For over two decades, the turn toward transnational historical perspectives which seek to extend histories beyond nation-state conceptions, have led historians to reassess previous movements, events, and peoples. In this light, Odd Arne Westad’s The Global Cold War: Interventions and the Making of Our Times examines the Cold War and its actors from numerous vantage points including those of Third World powers negotiating the complex terrain of diplomacy. More than anything, Westad emphasizes the importance of third world interventions by prominent Cold War powers ( the US, the USSR, China, and Cuba)in determining the future of many developing nations, illustrating the tensions and interplay between communist states. The Global Cold War traces the history of post WWII era interventions from their beginnings in the late 1940s through the Reagan presidency. In terms of breath, Arne traverses Africa, Europe, and much of Asia describing the numerous actors in each intervention.
One of Arne’s key contributions results from new archival sources. This ability to now map the thought of previously shrouded governments enables Arne to more completely explain the rational and logic behind Soviet actions. As well, he clearly illustrates that though a closed police state and with the exception of Stalinist rule, debate and disagreement within leadership circles around foreign policy mattered in regard to decision making just as Congressional debate does in the U.S. This is not to equate one with the other but rather to acknowledge that Soviet leaders felt political pressure and had to address their own nexus of power centers which in turn affected decisions. Fundamentally, both the US and USSR committed similar errors in its relations with developing nations. Each exuded an arrogance that diminished the political knowledge of the local leaders while applying US/USSR universal templates of development regardless of conditions.[with that noted, both US and USSR officials did find “nativist” movements in the Middle East of the 1950s-60s problematic for obvious reasons page 126-7] Additionally, each nation’s vision of itself suffered from romanticized imaginings of their own national histories that obscured more complex realities that might have served of importance when exporting one’s government.
Though Arne later suggests that the equality between the US and USSR never was truly equal (the US existed as more powerful in nearly every category), each shared a vision of pushing beyond national boundaries, brining modernity. However, their conceptions of modernity differed:
“While US and Soviet ideologies had much in common in terms of background and project, what separated them were their distinctive definitions of modernity meant. While most Americans celebrated the market, the Soviet elites denied it. Even while realizing that the market was the mechanism on which most of the expansion of Europe had been based, Lenin’s followers believed that it was in the process of being superseded by class-based collective action in favor of equality and justice. Modernity came in two stats: a capitalist form and a communal form, reflection two revolutions – that of capital and productivity, and that of democratization and the social advancement of the underprivileged. Communism was the higher stage of modernity, and it had been given to Russian workers to lead the way toward it.”
The tensions within the emerging communist world during the Cold War find clear expression in the context of third world interventions. Like Suri and others, Westad illustrates the lack of unity between Chinese and Russian governments along with the disgruntled nature of Cuba toward its Soviet allies. Castro believed the USSR too passive and compliant in the face of US hegemony. He constantly lobbied for more aid to third world movements while sending thousands of Cuban soldiers, technicians, teachers, and doctors abroad to help secure revolution in Angola and other developing nations. Also like Suri, Westad acknowledges the interest both the US and USSR had using détente to appease domestic audiences and international communities while each pursued various geopolitical goals in the burgeoning third world. Impressively, Westad also manages to trace the lines of intervention by both US and Soviet leaders individually, thus along with the interactions between fellow communist leaders like Castro and Mao, one grasps a more complex but complete vision of political forces fueling third world engagement. Moreover, the ebb and flow of each US/USSR [US is up after Guatamala and Iran – down after Bay of Pigs and Vietnam – up after Grenada and the Reaganite shift to internationalization of markets and the like whereas the USSR ignorant of 3rd world until 1955, successful in third world after American failures alienate Africans and Asians then down, way down after the Afghan War] success and failures provide testament to the fickle nature of intervention itself, even when it succeeds in the short term it may fail in the long term (Iran) with devastating consequences. The bipolar nature of diplomacy in the period meant that if anti-communism succeeded initially, its failures [“By around 1970 the United States had done much to create the Third World as an entity both in a positive and negative sense. Through its policies of confronting revolution, Washington had helped form blocks of resistance and a very basic form of Third World solidarity. Ironically, its interventionist policies had also contributed to radicalizing many Third World regimes, including some that were distinctly uncomfortable with any association with the Soviet Union …. The apparent success of socialist regimes – the availability of an alternative to capitalism and an alliance with America – also played a key role in radicalizing many Third World regimes, parties, and movements” – 157] pushed leaders to consider Marxism and the USSR in later decades, only to disappoint those same developing nations. In this way, one might connect Westad with Suri, who argued that détente and other aspects of the Cold War locked into place peoples and nations. Cold War giants valued stability and control over instability and revolution [of course, Suri also couches much of his argument around nuclear weapons arguing that they altered foreign policy in broad and meaningful ways and that détente and arms control were for domestic purposes as much as foreign policy and that they maintained an unequal status quo especially for the nations that receive attention in Westad] even if in their favor. Westad’s account does dispute this somewhat as he clearly illustrates Soviet efforts to do just that.
Without a doubt, the Vietnam War served as a symbol of third world capabilities, inspiring other peoples in developing nations but also leftists and rights movements in Western Europe and America. This example serves the initial purpose of illustrating the transnational nature of identities in this period along with the pervasive influence of Vietnam on the US, USSR, China, and Cuba. Moreover, Westad asserts the transnational nature of ideas when noting that some “revolutionaries” adopted Marxism not at the feet of Russian or Chinese instructuors but rather Western European and American intellectual circles while abroad.
Another key aspect of The Global Cold War involves Reagan era financial shifts. As the rhetoric of market expanded, the US sought to institutionalize its economic systems via international institutions such as the Bretton Woods Conference, the IMF, the World Bank, and others. Though the UN had initially been meant to help propagate American hegemony by the 1970s, the US found hostility more often than influence at the international peace keeping organization. Financial and trade institutions codified loan agreements expectations all resting on free market ideals that few if any of its leaders (most notably the US) ever achieved in their early development. Undoubtedly, this emerged as a key factor in third world developments, ultimately symbolizing the declining fortunes of the USSR, “their aim was a complete reorientation of both institutions [IMF/World Bank] toward monetarism and market ideology, while as far as possible – using their credit resources to serve US security objectives. Their slogans were conditionality – meaning a domestic and international change oward market solutions as a precondition for assistance – and adjustment – meaning an end to government quotas, subsidies, and very often social spending in the recipient countires under the guidance of IMF experts.”
Finally, the rise of Islamism proved an anethma to both the US and USSR. Thought each played a role in the rise of Islamist movements [think Afghanistan and Pakistan], both powers viewed their growth warily. The USSR took little comfort in Iran’s 1979 revolution despite its disavowal of US power. Like Suri’s work, Westad emphasizes the impact of failed efforts and shattered expectations on movements and peoples. The same disillusionment that drove protest in Suri’s Cold War study, viewed from a similar perspective spurs revolutionaries across the third world. Westad seems particularly concerned by the ignored status of third world peoples impacted by various intervnetions. The collapse of communism and end of the Cold War obscured the processes that came before it. New arguments suggesting that maybe the excesses of Vietnam helped lay the foundation for Soviet collapse ignores the devastation wrought by the war while incorrectly assessing its importance. Westad goes to greath lengths to illustrate that the USSR’s downfall revolved around its inability keep up with its superpower status, spending money on defense and missiles that its economies could not afford. In fact, the Soviet reforms of glasnost accelerated this process as the failures of third world interventions found public expression in the “new” Soviet Union. [though experts within the USSR had long questioned the efficacy of the policy. ] Meanwhile, fellow communists had long since given up on the USSR as a leader in global communism.