Power Vacuum Politics and the Origins of the Cold War in Europe
Abstract: The collapse of Nazi Germany, brought about by the Axis powers’ crushing defeat in World War II, created an international power vacuum. Across large parts of Europe, Germany’s absolute authority at the international level collapsed and it was yet to be seen who would lay renewed claim to it. In this talk, Moritz Graefrath uses the case to illustrate his theory of power vacuums in international politics. He argues that variation in great powers’ responses to such vacuums are best explained by the interaction of two factors: first, whether a vital, supplemental, or no strategic interest is at stake; and second, whether a great power can identify a “dependable instrument” through which it can issue its bid for control. He shows that, from 1943 onwards, power vacuum politics permeated both U.S. military strategy as well as U.S. officials’ planning for and shaping of the continent’s political future. Overall, his study of the case thus suggests that the early Cold War was in large parts a continuation of a struggle for authority over key parts of the continent that had begun well before V-E Day.
Moritz S. Graefrath is a Ph.D. student in political science. Broadly speaking, his research interests include international relations theory, diplomatic history, and foreign policy analysis with a particular focus on Europe since 1919. His dissertation seeks to illuminate the role of power vacuums in international politics by answering a series of foundational questions: what are power vacuums? Why do states compete for control over some but not others? And what accounts for variation in the types of strategies they employ?
Graefrath investigates the role of uncertainty in international politics through a case study of Anglo-German relations during the 1930s. Before coming to Notre Dame, Moritz earned a B.A. in Philosophy & Economics from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and spent a semester as a visiting student at Washington and Lee University.