- The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times
The Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades after World War II has conscripted a vast army of historians and political scientists. These scholars have produced a prodigious literature concerning the strategies and tactics of superpower decision makers in their confrontations around the world. Since power was concentrated in American and Soviet hands, the focus has been on Washington and Moscow. The Third World usually comes into play as a dependent variable, acting as an arena of competition where ideological, economic, and military superpower is tested, given advantage, or found wanting.
Westad's The Global Cold War does not dispute those who portray the Americans and Soviets as prime movers in the history of the Cold War. He argues that the two superpowers offered Third World peoples contending models of modernity—the United States inviting incorporation in an empire of liberty and the Soviet Union, membership in an empire of justice. Ideology is at the center of Westad's argument about superpower motivation, but he is also aware of the importance of bureaucratic infighting, domestic politics, and personality in policy formation. Westad moves beyond traditional accounts, however, to contend persuasively that thinking about the Cold War must be globalized to incorporate Third World people and agendas into the dynamic of history. Thus, he raises the significance of local elites in Latin America, Asia, and Africa who had to respond to superpower interventions while mediating the demands of competing elites and constituents seeking change and reform. Using this interactive model, Westad generates a nuanced account of the Cold War that reveals how the Third World figured in the toppling of one superpower while, at least, temporarily challenging the other to rethink its role in the world.
The Global Cold War is remarkable for its geographical and historical [End Page 258] breath. Researching in diverse archives—including those in the United States, the Russian Federation, China, South Africa, and Germany—Westad provides valuable accounts of superpower intervention and local-elite responses in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Ethiopia, Angola, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan.
Yet, scholars will have strong reason to contend with The Global Cold War. Westad's emphasis is on ideological motivation for superpower interventions in the Third World. He maintains that "Moscow's and Washington's objectives were not exploitation or subjection, but control and improvement" (5). In the American case, Westad ignores an extensive critical literature that discerns a more complex drive for imperial power. In The Global Cold War, markets take a decidedly low profile and Westad never addresses those who argue that American decision makers since the 1890s have pressed for foreign trade and investments as necessary to the health of the domestic economy. Rivalry for oil and uranium reserves does not deflect the ideological thrust of the book. Racial attitudes of superpower policy makers and agents on the ground play no part in the story. The security concerns of the Soviet Union and the United States are also trumped by ideological mission despite the book's repeated insistence on just such superpower interests.
Certain chapters, particularly regarding Soviet intervention in the Third World, are overwhelmed by detail, and conceptualization falters. Curiously, the United States is lost in the chapter dealing with the Vietnam War, as Westad focuses primarily on the Chinese–Soviet rivalry.