From Coalition to Rivalry: The Soviet Union and United States at the Beginning of the Cold War

Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Melvyn P. Leffler

Edward Stettinius Professor of American History, University of Virginia, Author, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War

Philip D. Zelikow

White Burkett Miller Professor of History, University of Virginia

Frank Costigliola

Professor of History, University of Connecticut; Editor, The Kennan Diaries

Andrew Nagorski

Former President and Director of Public Policy, EastWest Institute

Introductory Speakers

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Frank Costigliola of the University of Connecticut, Melvyn P. Leffler of the University of Virginia, and Philip D. Zelikow of the University of Virginia join Andrew Nagorski, former president and director of public policy at the EastWest Institute, to discuss key events and ideologies that formed the origins of the Cold War. 

This meeting is part of the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall Symposium.

HAASS: Good morning, and it is a glorious morning here in New York. Happy, or depending upon your political orientation, unhappy Election Day.

I hope you voted or if not, that before the day is over, you will exercise those muscles of—of citizenship and pull the lever or whatever you do in your respective precinct.

I'm Richard Haass, president at the Council on Foreign Relations, and I want to thank all of you who either here in the room or—or watching us today.

2014 is a big year of anniversaries. This summer marked a century point since the outbreak of the first World War, this past June was the 25th anniversary of the protest in Tiananmen, and next month turns out to be the 25th anniversary of Operation Just Cause, the U.S. intervention in Panana.

This coming Sunday, of all days, 11/9, November 9th, is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conclusion of four decades of Cold War, and this is the topic of our symposium today.

We've got three panels to begin with. The first one we're about to hear is, why did the Cold War happen, and we'll look at such questions of its inevitability and responsibility for it.

Secondly, we'll have a panel about why did the Cold War stay cold. Not all major struggles between and among major powers do indeed—the first two great power struggles of the 20th century were anything but cold, turned out to be two extraordinarily costly World Wars.

And then thirdly, looking back to twenty-five years ago, why did the Cold War end when it did, and why did it end how it did?

It may have looked inevitable to some, but to those of us in the administration at the time and several people here—Bob Blackwill, Philip Zelikow, myself and others—it didn't look so inevitable at the time. The question is, again, why did it end when and how it did?

It's fitting that this symposium's being held here at the Council on Foreign Relations, because the council actually played a significant role throughout the Cold War.

Many members of the CFR were prominently involved in the planning and execution of U.S. foreign policy. Many debates about U.S. policy during the Cold War took place here.

Indeed, it was in the pages of Foreign Affairs that George Kennan introduced the phrase "containment" back in 1947, which obviously became the intellectual foundation for U.S. foreign policy towards the Soviet Union.

And then another Cold War veteran, none other than Henry Kissinger, who we'll hear from later today in the—in the final session, led a study group on the role that nuclear weapons ought to play, and this study group was convened at the council in 1955.

And from this study group grew a thesis for a book, "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy," that helped Dr. Kissinger earn a national reputation, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Study groups such as the one Henry led turned out to be an important breeding ground for the—for thinking about strategic stability, arms control and so forth, and such study groups continue to be a centerpiece of what it is we do here.

And currently, Bob Blackwill, who is the Council's Henry Kissinger senior fellow for foreign policy, is leading a study group on—on the question of Russia of all things. So what goes around comes around.

What we're talking about today is also part of something else here, which is our commitment to history.

What we try to do is increase the dimension of our programming and work that looks at history and in the best tradition of Ernie May and Dick Neustadt, try to ask questions and learn lessons from history in ways that are relevant to the policy questions facing today. And that will be something that we will think about as we work through the day.

As I mentioned, we have an extraordinary agenda of three—three panels, and then we end with a conversation between Henry Kissinger and myself that tries to pull it all together.

I'd like to remind all of you that everything today is on the record, and with that, I want to invite Andrew Nagorski and his three colleagues to kick things off.

Again, thank you for joining us here at the council today.


NAGORSKI: Well, thank you, everyone. Welcome to the first session of this 25th anniversary of the—of the fall of the Berlin Wall symposium at the Council on Foreign Relations. Ours will be on the origins of the Cold War, and we have three eminent historians here—Frank Costigliola, Melvyn Leffler and Philip Zelikow.

It—and also welcome to everybody watching us on live stream at

It seems particularly appropriate to be doing this on this 25th anniversary, which, you know, we'll be talking about the origins of something that eventually led to the—to the building of the Berlin Wall and—and that era which, for most of us in this room, at least, I think, was the defining struggle that we lived with.

But as Richard said, now it's history. And I'm reminded of that so many times when I drift off, especially talking to my students, start talking about some—some—some story from reporting from Moscow or Prague or—or Warsaw during the Cold War, and I see this look in their eyes, and they're trying calculate—"did he cover World War I and the Spanish-American War too?"—but—it's—it's not that distant history, but it's—it's good to capture it early.

Today, we've got three—you have the bios, and you know all of these historians have written many, many books. I'll just mention very briefly three of them, because I think they're important for our discussions.

Frank has, aside from editing that slim volume of Kennan diaries, has—wrote, most recently, "Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War."

Melvyn Leffler wrote "For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War," which looks not just at the origins but at key—key moments during the Cold War.

And Philip wrote—aside from being in and out of government, particularly at the—in the NSC at the end of the Cold War during the Bush administration, wrote with Condi Rice "Germany Unified and Europe Transformed," which still remains sort of the Bible on that—on German unification.

So what I'd like to start with, really, is—is a question which—you know, everyone always categorizes these things very quickly into periods—and says, origins of the Cold War in 1945 to 1949.

Well, let me ask you, when did the Cold War start? Because that, I think, informs every other part of this discussion.

Frank, would you like to sort of kick that off?


Well, first of all, you know, I think we can see today that there's some underlying persistent reasons for tension, often, between the United States and—and Russia, absent Communist ideology.

But I think that, you know, if you look at the long—long-range point of view, since 1867, after 1867, after the United States purchased Alaska, relations with Russia trended—trended downward.

Certainly, that was the case in the 1880s, 1890s in the conflicts over China, then the—the open door in China, and then in the early 20th century, the United States sympathized with Japan when Japan went to war with Russia, and then, of course, after 1917, there's the ideological divide.

But I would in terms of the origins of the Cold War as kind of a militarized, entrenched struggle that it was for so many years, I would really pinpoint two—two turning points, two main turning points.

One, in April 1945, April 12, 1945 when Franklin Roosevelt died, as I argue in the book of mine that you mentioned, "Roosevelt's Lost Alliances," Roosevelt was really committed to trying very hard to try to make the wartime alliance with the Soviets continue into the post-war era.

And there was, I have found, kind of an understanding between Roosevelt and Stalin.

Not for perfect collaboration and not for collaboration without tension, but basically, Roosevelt accepted that the Russians would predominate in Eastern Europe for at least a period of time after the war. Roosevelt was willing to accept that in the way that Harry Truman, for various reasons, was not.

So I think the one turning point was Roosevelt's death and replacement by Truman in April '45.

Another turning point was about eleven months later in March—February and March 1946, when they were basically—you know, when the Cold War became much more ideological, ideology as, you know—as a way of explaining complex events in a kind of simple, easy-to-understand way that the public could understand.

There were three ideological manifestos that, in a way, launched the Cold War.

The first was Stalin's February 9, 1946 speech, so-called reelection speech, in which he reemphasized Communist ideology, downplayed the role of the Western allies in winning World War II. That's something that offended a lot of Americans and Britons.

And second was Churchill's—the second was Kennan's, Kennan's long telegram of February 22, 1946, where Kennan basically said that Russia was not just a geopolitical competitor of the United States but an ideological foe, and even—even more scarily, Kennan described the Soviet Union as a fanatical political force committed to destroying everything that Americans held dear.

So with that kind of fanatical political force, there was no—really no room for compromise.

And then, of course, on March 5, 1946, Churchill gave his long telegram, excuse me, his Iron Curtain speech, in Fulton, Missouri, announcing that an iron curtain had—had fallen, dividing Europe, and—and calling on the United States to ally with Britain against—against the Soviet Union.

Now, relations, you know, varied after that, but I think those are—those are two important turning points.

NAGORSKI: Thanks, Frank.

Well, I was—I was a bit worried that we'd have to start dating it from 1867...


... but—but I think—I take as your short answer, you're pretty much saying '45, '46.


NAGORSKI: Yeah. All right.


LEFFLER: Well, when I think about the origins of the Cold War, I think about five dates, actually, and first is 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution, which established the framework for ideological competition, which I think is a key component of the entire Cold War.

Second key date, I would say, is May 1945, the end of the war in Europe, the division of Europe with Soviet armies occupying all of Eastern Europe, giving the Soviet Union great strategic reach and depth and the potential to consolidate the—their influence over all of Eastern Europe. So that's a second key date.

Third key date is August 1945 and the—the development and employment of the atomic bomb, which invested the United States with—with a great sense of power and which clearly infused the Soviet regime and Stalin with a great sense of vulnerability.

Fourth date would be April, May, June 1947 with the development of the Marshall Plan and the projection of American economic influence, the aspirational projection of American economic influence not only into Western Europe but also into Eastern Europe, linked to the integration of the Western zones of Germany, which was a key part of the—of the Marshall Plan.

Fifth date, which is critical to understanding the Cold War, is the eruption of the Korean War, which made the Cold War, which primarily had been focused in Europe, into a global Cold War.

So I think those are five key—key dates.

NAGORSKI: All right. Philip?

ZELIKOW: I'll just offer two dates—my reading of the story, I think, is analogous to Mel's—1919 and 1950.

Part of the issue is what do you mean by Cold War? You want to date it. Like, what is it?

Well, I actually think usually we refer to this rather casually, but really, it's taken two different things.

The Cold War first is an intense ideological rivalry about how will we organize these modern industrial states?

This is a rivalry that has its inception points in the late 19th century, even, you could argue, in the Battle of the Commune in Paris in 1871.

It's very acutely understood already by the 1880s and 1890s. Terms like "reds" are coming into common parlance. The "Red Menace" is already known.

But I single out 1919, because for the first time, Bolshevism is the most extreme form of socialism that was not unlike the wing of Marxism dominated by Bernstein and the Germans. It was committed to violent revolution, seizes power in a major state and declares war against the world and the formation of the (inaudible).

It survives a turbulent infancy, and by 1919, it is—it is surviving, though beginning a pitched civil war and meanwhile declaring war against the world.

So 1919's a convenient point, or you can take Mel's 1917, but that period is formative.

It's really important to understand that just from the point of view of ideological rivalry, no one alive in 1945 thought a battle between Communism and anti-Communism was a new thing; every single one of those adults had grown up with that battle for their entire adult lives.

When George Orwell first used the term "Cold War" in his—in his essay, "You and the Atom Bomb," in 1945, which is, I think, the first usage I've seen, Orwell—to say to Orwell that—"Is this struggle with Communism a new thing," anything—if you know anything about Orwell's biography, you know that he thought that this was the defining issue of his whole adult life and had been.

And in fact, he had begun—he had come to the view, as many had, that the Nazi tyranny was another branch of the same family they had been fighting against for the last ten years.

So if you view the Cold War then as this pronounced ideological tension over how to organize these societies, the inception point is no later than 1919, if not earlier.

And it's, by the way, not clear that it ends of 1990—I tend to take the end of the Cold War in Europe in 1990, not in 1989, but it's a small point—because in East Asia, these—these—the chronology of all this is much fuzzier, shall we say.

The—but the other point to emphasize is 1950, because another way of defining the Cold War is not simply this longstanding ideological rivalry. What most people actually think of when they mean the Cold War is the rivalry heightening to a tension of near-war, preparing for war.

Like, what's the point at which the two sides genuinely begin preparing for a World War III against each other, preparing for it as if it would start tomorrow with genuine national mobilizations and all the apparatus that would go with it?

And that—and there, 1950, I think, really is a swing year. There are a whole series of events that occur in 1950.

Because the—the alternative counterfactual in which there's not a Cold War surely can't be a counterfactual in which these two camps all like each other and trust each other, right?

So the—the alternative is some world in which the world is divided by rival ideologies. There's a ton of hostility and suspicion. There're all sorts of skirmishes and arguments and finger-pointing along kind of a rough fence line. But this is occurring basically still in the world of everyday diplomacy without mass military mobilization and full hysteria.

And arguably, America at the beginning of 1950 was still in that first—was not yet in that second camp.

There's a wonderful little book on this by a little-known (inaudible), a man named Lisle Rose, called simply "The Cold War Comes to Main Street," that is about America in 1950, which traces the arc of this and how Americans understood this in the beginning of the year and by the end of the year.

And the point is compelling. Indeed, despite the work on—at the beginning of 1950, the American government had formally decided it would not attempt to defend South Korea if it was overrun.

It had decided that secretly and very carefully, it had—they were in the process of further cutting the defense budget, cutting the defense budget. The people who were agitating against this would end up writing a document called NSC-68 to fight back, but it was having no particular effect in the budget battles.

And then the Korean War changes everything. The country increases its defense spending by 300 percent in one year and prepares for World War III.

And then there're all sorts of things that are happening elsewhere in the world too, involving China and East Asia.

Another reason 1950 is so important is because although we focus on the battle between capitalism and what you might call the Free World, the other third huge turmoil going on, especially after 1945, is the future of the colonial empire. That's—and by the way the United States was very actively involved in all of those issues.

There were wars occurring, wars and near-wars, in the struggles over the British, French, Dutch colonial empires occurring around the world. The United States was taking an active interest in most of those. Indeed, in 1947, it essentially destroyed the Dutch position and obliged the Dutch to create an independent Indonesia, for example.

And you could make an argument that the—the two great kind of turbulent events that sort of break the—a sphere-of-influence ideal in which the sides are roughly, you know, suspicious of each other but stable, is the huge loss of China, in which probably the decisive period is '47, '48, which is the—the colossal failure of any kind of containment policy as the most populist country in the world, and then the outbreak of the Korean War.

NAGORSKI: Phil, thanks.

All right. Let me—I don't want to obsess about the date, but let me just throw in then one counter since we've gone from late 19th century up to 1950, at least, here.

How about—what always struck me is 1941, Germany invades the Soviet Union, first dealings between Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill through envoys, especially Anthony Eden going to Moscow December '41, when it looks like Moscow may fall.

And Stalin, even in the midst of this, is obsessing about what are the borders between Poland and the Soviet Union going to be like, how do we implement, which essentially were achieved by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. You saw already there Stalin's vision for—for domination and redrawing of the borders and control of the Baltic states post-war.

You know, I would pause it here, just throw this out as a thought, that Stalin already had a Cold War vision even when it wasn't sure—when he wasn't sure whether he'd hold onto Moscow.

Is that—is that going—that's somewhere in between all of you here.

COSTIGLIOLA: Could I respond?

NAGORSKI: Yeah, sure.

COSTIGLIOLA: Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, the thing about borders in Eastern Europe, as we all know, it depends what's your vantage point, you know. At what point are we going to say these borders are the proper borders in Eastern Europe?

And from Stalin's point of view, I mean, Stalin was an ideologue. We all know this. Stalin was a brutal dictator, Stalin murdered millions, Stalin, on and on.

Stalin was also a Russian nationalist who regarded himself as—as carrying on in the tradition of the czars. From Stalin's point of view, the proper Russian borders were those of 1914, which included a good part of what was then eastern Poland and included the Baltic states.

So from his point of view, you know, the aim in this war, this second war with Germany, was to restore the borders that the Soviet Union had had in 1914, and they were achieved again as a result of the pact with Germany in August—August 1939.

Now, whether that means Stalin was intending on and—and really desired a Cold War, I'm not so sure.

I mean, my argument is that the main reason why Stalin wanted to continue—not that he was going to give up Eastern Europe, but the main reason he wanted to continue the alliance after the war was that he—after World War II was that he was afraid of yet another German invasion, and he thought that an alliance with the United States and Britain was the best guarantee against the new German aggression.

That's from his point of view. Now, obviously, we can criticize that, but I think that was his point of view.

NAGORSKI: Mel, did you want to respond to that? I'd ask the question, did—that I was going to ask, did Stalin, Churchill, later Attlee and—and Truman—did any of them envisage coming out of World War II and continuing the wartime alliance?

LEFFLER: Well, you know, I—I would say definitely yes, they did envision, including Stalin.

I mean, one of the really interesting developments in Cold War scholarship, I would say, of the last fifteen years, as Soviet documents have become more available, is the growing realization that Stalin did want to continue to—or perpetuate in some form the wartime coalition primarily and precisely because he thought that would serve Soviet self interest at a time when he saw the Soviet Union, saw his own country as being economically and financially vulnerable and in—and in need of enormous reconstruction.

So preserving some continuous coalition with the Western allies was indispensable in terms one, of hopefully getting a loan from the United States, which had been discussed during the war.

But even more importantly, a tenuous perpetuation of the coalition was essential both to control the future of German power, which is what Frank was alluding to, but also the coalition was perceived as essential in order to allow the Soviet Union to continue to get reparations from the Western zones of Germany.

So Stalin did have a sense that the coalition, that the perpetuation of the wartime coalition in some form would serve Soviet self-interest.

And therefore, I would say most of the accounts of the last ten or fifteen years do not portray Stalin as eager to sunder, totally sunder that—that coalition. That doesn't mean that he didn't want to pursue a very determined sense of Soviet self-interest.

Same thing, I would say, just in shorthand, would have been—was true with Truman. I believe that Truman definitely wanted to sustain the wartime coalition but according to Truman's own sense of American self-interest, on American terms.

And so ultimately, there is a clash of what are the terms that might be prospectively reconcilable with one another, and it's in the irreconcilability of those definitions of self-interest that ultimately lead to the disintegration of the coalition itself.

But yes. Short answer to your question is that I think all the key parties wanted to continue the wartime coalition in some form to serve their respective definition of self-interest.

NAGORSKI: Which were completely contradictory?

LEFFLER: Yeah, but often—often nations' views of their self-interest are contradictory, and it's the challenge of statesmanship to try to reconcile contradictory conceptions of self-interest, sometimes through ambiguous and sophisticated language and sometimes through smart compromises.

ZELIKOW: This was not meant—this—this brief moment was—was in no sense the illusions that we are now friendly countries; it was that we have certain practical things we can work on together amidst (inaudible).

I wanted to comment on two other points though.

One is this dangerous equation that Russia of—the Russia of 1914 was Russia. No, it was a Russian empire, not Russia. It's different. It was an autocratic multinational empire and knew it was.

NAGORSKI: That's a conversation we're still having today.


And this is very important, because it's very important to understand—the difference between a Russian empire and the Soviet Union.

A Russian empire—the people who created the Soviet Union knew very well that they were replacing an autocratic empire...

COSTIGLIOLA: That's why they called it Soviet Union.

ZELIKOW: Correct.

What was—the governing principle of a Soviet Union is a union of Soviets, that is a union of republics who have joined a common ideology. Sharing that common ideology, these republics have joined a union in which they are bound by that rather than by an autocratic emperor.

In no sense was the Soviet Union basically a statement that we are now all one nation.

And so basically, the—the effort to kind of push great Russian nationalism either onto the borders of the Russian empire or the borders of the Soviet Union is—it's an old enterprise but—so one needs to be careful about the usages of these terms and—because no one thought that these nationalities actually were really Russian, inside any of these borders.

The—the second thing I wanted to focus on is the issue in the immediate post-'45 period of Russian views on Germany and fears of another war with Germany.

The people who ran the Soviet Union were—at this time were very knowledgeable about military affairs. They knew how to count divisions, and they knew how to analyze military capability.

So the Germany that they had just defeated at enormous cost, that Germany now no longer existed.

One third of that Germany had been pulled off and completely destroyed. It had been distributed among the Soviet Union (inaudible).

About another piece of that Germany, 25 to 30 percent of it, was actually under direct Soviet military occupation.

The notion then that this—the—the remainder of that Germany could actually pose a credible military danger in terms of numbers of divisions, any serious counting, to the then-sized Soviet Union would've assumed that these people actually didn't know how to count troops.

The other puzzle, too, about that analysis is that the United States, of course, sensitive to the Soviet concern, actually promulgated a draft treaty to demilitarize Germany, and it was a thorough-going document, just way, way beyond anything that people had contemplated at Versailles in 1918 and 1919.

The treaty of the Americans actually tabled—would say Germany will have no military forces for at least twenty-five years, not a token army, nothing, and the entire country will be policed by four-power policemen roving the country at will.

And that treaty was put on the table for Russian—for Soviet agreement, and the Soviets actually displayed not actually very much interest in that document.

LEFFLER: Well, actually, I think Philip's points really deserve a lot of examination, because what he says is true if you have an objective examination.

But everything we have learned about Stalin in 1944, '45 and '46 demonstrates that he had an enormous fear about the revival of German power, long-term.

Yes, what Philip said was true short-term, but all of Stalin's discussions—and we have many, many memos of Stalin's discussions...

NAGORSKI: Are these the new ones you're talking about?


LEFFLER: ...that have come out in the last fifteen years or so, and he talks again and again about the potential revival of German power. He's not talking about two years, three years or four years; he's talking about fifteen or twenty-five years.

We also a lot of information about the exact treaty that—or proposal—that was presented for the long-term demilitarization and unification of Germany.

We know that Soviet officials actually did look at the proposal very carefully and very systematically and then rejected it. Virtually every person in the Soviet foreign ministry who read that document rejected it.

They rejected it because they thought it was a shrewd American maneuver conditioned upon—the whole point—demilitarizing Germany for twenty-five years on condition that the Soviet Union withdraw its troops from Germany and from Eastern Europe, conditioned on that.

And Stalin's view and the view of most of his subordinates was that this would provide a framework for the eventual unification and rearmament of Germany.

Keep in mind what's in the memory of every single Soviet official, and by the way, every single European official in 1945 and '46 and '47.

Yes, at the end of World War I, Germany had been defeated, Rhineland was supposed to be demilitarized, its army was supposed to be limited to 100,000, et cetera, et cetera. And what had happened? In twenty years, Germany dominated all of Europe.

This is what pulsates through the memory of every single European diplomat and every single Soviet policymaker, most notably Joseph Stalin, in 1945 and '46.

NAGORSKI: All right.

Quick P.S. to that, Frank?

COSTIGLIOLA: Yeah, right. I just want to endorse what Mel just said.

Of course, you have to remember that, you know, it's not just a matter of counting—counting divisions and counting possible economy recovery; Stalin had the emotional—emotional experience of seeing the Germans slash through the Soviet Union in—in 1941 after the June 22nd invasion of 1941 and getting to the gates of Moscow.

You said when Eden was in Moscow in December of 1941, you could hear the booming of the German guns from...the Germans were in the suburbs.

And in the Potsdam Conference in July and August 1945, one of the things Stalin remarked upon, he was just amazed.

He said, "We destroyed these—these people, these Germans, and yet despite all the bombings, despite all the hand-to-hand combat in the street, there's still underground factories, there's still so much left undestroyed. These are amazing people. The Germans are amazing people."

And as Mel said, he said (inaudible), within fifteen to twenty years, they'll be back, and we have to try to deal with that.

NAGORSKI: All right. So given all those factors, very quickly, was there, you know—the inevitability question—was there anything either side could've done at a certain point to somehow change the course of events and to prevent a full-blown Cold War, or is that—and—and here, within this context, of course, it's died down quite a bit, but in the '60s and the '70s, there was a lot of talk about, you know, the revisionist school on the Cold War.


COSTIGLIOLA: As I said before, I think it really—there was a huge difference when Roosevelt died.

The reason was that Roosevelt—it was not that Roosevelt was naive in thinking that his personality would affect Stalin. That was not what Roosevelt was doing.

Roosevelt was willing to agree to a political deal with Stalin in which the United States would basically recognize, at least for a period of time, Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, and in return for that, the Soviets would limit their ambitions to basically Eastern Europe and—and certain gains in the far East, which would restore the Soviet Union/Russia to the position before 1905.

So I think that—that was—that was a potential turning point if Roosevelt had—had lived longer.

Another potential turning point that occurred again and again is what George Kennan recommended.

Kennan, of course, in '46, '47 was one of the people who helped launch the Cold War. But Kennan then repeatedly—as early February 1948, Kennan started arguing with the State Department and then when that met on deaf ears, outside the government.

Kennan kept on saying repeatedly—1948, 1950, 1957, other times as well—that there was possibilities for negotiating and easing of tension, maybe not an end to the Cold War but an easing of tension that would forestall the dangers of a third World War.


LEFFLER: I don't—I don't think that much could—could have been done. Maybe at the margins.

And I say this because...


LEFFLER: ... about either Roosevelt's living or not. I—I say this because Philip made an extraordinarily important point at the beginning when he said the Cold War was in part an ideological battle about how to organize modern industrial economies.

In 1945, 1946, '47, there was profound doubt about the viability of democratic capitalism in the wake of two World Wars and a Great Depression.

In 1945, '46 and '47, American policymakers were not reacting even primarily to what the Soviets were doing. They were extremely worried about what Stalin was doing in Eastern Europe.

But was—but what was extraordinarily important to American policymakers was the prospect that Communist parties and their allies would come to power through free elections or internal subversion, sponsored by themselves, not by the Soviet Union, because we know that Stalin was cautioning the Italian and the French Communists not to seize power.

But the prospect that given the disillusionment, the post-war instability, the economic dislocation in post-war Europe, American policymakers hugely feared that Communists would come to power in Italy, France and elsewhere, and there was a concern then that these countries would slowly gravitate, by their own volition, if this happened, into a Soviet orbit.

So a key factor—American policymakers were reacting to the socioeconomic turmoil in Western Europe and in Germany, since there was a huge worry about what's going to happen to the future of Germany, the Western zones of Germany, and not because there was fear that Germany would go Communist, but there was fear that the internal turmoil would lead to a revival of some intense form of nationalist xenophobia in Germany over the long run.

Keep in mind, in 1945, '46 and '47, most American policymakers are still thinking, "We're going to withdraw from Germany, and what then is going to happen to Germany"? There was huge worry about that.

So it's these indigenous circumstances that—not just Soviet moves and actions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere in Iran and Turkey, but it's these circumstances that generate an enormous sense of apprehension and fear, which then impels American policymakers to undertake three critical programs that are indispensable to understanding the origins of the Cold War: the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and most important of all, probably, the unification and reconstruction of the Western zones of Germany.

Those are critical dimensions, and I don't think American policymakers could avoid doing those things, which, in turn, inspired a cycle of fear and apprehension and countermoves by Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Fear and power. Fear and power. You can feel great power and have great fear at the same time, and understanding how the calculus of fear and power shaped the policies of both sides and I think, made the Cold War inevitable.

NAGORSKI: Phil, and then I just want—and then I'll go to your questions—yes, yeah.

ZELIKOW: I agree with what Mel said and think that—think there was two dimensions of the definition of the Cold War I introduced.

Longstanding tension, what Mel has just said addresses that pretty fully.

If you think about the second dimension of the Cold—was that inevitable, the run-up to near-World War III? No. That, actually, I think, was not so inevitable.

If I think back, actually, on, you know, what is—what was not—the tension was inevitable. I actually don't think it was inevitable that America would be as engaged on the ground in Europe as it became.

I don't think actually—I'm not sure a Marshall Plan program was inevitable. I think with a different set of personalities, I can imagine an American policy without a Marshall Plan.

And now you—since I don't regard that as a tragedy, I think that's actually a really interesting good story, because I think the ambient default condition is probably one where you don't do anything quite as energetic or ingenious as the Marshall Plan.

The other thing that I think is kind of a—is a break-off, is the developments in East Asia, which I know we're focusing more on Europe today, but the developments in East Asia immediately ran back to Europe and the consequence that they had, and that's China and Korea and even more Korea, perhaps, than China, since the Chinese War had already been going on off and on before World War II and was continuing the—and then this—and that gets into the details of the issues of why the—why the Soviets did what they did and then why the Chinese did what they did.

But that's a—that's an extremely interesting story which we won't...

NAGORSKI: I don't think we'll get all of that right now, but I do want to open this up now to the members.

Please identify yourself, wait for the microphone, speak into the microphone and ask a direct question.


QUESTION: Hi, I'm Kimberly Martin from Barnard College at Columbia University. Thank you for a great opening panel. This was really stimulating.

I have two questions that are provoked by things that were said by individuals but that I'm happy to have anybody answer.

And so the first was provoked by Frank Costigliola's comments about Roosevelt at the end of the World War II.

And my question is, is there now consensus among historians about what happened at Yalta and why Roosevelt did what he did? Because I remember when I was in graduate school, there were all these questions about, you know, was Roosevelt sick at the time? Did he not think straight? Because he had been somebody who had such a liberal vision of things, was he now actually accepting spheres of influence?

Do we now know the answer to that?

And the second question was provoked by something Philip Zelikow said, which is if—if the Cold War was ideology but it was not just about Bolshevism versus capitalism, could we make the argument that the Cold War actually hasn't ended and it's just gone on to the next ideological struggle between liberal democracy on one side and a more authoritarian view of state-centric development on the other, and are we just in the next iteration of things?

NAGORSKI: Both very easy questions.


COSTIGLIOLA: I don't think historians will—they'll ever be a consensus about Yalta. It's too—too controversial.

But it seems to me that the—there's evidence regarding certain things.

One is that Roosevelt—his physical health—was declining, but his mental vigor was—was unimpaired, and that's the testimony of—of many, many people.

His own advisers, the Soviets, other people, just observers, Kathleen Harriman, Averell Harriman observed that Roosevelt was—was sharp.

He needed to take naps. There were some terrible pictures of Roosevelt that—at—at Yalta. One of his conditions resulted in kind of a slack jaw. But he was sharp, and—and that—and he was able to perform quite—quite well, so that's with regard to that.

So I think Roosevelt was—was able to carry out his—his agenda at Yalta. One of the problems—one of the problems at Yalta is he had—his circle—circle of advisers was shrinking for various reasons. One reason is Harry Hopkins, who had been a close adviser, no longer agreed with Roosevelt on policy.

So he was, in some respects, isolated from support. But in terms of his own performance, he did well.

NAGORSKI: Why don't we—why don't we hold off a minute before whether the Cold War really ended, because I think that maybe that—that opens up—it's a good question, Kim, but yeah.

Phil, did you want to address the first part of this Yalta?




NAGORSKI: I didn't mean to cut you off like that, but all right.

Mel, you want to jump in first on the—on the Yalta question and then—then yours?

LEFFLER: Yeah, I—I basically agree with what—what Frank said.

I think, Kim, that you know, the criticisms of—of Roosevelt at Yalta often—in the past and even today, there are some books that are still very critical of Roosevelt at Yalta, although I don't think that's the—the scholarly synthesis now, which is more along the lines Frank said.

But I think the presumption was that, you know, Roosevelt could have done something different about Eastern Europe.

And the basic reality was that Soviet armies were strung out all through Eastern Europe into, you know—and moving into Germany, already in, and that was a fundamental reality that could not be redressed, and I think Roosevelt took cognizance of that.

NAGORSKI: Philip, do you want to...

ZELIKOW: On the second part of the question, I think that the Cold War defined in either in the ideological struggle sense or in the military struggle sense—actually both ends really in 1990 in Europe with perhaps the Charter of Paris of November 1990 symbolizing the first and the CFE Treaty pretty well codifying the second—the—which was also signed in November 1990.

But the—the Asia question is more interesting, but I don't think what happened in Asia, where I think the real period of detante and transformation is occurring at the end of the 1970s and then evolving further as China was evolving.

I don't think that that is a continuation of that Cold War and that rivalry. I know that Hegel (inaudible) dialectic thesis, antithesis, new synthesis, which then creates a new antithesis. But it's a different phase.

I actually think that we are in a—we are right now still in a transitional phase in a new era of world history than the era, say, circa 1880 to 1990 and that we are in the early stages of a different era that are involving actually a different set of issues, all of which, of course, have historical roots that go back into the earlier periods, as is always the case, but that have really deeply novel features of their own.

LEFFLER: Kim, what I would say in relationship to—to your—your second question is that in no way whatsoever can you say a similar ideological struggle exists today between democratic capitalism and a state-centric ideology—Putin's Russia or whatever.

And I say this because what was—what defined the Cold War was the perceived ideological appeal of Communism, of command economies, of planned economies, et cetera.

And in the aftermath of World War II, American policymakers feared the appeal of Communist ideology in Western Europe.

And throughout the 1950s and '60s and '70s, as revolutionary nationalism spread and the European empires disintegrated, one of the great appeals in the Third World was planned economies, and that perception of the appeal of planned economies and nationalism and nationalization of industries, et cetera, gave—infused the Cold War with a particular ideological appeal that in no way is characteristic of what's going on in the world today.

NAGORSKI: Well, I think, yeah, there's a lot to pick up on, but I do want to get to some questions right there.

Yes, please. In the middle? Yes, yes, yes.

QUESTION: Benn Steil, Council on Foreign Relations.

I'd like to pick up on some of Phil's last points about the personalities and how important they might have been.

Of course, there's been much written about the importance of the transition from FDR to Truman, but Truman never set out to change Roosevelt's foreign policy stance.

But there was important conscientious objectors in the FDR administration who play an enormous role in the Truman administration, particularly in '47.

I'm thinking of Dean Acheson, who very much was opposed to the policy of Henry Morgenthau and Harry Dexter White in the Treasury to try to force liquidation of the British empire, for example. He thought that was deeply misguided.

George Kennan, of course, thought the Treasury was extremely naive about Soviet intentions.

Will Clayton was a passionate capitalist as opposed to Harry Dexter White, who we now know actually believed that state trading was going to become very important in the post-war era.

So I know counterfactuals are difficult, but if FDR had survived and his key players had stayed on with him, what might that have meant in terms of not having a Truman Doctrine, for example; not having a Marshall Plan? What would we have seen in its stead?

NAGORSKI: Phil, Philip, do you want to? No?



NAGORSKI: OK. All right. You're very definite about what you want to respond to or not.

ZELIKOW: I just know where there's superior...

NAGORSKI: Yeah, well I knew they were going to jump in, so I wanted to give you a shot first.

Frank, you want to start?

COSTIGLIOLA: Well, I think, you know, Roosevelt—Roosevelt carried out his foreign policy in his vest pocket. Roosevelt was the first, second, and third most important persons who carried out his foreign policy.

So Harry Dexter White, you know, and other advisers, were not very important in the overall scheme of things. And you know, we've been talking a lot about the ideological differences of the Cold War and how important they were, but the Cold War was also a rivalry between nation states, who, above all, wanted to protect their—their national interests.

So, in terms of that aspect of the Cold War, I think the transition from Roosevelt to Truman did make a big difference. And also, you know, I agree that Truman never intended—Truman never intended to change Roosevelt's policy. The problem was, Truman never understood Roosevelt's policy. And so he was not able to carry it out.

NAGORSKI: Well, if I can just very quickly jump in there. When you said, if Roosevelt had stayed alive, this would have made it different, and at the same time you're saying Roosevelt accepts the spheres of influence.

Basically, I take that to mean you're saying a Roosevelt foreign policy would've accepted Stalin's terms, therefore, you wouldn't have had the Cold War on the terms we came to believe the Cold War, is that...

COSTIGLIOLA: Well, no, I'm not saying that. It's also that Roosevelt, you know, Roosevelt liked to say, or people said about Roosevelt, in fact he said that "I never let my left hand know what my right hand is doing."

Roosevelt intended to carry the American people along with accepting increased international responsibilities after the war. Roosevelt also, you know, enunciated with Wilsonian rhetoric while he was also negotiating a deal with Stalin.

And remarkable enunciation that two-handed policy was his march for his speech to the American people, explaining what had happened at Yalta.

NAGORSKI: All right. Let's get in a few more questions. In the very back, please?

QUESTION: (inaudible) Johnston, (inaudible).

We haven't had any mention of NATO. I'd like the panel's view on the significance of the formation of NATO, because the Soviet Union is gone and the Warsaw Pact, which also hasn't been mentioned, is gone. What was the significance in 1949 which preceded the Korean War, the foundation of NATO?

LEFFLER: Well, the reason I emphasized 1950 is because at the time, it was a treaty in which American troops were not going to be committed indefinitely in Europe. It was designed to provide the security guarantee that Europeans needed as reassurance.

And that alone was a landmark step, a kind of security currency that people had sought from Britain after World War I, and which the British had always kind of waffled around. And people argued that maybe that was spiteful.

The British, having not only learned that lesson themselves, sought to apply it now to basically get that kind of assurance, a stabilizing reassurance from the United States. But the NATO as we think of it today, with its large, international military headquarters, and then the huge armament of Western forces in the heart of Europe, so that when I was coming of age, Germany was the most highly militarized portion of the entire world.

That—that world is not envisioned in 1949. At least then, certainly not endorsed by the vision of the U.S. Congress. And 1950 makes that world possible.

LEFFLER: But the most important thing about the negotiation of the North American treaty—the North Atlantic Treaty in 1948 and 1949 was to reassure the French as well as to deter the Soviets. A key, absolutely key aspect of the negotiation of the North Atlantic Treaty was to reassure the French that the unification of the western zones of Germany and the rebuilding of the level of industry in western Germany would not provide a long-term threat to French security.

And the French would not have gone along with many of the very complicated London agreements of 1948 if they had not been reassured that there would also be an American commitment to French security.

And I think the significance of the North Atlantic Treaty is often forgotten. We think of it as mainly a deterrent to the Soviet Union, which it was. Partly because we knew what we were doing with regard to Germany was also provocative to the Soviet Union, so it was a deterrent to the Soviet Union, but what was even more important in the context of 1948, '49, was the reassurance to the French and other Western Europeans.

ZELIKOW: Just to—Mel's point, is a wonderful point. It's right. And just the interesting—the arguments about the British guarantee after World War I were in part to get the reassurance to the French in a context not entirely dissimilar...

LEFFLER: Yep, absolutely.

ZELIKOW: ... from the context—in a way, therefore Mel's point is, that the post-World War I problem was also being addressed by the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty.

COSTIGLIOLA: It's also important to keep in mind that NATO has persisted for such a long time and has been such an important instrument of American foreign policy, because it's an instrument for the United States to exercise influence in Europe.

This was particularly the case during the time of the European Union, European Common Market, and European leader—European Union was unifying Europe, not including the United States. But NATO has always remained a way for the United States to exercise influence in the continent. And also kind of sublimate some of the national rivalries that have torn the Europeans apart in the days before.

NAGORSKI: And it's worth noting, this is going a little further, but—but it's also an important instrument for those Europeans who want to keep Americans involved in Europe.


NAGORSKI: We have one question here, and then you're next.

QUESTION: Pat Rosenfield, Rockefeller Archive Center.

Richard Haass this morning started the conversation, this very insightful conversation for the mentioning Richard Neustadt in Ernest May's book, "A Matter of Time."

NAGORSKI(?): "Thinking in Time."

QUESTION: "Thinking in Time," yes. Thank you. I'd like to draw attention to one of their main points about historians advising current policymakers is pointing out the fallacy of analogy, and where the false analogies are.

And given the current conversation today about revival of the Cold War and those issues, I would love to hear from this very thoughtful panel about where are the false analogies that we have to be careful of as we look at the origins of the Cold War? And are there some analogies that actually make a difference and could be useful to advise current policymakers?

NAGORSKI: Boy, OK. Philip?

ZELIKOW: I'll take this, since I taught that course with earnest for many years.

And I'll make one observation. A simple way to think of it is, analogies never tell you the answers to current problems. But analogies often suggest better questions. The analogies suggest possibilities that you might not have thought of, or candid explanations that are worth then considering.

But never lean on the analogies as supplying the answer or the prediction to escape the burden of analyzing the case at hand. That's—down that road lies tragedy. It's actually therefore difficult for me to think of any analogy that I would hold up to today's policymakers as offering a guide that you should follow, because that would violate the maxim I've just uttered.

So, but let me give you an example of an analogy they should not follow. I think that's very common. A commonplace analogy at the moment is to analogize, say China, as a rising power, to the rising power of Germany in the years before World War I.

This is a terrible analogy. It—by the way, it misreads the history of 1914 and the immediate run up to 1914, in which the two most important rising powers in the ten years before 1914 were the United States and Russia. That is, the recovering Russia after the 1905 revolution.

And the dynamic that people were most worried about, actually, was rapidly-growing Russian power. But without getting into those complexities, the point is is that that you should not therefore assume that conflict with China is likely to cause conflict with rising powers is inevitable. And see, those sorts of analogies then become self-fulfilling prophecies.

By saying this, I'm not saying that therefore don't worry about China or do worry about China. I'm saying analyze the situation today and don't think that something to do with Wilhemian Germany therefore solves the problem of how I should think about China.

NAGORSKI: Yeah, have a tiny P.S. on any of this before we offer a list of analogies and shoot them down?

OK. Good question.

A question over here. Yes?

QUESTION: I'm Lee Sigal.

What's danced through this conversation without being explored directly is the role of nuclear weapons. And the usual conventional wisdom is nuclear weapons. We're at a (inaudible) deterrent kept the Cold War cold.

But if I'm hearing the implicit statements of at least two of you, nuclear weapons played a very different role, and that was it created fear on both sides: fear in Stalin and the Soviet Union in '45, fear here in 1950 after the Soviets tested, which has all kinds of implications for NATO, for trying to avoid nuclear war while preparing for it.

And so I'd like you to talk about how you see nuclear weapons in this Cold War frame.

LEFFLER: What you said, yes, I think nuclear weapons created fear, just like you said. They also served as a deterrent to another global conflict between the two most powerful players. But I think what is extremely important, and left unsaid so far, is that nuclear weapons, especially in the period of 1945 to 1950, nuclear weapons played an incredibly important—atomic weapons—played an incredibly important role in risk taking.

And so the role of—of atomic capabilities and subsequently nuclear capabilities in investing each side at different times with the sense that they could take risks was essential to the origins of the Cold War.

For example—for example, in 1947, 1948, American policymakers, Robert Lovett, Dean Acheson, George Marshall, were absolutely aware. They wrote one another. They talked about it every single day. The policies that the United States was taking with regard to the Marshall Plan and more profoundly with regard to Germany could precipitate a war, that these were provocative actions. They were necessary actions. And I actually agree with that. They were necessary actions, but they inevitably would be perceived by Stalin as provocative.

And the question then was, all the discussions in 1948 that led to the first Berlin crisis, all of them in the spring of 1948, if we do A, B, C, and D, might it lead—might it lead to a confrontation? Because policymakers were absolutely aware that what they were doing could be perceived was provocative. Necessary, but provocative. And Marshall said, absolutely, explicitly, he said "we can go ahead with these actions because the Soviets will oppose them. The Soviets may take action, but they will not go to war because they know they could not win a war given our strategic air power and our atomic weapons. It would be a protracted war for sure, but they know that they could not win and we know we would win."

And that infused policymakers like Marshall, a very prudent, cautious person, like Robert Lovett, a very prudent, cautious person, to take those steps. And I think that the role of nuclear weapons or atomic weapons to nuclear weapons in risk taking is extremely important in understanding the evolution of the Cold War, both the crises and the ultimate stability.

COSTIGLIOLA: I'd just add one thing.

NAGORSKI: Yes, go ahead.

COSTIGLIOLA: Very briefly. I think it's also important to keep in mind that even though we congratulate ourselves on the long peace of the Cold War, the nuclear weapons helped deter another war, and as Mel said, they were—helped out in enduring risk taking.

One of the costs, one of the intangible costs of the Cold War was the nuclear war that was never fought. We have to calculate in understanding the Cold War that a Cold War, that a nuclear war, could have happened through miscalculation, through accident, or some other kind of cause. And that would've changed everything.

In other words, it didn't happen, but there's a chance it could've happened, and in part, as Dean Acheson said after the Cuban Missile Crisis concluded, it didn't—the crisis ended through dumb luck. In part, we did not have a nuclear war, part of the reason was dumb luck, which we can't count on as necessarily having been a given.

NAGORSKI: I think we have time for one more question.

ZELIKOW: I think actually Mel and Frank both have very good points. It's—the impact of nuclear weapons is very large and difficult to calculate. Almost one of the—one safe bet that I think I can offer is that, but for U.S. nuclear weapons, I feel for sure there is no such thing as a West Berlin.

There are—I just can't really work out a story in which the U.S. has no nuclear weapons and a West Berlin continues through—into the 1960s. Now that's from a very large-world historical perspective, maybe that's a small blip.

But it's actually, it's an interesting thread to pull because, since this is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, since that does implicate somewhat kind of the significance of Berlin as a sort of clinical laboratory in which the rivalry between East and West was poised, in an especially symbolic and powerful way, it is worth kind of remembering that the whole anniversary we celebrate today would've been irrelevant, and probably I think in a world with no nuclear weapons.

Even aside from what else one might conjecture about what that world looks like.

NAGORSKI: And we haven't mentioned the Berlin airlift in that, which is critical.

All right, I have—we have time for one more question right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Anne Karalekas.

I have a question about the remarkable transition that took place between—from ideology to action in policy during these years. And I'm wondering if the panel would comment on the impact of some of the key players at critical junctures, the transition from conception and ideology to actual implementation?

NAGORSKI: Well, since we have a very limited time, I guess the quick question is, you know, how much the ideologue, how much the pragmatic power player here? If you want to assess I guess Stalin-Truman in particular, very quickly.


NAGORSKI: In the U.S. government? All right.

LEFFLER: I don't know if I'm precisely addressing your question, but I would do so by emphasizing that it is not a jump from ideology alone to policy, but since I believe the Cold War must be understood in the complicated interactions between ideology, geopolitics, and strategy, these things are intertwined in the minds of policymakers during this period of time.

So, it's not that you know, a Dean Acheson or Robert Lovett see things in ideological shape and then translate it into practical geopolitical or strategic policy. I think in their minds, these things are intertwined in very, very complicated ways so that most specifically, for example, in 1945 and '46 and '47, Dean Acheson and Henry Stinson and John McCloy, you know, a key person here at the Council, all understand that the socioeconomic turmoil in Europe, which is being played out in an ideological political context, could have profound geopolitical and strategic ramifications.

And so they begin to take steps in relationship to that very sophisticated view of the intertwining of these factors.

NAGORSKI: Thanks, Mel.

I think I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut you off here. This has been a great discussion. Really appreciate it. Just a reminder that we have a fifteen minute break, maybe thirteen at this point, and then we have the next session, which will be with Graham Allison, Jeremi Suri and William Taubman, and presider Gideon Rose. So, hope all of you will be back for that.

Thank you.

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