MTA Law Working Papers

A Jogtudományi Intézet műhelytanulmányai

András Schweitzer: Ideas for Containment? World War Two American and British Confederation Plans for Postwar East-Central Europe

2019/08
At an early stage of the Second World War American and British post-war planners were preparing and discussing confederation schemes for the small states of East-Central Europe. As a tangible outcome and a first step toward the establishment of a wider regional union after the war a Czechoslovak-Polish treaty was signed in January 1942 in London by Edvard Beneš and Wladyslaw Sikorki, the respective heads of governments in exile. According to the available (quite scarce and largely Cold-war focused) literature the project was gradually abandoned mainly because Beneš and the Western powers did not want to antagonize their Soviet ally, which soon held the region under its control. The paper focuses on the emergence and development of these plans. It aims to revisit the question of their origin and the reasons why they were gradually abandoned. Based on British and American archival sources (mainly: policy documents of the British Foreign Office and minutes of the American Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy) it seems clear that diplomats in London and Washington were soon confronted with severe challenges. Before Soviet adversity was even expressed they found that the interested East-Central European political elites were not able to harmonize their postwar ideas, because of other perceived conflicting national interests. Although a confederation arrangement would have clearly benefited the USA, Britain, and all Western-friendly, democratic East-Central European political movements, after much deliberation and collaboration no such detailed plan was worked out by the parties. While Soviet intervention had its effects, this failure was in part due to the fact that the pre-war regional arrangements frequently violated the principle of self-determination and formed the basis of serious grievances and disputes. American and British planners sought to ease these tensions, which had been exploited by Germany and the Soviet Union, by suggesting border corrections. However some of these would have meant taking away territories from “friendly” states and/or rewarding “enemies”, which was hardly attainable politically after the war. Thus, controversies of the peace settlement system that followed the first world war became a factor not only for the outbreak of the second but also for the failure of US and British policy makers to effectively oppose Soviet control over East-Central Europe afterwards.

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