Origins of the Cold War: An International History

By Melvyn P. Leffler; David S. Painter | Go to book overview

2

NATIONAL SECURITY AND SOVIET FOREIGN POLICY

Michael MccGwire

Whereas Leffler had vast numbers of documents upon which to base his analysis, students of Soviet foreign relations have not been so fortunate. This situation is now changing as the new Russian government is opening up its archives and former Soviet officials are more willing to talk about and write about past policies. Nevertheless, it will still be several years until we receive well-researched and nuanced appraisals of postwar Stalinist diplomacy.

It will be interesting to see which of the prevailing views of Soviet foreign policy will be substantiated by the opening of archival records. Many postwar accounts of the Kremlin’s actions insisted that the Communist regime, inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideology, was intent on world domination. Over the years these accounts evolved as it became unmistakably clear that Stalin did not support all revolutionary movements and that he had his own good reasons to want to perpetuate the wartime coalition. Increasingly, the Soviet dictator was characterized as an opportunist and a prudent expansionist, seeking always to further Soviet power but keenly attuned to power realities.

Some Kremlinologists questioned whether Soviet policy was as clever and coherent as it was often portrayed. Increasingly, scholars saw stark contradictions in the way Soviet policy was conducted, for example, in Germany, and they wondered how these inconsistencies came about. Some analysts dwelled upon the deep divisions among Soviet leaders; some believed that after the war Stalin, at least initially, receded into the background while his lieutenants waged personal and bureaucratic battles with one another. In these struggles doctrine often was used more as a tool than as an inspiration. Indeed over time the role of ideology in Soviet policy became rather blurred.

Michael MccGwire is a well-known British analyst of Soviet strategic doctrine and naval capabilities. In this unpublished essay, written as a

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