The Cold War: Ideological Conflict or Power Struggle?

The Cold War: Ideological Conflict or Power Struggle?

The Cold War: Ideological Conflict or Power Struggle?

The Cold War: Ideological Conflict or Power Struggle?

Excerpt

What characterized American thought on the cold war in the mid-sixties was the profound absence of agreement on every aspect of postwar Soviet-American relations. Almost twenty years of struggle with the Kremlin produced no consensus on the meaning of even the most elemental aspects of those relations. Indeed, with each successive year the enigma of Soviet behavior appeared to divide the United States as a nation more than ever before on the role of either the Russian challenge or the American response in perpetuating and determining the character of the East-West conflict. So incompatible were the conclusions of Russian experts on matters of Soviet foreign policy that Paul Winterton's poignant observation seemed perennially valid: "There are no experts on the Soviet Union, merely varying degrees of ignorance."

Despite the enormous variety of individual viewpoints, studies of the cold war fell consistently into two competing groups. One important body of scholarship viewed Russia as essentially a powerful nation pursuing traditional policies designed to secure a maximum of security against one or more proven antagonists. For proponents of this limited concept of the cold war, Soviet policy was circumscribed by the concrete factors of power politics and national interest. They believed, moreover, that an imperialistic Russia could be contained successfully through coalition diplomacy without resort to suicidally dangerous strategies. To another equally knowledgeable group of American writers the Soviet Union represented a massive assault on the institutions and values of the free world. In the absence of any relief from the multiple pressures exerted by the U.S.S.R. on world politics, they could assume only that the Kremlin harbored some sinister blueprint that aimed at world domination. For them the cold war had evolved into a limitless contest between freedom and tyranny, a totally revolutionary struggle propelling history down its final, dangerous course.

Fundamental to the continuing debate on the nature of the cold war was the question of origins. That the triumph of the Bolsheviks under Lenin in 1917 inaugurated a deadly and all-encompassing struggle between the U.S.S.R. and the Western democracies seemed clear enough from the dire predictions of Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev, repeated through the succeeding half century with disturbing arrogance and regularity. For those historians, political scientists, journalists, and politicians who viewed the Soviet-American conflict as a war of ideologies, what mattered in 1917 was the victory of a well-organized minority of revolutionaries over a populous and potentially aggressive nation and that minority's subsequent inauguration of a war against capitalism and democracy, to be pursued by whatever means came to hand. The continuing conflict in the postwar world was merely the extension of an ideological assault on the embattled forces of freedom everywhere which began with the Russian Revolution itself.

Those who accepted the more traditional concept of the Soviet-American rivalry likewise recognized the existence of some tension during the interwar years. But they attributed this tension less to the Bolshevik declaration of ideological warfare on the . . .

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