Friday, April 19, 2002

Was the Soviet threat bogus?

Andrew Alexander argues in the Spectator that the Cold War was a Bad Thing. The crux of the argument is in this paragraph:

It was a Manichean doctrine, seductive in its simplicity. But the supposed military threat was wholly implausible. Had the Russians, though themselves devastated by the war, invaded the West, they would have had a desperate battle to reach and occupy the Channel coast against the Allies, utilising among other things a hastily rearmed Wehrmacht. But, in any case, what then? With a negligible Russian navy, the means of invading Britain would somehow have had to be created. Meanwhile Britain would have been supplied with an endless stream of men and material from the United States, making invasion virtually hopeless.

It must be said that I do not agree with this, although I am naturally inclined more to this realist inspired revisionism than the pro-Soviet pap that comes to us from many of the more left revisionists. Firstly the Soviet Union had not disarmed and would have been helped by a large amount of sympathisers - especially in France. It was true that getting across the Channel would have been difficult, but Britain would have been brought back to the stage that it was in after the fall of France - hardly a time of comfort and ease. It all rather reminds me of Neil Kinnock's line in the 1987 election that if Russia had invaded then they would have been met by a determined resistance movement. He didn't seem to get the point that we didn't want to get in with the resistance in the first place.

That being said, many of my ex-colleagues at, including my improvement Christopher Montgomery, are Cold War sceptics - and mainly from the right. I am not as settled and convinced in my support for the battle as I used to be, although I am still on the side of orthodoxy.

Andrew Alexander also makes the claim, that Stalin was not interested in world revolution. He had a funny way of showing it. Support for Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam was hardly meddling in the traditional Russian spheres of influence nor was it the occupation of a formerly devastating enemy. Nor for that matter did the siege of West Berlin or the overthrow of the elected Czechoslovak government come under this description.

However there are two interesting and good points:

The fact that the Cold War continued after Stalin’s death and succession does not, as some would claim, prove the Soviets’ unchanging global ambitions. The invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968 were brutal acts, but were aimed at protecting Moscow’s buffer zone — much as the United States had always protected her interests in Central and South America. The same may be said of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 (as a result of which, with the help of the CIA, the Taleban came into existence). In none of these cases was there a territorial threat to the West.

Of course Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan were no business of the West except as part of a general roll back, which is why we should treat any breastbeating over our "abandonment" of Afghanistan. We helped the resistance to the Soviets to keep Russia weak, not out of any fellow feeling for the Afghans. So we didn't abandon the Afghans, we merely concluded a mutually beneficial arrangement with certain factions within their nation. We had, and have, no obligation to them.

Similarly if the Soviet Union were not interested in a global presence, and more specifically domination of the UK, then these events would not have mattered to us, in the same way that the treatment of the Kosovo Albanians or the Krajina Serbs would not normally affect us.

And a last piece of wisdom:

One can, of course, understand why few anywhere in the West want the orthodox view of the Cold War overturned. If that were to happen, the whole edifice of postwar politics would begin to crumble.

Could it be that the heavy burden of postwar rearmament was unnecessary, that the transatlantic alliance actually imperilled rather than saved us?

Of course many of the main elements of our political settlement were decided by Cold War sentiments. The European Union chief among them. If there had been no Cold War would the Conservatives and the right-wing Labour MPs have been so keen to join the wretched thing? The idea that the British had to be in so as to inject some spine into our European allies was seductive, and actually rather succesful. No cold war, no EU? Almost certainly.

Now, we don't seem to have a Cold War on at the moment, so no EU? Sadly not.


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