Morality and Law
Iron Curtain Speech Anniversary and Cold War 2.0?

March 5 marks the 75th anniversary of Winston Churchill's Fulton, Missouri ‘Sinews of Peace’ speech, which proclaimed the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. In today's geopolitical environment, the sharp rise in the polemical rhetoric of both Russia (statements about its readiness to break off relations with the EU and the Council of Europe) and the West make the memories of this old speech especially relevant.

Historically, its appearance in March 1946 was understandable in its own way. With the end of the Second World War, the common interests that had tied had the West and the Soviet Union reached their culmination and were no longer relevant. The division of Germany and Europe into zones of influence became a post-war reality, which required a new regrouping of forces, and not a single trace remained of the old alliance. It is quite remarkable that this division of Europe, which Churchill presented at Fulton in the form of the Iron Curtain, was one he himself had agreed upon just a year earlier, during the Yalta Conference. At the time, it did not raise any questions from him -  the tasks and interests were different.

It is also characteristic that not only the Yalta, but also the Potsdam conference, after the end of the war in Europe and the death of Roosevelt, also did not lead to a symbolic break between the USSR and its Western allies; it largely confirmed in practice the results of Yalta. The reason is clear - the war with Japan had not yet ended. The United States was extremely interested in compelling the Soviet Union to renounce its neutrality treaty with Japan, which Tokyo had observed until that point despite Hitler using every diplomatic attempt to compel Japan to attack the USSR. The Western allies hoped to see the Soviet Union engage Japan’s powerful Kwantung Army of Japan in Asia. That saved Americans from unnecessary sacrifices and waste of resources.
It is possible, perhaps without much exaggeration, to say that the war in the Pacific was undoubtedly more important for the geopolitical interests of the United States than the war in Europe.

Therefore, until the defeat of Japan was completed, the Soviet Union remained a welcome ally for the United States - regardless of the personal factor of President Truman, who was much more critical toward the USSR than Roosevelt had been. The UK, which owed its very survival in the first period of the war to the help of the United States, was a country dependent on the economic and military power of America, and as a virtually junior ally could not oppose this approach. Churchill on his own might not have gone to Tehran and Yalta to recognise Stalin's European aspirations. It is well known that he strived to direct the focus of the Anglo-American second front in Europe not towards Normandy, but the Balkans - precisely in order to restrain the Soviet Union from its excessive advance into Europe. But for the Americans this was not the main thing at that time, and, as a result, having promised the Americans to enter the war against Japan (and honestly fulfilling this promise), Stalin received from Roosevelt, and later from Truman, the right to a free hand in Europe.

As a result, both the USSR and the USA achieved their military goals and realised their key geopolitical interests at that time. Their alliance on this issue (half of Europe in exchange for the war with Japan) was absolutely real; the British simply saw it in their own way, without any English hypocrisy. Therefore, although the United States was the first country to occupy Thuringia, it subsequently calmly transferred it to the Soviet zone of occupation. British plans for a possible military clash between the Western allies and the USSR immediately after the defeat of Germany (Operation Unthinkable), which Hitler had hoped for in his final days, did not gain any American support. All of  this happened after Truman had already taken office. Churchill, as a dependent ally, only had to agree with this.
The result of these events in 1945 yields a very simple conclusion, albeit cynical in its own way: interests are more important than values.

After the conclusion of World War II, when all interests had already been realised, and the former allies were no longer connected with each other, the difference in values ​​and political practices came to the fore again. That is why Churchill's Fulton, Missouri speech on the Iron Curtain (which he delivered, incidentally, in the presence of Truman), turned out to be very useful. At this new historical moment, it was in line with the new geopolitical interests of the Americans themselves.

As a special reaction to this speech, it should be noted that there was a sharp change in the atmosphere among the defendants at the Nuremberg trials. It was clearly visible in the memoirs of both Germans released from prison and American psychologists who worked with them. According to this information, Goering in Nuremberg did not hide his joy at the fact that relations between the USSR and the Western allies had begun to deteriorate rapidly. He even predicted the imminent termination of the process and his own liberation, because, he said, America needs us to fight against the USSR. This last hope of Goering became a kind of flashback to the aforementioned last hope of Hitler in April 1945. Fortunately, it did not come true, and the Nuremberg trials were brought to an end. Regardless, this fact is very significant.

Is the same thing happening now in world politics? On the one hand, after Putin's Munich speech, and after Crimea, and now, in the light of recent events, many have begun to talk about a new Cold War, about a kind of ‘2.0’ version, using the analogy to computer software.

On the other hand, a fairly large circle of experts believe that this comparison is methodologically incorrect. According to this logic, the historical situation is different now, that there is no real (nor postulated) ideological confrontation, etc. Today's events are better described not in terms of the Cold War, but on the basis of other methodological grounds. Let's say, within the framework of the concept of revisionist powers, when it is possible to partially trace the shift from revisionism of interests to revisionism of values.

However, this sticking point of  methodology is not particularly important in terms of general public opinion. What is important are the already clearly perceived and media-transmitted attitudes that consolidate the new gap and the new Iron Curtain. In this context, Biden's pre-election idea of ​​creating a "league of democracies" as a new global institution fits well, which, according to all logic, will fight the opposite "league of dictators". A new global split in the world will acquire institutional outlines quite similar to the institutional logic of the Cold War. In any case, Churchill's old phrase about the Iron Curtain in today's politics does not surprise anyone and is by no means outdated.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.