Stalin's Postwar Foreign Policy

By Oberender, Andreas | Kritika, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Stalin's Postwar Foreign Policy


Oberender, Andreas, Kritika


Susan Butler, ed., My Dear Mr. Stalin: The Complete Correspondence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin. Foreword by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. xx + 361 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN-13 978-030012592-4. $40.00.

Peter Ruggenthaler, ed., Stalins grosser Bluff: Die Geschichte der Stalin-Note in Dokumenten der sowjetischen Fuhrung (Stalin's Great Bluff: The History of the Stalin Note Based on Soviet Documents). 256 pp. Munich: Oldenbourg, 2007. ISBN-13 978-3486583984. 24.80 [euro].

The foreign policy of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s has always been closely associated with the name of Iosif Stalin. The conclusion of the nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, the forging of the wartime alliance with Great Britain and the United States, the beginning of the Cold War and the division of Germany--all these pivotal moments before, during, and after World War II cannot be separated from the person of the Soviet dictator. Between the early 1930s and his death in 1953, he exerted a decisive influence on the conduct of Soviet foreign policy. Two new document collections, covering different periods and aspects of Soviet foreign policy, promise to shed light on Stalin's diplomatic performance. Both illustrate the problems connected with the sources that scholars now have at their disposal to examine Stalin's person and rule. First, disappointing as it may be for many historians, there is no guarantee that hitherto unknown sources will significantly alter our understanding of Stalin and the historical processes and relationships of which he was a part. Sometimes new sources only confirm what is already known. Second, although considerable progress has been made in reconstructing the decision-making process in the Stalinist political system, there are still cases where it remains difficult to find evidence of Stalin's involvement and to establish his responsibility for certain political and diplomatic initiatives.

The first book under review contains the complete correspondence of Stalin and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although previously known in part, the correspondence is presented here for the first time in its entirety. Since Allied wartime diplomacy is rather well documented and has never suffered from scholarly neglect, historians will surely wonder what the book can contribute to an already extensive literature. The editor, Susan Butler, has assembled 304 letters, telegrams, and other messages that the president and the Soviet dictator exchanged between August 1941 and April 1945. The correspondence reflects the progress of the war and the development of Allied cooperation. However, the topics covered in the letters and telegrams hold no surprises. They range from Lend-Lease deliveries and the opening of the Second Front to military operations in Europe, in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific, the postwar order, and meetings of the Big Three. These issues are seldom discussed at length. It is evident that Roosevelt and Stalin used their correspondence mainly for a preliminary exchange of their respective views on issues they deemed important and as a means to keep each other informed about their activities.

As the war went on, new topics were added: the surrender of Italy in 1943, the future of Poland, and the founding of the United Nations in 1944. Toward the end of the war, the two men's relationship became visibly strained. Agreement on the Polish question could not be reached, and Stalin began to suspect that his allies were about to conclude a separate armistice with German forces on the western front. Roosevelt's sudden death in April 1945 prevented a further deterioration of the relationship. The letters dealing with Poland's borders and the composition of the Polish government are by far the most important pieces in the collection because they foreshadow the breakup of the wartime alliance. But these and a couple of other interesting letters are scattered among a vast number of minor messages that constitute the bulk of the correspondence and contain little information of historical significance. …

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