- The Crisis of Détente in Europe: From Helsinki to Gorbachev, 1975–1985
The decade preceding the dénouement of the Cold War is a challenging one to interpret. Known not only for “the crisis of détente” but also for the “Second Cold War,” it is a period in which both the reasons for the unexpected peaceful ending of the Cold War and the origins of the subsequent international system are to be sought, yet not easily found. Its short-term significance pertains mainly to Europe and North America, its long-term significance to the rest of the world. The opening and rise of China, as well as of Vietnam, started at that time and continued regardless of the end of the Cold War. So did the democratization of Latin America.
The book focuses on Europe. It is not, contrary to the publisher’s blurb, “the first [End Page 147] detailed exploration” of the subject. That distinction belongs to the volume from the 2002 Nobel Symposium, The Last Decade of the Cold War, which happened to be published in the same series. Nevertheless, The Crisis of Détente breaks new ground in several ways and enhances our understanding of the period. This is largely thanks to Leopoldo Nuti’s judicious selection of fewer than a half of the papers presented at the mammoth 2006 conference at Artimino, where the elusive subject was “The Globalization of the Bipolar Confrontation.” The rationale for the selection is clear from his excellent introduction of the main themes.
Among the themes, military issues loom large, as they should because they were looming large at the time. Nuti’s chapter on the origins of the Euromissile debate shows how Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missiles unwittingly “provided the West with the necessary leverage to implement a project” (p. 68) that would eventually reverberate to Soviet disadvantage. Dima Adamsky gives Soviet strategic thinkers credit for the best theoretical insight into the “Revolution in Military Affairs,” though not enough credit to their U.S. counterparts for outsmarting them in practice with the AirLand Battle doctrine. In exploring the ever controversial and inconclusive question of how dangerous the military confrontation really was, R. Craig Nation underlines “the increasing irrationality of any attempt to resolve differences between great powers through the instrumentality of warfare” (p. 133).
In the end, missiles, strategic theories, and military plans proved notably irrelevant in determining the outcome of the Cold War. Appropriately, the book pays much attention to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which dealt mainly with “non-traditional” dimensions of security. Several contributors use the wealth of new evidence from different national archives that has become available with the passage of thirty years. The record tends to undermine the Helsinki myth of the CSCE as a tool for challenging the Cold War order and to underline the importance of the conference as the forum for hammering out trans-Atlantic disagreements about strategy.
Douglas Selvage demonstrates that West Europeans, though originally the ones who introduced human rights into the CSCE’s agenda, became reluctant to stress these provisions once the Polish crisis threatened to destabilize the established European order. Marilena Gala documents the growing U.S.-European disagreements about strategy during the Reagan administration, as does John Prados in his scathing critique of the administration’s “policy entrepreneurs.” Nevertheless, contrary to the admirers of the president and of his hawkish advisers, the United States, too, had a stake in the preservation of the existing order. None of the Western countries pursued a strategy aimed at dismantling that order.
The chapters bearing on the “battle of ideas” during the 1975–1985 decade are most instructive in showing how off-base most of those ideas were, even though not all the authors would want to accept that conclusion. The Italian contributors, Laura Fasanaro, Duccio Bassosi, and Giovanni Bernardini, justifiably make short shrift of the short-lived idea of Eurocommunism. Bernd Rother shows that the concept of a “Third Way” between Communism and capitalism, promoted by Chancellor...