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Reassessing the Cold War alliances

Petr Lunak considers how documents discovered in Warsaw Pact archives are influencing and challenging conventional interpretations of the Cold War alliances.

T he period since the end of the Cold War has been especially stimulating for historians of that era. Whereas, under normal circumstances, researchers are obliged to wait several decades before classified documents are made public, the demise of the Eastern bloc has been followed by the opening of some former Warsaw Pact countries’ archives, which have, in turn, provided hitherto unimagined possibilities for study. In 1999, an international project entitled Parallel History of NATO and the Warsaw Pact was established bringing together scholars from both East and West to assess the record of the two alliances during the Cold War. In the process, key controversies – such as the nature of the threat from the Warsaw Pact, the relative importance of nuclear deterrence and the reasons for the collapse of the Eastern bloc – are being re-examined, with new evidence challenging the conventional wisdom. War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years (Cambridge University Press, 1996) that Stalin feared imminent Western attack in Europe, which he believed would come in the wake of a series of Western defeats in Korea. As a result, Mastny argued that what others viewed as a call to prepare for attack against the West should, in fact, be interpreted as a call to pre- Cold War warriors: The Parallel History of NATO and the Warsaw Pact project has brought together scholars from both East and West pare for defence of the East. New evidence, uncovered in the archives of the former Eastern bloc, appears to add weight to Mastny’s arguments. In particular, the transcript of the January 1951 Moscow meeting, drafted by Romanian Armed Forces Minister Emil Bodnaras and recently uncovered in Bucharest, seems to confirm the defensive character of Stalin’s inten- tions, an interpretation that is further supported by the fact that no preparation for an invasion of Western Europe was made at the time. Indeed, well into the 1950s, all Europe’s Communist armies concentrated on territorial defence. From the Czechoslovak archives, for example, we know that although military exercises did occasionally include offensive operations, they almost never took place outside Czechoslovakia. In the few cases when forays into foreign territory were envisioned, it was only in the framework of a successful counter-attack. Traditionally, the danger of the Cold War turning hot was considered to have been greatest in the early 1950s in the aftermath of North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. As KonradAdenauer put it in his memoirs: “Stalin was planning the same procedure for West Germany as had been used in Korea.” Indeed, the notion of an imminent Soviet march into Western Europe in the 1950s was advanced by many histori- ans, including the then Czech émigré Karel Kaplan in Dans les Archives du Comité Central: Trente ans de secrets du Bloc Sovietique (Michel, 1978). Basing his thesis on an interview with former Czechoslovak Defence Minister Alexej Cepicka, Kaplan claimed that Stalin called upon Eastern Europe’s Communist leaders to prepare an invasion of Western Europe at a meeting in Moscow in January 1951. If evidence from the Czechoslovak archives is circum- stantial, documents recently found in Poland offer more conclusive proof of the defensive thinking of the Eastern bloc at the time. Drafted when Poland’s defence minister was the Soviet Marshall Konstantin Rokossovskij, the Polish Army’s 1951 war plan was clearly based on the assumption that Western military invasion was inevitable and therefore focuses on defensive actions to be taken on Polish territory. Haunted by the memory of Nazi Germany’s surprise invasion in 1941, Eastern military strategists could not envisage the next war in any terms other than one beginning with a Western attack. Paradoxically, therefore, at a time when Western decision- makers were obsessed with the Soviet threat, Eastern mili- tary planners sought nothing more than to contain what they saw as imminent Western invasion. This interpretation of events has since been challenged by many researchers. Convinced that the Soviet Union was never such a formidable enemy, Czech-born American his- torian Vojtech Mastny, for example, concluded in The Cold Petr Lunak is outreach editor in NATO’s Office of Information and Press and a Czech scholar participating in the “Parallel History of NATO and the arsaw Pact” project.

Winter 2001/2002

NATO review 31

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