- Stalin and the Cold War in Europe: The Emergence and Development of East-West Conflict, 1939–1953
In this new narrative history of the early Cold War years, Gerhard Wettig looks primarily through Soviet eyes at the conflict that dominated European affairs during the half century after the end of the Second World War. Wettig, who began analyzing contemporary Soviet policy at the West German Federal Institute of East European and International Studies in the mid-1960s, bases large parts of his study on unpublished sources from three Russian and three German archives. He also draws on an impressive array of published primary sources in several languages, including English, French, German, Romanian, and Russian, as well as on many of the source-based academic studies that have appeared since the demise of the Soviet bloc and the opening of the archives. The result is a fine survey that painstakingly reconstructs the Soviet perspective on the major developments and decisions that led to the emergence of the Cold War.
The book consists of four main chapters chronologically arranged. Each chapter deals with a specific period that represents, according to Wettig, a discrete stage in the outbreak of the Cold War. After a brief introduction, the first substantive chapter looks at the period from around 1939 to the conclusion of the Second World War. The next chapter focuses on the years 1945 to 1947, the “eve of overt confrontation” (p. 108). The increasingly open clash between the former wartime allies is the focus of the fourth chapter, which looks at the period from 1947—the year of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of the Communist Information Bureau—to the founding of the two German states in 1949. The final chapter focuses on the subsequent period leading up to Josif Stalin’s death in March 1953. This is followed by a more analytical conclusion that assesses the Soviet dictator’s behavior, role, and responsibility in the emergent Cold War struggle.
In trying to account for Stalin’s actions, Wettig strives to take into consideration Soviet sensibilities, acknowledging, for example, that security concerns played an important role in many policy decisions—above all the forced socioeconomic transformation of the East European countries that fell under direct Soviet control during the [End Page 161] final stages of the war. At the same time, Wettig has no qualms about assigning blame for the fundamental tensions that ultimately led to the Cold War: “Stalin made the USSR, the satellite countries, and the communist parties in the West take a course of absolute hostility. This resulted in the open outbreak of the Cold War” (p. 246). More specifically, he points to Stalin’s heavy-handed imposition of a Communist regime in Poland: “The Polish experience made the British lose any illusions about the Kremlin’s policy and subsequently contributed to changing U.S. attitude. It is against this backdrop that Anglo-Saxon performance in what was to become the Cold War must be seen” (p. 81). In a similar vein, he blames Moscow for the growing divide over Ger-many, especially with regard to the heated disputes over reparations, the Soviet Union’s “ruthless extraction” (p. 101) of German resources, and the Soviet occupation authorities’ cavalier use of the printing press to exact recompense for wartime destruction: “Galloping devaluation of German currency in all four zones” (p. 99) was the result—and one important reason for the Western decision in 1948 to introduce a currency reform that triggered the first open confrontation of the Cold War, the infamous Berlin blockade. Wettig spends considerably less time on situations that place the Soviet Union in a somewhat less negative light. For example, he mentions only in passing that the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine is what cut short Stalin’s “willingness to put a brake on [the Communist] insurgency” in Greece “and to counter independent Yugoslav action” there (p. 88).
Stalin and the Cold War in Europe belongs, by and large, to the...