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  • Decolonization and the Cold War: Negotiating Independence ed. by Leslie James and Elisabeth Leake
  • Radoslav Yordanov
Leslie James and Elisabeth Leake, eds., Decolonization and the Cold War: Negotiating Independence. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. 328 pp. £28.99.

The first wave of Cold War historiography in the United States, associated with the "orthodox" school of the late 1940s to early 1950s, argued that the Cold War was caused by Iosif Stalin's hostility toward the West and his determination to push for world Communism. A "revisionist" antithesis emerged in the late 1950s, particularly in the works of William Appleman Williams, who argued that the U.S. government's relentless quest to gain new overseas markets, combined with its nuclear monopoly, forced Stalin to expand Soviet domination to Eastern Europe. A third, "post-revisionist" school of Cold War historical scholarship emerged in the 1970s blending the two earlier perspectives. More nuanced and better documented than the orthodox and revisionist alternatives, the post-revisionist literature took account of the growth of Cold War scholarship worldwide, prompted by the opening of government records in Western Europe as well as the United States.

Since the 1990s, the declassification of vast quantities of Cold War–era archival records, especially in the former Soviet bloc, has revitalized the study of contemporary international history. As a result, the subject of scholarly attention in the field has moved from the United States and the Western camp to the Soviet Union and its allies. This interpretative framework led to the emergence of different approaches to the study of the Cold War, concentrating on factors that the traditionalist interpretation of international relations rejected as unimportant. The "pericentric" interpretation, as developed by Tony Smith and others, demanded a fuller appreciation of the Cold War by shifting the center of inquiry away from a narrow preoccupation with the struggle between Washington and Moscow to conflicts on the periphery. The pericentric scholarship has added to the Cold War narrative the significance of smaller actors in the East-West conflict, giving agency to local states. Similarly, in Odd Arne Westad's Global Cold War, the most crucial aspects of the Cold War were "connected to political and social developments in the Third World." The pericentrism, therefore, attempted to understand the Cold War by studying how it played out in the "periphery" rather than in the "center."

Taking cues from Westad's paradigm-shifting work, the essays collected by Leslie James and Elisabeth Leake go a step further by examining the nexus between the Cold War and decolonization. The aim of this skillfully presented mix of case studies is to show how "decolonization frequently coincided and merged with, or contradicted and undermined, the Soviet Union's and the United States' fight for global ideological, and frequently political, dominance" (p. 1). In so doing, the authors of the fourteen geographically and topically varied essays closely follow the suggestion of Westad himself, who claims that to understand the multifarious character of the Cold War we need "to be open for particularities and trends that move well beyond any framework that [End Page 260] earlier historiographies have established" (p. xii). In departing from previous interpretations of both historical phenomena, the authors seek to provide a more comprehensive view of the Cold War and decolonization, viewing them not as "isolated, parallel phenomena, but crucially as a broader moment of intertwined, if sometimes paradoxical, local and global change" (p. 2).

The volume combines the proceedings of a conference held at Cambridge University, examining a broad range of issues, emerging in a world that in the mid-1950s witnessed the closing acts of the age of formal colonialism that coincided with the dawn of the era of intensified superpower competition across the globe. Understandably, coming to terms with the rich spectrum of phenomena of earth-shattering historic significance would require a collective scholarly endeavor, compensating for individual bias and expertise. Therefore, this collection impresses not with its conceptual homogeneity but with its broad-ranging area expertise, bringing to the fore several issues defining the dialectic juxtaposition between two international systems with their idiosyncratic center-periphery relations; namely, the departing imperial order and the newly emerging Cold War stasis.

The essays in...


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pp. 260-262
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