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Soviet-American Relations After the Cold War

Soviet-American Relations After the Cold War

by Robert Jervis

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This important collection of essays explores the terrain of possible Soviet-American relations in the next decade. Starting from the premise that glasnost and perestroika will not be reversed, this expert group of contributors provides a wide-ranging and far-reaching analysis of Soviet-U.S. relations crucial to any current discussion of the topic.
Moving beyond the


This important collection of essays explores the terrain of possible Soviet-American relations in the next decade. Starting from the premise that glasnost and perestroika will not be reversed, this expert group of contributors provides a wide-ranging and far-reaching analysis of Soviet-U.S. relations crucial to any current discussion of the topic.
Moving beyond the boundaries of traditional studies of international relations, the contributors here focus on such topics as public opinion and the relationship of domestic policy to foreign policy. Other areas of consideration include the Soviet-U.S. relationship and the Third World and East Asia, the role of the United Nations in Soviet and American policy in the 1990s, international environmental protection, and the Soviet opening to nonprovocative defense. A final section concludes with policy choices for the future regarding security strategies and prospects for peace.

Contributors. Seweryn Bialer, Robert Dallek, Charles Gati, Toby Trister Gati, Colin S. Gray, Ole R. Holsti, Robert Jervis, Alexander J. Motyl, John Mueller, Eric A. Nordlinger, George H. Quester, Harold H. Sanders, Glenn E. Schweitzer, Jack Snyder, Donald S. Zagoria, William Zimmerman

Editorial Reviews

Starting from the premise that glasnost and perestroika will not be reversed, the contributors to this volume explore the terrain of possible Soviet-American relations in the 1990s, focusing on such topics as public opinion and the relationship of domestic policy to foreign policy. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Soviet-American Relations After the Cold War

By Robert Jervis, Seweryn Bialer

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1991 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9815-8



Robert Jervis

We are seeing the most dramatic changes in world politics that have occurred since the end of World War II. Events are moving so fast that the boldest speculations of a few years ago now are tame. But it is clear that the Cold War is over—and in a real sense the West has won it. We have avoided a world war or turning ourselves into a garrison state, and the values of democracy and liberalism have spread throughout the world. Containment has had many of the effects George Kennan predicted. It is interesting to recall the words of the group he headed in Project Solarium, Eisenhower's general policy review of 1953:

[To bring] about an alteration in basic Soviet aims ..., the U.S. should seek to convince the men in the Kremlin of the fallacy of the fundamental concepts upon which their policies are based, and without which these policies are neither intelligent nor intelligible. We should try to persuade them, by our words and our deeds, that their delusions regarding world economic and political affairs have already led them into absurd follies and will lead them into personal and national disaster. In particular, we must seek ... to disprove their beliefs concerning us and to demonstrate that the world situation in general, and Western civilization in particular, have not conformed and will not conform to Communist prophecies. We must try to make them realize that in seeking to undermine and destroy the Free World, they are in fact steadily incurring burdens and risks which sooner or later will undermine and destroy Soviet Communism. We must try to stimulate within their minds a growing and gnawing awareness that the theories which have enslaved them are not only morally evil, but are historically outmoded, scientifically unsound, and practically unworkable.

A Better World? How Bad Was the Cold War?

If we are entering a new era, it is appropriate to ask again the question Carl Becker posed in 1944: "How better will the new world be?" This cautionary note—which proved all too warranted forty-five years ago —may at first glance seem misplaced. Who could mourn the passing of the Cold War? But we should note the positive features of the era. First, and most important, peace has been maintained between the superpowers. Of course, the causes can be disputed and, in particular, it may have been maintained in spite of rather than because of a high level of Soviet-American rivalry. But we should not ignore the basic fact that we are living through the longest period of peace between the major powers that has ever existed in recorded history. Many attribute this to the inescapable fact that a Soviet-American war would be enormously destructive, in significant measure because of large nuclear stockpiles. Others, even more optimistic, argue that modern states have found that war is not a cost-effective way to reach their goals. These characteristics presumably would not change even under dramatically relaxed Soviet-American tensions, but the question of how safe the new era will be should not be quickly dismissed; I will return to it later.

A second feature of the Cold War that was welcome—at least to the superpowers—was its relative stability. Of course, there have been many important changes in world politics since 1945—decolonization and the economic rise of Germany and Japan, to take only the most obvious ones. But on issues of greatest importance to the superpowers, the world in 1988 looked remarkably like it did in 1948. Although we often talk about living in an era of rapid change, Great Power politics have changed much less since World War II than was true for any long period in previous history.

That both sides maintained their vital interests unimpaired is related to the third beneficial characteristic of the Cold War—crises have been rare. Each superpower was cautious because it expected the other to defend what was of most concern to it. Putting aside the confrontations in the first five years of the Cold War attendant on the working out of their spheres of influence, the belligerence of the superpower rhetoric has not been matched by the proximity to armed conflict. The dangerous crises of the 1950s were Sino-American clashes, with the Soviet Union only being involved indirectly. Berlin and Cuba have been the only sites of severe Soviet-American crisis after the initial period; we have gone without such a confrontation for a longer period than that which usually intervened between Great Power wars in the past. Indeed, as both a cause and effect of the patterns previously mentioned, the superpowers developed "rules of prudence" to see that the frictions between them did not become unmanageable. Of course none of this could guarantee that if the Cold War continued, it would have remained under control. Good luck perhaps played a major role in the past. Nevertheless, the new world can be better only if it maintains this record of accomplishment.

This is not to deny that there are good reasons to be glad to see the Cold War pass. First, and most obviously, it was characterized by some danger and significant levels of fear of nuclear war, especially in mass as opposed to elite opinion. Of course, the danger of superpower nuclear war can be totally extirpated only by abolishing nuclear weapons. While most hardheaded academics have argued that this is simply unrealistic, in part for technical reasons but largely because no superpower leader would in fact be willing to give them up, it is interesting that Reagan and Gorbachev seemed to be quite serious about doing so. Nevertheless, skepticism seems warranted, if only because the superpowers are not the only ones with nuclear weapons. While nuclear weapons and the Cold War arrived together, the passing of the latter does not mean the abolition of the former. Indeed, among the greatest challenges of the new world will be dealing with nuclear dangers without the simplifying framework that superpower dominance imposed.

A second undesired aspect of the Cold War was the high level of defense spending. Although its effects on the economy can be debated, at this point the burden seems high and the desire to reduce it in part explains the changes in Soviet and American domestic politics that we are witnessing. But if both sides restructure their forces to stress the defense, as befits the goals of stability and nonprovocation, their new postures may not come cheap. Furthermore, not all superpower arms are procured out of fear of the other; a world in which the other superpower is not much of a menace is not one without call on Soviet or American militaries. Indeed, if the new world is more unruly than the old one, savings might be surprisingly small.

A third undesired characteristic of the Cold War was the compulsion for each side to check any perceived advances by the other. This meant that conflicts anywhere in the globe could affect, and be affected by, Soviet-American relations. It is a commonplace to note that the era of Great Power peace has coexisted with an extremely large number of wars in the Third World, some of them extremely bloody. There probably is no simple answer to the question of whether there would have been more or fewer wars absent the Cold War. Likewise, Third World conflicts probably have had a differentiated impact on Soviet-American relations. On some occasions, such conflicts have become occasions for Soviet-American conversations or even cooperation because of the fear that, without such efforts, the superpowers could be drawn in. In other cases the results were to increase Soviet-American tensions, "SALT lies buried in the sands of the Ogaden," argues Brzezinski. Even if this is an exaggeration, the assumptions of the Cold War meant that any conflict in the Third World could worsen superpower relations even if the issues were intrinsically trivial.

A new world of relaxed Soviet-American tensions will surely decrease if not end the propensity to impose superpower conflict upon local conflicts all over the globe. Indeed, if the Cold War is not to be resurrected, Third World conflicts will either have to end or to be disconnected from superpower relations. Because the former is unlikely— on the contrary, they could easily increase as the superpowers withdraw —the latter will be necessary. The history of the seventies and eighties shows what an irritant "regional issues," as Reagan called them, can be.

The superpowers have been deeply involved throughout the world for three reasons. First, some areas are crucial because they are sources of needed raw materials—the Persian Gulf is the best if not the only example. The end of the Cold War will not end these conflicts, although it should attenuate them by reducing each side's fear that the other may try to isolate it economically. In any event, they constitute a small minority of the cases. More fall into a second category—areas where either or both sides want to spread their values. Here the changes in the superpowers and their relations matter even more. If both become less ideological, they will care less about having third countries develop in their image. If they come to see the other as not representing their polar opposite and complete evil, they will be less concerned if Third World states take on some of the other's values. The deideologization of Soviet policy (both domestic and foreign) is particularly important here as it removes a potent reason for them to support radical regimes.

During the Cold War, probably the most important reason for the superpowers to be concerned with conflicts in the Third World was the worry that victories—especially military victories—by the other side or its clients would undermine the state's reputation and credibility. Belief in "domino dynamics" were very powerful, at least in the United States. As Soviet-American relations greatly improve, these beliefs will be badly undercut, just as the diminished fear of falling dominoes has paved the way for better relations. Each side will have less reason to expect the other to take advantage of momentary weaknesses; the other side will not be seen as primarily responsible for events in the Third World; the importance of Third World dominoes themselves will be less. But the kind and extent of the connections between Third World events and superpower relations will depend in part on the sorts of understandings the United States and the USSR evolve and the perspectives they bring to bear.

Causes of the Cold War

Having examined the welcome and unwelcome features of the Cold War and how they might be transformed, it is useful to examine briefly the factors that caused the Cold War and inquire how many of them are likely to continue to operate in the future. Whole libraries have been written on the sources of the Soviet-American conflict, and I will not attempt to resolve the numerous and important disputes. Instead, I will discuss five factors which I think most analysts would agree were important.

First, the Soviets are clearly correct to argue that the conflict was not only between two powerful states, but also was between two different social systems. Contrary to the claims of Realism, one reason why each side perceived the other as a threat was the nature of the other's domestic political system. Marxism-Leninism—at least in the variant that reigned in the Soviet Union throughout most of the Cold War —held that capitalism is ineradicably hostile to socialism and will crush it if it can. As Lenin put it: "As long as capitalism and socialism exist, we cannot live in peace; in the end, either one or the other will triumph." International politics is, to a significant extent, a reflection of class politics. Thus the 1988 disagreement between Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Yegor Ligachev is significant. "The struggle between two opposing systems is no longer a determining tendency of the present era," argued the foreign minister. "We proceed from the class character of international relations," replied Ligachev. The former view has prevailed; as the participants in the Soviet debate realized, the consequences are great and far-reaching.

The American worldview similarly stresses the domestic sources of foreign policy. The Wilsonian heritage (which predates Wilson) is strong; democracies are seen as peace-loving, dictatorships as aggressive. Communist regimes are especially to be feared because of their revolutionary impulses. This view has deep roots in the American social structure. As Louis Hartz so brilliantly showed, America was founded as a "bourgeois fraction"; never having been a feudal society it never experienced a middle-class antifeudal revolution and never saw strong domestic radicalism. As a result, it has great difficulty understanding revolutions and left-wing regimes, almost always seeing the former as unnecessary and instigated from abroad and the latter as violent and unnatural. This view was reinforced by twentieth-century history: the disturber of the peace in 1914 was authoritarian; those in the 1930s were totalitarian. During the war, plans for the reconstruction of Germany and Japan prominently featured their democratization: not only was this good in itself, but it also was deemed necessary for ensuring that these countries would not resume their aggressive ways.

Following the same reasoning, officials in the Pentagon assumed that the greatest threats would arise from states that were totalitarian rather than from ones that had specific conflicts of interest with the United States. In 1946 an admiral told Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal: "If we fought Germany because of our belief that a police state and a democratic state could not exist in the same world, it must necessarily follow that we could not afford to lie down before Russia." Arthur Hays Sulzberger summed up this position well: "Only people who have a Bill of Rights are not the potential enemies of other people." Thus Thomas Patterson and John Gaddis argue that the Soviet domestic system was one of the main reasons why the United States perceived Russia as a threat in the immediate postwar period. As the latter puts it, "the Soviet Union combined—as no other country in the world at that time did—two characteristics that Americans found particularly objectionable: arbitrary rule and ideological militancy."

Having deep roots in the American perspective, this kind of view continued throughout the Cold War. In 1952 a National Intelligence Estimate argued: "The USSR is a totalitarian state and experience suggests that totalitarian states are subject to internal pressures and compulsions which may result, without warning, in ... war." Thirty years later, President Reagan stated the other side of the coin: "Governments which rest upon the consent of the governed do not wage war on their neighbors." As the Soviet Union has changed, so has the American perception of threat. The changes in Soviet politics and society mean that many of the old Wilsonian reasons why the Soviet Union would be expansionist no longer hold. Gorbachev understands this. He ended his interview with Time in September 1985 with these words: "In conclusion I would like to express an idea which can be regarded as cardinal to our entire conversation. It was said justly that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. Since this is so, I would ask you to give some thought to the following: since we are undertaking such challenging domestic plans, what external conditions can we be interested in? I leave it to you to provide the answer."

Thus, contrary to what Realism prescribes and predicts, American liberals and conservatives alike believe that a more liberalized, open Soviet Union will follow a very different foreign policy. Although some conservatives may remain skeptical about whether the changes will prove lasting, their views on the linkage between domestic and foreign policies are more consistent that those of the liberals. Conservatives have usually argued that the foreign policy of the Soviet Union is linked inextricably to its repressive, if not totalitarian, domestic system. Many liberals have denied this, instead seeing the Soviet Union as reacting more to its international environment. For liberals, then, the current changes, although fascinating and central for Soviet domestic politics, should be less important. But the deeply felt Wilsonian impulses of liberals have proved stronger than their need to be consistent.


Excerpted from Soviet-American Relations After the Cold War by Robert Jervis, Seweryn Bialer. Copyright © 1991 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Meet the Author

Robert Jervis is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.

Seweryn Bialer is the Ruggles Professor of Political Science and Renee Robert Belfer Professor of International Relations at Columbia University.

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