Those hasty, impetuous souls who urged President Roosevelt to take a tougher line against the wartime claims of the Soviet Union were faced with a number of obstacles. There was Roosevelt’s strong belief that co-operation was not impossible, the desire to sustain the alliance against the Axis and give no excuse for a separate, Soviet-German peace, and concern lest a precipitate showdown prejudice impending Soviet help in the war against Japan. With the death of Roosevelt and the collapse of Germany, two obstacles were removed; and the accession of a President untrained in foreign affairs, ignorant even of the development of the atomic bomb, opened the way for advisers within the State, the War Departments, and the Moscow embassy to press their counsel. In their view, the agreements negotiated at Yalta in February 1945, and the interpretation that both Roosevelt and Stalin had put upon them, gave the Soviet Union too great a role in Europe and the Far East. That role should and could be reduced. With the military decision, at the end of April, that Soviet aid was no longer necessary in the war against Japan, diplomatic initiatives might reasonably be undertaken.
Two methods of influencing Soviet policy were tried. The first stemmed from the belief that the shattered Soviet economy would depend on western aid in its recovery; but the cutting-off of Lend-Lease failed to take effect, and Soviet policy in Poland remained unchanged. The second, the attempt to hold western troops beyond the settled demarcation line in Germany was simply parried by a Soviet counter-move in Austria. Yet pressures for an immediate showdown continued—one that might achieve effect before American troops were withdrawn from Europe.
The American Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, had another plan; no precipitate action should be taken. ‘The key to the Secretary’s view’, as Mr Alperovitz puts it in Atomic Diplomacyfootnote1, ‘was a consistent judgment—held from at least mid-March 1945—that the atomic bomb would add great power to American diplomacy once it was developed. He considered that no major issue could be realistically discussed without an estimate of the bomb’s role. He believed it “premature” for the United States to raise diplomatic issues in the Far East until the bomb had been tested. Similarly, he believed it essential that the discussion of European issues be postponed; he told the President on May 16th, “We shall probably hold more cards in our hands later than now.” ’
Mr Alperovitz describes how Stimson’s policy came to be adopted, how, with Harry Hopkin’s conciliatory visit to Moscow, the pressure was taken off, how, against Winston Churchill’s shrill advices, the Potsdam Conference was put off and off; and how, when the bomb was unavoidably delayed, stalling tactics were played at Potsdam. At that Conference, Truman ‘unveiled the full extent of the American demands, he refused to make important concessions, and he made it clear that if no agreement was reached, he was quite prepared to postpone consideration of the issue until a later date.’
The author lends reinforcement to those, like P. M. S. Blackett, who have held that the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not needed to defeat Japan, were not needed to save American lives, but were essential in securing a surrender on America’s terms—in securing, in fact a surrender before the scheduled Soviet invasion could take effect and provide that country with substance for its claim to an important voice in the future of the area. His thesis, however, goes beyond the question of relations in the Far East and indicates the effects of the atomic bomb on European diplomacy. A new firmness of American diplomacy revealed itself, and, correspondingly, a new Soviet willingness to yield. The period of concessions had not long to last, and in September, at the London Conference of Foreign Ministers, discussion broke down over the future of Rumania and Bulgaria: as firmly placed within the Soviet sphere as Greece within the British, the new American diplomacy yet insistently endeavoured to influence their form of government. Concession could go no further, and it is from this date, more than from any other, that the period of deadlock extends.
Mr Alperovitz’s contribution to the diplomatic history of 1945, the formative year of the cold war, is distinguished by the careful analysis of the shifts in American military thought, by a copious documentation, and by the systematic relation which he reveals between the course of military and diplomatic affairs. His thesis firmly establishes that it was the American, and not the Soviet, diplomatic offensive which brought about a breakdown in relations; it replaces the well-meaning generalities of former ‘revisionist’ historians such as D. F. Fleming; and, not least, it destroys the interpretation of history `la Herbert Feis which, failing to relate the atomic bomb to diplomatic tactics, neglecting the twists and turns of policy after April 1945, ascribes the cold war to the ruthless machinations of the savage Stalin.