Current status of Nordic Cold War research and research training – University of Copenhagen

NORCENCOWAR > Background > Current status of rese...

Current status of Nordic Cold War research and research training

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.

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.

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).

Little effort has been done to prepare truly or systematic comparative projects or studies of Cold War policies and developments within and between each of the Nordic countries. One partial attempt was made a few years ago with the Nordic Security Policy Research Programme from 2000 to 2004, funded jointly by the Nordic Council of Ministers and the national ministries of defence; one of the six multidisciplinary research groups was “Comparative Nordic Security Policy During the Cold War”. However, results were mixed in terms of new research findings in a comparative perspective, research activities were focused exclusively on traditional security policy, and no or little effort was unfolded in terms of research training and recruitment of new researchers into the field. Also, research cooperation with neighbouring countries and regions in the North European area was missing.

In general, joint Nordic research training in the field of Cold War history also needs much to be desired, although the most recent Nordic Summer School in Contemporary History (in 2007 in Sct. Petersburg) may be considered a modest step in the right direction.