Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente, 2003

The recent shift to transnational frameworks has resulted in reconsideration of traditional historical perspectives, boundaries, and intersections. Jeremy Suri’s Power and Protest clearly illustrates this trend. Suri dissolves the division between foreign and domestic policies, recasting Cold War hostilities and diplomatic maneuvering as conservative power play between the United States, USSR, and China. Like Immanuel Wallerstein, Suri argues that the promises of communism, capitalism, and charismatic leaders such as Charles De Gaulle failed to come to fruition, causing domestic dissent and cynicism. Accordingly, foreign policy conflicts, agreements and summits often reflected each respective national government’s attempt to curry favor with its citizens often because of internal discord. Provocatively, Suri reevaluates détente, suggesting this foreign policy “breakthrough” actually fed conservative forces, providing China, the USSR, and US a means to illustrate success to their citizens while refocusing their security concerns toward internal dissent.

In the books first half, Suri traces U.S. nuclear policy from the last days of the Second World War into the early 1970s. From the outset, United States diplomats utilized the threat of nuclear war often in negotiations with the USSR, a policy that did receive internal criticism but ultimately President Truman chose to disregard such dissent. The early belligerence of US/Soviet relation increased tensions between the two nations. However, Suri argues that by Eisenhower’s presidency the construction of nuclear arsenal served to assure a domestic audience rather than an international one, “The creation of what one historian calls nuclear “overkill” in the late 1950s was in this sense, largely directed at an audience within the United Sates and NATO … the Eisenhower administration embarked on a series of “crash” programs – particularly in missile technology – to allay public insecurities.” Eisenhower’s “farewell address” in which he warned the nation of the military industrial complex bearing influence over American government reflected the “failure of his nuclear strategy.” Nuclear deterrence also failed to easy international tensions while making them more “permanent.” JFK lacked Eisenhower’s misgivings. [He expanded the arsenal, endured the Bay of Pigs Invasion, maintained the U.S.’s Vietnam policy, and negotiated the end to the Cuban Missile Crisis (though Suri seems to suggest JFK’s own policy created the situation)] JFK [and this is a similar point made by Appleman, which connected U.S. foreign policy with the Frontier Thesis] embraced the frontier thesis logic of Frederick Jackson Turner seeking to spread economic development and U.S. ideals through foreign policy, “Anxious to find recipients for its aid, the White House expanded its fiscal contributions to anticommunist leaders in poor countries.”

Much of Power and Protest pays special attention to the efforts of nation’s like France or China to elude the control of either of the world’s superpowers. Suri juxtaposes Mao Ze Dong, West Germany’s Adennuer, and Charles De Gaulle. De Gaulle and Mao receive special attention because of their appeal to charismatic leadership that at once rejected approach taken by US and Soviet governments but fell victim to similar vulnerabilities, namely the promise of greater rewards upon which they and other governments failed to deliver. De Gaulle and Mao prove an interesting comparison. Each tried to locate power outside of institutions, if De Gaulle appealed to the idea of grandeur to evade traditional French bureaucratic and institutional power, Mao lacked such infrastructure to reform China uniformly, thus he harnessed the public, students mostly, as a revolutionary Red Guard. Of note, Suri offers a compelling insight, that both France and China pursued nuclear power as an attempt to gain a stronger foothold within the alliances they resided for France NATO and the West and for China, the USSR.

Another one of Suri’s “innovations” in Power and Protest remains its attentions to the transnational nature of issues in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Suri moves between the USSR, Europe, China, and the United States, revealing the unique but similar domestic troubles suffered by each in the late 1960s. The writers of the 1950s and early 1960s including William F. Buckley, Herbert Marcuse, Daniell Bell, Wu Han, Alexander Solyzheniztian, and among others. All provided the arguments and language of “dissent”. Some theorists most notably Marcuse looked abroad for inspiration later applauding aspects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. American and European student protesters, utilizing state funded educational infrastructures (all created through governments from the USSR to America investing in education, health, etc.) to organize the various movements. Similarly, Mao’s efforts spun out of control. Suri juxtaposes Mao’s efforts as boomeranging back on the Chinese government but postulates a similar formation in the West as already noted. All these student revolts resulted in a shift regarding security. States prioritized the control and stability of their populations over external threats. Within this frame Suri views much of the international political maneuvering of arms control and the like. Of course, this shift further alienated citizens, creating a general cynicism found in all of the societies Suri examines. [again, wallerstein locates the same problem at the same time in Decline of American Power but he doesn’t account for China it would seem like Suri does; at least not in such specifics and really not at all in that particular book.]

Suri’s interpretation of the logic behind détente deserves attention. Pointingout divisions between China and the USSR along with American efforts to exploit these conflicts, Suri reevaluates the logic of détente. The USSR (especially in its satellite states such as Poland, Czechoslovakia), China, and the US all suffered from visible internal dissent. By the 1970s, Nixon felt mounting pressure to silence or diminish such outbursts, much of the same could be said of the USSR (Brezhnev Doctrine), East/West Germany (Ostopolitik) and China. In these evaluations, Suri does well to illustrate that though the USSR and Chinese governments did severely limit individuals rights, citizens in each found ways to protest or press the system for change. One might suggest that this enables the people’s of such communist states to illustrate agency previously denied them but maybe not, who knows. According to Suri, détente between the USSR and US never diminished nuclear arsenals, rather it simply placed limits on production, therefore stockipiles continued to grow, “Responding to both domestic and international pressures in the late 1960s, leaders pursued what I call a balance of order. This involved a desperate attempt to preserve authority under siege. It emphasized stability over change, repression over reform. It was less about accepting nuclear parity than about manipulating political institutions to isolate and contain a variety of nontraditional challengers. Détente brought together an international array of threatened figures who coordinated their forces to counterbalance the sources of disorder within their societies.” Though a tenuous peace emerged, it locked the “social and political status quo” into place, normalizing such antagonisms. For example, in regard to Sino-US relations, Suri astutely points out that “Foreign policy “normalization” between China and the United States was an important part of their internal “nomrailization”. Ma, Zhou, Nixon and Kissinger, and their successor used improved relations to limit troubling exterman commitments and assure international stability. At home the gins in Sino-American rapproachment reduced the influence of inherited ideologies advocated by radical groups – the Red Guards, the New Left, and the new Right.”

Suri’s work clearly illustrates a transnational “collective sensibility. His framing certainly behooves his argument, the same issues and problems in admittedly different contexts emerged across China, Europe, the US, and the Soviet Union. He also does well to present US and USSR concerns about the benefits of a bipolar world. Détente served to consolidate their power internationally. Clearly, nations such as West Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland wished to escape the pervasive influence of the superpowers.

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