Introduction: Peaceful coexistence was the idea that both the Soviet states and the USA could
peacefully 'coexist' with one another. Despite this, neither the USA nor the USSR were fully
committed to peaceful coexistence. On the surface, signs of a commitment to peaceful
coexistence during 'The Thaw' from 1953-56 appeared to show an improvement in US-Soviet
relations, however behind this superficial policy designed to meet the short term domestic
needs of both superpowers lay the fundamental dynamics of the cold war, the most significant
factor of each superpowers lack of commitment being the need for maximum security which
presented itself as the arms race, for example the Soviets testing their first Hydrogen bomb Joe
1 in 1953 a year after the USA.
The Thaw proved to be a limited move in establishing peaceful coexistence, little trust had
been built by 1955 and the fundamental dynamics of the cold war remained the same.
Origins of The Thaw
An intent to improve Short term Domestic needs
Eisenhower's hard line 'brinkmanship' policy was a vote winner,
Senator McCarthy had convinced Americans the communist threat was
on their doorstep. This policy was strategic in that it would reduce the
budget deficit inherited through NSC68 and the Korean War. Although
this 'New Look' policy implied an escalation in tensions, there was
actually a remarkable improvement in relations due to the political
realities of the election campaign
After the death of Stalin in 1953, the leadership contenders for the Soviet Union adopted a less
confrontational approach in order to focus on the leadership struggle and allow resources to be
directed away from defence spending and more towards living standards and revitalising the economy.
Austrian Peace Treaty in 1955 achieved little practical results, instead proving a
more abstract importance, it helped the USSR establish themselves as a superpower
which could rival the might of the USA. The Geneva Summit of 1955 also achieved
little practical results, the only agreement to come out of the summit concerned
cultural exchanges between the USA and USSR of scientists and musicians.
Soviet economic growth at 6.7% in the 1950s disguised deeper economic problems:
growth was based disproportionately on heavy industry whilst the consumer economy
was neglected; there was little technological innovation.
Khrushchev's secret speech, 1956 at the 20th Party Congress. He attacked
Stalin for falsifying history, for victimising innocent people and he
denounced him for the purges.
In Hungary destalinisation was to lead to calls
for democratisation and a revolt against soviet
control which was to result in brutal suppression by the Soviets.
The Hungarian Uprising in 1956 shows the USSR's continued
commitment to maintaining security through control of its
buffer zones in E.E.
When Hungary demanded freedom from the Warsaw
Pact Khrushchev responded with 4000 tanks to suppress
the uprising as well as the secret execution of its leader, Imre Nagy.
The crisis showed that in practical terms the USA
could do little to intervene in Eastern Europe. In
effect the USA had accepted the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
Sino-Soviet relations also shaped the Soviets decline for their commitment to Peaceful Coexistence. Mao
Zedung of China criticised Khrushchev for his 'revisionist' approach to communism and his denunciation of
Stalin in 1956 as well as his adoption of peaceful coexistence.
From 1956 onwards Khrushchev's policy towards the West is increasingly shaped by his need to respond to
Chinese criticisms of his policies. This can be seen in the Berlin Crisis of 1958 where Khrushchev raises the
stakes against the West in an attempt to achieve total Soviet control over Berlin.
The Arms Race
Escalation of the Arms race in the 1950s. Both the USA and USSR built
increasingly destructive Hydrogen bombs, the USSR testing their first in 1953
and its first ICBM in 1957. The USSR also tested its rocket capability in 1957
when they launched the Sputnik, ending the space race and giving fears to a
Soviet attack from space.
The Gaither Report in 1957 also wrongly
convinced the USA that the USSR had
greatly surpassed the US in nuclear
capacity- however due to U2 spying
Eisenhower knew they hadn't.
The use of U2 spy planes showed the USA's paranoia
of maintaining maximum security and thus its lack of
trust with the USSR- without this peaceful
coexistence was unlikely. Such policies of 'massive
retaliation' ensured that neiuther the US nor USSR
were prepared to stop the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
Why did the Arms race escalate during this
period? massive retaliation and responding
to each other's weaponry advances
The Berlin Crisis 1958-1961
Khrushchev issues an
ultimatum to the Western
powers to end their
occupation of West Berlin and
agree to Berlin as a 'free city',
threatening a second
Khrushchev withdraws the ultimatum after a state visit to the US.
1961- Khrushchev meets the newly elected JFK and
views him as naive and easily exploited. He again
demands the withdrawal of Western forces from Berlin, JFK refuses.
August 1961- Berlin Wall is erected, stopping the flow of East Berliners into the West and ended the immediate crisis.
For West Germany, Berlin was a symbol of
Western commitment to the security of Germany
and the elusive goal of reunification. For East
Germany, Berlin was the symbol of western
influence and non-recognition.
1949-1958 2.1 million East
Germans fled to the West
Poland, June 1956
Liberalisation in Russia+ Khrushchevs destalinisation speech
encouraged some groups in the satellite states to believe the USSR
would now tolerate a relaxation in its hold on these countries. Riots
broke out but the Government restored order without the need to
use Soviet troops
The USSR did not intervene militarily
in Poland because the Polish
Communist's party's commitment to
its alliance with the USSR was never in doubt.
Polish experience was wrongly interpreted as signifying a fundamental change
in the attitude of the USSR to the Eastern bloc.