The consequences of World War II began observing right after its end in 1945, and the division of Europe into Western and Easter was one of the most evident outcomes. Despite multiple alliances during the war period, certain tensions between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union were hard to neglect. One of the themes for discussion between the countries was the necessity to understand what to do with Germany and how to reorganize Europe. The US President Roosevelt wanted the improvement of the United Nations’ positions in the global arena, the British leader, Churchill, promoted fair democratic elections, and Stalin, the Soviet Union’s representative, tried to strengthen Soviet positions in Europe. As a result, political, economic, and social aspects in post-WWII Europe were divided and challenged the region. Multiple attempts to stabilize the situation were taken, including the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the Western European Union (WEU). Each program had its benefits and shortages, as well as supporters and opponents. This paper aims at discussing the peculiarities of Eastern and Western Europe reconstruction and the worth of economic and military initiatives on the countries’ development.
Political, Economic, and Social Aspects of Post-WWII European Reconstruction
WWII changed Europe in a variety of ways, and political, economic, and social improvements were required. The direct participants of the warlike the Soviet Union and Great Britain, were mostly devastated, much land was destroyed, and food scarcity was inevitable.1 Significant human losses demoralized populations: in the Soviet Union, more than “17 million civilians and 9 million soldiers killed”, and “some 26 million European non-combatants died”.2 Therefore, it was necessary to take certain steps to motivate people and find out new sources of development.
Three leaders met at Yalta to define the spheres of influence and then during the Potsdam Conference where Stalin rejected all further negotiations. These events were the first signs of the Cold War that resulted in the division of Europe into Western (under the impact of the United States) and Eastern (under the impact of the Soviet Union).3 Germany was divided between four countries: the northwest belonged to Great Britain, France occupied the southwest, the United States controlled the south, and the Soviet Union got the east. The west focused on rooting Nazism out, and the east wanted to create good conditions for its development. As one of the leaders, the United States was able to create several maritime bases in Europe and contribute to the progress of untouched nuclear power infrastructure.4 Communism, in its turn, was deeply rooted in the territory of Eastern Europe.
Economic changes were connected with increased unemployment and the lack of human resources. Poor industrial production and homelessness prevented further growth. The United States offered economic and financial assistant to Europe immediately after the war. Thus not all the countries were ready to accept it.5 Democratic principles prevailed in Eastern Europe, making it open to new market economies and new trade relationships. European recovery was possible because of several effective programs introduced by the United States. Still, despite the attempts to stabilize the economic situation in European countries, poverty was present. To reduce social concerns, European governments tried to accept as many assumptions of the welfare state as possible, focusing on education opportunities, housing, health protection, and living incomes.6 Social reconstructions also included the creation of new working places for women because of their participation during the war when the majority of men were at war. The migration of the Jewish population because of the Holocaust was another social outcome of WW2.
Cold War Initiatives
The rebuilding of Europe after WWII was characterized by Cold War initiatives that defined the quality of the relationships between the countries. The Soviet Union did not want to join the programs initiated by the United States, and the US government was eager to support Western European countries that chose the American position. The Marshall Plan, NATO, and the WEU proved the division of Europe after the war.
The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, was the US initiative to overcome post-war devastation in Western Europe. According to Vandemeulebroucke, this tactic was not only directed to rebuild Europe but also to control the Soviet Union and keep Stalin in fear of new alliances and assistance.7 The aid included about $13 billion to sixteen counties: “$29 for each inhabitant of West Germany, $33 per capita for Italy, $72 for France, $77 for England, and $104 for Austria”.8 Such cooperation created solid conditions for the creation of a new powerful campaign, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known as NATO.
In 1949, NATO was formed by the United States, Canada, and other eleven Western European countries. It was a security pact for the participants to allow military attacks, thus making American military presence legal and expected in Western Europe.9 These trans-Atlantic relations underlined the role of the United States in Europe and decreased the impact of the Soviet Union. To respond to this initiative, the Soviet Union, along with seven Eastern countries, founded the Warsaw Pact to protect themselves against NATO. Collective defense of Europe was proclaimed to predict the outcomes of possible attacks.
Western European Union
Another attempt to keep the division of Europe during the Cold War was in the form of the Western European Union (WEU) that was created in the middle of the 1900s. It was not only a platform for European integration and security policies but a chance to stabilize economic and social opportunities and underline the issues of justice and freedoms.10 As soon as the interests of Europe were recognized by the whole world, it was easier for governments to define their political and economic goals. The WEU was symbolic support for NATO and the possibility to transform relationships outside peaceful negotiations but strengthening nuclear forces in Europe.11In the Soviet Union, Stalin had to deal with the conflict between totalitarianism and communism. The WEU was the possibility for nations to be united and promote common values and interests in their development, proving the power of the division and a variety of post-war approaches to recovery.
In general, the outcomes of WW2 for Europe were dramatic and required a number of new policies and campaigns to be developed. Europe, as well as the whole world, was divided into two parties – the one to support the approaches of the United States and another to accept the traditions of the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan was the first initiative that provoked further division of Europe. Then, NATO and the Warsaw Pact were signed to officially divide the countries. The role of the United States was impressive, and the creation of the WEU was another proof that Europe was divided. The war had its impact on Europe, but the introduction of the two world leaders was the most significant outcome in history.
Dietl, Ralph. “The WEU: A Europe of the Seven, 1954-1969.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 7, no. 4 (2009): 431-452.
Paxton, Robert O. and Julie Hessler. Europe in the Twentieth Century. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2012.
Preston, Peter W. “Reading the Ongoing Changes: European Identity.” Political Quarterly 76, no. 4 (2005): 497-504.
Trachtenberg, Marc. “France and NATO, 1949-1991.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9, no. 3 (2011): 184-194.
Vandemeulebroucke, Robert. “From a Culture of Conflict to a Culture of Peace: The Reconstruction of Europe after World War II.” Dialogue & Alliance 27, no. 1 (2013): 50-54.
- Robert O. Paxton and Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2012), 430.
- Ibid., 429.
- Peter W. Preston, “Reading the Ongoing Changes: European Identity,” Political Quarterly 76, no. 4 (2005): 497.
- Ralph Dietl, “The WEU: A Europe of the Seven, 1954-1969,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 7, no. 4 (2009): 433.
- Robert Vandemeulebroucke, “From a Culture of Conflict to a Culture of Peace: The Reconstruction of Europe after World War II,” Dialogue & Alliance 27, no. 1 (2013): 52.
- Paxton and Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 434.
- Vandemeulebroucke, “From a Culture of Conflict to a Culture of Peace,” 52.
- Paxton and Hessler, 435.
- Marc Trachtenberg, “France and NATO, 1949-1991,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9, no. 3 (2011): 184.
- Dietl, “The WEU: A Europe of the Seven,” 433.
- Ibid., 444.