restricted access Images of the Adversary: NATO Assessments of the Soviet Union, 1953–1964

The article presents the analysis of the study groups set up by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to assess the non-military aspects of Soviet power and potential during the era of Nikita Khrushchev. Following Stalin’s death, the Western alliance tried to form a comprehensive view of the strengths and weaknesses of the USSR’s economy and political system. This was part of NATO’s effort to adjust to the realities of a long Cold War, the outcome of which would not be decided by military force alone. The NATO reports were largely successful in describing the long-term trends of the Soviet economy and the weaknesses of the Soviet system. However, they usually failed to anticipate specific, though significant and potentially dangerous, initiatives of the Soviet regime. On balance they were a crucial input for NATO ministers, and their importance in the shaping of Western policies needs to be evaluated carefully.