DECISION-MAKING in the COLD WAR
Hamburg Institute for Social Research
Fifth International Conference in the Series "Between 'Total War' and 'Small Wars': Studies in the Societal History of the Cold War"
Convenors: Bernd Greiner, Christian Th. Müller, Dierk Walter, Claudia Weber
The international conference "Decision-making in the Cold War" will take place at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research from 3 to 5 September 2008.
Starting point of the conference is the assumption that the Cold War had a substantial influence on the configurations and apparatuses of power developed by all political actors involved, an influence that in part survived the end of the bloc confrontation in the late 1980s. In the course of four decades, specific mechanisms and procedures of political decision-making that met the needs of the period emerged. The precise nature of these mechanisms as well as their similarities and differences within each bloc and beyond the boundaries of the two systems will be the focal point of this conference.
Seven aspects would seem to be worthy of special consideration:
First, how state apparatuses of power that were responsible for foreign affairs and military policies in the East and the West during the Cold War were structured and how they functioned;
second, whether and, if so, in what way the developments and dynamics of the Cold War in turn influenced these apparatuses and how their “inner logic” had an impact on the politics of the Cold War; third, how the organization and functional mechanisms of bureaucracies, agencies, and ministries left their mark on decision-making in political circles, the military, and the intelligence services; how decisions were prepared, discussed, and implemented; who participated; how internal competition for power and influence within each state was played out; fourth, whether and how decisions were influenced, distorted, or even rendered ineffective by misperceptions, intentional obstruction, or internal dynamics within the respective system; fifth, the role played by “informal” bodies and actors (from "kitchen cabinets" to ad-hoc committees with personnel that changed, depending on the situation);
sixth, how elites with decision-making competence were recruited and from what milieus; what factors were relevant for their "political socialization"; the significance of "elite rotation", clientele relations, and patronage; seventh, the nature of relations between politics and society and when and in what way political and military elites were influenced by public discourse and non-governmental actors (the media, think tanks, intellectual networks).
At the conference, we would like to discuss these aspects on the basis of case studies or longitudinal historical analysis, thereby addressing a wide spectrum of topics, which might include such themes as the study of decisions on armament projects; the analysis of doctrines, strategies, and negotiating practices; consideration of the psychology of power in relation to "group-think" or evaluation of the effects of rivaling interests within the bureaucracy.
With respect to the two hegemonial actors, the United States and the USSR, the following issues would seem especially relevant:
In the case of the US, the "policy of secrecy" and the formation of an "imperial presidency" to which it was linked. The latter refers to the extension, indeed, over-extension of the executive’s political and administrative powers and thus a process in which the constitutional division of powers was restructured to the disadvantage of the legislative and judicative and the advantage of a self-referential national security elite.
In the case of the USSR, not only the classic actors (Politburo, Central Committee, military leadership, and intelligence services) should be examined, but also informal leadership circles (e.g. the foreign policy commission of the Politburo, the Information Committee within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the Vos’merka, a circle of Stalin’s closest confidants, which existed besides the Politburo in the early 1950s).
Besides work on the two main protagonists, the US and the USSR, studies focusing on other states and on transnational actors (NATO, the Warsaw Pact) are highly welcome.
The conference language is English.
The Hamburg Institute for Social Research will reimburse necessary travel expenses (second class train fare or economy class air fare for long-distance travel) as well as providing accommodations and meals during the conference for all invited participants.
Please send proposals (two to three pages) by 1 March 2008 to the Hamburg Institute for Social Research at
We will especially welcome contributions from aspiring scholars.
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