The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War

The story will not be complete until Kremlin archives are opened and the deliberations of Soviet leaders examined. Still, Gaiduk, a young Russian historian, has pieced together as full a picture of Soviet policy during the Vietnam War as one could fairly expect. By combining the Soviet (Communist Party) archives to which he had access with a thorough exploitation of declassified U.S. materials, including the personal papers of Averell Harriman and those in the presidential libraries, he manages to get behind the public posturing of the time. Behind this mask, the Soviet leadership was not an ambitious band eager to send the North Vietnamese into battle against the Americans -- that was China's role. Rather, they nervously tried to head off the war's escalation in 1964 and a direct U.S. combat role. Soviet leaders, however, were too much a prisoner of their competition with the Chinese and of their preconceptions of their U.S. rival to act boldly to stop what they never wanted in the first place or to end a conflict when and how it suited their interests rather than those of their difficult clients in Hanoi. An age-old story, but one from which great powers never seem to learn.

Latest Commentary & News analysis