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Round-Table on the Cold War

SIPRI CO-HOSTS ORAL HISTORY ROUND-TABLE ON THE COLD WAR


p4250052.jpgOn 24-25 April 2006, SIPRI hosted together with the Swedish National Defence College (SNDC) a unique round-table designed to draw upon the personal experiences of military leaders engaged on both sides in the later stages of the Cold War confrontation in Europe. The topic was the state of affairs on the East-West Central Front during the late 1970s and early 1980s: a period overshadowed on the one hand by plans to deploy new intermediate-range nuclear missiles on both sides, and on the other by the West’s development of new high-impact concepts for the application of advanced conventional forces.

The initiative to set up this meeting was taken by the Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact (PHP), a network of Western scholars based notably in the USA and Switzerland who have already held several such meetings on different historical topics. Additional support was provided by NATO’s Public Affairs Division, who saw the event as a way to better understand the background to the much-changed but still sensitive relations between Russia and NATO today, and by the Netherlands Military History Institute (NMHI).

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As to the participants, three retired generals from the Russia Federation (former Soviet Union)—Vasenin, Lyakhovsky and Tsygichko—were joined by three from the USA: Creighton, Smith and Odom, together with Generals Pioro (Poland), Zacharias (Czech Republic, former Czechoslovakia), Eide (Norway), Johnson (UK), Chalupa (Germany), Folmer (Netherlands) and Gustavsson (Sweden). NATO was represented by Dr Petr Lunák of the PA Division; several other defence history specialists from the USA, Netherlands and Sweden took part, and the discussion was expertly moderated by Professor Robert Legvold of Columbia University, New York. All participants were kindly entertained by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation at Stockholom, Ambassador Alexander M. Kadakin, at a reception on the evening of 24 April.

Discussions during the round-table (held at the SNDC’s premises) focussed on each side’s perceptions of the other’s force strength and intentions, together with plans for response, and views on the role of (especially non-strategic) nuclear weapons. The impact of specific events and factors like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Sino-Soviet relations, and the growing unrest in Poland also came into the picture. As expected, the generals’ testimony highlighted many cases of mutual mis-perception and confusion, offering a lesson that is still highly relevant today about the importance of understanding, transparency and sound information in managing strategic affairs. SIPRI Director Alyson J.K. Bailes noted in her closing remarks that these principles have always been a top preoccupation for SIPRI itself, and the round-table was thus a very suitable event for the Institute to co-sponsor as part of its 40th anniversary commemoration programme in 2006.
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The proceedings of the round-table were fully recorded and will eventually be published by the PHP, with support from the NMHI, on the PHP website: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/php