Significance of Individuals in Changing Relationships between the World Powers in the Period 1870-1991

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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. 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...
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