Background – University of Copenhagen

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Nordic and North/Central European Network of Cold War Researchers – NORCENCOWAR

What can we gain from cold war research?

The history of the Cold War and the lessons from this epic international conflict of the 20th Century, certainly including the peaceful end of the conflict, continues to exert its distinct influence on domestic politics and public debates in the Nordic countries, as well as on international relations and international conflicts which involve or affect the Nordic countries and the North European region in the early 21st century. Notably much tension in the Middle East and the current armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are rooted in part in socio-economic and geopolitical conflicts during the Cold War period. Deeper insight into the complexities of the Cold War and the specific role of the Nordic and Northern European countries in the Cold War, therefore, will also enhance our understanding of several present day socio-economic issues and topical international conflicts, and may even point to potential solutions to some of these conflicts.

Cold war research: An expanding field

In some respects, research of the history of the Cold War has begun to flourish in the Nordic countries during the last 10 to 15 years. The end of the Cold War meant that many important government archives from the early and mid-Cold War period were finally opened to research. Detailed studies as well as more general research based outlines of the security and defence policies of the Nordic countries – the traditional ‘core’ of Cold War research by historians and political scientists – have been supplemented by studies of the civil and the military surveillance and intelligence services of the Nordic countries, and of socio-economic issues such as trade relations, in particular between the Nordic countries and the East Bloc, and the relationship between Cold War anti-communism and the consolidation of the social-democratic or social-liberal welfare state. In particular the first two decades of the Cold War have been well researched in these respects. During recent years, even cultural, ideological (e.g. ‘Americanization’), opinion and ‘daily life’ aspects of the (early) Cold War in the Nordic countries have come under closer scholarly scrutiny.

National studies

However, despite the amount of research, almost all studies up until now have been exclusively national ones. To a remarkable degree, in view of the cultural and linguistic similarities and the geographical proximity of the Nordic countries, Cold War research in the Nordic countries has been conducted in ‘splendid isolation’ within the confinement of national boundaries, and often major research results are published in national languages, which of course is particularly blocking in the Finnish case (and the Icelandic and Estonian cases).


With the aim of strengthening Nordic Cold War research and research training, the Nordic and North/Central European Network of Cold War Researchers - NORCENCOWAR - has therefore been established. With support from Nordforsk funding, the network aims at initiating a broad range of activities, including joint Nordic Research training seminars and conferences.