Thinking Through the Cold War


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Father chose a different path. He tried to make the admirals and generals understand that the United States was much wealthier than we were and that if we competed with the Americans on that basis, we would spend our resources in vain and bring the country to ruin and even then not reach parity. The military insisted. Father finally decided to make use of his power and authority. He made the tough decision to formulate an asymmetrical defense doctrine. Negotiations, he believed, would not be effective at this stage.

He started with the navy. That was an enormous sum at the time, and the only way to get it was to cut funds for essential human needs.

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Discussion of the program continued for about a year without any apparent result. To this day Russian naval officers have never forgiven Father, but he simply would not give them money to waste. Strategic aviation met a similar fate somewhat later. Its development was held to a minimum, while preference was given to ballistic missiles.

From then on air force officers also disliked Father. But there were practically no missiles at the time either. In only one type of ballistic missile was being built, the R-5M, with a nuclear warhead of seventy kilotons.


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The U. That year the United States had an overall nuclear superiority To restrain the West from a possible attack on the Soviet Union, Father decided to resort to bluff and intimidation. An awkward silence followed. Sir Anthony Eden had occasion to recall those talks by the fireplace when, during the Suez crisis, in the autumn of , Father issued an ultimatum to the Anglo-French-Israeli coalition to stop the war within twenty-four hours the letter was signed by Nikolai Bulganin, head of the Soviet government at the time, but had been written by Khrushchev.

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As Father described it, his warning got Eden out of bed and hurrying to a telephone in his pajamas to call the French prime minister, Guy Mollet. How did Father know such intimate details? The Cambridge ring of Soviet intelligence, comprising highly placed English diplomats and intelligence agents, was operating at the time, and they sent their reports first to the Kremlin and only afterward to 10 Downing Street.

One way or another, the warning worked, military actions ceased, and the troops of the aggressors left Egyptian territory soon thereafter. By frightening the world with Soviet missile superiority, he tried to have the Soviet Union recognized as equal to the United States.

The main thing is that Americans think we have enough for a powerful strike in response.


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The history of the so-called global missile was similar. The project called for lifting a nuclear warhead into earth orbit. The organization where I worked, which was located in a carefully guarded area, had several even more secret rooms equipped for planning this global missile, and we worked there on this new superweapon. Suddenly, just a few months after we started work, Father joyfully informed journalists at a press conference that the Soviet Union would soon possess a global missile, a weapon against which no defense existed.

During a walk that evening I expressed my complaints to Father. We would be hostages to our own thoughtlessness. The global missile is a propaganda weapon. Let the Americans rack their brains over what I said. Such statements by Father were in fact received with enthusiasm on the other side of the ocean, since they made it easier for the American military to receive additional funds, and so the missile race was born and gained strength, bringing President John F. Kennedy to the White House.

Insofar as there was a real race, the United States always led. For example, only beginning in were large numbers of the UR SS light ballistic missile deployed in the Soviet Union, five years later than the analogous American Minuteman I. The CIA must have known this, but the myth of Soviet missile superiority was useful, or seemed to be useful, not so much to Father as to the American military-industrial complex. President Eisenhower understood this very well. He and Father held meetings at Camp David in September of As they were taking a walk one day, Eisenhower brought up the subject of relations with the military and asked Father how he coped with his generals.

Father reacted cautiously. He was not prepared to discuss such a subject with the American President. Naturally I have to give them the money. Father replied that he was often subjected to such pressure from his own military-industrial complex. The time for confidential relations between Soviet and American leaders had truly not yet come, but, by , a great deal had changed since Eisenhower and Father had learned to talk with each other, and the first signs of mutual confidence had appeared.

In there was no longer talk of an inevitable and imminent war.

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Leaders of the two countries were working out the conditions for peaceful coexistence on our planet. But incidents could not be avoided. The flight of the American U-2 spy plane, shot down by a Soviet antiaircraft missile over Sverdlovsk, in the very heart of Russia, blew away everything that Father and Eisenhower had worked for during the previous years. Still, the foundation was preserved, and the new American President, John F.

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Kennedy, did not begin his dialogue with Father on a blank page. Their only meeting, in Vienna in June , was notable for showing a new approach to evaluating the balance of nuclear forces, and not just for the famous fruitless arguments about a new world order—about which agreement was impossible—and not just for disagreements over Berlin or the agreement on Laos.

Though the two leaders did not reach an agreement, neither were they busy calculating how much destruction they could wreak on each other. As a result they agreed that nuclear parity existed in the world, even though the U. This was at a time when Americans estimated their superiority in nuclear warheads and missiles to be 20 to 1 actually it was almost 10 to 1, which is also a lot. The Soviet Union had 2, nuclear warheads, the United States 24, Another significant fact: Both sides began to feel the need for direct contact. In other words, they started to trust each other and to believe in the possibility and productivity of a dialogue devoted to preventing a nuclear war.

In Vienna both leaders agreed to establish a direct link between the Kremlin and the White House by means of special couriers. Kennedy made this initiative. He proposed exchanging confidential letters outside of State Department channels. Father readily agreed. He always favored a direct dialogue, without intermediaries. This agreement served the parties well during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which broke out soon afterward, in October How the dramatic events of those years looked from the Soviet side is a separate and very fascinating story. My new book, The Creation of a Superpower , to be published next year, investigates that history as well as providing many other details of Kremlin life.

I shall only note here that for the first time in the history of the Cold War a secret personal correspondence between two leaders, and not mutual threats and propaganda escapades, was the main instrument for resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is an extraordinarily important indication that both the President of the United States and the head of the Soviet government understood that though they may have been determined to defend their own principles and values, which were not compatible, it was only through dialogue that they could achieve their common goal of preserving life on earth.

The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted truly out of the blue. When Fidel Castro and his companions-in-arms entered Havana, on January 1, , no one in Moscow took the slightest interest. The Soviet embassy in Cuba had been considered unnecessary and was closed in Diplomatic relations had continued, but neither an embassy nor a single Soviet representative remained in Cuba. Then he decided that the only way to defend Cuba from the inevitable aggression of the United States was by deploying missiles with nuclear warheads on the island.

In so doing, he was warning Washington that military action in that region would automatically lead to a third world war. In that, the political precepts of the leaders of both superpowers hardly differed, and indeed could not differ. In President Kennedy behaved like Father when he declared that he considered himself a West Berliner and was ready to defend the city from possible Soviet seizure with all the power America possessed. But the status of a superpower leaves its special mark on the conduct of world leaders.

They have to defend their allies with all the means available to them. No one will believe them any more, just as in our time no one believes Boris Yeltsin. Such are the implacable rules of the game in power politics. People have always loved to retouch history after the fact. The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis is no exception. In fact, both leaders realized that they could have control of the situation only until the first shot was fired, until the first bomb dropped on Cuba. Subsequent events would develop according to other rules, the rules of war, of a third world war. However, Kennedy was under tremendous pressure.

That would have been inconceivable in Trust an American President! They are demanding an immediate military invasion. Five years earlier could anyone have imagined hearing such words in the White House? One other comment. Father thought that he won by protecting Cuba from possible aggression and by averting a great war. And the American media, not Father, were responsible for that. They so frightened their countrymen that after the crisis it made no sense to talk about nuclear superiority in terms of numbers. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended the cycle of crises and missile-bluff diplomacy.

Both sides recognized that they were now capable not only of inflicting a mortal blow on each other but of destroying civilization, of ending life on earth.

Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War
Thinking Through the Cold War

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