A.Kubilius. Lessons From The Second World War For Europe Today

2024-04-19 | Russian Aggression against Ukraine, European Union

Part I. A lesson from the Victory Plan

The European Parliament, angered by the impotence of EU governments in the matter of military aid to Ukraine, decided to postpone the adoption of the budget report of the Council of the European Union (including the European Council). After an impressive speech by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, in which he called for the discussion of such an issue to be postponed until the Member States (who are the EU’s decision-makers in the European Council) have agreed on the immediate delivery of at least 7 Patriot systems to Ukraine, there followed stormy applause from the MEPs and the motion was adopted by a large majority.

Indeed, there is sometimes a sense of grim hopelessness when you see one European Union prime minister and president after another calling on everyone else to give more military support to Ukraine, swearing that Russia cannot win, but in reality Ukraine is receiving less and less military support from the EU and the West as a whole, and Russia is intensifying its bombing of Ukraine’s cities and energy infrastructure because it no longer has missiles and drones to defend itself. Meanwhile, according to Mr J.Borrell, the countries of the European Union have at least 100 Patriot systems that they are not currently using because they are not at war with anyone.

The question is how to overcome this powerlessness in the West, when there is an ever-widening gap of hopelessness between the loud declarations of support and the actual provision of support.

To find a way to help the West to understand what needs to be done (and not done) today, the best way would be for everyone to go back to school and learn the history of the Second World War.

In the summer of 1941, even before the December attack on Pearl Harbor and the US decision to go to war against both Japan and Hitler, President Roosevelt realised that preparations for such a war had to begin. By June 1941, although the United States still maintained a policy of non-participation in the war, it was already providing Lend-Lease assistance to Britain and later-on to the Soviet Union. To better coordinate US military aid to a struggling Britain, Churchill sent to Washington the representative of defeated France, the future godfather of the European Community, Jean Monnet, who had a reputation as a good strategic planner in pre-war France. According to the history books, Churchill and Monnet managed to persuade US President F.D. Roosevelt and Commander-in-Chief G. Marshall to begin drawing up a plan for US involvement in the war. G. Marshall responded by appointing Colonel Wedemeyer, who was on the War Planning Board, to work with his staff to draw up such a plan. After three months of intensive work, the Victory Plan was born, with a very precise prediction that the US military priority would be the defeat of Hitler on the European continent. At the same time, it calculated exactly what would be needed to achieve such a victory. The calculations showed that the US would have to mobilise a military force of 8 million (in 1941 the US armed forces were only a few hundred thousand strong), and how and where such a force would be trained, where and when the necessary armaments would be produced, and the fleet needed to transport them to Europe would be built. It was also calculated what armaments would have to be produced in order to provide Britain and the Soviet Union with adequate weapons at the same time.

After all this, it was calculated that the US would be ready to land in France in July 1943. This was the Victory Plan, the plan to defeat Hitler. According to historians, this Victory Plan, which mobilised the army and military industry, was implemented with astonishing precision, except that Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to postpone the landing of US troops in France until the summer of 1944. In an interview in 1980, Wedemeyer argued that this delay was a mistake and that it allowed the Soviets to occupy the whole of Central Europe by the end of the war.

In any case, Hitler was defeated, largely because the US had drawn up a detailed victory plan as early as 1941 and began to implement it consistently and effectively.

The first lesson of the Second World War for the West today is that if victory is to be achieved in Ukraine, there is an urgent need for a Western (or at least a European Union) Ukraine Victory Plan.

Of course, until such a Ukrainian Victory Plan is developed and implemented, the problems of supply of Patriot systems and artillery shells need to be resolved immediately, but Ukraine will not be able to achieve victory if Western military support continues to be so haphazard and dependent on crisis solutions: a little earlier, President Pavel of the Czech Republic (himself not participating in the European Council) took the initiative to resolve the artillery shells crisis, and now a member of the European Parliament, Mr Guy Verhofstadt, has started to look for a solution to the air defence crisis.

What the European Council is doing during such a crisis remains unclear.

What is clear is that both Ukraine and the European Union itself need a European Union Plan for Victory in Ukraine (or Ukraine Victory Plan for short). As the experience of the Second World War shows, such a plan is the only way to Ukraine’s victory and Putin’s crushing; the continuation of the West’s current planless chaos and crisis solutions is the only way to Russia’s victories.

A few months ago I took the initiative to get the EU to start drawing up such a Victory Plan for Ukraine, and I have already succeeded in getting the Congress of the European People’s Party (to which we belong) to adopt a special resolution in which the European People’s Party, the most influential party in the European Union, demanded that the European Union should draw up such a Victory Plan for Ukraine in the near future. Several days ago the EPP Group in the European Parliament also adopted a more detailed position paper  on this issue. It would be good if someone in the European Council finally understood the importance of such a Victory Plan for Ukraine.

Victories will not be achieved by mere verbal courage of Heads of State and other leaders that someone needs to give more support to Ukraine. Victories are achieved only by making the victories happen. Making the victories requires a plan for victory. This is the most important lesson of the Second World War for today’s war.


Part II. The five most important lessons of that war

The most important lesson of the Second World War for today is that a Ukrainian victory requires a Ukrainian Victory Plan, developed and implemented in the West.

But this is not the only lesson that today’s West needs to learn immediately from this war. I have already written about some of these lessons, but I have now decided to bring them all together in one text.

Indeed, I cannot help wondering how  so much strong intellectual leadership, the ability to take immediate strategic decisions and implement them effectively, were available at that time, and where it has all gone now.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that the lessons of the Second World War will somehow fill the deficit of leadership and the deficit of strategy  that has become the main feature of Western politics today.

These are the lessons:


Lesson 1: 1938: The Munich “peace” agreement with Hitler – the gateway to global war.

Today, when there are calls from all sides to bring Zelensky and Putin to the peace negotiating table, and that Ukraine should “only” sacrifice the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbass (allegedly because they are inhabited by Russian speakers) for the sake of peace, it is worth recalling the historical lessons of the 1938 Munich “Peace Conference” (its official name).

In the “Munich Peace Conference” of 30 September 1938, Adolf Hitler (together with Benito Mussolini) promised to take only the Sudetenland, also inhabited  by Germans, away from Czechoslovakia and to guarantee the security of the new Czechoslovak borders (without the Sudetenland), while the West (Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier), in the name of “peace”, not only gave their blessing to Hitler’s actions, but also undertook actions to persuade the Czechoslovak leadership not to oppose the implementation of such an agreement between the “Great Powers”. The Czechoslovak leadership had no choice but to accept such an agreement about it’s territory and on the security guarantees of all the participants  for its new borders. As we know, in March 1939 Hitler occupied the entire territory of Czechoslovakia and took over all military resources and the powerful Czechoslovak military industry. By September 1939, Czech tanks were rolling through the streets of Warsaw with German troops, and by May 1940, in Paris.

The lesson is simple: negotiating with an aggressor to somehow limit its military aggression is not only a hopeless business, but also a morally very “slippery” one, because it gives the aggressor the impression that its actions are blessed by the “great” democrats of the West. Just like the “peace talks” with Hitler, the “peace talks” with Putin will end in the same way: the gates will be opened for Putin to take over the whole of Ukraine, and with it the powerful potential of Ukrainian industry. In a year or two, tanks made in Kharkiv will be rolling down the same streets of Warsaw under the control of Russian tank drivers.


Lesson 2: In the late 1940s, Roosevelt and Churchill begin to build not a “pro-British” coalition, but an “anti-Hitler” coalition.

In late 1940, Churchill began to communicate intensively with F.D. Roosevelt, who had been re-elected for a third term. The foundations were  laid for the formation of an anti-Hitler coalition, although the USA was not yet involved in the war. On 14 August 1941, at the US naval base in Placentia Bay, on Canada’s North Atlantic coast, Churchill and Roosevelt met face to face for the first time since the outbreak of the Second World War. It was there that the Atlantic Charter was born – the founding strategic document of the anti-Hitler coalition’s war plan and future post-war order.

If the West is to have a more consolidated strategy for its actions in this war today, the first thing it needs to achieve is for the “pro-Ukrainian” coalition that now exists in the West, despite its inability to clearly define its objectives, to dare to become an “anti-Putin” coalition. As the Russian opposition analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev, who has written very wisely on the subject, puts it, victory over Adolf Hitler in the Second World War was achieved because the Nazis were fought not by a “pro-British” coalition but by an anti-Hitler coalition which had clearly defined its objectives and which declared in 1943 that it would seek the unconditional defeat of Hitler. So now, too, the democratic Western world must finally dare to join the “anti-Putin” coalition and seek the unconditional overthrow of the Putin regime, at least in Ukraine. The creation of such an “anti-Putin coalition” is a prerequisite for the West finally to have the courage and ability to seek unconditional victory in Ukraine and to invest at least 100 billion euros a year, without which victory will never be achieved.


Lesson 3: In the summer of 1941, on Roosevelt’s instructions, Colonel Wedemeyer draws up a precise and detailed Victory Plan for the anti-Hitler coalition.

Why we need a Ukrainian Victory Plan of the same kind today is described in Part I.


Lesson 4: January 1943 – Roosevelt and Churchill issue the Casablanca Declaration on the objective of the war: “the unconditional surrender of Hitler”.

In January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference, Roosevelt and Churchill, with the support of the leader of undefeated France, General Charles de Gaulle (in the absence of Joseph Stalin), adopted a declaration that clearly and unequivocally defined the objective of their participation in the war against Hitler. The stated objective left no ambiguity: the members of the Alliance would seek Hitler’s unconditional surrender; there would be no separatist peace negotiations with Hitler; there would be no negotiations with Hitler “for peace and armistice”; and the goal of the war and the definition of victory would be Hitler’s unconditional surrender. The Allies remained united in this position until the end of the war. Why they did so was made very clear publicly by Roosevelt himself at  Casablanca Conference: the only way to ensure a lasting, sustainable peace after the war was to implement a policy of “unconditional surrender”, while the ceasefire negotiations would only bring about a temporary cessation of hostilities (and would not guarantee a lasting peace after the war). The unconditional surrender clause would encourage both the German military and the wider German public to continue to oppose the war. If the Allies succeeded in weakening the foundations of support for Hitler within Germany, and thereby weakening the motivation and fighting spirit of the army itself, it would only be a matter of time before Hitler was finally crushed. President Roosevelt stressed in Casablanca that the West’s goal of Hitler’s unconditional surrender did not mean the destruction of German society, but only the destruction of the Nazi philosophy that prevailed in Germany, a philosophy based on the conquest of other peoples and the subjugation of other nations. History has shown that the clear objectives of the war formulated by F.D. Roosevelt and W. Churchill – only the unconditional surrender of Hitler – were fully justified. This allowed a new Germany to emerge after the war, free of the Nazi philosophy that had been crushed in the war. A lasting peace was thus established in the western part of the European continent. Germany, long the greatest threat to European security, was reborn as a stable democracy after its unconditional surrender and became the locomotive for the peaceful unification of Western Europe.

Today, the main reason why some Western leaders are afraid to give Ukraine more military support is that they fear the crushing of the Russian army and the collapse of the Putin regime, because they fear that this will only make things worse in Russia, either by bringing even bloodier dictators to power, or by bringing about the bloody collapse of Russia and inter-regional power struggles in which it will no longer be clear who will continue to control Russia’s nuclear weapons.

The lesson of the Second World War is clear: do not be afraid to crush the aggressor. Just as after Hitler the way for the rebirth of democratic Germany opened, so Putin’s crushing will open the way for positive change in Russia. And that is the most important condition for lasting peace on the European continent. This requires, above all, a Ukrainian victory and a Ukrainian Victory Plan.


Lesson 5. 1944: The Western (victorious) plan for a post-war, defeated Germany (without Hitler): from the Morgenthau Plan to the Marshall Plan

As early as 1944, when the Allies were discussing how to deal with the economy of  defeated Germany, the plan drawn up by US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, known as the “Morgenthau Plan”, was adopted, which called for the destruction of German heavy industry and the division of Germany into a number of independent states. This plan was based on the basic premise of Morgenthau himself and his associates that this was the only way to prevent Germany, having recovered economically from the war, from starting World War III ten years later. One of the memoranda endorsing the Morgenthau Plan stated that the military industry in the Ruhr and Saar regions of Germany (the main industrial areas) would have to be destroyed, and that Germany itself would eventually have to be transformed into “a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character”.

After the war, however, the Americans quickly realised that this plan was completely wrong, as it would condemn the Germans to a long period of poverty and deprivation, which would allow various radicals, including the Communists supported by Stalin, to win the elections. Thus, as early as 1946, the United States and President Harry S. Truman began to realise that the main objective of the US in post-war Europe was to defend the democracies against Stalin’s encroachments, and promptly abandoned the implementation of the Morgenthau Plan and any hint of the destruction of the German economy or its territorial division. On 6 September 1946, US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes made a famous speech in Stuttgart, known by the Germans themselves as the “Speech of Hope”, in which he essentially “buried” the Morgenthau Plan and outlined the prospect of an independent, democratic and economically strong Germany. In 1947, the US announced the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the implementation of which was aimed at the economic reconstruction of post-war Europe (including Germany), with the clear geopolitical objective of defending European democracies against the radicalism of a disillusioned electorate and against Stalin’s communist expansion.

This lesson of the Second World War tells us today that if we want more security for ourselves, we should look after democracy in Russia. And that means that one day, after the victory in Ukraine and the crushing of Putin, a democratic Russia will be reborn, with the potential to develop economically and become a strong economy. That is why, today, when we consider how the West should deal with a Russia that has lost the war, we should not be thinking of Morgenthau plans for such a Russia, but of something like a Marshall Plan for a democratic Russia. For this is the only thing that will help to stabilise the revival of democracy in Russia defeated after the war, if such a revival takes place. We have written about this, together with experts from the Western and Russian opposition, in a special text “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy” (25 July 2022).



These are the lessons of the Second World War for today’s European Union.

If you put all these lessons together, you realise that the EU now needs to agree not only on a Ukraine Victory Plan, but also on a broader and longer-term strategy for the transformation of the whole eastern part of the European continent. In other words, we need not only a Ukraine Victory Plan, but also a strategy for the transformation of Russia and Belarus that is closely linked to Ukraine’s victory. We can say that the European Union needs a grand strategy for the transformation of the eastern part of the European continent.

Some time ago, while speaking in the European Parliament, Mr Borrell admitted that before the war against Ukraine, the European Union did not have a strategy for Russia, because the EU was heavily dependent on Russian gas, and at the same time the EU did not have a strategy for Ukraine, because the EU’s strategy for Ukraine was subordinated to the EU’s strategy for Russia.

Mr Borrell believed that the end of the EU’s dependence on Russian gas could lead to the birth of a new EU strategy towards Russia.

It is my conviction that such an EU strategy towards Russia must henceforth be subordinated to the EU strategy towards Ukraine.

And the EU’s strategy towards Ukraine must focus first and foremost on Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat, but it must also include Ukraine’s membership of the EU and NATO, because only this will create a long-term success for Ukraine, and this will be an inspiring example for ordinary Russians. Mr Putin launched the war against Ukraine only because he was afraid that Ukraine might become such a model of success.

The West’s strategy towards Ukraine and Russia must aim both for a victory for Ukraine and for such a victory to be the impetus for positive change in Russia. This is the only way to ensure not only Ukraine’s security, but also the long-term peace and security of the whole of Europe.

It is time to start implementing such a grand strategy for sustainable peace on the European continent.