On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Europe

January 23, 2013 // 12:00pm1:30pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Cold War International History Project

In 1945, both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Intelligence saw Czechoslovakia as the master key to the balance of power in Europe and as a chessboard for the power game between East and West.  Washington believed that the political scene in Prague was the best available indicator of whether the United States would be able to coexist with the Soviet Union.  Drawing on archival documents and testimonies of high-ranking American diplomats and intelligence officers, Igor Lukes, author of On The Edge of the Cold War, explores the postwar political crisis from the perspective of the U.S. Embassy under Laurence Steinhardt and of U.S. Intelligence under Charles Katek and Spencer Taggart.

The book paints a critical portrait of Ambassador Steinhardt.  It shows that his groundless optimism caused Washington to ignore signs that democracy in Czechoslovakia was in trouble.  Although U.S. Intelligence officials who served in Prague were committed to the mission of gathering information and protecting democracy, they were defeated by their Communist opponents.  The book reveals that the deputy commander of the Intelligence section was turned by the Russians.  Consequently, when the Communists moved to impose their dictatorship in 1948, the U.S. Embassy and its CIA section were unprepared and powerless.

The fall of Czechoslovakia in 1948 helped deepen Cold War tensions for decades to come.  The book offers vivid portraits of previously unknown American diplomats and intelligence officers at a crucial stage of the Cold War.

Joining Igor Lukes will be Benjamin Fischer, former Chief Historian of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Petr Gandalovic, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States. Christian Ostermann, director of the Wilson Center's European Studies and History and Public Policy programs, will chair the discussion.  

5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Event Speakers List: 
  • Igor Lukes // Fellow
    University Professor and Professor of History and International Relations, Boston University
  • former Chief Historian of the Central Intelligence Agency
  • Ambassador, Embassy of the Czech Republic to the United States
Back to top

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

Wilson Center Photo Gallery

Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

To Attend an Event

Unless otherwise noted:

Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.