The Cold War was becoming part of international relations by 1955. Here, some of the key events and trends at the time are explained: the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and between the US and Europe in general. And how the fledgling CIA operated is also considered. Bill Rapp, author of Cold War Spy thriller The Hapsburg Variation (Amazon US | Amazon UK), explains.

Kim Philby, an important member of British Intelligence who would later defect to the Soviet Union. 

Kim Philby, an important member of British Intelligence who would later defect to the Soviet Union. 

The most realistic thing about The Hapsburg Variation is the general background set at the height of the Cold War, as well as the developing relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom--a relationship that has been labelled as "special" for several decades now.  Following my own recent assignment in London, I can attest that it truly is special--especially in the fields of intelligence and diplomacy.  I enjoyed an extremely close working relationship with my British colleagues.  In fact, I even held a building pass to the Foreign Office that allowed me to move about the halls un-escorted.  I did often get lost, but that had nothing to do with the "special relationship," but more with the elaborate design and recent remodeling that steered British diplomats in the wrong direction on occasion.


That relationship has not always been as close as it is today, nor even that friendly, especially at the time of The Hapsburg Variation.  The British had just gone through the painful experience of having two of their rising stars (Burgess and Maclean) flee to Moscow as they were about to be exposed as Soviet spies, and suspicion for their warning and flight fell heavily on Kim Philby.  As Philby was also considered one of the darlings, and even a possible future leader of MI6, the British resisted the American push to have the man sacked, or at least have his security clearance revoked.  Not only did London resist, but he was even cleared shortly after the Maclean-Burgess affair by a government inquiry.  Washington, of course, remained suspicious and was eventually proven right when Philby disappeared from his Beirut posting and then resurfaced in Moscow as a hero of the Soviet Union some six years later.  Not that some in the American intelligence community hadn't been complicit in their refusal to accept Philby's guilt.  James Jesus Angleton, the head of the Agency's Counter-Intelligence bureau, had spent many a boozy and extended lunch sharing operational secrets with Philby, who promptly reported them to Moscow.  Readers will no doubt pick up Karl Baier's cautious and at times negative attitude toward his British counterparts in Vienna and London, an attitude driven by the CIA's disappointment with MI6's and London's refusal to face the proverbial music on the spies in their midst.  It would takes years for the "cousins" to regain the Americans’ full trust.


An important year in the Cold War

1955 also marked a high point in the Cold War.  Several of the events that precipitated the change in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union from that of wartime ally to peacetime nemesis were part of the very recent past: The Berlin Blockade and Airlift, the Communist coups in Czechoslovakia and Romania, the Greek civil war, the Korean War, the East Berlin uprising and its suppression.  But not all the developments were negative.  Khrushchev had already decided that the Soviet system was badly in need of reform, and that the USSR would undoubtedly benefit from a relaxation in tensions with the West.  In fact, he had probably already begun to draft--or at least consider--his speech for the 1956 party congress that would denounce the crimes of Stalin and usher in a short-lived period of mild reforms at home and in the satellite states of the Warsaw Pact.  This almost certainly helped inspire the agreement to negotiate the reunification of Austria, the withdrawal of all foreign troops, and the restoration of full Austrian sovereignty, all of which culminated in the State Treaty of May, 1955.  Of course, Khrushchev did not enjoy unanimous support at home for this shift, and this opposition that would come to the fore during the Hungarian Revolt a year later.


The impact on European History

Then there is the broader sweep of European history and the part of the United States in that, thanks to the cultural and political legacy the country carries.  Europe had just emerged from two devastating wars, which would end its role as the preeminent geopolitical region. That role would fall first to the United States, and secondly to the Soviet Union, with China waiting in the proverbial wings.  And it would fall to Washington to ensure that the liberal and democratic traditions that were inherited from their European settlers would not be lost in their homelands.

The Second World War also accelerated the fracturing of Europe that emerged from the collapse of the three great Central and Eastern European empires in 1919.  Although World War II had helped the nations of Western Europe to put their nationalistic and even xenophobic pasts behind them, further east it strengthened those national and ethnic animosities that continue to bedevil American and European policymakers to this day.  Nonetheless, there have always been some who regretted the loss of the Hapsburg Empire in particular, viewing it as the best answer--with some serious reforms, of course--to the divisive animosities that have undermined the region's stability and prosperity ever since.  Herr von Rudenstein represents those who moaned the loss of that world, a feeling captured in the numerous studies of fin de siècle Vienna, the novels of Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig, and more recently the film The Budapest Grand Hotel.  Such nostalgia should never have a part in policy-making, but you would never convince the likes of Herr von Rudenstein that his dreams were not the stuff of realistic goals.  The history of the twentieth century in the region would suggest that he might have had a point.


The Central Intelligence Agency

Finally, there is the matter of a young Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), just eight years old at this point.  The CIA was still emerging from its apprenticeship as the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, during World War II.  From those early years the Agency carried an unfortunate, in my mind, fascination with covert, paramilitary action that did gain some notable--if momentary--successes with the coups in Iran and Guatemala, but also a host of unmitigated disasters in futile attempts to foment revolts in the Communist states of Eastern Europe.  The Agency was also, again in my mind, too reliant on the British “cousins” in those early years, an admittedly natural dependency given their long history in the business of espionage.  It would take the Americans some years to develop their own capacity for recruiting and handling agents in hostile environments, learning how to vet and protect them, and provide the sort of human intelligence that can best inform policymakers in Washington.  But the Americans were learning in 1955, and they would soon emerge as the more powerful and more successful of the two.  This is the sort of environment Karl Baier was operating in during his tour in Vienna, and he was prone to many of the same assumptions, resentments, and expectations that governed the outlook and perspectives of his real-life colleagues in those days.  But he also learned to overcome the challenges those presented and reach his goals, occasionally with the help and assistance of his hosts and his British partners.


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Bill’s book, The Hapsburg Variation, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK


Eight years into his career with the CIA, Karl Baier once again finds himself on the front line of the Cold War. He is stationed in Vienna in the spring of 1955 as Austria and the four Allied Powers are set to sign the State Treaty, which will return Austria's independence, end the country's postwar occupation, and hopefully reduce tensions in the heart of Europe. But the Treaty will also establish Austrian neutrality, and many in the West fear it will secure Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and create a permanent division. Asked to help investigate the death of an Austrian aristocrat and Wehrmacht veteran, Baier discovers an ambitious plan not only to block the State Treaty, but also to subvert Soviet rule in lands of the old Hapsburg Empire. Then Baier's wife is kidnapped, and the mission becomes intensely personal. Many of his basic assumptions are challenged, and he discovers that he cannot count on loyalties, even back home in Washington, D.C. At each maddening turn in the investigation, another layer must be peeled away. Even if Baier succeeds in rescuing his wife, he faces the unenviable task of unraveling an intricate web of intrigue that reaches far back into the complicated history of Central Europe. Book 2 in the Cold War Thriller series, which began with Tears of Innocence.




Bill Rapp recently retired from the Central Intelligence Agency after thirty-five years as an analyst, diplomat, and senior manager. After receiving his BA from the University of Notre Dame, an MA from the University of Toronto, and a PhD from Vanderbilt University, Bill taught European History at Iowa State University for a year before heading off to Washington, D.C. The Hapsburg Variation is the second book in the Cold War Spy series featuring Karl Baier. Bill also has a three-book series of detective fiction set outside Chicago with P.I. Bill Habermann, and a thriller set during the fall of the Berlin Wall. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife, two daughters, two miniature schnauzers, and a cat. For more information, go to

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones