Journal of Cold War Studies 2.1 (2000) 124-126
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Cold War Illusions:
America, Europe, and Soviet Power, 1969-1989
Dana H. Allin, Cold War Illusions: America, Europe, and Soviet Power, 1969-1989. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. 267 pp.
Henry Kissinger did not particularly like the West German leader Willy Brandt or his policy of Ostpolitik. Kissinger preferred more consistent anti-Communists, such as General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Three years after Pinochet overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende and ordered the torture and "disappearance" of thousands of Chilean citizens, Kissinger traveled to Santiago to reassure Pinochet: "I want to see our relations and friendship improve. We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende." For Kissinger, Willy Brandt's service to the West was more questionable.
Kissinger's distrust of Brandt, who was first West German foreign minister and then federal chancellor, forms one of the main themes of Dana Allin's engagingly written book. Kissinger feared that Brandt's policy of making the Federal Republic of Germany into a magnet for Eastern Europe might backfire. "We feared that over time, at first imperceptibly, the Communist world would wind up in the stronger position" (p. 39). Instead, the opposite happened. The West became attractive to people in the East once they became acquainted with it, thanks, in part, to Ostpolitik.
Kissinger was not the first U.S. political leader who failed to understand the relative political, economic, and social strengths of West European democracies as compared to the Soviet bloc. According to Allin, such misperceptions were the hallmark of U.S. policy toward Europe throughout the Cold War, and, in turn, they influenced U.S. perceptions of the Soviet threat. Allin maintains that "Moscow's global power, like its power at home, was vastly overrated," and he blames "Americans' abiding pessimism about the political stability and moral resoluteness of their European allies when faced with Soviet pressure" (p. xi).
Allin's first chapter summarizes the origins and course of containment in Europe from 1945 to 1969, tracing the pessimism expressed by Kissinger back to the founding generation of U.S. Cold War leaders. Allin identifies two versions of containment. He associates the first with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, whose view that the "West European democracies were inherently weak" was later echoed by Kissinger. The other, more optimistic variant of containment was that proposed by George Kennan, the State Department official usually credited with coining the term. In his celebrated "X" article in Foreign Affairs in July 1947, Kennan advocated containing the Soviet [End Page 124] Union because the Kremlin could not "face frustration indefinitely without eventually adjusting itself in one way or another to the logic of that state of affairs." Kennan predicted that such adjustments would entail either the "break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power." From the perspective of the late twentieth century, Kennan's words seem quite prophetic. Oddly enough, Kennan himself believed that Soviet power had mellowed as early as the mid-1950s, following the death of Josif Stalin. Later on, Kennan was convinced that U.S. insistence on a policy of militarized containment unnecessarily prolonged the Cold War for decades. U.S. policy makers disagreed, acting as if the Cold War conflict were inevitable and interminable.
Allin writes that the validity of Kennan's claim is "a matter for endless speculation," but he seems sympathetic to it. Whereas common wisdom holds that the Cold War ended in 1989 with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, Allin maintains that the building of the Wall meant that, by the early 1960s, "the Cold War was already settled." The Wall "removed the single most dangerous ambiguity and focus of conflict from the Soviet-American relationship," namely, the uncertain status of Berlin, "making direct armed conflict unlikely" (p. 23). He quotes with approval Charles de Gaulle's recollection that as early as 1958 the French leader had decided it was "fairly unlikely that the Soviets would...