Through most of its history East Europe, that broad strip of land between the Gulf of Finland and the Balkan foothills, was a reservoir of “submerged nationalities,” ethnic groups with scant experience in national independence. For centuries it was under the sway of East European empires such as Austria, Russia, Germany, and Turkey, who kept the region’s chronic instability in check. World War I put an abrupt end to this imposed unity. Seven new states emerged in an area where previously there had been but one.* Of these, six bordered on the Soviet Union and three on Germany, each possessing territories on which one or the other power had historic claims. But because Russia and Germany were weakened by defeat and revolution and the principle of national self-determination had a sanctity no power dared to challenge, it did not at first appear that the new states, unstable though they were, faced a threat from east or west. It soon became evident however that independence of the parts meant a ruinous fragmentation of the whole. Strategic wisdom demanded that these states draw together for economic cooperation and defense. But too many ethnic, religious, and territorial conflicts divided them for the formation of a solid, resilient bloc. The French, through a series of fragile alliances, established a cordon sanitaire as a rampart against both German expansionism and Bolshevik political penetration.


Foreign Policy Coalition Government Broad Strip Territorial Conflict Military Governance 
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© Eric Roman 1996

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  • Eric Roman

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