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THE COLD WAR by Martin Walker


A History

by Martin Walker

Pub Date: June 9th, 1994
ISBN: 0-8050-3190-1
Publisher: Henry Holt

Absorbing history spanning five complex decades of geopolitics and economics with clarity and panache. Longtime Moscow and Washington correspondent for the (Manchester) Guardian, Walker (The Money Soldiers, 1980) combines a broad awareness of history with a journalist's magpie eye for the telling anecdote—such as Reagan and Gromyko breaking through the strategic permafrost by acknowledging the demands of mortality in the form of their mutual bladder trouble. With a keen sense of drama, Walker portrays the Cold War as a high-stakes game of brinkmanship, bluff, and counterbluff played by a shifting and adroitly sketched cast. Although the two superpowers occupy center stage, Walker's perspective is global, moving from Berlin and Yalta just after WW II to the economic and political distortions that the 40-year standoff inflicted throughout an increasingly polarized world. As outright war became an ever more unthinkable prospect, America and Russia's contest—the first total ideological war, Walker suggests—was increasingly displaced onto a latter-day version of the ``Great Game'' of 19th-century imperialism played out in proxy conflicts on every continent. Walker addresses Cuba and Vietnam, summit meetings and showdowns, but what he regards as ultimately decisive is the ongoing war of economic attrition brought on by the Cold War's massive expenditures. And although he credits Reagan (no doubt too generously for some tastes) with the foresight both to call the USSR's bluff in the arms race and to match Gorbachev's vision of a nuclear-free world with his own, Walker suggests that American ``victory'' was bought at a huge price: Not only did the US see its economic hegemony usurped by the European and Asian allies its geopolitical strategy had enriched, but its own economic exhaustion finally rivaled that of its bested Soviet counterpart. This outcome fits the central irony of Walker's Cold War: America and Russia ``had more in common with one another than with their fractious and unruly allies.''