The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy

By Matthew J. Ouimet | Go to book overview
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and Orthodoxy

When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking tribute of them and creating within the country a government of a few who will keep it friendly to you.

—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

THE EVolUTIoN oF THE MoDERN NaTIoN-STaTE has inspired many memorable reflections on the fundamental relationship between military force and political power. Amid the fruits of this bountiful intellectual harvest stands a pithy aphorism, attributed alternatively to Napoléon Bonaparte and William Ralph Inge (1860-1954): a man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he cannot sit on it. The 1968-69 "normalization" of Czechoslovakia is a fascinating case in point.

Once the Soviet-led armies of the Warsaw Pact had occupied Czechoslovakia, they faced the daunting prospect of reestablishing socialist norms as the basis of the nation's political and social life. "Normalization," then, amounted to an attempt to restore conservative, pro-Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia. In addressing this task, Moscow quickly discovered that many of its previous perceptions had been poorly informed and mistaken. Chief among these was the belief that conservative "healthy forces" represented a powerful voice in the Czechoslovak Party and government. The scene that faced the arriving Soviet troops shattered this assumption. The Czechoslovak quislings, it turned out, represented a small minority of the CSCP who had acted independently to torpedo the Prague Spring. The vast majority of Czechs and Slovaks responded to the invasion, as to Dubcek's subsequent arrest, with indignation and open protest. Under these conditions, the political normalization of Czechoslovakia became a protracted affair quite unlike the coup envisioned in Moscow.

Though faced with an unexpected political debacle from the outset of the intervention, Soviet leaders failed to question the validity of the information being fed to them through the carefully programmed channels of the KGB and Foreign Ministry. Encountering nearly monolithic condemnation from the people of Czechoslovakia, they nevertheless failed to reconsider their conclusions about the counterrevolutionary objectives of the Prague Spring. Not surprisingly, therefore, Soviet occupation policy


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