Malenkov - Foreign Policy

Georgi Malenkov succeeded Joseph Stalin as premier of the Soviet Union and launched the “peace offensive” with the statement that there is “no litigious or unresolved question which could not be settled by peaceful means on the basis of the mutual agreement of the countries concerned.” Fearing they had inferior nuclear capacity, the Soviets launched the “peace offensive” in 1953, engaging in a propaganda campaign against the use of nuclear weapons.

Malenkov in his public speeches and personal contacts gave the diplomatic colony the almost unanimous impression of a realistic and calm approach to problems of foreign policy. Malenkov inaugurated the "peace" campaign immediately after Stalin's death with his remark that there were no outstanding international issues which could not be settled by peaceful negotiation. On diplomatic occasions he invariably took a peaceful line, on one occasion correcting Khrushchev, who was making belligerent statements.

US Ambassador George Kennan stated his view that Malenkov during 1951 had succeeded in securing predominant influence over Stalin, had misinformed Stalin about Western intentions, and was in fact largely responsible for preventing Kennan from seeing Stalin during his Moscow tour. Kennan also identifies Malenkov with the hate-America line.

Within days of the death of Stalin in March 1953 CIA produced SE-39, "Probable Consequences of the Death of Stalin and of the Elevation of Malenkov to Leadership in the USSR". The report predicted continuity — that is, unremitting hostility — but expressed concern about the ability of Stalin’s successors to manage the Cold War peacefully. Stalin, it averred, “while ruthless and determined to spread Soviet power, did not allow his ambitions to lead him into reckless courses of action in his foreign policy.” It warned that “it would be unsafe to assume that the new Soviet regime will have Stalin’s skill in avoiding general war.” The new leaders might have more difficulty abandoning positions and might react more strongly to Western moves, the estimate continued, as well as be less sure in handling new developments, including new Western proposals.

In an 8 April 1953 memorandum prepared for a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, CIA confessed up front that “recent Soviet moves belie many of [CIA’s earlier] predictions” of cautious policy continuity. The unexpected moves abounded: a repudiation of the alleged doctors’ plot to kill Soviet leaders, the scrapping of Stalin worship, an amnesty, and no fewer than nine steps marking a “peace offensive” on the international front (e.g., relaxing Berlin traffic controls and accepting a UN proposal for exchanging sick and wounded in Korea). Motives for the new stance were depicted as lessening the danger of war and gaining a breathing space for the new leaders, stopping US rearmament and the European Defense Community initiatives, and encouraging the eventual neutralization of Germany and Japan and removal of US troops from Europe and Asia.

The American analysts found the internal changes more difficult to understand. They speculated that the succession problem was not solved after all and that “an abrupt change in Soviet tactics, comparable only to that in 1939, may be impending.” Thus emerged the first instance of a troublesome problem that would bedevil CIA’s analysts throughout the Cold War years: “soft-line” Soviet flexibility was in some ways tougher for them (and their policy customers) to deal with than “hard-line” Soviet hostility.

One of the most debatable and obscure aspects of the Malenkov affair was the role that foreign policy problems and issues may have played, and the implications that differing estimates of the international situation may have had for the level of defense expenditures of the Soviet government.

For the six weeks or so preceding Malenkov's resignation, Soviet propaganda emphasized the need for heavy industrial development, justifying it by a marked increase in emphasis on building the might of the Soviet state, the requirements of national defense, and heightened international tension.

One line of analysis argues that a split in the Presidium on foreign policy matters was the central and fundamental factor in Malenkov's ouster. Is this view, the leaders differed in their evaluations of the degree of seriousness of the world situation; these differences led to correspondingly different estimates of the defense requirements of the USSR; and the defense requirements in turn affected the whole range of domestic issues, but most particularly the problem of the relative priority to be accorded heavy industry.

Another line of analysis argued that foreign policy issues, while important, were nonetheless secondary to more fundamental domestic issues and the issue of power.

A third line of argument denies that foreign policy matters had much if any relation to the leadership problem. Analysts holding this viewpoint believed that Malenkov's ouster was the result of either a serious domestic issue or a pure struggle for power.

These analysts argue that even the "new course" in Soviet foreign policy had been consistently applied by both Malenkov and Khrushchev, reflecting similar appraisals of the world situation, and that they pursued foreign policy aims with a consistency and decisiveness which would argue against significant differences in policy outlook.

On the other hand, US Ambassador Chip Bohlen on a number of occasions commented on an apparent difference in outlook of Malenkov and Khrushchev on international affairs. In Bohlen's view, Malenkov was inclined to take a more sober and calm view of the international situation than did Khrushchev. In addition, the Ambassador interpreted the disparate treatment of light and heavy industry by the Soviet press as a sign of division in the top Soviet leadership.

The Malenkov view, according to this analysis, was apparently that the threat of mutual destruction had made war less likely and that defense spending might therefore be stabilized. The opposing view, propounded by Bulganin, implied that even with modern weapons war was inevitable, emphasized the danger of a surprise onslaught, and insisted on continued strengthening of the armed forces. According to this analysis, this policy controversy continued at least until November 1954, and must have been an important element in the controversy concerning relative priorities of light and heavy industry.

On 07 November 1954, at the official Soviet reception held at the Kremlin as part of the celebration of the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Chip Bohlen, the US Ambassador in the Soviet Union, and the British Ambassador were almost literally buttonholed by Malenkov who held us in conversation for well over half-hour. Malenkov told US Ambassador Bohlen that he hoped we understood that Soviet desire for peace and normal relations was very serious and sincere; that Soviet people and Government wanted peace in order to pursue their plans of internal development; that world situation was serious and many of the outstanding questions would take time and patience before they could be settled by negotiation which Soviet Government considered to be the only proper method of resolving disputes.

There was nothing startling or especially new in this conversation with Malenkov but it was singularly free, on his side, of usual mechanical clichés which other Soviet officials including Molotov invariably use. He seemed particularly desirous of impressing the seriousness with which Soviet Union viewed world scene and of its desire to prevent it turning into war. He made an impression of a man of great determination and ruthlessness but with a more subtle and highly developed intelligence than his associates. Soviet officials went out of their way, particularly in regard to US, to emphasize seriousness of their desire for normal relations.

In his speech at the Supreme Soviet in February 1955, Molotov explicitly repudiated Malenkov's formulation, asserting that a new war would not mean the end of "world civilization" but only of capitalism. Since then there was sustained discussion of this thesis in Kommunist and other Soviet publications. In these articles, the idea of the destruction of civilization is rejected as "theoretically erroneous" and "politically harmful."

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Page last modified: 31-10-2016 18:55:09 ZULU