THE NATIONS: The Chances of World War III

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The most useful activity possible for men and nations in 1948 was the prevention of World War III. Last week the rate of that activity took a spurt. If it could be increased about ten times and maintained at that higher level for about 15 years, the chances of avoiding World War III would be good.

World War III would come a lot closer if world Communism grew in power to the point where it felt able to attack the U.S. Since World War II ended, Communism's power had grown faster than any rise in Hitler's power between 1933 and 1939. The Communists were not the X in the equation. Their intention to rule the world had been proclaimed a thousand times, and their strength under various circumstances could be fairly accurately forecast. The unknown quantity was the Western world. How seriously would the West try to resist the Communist expansion? How ably would it go about that resistance?

Last week the West's intention looked firmer, its ability brighter than in many months—which was faint praise.

Ten Days That Shook the Diplomats. U.S. Ambassador to Britain Lewis W. Douglas emerged last week from an international conference and said: "In ten days more progress has been made than in the preceding three years." If Douglas was right, the Communist kidnaping of Czechoslovakia had cost Russia more in ten days than it would get out of Czechoslovakia in ten years.

Douglas was speaking of an "agreement in principle" between six Western nations on what to do with Germany (see below). It had been reached at long last when the U.S., goaded by the Czech crisis, stepped up pressure on France. The same Czech crisis had spurred the French to the realization that they had at least as much to fear from Russia as from Germany. Even plainer was the fact that only closest cooperation between the Western powers, including the U.S., could protect France from either Germany or Russia.

Other ripples from the Czech crisis last week reached Brussels, where five Western European nations made rapid progress toward a defensive military alliance. All over Western Europe politicians and plain people were talking unity—military, economic and political.

Perils Ahead. Dangers, both immediate and long-range, were scarcely dispelled by these hopeful actions. Finland was threatened today; Austria might be next; Italy would go through a crucial test in its April 18 elections. Wherever the Communists took power by election, they made sure, as in Poland, that they would never lose it by election. And when they lost elections, as in Czechoslovakia, they sought other roads to power. The democracies had to win every kind of contest every time in every country. The Communists only had to win once; then the country was withdrawn from contest, and could be liberated only by revolution or war.

The chances of World War III depended on the outcome of a whole series of struggles. Europe obviously could not be won without U.S. dollars, but it surely would not be won by dollars alone. What would it take? From anxious London, TIME'S Bureau Chief John Osborne outlined an answer:

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