914 lost much of its urgency and interest, though the subsequent German record, the Hitlerian performance most of all, has tended to revive its validity.
In considerable measure the revisionists were successful, and the crude and simplistic interpretation of German aggression as almost a calculated plot, is no longer debated. Germany was not particularly desirous of war at that particular moment though there were belligerent elements in the German milieu, as elsewhere. Indeed, given her progress, Germany had a particular stake in avoiding the risks ever entailed in a military confrontation, even though she was better prepared than her opponents and gave a highly impressive performance during the conflict.
But why was she better prepared? One may consider her record, especially after 1890 when Bismarck left the helm. Here, the intention is not to rehearse a long and intricate tale, told many times, but, in selective fashion and with an eye to the main drift of this discussion, to pick out certain relevant features of that record. Two features in particular seem worthy of note, and may be labeled "navalism" and the Einkreisung.
Bismarck had been wholly satisfied with the situation created by the Franco-Prussian War and thereafter became a man of peace. War and peace were tools to Bismarck rather than values in themselves; having successfully accomplished his purpose through war, he drew the conclusion that his creation could thereafter best prosper in a climate of peace. He had no quarrel with anyone and endeavored to maintain good relations with all, even assisting them in composing their differences. Empire and the mastery of the seas he would leave to Britain, while for France he preferred the Republic which was presumably less set on revenge. He also encouraged the diversionary and compensating colonial activity of the French.
Things changed after Bismarck’s dismissal. The main characteristics of the German course in the following quarter of a century are two: continued, perhaps even accelerated, growth in combination with inept direction. The new emperor, William II, not an especially evil man even if not a very competent ruler, was the most apt, hence the most unfortunate, embodiment of the latter aspect, fond of delivering alarmingly resounding phrases.
He was fond of ships for one thing, though it would be a mistake to see in this fondness the main roots of German navalism. Those roots ran deeper. There was no law, divine or human, that denied Germany the right to a naval establishment, not did Britain take a monopolistic view of the right to empire and naval power. But Britain, like any country, had certain interests that she considered vital. The German advocates of launching on the world’s wide seas fully understood the situation and the implications of their program were debated at the highest level of state councils. In the test, those who feared a repetition of 1806 Copenhagen were proved wrong. From 1898 Germany embarked unimpeded on the building of a powerful navy. The intention was not to challenge Britain in combat, but rather to exploit Britain's inevitable concern as a bargaining counter. Thus, the German navy was primarily a political instrument. In addition, and in pursuit of status as much as economic aims, Germany joined the colonial race, an enterprise at which Bismarck had initially looked askance.
Germany's primacy on land was established and she, like others, adhered to the maxim si vis pacem, para bellum. Given her power and the rate of her economic progress, the question of Germany's interpretation of her proper place under the sun assumed crucial relevance. If the competition of interests is regarded as normal, the issue of their composition remains. Quite apart from possibly aggressive intent, the fact was that Germany was outdistancing others and that, as a consequence, she was the active promoter of change. Berlin quite appropriately became the focus of European diplomacy.
Not very surprisingly the new Germany displayed some of the attributes of the parvenu. Latecomer among nations, she was very sensitive on the score of prestige, even prone to see slights where none were intended. She found irksome the confident arrogance of British power, and even more that of a defeated and perhaps decadent France. The result is best described as an inferiority complex of sorts, a poor guide for diplomacy.
Instances of the resulting condition are numerous, but one illustration may suffice. Morrocco was a poor and backward land, clearly fated in the context of the imperial climate of the day to absorption into one of the European empires. The competition was open to all, but the geographical location of Morocco made it a "logical" extension of the French-North African domain. Germany could accept this outcome, but took the reasonable view that the extension of French control over Morocco entitled Germany to some compensation. Here was a clear case for bargaining and compromise, which in the end was indeed effected.
But the interesting thing is that this sensible outcome, rather than alleviating tensions, left in its train a legacy of increased distrust and suspicion. The reason behind this is the method that German diplomats adopted in dealing with the situation: the method of the iron first and the frightening of competitors, especially the French. It worked only too well. Using the Moroccan situation to test legitimate suspicions about the precise nature of the newly contrived Anglo-French Entente, Germany managed to convey such an impression of aggressive intent that the Entente was strengthened. The conference of Algeciras in 1906 found Germany, to her surprise and dismay, essentially isolated.
After looking at the sequence of developments represented by the 1904 Entente, the first Moroccan crisis of the following year and its settlement at Algesiras, and the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, German fear of Einkreisung becomes wholly understandable. The three basic assumption of post-Bismarckian German foreign policy—the impossibility of either Franco-Russian, Anglo-French, or Anglo-Russian combinaitons—had in the course of fifteen years all been proved wrong and Germany was being encircled, as a look at a map of the period clearly shows. But why had this come to pass, except that Germany had conveyed to all three members of the Triple Entente the same impression of aggressiveness? The Triple Entente was fundamentally a defensive combination, not one designed to do Germany down, and Germany was its chief architect.
The German reaction to the formation of the encircling formation of the Triple Entente combination was more iron fisted diplomacy. The unfolding of the Bosnian annexation crisis in 1908-09 added grist to the mill of those who considered Germany aggressive. That crisis, incidentally, was a good preview of July 1914. The term “appeasement” is of later coinage, but it could be applied to that event. Partly because they saw it in that light, Russia especially and, behind Russia, France took the position in 1914 that there was no merit in yielding. In such a context, the details of who did what at a particular hour on a particular day at the end of July fall into places of secondary importance by comparison with the role played by deeper forces. Therefore, even if the accusation of war guilt in its conspiratorial sense ca be dismissed, the charge of aggression retains validity. The simple fact of German growth gave rise to a problem of adjustment. In dealing with that problem both sides proved incapable of findings an accommodation and thus share responsibility. But it was Germany’s growth that gave rise to the problem; she was the active, the “aggressive” motor of change. The clumsiness of her diplomacy, if not the main source of responsibility, at the very least compounded the difficulty.
Aggressiveness in the fundamental sense just explained is what justifies the contention that some comparable elements may be said to exist in the present Russian position, and it is those we wish to examine. First, however, a further observation should be made about the nature of the pre-1914 international system.
That system, evolved over centuries, assumed a collectivity of states all endowed with sovereignty. This meant, in theory, egalitarian anarchy, since sovereignty by definition is the denial of subjection to law. Things were a little different in practice, with the consequence that a measure of order effectiveness existed in the domain of international relations. The distinction had come to be accepted great and small powers, the test of participation in the former group being the simple one of acknowledged membership in the club. Combining the acceptance of the right of all to existence with that of the legitimacy of competition thus set limits to the pursuit of the national interest. Anyone breaking this rule, thereby disturbing the equilibrium of power, tended to promote an automatic coalition of the rest. The Napoleonic episode is a good illustration of this condition. After France had been put back in her place, the Concert of Europe resumed its operation. Nineteenth-century Europe offers many illustrations of the successful functioning of its unwritten constitution.
The 1914 war may be interpreted as a German bid for world dominance that gave rise to almost a world-wide coalition geared to defeat that bid. With Germany defeated and duly condemned, an unsuccessful attempt was made to restore the old order. The war, most certainly unleashed social and economic forces, latent before its outbreak, that could no longer be contained. The Russian Revolution is the best single expression of this state of affairs. Like the earlier French Revolution, it injected into the international comity the disturbing element of a universalistic ideology that was necessarily inimical to a system founded on the collectivity of sovereign states. But at this point Napoleon’s dictum that a revolution is an idea that has found bayonets is worth recalling. Unlike the 1792 French, the 1917 Russians did not have sufficient bayonets to confront the rest of the world. It would take two decades before Russian power would reassert itself as a major factor in world affairs, and to that we shall turn in a moment.
The uninspiring story of the twenty years’ interval between the two world wars can be summed up in this: the conflict had injured the pre-existing structure severely enough to prevent a restoration of the old international order, yet not enough to create a tabula rasa for the establishment of something new. Thus, the Second World War appears as a continuation of the First, the two together constituting a unit—another Third Years’ War, the transition from one type of order to another. Seen from a difficult angle the Second World War also appears as a renewal, sharper and clearer this time, of the Germany hegemonic bid for power. That attempt having been decisively, and probably lastingly, defeated, the world embarked on a different course.
The Present Situation
Now to return to our parallel between the pre-1914 and the present state of affairs.
In some respects the Second World War had a clarifying effect, completing the unfinished task of the First. The great powers of Europe, except the Soviet Union, were all in a fundamental sense defeated, a characterization that even applies to victorious Britain, as the subsequent record has shown. Certainly they had irretrievably lost their former place of mastery, a fact confirmed by the dismantling of all the European colonial empires, even though it took some further time for that result to be accomplished.
This left only two real victors: the United States and the Soviet Union, now dubbed superpowers, a characterization justified with the passing of time. Interestingly, though for different reasons, the two could agree on the desirability of destroying the European empires, but for the rest the differences between them were very considerable at war's end. The former was unhurt, the Second World War like the First, contributing to the expansion of its economy. The Soviet Union in contrast had suffered incalculable damage. At the war's close, the United States was also sole possessor of the nuclear weapon.
What mattered most at first was the reaction of the two to the novel circumstances. In contrast with the post-First World War period, the United States this time, after but a brief hesitation, fully accepted involvement in world affairs. The Soviet Union never considered renouncing such a role. The consequence has been that the two superpowers and their relations have since dominated the course of international relations in a manner comparable to the role played by the former great powers of Europe. The record of international affairs during the past thirty years has been the subject of a vast literature, but only certain aspects of it are relevant to the present discussion.
The behavior of the two powers was complicated by the admixture of ideology to the more limited and concrete factor of national interest. To a point both may also be said to have picked up the story where it had been interrupted shortly after the end of the First World War. Revolutionary Russia had then been impotent, but dedicated to world revolution. Frightened capitalist states among the victors briefly, but unsuccessfully, intervened against the revolution in Russia, thereby confirming the obsessive Bolshevik fear of the outside. Post-1945 Russia, though badly hurt, was far from impotent. Her reaction was defensive and she sought to enhance her security by securing control of the glacis comprised by the countries of East Central Europe, a control that has so far suffered little relaxation. Meanwhile, the spread of the Marxist ideology could be encouraged wherever the possibility that it could prosper existed. Thus, the authentic belief of being aligned with the trend of the future could merge with an equally authentic concern for the security of the Russian homeland.
The concern is wholly understandable in light of the Russian experience, post-First World War interventions and the Nazi attack, but its manifestations seemed excessive to others, the United States in particular, with the consequence of inducing a correspondingly defensive reaction. Containment was the new version of the cordon sanitaire, but the outcome of two defensive postures was a vicious circle of reciprocal distrust and suspicion. Hence the Cold War, of which détente is but a somewhat softened variant.
The United States on its side, while hardly dedicated to a possibly violent world revolution of a different kind, was nonetheless a believer in the spread of democracy, the famous crusading slogan of the First World War. It contributed handsomely to preserving democracy in Western Europe, but if it would be difficult to contend that contained a possible threat to the monolithic so NATO was other than a defensive alliance, could it not also appear to the Russians as part of a larger encirclement? A look at the map on which the American positions in Europe, the Near East and Asia are pinpointed, made the encirclement quite clear. The subsequent opening to China and the exploitation of the Sino-Soviet rift were calculated to confirm the interpretation of encirclement. Encirclement was indeed an aspect of containment, but at this point it would be idle to debate the fundamental intent. What may be stressed instead is the parallel with the pre-1914 Einkreisung of Germany. Granting that Germany was herself the chief architect of the Einkreisung does not alter the fact that the German fear of it was authentic.
There would be little point now in debating the validity of either side's view of the situation. Right or wrong as the American interpretation of the aims of Communism may have been, it would be difficult to maintain that the American encirclement was a preparation of aggression, that it was other than defensive. It has been claimed by some that both the Korean and the Vietnamese wars were cases of unnecessary American involvement. However that may be, they were both unquestionably motivated by the conviction that Communist aggression should be resisted.
But this does not alter the fact that, in the context of mutual suspicion, various Russian reactions, Czechoslovakia in 1968 for example, seem entirely rational. One may dismiss as window dressing the Russian charge of Western plots that the forces of the Warsaw Pact moved into Czechoslovakia merely to forestall. The feeling that internal Czechoslovak developments contained a possible threat to the monolithic solidity of the Soviet bloc was neither unjustified nor window dressing.
The inevitable consequence of the climate of mutual suspicion was the arms race, of which there is no need to furnish evidence. Granting that the race has been conducted on both sides with a sense of responsibility, it has nevertheless gone on, and the discussions in Geneva and in Vienna remind one in their dreary course of a comparable performance during the 1920s. In both cases the difficulty is fundamentally the same, for no way has been found out of the dilemma between security and disarmament. Distrust is the key to the stalemate. The best that can be said of continued discussions is that so long as people talk they do not fight, and the hope remains that out of continuing contacts the climate of suspicion may eventually give way to one of mutual trust. It is a thin hope.
The pre-1914 powers of Europe were also engaged in an arms race, not because they entertained aggressive intent but because they believed in the validity of the Roman maxim cited above. They even indulged in the delusion, at which in retrospect one may smile, that war among them was a thing of the past. How different are things now?
The parallel may be pursued even farther in two respects which may be labeled "navalism" and "brinkmanship". Reference has been made to the pre-1914 German bid for sea power, its significance and its consequences. Russia has traditionally been a land power even if she forever struggled for free access to the open seas, and while she maintained a naval establishment the rank of her navy was not very high. At the end of the Second World War and for some time thereafter American naval power was supreme and largely unchallenged. That situation has changed.
In keeping with tradition the Soviet leadership tended to look upon the navy as essentially an ancillary service. Without going into the vicissitudes of the Russian debate on the proper composition of the armed forces, a change began to take place in Russian thinking in the 1960s. The outcome was the decision to launch a large naval program. The role of American naval power in the conduct of the Vietnam War also seemed to influence Russian military thinking, but here the outcome alone need be registered. Russia has risen to a first rank naval power, and a valid parallel could be established between the roles played by German Admiral von Tirpitz and Russian Admiral Gorshkov. The appearance of a Russian counterpart to the American Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean is the best manifestation of Russia's new policy. The broad significance of naval power is the assertion of a world position, of which the Russian interest in the Indian Ocean may be taken as additional proof. There is no valid American claim to a monopoly of sea power and mastery of the oceans any more than there was in Britain's case, but the Russian bid, like the German, inevitably constitutes a challenge to an established position. Positions of power do not remain forever frozen and changes in them are negotiable matters, but it would be idle not to expect the occurence of tensions in the process. In both of our situations the challenger to an established position is the active instrument of change so that the question of its aims arises. In her own eyes Britain’s naval supremacy was seen as an essentially defensive position. What did Germany want and why the challenge? Similar questions arise where Russia and America are concerned.
Consider the other aspect of the parallel: brinkmanship. Out of the rich record of Soviet policy and actions during the past thirty years, two or three illustrations may suffice. The Cuban missile crisis is familiar. It does not seem exaggerated to describe it as a foolish challenge. Having made it, mercurial Khrushchev may be given credit for his sensible reaction of swallowing his pride instead of pushing matters to the point of an open clash.
The 1973 war in the Middle East was another exercise in brinkmanship, perhaps by both sides if one considers the Russian threat to rescue single handedly the beleaguered Egyptian Third Army and the American reply of world alarm. On that occasion, too, accommodation was found in the form, humorously one is tempted to say, of a rescue of the Egyptians by the American Secretary of State.
Russian velleities of interference in the Portuguese situation were not pursued, thus avoiding another possible confrontation, but in. Angola the Russians skillfully appraised the effect of domestic American problems in preventing an effective American response. As a consequence they reaped the reward of a Marxist-oriented regime in that country. The list of such occurrences could be extended. They bring to mind the succession of pre-1914 crises, all of which were overcome. The Moroccan case has been cited and the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Sarajevo crisis was fundamentally no different from others and the outbreak of war at that particular time may be put down to accident. The fundamental causes of the clash had long been in existence making the war a logical, if not necessarily inevitable, outcome. But the actual clash could just as well have happened earlier or later. The memory and the sequel of Munich in 1938 have had the effect of creating a phobia about the word "appeasement" which causes one to lose sight of the fact that the validity of the attempt to appease depends on the correctness of the judgment of whether one is dealing with the appeasable or not.
What then are we to conclude about present prospects from what has been said so far? Certainly no prediction of the inevitable repetition of past performance, for circumstances change and the multiplicity of variables involved precludes a simple reproduction of causal connections. It will be pointed out for one thing that there are many differences between the opening years of the century and those of its eighth decade, just as there are important ones between Wilhelmine Germany and present day Soviet Russia.
The present state of weaponry is no doubt incomparably more impressive than that of 1900. Yet one may also recall the pre-1914 contention that the destructive power of the then existing guns made inconceivable their use. Without minimizing the awesome power of nuclear arms, it must be sadly realized that novel weapons have traditionally elicited condemnation of their use until that use induced acceptance, a phenomenon that was true originally of gun powder. The appalling potency of nuclear weapons may indeed have contributed to the avoidance so far of open conflict among their chief possessors. But familiarity may also breed contempt or at least callous negligence. One hears far less of Hiroshima than for some years after its occurrence. A new generation has come of age for which that event is past history rather than personal recollection. There are no more Alderston marches and the association of atomic scientists has had but limited impact. The vivid consciousness of Hiroshima is fading and little reassurance can be gained from the argument that their potency precludes the use of existing arms. It is also well to bear in mind the decreasing sense of responsibility that may be expected to go with proliferation, the increasing economy in the production of nuclear weapons, and, finally, the ever present risk of accidental involvement of the kind that unleashed the 1914 war, not to mention Mao's callous observation that if half the Chinese population perished that would still leave the other half.
The contrast between pre-1914 Germany and present day Russia is also clear for all to see. Germany was at the forefront of advanced states in her economy, her technology, and her science. Russia today, in contrast and for whatever reasons, is still halfway between advanced and underdeveloped. Also, Germany was densely populated, though not overpopulated, so that the argument of the need for lebensraum had some appeal. Immense Russia has within herself all the possible room for expansion she could need. But perhaps more significant than these important differences is a point of similarity. The argument has been made that the fundamental nature of Germany's aggressiveness resided in the vigor and rate of her growth that drove others into a defensive position. Whether the Russian ideology of system constitute the wave of the future, the feeling that such is the case would seem to run deep. It may be said that a comparable feeling has existed in the American milieu. While much vigor persists in America, there is also divisiveness and fatigue, a feeling of uncertain purpose, which together make for a fundamentally defensive stance. But this is not the place to embark upon an analysis of the precise nature of the whole American scene. The contention is simply that Germany earlier and Russia now, sharing the characteristics of vigorous growth, embody for that reason and in that sense the tendency to aggression.
To repeat, the purpose of the preceding discussion is not prediction. Clearly a multitude of factors have been left out of consideration. Some differences between the pre-1914 and the present situations have been no more than hinted at, even though they could legitimately be the object of an analysis at least as detailed as this one. But the similarities seem of sufficient weight to warrant insistence upon them. They make the prospects for the remainder of our century at the very least problematic, not to say somber. The assumption that understanding is a necessary prerequisite to possibly preventative action is the justification for calling attention to the parallel.
The New York Times, 20 January, 1977.
Treaty of Versailles, Art. 231.
The Act of Algeciras, outcome of the first Moroccan crisis, proved to be but a temporary arrangement.
Within five years another crisis arose, very similar to the first in its unfolding, which resulted in a Franco-German quid pro quo.
The Franco-Russian alliance, first instance of Germany’s miscalculation, was made as early as 1893.
The validity of this judgment is justified by the nature of nineteenth-century wars, which remained localized and limited in their arms.
The Wilsonian League of Nations represented an attempt to establish world order on a basis other than the balance of power. The fate of that attempt was also failure; the reason it is not considered here.
This is one reason for confining the present discussion to a comparison between the pre-1914 and the present situations.
Because of her role in the war Britain emerged from it as one of the Big Three among the victors. But already before the end of the war the weight of her influence has begun to decline, a decline that has since continued, until she ranks no higher than the other defeated powers.
The initial American reaction at the end of the war was to dismantle the military establishment, but that reaction was short-lived and American isolationism did not revive.
For an interesting discussion of the situation, see the article by George F. Hudson, “Soviet Naval Doctrine and Soviet Politics, 1953-1975,” World Politics XXIX, no. 1 (October 1976): 90-113.
The Angolan situation was especially awkward for the United States for two reasons. The first was the inability to effect a satisfactory reconciliation between two divergent tendencies: the long term and deeply embedded tradition that is the anti-imperial emotion on the one hand, the possible requirements of a defensive position on the other, this last clearly depending upon a judgment about Soviet aims. The second reason lay in the constraining aftermath of President Nixon’s tenure of office. Secretary Kissinger's attempt to provide a modicum of assistance to the elements in Angola considered more friendly to the West never got off the ground.
The redressing of that condition would seem to be one of the chief cares of the present administration.