Skip to main content
  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: September 2017

3 - The Soviet Union and the Global Cold War

from Part I - Globalism and Crisis
Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

The Cambridge History of Communism
  • Online ISBN: 9781316471821
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *

For a deeper understanding of the Soviet Union’s role in the global Cold War, it is worth going back to Lenin, Vladimir’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), which laid out the Bolsheviks’ approach to the colonial question. During the Cold War the question of the Soviet Union’s role in the “Third World” was a topic frequently broached by European and American scholars. Among the most notable analysts were Rubinstein, Alvin Z., whose books include Red Star on the Nile: The Soviet–Egyptian Influence Relationship Since the June War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977) and Moscow’s Third World Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); Katz, Mark N., The Third World in Soviet Military Thought (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982); Halliday, Fred, Cold War, Third World: An Essay on Soviet–US Relations (London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989); and Golan, Galia, The Soviet Union and National Liberation Movements in the Third World (Boston and London: Unwin Hyman, 1988). A number of scholars have also explored the connection between the Soviet “south” and its policies abroad; notable works include Wilber, Charles K., The Soviet Model and Underdeveloped Countries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1969), and Nove, Alec and Newth, J. A., The Soviet Middle East: A Communist Model for Development (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966). Still others focused on how the Soviet Union tried to use the heritage of its Muslim population in reaching out to countries in the Middle East and South Asia; these include Dawisha, Karen and Carrere d’Encausse, Hélène, “Islam in the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union: A Double-Edged Sword?,” in Dawisha, Adeeb I. (ed.), Islam in Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 160–77, and Ro’i, Yaacov, “The Role of Islam and Soviet Muslims in Soviet Arab Policy,” Asian and African Studies 10, 2 (1974), 157–81, and 10, 3 (1975), 259–80. Although these works have been superseded in many cases, they are nevertheless valuable and insightful for scholars starting their research on these topics. The above list is representative rather than exhaustive.

Soviet writing on the Third World should also be of interest to scholars interested in these questions, for what they reveal about changing notions regarding development, revolution and Moscow’s foreign-policy priorities. Most of this literature remains available only in Russian, but see for example Simonia, Nodari, Synthesis of Traditional and Modern in the Evolution of Third World Societies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992).

The end of the Cold War and the past fifteen years in particular have seen a proliferation of new studies on the Soviet Union and the global Cold War, taking advantage of archival resources in the former USSR and beyond. Many of the works of the 1990s included an explicitly Moscow-centric view, but shone new light on key episodes and problems in the history of Soviet foreign policy. These include Fursenko, Aleksandr and Naftali, Timothy, One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), as well as Gaiduk, Ilya V., The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996), and Confronting Vietnam: Soviet Policy Toward the Indochina Conflict 1954–1963 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2003). At the same time, works taking a more international and even transnational approach began to appear, often engaging with a broader debate about the history of decolonization, postcolonialism and development in the twentieth century. An early example is Bishop, Elizabeth’s Ph.D. thesis, “Talking Shop: Egyptian Engineers and Soviet Specialists at the Aswan High Dam” (University of Chicago, 1997). Westad, Odd Arne’s The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) helped catalyze the field and remains a crucial reference point.

Since then, the field has continued to expand. Engerman, David’s “The Second World’s Third World,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, 1 (Winter 2011), 183211, remains a very useful guide to the literature, although many new works have appeared since the article came out. Important works on the Soviet Union and China include Luthi, Lorenz, The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Radchenko, Sergey, Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962–1967 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); Jersild, Austin, The Sino-Soviet Alliance: An International History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); and Friedman, Jeremy, Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015). On the Soviet Union and the Middle East, see in particular Laron, Guy’s Origins of the Suez Crisis: Postwar Development Diplomacy and the Struggle over Third World Industrialization, 1945–1956 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2013); and Ferris, Jesse, Nasser’s Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). Daigle, Craig’s The Limits of Détente: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1969–1973 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012) is more focused on the US perspective but has valuable insights on Moscow’s point of view, based on Soviet sources. On the USSR and Africa, see Mazov, Sergey, A Distant Front in the Cold War: The USSR in West Africa and the Congo, 1956–1964 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), as well as Iandolo, Alessandro, “The Rise and Fall of the ‘Soviet Model of Development’ in West Africa, 1957–1964,” Cold War History 12, 4 (Nov. 2012), 683704, and Telepneva, Natalia, “Our Sacred Duty: The Soviet Union, the Liberation Movements in the Portuguese Colonies, and the Cold War, 1961–1975,” Ph.D. thesis (London School of Economics, 2014). On Latin America, see Rupprecht, Tobias, Soviet Internationalism After Stalin: Interaction and Exchange Between the USSR and Latin America During the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Getchell, Michelle Denise, “Revisiting the 1954 Coup in Guatemala: The Soviet Union, the United Nations, and ‘Hemispheric Solidarity,’Journal of Cold War Studies 17, 2 (Spring 2015), 73102; and Vanni Pettina, “Mexican–Soviet Relations, 1958–1964: The Limits of Engagement,” Cold War International History Project e-dossier,–1964-the-limits-engagement