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Foreign Policy under Khrushchev

Almost immediately after Stalin died, the collective leadership began altering the conduct of Soviet foreign policy to permit better relations with the West and new approaches to the nonaligned countries. Malenkov introduced a change in tone by speaking out against nuclear war as a threat to civilization.

Party Presidium members in 1954 were apparently divided into two groups on the question of allocation of funds to the armed forces: the more militant group (Bulganin, Khrushchev, Kaganovich) which consistently emphasized Western aggressiveness in order to keep military expenditure at a high level; and the non-aggressive group (Malenkov, Saburov, Pervukhin) which was inclined to consider the financial needs of other sectors of the economy at the expense of the military.

The military leaders may have been unhappy with Malenkov in 1954. Some were convinced that Malenkov was jeopardizing the safety of the country by his readjustment of the economy and by what was thought to be the failure of his foreign policy. They were surely uneasy abput strength of the West and the diplomatic success of its position of strength; the possibility of their Chinese ally becoming involved in military risks; the increased military needs of the Satellites and China, particularly as they related to the proposed Soviet counterpart to NATO. Such considerations may have forced the military to desire other leadership.

In contrast to Malenkov, Khrushchev and his followers, disappointed in a conciliatory foreign policy and believing through conviction and experience that military strength as an adjunct to diplomacy should play a major role in foreign affairs, argued for the need of increased military preparedness. Khrushchev initially contradicted Malenkov's views on nuclear war, saying capitalism alone would be destroyed in a nuclear war, but he adopted Malenkov's view after securing his preeminent position.

Khrushchev, from the time of Stalin's death until he became top man in the USSR, was outspoken in his hostility toward the West, demonstrated none of the subtlety shown by Malenkov, and repeated dialectical stereotypes with seeming conviction. He displayed a shocking rigidity in his thipking about the West -- an apparent willingness to swallow the propaganda he himself helped create.

In 1955, to ease tensions between East and West, Khrushchev recognized permanent neutrality for Austria. Meeting President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Geneva, Switzerland, later that year, Khrushchev confirmed Soviet commitment to "peaceful coexistence" with capitalism. Regarding the developing nations, Khrushchev tried to win the goodwill of their national leaders, instead of following the established Soviet policy of shunning the governments while supporting local communist parties. Soviet influence in the international alignments of India and Egypt, as well as of other Third World countries, began in the middle of the 1950s. Cuba's entry into the socialist camp in 1961 was a coup for the Soviet Union.

With the gains of the new diplomacy came reversals as well. By conceding the independence of Yugoslavia in 1955 as well as by his de-Stalinization campaign, Khrushchev provoked unrest in Eastern Europe, where the policies of the Stalin era weighed heavily. In Poland, riots brought about a change in communist party leadership, which the Soviet Union reluctantly recognized in October 1956. A popular uprising against Soviet control then broke out in Hungary, where the local communist leaders, headed by Imre Nagy, called for a multiparty political system and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, the defensive alliance founded by the Soviet Union and its East European satellites in 1955. The Soviet army crushed the revolt early in November 1956, causing numerous casualities. Although the Hungarian Revolution hurt Soviet standing in world opinion, it demonstrated that the Soviet Union would use force if necessary to maintain control over its satellite states in Eastern Europe.

Outside the Soviet sphere of control, China grew increasingly restive under Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong. Chinese discontent with the new Soviet leadership stemmed from low levels of Soviet aid, feeble Soviet support for China in its disputes with Taiwan and India, and the new Soviet doctrine of peaceful coexistence with the West (which Mao viewed as a betrayal of Marxism-Leninism). Against Khrushchev's wishes, China embarked on a nuclear arms program, declaring in 1960 that nuclear war could defeat imperialism. The dispute between militant China and the more moderate Soviet Union escalated into a schism in the world communist movement after 1960. Albania left the Soviet camp and became an ally of China, Romania distanced itself from the Soviet Union in international affairs, and communist parties around the world split over orientation to Moscow or Beijing. The monolithic bloc of world communism had shattered.

Soviet relations with the West, especially the United States, seesawed between moments of relative relaxation and periods of tension and crisis. For his part, Khrushchev wanted peaceful coexistence with the West, not only to avoid nuclear war but also to permit the Soviet Union to develop its economy. Khrushchev's meetings with President Eisenhower in 1955 and President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and his tour of the United States in 1959 demonstrated the Soviet leader's desire for fundamentally smooth relations between the West and the Soviet Union and its allies. Yet Khrushchev also needed to demonstrate to Soviet conservatives and militant Chinese that the Soviet Union was a firm defender of the socialist camp. Thus in 1958 Khrushchev challenged the status of Berlin; when the West would not yield to his demands that the western sectors be incorporated into East Germany, he approved the erection of the Berlin Wall around those sectors in 1961.

To maintain national prestige, Khrushchev canceled a summit meeting with Eisenhower in 1960 after Soviet air defense troops shot down a United States U-2 reconnaissance aircraft over Soviet territory. Finally, mistrust over military intentions hobbled East-West relations during this time. The West feared the Soviet lead in space technology and saw in the buildup of the Soviet military an emerging "missile gap" in the Soviet Union's favor. By contrast, the Soviet Union felt threatened by a rearmed Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), by the United States alliance system encircling the Soviet Union, and by the West's superior strategic and economic strength.

To offset the United States military advantage and thereby improve the Soviet negotiating position, Khrushchev in 1962 tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, but he agreed to withdraw them after Kennedy ordered a blockade around the island nation. After coming close to war in the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Union and the United States took steps to reduce the nuclear threat. In 1963 the two countries established the "hot line" between Washington and Moscow to reduce the likelihood of accidental nuclear war. In the same year, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which forbade testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere.

In foreign affairs, Khrushchev enthusiastically set lofty but often-unattainable goals, and enjoyed dramatically snubbing the West. He flew to a summit in London in a half-completed prototype of a passenger jet to demonstrate the advanced state of Soviet aviation (duly impressing his hosts, who did not have a comparable plane yet at the time). Communism's appeal spread rapidly throughout the decolonizing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America as the Soviet Union lavished aid for splashy projects such as dams and stadiums. The stunning propaganda coup scored by the Soviet Union in launching the first satellite, Sputnik, was followed by greater and greater achievements, such as the first dog, the first man, and the first woman in space. Many in the West began to fear that the Soviets really were catching up and soon would overtake them.

Khrushchev was certainly the most colourful Soviet leader and is best remembered for his dramatic, often times boorish gestures designed to attain maximum propaganda effect, and his enthusiastic belief that Communism would triumph over capitalism. In November 1956 he boasted "About the capitalist states, it doesn't depend on you whether or not we exist. If you don't like us. don't accept our invitations, and don't invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not. history is on our side. We will bury you!"

Khrushchev's enthusiasm for flashy gestures had not been liked by more conservative elements from the very start; many Soviets were greatly embarrassed by his antics, such as banging his shoe on the podium during a speech to the UN General Assembly in September 1960.

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Page last modified: 28-04-2016 20:16:54 ZULU