Reassurance and Deterrence: Western Defense in the 1980s

Courtesy Reuters

Historians who attempt to look into and prescribe for the future are professionally inclined to offer as much past history as they think they can get away with, and as little prophecy and prescription as they think their readers will accept. Historians have seen too many confident prophets fall flat on their faces to lay themselves open to more humiliation than they can help. We know that all we can do is to help diagnose the problem or, better, expose false diagnoses. We also believe that in doing this it is helpful to consider how a situation has developed, in this instance in casting a backward look over the origins and development of the Western Alliance to see how we have got to where we are now. There is little point in considering where we should be going if we do not first decide where we are starting from.

Let us go back 35 years, a third of a century, to the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. It is one of those short-lived periods of the past that we know about from two sources. First, there are the memories of the survivors; men and women not yet in their dotage who played a significant part in the events of the time and recall, or believe they recall, them clearly. Second, those memories can now be checked against the relevant documents; and those documents can still be interpreted in the light of human recollection. It is a period fresh in the minds of many of us, but already digested into that group-memory of the past created and preserved by professional historians.

After the "Battle of the Books" between the revisionist and counterrevisionist schools, a picture has emerged over which most historians now agree. It is one of wartime understandings between the Soviet Union and its Western allies-understandings based largely on Western illusions, or at best the most fragile of hopes-breaking down within a few months of the end of hostilities. The

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