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The Russian Bureau

The Russian Bureau: A Case Study in Wilsonian Diplomacy

Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Russian Bureau
    Book Description:

    The American position on Russia during the First World War was defined by the same idealism that guided our relations with other countries. Woodrow Wilson and American leaders had hailed the Revolution of March 1917 as an expression of the true spirit of Russia, a harbinger of democracy. The Bolshevik revolt and the civil war that followed were, in their eyes, only temporary disturbances. Still, the growth of the new democracy would only prosper if the Russians could restore order to their beleaguered land.

    In this book Linda Killen examines a hitherto neglected instrument of American policy in Russia-the Russian Bureau of the War Trade Board. With support from the administration, the bureau was established by Congress in October 1918 as a public corporation with a fund of $5 million to facilitate trade between Russia and America, for government and business leaders thought that the Russians could be helped to resolve their problems with the income from trade. The bureau was also to assist in two areas essential to trade, stabilizing the currency and restoring the transportation system. With the signing of the peace treaty, however, the bureau as a wartime agency was dissolved in June 1919 and its work assigned to the State Department.

    As one of the first American attempts at foreign aid, the bureau's program was necessarily tentative, but Linda Killen shows that, as a specific case, the bureau offers an instructive example. It reveals a widespread ignorance of Russian affairs both in government and in business circles. More importantly, it demonstrates the fatal weakness of an idealistic policy that was blind to political realities. Perhaps, the bureau's most tangible "accomplishment" came when its $5 million were finally transferred to the Trans-Siberian Railroad to purchase new equipment. Yet, ironically, it was the hated Bolsheviks who benefitted from this aid when they seized Siberia and used the new equipment to restore the rail line to efficient operation.

    This detailed study of the Russian Bureau sheds new light on a turbulent and tragic area of American diplomacy. Unfortunately, the democratic Russia that Wilson sought to help may never have existed except in his mind and never came to be.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6329-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiii)
  4. Map: Russia in 1919
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. ONE America and Russia
    (pp. 1-15)

    In the fall of 1918, notices appeared in American newspapers describing a new government agency: The War Trade Board of the U.S. Russian Bureau, Incorporated. The purpose of the agency was described as “helping the Russians to help themselves in stabilizing the economic situation in Russia” through encouragement and facilitation of trade between the two countries. Most of the capital invested in such commerce was expected to come from the private sector. But the bureau would, if necessary, use limited government funds in pursuit of its goals. By encouraging trade, the bureau would “aid in supplying the needs of the...

  6. TWO Origins of an Economic Program
    (pp. 16-47)

    In the months immediately following American entry into the world war, the United States government directed most of its energies toward putting men and material into the Western front. Some supplies were funneled into Russia, often paid for from United States government loans to the Provisional Government. The Root Mission went to Russia, in the summer of 1917, to extend assurances of continued American support to the new government and to observe conditions there. Rather naïvely and uncritically, the mission reported positively on Russia’s political, economic, and military potentials. Few policy-makers in Washington even vaguely familiar with Russian realities took...

  7. THREE Operations and Obstacles
    (pp. 48-77)

    Once responsibility passed to the War Trade Board, creation of an economic relief agency followed quickly. Field offices opened in Vladivostok and Archangel; a multidivisional home office opened in Washington. The two obstacles plaguing Russian Bureau operations from the beginning—Russia’s transportation and currency—exceeded the bureau’s scope of endeavor and, consequently, kept unresolved the question of how much inter-Allied cooperation would materialize in Russia.

    The Washington office of the Russian Bureau was clearly a child of McCormick’s War Trade Board. Most of the corporation’s board of directors and staff were simply reshuffled War Trade personnel. The board paid bureau...

  8. FOUR The Bureau in Limbo
    (pp. 78-94)

    For most historians, and for many Americans at that time, celebration of the armistice and war’s end was overshadowed by anticipation of the dramatic achievments in international peace and justice expected from the Paris peace conference. Once convened, the peacemakers concentrated on the terms of peace with Germany, the restructuring and stabilization of central and eastern Europe, the ideological international challenge of Bolshevism, and the creation of a new world order. Russia’s chaos further complicated their already awesome task.¹ Not surprisingly, in the hectic months of late 1918 and early 1919, Woodrow Wilson devoted little time to consideration of the...

  9. FIVE The Bureau in 1919
    (pp. 95-127)

    However well-meaning Wilson’s words of revitalization, the Russian Bureau faced, in early 1919, even greater obstacles than it had faced in late 1918. The war was over although a peace had not yet been signed. Consequently, the war-emergency atmosphere which had provided at least part of the impetus to a government economic effort in Russia was also gone. The Russian Bureau’s parent agency, the War Trade Board, was supposed to terminate operations as soon after the war as possible. In Russia, the civil war raged and solutions to that country’s currency and transportation difficulties were no nearer at hand. In...

  10. SIX Relief Proposals, 1919-1920
    (pp. 128-150)

    The Russian Bureau as a functioning government agency faded from view quickly. The environment in which, and the ideas upon which, it had been founded did not disappear, although the 1917–1918 war atmosphere obviously had dissipated. There was even some talk of reorganizing and enlarging the bureau. But the last years of Woodrow Wilson’s administration were not happy ones; the earlier optimism of creating a new world order gave way to a pessimistic and passive cynicism. Whatever Wilson and his advisers believed the future Russia would be, they had no choice but to recognize and deal with the present...

  11. SEVEN Conclusion: Wilson and Russia
    (pp. 151-165)

    The War Trade Board of the U.S. Russian Bureau, Incorporated, had been designed to facilitate the expanded trade relations with Russia which many Americans hoped would bring out Russia’s progressive, democratic potential. The bureau failed to promote extensive trade; Russia succumbed to radical Bolshevism. Both these results may reflect less on the bureau’s own execution of its program than on the policy concepts of Woodrow Wilson and his advisers.

    If one assumes that the correlation between extensive trade and the emergence of a progressive Russia would have been direct and unequivocal, scholarly inquiries could be limited to finding reasons for...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 166-189)
    (pp. 190-196)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 197-202)