Rise of Superpowers After WWII

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 underezd 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


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 assiezce 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. 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 ezding--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