The 'Big Three' and the Division
of Europe, 1945–1948
Winston Churchill called the Second World War 'the unnecessary war'.1 In the first volume of his war memoirs he set out to show how it could have been avoided if the allies of 1914–18 had maintained their unity and had enforced the peace treaties agreed in Paris. It would be going too far to depict the Cold War as 'unnecessary', but it was definitely unwanted and unintended. In 1945 all the 'Big Three'—Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States—wished to maintain their wartime alliance as the basis for post-war international cooperation, even though each understood cooperation in different ways. This chapter suggests why the 'Grand Alliance' of 1945 crumbled into a polarized Europe by 1948.
Looking at the broad sweep of modern history, it is not perhaps surprising that the wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union was soon under strain.2
In 1917 the US entry into the World War and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia heralded the appearance on the European stage of two novel ideologies, embodied in Woodrow Wilson and V. I. Lenin. Each challenged the existing structure of international relations based on the rivalry of heavily armed empires. American and Bolshevik ideologies also challenged each other—the first the vanguard of liberal, capitalist democracy, the other dedicated to the overthrow of
This chapter started out as a paper about recent Western scholarship on the origins of the Cold War
at a colloquium in the Institute of General History, Academy of Sciences, Moscow, in 1988. The
presentation and discussion, at the height of glasnost, was one of the most exciting seminars I have
experienced. A revised version was then published in Diplomacy and Statecraft, 1 (1990), 111–36,
and it appears here with minor changes of wording and the deletion of some remarks that are no
longer topical, because I feel the general argument is still correct. But there has been an explosion of
research since the end of the Cold War and I indicate some of the more important literature at the
end of the chapter.
1 Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War (6 vols., London, 1948–54), p. viii.
2 For surveys of the Russian–American relationship by US and Soviet historians see John Lewis
Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union, and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York, 1978);
Nikolai V. Sivachev and Nikolai N. Yakovlev (trans. Olga Adler Titelbaum), Russia and the United
States (Chicago, 1979).