Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy since 1945

By John Lewis Gaddis; Philip H. Gordon et al. | Go to book overview

3
Stalin and the Nuclear Age

VLADISLAV M. ZUBOK1

THE most powerful dictator of the century, Joseph Stalin had many incarnations: a member of the first Bolshevik government and a fierce Commissar during the Civil War; the ruthless builder of the Soviet state and Soviet industry; the butcher of millions of potential 'traitors; the commander-in-chief during World War II; the high priest of 'scientific communism'; an actor playing a 'wise statesman' vis-à-vis Western counterparts; and a suspicious tyrant to his subordinates.

The 'nuclear Stalin' was another of these many facets. For seven years after World War II had ended, Stalin presided over the creation of a military-industrial complex that allowed his successors to achieve strategic parity with the United States in the most hectic and expensive arms race in human history. He died just five months after the test of the first American multi-megaton device and only five months before the explosion of the first Soviet transportable thermonuclear bomb.

Extraordinary secrecy has surrounded Soviet nuclear history in the past, and only recently has documentary evidence begun to emerge. Since 1991, veterans of the Soviet nuclear complex, among them academician Yuli Khariton, have been permitted to speak and write publicly. 2 David Holloway, in his important book, presented for the first time a political and scientific history of the early Soviet atomic programme, setting it in the broad context of the arms race and international relations. Articles and documentary publications by others also benefit from the new evidence. 3 Finally, leading authorities and official historians of the first Russian nuclear laboratory and the atomic ministry have published well-documented books on the creation of the first Soviet atomic bomb. 4 Still, the documents that illuminate Stalin's views on the issues of war and peace in the nuclear age are extremely rare, and most of the evidence on Stalin's role is indirect.

This chapter examines how 'nuclear education', i.e., the process of learning to live with the bomb, affected Stalin's views on international security and his foreign policy. Among the questions asked are the following: Did Stalin perceive the revolutionary implications of the bomb for world politics and security? How and to what extent did the bomb affect his post-war plans? Did the

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