Rise of Superpowers After WWII

It is often wondered how the superpowers achieved their position
of dominance. It seems that the maturing of the two superpowers,
Russia and the United States, can be traced to World War II. To be a
superpower, a nation needs to have a strong economy, an overpowering
military, immense international political power and, related to this,
a strong national ideology. It was this war, and its results, that
caused each of these superpowers to experience such a preponderance of
power. Before the war, both nations were fit to be described as great
powers, but it would be erroneous to say that they were superpowers at
that point.
To underezd how the second World War impacted these nations so
greatly, we must examine the causes of the war. The United States
gained its strength in world affairs from its status as an economic
power. In the years before the war, America was the world?s largest
producer. In the USSR at the same time, Stalin was implementing his
?five year plans? to modernise the Soviet economy. From these
situations, similar foreign policies resulted from widely divergent
origins.
Roosevelt?s isolationism emerged from the wide and prevalent
domestic desire to remain neutral in any international conflicts. It
commonly widely believed that Americans entered the first World War
simply in order to save industry?s capitalist investments in Europe.
Whether this is the case or not, Roosevelt was forced to work with an
inherently isolationist Congress, only expanding its horizons after
the bombing of Pearl Harbour. He signed the Neutrality Act of 1935,
making it illegal for the United States to ship arms to the
belligerents of any conflict. The act also stated that belligerents
could buy only non-armaments from the US, and even these were only to
be bought with cash.
In contrast, Stalin was by necessity interested in European
affairs, but only to the point of concern to the USSR. Russian
foreign policy was fundamentally Leninist in its concern to keep the
USSR out of war. Stalin wanted to consolidate Communist power and
modernise the country's industry. The Soviet Union was committed to
collective action for peace, as long as that commitment did not mean
that the Soviet Union would take a brunt of a Nazi attack as a result.
Examples of this can be seen in the Soviet Unions? attempts to achieve
a mutual assiezce treaty with Britain and France. These treaties,
however, were designed more to create security for the West, as
opposed to keeping all three signatories from harm. At the same
time, Stalin was attempting to polarise both the Anglo-French, and the
Axis powers against each other. The important result of this was the
Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which partitioned Poland, and allowed
Hitler to start the war. Another side-effect of his policy of playing
both sides was that it caused incredible distrust towards the Soviets
from the Western powers after 1940. This was due in part to the fact
that Stalin made several demands for both influence in the
Dardanelles, and for Bulgaria to be recognised as a Soviet dependant.

The seeds of superpowerdom lie here however, in the late
thirties. R.J. Overy has written that ?stability in Europe might have
been achieved through the existence of powers so strong that they
could impose their will on the whole of the international system, as
has been the case since 1945?.? At the time, there was no power in
the world that could achieve such a feat. Britain and France were in
imperial decline, and more concerned about colonial economics than the
stability of Europe. Both imperial powers assumed that empire-building
would necessarily be an inevitable feature of the world system.
German aggression could have been stifled early had the imperial
powers had acted in concert. The memories of World War One however,
were too powerful, and the general public would not condone a military
solution at that point. The aggression of Germany, and to a lesser
extent that of Italy, can be explained by this decline of imperial
power. They were simply attempting to fill the power vacuum in Europe
that Britain and France unwittingly left. After the economic crisis
of the 1930?s, Britain and France lost much of their former
international ezding--as the world markets plummeted; so did their
relative power. The two nations were determined to maintain their
status as great powers however, without relying on the US or the USSR
for support of