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Alliances and Warfare, 1792-1945

Graham Goodlad examines the part played by military coalitions in an era of great change.

Churchill, Truman and Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, July 1945As the Second World War drew to a close in Europe, Winston Churchill wryly observed of his experience of working with the USA and the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany, ‘There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them.’ The remark illustrates the indispensability, in a long and arduous struggle, of the formidable resources which the world’s two greatest economic powers could bring to bear. It also hints at the practical difficulties encountered by political leaders in overcoming mutual suspicions and different interests, in order to create an effective partnership.

This article assesses the importance of military alliances in a period when the nature of warfare was transformed: an era which saw a shift from the small-scale, dynastic conflicts of the 18th century to ‘total war’ in the 20th. It also examines the challenges faced by different states and their respective military commanders in putting together functioning coalitions. How far were successful alliances a decisive factor in the outcome of wars in the period from the French Revolutionary struggles of the 1790s to the global conflicts of 1914-45?

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