The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

By Alexander Dallin; Gail W. Lapidus | Go to book overview

PART 6
Foreign and Security Policy

In the first years of the Gorbachev regime there was a good deal of uncertainty among Western analysts and policymakers concerning the fundamental intentions of the new leadership with respect to Soviet foreign and defense policy. Too often in the past, many commentators recalled, seeming concessions had proved to be only tactical or short-term maneuvers that obscured fundamental continuities of Soviet objectives and behavior abroad. But gradually such doubts were dispelled as Soviet behavior passed all the "mental litmus tests" devised by Western analysts—on arms reduction agreements, on withdrawing from Afghanistan, on assisting with the settlement of regional issues from Namibia to Nicaragua to Kuwait, on normalizing relations with China, and ultimately on ending the sources of the cold war by permitting the countries of Eastern Europe to change governments and leave the Soviet bloc and by acquiescing in the unification of the two Germanies.

All these and other changes in Soviet conduct abroad were related to a profound conceptual revolution in foreign affairs. The urgency of the domestic economic, social, and political crises demanded a more stable and predictable international environment and a sharp reduction in the enormous military burden that traditional Soviet policies entailed. At the same time, the foreign affairs experts—the so-called mezhdunarodniki, with new foreign minister Edvard Shevardnadze in the lead— expressed a powerful desire to reduce if not end the sense of antagonism and isolation that had long characterized Soviet relations with the noncommunist world. The new political thinking was the centerpiece of the effort to normalize the Soviet approach to, and the Soviet role in, the international system. With its stress on interdependence, on shared human values, on the search for political rather than military solutions to international problems, and on the renunciation of the use of force in the pursuit of political objectives, the new thinking radically broke with the traditional Soviet outlook.

The new policies, which included a sharp cutback in military spending, and the new theories repudiating class analysis in international relations were not welcomed by significant elements of the Soviet establishment. By 1990 a new coalition had formed, with military figures prominently in the lead as self-styled defenders of national interests, that challenged the foreign and security policies of the Gorbachev regime. This coalition not only triggered the resignation of Shevardnadze but openly challenged the Soviet "retreat" from Eastern Europe, Soviet consent to the united Germany's membership in NATO, and Soviet agreement to asymmetrical arms reductions. The Soviet retreat from its globalist role in the Third World, including the

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