Aggression of States
Looking at the origins of World War I and II and the Cold War, the evidence shows that there are ???no inherently aggressive states.??? In all three conflicts, aggressive behavior was caused by actors responding to stimuli on basis of ???external constraints??? or past experiences of the state. Therefore, no state can be blamed for any of the above mentioned conflicts and only theories that place the blame on the circumstances rather than a state itself are viable. The causes of the conflicts were situational, and the leaders were only acting out of security interests for their respective countries. In the following essay, an example will be given from each side of the conflict to show evidence of how all countries involved played a part and that no one aggressor state is to blame.
On the eve of World War One, Germany did not necessarily want war. Germanys concerns about her security fatefully landed her the role as one of the key perpetrators of World War One. On July 5th, Germany issued its ???blank check??? to Austria, effectively welding Germany??™s fate with Austrias (Stoessinger 3). But this was not plainly because Kaiser Wilhelm felt a ???personal attachment??? to the Austrian leadership (3). Germany felt uneasy in the stew of Alliances being formed in the early 20th century. Russia and France, who had consolidated their alliance, seemed to surround Germany. To survive, the German leadership felt like they had to ???preserve [their] only ally??? (Roeder Lecture 2). Furthermore, German public opinion also expressed fatalistic concerns, that ???Germany would be a world power or nothing???, here would be the ???existence or non-existence of the Germanic race in Europe??? (Van Evera 66). This extreme polarity in the existence of the Germanic peoples reflected the attitude of all Germans, including those in the German leadership. Indeed, the growing Russian force with the implementation of the Great Program along with Russo-French alliance made Germany uneasy and insecure (80). The Kaiser rashly calculated that having Austria as an ally was more important than making prudent diplomatic decisions and that Germany must maintain its only ally at all costs. The German leadership felt that Austria was key to its security, and so it acted accordingly.
With her ally intact, Germany acted what seemed to be expansionistically when, in fact, she was trying to keep herself secure. Understanding that Germany was fighting a war on both fronts, German leadership acted with aggression to secure the country from total occupation (Roeder Lecture 2). Germany did not act aggressively, as the ???War Guilt??? theory suggests, because of inherent aggression but was simply trying to keep herself secure (2). The German leadership was facing a ???constraint of choice??? (2). Indeed, the German experience suggests that ???Constraint of Choice??? theory fits the events of World War I (2). The theory suggests that all the countries involved in the conflict acted not out of aggression, but out of necessity for security. The Russian experience is no different.
Russia also faced a ???constraint of choice.??? Russian military leaders knew that Germany could mobilize faster and partial mobilization would leave Russia at a disadvantage (Roeder Lecture 2). Therefore, on July 30th, Russian leadership decided to order a full, instead of partial, mobilization (Van Evers 29). Yet, this was not out of aggressive tactics, but out of self-defense. Russia was further pressured to fully mobilize by its own people: the public cried our for aid for their ???Slavic??? brothers (Roeder Lecture 2). Indeed, Russia looked to ease already mounting proletariat tensions that would inevitably culminate in the Russian Revolution. The Revisionist theory of the causes of World War One suggests that Russia used the excuse of Franz Ferdinands death to aggressively expand (2). Indeed, Russia did seize the Straight of Istanbul but not because of aggressive tendencies: Russia foresaw the need for a way into the Mediterranean for the coming war and acted in the name of state security (2). The port would be helpful in the fight against Austria, a country that posed a serious threat to Russia. Russia took the land not to expand, but to survive.
After the First World War, Germany was a shell of her former self. The German people were humiliated by a treaty that no German even wanted to sign (Roeder Lecture 3). The Treaty of Versailles, along with hyper-inflation and extremely high unemployment caused the German people to go to extremes for necessary security (3). Those extremes included the coming of Hitler to power. Hitler fulfilled Germanys need for security by assaulting the root of humiliation of the German people: the Treaty of Versailles (3). Nazi Germany started an intense propaganda campaign in the Saar district, which was under international rule for twenty years until it voted on whether it would join France or Germany (3). It was also an important place of production. Because of its economic value, desperate measures were taken out of necessity so that the German people could get back on their feet financially. Hitler also invaded Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland (3). Although the Sources of Aggression theory suggest that this was indeed, legitimate aggression, this is not so. The invasion of these countries was an over extension of the necessity of security. The state felt that it had to prove itself out of humiliation by flexing its muscles. It was an aggressive reaction to an aggressive action (Treaty of Versailles).
The Allies did not want another World War and therefore did not aggressively enforce their own Treaty of Versailles. They did not want to repeat the mistake of the spiraling of conflict that led to World War 1. Brinkmanship had fatally gone awry at the eve of World War One and the Allies did not want to repeat such a mistake (Roeder Lecture 3). They decide to appease the ???aggressive??? state, Germany, to avoid conflict. The Allies are not to blame here; they were simply doing what they thought would not cause war based on prior experience. In short, the ???blame??? for the war is equally handled by the Allies and the Germans (Axis powers, in the broader sense). The Allies caused German aggression, the Germans overextended their aggressive policies for sake of security, and then the Allies failed to contain this over-extension.
During the Cold War, the United States attempted to contain supposed Soviet expansion to reduce vulnerability and security risks. The United States did not use appeasement anymore because of the ineffectiveness of the strategy, but instead used the method of containment of Soviet states (Roeder Lecture 4). The United States did this through the supporting of free states that were against Soviet expansion and the fighting of ???proxy wars??? that did not directly involve the United States or the Soviet Union (4). The security of the United States economically and militarily was at stake (4). As rivals, the Soviet Union and the United States did not understand each others foreign policies and assumed the worst from each other. Therefore, the United States acted somewhat aggressively as a necessary security precaution. It was not, as the Cold War Revisionist theory suggests, simply because the U.S. was anti-Soviet ideology (4). Such a radical response would not make sense when fighting a mere ideological problem. The U.S. feared for its security because of the expansion of the Soviet Union and it took necessary precautions against such a threat.
The Soviet Union had the same exact reaction to supposed American expansionism. At the end of World War Two, the Soviet Union did the same thing as the U.S. did: create a sphere of influence of friendly countries (Roeder Lecture 4). This was done for security reasons, to create a pillow of influence between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders also worried about the possibility of a world economy dominated by the U.S. They therefore relentlessly poured in resources into proxy wars fought in places like Vietnam (4). This was done in the name of security for the Soviet Union since economic security constitutes security for all the other facets. The Systematic Theory explains this power struggle (4). The end of World War Two created a power vacuum which placed the Soviet Union and the United States in a head to head competition (4). Both struggled with insecurities about their defensive security and position and, therefore, both promoted expansionism that seemed aggressive but which was thought necessary for security (4). The result was a bipolar system that was a ???product of insecurity??? (Gadis 109).
This essay suggests that conflicts are never caused by aggressive states. Conflicts are the result of a state pursuing security for itself which conflicts with the pursuance of security of another state. Therefore, all are to blame when it comes to major conflicts. Though they appear polar opposites, the states that were players in World War One and Two and the Cold War all had one thing in common: the need for security. The result was each state acting like it sees fit to fulfill this need to disastrous effect. Therefore, the Constraint of Choice, Systematic, and other theories that support that the blame falls on all actors of a conflict equally are correct.
1. Gaddis, John Lewis. From International Security 10:4, pg. 99-142 ???The Long Peace??? Spring 1986
2. Roeder, Philip. 2011-Fall Poli 12, Lecture 2
3. Roeder, Philip. 2011-Fall Poli 12, Lecture 3
4. Roeder, Philip. 2011-Fall Poli 12, Lecture 4
5. Stoessinger G. John. From Why Nations Go To War, pp. 1-25 Ch.1 ???The Iron Dice: World War I??? 1990
6. Van Evra, Stpehen. From International Security 9:1, pp. 58-107 ???The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War??? Summer 1984