Mutual Aid Agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In June 1942, the Soviet Union had been at war with Germany for a year and had suffered tremendous losses. Four million Soviet troops had been killed, captured, or wounded. Germany had suffered high casualties as well, but only a quarter of the number of soldiers had been lost. German troops had come within sight of Moscow in December 1941 and had been turned back by fierce Soviet resistance and the bitterly cold Russian winter. By the spring of 1942, the Soviet army began to mount counteroffensives against the Germans. Meanwhile, the United States and England relied on the Eastern Front to keep bleeding Germany of troops and equipment while they fought in the Pacific and considered their options for an offensive in Western Europe. Though the German advance had been halted, they were far from defeated, and two months after this agreement, they launched a major offensive to take the city of Stalingrad. If the Soviet Union were defeated, Hitler would inevitably turn his full attention to the Western Front and a planned invasion of England. It was in the best interest of both England and the United States to continue to bolster the Soviet defense with whatever materials could be spared. This agreement is virtually identical to the Master Lend-Lease Agreement signed with England in February and reiterates the Allies' commitment to support the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany.

Summary Overview

In June 1942, the Soviet Union had been at war with Germany for a year and had suffered tremendous losses. Four million Soviet troops had been killed, captured, or wounded. Germany had suffered high casualties as well, but only a quarter of the number of soldiers had been lost. German troops had come within sight of Moscow in December 1941 and had been turned back by fierce Soviet resistance and the bitterly cold Russian winter. By the spring of 1942, the Soviet army began to mount counteroffensives against the Germans. Meanwhile, the United States and England relied on the Eastern Front to keep bleeding Germany of troops and equipment while they fought in the Pacific and considered their options for an offensive in Western Europe. Though the German advance had been halted, they were far from defeated, and two months after this agreement, they launched a major offensive to take the city of Stalingrad. If the Soviet Union were defeated, Hitler would inevitably turn his full attention to the Western Front and a planned invasion of England. It was in the best interest of both England and the United States to continue to bolster the Soviet defense with whatever materials could be spared. This agreement is virtually identical to the Master Lend-Lease Agreement signed with England in February and reiterates the Allies' commitment to support the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany.

Defining Moment

On June 22, 1941, Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union and opened up a front spanning more than one thousand miles, from Leningrad to the Black Sea. The reasons for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union were practical as well as ideological. Military success on the Western Front meant that resources could be spared to fight in the Soviet Union. Hitler believed that Russians were an inferior race and could be defeated quickly, freeing him to devote his full attention to subjugating Britain. In addition, Germany desperately needed raw materials and resources to fight the war on the Western Front. Germany made astounding progress in the summer and early fall of 1941, and despite being slowed by fall rains and freezing temperatures, the German army reached the outskirts of Moscow in early December. Unable to take the city and paralyzed by bitter winter cold, cut off from supply lines, and relentlessly attacked by the Soviet army, the Germans began a slow retreat. In the spring, the German army regrouped and took the offensive again, and in June of 1942 when this agreement was signed, they were marching toward Stalingrad. Though the German army never regained all of the territory they had won in 1941, it was unclear how much longer the Soviet Union could withstand the German invasion.

After the initial invasion of the Soviet Union, British prime minister Winston Churchill and United States president Franklin Roosevelt promised aid. British and Soviet diplomats began working on mutual assistance agreements, and on July 13, 1941, the Anglo-Russian Mutual Aid Treaty was signed, providing for military aid for the Soviet Union and prohibiting either nation from making peace with Germany separately. On August 14, Churchill and Roosevelt announced their postwar aims as part of the Atlantic Charter Declaration. The following day, they assured Soviet leader Joseph Stalin of their support. In September 1941, the Three-Power Moscow Conference met, and British, American, and Soviet leaders agreed to the terms of the proposed allied aid and signed a treaty providing much-needed military assistance to the Soviet Union. On January 1, 1942, the Soviet Union also signed the Declaration by United Nations, which laid out the broad goals of peacekeeping and economic cooperation after the war.

In late May 1942, Soviet foreign minister Vyachaslav Molotov traveled to Washington in secret to meet with Roosevelt and other political and military leaders. The Russians needed assurance that another front would soon be opened to draw resources from the German army. The Soviet Union was rapidly exhausting its military capabilities, and supplies were also greatly needed from the United States. The first lend-lease agreement that had been made with England and the United States was set to expire at the end of June. The United States, in turn, wanted assurance that the Soviet Union would embrace the principles of freedom and peace embodied in the United Nations Declaration. Molotov secured promises of greater material assistance and the pursuit of a second front at the beginning of June, and instructed his ambassador to sign the Master Lend-Lease Agreement with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, described by the State Department as “an additional link in the chain of solidarity being forged by the United Nations in their twofold task of prosecuting the war against aggression to a successful conclusion and of creating a new and better world.”

Author Biography

Cordell Hull was born in Pickett County, Tennessee, in 1871. He attended Montvale Academy at Celina, Tennessee, the Normal School at Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the National Normal University at Lebanon, Ohio. He received his law degree from Cumberland University in 1891. Hull briefly practiced law before running for a seat in the Tennessee legislature. Hull was state congressman from 1893 to 1897 and returned to law practice after serving briefly in the Spanish-American War. In 1903, Hull was appointed a Tennessee district judge. In 1907, Hull was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served until 1931, when he was elected senator. He resigned in 1933 when he was appointed by Roosevelt as secretary of state. He resigned in 1944 because of ill health and was given a Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. He died in 1955 in Washington, DC.

Maxim M. Litvinov was born Max Wallach in 1876 in Russian-controlled Poland. As a young man, he joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which was outlawed, and after being imprisoned for over a year, he escaped and lived in exile in Switzerland until returning to Russia in 1903. A confirmed Bolshevik, Litvinov traveled through Europe until 1918, when he was appointed by Vladimir Lenin as the Soviet representative in London. In 1930 Stalin appointed Litvinov as commissar of foreign affairs. In November 1933, the Soviet government was invited to send a representative to Washington, DC, and Litvinov helped to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries, which had been estranged since the Russian Revolution. Stalin replaced Litvinov with Molotov during 1939 negotiations with Nazi Germany, where Litvinov's Jewish heritage was suspect. After Germany and the Soviet Union went to war in 1941, Litvinov served as ambassador to the United States from 1941 to 1943, then as deputy commissar for foreign affairs. Litvinov died in the Soviet Union in 1951.

Historical Document

Washington, D.C., June 11, 1942

Whereas the Governments of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics declare that they are engaged in a cooperative undertaking, together with every other nation or people of like mind, to the end of laying the bases of a just and enduring world peace securing order under law to themselves and all nations:

And whereas the Governments of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as signatories of the Declaration by United Nations of Jan. 1, 1942, have subscribed to a common program of purposes and principles embodied in the joint declaration, known as the Atlantic Charter, made on Aug. 14, 1941, by the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the basic principles of which were adhered to by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Sept. 24, 1941;

And whereas the President of the United States of America has determined, pursuant to the act of Congress of March 11, 1941, that the defense of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics against aggression is vital to the defense of the United States of America;

And whereas the President of the United States of America has extended and is continuing to extend to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics aid in resisting aggression;

AWAIT PROGRESS OF EVENTS

And whereas it is expedient that the final determination of the terms and conditions upon which the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics receives such aid and of the benefits to be received by the United States of America in return therefor should be deferred until the extent of the defense aid is known and until the progress of events makes clearer the final terms and conditions and benefits which will be in the mutual interests of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and will promote the establishment and maintenance of world peace;

And whereas the Governments of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are mutually desirous of concluding now a preliminary agreement in regard to the provision of defense aid and in regard to certain considerations which shall be taken into account in determining such terms and conditions and the making of such an agreement has been in all respects duly authorized, and all acts, conditions and formalities which it may have been necessary to perform, fulfill or execute prior to the making of such an agreement in conformity with the laws either of the United States of America or of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have been performed, fulfilled or executed as required;

The undersigned, being duly authorized by their respective governments for that purpose, have agreed as follows:

ARTICLE I

The Government of the United States of America will continue to supply the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with such defense articles, defense services, and defense information as the President of the United States of America shall authorize to be transferred or provided.

ARTICLE II

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will continue to contribute to the defense of the United States of America and the strengthening thereof, and will provide such articles, services, facilities or information as it may be in a position to supply.

ARTICLE III

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will not without the consent of the President of the United States of America transfer title to, or possession of, any defense article or defense information, transferred to it under the Act of March 11, 1941, of the Congress of the United States of America, or permit the use thereof by any one not an officer, employee, or agent of the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

ARTICLE IV

If, as a result of the transfer to the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of any defense article or defense information it becomes necessary for that government to take any action or make any payment in order fully to protect any of the rights of a citizen of the United States of America who has patent rights in and to any such defense article or information, the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will take such action or make such payment when requested to do so by the President of the United States of America.

ARTICLE V

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will return to the United States of America at the end of the present emergency, as determined by the President of the United States of America, such defense articles transferred under this agreement as shall not have been destroyed, lost or consumed and as shall be determined by the President to be useful in the defense of the United States of America or of the Western Hemisphere or to be otherwise of use to the United States of America.

ARTICLE VI

In the final determination of the benefits to be provided to the United States of America by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics full cognizance shall be taken of all property, services, information, facilities, or other benefits of considerations provided by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics subsequent to March 11, 1941, and accepted or acknowledged by the President on behalf of the United States of America.

ARTICLE VII

In the final determination of the benefits to be provided to the United States of America by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in return for aid furnished under the Act of Congress of March 11, 1941, the terms and conditions thereof shall be such as not to burden commerce between the two countries, but to promote mutually advantageous economic relations between them and the betterment of world-wide economic relations. To that end, they shall include provision for agreed action by the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, open to participation by all other countries of like mind, directed to the expansion, by appropriate international and domestic measures, of production, employment, and the exchange and consumption of goods, which are the material foundations of the liberty and welfare of all peoples; to the elimination of all forms of discriminatory treatment in international commerce, and to the reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers; and, in general, to the attainment of all the economic objectives set forth in the joint declaration made on Aug. 14, 1941, by the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the basic principles of which were adhered to by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Sept. 24, 1941.

At an early convenient date conversations shall be begun between the two governments with a view to determining, in the light of governing economic conditions, the best means of attaining the above-stated objectives by their own agreed action and of seeking the agreed action of other like-minded governments.

ARTICLE VIII

This agreement shall take effect as from this day's date. It shall continue in force until a date to be agreed upon by the two governments.

Signed and sealed at Washington in duplicate this eleventh day of June, 1942.

For the Government of the United States of America.

CORDELL HULL,

Secretary of State of the United States of America.

For the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,

MAXIM LITVINOV,

Ambassador of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at Washington.

Glossary

cognizance: awareness, realization, or knowledge

pursuant: proceeding after; following

tariffs: an official list of table showing the duties or customs imposed by a government on imports or exports; the schedule or system of duties so imposed

Document Analysis

This agreement begins by establishing common cause between the parties involved. The United States and the Soviet Union “are engaged in a cooperative undertaking… to the end of laying the bases of a just and enduring world peace.” This was not just an agreement to provide military supplies to another country—it was an agreement that the United States and the Soviet Union would be partners in postwar cooperation as well. As proof of this, the agreement notes that the Soviet Union has agreed to the principles of the Atlantic Charter by signing the Declaration by United Nations. The Atlantic Charter had eight points: no territorial gains were to be sought; borders and territory should be determined by the people concerned; people of the world had a right to self-determination; trade barriers should be reduced; and economic and social welfare promoted. These ideas are confirmed in the eight articles of this agreement as well.

The articles of this agreement specify that the United States will supply any material aid it possibly can, as authorized by the president. The Soviet Union agrees to do the same. They both agree that any materials that were left over after the war would be returned, and American patent rights would be respected. The agreement covers the period from March 1941 until the end of the war, with the understanding that details of this arrangement would be worked out as needed.

As with the British and Chinese Lend-Lease Agreements, article 7 was the most contentious and complex. It calls for “mutually advantageous economic relations between them and the betterment of world-wide economic relations” and the “elimination of all forms of discriminatory treatment in international commerce.” The Soviet Union had tightly controlled trade prior to the war, and it was a sign of their desperation for aid that they agreed to such economic terms.

Essential Themes

As in the United States' Master Lend-Lease agreements with Great Britain and with China, this agreement with the Soviet Union went well beyond simple military aid by establishing goals for a new economic world order after the war was over. It not only states clearly that it is in the best interest of the United States to support the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany, but also establishes that the goal of winning the war must be followed by international economic cooperation in the postwar world. The lifting of tariffs and the “elimination of all forms of discriminatory treatment” were difficult pills to swallow for the Soviet Union, but faced with the prospect of a German victory, they agreed, with the understanding that specific terms of this agreement would be worked out at a later time. This agreement demonstrates the United States' desire to enlist the Soviet Union as a partner in the establishment of a postwar world built on freedom and economic cooperation. Rather than this envisioned collaboration, however, postwar relations between the two would-be partners devolved into a decades-long Cold War.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Beevor, Antony. The Second World War. New York: Little, Brown, 2012. Print.
  • Fenby, Jonathan. Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another. San Francisco: MacAdam Cage, 2006. Print.
  • Hartmann, Christian. Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany's War in the East, 1941–1945. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.
  • Kershaw, Robert. War without Garlands: Operation Barbarossa 1941–1942. Chatham: Allen, 2000. Print.
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