Secrets of the Cold War

Published : Feb 13, 2004 00:00 IST

WHAT is one to say of able chefs who prepare a feast but mar it with dishes that do not belong to the occasion, omitting others that one would expect to be served? Hanhimki and Westad are academics who are well equipped on the course the Cold War took from its origins to its end and beyond. They seem, however, to have mixed up their recipe books and lost their bearings.

Their work purports to be "a small selection of documents which the editors consider important for understanding the Cold War as a global conflict. It is not a compilation of diplomatic papers nor is it an attempt at presenting the latest findings from secret archives... rather, the purpose is to bring forward the different kinds of materials that are necessary to use in order to understand what the Cold War was about and how it was fought". Fine. But how do "the experiences of East Berlin housewives and South African students" assist us in acquiring that understanding? And if perceptions in countries outside the charmed circle of Great Powers is relevant, how justified is the total omission of India?

The study of the Cold War was indeed "a highly politicised field". "Orthodox" scholars assisted official propagandists. Their counterparts in India do so with great zeal. We have yet to throw up a "revisionist" school that grew up in the United States in the late 1960s. Noam Chomsky's uncompromising dissent in recent decades is acclaimed in the Third World; but, not emulated. Foremost among the essays in this critique of U.S. foreign policy, from the end of the Vietnam era to Ronald Reagan - the fifth in a new series of Chomsky's classical political works issued by the brave publishers, The New Press - is the one on "Foreign Policy and the Intelligentsia".

What is little known in India is that even Russia's archives policy is more liberal than India's. Chinese source material has been brought to light by Sinologists like Professor John W. Garver and by Chinese scholars. Hanhimki and Westad deserve high praise for accomplishing the daunting task they set before themselves.

The study of the Cold War became more diversified but no synthesis emerged. It was a unique confrontation in that each side tried to woo the people in the adversary's camp over the heads of their leaders. Was ideology a mask for the interests of power? The editors hold that "ideology was, in itself, a fundamental interest".

Ideology affected perceptions, especially in Moscow and Beijing. But when it came to the crunch, both blocs shed ideological allies in preference to ideological adversaries whose policies suited their national interests. The U.S. supported dictatorships. The Soviet Union and China backed some countries which put communists in prison.

The editors would have done well to retain a sense of direction. "In compiling this volume, we have found that library sources - novels, short stories, poems - can sometimes provide rich insights into Cold War issues and mindsets. They may help us understand some of those aspects of the conflict that are mostly absent from the writings of politicians or journalists." To what gain and at how much cost in space? "Creating a source collection that portrays a fifty-year global conflict is necessarily an exercise in limitation." All the more reason why the East Berlin housewives and the rest should have been accommodated in another volume. However, even within the "limitation" the editors lost their way. "The context of the volume is in no way expected to be comprehensive... That there is, for instance, no chapter on the Middle East conflict is not because the Arab-Israeli relationship was unimportant to the Cold War, but simply because its direct relevance - both in terms of causes and effects - is less obvious than that of some other regional conflicts" (emphasis added, throughout). Is Latin America, which takes up 70-odd pages, of more "direct relevance"? The Cuban missile crisis is rightly covered in another chapter. Twice, in 1956 and 1973, the two blocs collided headlong on West Asia (Near East to Westerners). The editors did well to include material on "Cultures and Mindsets", "Technologies Weapons, and the Arms Race" and, of course, "spies and covert operations" by both the Soviet Union's KGB and the U.S.' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

There is a chapter, entitled significantly, "Decolonisation and the Cold War" which has speeches by Sukarno, Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba besides those by U.S. and Soviet leaders. Nehru is ignored. So, is the non-aligned movement. No Third World leader expounded non-alignment before Nehru did in 1946. None more eloquently, either.

It speaks poorly for editorial judgment that omits altogether the U.S.' Bible on containment policy - NSC-68. Adopted by the National Security Council in April 1950, it detected a grand "Soviet design" and portrayed communism as a coordinated global movement abandoning, as a leading authority points out, "the distinction between vital and peripheral interests", which George F. Kennan's containment strategy had emphasised. (We Now Know: Rethinking the Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis; Oxford University Press, 1997; page 76). The U.S. makes the same mistake now apropos "Islamic fundamentalism" (The text of NSC-68 is printed in "Foreign Relations of the U.S. 1950 - Volume 1"; Department of State; pages 235-92).

A high school student who confused the great scholar Professor Hans J. Morgenthau with the U.S. Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau - who earned notoriety for his plan to convert Germany into a pastoral country - would have received a stern rebuke. Does the printer's devil explain Hans Morgenthau being described as a "U.S. social scientist" in the Index and as "Hans Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury" at the relevant page (72)?

Does it make any sense to include the hare-brained Herman Kahn and Francis Fukuyama's "End of History"? What bearing does Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilisations" have on policy? Is Indonesia's conquest of East Timor in 1976 of "direct relevance" to the course of the Cold War or was it a side-show? Chernobyl, the Iranian student's seizure of the U.S. Embassy and such were important events; but of little or no "direct relevance" to the Cold War.

That said, the feast that the book, otherwise, provides must be acknowledged. It begins with a brief chapter on origins (1917 - 1945) with Lenin's message to U.S. workers in 1918 as the lead document and ends with chapters on "The End of the Cold War" and "Cold War Legacies" as of the end of 2001; 9/11 included. Each document is fully sourced. The work has no rivals in its field. We have excerpts from confidential policy papers or conversation between the leaders. There is a lot that is of contemporary relevance. Pleading with President Truman to share the secrets of the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union, his Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, wrote in September 1945: "If the atomic bomb were merely another though more devastating military weapon to be assimilated into our pattern of international relations, it would be one thing... But I think the bomb instead constitutes merely a first step in a new control by man over the forces of nature too revolutionary and dangerous to fit into the old concepts. I think it really caps the climax of the race between man's growing technical power for destructiveness and his psychological power of self-control and group-control - his moral power."

The origins of the Cold War in 1944-46 are well traced, as are the immediate post-World War developments. Here, again, there are glaring omissions - the crises on Iran and the Turkish Straits. Stalin pursued in 1946 the very objectives he had outlined to Hitler in 1941. Churchill and he had arrived at an accord in 1944 on spheres of influence - 50-50 in Yugoslavia and Hungary; Soviet predominance in Romania (90 per cent) and Bulgaria (75 per cent); and Britain's in Greece (90 per cent). Stalin kept his part of the deal even to the point of curbing Greek communists.

There was, in fact, no grand design by either side though both feared as much. In his famous "Long Telegram" from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on February 22, 1946, George F. Kennan said: "Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventuristic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to logic of reason, it is highly sensitive to logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw - and usually does - when strong resistance is encountered at any point. Thus, if the adversary has sufficient force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If situations are properly handled there need be no prestige-engaging showdowns.

"Gauged against Western world as a whole, Soviets are still by far the weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree of cohesion, firmness, and vigour which Western world can muster. And this is factor which it is within our power to influence...

"We here are convinced that never since termination of the civil war have the mass of Russian people been emotionally farther removed from doctrines of Communist Party than they are today. In Russia, party has now become a great and - for the moment - highly successful apparatus of dictatorial administration, but it has ceased to be a source of emotional inspiration... I only wish to advance, by way of conclusion, the following comments: 1. Our first step must be to apprehend, and recognise for what it is, the nature of the movement with which we are dealing... 2. We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation... I am convinced that there would be far less hysterical anti-Sovietism in our country today if the realities of this situation were better understood by our people."

Under his leadership the State Department's Policy Planning Staff prepared a paper on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which warned: "The Policy Planning Staff is of the opinion that the scope of a pact of this sort should be restricted to the North Atlantic area itself, and that attempts to go further afield and to include countries beyond that area might have undesirable consequences."

To Kennan, NATO's aim was not to seal the partition of Europe but to prepare for parleys with Moscow. "Unless we are prepared consciously to depart from this policy, to renounce hope of a peaceful solution of Europe's difficulties, and to plan our foreign policy deliberately on the assumption of a coming military conflict, we should not do things which tend to fix, and make unchangeable by peaceful means, the present line of east-west division...

"Recommendations: In the light of the above, the Policy Planning Staff recommends: a. That it be accepted as the view of this Government: (1) That there is a long-term need for a permanent formalisation of the defence relationship among the countries of the North Atlantic area; (2) That the conclusion of a North Atlantic Security Pact just at this time will have a specific short-term value insofar as it may serve to increase the sense of security on the part of the members of the Brussels Pact and of other European countries; but (3) That, nevertheless, the conclusion of the Pact is not the main answer to the Russian effort to achieve domination over Western Europe, which still appears to be primarily political in nature."

While North Korea's invasion of the South, in June 1950, confirmed the worst fears of a "Soviet design" for world domination, it cemented and weakened the Sino-Soviet alliance. Mao Zedong never forgave Stalin for reneging on his promise to provide air support. We have the details on Sino-Soviet exchanges before and after China's entry into the war in October 1950 in the volume edited by Odd Arne Westad, Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance (Frontline, Novermber 10, 2000).

A week before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev called the Czech leader, Alexander Dubcek, and complained angrily of attacks on the USSR in Czech media. Excerpts from the transcript of this talk, as well as one two days after the invasion when Brezhnev tried to make him accept the fait accompli, are revealing.

Dubcek said: "These extreme steps, these extreme measures were taken without warning the CPCz CC Presidium, or me, personally, or the President, the Prime Minister, or the chairman of the National Assembly. In my opinion, this has squarely confronted not only our two parties, but the whole international Communist movement as well, with the most complicated problem it has ever faced. It is hard for me, while I am in such a difficult emotional state, to offer any immediate opinions about what should be done to take account of the situation that has been created. At this point, Cdes. Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgorny, and Voronov, I don't know what the situation is like at home. On the first day the Soviet Army arrived. I and other comrades were isolated and were brought here without knowing anything. So I can't say what the response was to this act, what the opinion of the Czech and Slovak peoples was, or how it reflected on inner-party life and on an international scale. All of these things are very important for us to know if we are to take the right measures to solve this complicated matter. For now, I can only speculate about what has gone on. During the initial period, the presidium members with me in the secretariat were taken to the CC of the party under the control of the Soviet security organs. Through the window I could see several hundred people who had gathered at the building, and through the glass we could hear them shouting: `We want to see Svoboda', `We want to see the president', `We want Dubcek'. I heard several slogans. After that there was gunfire. This was the last scene I witnessed. From the moment on I knew nothing, and now I cannot imagine what is happening in the country and in the party... "

No less revealing, however, is U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's talk with the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin who had called formally to inform him of the invasion. Johnson referred him to Secretary of State Dean Rusk's statement, offered him a Fresca, "asked if he had ever drunk this drink", and retailed anecdotes.

Nuclear hawks would find the chapter on weapons and the arms race very educative. At a briefing in November 1954, General Curtis Le May of the Strategic Air Command indicated that 30 days was "long enough to conclude World War III". Asked: "How do SAC's plans fit in with the stated national policy that the U.S. will never strike the first blow?" He replied: "I have heard this thought stated many times and it sounds very fine. However, it is not in keeping with United States history. Just look back and note who started the Revolutionary war, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War. I want to make it clear that I am not advocating a preventive war; however, I believe that if the U.S. is pushed in the corner far enough we would not hesitate to strike first... "

The editors remark that "even though they were mostly left secret, the number of accidents involving nuclear weapons during the Cold War was staggering". India and Pakistan are much closer to each other than the U.S. and the USSR are.

The Iraq war has only brought to the fore the latent and permanent differences between the U.S. and the United Kingdom on the one hand and Europe, especially France, on the other. In December 1951, a British Foreign Office memo opined that the U.K. "cannot seriously contemplate joining in European integration". Ironically as it might seem now, the U.S. was strongly for European unity as well as for Germany's reunification to which both Britain and France were opposed until the last moments in 1989-90.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote to his British counterpart Harold Macmillan in December 1955: "As we look toward the future it seems to me that the closer community of interests that Europe can build, the more hope Europe will have of realising its potential for security, prosperity and influence in world affairs. To my mind, the six-nation grouping approach gives the best hope of achieving this end because of the closer unity which is inherent in that community and because of the contribution which it will make to the strength and cohesion of the wider European grouping. It may well be that a six-nation community will evolve protectionist tendencies. It may be that it will show a trend toward greater independence. In the long-run, however, I cannot but feel that the resultant increased unity would bring in its wake greater responsibility and devotion of the common welfare of Western Europe."

In June 1962 French President Charles de Gaulle treated Macmillan to one of his brutally frank and coldly realistic expositions that have stood the test of time. "The younger generation felt much more European than the older people," Macmillan pleaded. De Gaulle's response is a classic: "The main motive in forming Common Market had been a political one. Economic means had been used for political ends. A political federation which involved the suppression of ancient states was not a practical possibility... So the only way of proceeding was by organised cooperation between Governments... With France and Germany and even Italy it should be possible to create an organisation which would have real political cooperation. This was necessary in the first place because of the present menace from Soviet Russia. But now that Europe had recovered her strength since the War, it was also desirable that she should be organised in such a way as to be independent of the United States. Of course the alliance with the United States was extremely important both for Europe and for America, indeed for the whole Free World. But since the War, the Continental States had been no more than satellites of the United States. This was a situation which could not continue... but Britain was not quite in the same position as the Continental countries; she was not quite so menaced by the Russians. It was perhaps true that the Channel was not much of a protection but it made a psychological difference to the people of Britain. Then again Britain was much more open to world influence than Europe and saw things differently from people on the Continent. Finally, there was Britain's liaison with the United States... Of course Britain would bring considerable economic, political and military strength and would make of the Community a larger reality, but it would also change everything. That was why France had to look at this matter carefully. Probably France could now make a common policy with the Germany of Adenauer, but could Britain carry out exactly the same German policy as France and Germany? Was it possible for Britain to adopt a genuinely European approach?"

To Macmillan's query whether "there would be a detente with Russia one day?", de Gaulle replied: "A detente could only be made by Europe, because it would involve the Russians becoming Europeans." History did not fulfil that prediction. The first steps towards a detente were taken after the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 - which is all too briefly covered in the volume - and it became and remains a U.S.-Russian affair. Europe counted for far less than de Gaulle envisaged. France's power declined. A European Union that can act independently of the U.S. is certain to be thwarted not only by Britain but also by Italy. Its core Franco-German unity is distrusted by many.

Those were the days of great figures who had vision as well as realism. Mao Zedong was one of them. In March 1969, Sino-Soviet relations exploded in a series of border clashes. Mao ordered four marshals of the Army - Chen Yi, Ye Jianging, Xu Xiangqian and Nie Rongzhen - to undertake a study on the Sino-Soviet-U.S. triangle. In a brilliant analysis it concluded: "In the foreseeable future it is unlikely" that the U.S. or the USSR "will launch a large-scale war on China, either jointly or separately." The study opined: "The strategic emphasis of the U.S. imperialists lies in the West ... The last thing the U.S. imperialists want to see is involvement in a war against China, allowing the Soviet revisionists to take advantage of it... The Soviet revisionists have made China their main enemy, imposing a more serious threat to our security than the U.S. imperialists... The strategic emphasis of the Soviet revisionists remains in Europe. Eastern Europe is the Soviet Union's main market and defensive barrier, on which it will never let down its guard. To be sure, the Soviet revisionists indeed are preparing for a war against China. But their main purpose is to use military mobilisation to consolidate their political control and to suppress resistance to them at home and in Eastern Europe.

"The U.S. imperialists, on their part, are pushing the Soviet revisionists to attack China so that they may use this opportunity to take over the Soviet revisionists' spheres of influence... The Soviet revisionists hope to divide the world equally with the U.S. imperialists, as well as take charge of world affairs together with the U.S. imperialists. The U.S. imperialists are determined to maintain their superior position."

By July 1969, as Kissinger told Dobrynin, the U.S. was determined to avoid "direct confrontation" with the USSR. Kissinger's prescription for the process of dialogue in an adversarial situation should be read by policy-makers in India and Pakistan as they try to work out the Islamabad Joint Statement of January 6: "The organisation of only one such meeting with the Soviet leaders during his entire Presidency (as was the case with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) is not the correct path to follow. It would be preferable to conduct a series of meetings, at predetermined intervals, say, once a year. Then the meetings will be less of a sensation, and will have a more business-like character. In the course of such meetings it would not be strictly necessary to search for an externally streamlined formula, which would in a way satisfy society but in reality do little to move the process forward. Instead of this it will be possible to make an efficient periodic survey of the most important problems, and to search out a mutually acceptable approach(... .) At such meetings, continued Kissinger, it will be important not only to strive toward settlement of the most difficult issues (which it will not be possible to always do immediately), but also to conduct mutual consultations, an exchange of opinions on potentially explosive situations which could draw both sides into conflict; even if their points of view on such situations will not coincide, the sides will better understand each other's motives and not overstep dangerous borders in their actions... ."

The erstwhile hawk, Nixon, was prepared to cut a deal with the USSR. "President Nixon takes into account the special interests of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, and does not intend to do anything there which could be evaluated in Moscow as a `challenge' to her position in that region. This is Nixon's basic approach to this question, and it is not necessary, asserted Kissinger, to pay much attention `to isolated critical public comments about some East European country, because that is only a tribute to the mood of certain sub-strata of the American population which play a role in American elections... ' Speaking about other areas where, in Nixon's opinion, Soviet-American contacts and bilateral exchange of opinions should develop, Kissinger cited the problem of a Near Eastern settlement, questions of strategic nuclear arms control, and, in the long-term, the gradual development of our trade relations... " Kissinger was later to assure Brezhnev that while China was "very important in the Asian era... peace in the world now depends on relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union".

As the Cold War drew to a close, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Francois Mitterand exchanged notes on Germany's reunification when they met on December 8, 1989. The record of their exchanges is fascinating.

"T [Thatcher]: Kohl has no idea of what feelings come up in Europe on hearing about reunification. Germany is divided because it was the Germans who have imposed the most terrible of wars on us. Germany becomes more dominant in Europe from one day to the next. It is necessary for us to meet regularly to create a counter-weight to Germany. One has to make sure that she will not dominate, as Japan does... If the crazy Germans attack the Soviet bases there will be terrible consequences.

"M [Mitterand]: When we spoke, Gorbachev was much tougher on Germany than he has been earlier. The anger over the Germans has come back. But Gorbachev does not have any better means than we do; for psychological reasons, he can no longer use his divisions.

"T: You are right. He can no longer, because of the recent developments in Poland (She says this with a sense of regret).

"M: The Germans must think about this themselves if they are to move forward... Are there many Germans who will have enough character to resist these pressures? They have never found their borders, they have never had a destiny...

"The British Prime Minister opens her handbag and takes out two well-worn maps of Europe, cut out from a British magazine. The first one shows the European borders at the beginning of World War II, the second those that were drawn in Europe in 1945. She points to Silesia, Pomerania, East Prussia. She says: `They will take all of this, and Czechoslovakia.'

"M: Speeding up this process is really very dangerous.

"T: Kohl will encourage it, he will inflame it: We have to place some limits on the Germans or that may really happen. They will make Berlin their capital again whatever happens.

"M: Yes, and Gorbachev cannot prevent it any more than the United States (can).

"T: The United States will not prevent it. There is a very strong pro-German lobby in America.

"M: The American Ambassador in Bonn, Vernon Walters, talks about reunification in five years. We do not have any means of power confronted with Germany. One is in the same situation as the French and British leaders before the war, who could not react to anything. We must not return at Munich!...

"M: I said to Genscher: `We are friends and allies, but what is happening (is) that we are preparing a new alliance between France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union against Germany, just like in 1913. You have 90 million inhabitants, the USSR turns towards us, and you will be circled in...

"M: We must create special relations between France and Great Britain just as in 1913 and 1938.

"T: In 1914, we British could have remained outside the War, if there had not been such an agreement. But the USSR may change. The USSR is now the only country in the East where there is not a multi-party system.

"M: I am not so sure. The danger is that the USSR may be getting a nationalist and militarist multi-party regime...

"T: If Germany controls events, she will get Eastern Europe in her power just as Japan has done in the Pacific, and that will be unacceptable from our point of view. The others must join together to avoid it."

By mid-1990 agreement was reached on Germany's reunification, first, between the super powers and then between the USSR and West Germany. Gorbachev stunned his colleagues by conceding a reunited Germany's membership of NATO.

President Mikhail Gorbachev and Chancellor Helmut Kohl's conversation at their historic meeting in the Caucasus mountains in July 1990 brought the curtain down. It should be read by every leader who has the power to alter the course of events: "Khol said that he had told Foreign Minister (Eduard) Shevardnadze already yesterday on the way from the airport to the guest-house that these were historically significant years. The opportunities had to be used. If one did not act, they be over. Bismarck once had said that you had to grab the mantle of history. President Gorbachev agreed. (And said that) That statement by Bismarck was very interesting.

"The Chancellor continued by saying that the 1990s would be historically significant. This was particularly true for the first half of the decade that was lying ahead of us... Now it was their task to use the existing chances. The generations that would follow them had had different experiences.

"President Gorbachev agreed with the Chancellor's statement that their generation had a unique experience. Now great opportunities had opened up, and it was now the task of their generation to use and shape them. He said that he was particularly impressed by the fact that today there was less talk about who won or who lost. Together they took the notion of one world as the starting-point... "

One must never underestimate the potentialities in a summit to alter the course of events - provided that the participants have vision and will.

The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts edited by Jussi M. Hanhimaki and Odd Arne Westad; Oxford University Press, 2003; pages 694, 75.

Toward a New Cold War: U.S. foreign policy from Vietnam to Reagan by Noam Chomsky; The New Press; pages 539, 12.95 (paperback).

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