2010.10.01

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Lee P. Ruddin

Review of Norman Stone, The Atlantic and Its Enemies: A Personal History of the Cold War. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Pp. xix, 668. ISBN 978-0-465-02043-0.

The past decade has seen the publication of a number of general overviews of the Cold War.[1] This latest contribution is a "personal history" by Norman Stone. The Atlantic and Its Enemies is a compelling account of global affairs from "the nightmare winter of 1946-47" (10) to the Eighties--"the most interesting … of the post-war decades" (597). Stone celebrates the eventual fall of communism and stresses that the Cold War was an active contest that threatened to turn hot, despite efforts to find an equilibrium, whose outcome was never a foregone conclusion. "Communism is central, but so is the other great theme, the extraordinary vigor of the 'capitalist' world" (xiii).

Owing to the avowedly personal approach, one must start with biography. Stone (b. 1941) is a Scottish, Cambridge-educated historian who, in 1997, forsook the professorship in modern history at Oxford for Bilkent University, Ankara, where he is now Director of the Turkish-Russian Center. He made his name a generation ago with two standard works: The Eastern Front, 1914-1917 and Europe Transformed, 1879-1919.[2] The present volume is meant to be a continuation of the latter. He has also served as speech writer and foreign policy adviser for Margaret Thatcher and been a columnist and commentator for the Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the BBC, among others.

Stone writes an illuminating and opinionated narrative with the panache of a journalist and the authority of an Oxbridge don, the teacher of such prolific historians as David Blackbourn, Harold James, and Niall Ferguson. One of the most distinguished Europeanists of his generation, he has an intimate knowledge of a dozen or so countries and their languages as well.

The Atlantic and Its Enemies begins just as World War II allies become Cold War adversaries; it tracks successes and failures on both sides of the Iron Curtain through the days of containment until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Stone downplays, however, the usual political-diplomatic themes, referring only briefly to Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech (11, 37, 54) and George Kennan's "Long Telegram" (11), and completely disregarding President Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech. Instead, he offers an engaging economics-oriented history, highlighting the Marshall Plan (38-61), West Germany's reconstruction and its key role in prompting the creation of the NATO alliance (68-69, 340), and America's containment of communism by economic means.

This is not to say, however, that Stone ignores the familiar episodes: tensions over Berlin, limited warfare in Korea and Vietnam, the Sixties, Nixon in China, and the Reagan-Thatcher revolutions. A much less familiar affair (featured in a lengthy "note") is the ill-fated attempt to smuggle a Hungarian dissident out of the country that landed Stone in a Slovak prison for three months (371-81). His service in the Thatcher administration ensures other glimpses of the personal history promised in the subtitle.

Although Stone sees the Cold War as "the War of the British Succession" (17), fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, his largely Eurocentric perspective is too simplistic, as in his take on Britain's declining empire and the road to decolonization: "There was a formula: identification of least unpalatable power-wielder; minor member of royal family declares country open; Union Jack wobbles down masthead, cock-feathered-hatted governor at the salute; a few tears here and there; old hands stay on, to manage schools; new hands arrive, as advisers; native dances begin; new flag wobbles up; new anthem is sung; parliamentary mace is handed over; mayhem begins" (312).

Stone's thesis concerns the triumph of liberal economics and the Atlantic way. Central to this story are his three heroes: Margaret Thatcher, Charles de Gaulle, and Helmut Schmidt. But, in a book chronicling the resilience of the transatlantic world and its self-regeneration after the stagflation of the 1970s, one would expect much more on actual transatlantic relations. Yet there is next to nothing about the personal connections between Western Europe leaders and the White House. The same goes for relations between London and Washington, both positive (John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan) and problematic (Lyndon B. Johnson and Harold Wilson).

Consequently, one must look elsewhere to learn more about, say, the Skybolt Crisis or the impact of the Vietnam War on Cold War policies.[3] Apart from discussions of the fallout over the Suez Crisis (138-42), the Nassau Agreement (250), and Thatcher's stiffening of the "resolve" of President George H.W. Bush (598), there is surprisingly little on U.S.-U.K. relations generally. And much of what is included is misleading. For example, although Stone correctly says "in Heath's time, the American connection had been weakened," talk of "Heath showing his usual ineptness when it came to intuition of reality" wrongly suggests the 47th British Prime Minister recklessly rocked the Anglo-American boat between 1969 and 1974 (410).[4]

The post-1970 era constitutes a distinct age of renewal, reform, and rejuvenation in inter-ally relations, which, in contrast to the heavily-researched period 1941-69, is only now receiving scholarly attention, thanks, in particular, to the pioneering efforts of Niklas H. Rossbach.[5] Stone, however, does little to further the cause. For example, he contemptuously labels Jimmy Carter "a hapless fellow … a sort of sexless Clinton" (306), whose presidency "will [only be] remembered for its failures" (306), without ever supporting that position in detail. Thus, he might have contended (but does not) that Carter laid the groundwork for an expanded U.S. presence in the Middle East; after all, Carter reacted to the fall of the Shah of Iran by publicly declaring America's aim to maintain regional hegemony. The "Carter Doctrine," enunciated in his bold 1980 State of the Union address, led to the establishment of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), a mobile strategic unit that could be rapidly deployed to the region. "With this step," regional expert Bahram Rajaee writes, "the United States began the shift to the unilateral stance that is familiar today."[6] The RDJTF led to the creation in 1983 of the more permanent U.S. Central Command, which was to prove crucially important in the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Similarly, Stone might have argued (but does not) that Carter entered the Oval Office hoping to end the Cold War but actually prolonged it by supporting the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. To write that "this is a dimension yet to be explored--or, rather, there is a serious question, as to how far the Americans were encouraging … what they later called 'fundamentalist Islam'" (370) is disappointingly equivocal, considering Stone's colossal expertise.

Chalmers Johnson has shed much light on the dark dealings behind Carter's signing of the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.[7] Yet, even with the benefit of hindsight, Stone still overlooks the ill-omened underside of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan--a country, as he himself says, "not very significant in itself, [but] where geography and the local complications combined to make it important on a world scale" (382). Nor does he ask directly whether problems caused by today's Islamism stem from the covert use of radical Islam to fight communism dating back to the start of the Cold War.[8]

There are other imbalances and shortcomings. It is peculiar in a book on American affairs to find eight index entries for Ankara, but none for Anglo-American relations. As welcome and original as the inclusion of Turgut ึzal's government undoubtedly is, one feels the personal is here badly skewing the book's subject matter. And, too, while slight errors of fact may be forgiven (for example, the profession of an architect of the European Recovery Program [45], or the candy Reagan substituted for cigarettes [406]), the omission of source citations for quotations cannot. Stone's six pages of "Further Reading" recommendations (599-604) leave one feeling short-changed.[9]

In light of the failings I have detailed, Norman Stone's latest book cannot be said to improve on, or even significantly to supplement,[10] recent general histories of the Cold War.

History News Network
leepruddin@yahoo.co.uk

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[1] E.g., John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (NY: Penguin, 2005), Mike Sewell, The Cold War (Cambridge: CUP, 2002), M.P. Leffler and O.A. Westad, eds. The Cambridge History of the Cold War (Cambridge: CUP, 2010), and Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2003).

[2] The Eastern Front is available in a reprint (NY: Penguin, 1998), Europe Transformed in a 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999).

[3] E.g., C.J. Bartlett, "The Special Relationship": Political History of Anglo-American Relations since 1945 (London: Longman, 1992) or Alan Dobson, Anglo-American Relations in the Twentieth Century: The Politics and Diplomacy of Superpowers (London: Routledge, 1995).

[4] John Dumbrell in A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations from the Cold War to Iraq, 2nd ed. (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), discussing Britain's withdrawal from east of Suez, states that the 1971 decision "occasioned [little] resentment in Washington, who now looked to the Shah of Iran as a reliable guarantor of US interests in the Gulf region" (90).

[5] Heath, Nixon and the Rebirth of the Special Relationship: Britain, the US and the EC, 1969-74 (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[6] "The United States and Southwest Asia after 9/11: Trends and Flashpoints," in Mark J. Miller and Boyka Stefanova, eds., The War on Terror in Comparative Perspective: US Security and Foreign Policy after 9/11 (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) 157. 

[7] See, in particular, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2000).

[8] See Roy Gutman, How We Missed the Story: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan (Washington: US Inst of Peace Pr, 2008) and esp. Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2010).

[9] Contrast the forty-eight-page bibliography in Niall Ferguson's The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (NY: Penguin, 2006).

[10] Apart, perhaps, from the inclusion of fifty-plus b/w illustrations.