Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland - Vol. 8

Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland - Vol. 8

Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland - Vol. 8

Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland - Vol. 8


Fearing the loss of Korea and Vietnam would touch off a chain reaction of other countries turning communist, the United States fought two major wars in the hinterlands of Asia. What accounts for such exaggerated alarm, and what were its consequences? Is a fear of the domino effect permanently rooted in the American strategic psyche, or has the United States now adopted a less alarmist approach? The essays in this book address these questions by examining domino thinking in United States and Soviet Cold War strategy, and in earlier historic settings. Combining theory and history in analyzing issues relevant to current public policy, Dominoes and Bandwagons examines the extent to which domino fears were a rational response, a psychological reaction, or a tactic in domestic politics.


Soviet-American geopolitical rivalry during the cold war was fueled in large measure by the domino theory, the notion that the outcome of contests in the periphery would produce a chain reaction affecting vital interests. Underpinning this idea was the related image of an intensely hostile superpower opponent. Such ideas were central to the rationale for American military interventions in the Third World.

Now that the bipolar hostility of the cold war has eroded, what will become of the domino theory as a spur to global American involvement? Domino arguments were absent from the Bush administration's list of justifications for the military intervention in Panama. President Bush argued that protecting the Canal, saving American lives, and ousting a drug-runner were sufficient reasons in themselves to intervene, not that they entailed important precedents, reputational questions, or spillover effects. Domino arguments reappeared, however, in Bush's arguments for sending troops to Saudi Arabia and embargoing the Iraqi economy: Sadam Hussein, like Hitler, would push on to further aggression unless his occupation of Kuwait were to be rolled back. Thus, the evidence appears mixed.

The fear of falling dominoes also continues to play a role in Soviet thinking. With dominoes already fallen in Eastern Europe, Moscow has used the domino theory to justify its military coercion of Lithuania. the Soviet leadership argues that abrupt secession by the Baltic republics would set an intolerable precedent encouraging other regions to do the same. So far, however, such domino ideas have not affected the views of Soviet new thinkers about intervention outside Soviet borders. This may in part be due to their belief that the West does not intend to exploit their setbacks. It is worth considering what Western policies might reverse this benign perception, exacerbating Soviet domino fears.

The answers to these questions must lie in the future. But we can begin to analyze them through an appreciation of the relevant theories and the historical evidence that we address here. the contributors assess what statesmen in the United States and other great powers have believed about falling dominoes, whether their fears had any foundation, and the psychological and domestic political factors that may have contributed to these ideas. Essays on the Soviet Union test for the first time whether the Soviets actually drew the inferences about American credibility that American domino thinkers anticipated. Historical essays examine whether only bipolar international settings give rise to domino thinking, and what kinds of strategic concepts are prevalent in systems of the multipolar variety, like the one which may now be emerging.

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