From war to Cold War

Published : Sep 21, 2007 00:00 IST

Lack of sensitivity on each side about the others security concerns broke up the alliance between Stalin and the West.

THERE is not much comfort in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate, plus the Communist parties in many other States, are all drawn up on one side, and those who rally to the English-speaking nations and their Associates or Dominions are on the other. It is quite obvious that their quarrel would tear the world to pieces and that all of us leading men on either side who had anything to do with that would be shamed before history. Even embarking on a long period of suspicions, of abuse and counter-abuse and of opposing policies would be a disaster hampering the great developments of world prosperity for the masses which are attainable only by our trinity. I hope there is no word or phrase in this outpouring of my heart to you which unwillingly gives offence. If so, let me know. But do not, I beg you, my friend Stalin, underrate the divergencies which are opening about matters which you may think are small to us but which are symbolic of the way the English-speaking democracies look at life.

By the time Churchill poured out his heart to Stalin on April 28, 1945, much had happened to unravel the Yalta accord of February 1945 among the United States, the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and a secret accord between the two leaders in September 1944. The main issue was the government to be set up in Poland. On March 6, 1945, Stalin had forcibly installed a friendly government in Romania. Churchill complained that he had ordered that your interest in Romania and Bulgaria is to be recognised as predominant; tacitly, not exclusively. Events in Yugoslavia did not give me the feeling of a fifty-fifty interest. These were allusions to their secret accord.

The theme of the first four books is that the Cold War had begun while the Second World War was on; or, as some put it, the war never really ended. The year 1945 saw its transformation, not its end. This is wrong. Like politics among men in offices, sports bodies, womens organisations, the lot the struggle for power is a fact of life. So it has been among nations for centuries, with varying degrees of the freeze between armed clashes. The pertinent questions are why, how and when did the Triple Alliance break up? The answers are not easy.

Gregor Dallas is author of able studies of similar watersheds, 1815 and 1918. But this was a modern war involving peoples. After 1919, diplomacy had changed. The era of propaganda began. It poisoned minds. He writes: The Second World War had shaken such notions as citizenship, national sovereignty, the nation state and Great Powers to their roots. Assumptions accepted in 1930 had been swept away by 1945. Those who survived the horrors of the war still clung desperately to a world that had gone. As for the horrors, they continued to spill over into distant corners of the globe. There was no peace settlement. There was no treaty with Germany until 1990 as the Communist bloc collapsed. The Second World War was the war that never ended.

Dallas poses the familiar question and provides an answer: What was the origin of the Cold War? Not 1948, nor 1945. It lay in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Stalin and his successors never abandoned the world vision the Pact had opened up to them Stalins policy through the last years of the war and into the peace was an extension of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

The first part is factually untrue. The pact was signed after the failure of Anglo-Soviet talks and after British-French efforts at wooing Hitler had failed. Their success would have left Hitler free to march to Moscow.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, did not induce any world vision. It partitioned Poland, defined their respective spheres of interest in the Baltics Finland, Estonia and Latvia to the USSR, and Lithuania to Germany and the Romanian province of Bessarabia to the USSR. It became the republic of Moldavia. On September 28, 1939, Lithuania was assigned to the USSR. The Red Army occupied these areas but Finland fought back and maintained an uneasy independence.

Germany gave the Soviet Union on November 26, 1940, a draft agreement to include Japan and Italy in a four-power alliance, indicating its own aspirations (Central Africa), Italys (Northern and North-eastern Africa), Japans (East Asia) and the Soviet Unions (in the direction of the Indian Ocean). The Soviet Unions counter-proposals, on November 28, 1940, reflected its security concerns withdrawal of German troops from Finland, a new regime for the Dardanelles with its own bases near by, renunciation of Japans rights to concessions in the Northern Sakhalin and provided that the area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is recognised as the centre of aspirations of the Soviet Union. Stalin pursued these very objectives during and after the War ended. He showed no interest in India. He concluded a neutrality pact with Japan on April 13, 1941.

Hitler attacked the USSR on June 22, 1941. Stalin had discounted intelligence reports of such an attack. But he had, we learn from recent research, prepared plans for a pre-emptive attack on Germany. By May 15, 1941, the schedule wa s recorded in a 15-page memo. Stalin thought he had time until the summer of 1942, so, detailed planning could wait. John Lukacs tells the story in his excellent book (June 1941: Hitler and Stalin; Yale University Press; pages 169, $25 , 16.99). The distinguished historian Professor Ian Kershaw has in a work of great research described how the post-war world acquired the shape it did (Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World 1940-1941; Allen Lane, Penguin Books; pages 624, 12). Britains decision to fight in 1939 and Hitlers attack on the USSR were among the ten. He caught his victim unprepared.

The volumes which the Yale University Press has published on the events that followed are a service to history. They demolish many a myth and highlight the poignancy of the tragedy which the Cold War, indeed, was. Professor Geoffrey Roberts volume is chief among them.

He records: The Red Armys recovery from the devastating blow of the German invasion of June 1941 and its victorious march to Berlin by May 1945 was the greatest feat of arms the world had ever seen. The Soviet victory in the War led to the spread of communism to Eastern Europe and to other parts of the globe and provided new sources of legitimacy for the communist system and for Stalins leadership. For the next 40 years, the Soviet system was seen as a viable alternative to Western liberal democratic capitalism, a state that competed effectively with the West, economically, politically and ideologically during the Cold War. Indeed, at the peak of the Soviet challenge in the 1950s and 1960s it seemed to many that Stalins vision of the global triumph of the communist system would eventually be realised.

While the Second World War had fateful political consequences for the communist system it was a catastrophe for the Soviet people. During the war 70,000 Soviet cities, towns and villages were laid waste. Destroyed were 6 million houses, 98,000 farms, 32,000 factories, 82,000 schools, 43,000 libraries, 6,000 hospitals and thousands of miles of roads and railway track. In terms of casualties, during Stalins lifetime the official Soviet figure was 7 million fatalities. Later this figure was raised to over 20 million. In post-Soviet times numbers as high as 35 million war-related deaths were quoted, but the generally accepted figure is about 25 million, two-thirds of them civilians. This was not appreciated in the West. Professor David Reynolds points out in his work on Churchills history writing (In Command of History): The Red Army, which scarcely figures in his memoirs, largely won the land war in Europe.

Even before the tide began to turn in 1942, the territorial question was raised by Stalin to Churchills dismay. The British Minister in Moscow, Sir John Balfour, brilliantly described the rationale of Soviet policy in a message to the Foreign Office on March 12, 1945, when the Alliance was still in place. It bears quotation in extenso: There is most certainly a long-term element in what the Russians are doing in the Balkans. Security writ large is the fi rst and paramount factor there in relation to other neighbouring territories of the USSR () the Soviet Union looks upon the South-Eastern European area, no less than on Poland, as a security zone in which it is to her peculiar interest to see that there is no renewal of the German Drang nach Osten [March to the East].

No plans for world organisation or pacts with the Western Powers will deflect the USSR from buttressing up her security system in this region as a first line of defence. All-Slavism () is one important instrument of this insurance policy which demands as a corollary that the interests and influence of other Great Powers in the Soviet security zone should be strictly subordinated to those of the USSR. It would, for example, be unthinkable in this setting that Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia should look as they did after the last war to the West for the main guarantee of their security rather than to Mother Russia in the East () as Molotov has more than once clearly implied () the USSR has suffered too much during the war to allow her great Allies to play more than a secondary part in dictating the treatment of ex-German satellites whom the Red Army has defeated.

In all this there is a well-defined long-term policy which, so far as can at present be foreseen is summed up in the word Security. I say at present because the self-confidence of the Soviet Union, which victory has immeasurably increased, combined with a love of power for its own sake which has distinguished Russias outstanding rulers throughout the ages, might cause this policy as it unfolds itself to assume dangerous forms () So far as the Balkans are concerned we can at any rate take heart of grace from the wholly correct attitude which the Soviet Government have so far adopted towards the Greek imbroglio ().

Whilst the determination of the Soviet government to maintain and develop a position of paramount influence in Balkan countries other than Greece can thus, I think, be taken for granted as a matter of well-defined long-term policy, there still remains, within that overriding framework, good reason for arguing () that Russian actions to which we object are the result of minds automatically working along old lines. It proved prophetic. Stalin pursued security aims by a blend of diplomacy and brute force, fuelling insecurities in the West. That is why the Alliance broke up lack of sensitivity on each side about the others sense of security.

At the heart of the divide was The Percentages Agreement concluded between Churchill and Stalin at a dinner in Moscow on October 9, 1944, which Churchill flamboyantly described in his memoirs but which the U.S. refused to support. Let us settle our affairs in the Balkans. You have armies in Romania and Bulgaria. He proposed a division of interests and wrote it out on a half-sheet of paper while it was being translated. In Romania, Russia had 90 per cent interest; in Bulgaria, 75per cent. Britain had a 90 per cent share in Greece; 50 per cent each in Yugoslavia and Hungary. I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his big blue pencil and made a large tick upon it. It was cynical. Churchill proposed, Let us burn the paper. No, you keep it said Stalin.

Roberts is wrong when he writes that the deal was not mentioned in his extensive correspondence with Stalin. It was alluded to in the wire of April 28, 1945. Stalin refused to support the Greek communists whose takeover Churchill feared. The Foreign Office and the Cabinet were shocked. Churchill explained that the percentages were a general guide to the interests and sentiments of the U.K. and the USSR. They did not establish a rigid system of spheres of interest but an interim guide for the immediate war-time future.

On December 11, 1944, Churchill told Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, how impressed he was by the loyalty with which Stalin had kept his word on Greece in accordance with our agreement. That is why he wanted President Roosevelt to take the lead in protests to Stalin over Romania.

Jonathan Fenby is a former editor of the Observer and the South China Morning Post. His works on history would do any academic historian proud. His excellently researched work traces the origins of the territorial issue and the Anglo-American disagreement over it. Meeting British Ambassador Halifax on 18 February, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Summer Welles was blunt. It appears that our two governments are at a crossroads. The British suggestion of an agreement on frontiers was a complete repudiation of the principles for which we stand. I cannot conceive of this war being fought in order to undertake once more the shoddy, inherently vicious, kind of patchwork world order which the European powers had attempted to construct during the years between 1919 and 1939. Could it be conceivable that any healthy and lasting world order could be created on a foundation which implied the utter ignoring of all of the principles of independence, liberty, and self-determination? I do not believe that the people of the United States would wish to be parties thereto The only hope for the future lay in a new world order based on proper principles, he told the Ambassador. What peace can be envisaged if the British government and ourselves agree upon selling out millions of people who look to us as their one hope in the future.

In fact the issue was raised earlier in December 1941. Stalin rubbished the Atlantic Charter in a talk with Eden. National self-determination was algebra. He told Eden he preferred practical arithmetic in a firm treaty. He wanted return of territory lost in 1917. That was his main concern. On a visit to London in 1942, Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov asked for pre-July 1941 frontiers, with a right to station troops in Finland and Romania.

In 1944, Eden and Molotov tried to spell out the details of the Churchill-Stalin pact. Fenby records: But Churchill was getting worried about what he had proposed, the repercussions if it leaked, and how to break the news to Roosevelt. To prepare the ground, he wrote to the President about the importance of reaching a common position on the Balkans to head off civil wars in which they would find themselves backing the opposite side to Stalin. Lifting a corner of the veil over his guilty secret, he added: Nothing will be settled except preliminary agreements between Britain and Russia, subject to further discussion and melting-down with you. On this basis I am sure you will not mind our trying to have a full mooting of minds with the Russians.

He then worked on a letter to Stalin intended to limit what the Russians might read into his proposal, and to ensure secrecy. The percentages proposal was, he wrote, no more than a method by which in our thoughts we can see how near we are together, and then decide upon the necessary steps to bring us into full agreement. As I said they would be considered crude, and even callous, if they were exposed to the scrutiny of the Foreign Office and of diplomats all over the world. Therefore they could not be the basis of any public document, certainly not at the present time. They might however be a good guide for the conduct of our affairs. If we manage these affairs well we shall perhaps prevent several civil wars and much bloodshed and strife in the small countries concerned.

The aim should be to let each country have the form of government its people preferred. All he wanted was to adumbrate the degrees of interest which each of us takes in these countries with the full assent of the other, and subject to the approval of the United States, which may go far away for a long time and then come back unexpectedly with gigantic strength. The letter was not sent.

U.S. Ambassador Averall Harriman learnt of the pact from the Russians and rushed to warn Churchill that Roosevelt would repudiate the deal. His successor Harry Truman was even more opposed to such an approach. He was rude to Molotov during their talks in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 1945. Stalin wrote to Truman: You evidently do not agree that the Soviet Union is entitled to seek in Poland a government that would be friendly to it, that the Soviet government cannot agree to the existence in Poland of a government hostile to it I do not know whether a genuinely representative government has been established in Greece, or whether the Belgian government is a genuinely democratic one. The Soviet Union was not consulted when those governments were being formed, nor did it claim the right to interfere in those matters, because it realises how important Belgium and Greece are to the security of Great Britain. I cannot understand why in discussing Poland no attempt is made to consider the interests of the Soviet Union in terms of security as well.

The U.S., indeed, the West as a whole, thought that USSR was expansionist and aggressive. Stalins brutal methods in Eastern Europe, his demands on Iran and Turkey, the Berlin blockade and, not least, North Koreas invasion of the South combined to confirm the Wests fears.

Professor Roberts puts his moves in perspective, quoting Albert Resis, an authority on the percentages agreement: Although Stalins crimes were numberless, one crime was falsely charged to him; that he bears sole responsibility for starting what came to be called the Cold War. In fact he neither planned nor desired it. Roberts adds: But Stalins own actions and ambitions did contribute to the outbreak of the Cold War. At the end of the Second World War the Red Army occupied half of Europe and Stalin was determined to establish a Soviet sphere of influence in the states that bordered European Russia. There was also a great political swing to the communist parties across the continent and Stalin had vision of a peoples democratic Europe a Europe of left-wing regimes under Soviet influence.

Stalin knew his country was weak, devastated and ravaged by the war. He wanted not another war but only security, which he sought by methods that came naturally to him. Roberts holds that the Cold War broke out with the Truman Doctrine in March 1947. Stalin feared that the West would rearm Germany and Japan.

Opinion in the U.S. was divided. Truman abandoned confusion for certitude. To Americans, he became an iconic figure and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson a legendary statesman. Professor Arnold A. Hoffner debunked the Trumania myth (Is Bush a Truman?; Frontline, February 14, 2003). Robert L. Beisners book (Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War; Oxford University Press; pages 800, $35) should dispel the Acheson myth. But, of cou rse, the legend will not die. It is rooted in the American psyche as Wilson D. Miscambles book (From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War, Cambridge University Press; pages 393, 30) demonstrates. It is an apologia, out and out. Its theme is that Stalin needed enemies around. Had he been a different person and communism a different system, a modus vivendi could have been possible.

Churchills half-sheet of

Vladimir Putins Russia refutes that. He acknowledged on December 26, 2000: In the Soviet days, we scared the world so much that this led to the emergence of huge military and political blocs. Did we really stand to gain from that? Of course, not (The Hindu, December 27, 2000). If the U.S. had been as introspective, Putin would not have been as estranged as he is now.

We find, instead, triumphalism we won the Cold War which ensures its continuation. John Lewis Gaddis writings have won him fame as a doyen of Cold War historians. His book Surprise, Secu rity and the American Experience (2004) suggests that the Iraq adventure was true to form. In his book The Cold War (Penguin; 6.30), he argues that the U.S. frontier of democracy helped to end the Cold War. It is an extremel y useful survey of the course of the Cold War and is documented ably. It is dedicated to George F. Kennan. One wonders how he would have received a book that is not introspective. His friend John Lukacs moving profile shows how Kennan moved from reflective writings on statecraft to history and, eventually, philosophy and religion. But reflection was never absent from his mind even when he was active in the Foreign Service. He had prejudices and vanities. But he was also compassionate. He could rise above the tides of the times and peer beyond. He became the conscience of the nation. The advocate of Containment was reviled by his friend Acheson when he became an advocate of conciliation. Kennan was less than fair to the brilliant critic of containment, Walter Lippmann (A philosopher and a journalist; Frontline, February 23, 2007), and bears heavy responsibility for the containment idea. But he made generous amends.

Achesons biographer has no hesitation in using the word loutish to describe his comments on critics. His encounter with Nehru in 1949 was disastrous. Acheson took Nehru to the bosom of his home to talk informally, but instead of relaxing, the Indian addressed the American as Queen Victoria said of Mr. Gladstone, as though I were a public meeting. Nehru went through the roof talking about Kashmir. At White House and State Department discussions, he lectured instead of listened [sic]. On a department-organised discovery of America tour, he turned up his nose at Americas moneymaking culture. Privately, he viewed Truman a mediocre man and Aches on equally mediocre. Truman said he just doesnt like white men. His hosts did a slow burn when Nehru used his tour to go over the governments head as he complained to Americans that their government had ignored Indias needs. Yet in fact, his pride had prevented him from directly asking for help. Acheson considered him one of the most difficult men he had ever dealt with and was happy when he left.

The factual errors are apparent. Nehru liked the British and the French, white men, both. He offered a military alliance to the U.S. and was hurt when it was declined. His objective was constant support on Kashmir and against Pakistan. In 1948-49, the U.S. ideas of South Asia were hazy.

Acheson was the hawk of hawks during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book is an excellent record of a man who shaped policy and, with Truman, left a terrible legacy. Hoffners critique is just: Truman remained a parochial nationalist who lacked the leadership to move the U.S. away from a conflict and toward dtente. Instead he promoted an ideology and politics of Cold War confrontation that became the modus vivendi of successive administrations and the U.S. for the next two generations.

It was Acheson who coined the phrase negotiation from strength and popularised Burkes dictum which Indian lawyers would do well to note and of which Acheson was a living proof the law sharpens the mind by narrowing it.

In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune (March 13, 2007) the thoughtful James Carroll wrote: What must be criticised, and even dismantled, is nothing less than the national security state that Truman inaugurat ed in 1947. The habits of mind that defined American attitudes during the Cold War still provide consoling and profitable structures of meaning, even as dread of communism has been replaced by fear of terrorism. Thus, Trumans every nation must choose became Bushs You are with us or against us. Americas political paranoia still projects its worst fears onto the enemy, paradoxically strengthening its most paranoid elements. The monstrous dynamic feeds itself.

In a work of great insight and erudition, Professor Klaus Larres, an authority on the Cold War, does to Churchills reputation what Professor Roberts did to Stalins. These men were cast in the old mould. Churchill is remembered for his Fulton speech in 1946, not for his sustained efforts to achieve a settlement with Stalin, both while in the opposition and in power (1951-55). It was personal diplomacy. Eden and the Cabinet were opposed to his overtures to Moscow, as was the U.S.

He proposed to send a cable to Molotov suggesting a visit to Moscow. Larres records: The Truman administration believed that the best course of action was to continue building the strength of the western world so that we will be in a position to continue the Cold War on terms increasingly advantageous to the West. Although it was not the policy of the USA to force a showdown with the USSR, opportunities for poisoning the relations between the Kremlin and its satellites and (thus for) weakening the hold of the communist regimes over the people should be exploited.

What worried the U.S. particularly was Churchills inclination to think in terms of spheres of influence solutions. Churchills 1944 agreement with Stalin was well remembered in Washington. The State Department and the American military were sure that Churchill was still convinced that the world can be divided up in such a way that Stalin will agree to stay here and we will agree to stay there. The Foreign Office paper received from the British embassy in January 1952 seemed to confirm this position. Although eventually this would become more or less the unofficial modus vivendi entered into by Washington and Moscow after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in the early 1950s such a view was regarded as a dangerous m isperception of the inherent aggressive tendencies in Soviet Communism which needed to be actively opposed. As John Charmley puts it, the Americans were attempting to construct a global strategy of containment, whilst the British still seemed obsessed with their old-fashioned notions of spheres of influence. However, Charmleys implied criticism of Londons strategy is unfair; it ignores the fact that ultimately Washingtons globalism failed. Eventually, President Kennedy and his successors had no choice but to accept the division of the world into an eastern and a western sphere of influence, abandon the American dream of political warfare, and embark on a policy of detente, as had been long advocated by Churchill and others.

Churchills Cabinet colleagues were aghast. Harold Macmillan approached Lady Churchill, on July 15, 1954, to ask her to dissuade her husband from seeking a summit in Moscow. The Cabinet would split.

Churchill had a weak hand to play The Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence Sir Henry Tizard remarked in 1949: We persist in regarding ourselves as a Great Power capable of everything and only temporarily handicapped by economic difficulties. We are not a Great Power and never will be again. Sobering thoughts for our strategic experts.

It was the U.S., not the U.K., that the USSR was wooing. Besides, Stalin was detaching himself from the realities.

James Reston reported in The New York Times of March 13, 1950, a Soviet offer of defining spheres of interest which, however, forced Yugoslavia and China into the Soviet sphere, to give Stalin a free hand to deal with them, besides Eastern Europe.

There was an instructive sequel 25 years later. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a Counsellor in the State Department, who was called Kissingers Kissinger by Kissinger himself, spoke at a conference of U.S. ambassadors in April 1978, at which Kissinger also spoke. Sonnenfeldt suggested that the U.S. should strive for an evolution that makes the relationship between the East Europeans and the Soviet Union an organic one. The existing relationship was unnatural. The U.S. must adopt a policy of responding to the clearly visible aspirations in Eastern Europe for a more autonomous existence within the context of a strong Soviet geopolitical influence.

In 1944, Churchill agreed to spheres of influence. In 1945, the Yalta accord provided for free elections. The Cold War might have been averted in 1945-46 by a blend of both. Finland remained independent yet respectful of Soviet concerns. Could this have been arranged for Eastern Europe at Yalta or later?

Fundamentally, it was not the form but the principle that mattered a modus vivendi that met Soviet concerns and interests.

By 1947, the West was obsessed with Munich (appeasement) and Pearl Harbour, a surprise attack beyond Moscows means and dreams. It was left to the arch critic of Munich to slay the Munich dragon in a magnificent speech in the House of Commons on December 14, 1950, which Indians who constantly scream appeasement would do well to reflect on:

The declaration of the Prime Minister that there will be no appeasement also commands almost universal support. It is a good slogan for the country. It seems to me, however, that in this House it requires to be more precisely defined. What we really mean, I think, is no appeasement through weakness or fear. Appeasement in itself may be good or bad according to the circumstances. Appeasement from weakness and fear is alike futile and fatal. Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace. Future historians will have to decide whether the western world has suffered more from the surrender at Munich that is, from appeasement as political practice or from the intellectual confusion that equates a negotiated settlement with appeasement and thus discredits the sole rational alternative to war.

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