Emergence of Political, Social, and Economic Stability

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  • 0:02 Emergency of Stability
  • 0:32 Post-War Settlement
  • 2:17 An Uneasy Peace
  • 3:39 Separate Growth
  • 5:07 Integration
  • 6:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the factors that led to the emergence of peace in Europe and the nature of the tenuous political, economic and social stability that developed after WWII.

Emergence of Stability

Sometimes, the world can feel like the teeter-totter from your childhood playground. In order for everyone to have fun, all sides need to be balanced. When one person decides to be a jerk and not let the other person down from the top, it's really only fun for one side.

While the causes and motivations of the post-WWII settlement in Europe were certainly more complicated than rudimentary playground equipment, the balance that emerged after the war between the world's two largest countries fostered greater stability in Europe.

Post-War Settlement

What this relatively peaceful post-WWII Europe would look like was largely decided before the war even ended. Indeed, by Christmas 1944, Germany's defeat in Europe seemed virtually inevitable. As a result, in early 1945, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union held meetings with each other attempting to decide what the political map of Europe would look like.

The first of these conferences came in February, when Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin met in the Southern Soviet Union in the Crimean town of Yalta. At the Yalta Conference, Churchill and Roosevelt essentially agreed to grant the Soviet Union control and influence over most of Eastern Europe after the war. At the time, Roosevelt felt this measure was necessary because although Germany was almost defeated, the Pacific war with Japan had no end in sight. The concessions to the Soviet Union were made to secure Soviet help with the war against Japan. The conference also decided to include France in the post-war management of Germany.

But exactly how to manage Germany after its defeat was the main topic of the next major conference between the three powers at Potsdam, Germany, in July 1945. The Potsdam Conference was not nearly as successful as Yalta because new U.S. President Harry Truman was far less willing than his predecessor to grant the Soviet Union concessions. Both sides were willing to give up little ground.

The resulting agreement divided Germany into four different occupational zones, with the Soviet Union controlling roughly the eastern third of Germany while the western two-thirds was split between Great Britain, France and the United States. The agreement also ceded portions that were formerly Poland to the Soviet Union, and in recompense, Poland received a large portion of Eastern Germany.

An Uneasy Peace

The peace that emerged in Europe after WWII was an uneasy standoff between the two sides: Eastern Europe, largely communist and under the influence of the Soviet Union, and Western Europe, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom. The two Germanys that resulted from the rough division between communist East and capitalist West also grew separately according to their economic bent. West Germany and East Germany were the 'frontline' for this Cold War standoff.

The stakes of this standoff in Europe were raised with the advent of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could shoot the devastating warheads tens of thousands of miles. Both the United States and Russia rushed to stockpile these powerful weapons as a deterrent to the other side.

If war between the two Cold War superpowers were ever to break out and ruin the tenuous stability, it was likely to occur in Europe, where it nearly did in 1961. In Berlin, which was divided in half just like Germany, U.S. tanks lined up at Checkpoint Charlie in October after a dispute over authority and documents with East German officials. The Soviet Union responded with its own show of force, rolling tanks to the corresponding checkpoint in East Germany. A tense 16-hour standoff ended only after Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John Kennedy agreed secretly to stand down.

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