How Significant Were Individuals in Changing Relationships Between the Powers in the Period 1870-1991? Essay

How significant were individuals in changing relationships between the powers in the period 1870-1991? The period 1870-1991 was a time of growing tensions and disputes between the world powers eventually leading to World War II and the cold war. The most important reasons for the changing of relationships between the world powers were due to the action of individuals such as Adolf Hitler, Mikhail Gorbachev and Otto Von Bismarck.There are evidently other factors such as the military and economic incentives of the respective powers which played a part in shaping relationships between the major world powers but it was the role of the individual which was the most significant. Adolf Hitler the German leader from 1934-1945 played a huge role in the changing relations between powers and arguably he was the most significant individual in shaping relationships between powers during the period 1870-1991.His aggressive foreign policies reflected his bitter attitude towards the German surrender in the First World War as he set out to reverse the treaty of Versailles and restore Germany’s stance a major World Power.

“Germany’s dynamic and aggressive foreign policy which unfolded during the 1930s was the exclusive work of Adolf Hitler. ” This source from Frank McDonough offers a traditionalist view of Hitler’s effect on German foreign policy, Adolf Hitler did not hide that the fact that he hated the treaty of Versailles and was willing to do everything in his power to reverse it.In doing so Hitler inevitably, greatly altered Germany’s relationships with other world powers particularly with that of France and Britain. Some of the results of Hitler’s aggressive policy are displayed in a speech by Neville Chamberlain, “I don’t want to get back to alliances but if Germany continues to behave as she has done lately she may drive us to it. ” The aggressive nature of Hitler was forcing Britain back into alliances with other powers such as France and Russia, whom had previously formed the triple Entente.Britain and the other western powers felt the need to form closer relationships and alliances with each other as a defensive policy against Germany and Hitler. This also had a knock effect; it forced Hitler to then look to form alliances, notably with Austria-Hungary and Italy, to ensure that if war did break out, Germany wouldn’t be overpowered.

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Hitler’s dictatorship regime in Germany was the primary catalyst towards the break out of World War II, involving superpowers from all corners of the earth. …Had more impact on the history of the world in the 20th century than any other political figure. ” This statement, by Historian Jeremy Noakes, sums up my view that Hitler was the single most important individual and factor in shaping relationships between powers during the period 1870-1991.

When discussing the influence over changing relationships between powers within the years 1870-1991, the second most important individual was Mikhail Gorbachev.Within the context of the Cold War, the prospect of a direct military clash between the Soviet Union and the USA was becoming ever more likely and the actions of Mikhail Gorbachev were integral in ensuring that the ensuing turmoil between the USA and the USSR diminished. “Gorbachev’s foreign policy, which he called ‘new thinking’, also contributed to the Cold War’s end. ” Gorbachev was deemed an expert at dealing with relations between the USA and the west, “He proved to be a natural at American-style public relations. This demonstrates the cooperation of Gorbachev with the western powers.

At the Washington Summit Gorbachev and Reagan reached an agreement, they promised to inaugurate a new world structure. The Washington Summit was a key step forward in the right direction towards bringing the cold war to an end. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ were regimes which also went a long way in easing the tense relationship between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.It was these reforms, which eventually spiralled out of control and caused the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR radically changed the world’s economic and political environment. “… glasnost had made a significant difference. Burmistenko’s first period as a journalist in Britain, between 1979 and 1984 was ‘one of frustration and enormous difficulties’ … this has changed drastically since 1985 … glasnost makes my work easier in this country. ” This source taken offers a reliable first-hand account of a Soviet Journalist who was working in Britain.

He explains that since Gorbachev’s reforms were implemented the treatment and attitude towards him as a Soviet journalist were much more sympathetic, and he became much more accepted within British society, being invited to more meetings and programmes. “…Gorbachev to thank for the fact that the empire he oversaw ended without a bloody conflagration. ” With the Cold War dominating modern history and due to its intrinsic importance over the period 1945-1991 the actions of Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War were hugely significant in shaping relationships between the powers hroughout the world during the period 1870-1991. The third most important individual when discussing the changing of relationships within the period 1870-1991 was German chancellor Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck, the longstanding German chancellor from the years 1871-1890 was the single most important person in shaping Germany’s foreign policy at the time. “Bismarck who had, almost single-handed, dictated policy for over 20 years. ” Bismarck was in complete control of German foreign policy and he was determined to see France isolated in Europe.In doing so he attempted to keep Russia and Austria-Hungary as allies despite the conflict in interest between two countries.

Bismarck knew France was out for revenge aiming to claim back Alsace-Lorrain and if Russia or Austria-Hungary were on the French side this would cause a massive threat to Germany as they would then be fighting a war on two fronts. The established historian L. C. B Seaman stated, “His essential anxiety was how to prevent southern-eastern Europe developing in a way as to provide France with an ally.

Bismarck’s aims were clearly advertised with the signing of the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879 and later with the creation of the Three Emperors League in which Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary formed an alliance further isolating France. This however did not last as Russian and German relations broke down, after 1879 tariffs against imports of Russian grain was interpreted negatively in St Petersburg. This increased the importance of French financial and commercial assistance and it impacted negatively on Germany and Bismarck as it pushed Russia closer to a potential alliance with France. The Iron Chancellor had not merely created a united Germany, but had constructed a diplomatic edifice… he had carefully cemented friendships, and had sedulously fomented the jealousies and rivalries of potential enemies. ” Marriott describes how influential Bismarck was in shaping ‘friendships’ and ‘enemies,’ again illustrating Bismarck’s overall importance in influencing the change of relationships between powers during the years 1870-1991.Individuals were clearly fundamental in shaping relationships between the powers, however there were other factors which played a pivotal part and cannot be overlooked. The military incentives of nations within 1945-1991 affected the state of relations between the powers. An arms race quickly developed between the Soviet Union and the USA.

“The balance has been destroyed… That cannot be. ” The USA were gaining momentum in military advancements and the Russians felt threatened.Here Stalin demonstrates the impact which the US military incentives had on his view of America. John swift, an editor of ‘History Today’ says, “Soviet leaders became even more intransigent in negotiations, determined to show they would not be intimidated,” explaining how the progression of the US army and weaponry, had an effect on negotiations towards resolving issues between the powers.

This resulted in talks stalling and hence prolonging and worsening the poor relationship between the two regions.With the two nations failing to reach an agreement the arms race developed further with the respective nations simultaneously developing new bombs. “… led by the United States and its NATO allies, and the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, its satellite states and allies. ” Now the USA and the USSR were at unease it had a knock on effect on the relations between other super powers; it meant that the majority of the West were at conflict with Eastern Europe and most other Communist states.Military incentives clearly had a significant role was when in determining the nature of relationships between the powers but it must be noted that that it was the role which was the most important factor in shaping relationships between the powers within 1870-1991 as the arms race was ultimately influenced by radical individuals like Joseph Stalin. Not only did the role of individuals influence the relationships between powers during the period 1919-1939 other factors including economic elements also contributed greatly to changing relations between powers.The Wall Street crash followed by the Great Depression had a devastating effect on the world; however the most acute effects of the Great depression were felt in Germany. Between 1924 and 1929 Germany had paid ? 5m in reparations to the western allies, but had received ? 9bn in loans from the USA in return.

“The economic problems led to many Germans viewing the Peace settlement as a cause of the problems, leading to more assertive foreign policies. ” Once these loans ended, in the months following the US stock market crashed, this sent the German economy into a deep spiralling depression.The number of unemployed stood at 1. 4m in 1928 rising to 6m by 1932.

This led to remarkable surge of support for the extremist right wing Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler. The party had grown from obscurity in 1928 to the largest political power in 1932, and in January 1933 Hitler became German chancellor. “There was a causal relationship between it and the end of the first and the beginning of the Second World War” This extract written by Petzina offers an alternative reason for the start and end of the world wars.Most countries abandoned free trade and turned away from schemes of international co-operation in trade and disarmament, focussing on trying to solve internal social and economic problems. Suddenly totalarian regimes, led by dynamic leaders most notably Hitler, Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Benito Mussolini in Italy began to immerge around Europe.

They appeared to offer a way out of the misery of economic depression but they inevitably had a knock on effect on the foreign affairs of their respective countries.Their aggressive foreign policies caused disputes between major powers during the period of 1919-1939. Although the economic factors played vital roles in shaping international relations throughout 187—1991 it must be stressed that the role of the individual remained the most significant reason behind the changing of relationships from 1870-1919. In conclusion, the role of the individuals in changing relationships between powers within 1870-1991 was by far the most important factor.

The Work of Mikhail Gorbachev in the dissolution of the Soviet Empire and his policies reflecting his ‘new thinking’ ideology played the biggest role in ending the cold war. Bismarck was the key player in international relations in the earlier stages of this period, dominating German foreign policy for over twenty years. His attempts to alienate France in Europe had a knock on effect on all European powers, influencing alliances between certain powers and the breakdown of relations between other European powers.There were also military and economic factors which clearly couldn’t be overlooked. The Great Depression forced country’s to move towards more radical government, resulting in more aggressive foreign policies and the advancements of nuclear weapons in the communist and western states caused shifts in power between the two sides , resulting in more sour relations. The work of Adolf Hitler though was the most significant factor in determining the relationships through the whole of this period. Adolf Hitler, military and political leader of Germany 1933 – 1945, launched World War Two and bears responsibility for the deaths of millions. ” He was the primary cause of the Second World War, his desire to reverse the treaty of Versailles and exert his extreme foreign policy led to a war in which all world powers were involved.

In conclusion, the role of the individual was the most significant reason in determining the change of relationships between powers during the years 1870-1991. Word Count: 1,998


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