Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 4: the Marshall Plan and the Molotov Plan

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on November 7, 2018

This is my fourth installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-3.)

I began this series narrative with two admittedly negative examples, focusing in them on what should at least be their more arguably avoidable shortcomings:

• The failed US government led recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after the disaster brought on there by Hurricane Maria in 2017 (see Part 1 and Part 2) and
• The mismanagement of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) as a political football, caught in the middle between New York City and New York State politics (see Part 2 and Part 3.)

My primary goal for this series moving forward, is to follow that here with consideration of a positive example of how infrastructure systems can be built or in this case rebuilt: the post-World War II European Recovery Program: commonly known as the Marshall Plan. And then I will step back to address the topics and issues of this series in more general terms. As part of that, I will explore and discuss the questions and issues of what gets supported and worked upon and why in this, and of what is postponed or simply set aside in building and maintaining, or rebuilding infrastructure systems. And as a key goal in all of that, I will at least offer a perspective as to how and why some infrastructure programs succeed or fail. That, ultimately is the overall goal that I have set for this series. And in the course of developing and presenting that line or argument, I will of necessity at least shed light on a few other large-scale infrastructure projects and programs as working examples too.

Let’s began all of that with the Marshall Plan and with an at least brief consideration of the levels of damage that Europe endured from going through World War II on its soil, and what both the war itself and the Marshall Plan cost. I have read figures of up to the equivalent of some four trillion 2018 US dollars when adjusted for inflation, for the overall cost to the Allies for carrying out this war and certainly when both the cost of conducting that war itself and the costs of all that was lost and the costs of recovery or at least replacement from that damage are included.

It is of course, impossible to put a cost on the loss of the truly priceless in all that disappeared in that war, from Europe’s cultural heritage. And how could a costs-based number be meaningfully arrived at for all of the pain and suffering and loss that was faced by the people caught up in this conflict, individually and in their millions? So on the recovery and rebuilding side of this global war as it played out in Europe, I can only address funds raised and approved and expended, and with a goal of restoring a more functional and capable Europe that could “stand on its own feet” again.

According to that criterion, the Marshall Plan: the United States government’s backed and supported recovery plan for rebuilding at least Western Europe, cost some 13.3 billion US dollars counting just United States funded support directly provided. That total funding support expanded out to some $40 billion for total actually spent and from all sources by the time this program was functionally ended in early 1953: when Western Europe was declared to actually be “back on its feet” again. Those numbers translate to approximately $108 billion and $322 billion respectively, when rescaled for inflation to their 2018 dollar equivalents. But for purposes of this narrative, that is probably only really significant when considering how inexpensive this overall program actually was and certainly when compared to the overall cost of the war itself.

More importantly, the Marshall Plan and its recovery efforts were only made available to areas of Europe that were placed under Western ally control after the formal end of the war. Soviet controlled European territories, encompassing essentially all of Eastern Europe were explicitly excluded from participation in this program as a direct and explicit Soviet Union decision. So I have written here of my addressing the Marshall Plan (in Western Europe) as a working infrastructure (re)development program. But to put that in perspective, I also have to specifically address how the countries that Soviet Russia controlled in Europe after the end of the war, that were organized into their Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (Договор о дружбе, сотрудничестве и взаимной помощи): their Warsaw Pact were rebuilt and restored. This means my writing about Russia’s Molotov Plan too: their counterpart to the West’s Marshall Plan, which was later expanded to become the USSR’s economic side to its overall program for achieving positive global influence: their Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Сове́т Экономи́ческой Взаимопо́мощи) or Comecon.

Western European nations were rebuilt through the Marshall Plan, and regardless of whether they had fought for or against the allied forces that proved victorious in the war. That included Marshall Plan rebuilding of Italy that had fought alongside Hitler and his Nazi forces, and it included West Germany too, as Germany as a whole was essentially cut in half geopolitically with the eastern half falling under Soviet control. And as noted above, Western Europe was essentially back on its feet by the end of 1953, even if there was still a great deal of work to do in repair and reconstruction, in addressing the scars of war that were still in place. Entire cities were all but leveled all across Europe by this war as were towns and smaller communities, and Europe’s basic infrastructure systems were thoroughly disrupted too: West and East. But by 1953, Western Europe was essentially back on its feet again.

Eastern Europe was rebuilt through a Soviet led and controlled program, the Molotov Plan. And when the Warsaw Pact disintegrated and its vassal nation members broke away from Soviet control in 1989, there were still area in them that bore the scars of World War II conflict, and certainly in East Germany: the nation under Soviet control in this group that they exerted the most direct and immediately ongoing control over.

And this brings me to the basic questions of how and why some infrastructure programs work and others do not. I will in fact circle back to consider my first two, US-based examples in addressing that complex of issues. But I will begin doing so by comparing the Marshall Plan and its Soviet counterpart. And I will begin addressing them in this context by flatly stating that both in fact succeeded – in achieving their own particular goals, which were very different from each other.

The goal of the Marshall Plan was to rebuild Western Europe and quickly, and under conditions that would lessen the likelihood of another World War breaking out there. World War I began in Europe and so did World War II. And a consensus of understanding was already in place in the West that one of the key reasons why a Hitler was able to rise to power in Germany, leading to World War II, could be found in how the allies of World War I crushed a then struggling post-war Germany with overwhelming reparations demands after their victory – and at a time when a defeated Germany was actually attempting democratic reform under their Weimar Republic. Rebuilding and under terms and conditions that would prevent the rise of another Hitler and in any of the countries involved in this program, was a key goal of the Marshall Plan.

And another goal for the Marshall Plan, was containment, and the prevention of further spread of an actively emerging Soviet empire. And that point of detail brings me directly to the Molotov Plan, and its goals and its prioritized actions. And that brings me back to historical considerations and historical lessons learned, too.

I just mentioned one of the key lessons learned that informed the development and shaping of the Marshall Plan in the West, when citing the received wisdom in place as to how a failure to rebuild and a failure to support a more favorable post-World War I German government led to the rise of Hitler and Nazism. Russia had its own lessons learned: a fear of invasion, and of invasion from the West in particular. And that shaped how the Molotov Plan was designed and carried out in Eastern Europe, and that program influenced and even fundamentally shaped how Western Europe rebuilt too, and both through the Marshall Plan and related efforts and for how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) arose as a unifying Western European defense capability.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment. Then after completing my discussion of these two post-World War II redevelopment projects and offering an initial analysis as to why some infrastructure projects succeed and some fail, I will discuss China’s efforts at rebuilding itself, and at globalizing its influence through infrastructure initiatives in what it sees as its client states. I will use those lines of discussion, as well as notes offered on other infrastructure initiatives, to refine and develop my basic success or fail model, as a possible predictive resource. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

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