Did the Brezhnev Doctrine Prolong the Cold War?

As part of our new challenges task set, here is my challenge, to do a blog post on Leonid Brezhnev as requested by fellow blogger Ali. Brezhnev was General Secretary of the Soviet Union 1964 till his death in 1982, and was the second longest-serving Secretary after Stalin. Other than his famous eyebrows, Brezhnev was well-known for introducing the Brezhnev doctrine into Soviet society in 1968 in reply to the Czechoslovakia uprising. What I am researching within this blog post will be to see how this act in fact prolonged the Cold War.

Firstly before explaining what the Doctrine itself included, I should explain the political climate at the time. The Soviet Union at the time was near to disarray, with some of the satellite states within it hoping to break away from the Soviet Union and liberalise themselves as an independent country. The time was 1968, the year of the Prague Spring, when Czechoslovakian Alexander Dubcek the reformist was First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. This was a big moment because in the April of that year, Dubcek put in place an action plan calling for a more independent state and a new model of socialism which would remove state control over industry and allowed freedom of speech.

It is also worth quickly mentioning that the relations between the Soviet Union and the USA had been steady, they would soon be entering a period of Détente in which both sides entered a period of strained relations. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 between Kennedy and Khrushchev, both sides had been relatively neutral towards each other, with no direct conflict of interests.

 Image of Alexander Dubcek.

Although Dubcek stayed loyal to Moscow, Brezhnev got worried over the changes he saw within the country, the fact that the villains who had been purged had since been pardoned, the fact that press censorship had been eased, and even things like some plays had come back to light and the dress sense of the Moscow people changed, with men growing their hair and woman wearing shorter skirts. To Brezhnev this was worrying, due to the fact that he felt that his reign was now under increasing threat of being over thrown. This in turn led to Brezhnev meeting with Dubcek in July 1968 to discuss re-imposing strict communist ideals, and to reign in his counter-revolutionary methods. However when Brezhnev noticed that nothing was changing after his chat and after Tito of Yugoslavia visited the country, he decided to act.

The meeting between Dubcek and Brezhnev.

After a meeting in Bratislava on 3rd August 1968, in which Brezhnev read out a letter from Czechoslovakian communists asking for help, he announced the Brezhnev Doctrine. This is a very important moment in the Cold War, because although there was no direct conflict between the East and the West due to it, it did send out a very clear and aggressive message. The Brezhnev Doctrine announced to the world that the USSR would not allow any Eastern European country to reject communism. Although you can argue that there had been the agreement between the big 3 near the end of the Second World War that the Soviets had their Eastern Sphere of influence to act as a buffer zone, it pretty much stated that for the long-term there was going to be conflict if anybody tried to step out of the Iron Curtain.

 Tank heading into Prague

To really enforce his point, Brezhnev used force. On 20th August 1968, with the help of 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks, Brezhnev’s forces moved into Prague taking control of vital communication points such as the airport before making their presence known on the streets of the capital. With the soldiers expecting a warm welcome from the Czechs as Moscow had promised them, they were soon disheartened to find strengthened yet unarmed resistance. Eleven Soviet Soldiers and 72 civilians were killed, and the majority of the Czechoslovakian people did not fight, just stood in front of the tanks and put flowers in the soldiers hair.

Colour image from the Prague Spring

In the end Brezhnev put Gustav Husak, a supporter of the Soviets as the leader of the KSC. But in the long-term, this show of force really did help to prolong the Cold War. With the Romanian’s at the time having broken free from Soviet Control and improving relations with the West in this détente period, it made it look to other countries like they could too. The Czechoslovakians were angry that the Soviets were controlling and running down their economy, making the country suffer from poverty.

 Image showing just how outnumbered the Czechs were

The Doctrine not only enforced further communist rule over the country, meaning that 47 anti-communists were arrested and half the leadership of the KSC was arrested, but it sent shock waves right the way through the rest of the Iron Curtain. People in the West were horrified by the idea of the Doctrine, and countries within like Yugoslavia and Romania were worried what the future will hold for them. Therefore it is easy to see that in fact the Doctrine did prolong the Cold War, due to the fact that after giving out such a clear message to the people, it was easy to see that the countries within the Soviet Union were not going to get out.

Cartoon of Prague Spring http://www.cartoons.ac.uk/record-image/standard/13774

It’s not just in the East where I feel that the Doctrine was used, but also in their future actions, such as their war in Afghanistan 1979-1989 which was effected by this. The idea that no matter what, communist control was going to rule did prolong the Cold War, because it will without a doubt have been seen by America as an aggressive act. Although you can argue that the Eastern European countries were under state supervision already within the Soviet Sphere, it pointed to the fact that there was a possibility for future countries to not be able to escape. Therefore in conclusion to the question set at the beginning of this post, yes, the Brezhnev Doctrine did in fact prolong the Cold War due to the fact that at the time, the political climate in the East was that they had some hope of being able to make it out of the Communist rule. Yet as soon as this Doctrine was put in place, it completely shattered any hopes of this and meant that the countries would stay under the rule with little or no uprisings against it.

Another Cartoon of the Prague Spring




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