1. What were the main reasons for the Soviet Union’s decision to intervene in Czechoslovakia?
2. Describe the changes that were imposed on Czechoslovakia after the invasion.
3. What was the Brezhnev Doctrine? How was it intended to strengthen Soviet control over Eastern Europe?
Soviet relations with Eastern Europe after 1968
The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was the final occasion in which the USSR used military strength to impose its authority on the East European states. The USSR had expressed in the Brezhnev Doctrine its justification for this – a clear indication of policy had been made.
So why was Czechoslovakia the last occasion for the use of force? Did the Brezhnev Doctrine actually work? Were the East European states afraid of provoking the Russians?
During the 1970s, the Eastern European states worked hard to avoid clashes with the USSR. There was little sign of efforts to reform or liberalise the structure of communism. Party leaderships were emphatically loyal to the USSR, following Soviet leads closely. Clearly, the lessons of 1968 had been learned – not to push the Russians too far.
As a result of this political loyalty, the East European states began to take a more independent line in economic policy. They took more control of their own economies, introducing extensive reforms. This was particularly successful in Hungary, where the standard of living rose steadily.
A new balance existed in East Europe. The USSR would allow the satellites more freedoms, so long as communist power was not challenged. The East European states accepted these rules, and worked within them.
After the destruction of the Prague Spring, it was virtually impossible to find any indications of enthusiasm or mass support for communism anywhere in Eastern Europe. In the satellite states, and even in the USSR, communism was reluctantly accepted and tolerated – people simply put up with it – at least, until something more appealing came along, as it eventually did.
From the Action Programme of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 10 April 1968
‘We must reform the whole political system so that it will permit the dynamic development of society appropriate for socialism, and encourage the development of broad democracy…
The basic structure of the political system must provide firm guarantees against a return to the old methods…
The implementation of the constitutional freedoms of assembly and association must be ensured this year. This will make it possible to establish voluntary organisations, special interest associations, societies and other such bodies, which will be guaranteed by law. The present needs of our society must be free from a monopoly by any individual organisation…’
How useful is Source 1 as evidence of the aims of the reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968?
From Pravda, one of the main Soviet newspapers, 22 August 1968
‘Party and state leaders of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic have asked the USSR and other allied countries to give the Czechoslovak people urgent assistance, including military assistance.
This request was motivated by the existence of counterrevolutionary forces acting in collusion with external forces hostile to socialism. These forces have created a threat to the existing socialist system in Czechoslovakia …
Negative phenomena were emerging in the country … radio, television, and press had eluded the Party’s control … There were increasing outbursts against the Soviet Union. The right-wing forces have been seeking to compel the Czechoslovak people to return to slavery under the imperialist yoke …
It is for these reasons that the Soviet Union, and the other socialist states, have decided to provide urgent assistance, including military assistance, to the Czechoslovak people …’
To what extent does Source 2 illustrate Soviet concern at events in Czechoslovakia in 1968?
From Soviet Foreign Policy since World War II, J Nogee and R Donaldson, 1988
‘The Czech Crisis in 1968 confronted the Kremlin with an unprecedented challenge to its leadership. Leonid Brezhnev and his colleagues in the Politburo were willing to concede a substantial independence in foreign policy … as long as membership of the Warsaw Pact remained unimpaired.
Developments in Czechoslovakia, however, introduced two particularly disturbing elements for the USSR. First, they saw control of the Czech Communist Party fall into the hands of a reform faction completely independent of Moscow. Second, they feared that Party control over the political system would erode as a result of democratic changes being made in the country.’
How valid are the views of the historians in Source 3 as an explanation for Soviet alarm over the policies of the reformers in Czechoslovakia?
Section 11: The changing nature of Superpower leadership
The leadership of the Superpowers was clearly a significant factor in the course and development of the Cold War. In the various crises and incidents that took place, the individuals who led the Superpowers found themselves in positions of tremendous influence – and able to influence the course of events in crucial ways.
Leadership of the Superpowers
During the years of its existence, the USSR developed the tradition of having a single powerful individual in charge of government, and giving direction to Soviet foreign policy. There were attempts to develop a more collective leadership, but these were usually short-lived. Normally, power was controlled predominantly by one man, usually holding the key post of First Secretary, or General Secretary, of the Communist Party.
Under the constitution, the president is the Chief Executive, in charge of all aspects of government. The president is also Commander-in-Chief of the USA’s armed forces, and controls and directs the country’s foreign policy. Members of the Cabinet are appointed by the president.
The leadership of the United States
President Truman, 1945–52
Truman was president at the beginning of the Cold War: he had the task of reacting to the original Soviet actions that caused suspicion and distrust in the West – the take-over of Eastern Europe in particular.
Truman deliberately set out to match and check the perceived Communist threats with the Berlin Airlift and the formation of NATO. A powerful build-
up of US armed forces was carried out, with a special emphasis on nuclear weapons.
President Eisenhower, 1953–60
Eisenhower continued the policy of building up US military strength to match the Russians – the development of nuclear missiles accelerated. This policy of confrontation was strongly pursued by Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State.
However, towards the end of his presidency, Eisenhower became increasingly concerned at the need to limit the arms build-up by the Superpowers. His attempt at a Summit Conference in 1960 ended in failure because of the U-2 Incident.
President Kennedy, 1961–3
It was during Kennedy’s presidency that the Cold War came closest to a real war, involving nuclear weapons. Tension was heightened over Berlin in 1961, with the building of the Wall, and US–Soviet confrontation. The following year saw the Cuban Missiles Crisis, and the risk of war.
Kennedy took a confrontational line with the Russians over Cuba, mobilising American forces, and setting up a blockade. This was a major crisis, and the risk of war was real. However, once it had been resolved, there were signs of an improvement in East–West relations, with the Test Ban Treaty, and the setting-up of the ‘Hot Line’.
The USA also faced a growing problem in southeast Asia, with Communist pressures in Laos and Vietnam. Kennedy began the first steps of American intervention by sending US advisers to support South Vietnam.
President Johnson, 1963–8
Johnson adopted the strongest US response to the perceived threat of Communist advance, with the massive commitment of US armed forced to the Vietnam War. Johnson was convinced that the world faced the relentless advance of Communism, unless the USA took strong action: the ‘Domino’ Theory. As a result, over half a million US troops were dispatched to South Vietnam, with massive air and naval support.
However, US strength was not sufficient to check the Communist advance on South Vietnam. As US casualties mounted, a wave of disillusionment swept the country. The war became increasingly unpopular – as did Johnson. He did not contest the presidency in the election of 1968.
President Nixon, 1969–74
A major change of emphasis in US foreign policy took place under Nixon. American ground forces involvement in Vietnam was greatly reduced, and finally ended. Instead, much greater reliance was placed on using South Vietnamese forces – ’Vietnamisation’. For a time, Nixon greatly stepped up the use of US air power, but there was a clear decision against the extensive use of ground forces in Vietnam, or in any future conflict. This policy was popular, and contributed to Nixon’s re-election in 1972.
Nixon also worked to improve relations with the USSR, and achieved substantial success in this – through the work of Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, the first SALT agreement was concluded. A major breakthrough came with the opening of relations with Communist China, and a triumphant meeting between Nixon and Mao in Beijing. This was the beginning of the era of détente.
President Ford, 1975–6
Under Ford, who replaced Nixon after his resignation, the process of détente continued – relations between the Americans and Russians greatly improved.
President Carter, 1977–81
The work of improving relations continued steadily under Carter’s administration, until the Soviet decision to intervene in Afghanistan in 1979. This led to a serious deterioration in Superpower relations, which led to a fresh arms race in the 1980s, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
President Reagan, 1981–9
Reagan’s term of office began with a serious deterioration in relations between the USA and the USSR.
Reagan was convinced that that the Russians only respected strength and firmness in international relations. As a result, under his administration, the United States began a major expansion and development of its armed forces. Reagan’s firm attitude was confirmed when he denounced the USSR as an ‘Evil Empire’.
However, in the second part of his administration, there was a major improvement in relations, with the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader. From 1985 onwards, dramatic improvements in relations began, with the Cold War moving towards its conclusion.
The leadership of the Soviet Union
Josef Stalin, to 1953
The Cold War had its origins under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin. During his leadership, many of the patterns of conflict that divided the world became established and entrenched.
The countries of Eastern Europe found themselves under increasingly powerful Soviet domination. Democracy was stifled and strict Communist regimes established, backed by the power of the Red Army. The East European states became satellites of the USSR, with their political, economic, and military structures totally subordinated to the needs of the Russians.
Stalin also undertook the initial stages of the Soviet nuclear arms programme.
Collective leadership, 1953–6
Following Stalin’s death, there was an attempt to establish a more collective form of Soviet leadership, with power being shared between Khrushchev, Malenkov, Bulganin and Molotov. However, gradually, the others were edged out of power, leaving Khrushchev with the predominant authority.
Nikita Khrushchev, 1956–64
Khrushchev held great power, but was never the dictator that Stalin had been. Under his leadership, attempts were made to reform the Soviet Union. In the period of the ‘Thaw’ in the Cold War, a much more moderate line was taken, both inside and outside the USSR. At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956, Khrushchev delivered a strong attack on Stalin and his policies.
Across Eastern Europe, this attack on the Stalinist system was seen as an opportunity for the satellite states to begin asserting themselves.
Poland, 1956: Khrushchev conceded greater control over internal matters to the Polish government.
Hungary, 1956: The Hungarians committed the fatal error of attempting to challenge the entire Communist system, and wanted to leave the Soviet bloc completely. This was too much for Khrushchev, and the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Uprising followed, and a regime sympathetic to Moscow was installed.
Khrushchev made a number of attempts to improve relations with the West, and work towards disarmament, most notably the Paris Summit of 1960, which collapsed over the U-2 Incident.
There then followed a time of serious deterioration in East West relations, with two major crises developing:
Berlin, 1961: This can be regarded as a Soviet success – the Berlin Wall was built, West Berlin was sealed off from the East, and the flow of refugees from East Germany came to a halt, while the USA was powerless to intervene.
Cuba, 1962: This began as an attempt by Khrushchev to match the USA’s lead in long-range ICBMs, by installing medium range missiles on Cuba. The confrontation with the Americans duly followed, with the world on the edge of nuclear war. The crisis was resolved by the Russians backing down, and removing their missiles. Kennedy allowed Khrushchev to save face by promising not to invade Cuba, and by removing some obsolescent American missiles from Turkey. However, the Russians had clearly suffered a major setback, and this was certainly a factor in Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964.
Leonid Brezhnev, 1964–82
Following Khrushchev’s removal, it seemed for a time that the USSR might return to collective leadership, with Brezhnev, as Party Secretary, apparently sharing power with Alexei Kosygin, the Prime Minister. However, power became steadily concentrated in Brezhnev’s hands, and it was clear that he was in overall charge of Soviet foreign policy.
There were three clear strands to Soviet foreign policy during this period.
1. A distinct improvement in relations with the Americans, and the West, took place. The first SALT Treaty was completed, and there were other examples of improvements in relations, particularly between East and West Germany. Brezhnev clearly favoured détente with the West.
2. The development of Soviet military power continued, this time with a strong emphasis on sea-power – clearly intending to match the Americans in this.
3. Soviet control over its satellites in Eastern Europe was reasserted. Under the Brezhnev Doctrine, the USSR claimed the right to intervene in any of its satellites, should the need arise.
Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, 1982–85
Andropov and Chernenko were both elderly and sick men when they attained supreme power in the Soviet Union. At this time, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the USSR was falling seriously behind in the emerging technologies of ICT and computers. Soviet economic growth was stagnating and it was inevitable that, sooner or later, drastic policy changes would be required.
Mikhail Gorbachev, 1985–91
Gorbachev was the final leader of the Soviet Union, leading the state until its final collapse in 1991. It was under the leadership of Gorbachev that relations with the USA improved out of all recognition, and the Cold War came to its final end.
1. Make a table to show the leadership of both Superpowers during the Cold War for each of the following decades:
2. Give three examples of incidents where you think that American and Russian leadership was either particularly successful or less effective and unsuccessful. Give reasons for your choices.
Section 12: How important was ideology in the conflicts of the Cold War?
Ideology is best described as a set of beliefs or ideals – beliefs and ideals that are highly important to people and to societies.
Some ideologies are religious or spiritual: Christianity, Islam, Judaism.
Some ideologies are political: socialism, communism, fascism, liberalism, democracy.
The Cold War was heavily influenced by ideologies.
In one sense, everything that took place during the Cold War was ideological in origin. The United States and the Soviet Union had totally opposed and conflicting ideologies: the USA supported democracy and capitalism, and the USSR supported socialism and communism.
Each side frequently argued that whatever action it was taking at a particular time was influenced by, or done in the name of, the ideology it favoured. This can be seen particularly clearly in some of the conflicts and crises where the Superpowers came into conflict.
In 1956, the USSR suppressed the Hungarian Revolution, and did so with great violence and brutality. There was bitter fighting in the streets of Budapest, and thousands of Hungarian people were killed. Later on, some of the Hungarian leaders were executed by the new Hungarian government which the Russians installed in power.
The Russian claim
The USSR claimed, inevitably, that it was totally justified in its actions. In Hungary, the socialist system was being threatened – greedy capitalists were trying to take over, and would crush and oppress the helpless Hungarian workers. So, the USSR was quite clear – it did not ‘invade’ Hungary at all. It
acted in support of the socialist system that it believed was the best possible way of life.
Nikita Khrushchev certainly, as a good communist, believed in a socialist system. However, in 1956, what he saw as the main danger was the total collapse of Soviet power to control Hungary – a possibility that could extend to other East European states if it was not stopped very quickly. This, and not the survival of some kind of socialist system, was the main motive for the Soviet action.
However, in a very real sense, Hungary in 1956 was very much about ideology. The Hungarian people showed massive enthusiasm for a particular ideology – for democracy, and for democratic freedoms. However, this belief in democracy did not suit the USSR, and the invasion and repression followed.
The Berlin Crisis, 1961
The Berlin Wall was the ultimate symbol of the division and disputes of the Cold War. In 1963, President Kennedy visited the city and, in a famous speech, stated that, if any person wanted to understand what the Cold War was really about, ‘let them come to Berlin’ and he was correct.
The Russian claim
To what extent were the Berlin Crisis and the Wall configured by ideological issues?
According to the East Germans and the Russians, ideological issues were paramount. In East Germany, the Communist system had been a great success: people were happy, the socialist system had raised living standards, life was good! The only problem, according to this viewpoint, was that Western capitalists (some of them former Nazis) were trying to destroy this wonderful way of life: therefore, the Wall had to be built to protect East Germany and its people.
The reality was very different – and there was a very definite ideological issue. The East German state, the German Democratic Republic, was not a
success – there was no freedom, there was oppression, living standards were poor, and most people hated it! Over 3 million East Germans moved West in the years up to 1961 – mostly, the younger, skilled workers. The wall was built to prevent this population loss, and for no other reason.
Ideology was very important. The East Germans who went West loved the idea of democracy: they liked the ideas of freedom, of proper elections, of newspapers, radio and TV that told the truth, and not what the government ordered. They loved democracy – and hated communism!
The Cuban Missiles Crisis, 1962
This was the closest the world ever came to nuclear disaster – it was the most direct confrontation ever between the USA and the USSR, and a terrifying episode in world history.
In one sense, it can be argued that the Cuban Missiles Crisis had a basis in ideology. The USA detested communism – Castro’s revolution in Cuba had established a communist state 90 miles from the USA. The USA was clearly strongly opposed to Fidel Castro on ideological grounds: he was a communist.
However, it is difficult to argue that the Missiles Crisis was ideologically based. For the United States, the problem was more fundamental: Soviet nuclear missiles being set up much closer to the American homeland than ever before.
For a number of reasons, this was unacceptable to the Americans.
The USA had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs, in 1961, in the attempt to overthrow Castro.
Kennedy was determined not to be seen as a weak president.
Kennedy was facing a powerful challenge from the Republican Party in the mid-term elections in November 1962. He needed a success in foreign policy to make this certain.
The key issue over Cuba in 1962 was one of power, not ideology.
The war in Vietnam
When we think of the long tragedy of the Vietnam War, what images come to our minds? Perhaps footage of US Marines in action, the victims of Viet Cong guerrilla raids, children horribly burned by napalm, raids by B-52
bombers, or coffins being unloaded from US Air Force transport planes. Whatever we think of, Vietnam seems a long way from any thoughts about whether communism or democracy was the better ideology.
Why did the United States intervene in Vietnam? We have to go back to the idea of the Domino Theory, originally spelt out by President Eisenhower in the 1950s – the idea that the countries of South East Asia were like a row of dominoes. If one domino fell, then eventually, all the dominoes would fall – if one country went communist, then all of South East Asia would eventually fall to communism.
President Johnson was a strong believer in the Domino Theory, as were most of his main advisers. In this view, communism was an evil system, which had to be stopped. In Vietnam, the most effective way to contain communism was for the USA to intervene militarily, in strength. It was pointed out, by some authorities, that what was going on in Vietnam was essentially a civil war, and that the government of South Vietnam was quite a long way from being any kind of democracy. To Johnson, this did not matter – communism had to be stopped, and the long agony of the American involvement in Vietnam began.
So, in a very real sense, the American intervention in Vietnam can be regarded as one of the most ideologically driven episodes of the entire Cold War.
In 1968, the USSR certainly claimed an ideological basis for its intervention in Czechoslovakia.
In Czechoslovakia, the reformers had undermined and weakened the socialist system. The great achievements of socialism were in danger of collapse, with the country at risk of falling under the control of greedy capitalists. In the Brezhnev Doctrine, the USSR claimed that it was its duty to intervene in any socialist country which was under threat.
Dubcek had introduced a major series of economic and political reforms in Czechoslovakia. A committed communist, Dubcek saw the role of the Communist party as being to serve the country rather than to control it. He believed that the party leadership should be elected by the membership in democratic elections. He believed in freedom of speech and in debate – he ended censorship of the media.
It is hardly surprising that Dubcek’s reforms were popular with the people.