By JOHN M. MARTIN
This is one of a series of presentations by scholars in the Library's John W. Kluge Center. Through a generous endowment from its namesake, the Library established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world's best thinkers to stimulate, energize, and distill wisdom from the Library's rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington, D.C. The Kluge Center houses five senior Kluge Chairs (American Law and Governance, Countries and Cultures of the North, Countries and Cultures of the South, Technology and So-ciety, and Modern Culture); other senior-level chairs (Henry A. Kissinger Chair, Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in American History and Ethics, and the Harissios Papamarkou Chair in Education); and nearly 25 post-doctoral fellows.
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe … and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow."
Winston Churchill made his now famous "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Mo., on March 5, 1946, an event that many have seen as the symbolic inauguration of the Cold War. Klaus Larres, the current Henry Alfred Kissinger Scholar at the Library of Congress, outlined Churchill's efforts to end the Cold War with the help of multilateral negotiations in his lecture on Dec. 5, marking the release of his new book, "Churchill's Cold War: the Politics of Personal Diplomacy" (Yale University Press, 2002) .
Larres emphasized that in spite of Churchill's reputation as an ardent opponent of Soviet expansionism, unapologetic imperialist, and staunchly conservative politician, after 1945 he championed the cause of a negotiated settlement of the Cold War, and harbored the firm conviction that he, Churchill, was just the man to achieve it.
In his presentation, Larres briefly surveyed the existing literature which mostly focuses on Churchill's World War II politics and noted that "Churchill scholarship runs the gamut from hagiography to hatchet job." Churchill, for his part, seemed unconcerned with the verdict of future generations. "'History will be kind to me,' Churchill said, 'for I intend to write it myself.'"
Churchill's ultimately unsuccessful efforts to resolve the East-West conflict sprang from a mixture of motives. According to Larres, Churchill, a son of the 19th century, could not accept anything less than a world power role for the United Kingdom. Churchill thus actively sought the role of Cold War peacemaker to enable his country to be a mediator betweem East and West in the Cold War and achieve a rapprochement, guaranteed by Britain, between the Soviet Union and a reunited but neutral Germany.
Churchill saw continued confrontation with Soviet Russia as a looming disaster and believed that he, as a soldier, statesman and historian, was uniquely qualified to avert that calamity. Larres noted that Churchill's push for an early, negotiated settlement to the Cold War was characterized by a penchant for diplomacy via personal relationships and a tendency to grandstand. In seeking a return to Big Power summit meetings, like those he held during the war with Roosevelt and Stalin, Churchill sought to recreate the environment in which he thrived. His single-minded quest often caused consternation in Washington and West Germany.
Larres observed that it also annoyed the senior leaders of his own Conservative Party and the officials in the British Foreign Office. And he quoted British historian A.J.P. Taylor, who said that "Churchill lived for crisis, he profited from crisis, and if crisis didn't exist, he invented it."
After the electoral defeat of Clement Atlee's Labor government, Churchill returned as prime minister in October 1951. The tension between Churchill's ambition to overcome the Cold War and Britain's reduced role in the world helped undermine a January 1952 meeting with President Truman in Washington, where Churchill had gone to press his idea for a "Big Three" summit meeting between the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain. Larres outlined that Truman "knew that politically a summit with the Communists wouldn't float in America" and he was therefore unenthusiastic when Churchill attempted to convince him of a three-power meeting with Stalin.
A few months later, Stalin's death in early March 1953 gave Churchill a real chance to arrange a summit meeting with the new collective leadership in Moscow. Anthony Eden, Churchill's foreign secretary and heir apparent, opposed the idea of approaching the Soviets, Larres said. But during Eden's extended illness in the summer of 1953, Churchill made himself acting foreign secretary and continued to urge a "Big Three" summit conference. To Churchill's disappointment, said Larres, the new Eisenhower administration chose ideological confrontation instead of rapprochement with Stalin's successors in the Kremlin. Eisenhower, in turn, was annoyed by what he viewed as Churchill's presumptuousness about knowing how best to overcome the Cold War. Moreover, "Churchill tended to treat Ike as a junior," Larres said, "failing to realize that Eisenhower had, in fact, eclipsed him as the world's senior statesman."
Churchill fell seriously ill himself in June 1953 and both Washington and West Germany used the opportunity to undermine the ailing prime minister's summit proposal. Churchill could do little to prevent it. In December 1953, Churchill, Eisenhower and Joseph Laniel, the new French premier, and their foreign ministers met in Bermuda. The conference proved to be Churchill's last summit meeting. At Bermuda, Larres said, Churchill continued to push for a top-level summit with the Soviets. However, the conference yielded few results and ended in chaos and personal animosity. Larres quoted a frustrated Anthony Eden, writing to his wife: "Please make me retire before I begin to behave like the current Prime Minister."
According to Larres, both lack of American support and Soviet suspicion combined to defeat Churchill's personal diplomacy. Eisenhower vehemently disagreed with Churchill. He did not want to propitiate the Soviets, since he believed there had been no change in their global agenda to destroy the capitalist West. The Russians, for their part, said Larres, didn't trust Churchill and viewed his initiative as some kind of Western trap. Churchill's renewed initiative in the summer of 1954 to overcome the Cold War by yet again attempting to convene a "Big Three" summit meeting also failed. Although Churchill approached Soviet foreign minister Molotov directly, the Soviets showed no more than lukewarm interest in Churchill's proposal. The Eisenhower administration in turn was deeply annoyed about the British Prime Minister's unilateral and uncoordinated initiative.
Only in 1955 did the United States become much more open to the idea of negotiation with the Soviets, Larres emphasized. In April 1955 the ailing Churchill had retired and Washington believed that his successor Anthony Eden, who represented the United Kingdom at the Geneva summit conference in July 1955, was a much "safer pair of hands." Unlike Churchill, Eden could be relied upon not to propose any imaginative initiatives to change the West's entire Cold War strategy. Even more crucial was the fact that in early May 1955 West Germany had become fully integrated into the western alliance when the country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). With Churchill out of the way and the German problem temporarily resolved, a summit meeting with the Soviets was seen as less dangerous than hitherto in Washington.
"Despite his faults," Larres argued, "Winston Churchill was the only Western statesman in power to entertain the notion of resolving, rather than fighting, the Cold War. … He should not be regarded as a stereotypical cold-warrior, as generally perceived, but as a genuine peace-maker and perhaps even as the forerunner of the détente of the 1970s".
Klaus Larres holds the Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations during the 2002-03 academic year. He is also a visiting fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., and Jean Monnet Professor in European foreign and security policy at Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Among his other recent publications are "The Cold War: Essential Readings" (edited with A. Lane, Longman, 2001) and "Uneasy Allies: British-German Relations and European Integration Since 1945" (Oxford University Press, 2000).
John M. Martin is a copyright examiner in the Visual Arts Section of the Copyright Office.