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Reviewed by:
  • No Exit: America and the German Problem, 1943–1954
  • Ronald W. Pruessen
James McAllister , No Exit: America and the German Problem, 1943–1954. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. 283 pages.

Neither historians nor political scientists are exactly hungering for new studies of the American approach to the "German problem" of the early Cold War period. This should not, however, prevent them from appreciating the merits of James McAllister's No Exit—a book that combines careful synthesis of a now quite rich literature with interesting analytical and theoretical forays. McAllister sums up a core conviction of many scholars when he writes that "the central question of the postwar world was and would remain the future of Germany" (p.4). Hence, of all the issues relevant to post-1945 international relations, few deserve repeated attention more than the shaping of policies toward the defeated Third Reich.

McAllister retraces familiar ground in effective, step-by-step fashion. He begins, appropriately, with Franklin D. Roosevelt's wartime vision of a Europe in which the United States and all its allies would have been spared the need to worry about the revival of an aggressive Germany. McAllister then moves through the stages during which this vision evolved—or collapsed. Separate chapters detail the Potsdam negotiations and the early efforts of the Truman administration to chart a course between pragmatic concern for Germany's economic recovery and French-Soviet anxieties; the 1947-1949 decisions that moved toward the creation of a separate West German state (with the first Berlin crisis as both a symbol and a result of this shift in American strategy); and the increasing U.S. emphasis on the integration of the Federal Republic of Germany into a nascent Western Europe as a means of containing the Soviet Union and controlling unilateral German power (an aim reflected in Washington's enthusiasm for the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Defense Community). McAllister offers a clear and succinct overview of these key developments in [End Page 150] the 1940s and 1950s—though his impressive mastery of English-language secondary sources and archives would have been enriched by further work in both the extensive German literature and the Soviet, German, and Eastern European archival materials that have become available over the last decade.

A particularly interesting component of No Exit is McAllister's successful effort to link historical analysis to a major theme in the political science literature on the Cold War—namely, the debate concerning Kenneth Waltz's conceptualization of the relative strengths and weaknesses of bipolar as opposed to multipolar systems. In his original formulation of "neorealism" (or "structural realism"), Waltz emphasized what he believed was the greater stability of the bipolar system of the post-1945 era, citing the ability of the U.S. and Soviet governments to rely primarily on more efficient "internal" resources rather than on the more uncertain and fragile strength provided by external allies. McAllister joins Richard Ned Lebow, Thomas Risse-Kappen, Alexander Wendt, and others who have questioned Waltz's theories. Historical analysis, McAllister argues, reveals that Waltz's "theoretical bipolar system bears little resemblance to the actual historical system that came into being in 1945" (p.10). The "German problem" is at the heart of No Exit's theoretical observations because of its relevance to understanding both the perceptions of key policymakers and the dynamics of the system they created. On one hand, Washington and Moscow were preoccupied with the future of their defeated enemy—especially the prospect that it might ally itself with one or the other of the Cold War camps. In essence, this made Germany a constant central player in a post-1945 world that might be characterized more accurately as inherently "tripolar" rather than bipolar in nature. On the other hand, fears of a resurgent Reich spurred American and Soviet leaders to put more reliance on allies than Waltz's theory would have suggested—and these fears gave the allies a real measure of influence over the two superpowers as a result.

It would be hard to disagree with McAllister's contention that "historians should be obvious alliance partners for political scientists concerned with the role of power...