I confess to experiencing a sympathetic déjà vu vis-à-vis Professor Francis Bowen when Mr. Tismaneanu, instead of addressing my arguments and evidence regarding the reality of Romanian defiance and the concrete impact of its “separate course” as reflected in the internal documents of the USSR, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, claims ever more stridently that the Romanian communist leadership “never ever tried to go beyond the limits permitted by the Kremlin.” (Tismaneanu 12/5/13, contributors.ro) Although Soviet Central Committee documents regularly described Romania’s “special course” as inflicting “serious damage” upon Kremlin policy within the alliance, within the socialist community, and globally, Mr. Tismaneanu continues to insist adamantly that Moscow only considered Romania “a sometimes annoying mosquito” and that the Kremlin never perceived any “major geopolitical risk or an alternate model of socialism” in Romania’s independent policy. Let me address these claims in reverse order.
Moscow did in fact express repeated concern that Romania, together with China, would set up a alternate socialist model that would compete with the USSR, at least from 1965 and throughout the 1970s, and the translated Soviet documents that discuss this obsession can be found in Cold War International History Project Working Paper #65 on the website of the Woodrow Wilson Center. (CWIHP Working Paper #65, www.wilsoncenter.org, 12/2012) In May 1968 Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Grechko stated unequivocally that the Soviet alliance could not survive Romania’s departure. (Matthew J. Ouimet, The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy (2003)) My source for this, by the way, is today senior analyst for Russia and Eurasia in the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
The USSR suffered a major geopolitical loss because of Romanian mediation of US-Chinese relations – which in turn shifted the balance of global forces. As President Nixon stated to his National Security Council in August 1969, “We have always assumed that the Chinese are hard liners and the Soviets are more reasonable. [But] Ceauşescu says that the Soviets are tougher and more aggressive than the Chinese. We must look at China on a long term basis.” (US State Department 14/8/69, history.state.gov)
Romanian mediation between Egypt and Israel was also instrumental in the Soviet “loss” of Egypt, which both the CIA and KGB concluded was the strategically most important state in the Middle East at the time. (KGB report cited in CIA, 12/1/86, foia.cia.gov) Moscow was not able to recover from either loss for the rest of the Cold War. So much for the Romanian “mosquito” and its inconsequence for European and global politics.
In light of the above, there would seem to be little evidentiary basis for Mr. Tismaneanu’s claim that Communist Romania “never ever tried to go beyond the limits permitted by the Kremlin.” However, let’s suspend credulity and entertain the possibility a moment longer. The most plausible argument for such a claim is the fact that Romania never left the Warsaw Pact alliance before the collapse of communism. But was this because of lack of Soviet permission? Romania was never offered an alternative military alliance. And the one it did have, as objectionable as it was to Romanian leaders and policy, did in fact also constrain its partners, and did grant it access to some of their inner councils.
Would complete security isolation, surrounded by an alliance that was clearly antagonistic to it, have served Romanian interests better? I do not think so. Neither did any of the responsible Romanian leaders. But then, reasonable people may differ. In any case, as I try to show in Extorting Peace: Romania and the End of the Cold War, 1978-1989, and especially in its last five chapters, by remaining within the Warsaw Pact and exercising its influence upon alliance and Soviet military policy, Romania was able to accomplish much for which Europe and the US should be grateful.
After 1963 the notion that the Kremlin could control Romanian behavior was discredited within both intelligence and academic circles in the United States and Europe. The notion reemerged sporadically but with no effect on US policy during the 1970s, and became a serious proposition only with Romania’s international isolation during the latter 1980s. In other words, the claim of Kremlin control over Romania behavior was made credible only because no one bothered to examine it seriously any longer; just as a closer look today readily reveals the flimsiness of new raiment on that old emperor.
I find the arrogance of those who insist that the US was gullible and naïvely manipulated by communist leaders in Bucharest into perceiving a Romanian independence that did not exist stupefying. Do not misunderstand me. I have my own catalog of what I consider to be egregious policy choices that the United States is making or has made in the recent and more distant past. But that is not our subject here. And, frankly, I am much more comfortable critiquing the policy choices of states other than my own (so sue me.)
I can readily accept the hypothesis that this or that US administration was “fooled” by this or that foreign state or leader on this or that policy. I can even accept the remote possibility that two administrations of the same political coloring may have fallen into the same trap on a particular policy. Although Americans justly pride themselves on the degree and breadth of excellence with which chief executives have surrounded themselves traditionally, we are, after all, only human.
But to maintain that presidential administrations from Kennedy to Reagan (President Reagan during his first term) – which include three democratic administrations and three republican administrations – were all “fooled” by communist Romania would fail the minimal plausibility requirements of the novels currently read by my nine-year-old daughter. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln phrased the bar to credulity on this claim best when he said: “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” You just cannot. And you especially cannot when the party to be fooled possesses the combined intelligence-gathering and analytical capabilities of the United States.
Consider the following, more serious assessments. In March 1968 the CIA concluded that “It is now clear that – beyond the requirements of a simple prudence – the Romanians have never set any particular limits, on what they plan to do; it is the Soviets who must set the limits, or at least try.” The regime in Bucharest, “in fact, considers the USSR in many ways to be the chief obstacle to the achievement of Romania’s national goals and behaves accordingly,” acting “at times in ways which undercut Soviet policies in areas only very indirectly related to the question of sovereignty. (This seems to be the case, for example, in the Middle East.)” (CIA, 21/3/68, foia.cia.gov)
This was not the opinion of some lowly junior analyst that I managed to pull out of a mountain of documents asserting the contrary. It was an assessment bearing the signature of Abbot Smith, the chairman of the CIA’s Board of National Estimates and, arguably, the most senior and influential analyst in the US intelligence community. His predecessor, Sherman Kent, who is rightly considered the godfather of modern analysis by intelligence professionals in the US, considered Romania a de facto partner after it tore a hole in the electronic curtain that had previously blocked Western broadcasts from reaching into the USSR. This was yet another strategic blow delivered by Bucharest that earned it ranking as one of the “main subversive centers” alongside the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Israel, a ranking it preserved in KGB documents as late as November 1989. (CWIHP Working Paper #65, www.wilsoncenter.org, 12/2012)
Looking back over a lifetime of assessing the Soviet Bloc, another senior CIA analyst noted in the 1980s that Romania’s “particularly risky” independence had “successfully redefined the role of a member of the Bloc, maintaining ties that are mostly formal and confining Soviet influence almost entirely to the negative,” while “all of its moves and positions have been swallowed by the post-Stalin Soviet leaderships, which sometimes seem less tolerant than simply outplayed.” According to the retiring career officer, “all the East European states have benefited from Romania’s insistence on (and the USSR’s recognition of) the right of members to assert independent views in Bloc councils.” (CIA, 12/1/82, foia.cia.gov)
Regardless of what political odor the Central Intelligence Agency and its analysts may currently enjoy (or suffer), I would trust their time-tested assessments over those of Mr. Tismaneanu even had I not read the internal Warsaw Pact documents that fully confirm them. Assertions that Romania defiance and opposition during the Cold War was insignificant and had no impact on the geopolitical confrontation between East and West are simply wrong. Such assertions were debunked at the time by reliable intelligence assessment, and their wrongheadedness has been confirmed beyond doubt in the documents of the other Warsaw Pact members that have come to light since the collapse of communism. No amount of denial or negation, and no attempt at deception or prestidigitation will change that fundamental reality.
During the mid-19th century, Professor Bowen was hindered in the degree to which he could directly respond to his attackers by considerations of professional and social prestige (none of his attackers were academic experts, specialists in the field or, for that matter, university professors.) Joyfully, I am not encumbered by such limitations. Should Mr. Tismaneanu choose to emerge from behind his careful insinuations and engage me directly on the arguments I present, he will find a willing partner in public discussion.
But fear not, dear reader. I will not hold my breath.