- Editor’s Note
This special issue, focusing on the role of Tibet and South Asia in the Cold War, has been awaiting publication for more than a year. Another special issue, comprising the third and final group of articles examining the collapse of the Soviet Union, has also been ready for publication for a long while. It will appear as the Spring 2007 issue. Because we did not want the backlog of other journal articles to become unmanageable, we decided last year to defer the publication of these two special issues. In the future, however, we plan to put out special issues on a more timely basis.
Despite the greater restrictiveness of archival access in Moscow over the past few years, recent developments with the Central and East European archives have been distinctly encouraging. In particular, the Polish Defense Ministry in early 2006 agreed to declassify a large collection of documents relating to the Warsaw Pact. These files had been kept secret by successive Polish governments after 1991 for largely spurious reasons, despite appeals by many researchers (including me) to open them. Nothing was done on the matter until a new government took office in Warsaw in the fall of 2005. The new defense minister, Radoslaw Sikorski (who overlapped with me as a student at Oxford University in the 1980s), suddenly announced in late November 2005 that he would approve the declassification of Cold War-era materials as soon as professional archivists reviewed them. Two months later, with the 150-page review completed, Sikorski authorized the release of the documents. In April 2006 the Polish military archives (the Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe and regional army archives) transferred 1,453 files of documents pertaining to the Warsaw Pact, as well as 325 files covering preparations for the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1980–1981, to the Institute of National Remembrance (Instytut Pamiëci Narodowej, or IPN) in Warsaw. Although 73 classified files were deemed too sensitive to be released, the vast majority of the documents in this Polish collection will be made generally available in the late fall of 2006 after they are processed and catalogued. The declassified materials shed valuable light on a large number of important topics, including Warsaw Pact mobilization plans and war preparations, Polish military ties with the Soviet Union, East-bloc weapons production, and intra-alliance nuclear weapons procedures. I was particularly struck by an operational document from 1980 that envisaged the use of up to 194 tactical nuclear missiles deployed by the Soviet Union's Northern Group of Forces (i.e., the Soviet troops based on Polish soil). Eventually, scanned images of some of the documents will be made available on the IPN website (http://www.ipn.gov.pl).
Another welcome development with the former East-bloc archives was the announcement by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry in early May 2006 that it would reopen tens of thousands of files from the Communist-era security and intelligence services [End Page 1] by the end of the year. These files had been largely accessible from 1997 to 2002 but were closed under a law on declassification enacted in 2002. That law, ostensibly adopted in connection with Bulgaria's admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), stipulated that all Communist-era files could be released after an expeditious review. Although it is not clear why the review took so long, the announcement of the pending release is encouraging. A considerable number of previously open files are not covered by the announcement, but the partial reopening is a step in the right direction.
The United States has traditionally been at the forefront of archival openness, but disconcerting problems with access to documents have recently come to light. In the fall of 2005 an independent researcher working in the U.S. National Archives, Matthew Aid, discovered that numerous items he had seen earlier had been withdrawn and reclassified. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, whose Secrecy News electronic newsletter is indispensable reading for anyone interested in archival matters and questions of government secrecy, and Thomas Blanton and his colleagues at the National Security Archive, another non-profit organization that does invaluable work to promote government openness...