The Cold War in Perspective

Article excerpt

Former warriors from opposing sides recounting their version of events have always been important in understanding history. In studying the Cold War, The Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact (PHP) has undertaken the mission of preserving the history of the two alliances that faced each other for decades on the continent of Europe during the Cold War. It has been collecting, analyzing and interpreting previously secret government documents and making them available via their unrestricted website [www.isn.eth/.ch/php/index.htm].

Documents alone cannot define the thinking behind events, so PHP is now gathering key players from both sides to discuss their perspectives on events. The first meeting in this series took place in Sweden, in April 2006.

The Stockholm Conference was the first attempt that PHP has made to expand their historical collection efforts by bringing together participants for face-to-face discussions.

The PHP coordinator, with offices in Washington, D.C., is Vojtech Mastny, who has been professor of history and international relations at Columbia University, University of Illinois, Boston University and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Professor Robert Legvold of Columbia University, the conference moderator, began the opening session of the gathering at the Swedish National Defense College by stating, "Never before have former NATO-Warsaw Pact military leaders sat down together to discuss the items we have on the agenda for the next two days."

Sitting around the conference room listening to Legvold were two groups of retired military officers. Representing NATO were three general officers from the United States, one German general, a British general, a Norwegian general and a Dutch general. From the now defunct Warsaw Pact were two generals and one colonel from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), one Polish general and one Czech general. All of the military participants had many years of experience serving during the Cold War with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact.

On the first day, the agenda began with a presentation of the defense plan for NATO's Central Region in the period 1980-82. This was followed by a presentation by one of the Russian generals on the Warsaw Pact's war plans during the same period.

The conference sponsors chose this particular period of time because it was, in the eyes of the Warsaw Pact, one of the most dangerous periods of the long confrontation. Furthermore, it was a period in which all the military representatives who attended had served in key positions within either NATO or the Warsaw Pact.

The second day of the conference began with a presentation by both alliances on nuclear weapons-their envisioned use, constraints and anticipated results.

While the presentations at the beginning of each day's session provided a basis for a lively discussion until late afternoon, each side had also come with a set of questions they would like the other to address. Moderator Legvold ensured that, during the discussions, all these questions were addressed. The Russian ambassador to Sweden added to the Stockholm experience by hosting the group at his Embassy the first night and there was an informal dinner at the end of the conference.

The open and frank discussions by all the participants appeared to be the hallmark of the conference. At the end of the NATO presentation of its defense plan for the Central Region the first morning, Russian general Aleksandr Lyakhovsky began his talk on Warsaw Pact war plans by saying, "Your presentation was a revelation to us ... we assessed differently."

What got his attention and the attention of all the Warsaw Pact participants was that we made clear that NATO had no offensive plans ... only defensive plans to defend our territory against a Warsaw Pact attack. The Russian general then went on with his presentation of their plan . …