Crises in the Cold War
Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Hamburg (Germany), 17 to 20 May 2006
(Part III of a conference series “Between ‘Total War’ and ‘Small Wars’: Studies in the Societal History of the Cold War”)
The most dramatic historical manifestation of the Cold War was without doubt the series of crises that occurred in this era between the two opposing military alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and their leading powers. They involved above all the United States and the USSR, but often secondary great powers, too. In the course of these crises, real or perceived changes in the political and strategic balance of power as well as suspicions of aggressive designs on part of the opposing bloc repeatedly brought the world to the verge of a Third World War with nuclear weapons. Depending on their specific national interests, the political and military key protagonists conjured up, escalated, controlled and de-escalated these crises, whereas in other cases they chose to defuse potential crises well before any real danger of escalation transpired. Often crises were first brought about by local or regional actors pursuing their particular interests, but were then transformed by the imposition of the bloc logic of the superpower conflict. If the attempts to contain such crises had failed, the global consequences may well have been so serious as to defy historical analysis.
This upcoming conference (third in a series under the title of “Between ‘Total War’ and ‘Small Wars’: Studies in the Societal History of the Cold War”), aims at a comparative exploration of the strategies, mechanisms and historical preconditions of the escalation and de-escalation of crises in the Cold War. The conference design places a special emphasis on exploring the variety of courses available to historical actors in crises in the Cold War. It attempts to identify the dynamics behind the escalation and de-escalation of such crises, and aims at a comparative analysis of the leeway that superpower, regional and local actors had in dealing with them.
The papers presented at the conference should adhere closely to the following guidelines, as to facilitate comparative discussion and hopefully generalization.
The papers should portray and characterize the actors involved. They should outline the procedures by which the participants of the inner circles of decision-making were selected, and—if applicable—analyze how established procedures of decision-making were set aside or circumvented in giving those “crisis-managers” and circles the primary or exclusive responsibility for dealing with a crisis.
The papers should explore the intellectual and institutional setting for decision-making. They should pay special attention to the “input”, i.e. the information, mentalities, traditions that shaped the ways in which actors responded to the specific challenge they were facing. Special attention should also be given to the impact of intelligence agencies, of doctrines, and advisors. Last but not least, the experiences of earlier crises and the mentalities of political and defence elites should be considered.
The papers should specifically address the impact and ramifications of interdepartmental rivalries—of conflicting and competitive behavior of different government and military agencies pursuing their own specific agendas—on the decision-making process and the course of events in a given crisis.
The papers should closely scrutinize the actual course of events in a crisis or crises and in doing so analyze the dynamics of escalation and de-escalation. Special attention should be attributed to the question which conditions fueled escalation and which prerequisites had to be met to de-escalate.
The papers should analyze the character and extent of the leeway that the historical protagonists had in dealing with a crisis. They should outline which alternative options were available to them, and attempt to explain why they were not taken.
The papers should address the long-term effects of learning from experience in dealing with crises. Which lessons learned from the successful or unsuccessful management of a earlier crises were employed in trying to cope with the crisis or crises under scrutiny in the paper, and to which extent has this crisis had repercussions on the dealing with later crises by the same actors or their successors? Did a certain form of crisis management even become national doctrine?
As in earlier conferences, and in keeping with the overall goal of the conference series, the papers should pay special attention to the multilateral dimensions of the historical events. They should emphasize, where appropriate, the relative importance of the Cold War environment compared to other, regional or local factors in the crisis in question, and give due credit to the role of great powers other than the two superpowers (e.g. the United Kingdom, France, China), regional powers and local allies.
If at all possible, the papers should make use of archival and other sources that have recently become available especially in the countries of the former eastern bloc and that may make a revision of earlier interpretations possible.
The list of subjects we would like to see covered at the conference includes, but is in no way limited to:
General introductory papers:
The history of theories on crisis management
The development of mechanisms of centralized control in crises, especially over nuclear weapons
The Middle Eastern Wars 1948-1973
The Berlin Crises 1948-1961
The Korean War 1950-1953
The East German Rising of 1953
The Overthrow of the Mossadegh Government in Iran 1953
The Taiwan Straits (Quemoy Matsu) Crisis 1954-1955
The Hungarian Revolt of 1956
The Suez Crisis 1956
The Chinese Ladakh Invasion 1962
The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962
The Vietnam War 1964-1975
The Crushing of the Prague Spring 1968
The Ussuri River Crisis 1969
The Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan 1979
The Collapse of the European State-socialist Regimes 1989
Crises in Sub-saharan Africa 1960-1989
“Self-escalatory crises” (Crises starting at the periphery, like the one resulting from exercise “Able Archer” 1983)
(Note: We leave it to the paper-givers’ expertise to identify and select for presentation the actual crisis situation(s) during the course of a given hot conflict of some length, such as the Korean War of Vietnam War. Papers should emphasize the escalatory/de-escalatory momentums of such crises and analyze them under the guidelines outlined above. They should not narrate the entire course of a war.)
The conference language will be English.
Presentations at the conference will be not more than 10 minutes in length, but can and should be based on, and where necessary refer to, a written paper of up to 30 pages length that will be distributed to the participants well before the conference. The oral presentation should just sum up the contents of the more elaborate written paper and emphasize its main points and hypotheses.
If you are interested in giving a presentation at this conference, you are cordially invited to send an abstract of one to two pages and a brief c.v. including a very short list of relevant publications as email attachment (Word for Windows) to Dr. Christian Th. Mueller at the e-mail address provided below not later than 15 July 2005.
We will especially welcome contributions of aspiring scholars.
Contributors are kindly requested to hand in their written papers not later than 1 March 2006, likewise to Dr. Christian Th. Mueller at the same address.
The Hamburg Institute for Social Research will cover the expenses for travel (usually the regular 2nd class railway fare or, for non-European participants only, an economy class flight) and for accommodation during the conference.
The conference is convened for the Hamburg Institute for Social Research by
Prof. Dr. Bernd Greiner,
Dr. Christian Th. Mueller,
Dr. Dierk Walter and
Uta Andrea Balbier, M.A.
For further information please contact Dr. Christian Th. Mueller (contact information provided below).
Beginning in November 2001, a group of researchers at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, headed by Bernd Greiner, has been working on the subject of “Between ‘Total War’ and ‘Small Wars’: Studies in the Societal History of the Cold War”. This project is based on a twofold approach: on the one hand, it is being researched how the institutional, material, and mental “heritage of violence” of World War Two has, while being transformed, shaped the post-war era. On the other hand, it is being scrutinized how the power potentials that had been accumulated during the East-West conflict as a means of deterring potential adversaries in a “Great War” and of waging “Small Wars”, and the institutions that had been created for administering them, influenced societies, and how their impact was felt in the long run.
In other words: different from most recent analyses, this project does not focus on diplomatic, political, or military history. Quite to the contrary, it is aimed at paving the way for a “Societal History of the Cold War”. To this end, it will employ the relevant historiographical methods, including cultural history and psychological history. We do not intend to reconsider old arguments in the light of new sources; much rather, we plan to establish new approaches to the subject. The project focuses, for instance, on the mutual impact the civil and military spheres, domestic and foreign policy, strategic security and economic policy, state and civil society actors, changing political climates and mentalities, and so on, had on each other. It goes without saying that in order to achieve this we will have to bring together approaches from fields as diverse as history, economic, political, and social science, and psychology.
We place a special emphasis on covering the entire Cold War era from 1945 to 1989 and on bringing together the Eastern and the Western perspective. To this end, we will discuss selected case studies in the light of a comparative approach. The principal actors of the East-West conflict, the United States and the USSR, will get the attention they deserve, but will not dominate our deliberations. Poland, Hungaria, both Germanys, Great Britain, France, or Italy – depending on the needs of the subject – will be included. Placing the main emphasis on the Northern hemisphere may seem problematic. However, considering the enormous gaps in our knowledge of the social history of the Cold War and the shortcomings of the research so far, we deem this limitation acceptable, even more so as it does not preclude us from spotlighting some especially relevant case studies from the Southern hemisphere, if necessary.
It goes without saying that such a broad and diverse subject cannot satisfactorily be covered by a small group of researchers all on its own. Therefore, we have decided to convene a series of conferences over the course of several years. The first one has taken place in February 2003 in Hamburg under the title of “Was the Cold War a War? Changing Images of War and Warriors” and has attempted both to set the agenda for the whole series and to cast a first glance at some central themes that place the Cold War era firmly into the general context of the development of war and violence in the 20th century. More specifically, the papers presented at this first conference aimed at analyzing the relationship between armed forces and societies and the changing roles, images, and the prestige of different kinds of soldiers/warriors in a broad comparison over several countries from both the Western and Eastern bloc.
Closely linked to this first conference, in a way devoted to covering the reverse side of the same coin, the second conference in the series (May 2004), under the title of “’Hot Wars’ in the Cold War”, has addressed the cases where violent armed conflict actually took place in the general political and global strategic context of the Cold War, i.e. where the Cold War became “hot”. Rather than taking for granted that each and every armed conflict fought by countries of the Northern hemisphere in the Cold War era was actually governed from the outset by the logic of the East-West confrontation, in this conference we have tried to scrutinize the individual factors determining the course, structure, and mechanisms of individual local conflicts, with a view to establishing a compelling analysis of the relative importance of local, bilateral (“imperial”), and global, i.e. Cold War, factors in a specific actual war. The proceedings of this second conference will be published at the Hamburger Edition in due course. In the third conference, scheduled to take place in Hamburg, Germany, from 17 to 20 May 2006, we will now move on to a traditional key component of Cold War studies: this time we will have a closer look at the crises during the Cold War era that, rather than being localized (as the “hot wars” we discussed in the second conference were), had the potential of bringing the world to the very brink of global destruction. Further conferences in the series, scheduled for 2007 to 2009, will deal with “Politics of Fear and Emotion” (fourth conference); the “Culture of Secrecy” (fifth) and Socio-economic processes (sixth).
Dr. Christian Th. Mueller
Hamburger Institut fuer Sozialforschung
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