The nineteenth-century prophecy that Russia and the United States would be the dominant powers of the twentieth century was fulfilled at the end of the Second World War. None of the other former major powers could have any pretensions to the superpower status which it was recognised the United States and the Soviet Union occupied. Japan and Germany were defeated and the latter was about to be divided. France was recovering from the humiliation of defeat in 1940 and from the divisions caused by the Vichy regime. Britain, despite retaining the trappings of an imperial power, was financially broke. As the war had progressed its relative contribution of men and material to the fighting forces had steadily declined. Britain, Churchill ruefully acknowledged, was a ‘little donkey’ compared to ‘the great Russian bear’ and ‘the great American buffalo’.1 While the manpower and economic resources of the United States and the Soviet Union were fundamental to their leading positions, the dramatic extent of their predominance owed much to the involvement of the European powers in a second major war little more than twenty years after the end of the first.
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