Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century

By Nigel West; Heike Bungert et al. | Go to book overview

5

The Role of Covert Operations in US Cold War Foreign Policy

Mario Del Pero

The decision by the US government to create a peacetime independent intelligence organization, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was a natural product of systematic changes induced by the Cold War. Initially, the CIA was primarily concerned with intelligence and analysis, but it rapidly shifted its emphasis to covert operations. 1 This chapter deals with the role of covert operations in the Cold War strategies of the USA. It will be demonstrated how covert operations became crucial and indispensable tools of containment, adaptable to different strategic doctrines which, at least formally, were considered antithetical.

Over the last 20 years, the US historiography of the Cold War seems to have overcome the previously rigid and bitter polarization of ‘orthodox’ and ‘revisionist’ historians in favour of a presumed new and more objective synthesis known as post-revisionism. This approach, which comprises—it must be emphasized—many different positions, is especially characterized by increased attention to the strategic and geopolitical aspects of the dispute between the USA and the Soviet Union, as opposed to ideological explanations. The Cold War is consequently interpreted simply as a ‘conflict for the balance of power’. 2

The undeniable merits of the post-revisionist school, which promoted a more balanced analysis of post-World War II historical developments, should not prevent us from examining its limitations. First of all, the preoccupation with geostrategic and security issues

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