Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stalin's Caution

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin was a communist but he was also first and foremost a Russian nationalist.  As the communists in Greece learned Stalin would cut you off at the knees if your interests differed from those of mother Russia.  Similarly the Soviet dictator gave only perfunctory support to Mao’s communists in China during their civil war with Chang Kai-shek.  North Korea got Stalin’s support of an invasion of South Korea only after he felt certain the U.S. would not intervene militarily.  Russia had an enormous army and, for Stalin, the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence only extended to areas his army could safely impact.  This meant his focus was on Europe and Russia’s historical interest in Turkish and Iranian land, both adjoining this vast nation.  Stalin would shell out a few bucks to fund communist party activity in South America but he, otherwise, wasn’t going to challenge the United States in the Western Hemisphere.  It didn’t make military sense.  He hadn’t the naval resources to provision a Russian adventure across thousands of miles of American patrolled ocean.  Why should he take such risks when his Marxist beliefs told him it was inevitable that capitalist nations such as the United States and Britain would eventually weaken each other in wars brought on by their greed?  Communism was an historic inevitability.  He only had to be patient and wait.

In understanding Joseph Stalin it might be instructive to look at the argument he used to out maneuver Leon Trotsky for the leadership of the Soviet Union when Lenin died in 1924.  Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, advocated sponsoring continued world revolution.  Stalin was more circumspect.  He said now wasn’t the time for Russia to become involved with foreign adventures.  The nation needed rebuilding following its disastrous role in the Great War as well as a subsequent civil war that was only recently resolved.  Stalin advocated building the Soviet Union into a great military power.  This would require converting its primitive peasant society into an enormous industrial economy.  The Soviet Union faced powerful, potential enemies along its borders.  Japan was off its Pacific coast in the east.  The Japanese already controlled the Korean peninsula and were rivals with the Russians for control of Manchuria.  The Japanese humiliated Russia by sinking her Pacific fleet in 1905.  Japan was rapidly growing in power and the nation’s leaders had ambitions that threatened Soviet interests.

China shared a long border with the Soviet Union.  At present she was a fragmented, undeveloped nation but this would not always be the case.  Defending Russia’s southern borders would require an enormous investment in troops.  Most menacing of all, though, to Stalin and the Kremlin leadership, were the powerful capitalist nations of Western Europe, particularly Germany.  They were all openly opposed to communist rule of Russia and Stalin viewed them with utmost suspicion. 

Whereas the United States was separated from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, requiring a powerful navy to protect its trade routes, the Soviet Union faced all its threats close at hand, along its landlocked borders.  Historically Russia was always viewed as a land power having vast numbers of men available for her army.  Stalin’s muscle was primarily with his tanks and his many infantry divisions.  He would have thought investing his nation’s military credibility in manning a distant outpost across the Atlantic a foolish enterprise that promised little upside to the risk involved.  This was probably on the minds of many members of the Politburo, the ruling council of the Kremlin, when the Soviet Union’s leader, Nikita Khrushchev, vowed military support of Cuba’s charismatic new leader, Fidel Castro.  Khrushchev boasted of the audacity of setting up camp in the American lake that was the Caribbean – implying the move would have been too bold for the legendary Stalin.  Encouraged by his view that the young, inexperienced Kennedy was a weak and indecisive president, Khrushchev placed nuclear armed ballistic missiles in Cuba.  This would lead to the fateful 1962 superpower confrontation.  Although Khrushchev procured Kennedy’s pledge of not invading Cuba in return for packing up the missiles and returning them to Russia, the world would largely view the venture as resulting in a humiliating defeat for the Soviet Union.  Members of the Politburo agreed when they deposed Khrushchev two years later, labeling his schemes as “harebrained.”  The Castro brothers remain in control of Cuba after more than fifty years, surviving the downfall of their benefactor, the Soviet Union.  While their economy has never recovered from the loss of Russian subsidies they have been able to build trade ties with China and other nations.  And while they never represented a dagger to America’s heart they persist in being a thorn, thumbing their nose and jeering at Uncle Sam ninety miles from his beautiful white Florida beaches.

Related Topics:

Castro Si, Batista No

Strategic Bombing

21st Century Air Force

Confronting Nuclear War

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