Looked at from the last quarter of the twentieth century, the collapse of the European international system seems to have a fundamentally straightforward explanation, correctly forecast by de Tocqueville1 and others, but obscured by the rise and domination of Germany 1871–1944. The European international system was unlikely to survive the end of European primacy and the shift of power to the largest political units in the world, the United States of America and Russia. The pace of that shift was slowed and its direction largely concealed by the rise of Germany and, with that rise, further hidden by an increase rather than a decrease in the concentration of power in Europe. As this process continued, even more purely European political questions, clearly to be seen after 1907, came to dominate the international scene. None the less, the ultimately controlling factor remained the shift in the base of international power; for the rise of Germany came, particularly during the Chancellorship of Bülow and Weltpolitik, to be expressed in terms of finding a sure foundation from which to keep up with the potentiality of Russia and the plainer and more ebullient fact of the United States. Defeat of Germany in 1918 was not, however, followed by a reorganisation of international politics along new and more realistic lines — by contrast the period 1919–39 produced a spurious and uncomfortable return to a European-based international system in the face of the Russian Revolution and American isolationism.
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