General Articles


"We can never win another war — but we can still prevent one," says this British M. P.

February 1 1948
General Articles


"We can never win another war — but we can still prevent one," says this British M. P.

February 1 1948


"We can never win another war — but we can still prevent one," says this British M. P.


SIX MONTHS ago I thought that there was a chance of Russia and America settling things peaceably. Now I cannot see how war between them can be avoided. Not immediately, of course, but in five or six years.” These words, spoken to me recently by one of the ablest members of the British Cabinet, sum up the prevalent feeling in well-informed London circles. What has caused this new wave of pessimism?

To answer this question one need only glance at the proceedings of the United Nations Assembly. It has become a sounding board for Russian and American political warfare. To visit it as I did during the last session is to see the world conflict reflected in the mirrors of public debate and private intrigue.

In 1946 the Americans were still reasonable and it was the Russians who were intransigeant . . . Molotov took the offensive from the start.

In 1947 Mr. Marshall did not wait for the Russians. He himself launched a propaganda offensive on the first day of the assembly; and, since then, except on the Palestine issue, there has not been even a glimmer of an agreement between the Great Powers. The American bloc has been ranged against the Russian bloc—the Truman Doctrine against the Cominform. Both sides work on the principle “He that is not wit h me is against me.” This may be good theology, but it is a bad basis for peacemaking.

The result has been not merely the division of the U. N. Assembly into an American Right and a Russian Left, but the formation of pro-Russian and pro-American parties in countries all over the world. The democratic centre parties are being progressively weakened by the cold war between America and Russia: the extremists of the Left and the Right correspondingly strengthened.

This disastrous process can be most clearly seen in Europe. During the war one of the most hopeful

signs was the emergence under German occupat ion of united resistance movements. In their common struggle against the Gestapo, the Socialists and Communists forgot the struggle which for 20 years had divided and weakened the Labor Movement. Even more remarkable, the Catholics, who had always opposed the anticlerical Left, came together in an anti-Fascist underground which united everyone willing to tight Hitler.

The Dream That Failed

1 SHALL never forget arriving at Dachau on the day after it had been liberated. There, together in the concentration camp, had worked Jews and non-Jews, Austrian monarchists and Austrian socialists, Russian prisoners of war, British prisoners of war, Germans and French. There, in miniature, was the United Europe which had defeated Hitler.

Talking to the anti-Fascist committee which had taken over the camp, I found that they were dreaming that in liberation they could maintain the unity which they had achieved in t he concentration camp. It was a dream which we all shared on VE-Day 1945.

To a lesser extent the resistance movements of Eastern Europe displayed the same kind of unity. In Czechoslovakia, for instance, Catholics, Liberals, Socialists and Communiste stood together against

the Germans and were able to form a national coalition after liberation. In Hungary, the one country of Europe where feudalism still held sway, there was ( tie same unity of resistance, and the same sort of national coalition when the Red Army drove out t he Germans.

But in other countries old rivalries were still potent. In Yugoslavia, in Poland, in Greece, civil war, open or covert, had cast a shadow over the new hopes of European and democratic unity.

Whether the new Europe was to be divided into an Eastern and a Western bloc and whet her there was to be peace or war depended entirely on the Great Powers. If they worked together, the divisions in t he eastern resistance movements could be healed and the unit y of the western maintained. If they quarreled, disunity and disintegration were inevitable.

In the early months after the victory it still looked as though Great Power co-operation was possible. In every Eastern European and Balkan country anti-Fascist coalitions dominated by the Communiste, who received the support of the Red Army, came to power. In Hungary the feudal regime was swept away and the land divided among the peasants. In Yugoslavia Tito introdued what was virtually a Communist regime and liquidated the Right opposition still loyal to King Peter.

In Czechoslovakia, the country with a longstanding democratic

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tradition, civil liberties were restored despite the strength of the Communist party. In Poland, however, a great chance of forgetting old quarrels was lost by the London Poles. They stood out for too long and when they returned to Poland it was too late. It was the Lublin Committee which became the new Government of Poland.

But in all these Eastern European countries the central problem had been decided. In future they would be not buffer states between the West and the East, hut allies of the Soviet Union. This fact was accepted by democratic Czechoslovakia as by Communist Yugoslavia or Bulgaria. It was one of the historical decisions which resulted from the Allied victory. From now on no government could survive in Eastern Europe which was not completely loyal to Soviet Russia.

Squeeze on Socialists

In Western Europe the situation was far more confused. Here the future was still open. Should the new France be as firmly anchored to Russia as the new Poland? Or should it become the faithful ally of America? Or should it seek, along with Britain and its other neighbors, an independence of both Russia and America? There were sections of the resistance movement which favored each policy. The Communists naturally wanted to attach the Western European countries to the Soviet bloc. The extreme Right Wing, which was still small and insignificant, hoped for American help in crushing not only Communism but Socialism as well. The Socialists, who in Western Europe held the key position, favored a middle course, neither anti-Russian nor antiAmerican but co-operating with both. They were supported by the left wing of the new Catholic parties, such as the French M. R. P.

During the last two years the increasing Russian-American conflict has .squeezed out the Socialists and the Democrats of the centre in both Eastern and Western Europe. The announcement of the Truman doctrine last March and the reorganization or the European Comintern last fall have threatened the very existence of those parties which have pleaded for a middle way.

In Eastern Europe the Communists are now waging open warfare against the Polish, Hungarian and Czech Socialists, who have sought to check their totalitarian excesses. It is indeed doubtful if these will survive for many months the threat of liquidation.

In France the last elections brought no reduction of Communist strength. But they did sweep away the liberal M R. P. and create a revolutionary Right as intransigent as the Communists themselves. Here, too, the Socialists are in danger either of splitting into pro-Communist and proGaullist factions or of steadily losing support.

The disintegration of European democracy and European unity is reflected in other parts of the world. In China, for instance, the cold war between Russia and America has revived the civil war. The Chinese Communists, who originally had little to do with Russia and had created a remarkable system of peasant cooperatives, are now linked with Russian foreign policy. The Chungking Government. of Chiang Kai-shek, which has steadily fallen away from the noble principles of Sun Yat-sen, is now a dubious instrument of American policy. Even in South America the cold war

between pro-American parties and proRussian Communists is proceeding. Everywhere men and women, who desire peace and prosperity of their own making, are being forced to decide between the U. S. and Russia.

It is against this background of world politics that the course of the United Nations Assembly becomes intelligible. When the Charter was drafted at San Francisco in 1944 the peoples of the world believed confidently that the foundations of world peace were being built. They were told that this Charter avoided the mistakes and weaknesses which had led to the failure of the League of Nations. This time the statesmen were being realistic and were not demanding more of the new world organization than it could do. Instead of trying to create an international machine to enforce peace upon great and small powers alike, the Charter was based on the assumption of Great Power agreement. It was argued that if one Great Power rejected any policy, no international machinery could force it to change its mind. Why not face this fact in drafting the Charter? That would be sober common sense.

So the Charter, despite the protests of Australia and other small powers, was molded to the wishes of the Americans and the Russians, who were agreed that no Great Power should be coerced. This was the basis for the veto and for the structure of the Security Council. The United Nations would function if Russia and the United States agreed. The Great Powers were then united by the one thing which bound them together—a common foe.

It is now clear enough that an agreement to destroy German and Japanese militarism was an insufficient basis for building world peace. Unless Russia and America can agree on something positive, the United Nations will remain the sounding board of ideological warfare.

But does this mean that the United Nations has failed and must he scrapped? This is what many people are now beginning to suggest. They argue that we had better face the facts and either disband the organization or drive the Russians out of if and reconstitute it as the assembly of the democratic bloc.

These suggestions are both stupid and vicious. What is wrong today is precisely the division of the world into two ideological blocs. To disband U.N., or to drive the Russians out of it, would merely make the division final and make it certain that there would ultimately be a third world war between the Communist and anti-Communist internationals. It is not the Charter of the United Nations which is at fault, hut the policies of the two great powers. At all costs, therefore, we must keep the structure of U.N. intact and seek to create the conditions in which America and Russia will get tired of their shouting match and hammer out an agreement.

The Shouting War

This task is not nearly so hopeless as it seems. Despite the war talk in America and the war scare in Russia and Europe, there is no immediate prospect of a major war. Neither the U. S. nor the U. S. S. R. is ready for it. The U. S. has scrapped the gigantic armed forces which it possessed on VE-Day. Russia, too, is strictly on the defensive—for the moment.

Despite their raucous war talk, at the moment neither of the only two Great Powers capable of waging war is imperialist. Each regards itself as genuinely pacific and each is scared of an aggression by the other. Both of

Î them continue to push out their defenses so as to keep war as far as i possible from their frontiers. During the years immediately ahead the world may possibly drift inter war owing to fumbling diplomacy and a stiff-necked desire for prestige, but there is no likelihood of hostilities owing to delilrerj ate aggression. We have several years, j at least, in which to lay the foundations j of peace.

Britain’s Role

In this peacemaking the British Commonwealth anti Western Europe can play the decisive role. A glance at the map will show that neither the U. S. nor Russia can hope to win a ! world war without our assistance. If,

! for instance, war broke out in the Far ¡ East, it. could only be won by the formation of a Second Front in Western Europe where Britain plays the preponderant role. So, today, though Britain is economically weak and dependent on America, she still holds the balance of strategic power. If we use that balance wisely, we can save the peace of the world. We can never win another war hut we can still prevent one.

To achieve this we in Britain must

be willing to incur a gf>od deal of unpopularity. The American Chiefsof-Staff naturally wish to make their plans for defense against Russia on the assumption that they can rely absolutely on British assistance in all areas of the Commonwealth and in Western Europe. If war began in Korea, for instance, they would need the British Isles in order to launch a counterattack against Russia through Europe. If we wish to preserve peace, we must firmly tell them that they cannot reckon on this.

In the same way, the Russians would like to make a trade pact with Britain which ties her inextricably into their economic system. Britain must reply that, though she welcomes the resumption of normal trading, there can be no military or political conditions attached. Western Europe can never be permitted to become even indirectly a part of the Soviet system. It should he our declared aim in the event of hostilities in one part of the world to prevent them from spreading. So we should tell both the U. S. S. R. and the U. S. that while we should of course resist by force any aggression against our own territories, either from the East or from the West, we are not

prepared to permit the British Isles or Western Europe to become a Second Front in the event of hostilities in any other part of the world. If both the Russians and the Americans knew this now there would be far less talk of war. Britain might he abused but it would be worth it in order to save peace.

For the maintenance of peace and the revival of the United Nations depend on our ability to break the deadlock between the rival blocs. It is not a matter of mediation—that is impossible—hut of neutralizing the war preparations in Washington and Moscow and so reducing the fear of aggression which is now the dominant motive of Russian and American policy. This can only be done if Britain takes the lead in Western Europe in adopting a position of armed neutrality By so doing we should reduce both the fear of aggression in America and Russia and the chances of either starting a war.

So long as the world is divided into two blocs war remains a real possibility. But if it is divided into three-—or even better four or five—blocs, then the chances of peace are correspondingly increased and the United Nations may again become the framework of a peaceful world settlement. it