This is the first article in a series of 3 Articles in which we will try to understand: How did the US become the US? How did global power dynamics work during the Cold War? and About the US-China relationship
Have you ever asked yourself that why it is impossible to avoid the US when it comes to international affairs? When and how did the US become so important? The answer to these questions lies in past.
The US gained importance in world affairs only after Second World War. European nations were devastated by this catastrophic event in which millions of people died, economies collapsed, debt increased on governments, etc. Winston Churchill (then Britain’s PM) knew from the very start unless US comes to war Germany cannot be stopped. Till then, France was already defeated by Germany, this further increased urgency of US involvement. US entered war almost one year after the war started when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan and Germany declared war on the US.
Britain, US, and USSR formed an alliance (whose combined troops were called Allied Forces) against Axis powers i.e., Germany, Japan, and Italy. Initially, US restricted itself from sending American troops to the European mainland as it was fighting in the Pacific against Japan but supplied arms and ammunition, food and clothes, tanks, aircraft, maritime services, submarines, etc. to its allies especially to the Soviet Union. During the entire war, Russia lost more men than any other nation as its communist dictator Joseph Stalin cared less about people’s life. WW2 was truly a world war as it was fought not only in Europe (as was the case during WW1) but also in other parts of the world like the Mediterranean Sea, middle east, in southeast Asia (in the Pacific), china, etc.
Europe saw two world wars in just 25 years, along with the Great Depression of 1929. These events severely impacted their political and economic stability. Their infrastructure was destroyed twice, governments gained huge debt, children suffered education and proper nutrition, the working population died due to war and its after-effects like poverty, famine, inflation, unemployment, etc. All of these weakened European nations’ influence in world affairs, especially of Great Britain and France which soon after the war, lost their many colonies and India was one of them. Why India got independence only in 1947? WW2 was one of the main reasons which led to political and economic instability in Great Britain. Further, supplemented by National movements, Britain failed to hold its power in India.
After the war there were only two nations that had the potential to lead the world i.e., US and the Soviet Union. After the Great Depression of 1929, US introduced several programs like NEW DEAL. The new deal was a chain of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 which made US economy more robust and resilient, which ultimately helped it bear war expenses. Russia did not match US in economic terms or in military prowess. But it was seen as a savior, especially in Eastern Europe from cruel Nazi Germany (and from its allies) and the presence of its mighty Red army in Eastern Europe after the war further, strengthened its position.
As the US economy was not hurt much, it could easily help its allies in rebuilding. So, it decided to introduce a giant recovery plan for Europe known as Marshall Plan. It was enacted in 1948 and it provided more than $15 billion to help to finance the rebuilding efforts of European nations. US helped western Europe because it needed a market for its goods and services as its industries were producing huge surplus due to technological advancement and innovation. Also, US wanted to combat the further geographical expansion of the Soviets and the spreading of its communist ideology in western Europe. The launch of the Marshall plan could be considered as starting of the cold war.
WW2 also introduced many weapons of mass destruction like explosive weapons (tanks, bombs, artillery, etc.), and chemical weapons. The most devastating and fearful weapon which WW2 gave was the nuclear weapon which is only used once to date (US developed it and used it against Japan in 1945). In 1949, Russia also developed nuclear weapons.
Fear of these nuclear weapons was so high, that Nations understood, that one more war and no nation will survive. Hence, there was a need to put in place such frameworks and institutions which could stop such wars. As a result, United Nations (UN) came into existence which was proposed by US President FDR. UN is an intergovernmental organization whose aim is to keep peace among member nations through discussions and dialogues. After WW1 also, one such organization came into existence known as the League of Nations (proposed by then US president Woodrow Wilson) whose aim was again to keep peace among member nations. However, it failed in its purpose, as WW2 happened.
Therefore, International institutions like IMF, WHO, WTO, UNESCO, etc. whose primary goal is to maintain world order, are being established under the leadership of the US. It seems like the US understood that authority comes with lots of responsibility.