5

Arctic policy during the Cold War

THE NORTHERN SEA ROUTE AS A THEME

From 1938 onwards, the concept of a Northern Sea Route was one of the dominating themes of Arctic literature. In 1940 Vize published a booklet that described the history of the Northern Sea Route (Vize 1940). Its history was not supposed to have started five or eight or twelve years previously, but no less than 400 years back! This feat was achieved by incorporating the history of the exploration of the northern coasts of Russia and Siberia, and having it culminate in the opening of the Northern Sea Route. So, Vize could begin with the Vikings in the ninth century and include all early exploration by Russians. In this way, most of the exploration had been done by Russians before Nordenskiöld navigated the passage for the first time in 1879. Although scarcely fair to Nordenskiöld, it brought the Russians priority of discovery, which was politically very important. In fact, it married ancient history to modern political ideas. Its weak point was the lack of knowledge about early Russian exploration. Vize brought up the old remark by Litke that the Russian seafarers of the sixteenth century lacked a Hakluyt to make them famous, thereby alluding to the English editor of travel narratives about the North. Nevertheless, Vize was convinced that by the mid-eighteenth century Russians had sailed all parts of the Passage except perhaps the stretch between 75°15'E and Ostrov Komsomolskoy Pravdy (this designates a small area east of Mys Chelyuskina). But for that area, all of the Northeast Passage had been first explored by Russians (ibid.: 16). Vize thus mixed the search for a passage with exploration of the coastal area, which strengthened Soviet claims to the area.

As to Western ideas about a passage, Vize felt that they could well have been stimulated by Giovio's book about the Russian envoy who allegedly mentioned the Passage in 1525, but in any case the explorations had been abandoned after a few unsuccessful attempts. In Russia, however, the idea of a sea route had taken root with Peter I and had never died out, although Vize had to admit that the Russian government virtually gave up the attempt after Rumyantsev's expedition of 1819 to the Bering Strait. Vize did not return to his previous climatological explanation for this loss of interest, but instead blamed the tsarist government and people like Litke for resisting progress, while he regarded M.K. Sidorov as the

-67-

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The Soviet Arctic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Russian Policy in the Far North 1897-1917 6
  • 2 - Soviet Sovereignty in the Arctic and the Advent of Flying 1917-32 21
  • 3 - The Stalinization of Arctic Exploration 35
  • 4 - In Stalin's Time 1932-53 53
  • 5 - Arctic Policy During the Cold War 67
  • 6 - Historiography in the Cold War 84
  • 7 - The Age of the Nuclear Submarine 109
  • 8 - Arctic Shipping Since 1953 120
  • 9 - The Western Section: Winter Navigation 127
  • 10 - The Season of 1983 139
  • 11 - Arctic Studies Since 1953 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix 175
  • Glossary 179
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 222
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