coordonator: Manuela Dobre

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In 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist and an opening of Soviet archives followed the complete collapse of communist power in Russia. The resulting flow of new evidences revived the controversy over the origins and evolution of the Cold War and, at the same time, reinvigorated the debate over the American policymaking in the postwar era.1

The collapse of Soviet power had other effects on the historiography of the Cold War. It produced a real and effective “internationalization” of the history of the conflict, both in terms of available documentation and the active historians alike. Numerous researchers coming from the former Soviet Empire took their rightful places at the discussion tables and enriched the Cold War historiography with sound perspectives and descriptions2.

Also, the profound impact of the newly gained access to the once forbidden sources can be easily seen in the dimensions of an initiative like the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, established in 1991 in Washington , D.C. 3. The scientific quality of the Working Paper Series (more than 30 studies at the time of writing) has to be stressed in this context because it covers a multitude of topics and it provides new findings and interpretations on Cold War phenomenon from historians around the globe

For American researchers, the opening of Russian archives in 1992 meant the opportunity to complete their analyses of the origins of the Cold War with sound studies on Soviet foreign policy; and historians had great expectations from the fact that finally “the era of serious and detailed study could begin, yelding definitive answers to a whole series of questions, most particularly whether or to what degree the Russians were responsible for the outbreak of the Cold War”4. Even those “definitive answers” have not been forthcoming, the archival opening, not only from the former Soviet Union but also from such ex-satellite eastern countries as Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia, fueled a new debate, this time on Stalin’s policies and motivations.5 

This more recent dispute of historians6 on the early Cold War years reveal a tendency, present in the new Russian historiography on the Cold War as well7, to re-evaluate the role and the importance of ideology and perceptions in the analysis of the Soviet foreign policymaking processes. For example in his new study “Revolution by Degree: Stalin’s National-Front Strategy for Europe, 1941–1947” Eduard Mark states that “a socialized Eastern Europe […] was, explicitly, the ultimate aim of his [Stalin’s] policies in Eastern Europe – an aim deeply rooted in his regime’s ideology and his personal beliefs. From his Marxist-Leninist perspective, moreover, it was obviously more prudent that the military security of the USSR should ultimately be entrusted to a glacis of socialized states in Eastern Europe than to agreements with capitalist states that he viewed as intrinsically predatory potential enemies.”8

The role of ideology as an explanation for the evolutions of the international system in the post World War II era is assumed by international relations theorists as well : Nigel Gould-Davies in his recent work on the role of ideology in the Cold War suggests the need for evaluations that distinguish between personality, ideology and culture and notes "ideological states seek power to spread their domestic system rather than to enhance their own security.[…] They define security in terms of the expansion of their domestic system and threat in terms of the expansion of their adversary's domestic system."9.

But symptomatic of the impact of the new sources on the evolution of American historiography on the Cold War during the last two decades are the changes produced in the approaches of two important scholars: Melvyn P. Leffler and John Lewis Gaddis.

 In 1984, Leffler, following the classical realist pattern, was convinced that “American conception of national security [is] based on geopolitical and economic imperatives” 10; in 1990, as his vision became more subtle, he stated that ”national security policy encompasses the decisions and actions deemed imperative to protect domestic core values from external threat”, and “national security approach demands that as much attention should be focused on how the American government determines its core values as how it perceives external dangers”.11

His definition of the “core values” concept fully demonstrate the shift in Mr. Leffler’s perspective from a pure geostrategic and geoeconomic approach to a more cunning vision of the complexity of the policymakers motivations: “the term core values is used rather than vital interests because the latter implies something more material and tangible than is appropriate for a national security imperative. The United States has rarely defined its core values in narrowly economic or territorial terms. Core values usually fuse material self – interest with more fundamental goals like the defense of the state’s organizing ideology, such as liberal capitalism, the protection of its political institutions, and the safeguarding of its physical base or territorial integrity”.

Later in the same study he fully explain this view: “Core values are the goals that emerge as priorities after the trade-offs are made; core values are the objectives that merge ideological precepts and cultural symbols like democracy, self-determination, and race consciousness with concrete interests like access to markets and raw materials; core values are the interests that are pursued notwithstanding the costs incurred; core values are the goals worth fighting for.”12

Moreover, in 1998, during a conversation with William R. Ferris, Professor Leffler affirmed that “ the ideological rivalry assumed more importance in the 1950s and 1960s and took on a momentum of its own. In the immediate postwar years, as a result of the war itself and as a result of the fact that all belligerents in the war were extraordinarily concerned with security issues, there was an overriding preoccupation with security. But […] security and ideology were always linked”, and later during that interview, ”the very success of American actions – the reconstruction of Western Europe and the rebuilding of Western Germany, which I think were positive long-term steps – nonetheless heightened the Cold War.”13 These statements contain a reassessment of the role of ideology in shaping the Soviet’s perceptions, although Mr. Leffler remains a strong supporter of the “Soviet quest for security” thesis.14

 In 2000, at the 19th International Congress of Historical Sciences, Oslo, during the discussion held on the topic “The Cold War Revisited: A Half-Century of Historical Writing” (Round Table 21), Mr. Leffler argued that the Cold War was not produced by idealism but by ideology, a larger concept which includes the way policymakers conceived the world and the necessary actions. He also stressed the fact that in order to understand the origins and evolution of the Cold War, scholars should pay more attention to the complexity of internal processes such as the complicated interactions between governmental agencies and departments and the business world, or the cultural dimensions of American society in the early postwar years. Mr. Leffler’s conclusion, as presented in the volume of “Proceedings”, was that the historiographical literature on the Cold War has come full circle and, with the fall of the Soviet Union it seems to revive to the original interpretations.15

From another position, the opinions of John Lewis Gaddis seem to have suffered some changes in the late 1990s. Thus, in his article “On Moral Equivalency and Cold War History” he detach himself from a post-revisionist view seen as ”a well-intentioned but ill-defined effort to find some ground between the earlier “orthodox” and revisionist interpretations”, stating that the different schools of “the old Cold War History” have in common at least three out of date features: “Americocentrism” – the unilateral approach from the American perspective on the Cold War, “neglect of ideology”, and absence of a “moral dimension”16.

Then, Gaddis confirmed the new thesis in his comprehensive comparative history of the Cold War, We Now Know, accusing the “old” history of the Cold War that “it emphasized interests, which it mostly defined in material terms – what people possessed, or wanted to possess. It tended to overlook ideas – what people believed, or wanted to believe.”17

Afterwards, in his essay “The New Cold War History” (1998) Gaddis stresses the idea that Cold War historians’ arguments during the late 1980s were seriously affected by the fact that they “were working within rather than after the event they were trying to describe”18. Because of the final outcome of the Cold War, and in the light of the new evidences emerging from Soviet archives, Gaddis founds reasons to criticize the ”old” historiography stating that ”despite the fact that both the United States and the Soviet Union were strongly ideological states, neither historians nor theorists of international relations tended to give sufficient attention to the comparative content of these ideologies, or to extent to which they elicited support from the people who had to live with them.” This stress on the validity of ideology is obvious, and the solution founded - a “new” Cold War history.

What Professor Gaddis is proposing as a “new” history of the origins and evolution of the Cold War is actually a reappraisal of the traditionalist’s thesis but now using the instruments and concepts derived from the various approaches that emerged in more than 50 years of historiographical discourse on this topic. The features of the new approach to Cold War history should be according to Mr. Gaddis’ vision:

1.    A more profound inquiry on the mentality and background of the policymakers because “what people believe is at least as important as what they do" and historians should take into account “the ideas, ideology, and moral frameworks” given the fact that Cold War was also “a struggle for people’s minds as well as for their bodies and possessions”;

2.    A better understanding of the indeterminate borderline between domestic and international spheres during the Cold War years required by the different nature of the two systems engaged in battle, democratic and authoritarian, which “made an enormous difference in how they behaved in the world at large”,

3.    The necessity “to cultivate the art of critical celebration as well as condemnation”, inviting thus historians to praise as well as to blame Cold War decisions and personalities;

4.    The abandonment of the thesis of “moral equivalency” between the United States/Western democracies and the Soviet Union/Marxist-Leninist states.19

5.    A more multi-archival and multi-disciplinary approach, grounding the research on the records of all the major participants in that conflict and on the input from related disciplines.20

Mr.Gaddis call for a “new history” might be linked with the arguments of Beatriz Ines Moreyra which stresses the methodological shifts produced in historical research since the 1970s: “a shift from the economic and demographic issues to the anthropological problems. Historians are no longer preoccupied exclusively with the clear analytic categories – production, economy, population and social structures – but with all aspects of human behavior and the systems of values. In other words, there prevails a multisided approach which extends the field of historical inquiry.[…] Another significant aspect was the shift from the group to the individual, from quantification to individual example, as a way of throwing light on the internal development of societies. […] Another aspect is seen in the rebirth of political history – defined as the interpretation of any given unit or society – in terms of how powers is sought, practised, challenged, abused or denied.”21

Once again Mr. Gaddis’s considerations led to new debates among Cold War historians, not only on his interpretations of various moments at the beginnings of the conflict but on his methodological assumption as well. Some historians are reticent about turning back to earlier controversies over responsibility for the Cold War and their scientific efforts, grounded also on the Soviet records, seem to avoid assigning blame, at least explicitly, focusing instead on definitions as “security” or “insecurity”.22 But even these scholars connected their quest for understanding the national security imperatives with new assessments of the ideological influence in Soviet policy. For example, Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, the scholars who have written one of the most influential books to date on Soviet Cold War policies under Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, explain Stalin’s actions in the early years of the Cold War using the thesis of a revolutionary-imperial paradigm, a “symbiosis of imperial expansionism and ideological proselytism”23.

In their conclusion, however, the Russian historians reassess the role of ideology in shaping the perspective of Soviet policy makers stating that “ideology was neither the servant nor the master of Soviet foreign policy, but it was the delirium tremens of Soviet statements, the core of the regime's self-legitimacy, a terrifying delusion they could never shake off”.24

 At the beginning of a new millenium, looking back at the variety of approaches, interpretations, topics, areas and events involved in the historical research on the origins and evolution of such a complex phenomenon as the Cold War, one might observe that scientific efforts have not yet reached a consensus. But, as John Lewis Gaddis said, the “new Cold war historians should retain the capacity to be surprised”25, because the future held out the promise of new evidence and innovative perspectives.


1 For a comprehensive overview on the relevance of Soviet archives see “Symposium. Soviet Archives: Revelations and Cold War Historiography”, Diplomatic History, vol. 21, no. 2, Spring 1997, with contributions from Jonathan Haslam, William C. Wohlforth, Raymond L. Garthoff, Odd Arne Westad, Robert C. Tucker, Robert D. English, VladislavZubok
2In a brief and, of course, incomplete enumeration: Vladislav, Zubok, Constantin, Pleshakov, Edvard, Radzinski , Leonid, Gibianski, Alexander O. Chubarian, Ilya V. Gaiduk, Natalia I. Yegorova, Mikhail M. Narinsky , Andrzej Paczkowki, Leo Gluchowski, Florin Constantiniu and many others. 
3 The statement of this extraordinary initiative is evident: “The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) disseminates new information and perspectives on the history of the Cold War as it emerges from previously inaccessible sources on “the other side” of the post-World War II superpower rivalry. The project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War, and seeks to accelerate the process of integrating new sources, materials and perspectives from the former “Communist bloc” with the historiography of the Cold War which has been written over the past few decades largely by Western scholars reliant on Western archival sources. It also seeks to transcend barriers of language, geography, and regional specialization to create new links among scholars interested in Cold War history.”. See also the CWIHP web site at .
4 Jonathan Haslam, “Russian Archival Revelations and Our Understanding of the Cold War”, Diplomatic History, vol. 21, no. 2, Spring 1997, p. 217.
5 For an insightful view of the new perspectives on Stalin’s statesmanship see Mr. Melvin Leffler’s essay “Inside Enemy Archives: The Cold War Reopened”, Foreign Affaires, vol. 75, July/August 1996, pp. 120–135.
6 The controversy over the origins and evolutions of the Cold War gained a worldwide dimension when it was posted on the Net through H-Diplo web site. See for example the 1997 debate on Lloyd Gardner’s Cold War essay (brought about Gaddis’s book We Now Know) which involved more than 25 historians including John Gaddis, Frank Kofsky, Tom Nichols, Eduard Mark, Jerald A. Combs, Warren F. Kimball, Donald Struckmann, Robert English, Anders Stephanson, Leopoldo Nuti, Joachim Wintzer and many others. See 
7 Alexander O.Chubarian , Ilia V. Gaiduk, Natalia Yegorova, eds., Stalin and the Cold War, 1945–1953, Moscow, Institute of General History, 1998.
8Eduard Mark, “Revolution By Degrees: Stalin’s National-Front Strategy for Europe, 1941–1947”, Cold War International History Project Working Paper No. 31, February 2001, p. 45.
9 Nigel Gould-Davies, "Rethinking the Role of Ideology in International Politics during the Cold War," Journal of Cold War Studies, I, no. 1, Winter 1999, pp. 102–103.
10 Melvyn P. Leffler, ”The American Conception of National Security and the Beginnings of the Cold War, 1945 –1948”, p. 380.
11 idem, “National Security”, The Journal of American History, Vol. 77, no.1, June 1990, pp.143–152, pp. 143, 145).
12 Ibid., p. 145
13 “New Perspectives on the Cold War: A Conversation with Melvyn Leffler”, http://
14“Soviet actions in eastern Germany and Eastern Europe, though ruthless and counterproductive, might not have been a consequence of Stalin's revolutionary fervor, or an imperial/revolutionary paradigm, or an inbred irrational paranoia. They might have been a result of his quest for security.” in Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Cold War: What Do ‘We Now Know’?”, American Historical Review, vol. 104, no. 2, April 1999, p. 503.
15Amado Luiz Cervo, “Introduction”, The 19th International Congress of Historical Sciences. Proceedings, Oslo, University of Oslo, 2000, p. 455
16 John Lewis Gaddis, “On Moral Equivalency and Cold War History”, Ethics & International Affairs, vol. 10, 1996, quotations are from the web published version at
17 idem., We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, p. 282>
18 In order to suggest the limits of the opinions on the Cold War history he is using an amusing quotation from one of the Marx brothers, Groucho, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Quotations are from web published version of “The New Cold War History”, keynote address delivered by Professor Gaddis at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s History Institute Program on “The Cold War Revisited”, May 1–2, 1998 and published in Footnotes, The Newsletter of FPRI, vol. 5, no. 5, June 1998, see /amdipl9/gaddis_coldwar.html,
19 idem., “On Moral Equivalency and Cold War History”, pp. 11–12.
20 Idem, We Now Know, p. 282.
21 Beatriz Ines Moreyra, discussant’s comment at the 19th International Congress of Historical Sciences, Oslo, 2000, Specialised Theme 1 “An Assessment of 20-th Century Historiography: Professionalisation, Methodologies, Writings”, in The 19th International Congress of Historical Sciences. Proceedings, Oslo University of Oslo , 2000, pp. 123–124.
22 Some examples may be considered Michael J. Hogan, A Cross of Iron, 1998; Voijtech Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years, New YorkOxford, Oxford University Press, 1996; Vladislav Zubok, Constantin Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War. From Stalin to Khruschev, Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1996.
23Vladislav Zubok, Constantin Pleshakov, op.cit p. 3.
24 ibid, pp. 275–76.
25 John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know, p. 294.
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© Universitatea din Bucureşti 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the University of Bucharest, except for short quotations with the indication of the website address and the web page. This book was first published by Editura Universităţii din Bucureşti ISBN: 973-575-658-7
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