WORLD War I had cut down the number of the European Great Powers, the old arbiters of the destiny of the planet, from six to three--France, Italy, and Great Britain--while leaving Japan, a recent addition to their ranks, side by side with the United States. World War II completed this process. Britain emerged indeed with an enhanced reputation as a champion of freedom but greatly weakened, since she had been forced to draw upon her inherited financial resources and upon the narrow margin of her island strength. France, who had never recovered from the shock of 1870 and her great effort in World War I, had suffered war on her own soil for the second time in thirty years, this time with the added humiliation of a period of accommodation with the invader. Her social system, thanks to the abolition of privileges at the Revolution, was sounder than that of Great Britain and she had more natural resources to draw upon. Moreover, she was experiencing new vitality in the reversal of the previous long-continued decline of her birth rate and in her capacity to assimilate immigrants. Nevertheless her territorial limits, which had been so well fitted to the power scale of the old European system, were not adequate for an age when, if sovereign states wish to stand alone, they require defense in depth of a kind which France, like Great Britain, could never hope to provide. She, too, therefore could no longer be accounted a Great Power by the old scale of reckoning. Italy also was in much the same situation.
Thus in 1945, when the armies of the Western Allies and their Eastern partner converged on Central Germany, there was a vacuum of power in the old powerhouse of the world. It was filled, at least for the time being, by two non-European Powers, the United States and the Power whose rulers had adopted for it the name of "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" or, in more convenient language, the Soviet Union.