What could have been: When the Soviet Union tried to join NATO

As preposterous as the headline sounds, it is in fact true. After Stalin’s death in 1953, his successor, Khrushchev, proposed that the Soviet Union join NATO. At that point, the Warsaw Pact had not been formed and NATO was increasing its membership. Soviet leadership, of course, realized that the proposal would not be warmly received by NATO members. The main purpose of the proposal was to illustrate that the NATO alliance was intended to temper Soviet influence in Western Europe. Rejection of the Soviet proposal would make the alliance’s anti-communist nature clear, and thus aid Soviet propaganda that characterized the pact as aggressive.

The proposal was submitted to the United States, Britain, and France. It was promptly rejected by those countries, which saw the proposal as unserious and propagandistic in nature. The allies believed it was implausible that the Soviet Union could adequately protect the rule of law or civil liberties, two major requirements for NATO. Obviously, and even more importantly, it was not thought that the Soviet Union would be a reliable member of NATO.

While the Soviet Union was excluded from NATO, West Germany was finally invited to join the pact in 1955. The Soviet Union had proposed that Germany be excluded from NATO in its membership proposal. Nine days later, the Warsaw Pact was formed, and the Cold War continued to simmer.