Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Without Passion: New Zealand's Very Cold War

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Without Passion: New Zealand's Very Cold War

Article excerpt

SEEING RED: New Zealand, the Commonwealth and the Cold War 1945-91

Editors: Ian McGibbon and John Crawford

Published by. NZ Military History Committee, Wellington, 2012, 324pp, $25. (Orders to


The Cold War was fundamentally an ideological confrontation. If once debatable, this assertion was validated emphatically by documentary evidence from former communist bloc archives. (1) It was also underscored by the Cold War's unexpectedly abrupt ending with such little violence--a few notable exceptions notwithstanding, such as the summary execution of the little mourned Nicolae Ceausescu, communist leader of Romania and self-styled 'Genius of the Carpathians'. There was subsequent violence aplenty in the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession and in the struggles still simmering in parts of the former Soviet Union; but these conflicts have gravitated around ethno-national and religious issues rather than Cold War fracture lines.

An ideology collapsed, not states or nations per se. That is why the Soviet Union disintegrated but Russia endured and Germany was reintegrated. Similarly, Poland and other former Warsaw Pact members quickly became NATO members, while Czechoslovakia's Velvet revolution' was followed by a comparably 'velvet' split into two countries, both of which repudiated communism. Admittedly, one-time communists clung to power in parts of the former Soviet sphere of influence, but they were obliged to reinvent themselves and engage in considerable value-engineering of their policies. Nowhere has there been a credible attempt to reassert the superiority of 'real existing socialism' as an alternative system to capitalism. So definitive was its outcome that the Cold War now seems more remote and incomprehensible for young people around the globe than the world wars.

During the Cold War, however, international politics were dominated by competition between two contrasting visions of world order. In effect, Washington and Moscow served as corporate headquarters for competing ideological franchises locked in a 45-year struggle for greater market share. But the franchise-holders of the 'Free World' and the communist bloc were more diverse than General Motors or Lada dealerships. This was true on both sides of the ideological divide. In the end, relations proved intrinsically more brittle between Moscow and its satellites; but it did not always seem that way and the United States often encountered problems with its nominal franchise-holders, such as the Gaullist right in France.

Echoes of the Soviet-American confrontation reverberated locally and regionally in different ways. In Europe, the Cold War's impact was more deep-seated in most respects than in the United States and defined national political cleavages in countries such as Italy and France for decades--as well as dividing a continent. In Latin America too, Cold War preoccupations were intertwined--sometimes fatally--with domestic politics, and the threat of communism was used to justify sundry repressive regimes of the right, while the opposite tack prevailed in Cuba, where one of the last creaky relics of the communist era remains in power. In Asia and Africa, the Cold War was entangled with decolonisation, especially in Vietnam, which proved disastrous for Washington's successive ill-starred collaborators in Saigon, though not for their counterparts in Seoul, Singapore or Jakarta. In short, the Cold War was ideological in character, but the precise dynamics of that ideological contest were inflected locally. (2)

Instructive study

New Zealand's experience offers an instructive case study of the interplay between global and national politics during the Cold War, illustrating how one nation pursued its own distinctive interests while responding to common challenges faced by smaller allies of the two super-powers. Notwithstanding some dissenting voices, the country was in the Western camp throughout the Cold War. …

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