“Khrushchev’s foreign policy caused confusion and uncertainty.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

 Nikita Khrushchev, who served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, fostered an era of de-Stalinization and relative liberalization in the USSR, a stark contrast to the reign of terror and totalitarianism under Joseph Stalin. His foreign policy, a cocktail of volatile brinkmanship and periods of détente, certainly brought tumult and uncertainty on the international stage. This essay aims to critically evaluate the statement that Khrushchev’s foreign policy caused confusion and uncertainty.

Khrushchev's foreign policy hinged on a paradoxical amalgamation of peaceful coexistence and volatile brinkmanship, which indeed fostered considerable uncertainty and confusion. This policy is epitomised by events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Thompson posits that Khrushchev’s decision to install missiles in Cuba was an act of reckless brinkmanship, demonstrating a failure to understand the mindset of the American government, and creating an atmosphere of international uncertainty that brought the world closer to nuclear war than ever before. 

However, Zubok argues that Khrushchev’s policies can be viewed as rational attempts to challenge American imperialism, secure the USSR’s status as a superpower, and protect the socialist bloc. Despite their provocative nature, Khrushchev’s foreign policy decisions were grounded in strategic considerations, suggesting that the uncertainty and confusion they engendered was the result of the Cold War context rather than Khrushchev’s policies per se. 

One must also consider the ambiguity of Khrushchev's policy of "peaceful coexistence." While his approach significantly differed from Stalin's confrontational foreign policy, its peaceful façade concealed aggressive undertones, resulting in an uneasy mix of confrontation and diplomacy. This policy was manifested in Khrushchev’s Berlin ultimatum in 1958, which, according to Taubman, demonstrated his capricious diplomatic style that sowed seeds of uncertainty. 

In stark contrast, Gaddis views Khrushchev’s Berlin ultimatum as a well-considered strategic move rather than an impulsive threat. The ultimatum, he suggests, was a measured response to the escalating refugee crisis and a legitimate attempt to regain control over Berlin, albeit executed in a risky manner. This argument, while appreciating the unsettling nature of Khrushchev’s policy, shifts the emphasis away from the unpredictability of the Soviet leader, attributing the uncertainty to the inherent instability of the Cold War era.

Finally, the fluctuation between a more aggressive approach and détente under Khrushchev was perhaps the most potent source of confusion and uncertainty. The volatile shifts, typified by events such as the U-2 incident in 1960, undermined the prospects of stable international relations. Tuchman argued that the incident, which resulted from Khrushchev’s erratic decision-making, heightened international tension and shattered the emerging hopes for détente. Nevertheless, Fursenko contends that Khrushchev’s response to the U-2 incident was, in fact, a tactical move to sabotage the Paris Summit and avoid making concessions over Berlin and disarmament. Therefore, while Khrushchev’s foreign policy undeniably fostered uncertainty and confusion, it was not merely a result of his recklessness or unpredictability but also a deliberate strategy in the game of international diplomacy.

In conclusion, whilst Khrushchev’s foreign policy caused confusion and uncertainty, it is crucial to contextualise these outcomes within the broader framework of the Cold War. The analyses of Thompson, Zubok, Taubman, Gaddis, Tuchman, and Fursenko reveal that Khrushchev’s seemingly capricious decisions were often grounded in strategic considerations, influenced by a need to assert Soviet power and maintain a balance of power. It is therefore perhaps more accurate to suggest that the confusion and uncertainty were inherent in the Cold War period, exacerbated, but not exclusively caused by Khrushchev's actions.