Mapping the Soviet Invasion of Western Europe

1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe
1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe (TechConex)

As late as 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall fell, the United States seriously considered the possibility that the Soviet Union might start World War III.

This Defense Department map shows the broad outline of a two-pronged Soviet attack on Western Europe. Planners expected one army to march across the Northern European Plain into the Low Countries and another to dive across Bavaria into France and the Iberian Peninsula.

At the time, the Soviets had thirty forward-deployed divisions in Eastern European to spearhead an invasion force with another 94 in Western Russia. NATO was outnumbered and counted on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to deter the Reds.

Atomic weapons played a different role in Warsaw Pact planning. Far from a last resort, they were envisaged as something like big artillery pieces that could clear the way for a ground invasion. Read more

How Finland’s Defeat in 1940 Could Have Changed the Cold War

Alternate Cold War map
Alternate Cold War map (Kuusinen)

At a glance, this doesn’t look too different from your average Cold War map. Take a closer look, though, and you will notice some oddities. Half of Austria seems to be missing. East Germany is much bigger than it should be. Greece isn’t in NATO, but Sweden is.

What happened here? Read more

How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans

The way Germany was divided into Western- and Soviet-aligned republics after the Second World War was hardly a straightforward process. The Allies started thinking about whether and how to dismember Germany in the middle of the war and considered several plans.

Some, like the Dutch request for territorial compensation, were mostly ignored. Others, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s suggestion of a north-south split, would morph into the east-west divide that characterized the Cold War. Read more

The Inescapable Cold War: Deutschland 83

Publicity photo of Jonas Nay and Maria Schrader on the set of Deutschland 83
Publicity photo of Jonas Nay and Maria Schrader on the set of Deutschland 83 (UFA Fiction)

Deutschland 83 is Germany’s answer to the highly successful American television drama The Americans. Whereas the latter follows two well-trained KGB “illegals” in the United States, Deutschland 83 centers on a young East German border guard who is unwillingly thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.

The two series have a powerful theme in common: the way in which the extreme polarization of the Cold War could destroy families. Read more

Oceania Has Always Been at War with Eurasia

Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders review an army parade in Moscow's Red Square, Russia, November 9, 1962
Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders review an army parade in Moscow’s Red Square, Russia, November 9, 1962 (Life/Stan Wayman)

Russia’s latest standoff with the West is already popularly seen as the beginning of another Cold War. In fact, the conflict’s origins go back much further. Geography and culture conspire to pit landpower Russia against the maritime civilizations of the West. The crisis in Ukraine has less to do with alleged promises about NATO expansion and a Russian government that needs to shore up its legitimacy; there is a certain inevitability about tension between the two sides that is unlikely to go away any time soon. Read more

Reagan’s Rebellion and the End of the Cold War

James Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (2009)
James Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (2009)

In university, I once attended a panel discussion about the Cold War where one of the organizers of the large antinuclear demonstrations that took place in the Netherlands in the early 1980s startled the audience by saying he believed President Ronald Reagan had been a “nuclear pacifist.”

Many of the students, who had been taught Reagan was a cowboy, a radical rightwinger and a strident anti-communist who spoke of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” just as Mikhail Gorbachev set about reforming the country, found the old peacenik’s admiration of the Republican president difficult to understand. Hadn’t Reagan stepped up the arms race, they asked? Wasn’t it his administration that deployed cruise missiles in Western Europe — the very missiles he protested against at the time? Read more