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  • The Marshall Plan and the Division of Europe
  • Charles S. Maier (bio)

Michael Cox and Caroline Kennedy-Pipe provide a valuable survey of much of the historiography of the Marshall Plan, rightly understood to be a centerpiece of the early Cold War. Their essay raises important questions about post-revisionist accounts and interpretations and makes a useful contribution in discussing the role of the British and French in the events of 1947—a role that the American literature long overlooked but that some corrective literature then overstated. Their article also helpfully summarizes the debates among Soviet leaders about the value and pitfalls of accepting U.S. proposals in the immediate aftermath of George Marshall's speech.1

Nonetheless, the essay makes less innovative and original arguments than it purports to, and it does not adequately analyze the meaning of "dividing Europe." Cox and Kennedy-Pipe imply that "dividing Europe" is equivalent to starting the Cold War. I will argue that indeed the United States and its Western allies bear much of the responsibility for dividing Europe—but that the policy was in fact a strategy for an ideological and geopolitical conflict that was already emerging. The Marshall Plan confirmed a division that events from the formation of rival Polish governments-in-waiting in 1944 through stalemates on Germany in early 1947 had already made difficult to bridge.

Division in effect can be construed as the third-best solution for both sides once it became likely that neither great power could impose its most desired solution (or even its second-best solution) on the whole continent. By "most desired" solution I mean a Europe from the Pyrenees to the Soviet border that would—depending on whether Moscow's or Washington's preferences prevailed—have been either Communist or non-Communist. Either of these results was precluded by the terms of the wartime coalition. Each side in the anti-Hitler alliance had too much need for the other simply to claim the whole area liberated from Nazi Germany. The British understood this as early as 1942 when they accepted Soviet demands for postwar border revisions. Soviet planners envisaged coexisting security spheres and cooperation with Britain [End Page 168] on the continent. The Americans, however, resisted accepting the implications of alliance politics until the Yalta conference in January 1945.2 The real question was whether each side could achieve its second best solution. By "second-best solution" I mean one in which pro-Western parties would retain a chance to share power and assure open competition in Eastern Europe and Communist parties would continue in government coalitions in Western Europe. This outcome would have required compromise but not a total renunciation of either side's goals. The division of Europe into anti-Communist and pro-Communist halves was the third-best solution in 1945, but it emerged as the most acceptable solution for both sides by l947-1948. Indeed, the Marshall Plan evolved as an American strategy for assuring at least this outcome, and the development of the Plan between the Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in March 1947 and the Soviet refusal to remain at the Paris talks called by Ernest Bevin and Georges Bidault in July advanced step by step with this realization.

The underlying dispute in the American historiography over fifty years has not really been about the logic of this result. Instead, it has addressed two other issues: whether the Soviet Union or the United States was more responsible for this outcome, and whether Americans (and East Europeans) might not have secured a less repressive political order in Eastern Europe. John Gaddis, from his first book to his recent work, has focused on the question of responsibility. Cox and Kennedy-Pipe appropriately take note of Gaddis's evolution: He argued in 1972 that Josif Stalin's behavior in Eastern Europe provoked American acceptance of what I have termed the third-best solution. By the mid-1980s he seemed to think the outcome was more structurally determined by the logic of bipolarity; and after 1989 he insisted that new evidence placed the fault directly at Stalin's doorstep.3 The Soviet dictator's unwillingness to allow liberal pluralism to...


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