Peace and stability in Europe, as Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor and a master of statecraft, once believed, depended on making a good treaty between Germany and Russia. The two great Continental powers had to find a balance of power. France had neither the leadership nor the population to be a third great power, and Britain was busy abroad where it didn’t matter.

The treaty that Hitler and Stalin signed at the end of August 1939 turned the two dictators into accomplices. The absence of any balance of forces within Europe freed them both to pursue their national interests as they perceived it. Together they immediately divided Poland. Within a few months, Hitler went on to invade and occupy another seven countries while Stalin invaded and occupied another four. Dictatorship had triumphed over liberal democracy and would now dominate the near future.

 

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