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Reviewed by:
  • Kholodnaya voina v Arktike
  • Alexey Golubev
Mikhail Suprun, ed., Kholodnaya voina v Arktike [The Cold War in the Arctic]. Arkhangelsk: Pomor State University Press, 2009. 380 pp.

The field of Cold War studies in Russia is dominated by scholars based in Moscow and St.Petersburg. The reason is obvious: As with almost everything Soviet, the participation of the USSR in the Cold War was a centralized effort, and key documents related to this period are stored in central Russian archives to which regional scholars have no access without traveling to Moscow. Heavy dependence on these “central” sources, which convey views of the Soviet establishment, also leads to the current historiographical situation in which most original Russian publications are written within the conventional Cold War paradigm and represent its events as a grand confrontation between Moscow and Washington while ignoring other actors and aspects, including regional perspectives.

In this respect, The Cold War in the Arctic, published by Arkhangelsk’s Pomor State University, is not part of the dominant trend and might, one hopes, augur some decentralization of this field. The scope of the book also makes it particularly interesting for a specialist in Cold War studies. Although both Western and post-Soviet traditions have produced significant research bibliographies on various aspects of the Cold War in the Arctic, neither has yet put out a comprehensive book-length study of the phenomenon of the Cold War in the Arctic. The editor of this book, Mikhail Suprun from Pomor State University, is a highly acclaimed historian who came under investigation by the Federal Security Service (the former KGB)—perhaps, the highest official recognition a historian can receive in Russia—because of his research on German prisoners held in Stalin’s northern concentration camps.

Suprun’s book is based on papers presented at the international conference “The Cold War in the Arctic,” held at Pomor State University on 12–15 September 2008. More than fifty Cold War researchers from nine countries, including Russia, the United States, and Norway—the three primary Cold War actors in the Arctic—discussed multiple aspects of the Cold War in this region. The resulting book consists of 28 papers, including nine written by Western historians and published in English and nineteen written by Russian scholars and published in Russian. A book divided between two languages might seem strange, but it is not the main problem a reader of the book might notice after even a glance at the book’s contents. What is most disappointing [End Page 143] is the lack of any reasonable scheme to impose a common perspective on the collection of essays. The volume is inconsistent in terms of chronology, geography, methodology, and scope of narration. Some essays deal with narrow topics such as a U-2 operation in northern Russia, whereas other authors aspire to conceptualize much wider issues, such as overall “lessons” of the Cold War in the Arctic. The timeline of the volume jumps from 1945 to 2008 and back several times, and although most of the essays do have the Arctic perspective, several focus on more “southern” issues, sometimes going as far as Cuba. This inconsistent approach undermines the central aim of the book: “to create the ground for a further complex study” of the Cold War in the Arctic as a separate research field. After all, the contributors say nothing about Danish or Canadian dimensions of this aspect of Cold War history. The book is thus not a history of the Cold War in the Arctic per se, contrary to what the title claims. Instead, it is a compilation of papers, many of which are of excellent scholarly quality, yet combined they do not provide even a hint of the overall picture of the Cold War in the Arctic.

Nonetheless, this hardly means that the volume will be of no interest to scholars of the Cold War. First, most of the chapters do reveal new aspects of the Cold War in the Arctic or introduce new regional sources. Publications from the first group deal mostly with political and social developments in the Arctic region. Kristian Etland from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment in Oslo presents a thorough analysis...


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pp. 143-147
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