GW Makes Mongolia a Hot Topic in Cold War Studies
At the foot of the Silk Road on the Mongolian Step in an isolated jhuree
(a type of Mongolian tent) encampment outside Ulaan Baator, representatives
of The George Washington University Cold War Group (GWCW) put on an impressive
display. It wasnt their co-sponsorship, along with the Civic Education
Project Mongolia, of the conference titled the International
Workshop on Mongolia and the Cold War, that was so noteworthy. GWCW
has been deeply entrenched in Cold War research and scholarship since
its formation in 2000. Instead it was the fact that the assembly was dominated
by graduate student participation. GW PhD candidates Yvette Chin and Malgorzata
Gnoinsha, along with visiting faculty fellow at the national University
of Mongolia, Sergey Radchenko, participated in the first major conference
on Mongolias impact in the Cold War.
The GWCW group was the brainchild of three faculty members, James Hershberg,
associate professor of history and international affairs, Hope Harrison,
assistant professor of history and international affairs, and James Goldgeier,
associate professor political science, director for Institute for European,
Russian and Eurasian Studies. They created the group four years ago to
promote Cold War studies at GW, both by faculty and graduate students.
Recently, a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation has enabled GWCW to add
to its slate of programs on the Cold War in Asia, including workshops
on major Cold War in Asia topics and promoting research and document translation,
in addition to supporting a position in the history department dealing
with the history of US relations with East Asia during the Cold War.
Since 2000, the group has hosted a series of conferences and brown-bag
lectures, including one focusing on the 30th anniversary of Nixons
trip to China, and another in Budapest, Hungary, spotlighting the importance
of central and east European archives on the Cold War in Asia.
At the Budapest conference, the issue of Mongolia in the Cold War emerged
as the next intriguing subject for a conference. A mysterious and isolated
outpost during the Cold War, Mongolias location between the Soviet
Union and China placed the country in the center of the Sino-Soviet conflict.
Following the Budapest forum, the GWCW group quickly moved to assemble
the Mongolian conference.
The presentations all went sensationally well, said Hershberg.
He added that it was particularly gratifying because graduate students
were playing such a prominent role presenting fresh evidence at
a really unusual level at an international scholarly meeting.
According to Hershberg, although there were many prominent international
Cold War scholars and institutions represented at the Mongolia meeting,
Chins participation stood out. She gave a presentation on Mongolias
admission into the United Nations, chaired a panel discussion and was
co-editor of the briefing book of declassified Mongolian and American
Her talk, Mongolias Membership in the United Nations and the
Recognition Crisis in the Kennedy Administration, focused on the
unexpected chain of events that led to Mongolias admissions into
the United Nations in 1961.
Through my research mostly Ive been looking at the American
documents at this point, Chin said. I noticed that every couple
of years starting in the 60s and into the 70s, there were
brief attempts toward recognition and establishing formal diplomatic relations
with Mongolia. But it never went anywhere. It got tied up with Americas
two-China policy [supporting Nationalist Chinas claim to the nation
over that of Communist China]. Our domestic politics made it so presidential
administrations really couldnt do anything about Mongolia.
It gets all tied up with issues like, can you ignore a country? By 1961,
Mongolia is sitting in the United Nations, you are looking at the delegation,
but you dont recognize them?
Because international Cold War history is such a new field, and so many
new opportunities for research are emerging in so many different places,
explained Hershberg, graduate students are really able to make an impression
at a much earlier stage than is normally the case in most other fields.
For me there is a kind of subtly to be had with smaller, less high-tension
conflicts on the international spectrum, said Chin explaining what
the lured her to study the diplomatic history of the Cold War.
Even though Mongolia seems awfully remote, Chin said, there are certain
aspects of the history that really touch upon a lot of other Cold War
flash points the crisis that Cold War historians tend to look at.
I really do believe in the power of the tail wagging the dog,
said Chin about the role satellite nations played in manipulating Cold
War tensions between the super powers. I really think the pull of
small powers has grown considerably. Thats something the US needs
to think about. In the field were always talking about being policy
relevant, its not just enough to have a good story and look at a
lot of archives and uncover a lot of documents. In the end there is something
to be said here about how states determine their policy.
Chin continued that for most Americans the Cold War is a clash between
communism and capitalism. There are these huge isms,
but we hardly ever look at how its played out. We have a tendency
to look at the communist block as this large swath of red, explained
Chin. That was exactly the problem that the State Department and
leadership had at the time the inability to look at those kinds
of subtleties and actually formulate real policy to address real conditions
on the ground.
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