Dr. Jos van der Linden

Cold War Historian (formerly University College Utrecht)

”There are many reasons why the study of the Cold War is relevant today. One reason is that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the American-led worldwide alliance – contrary to expectations at the time – has survived. The United States and its allies, like Japan, Germany and Britain, today control more than fifty percent of world production; their defence expenditures of 1150 billion dollar far surpass the approximately 350 billion dollar of China and Russia combined. Yet the alliance has its weaknesses. It has often been criticized for its reluctance to negotiate in a serious way with the Soviets. For example, the high ranking American official George Kennan stated in 1993 that during the Cold War the West only accepted a Soviet unconditional surrender. In the decades leading up to the Ukraine war some historians believe the West similarly often ignored Russia’s security concerns caused by the expansion of NATO, thereby contributing to Russia’s isolation and the Ukraine war. The present-day strengths and weaknesses of the alliance – there is, of course, a fierce debate about them – can be put into perspective by delving into its history.

Surprising about the Cold War is that the opponents often had absolutely no clue about the intentions of the other side. During the Cold War the KGB reported three times to its leadership that the West was planning a nuclear surprise attack, while the American government had no inkling that Moscow’s nerves were stretched to the limit. This contains lessons for today. If only a fraction of the energy devoted to the present-day rhetoric about a war in Europe (think of the warnings by NATO admiral Rob Bauer and a chorus of European politicians) would be used to raising public awareness of the possible perceptions and fears of the other side, the security of both Russia and the West would be greatly enhanced. Explaining the many misunderstandings that occurred during the Cold War can help in doing just that.”



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