Ideas and International Political Change: Soviet/Russian Behavior and the End of the Cold War.
Vidya Nadkarni, University of San Diego
The largely unanticipated and peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union has generated a great deal of interest among scholars of international relations on sources of international systemic change. In focusing on the effect of structure on unit-level behavior, structuralist/neorealist theories are woefully inadequate in explaining the processes that led to the breakdown of the bipolar order. Likewise, a focus on domestic factors alone provides an incomplete picture, since the story of the decline and fall of the Soviet empire straddles variables at both the domestic and international level. As adherents of the "English school" as well as liberals often point out, historically developed international norms have a strong socializing effect on states.
In his succinctly written study of Gorbachev-era foreign policy changes, Jeffrey Checkel offers a novel way of integrating domestic- and international-level variables. Expanding upon and refining models that explore the link between ideas and foreign policy (e.g., Judith Goldstein and Robert Keohane, eds., Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions and Political Change, 1993), and drawing upon insights from the work of historical institutionalists and organization theorists, Checkel argues that there is a demonstrable causal link between "ideas and political institutions" and the "foreign policy preferences of key political elites" (p. 5). Ideas, in the context of foreign policy, are defined as those which address the dynamics of international politics, the role of international organizations, basic foreign policy orientations, and so on. Institutions are defined as both "specific organizations" and "a broader set of historically constructed parameters that structure foreign policymaking" (p. 6). The author argues that there is an "inverse relationship between the centralization and autonomy of institutional structures and whether new ideas influence the formation of elite preferences and state interests" (p. 7). The source and content of ideas in centralized states are explored by examining the role of policy entrepreneurs and the organizations they lead. These entrepreneurs used "open policy windows" that served as a conduit for new ideas to influence elite preferences on foreign policy.
In Part I, Checkel develops his model for explaining foreign policy changes and introduces hypotheses that make outcomes contingent on level of state centralization; the severity of changes at the international level as perceived by policymakers; and the acumen of policy entrepreneurs. He also sets the stage for an application of his model to the Soviet Union/Russia. In Part II, Checkel presents three case studies: the early detente years during Brezhnev's leadership; the period of "new political thinking" under Gorbachev; and a tentative exploration of the foreign policy climate in Yeltsin's Russia. The concluding section, Part III, presents a summation of the main ideas contained in the book and suggests themes for future research.
The strength of Checkel's book lies in the careful examination of the organizational cultures at Russia's Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) and the Institute of the USA and Canada (ISKAN) and the influential role of their directors in shaping the scholarly agenda at their respective institutes. In 1966, IMEMO, under the directorship of Nikolay Inozemtsev, sponsored research that provided a "new policy paradigm" for "redefining Soviet interests in the international arena" and thus competed with the "Leninist class-based paradigm" (p. 51). This new paradigm offered a more sophisticated understanding of the strengths of capitalism, a more differentiated view of the policymaking process in capitalist countries, and a more complex rendering of the international system. Researchers at IMEMO confined their work to conceptual development because of the strong proclivities in this area of their director. Research on security and policy-related matters became the preserve of ISKAN, which under the directorship of Georgi Arbatov moved actively to develop expertise in this field.
Checkel's argument about why new ideas took hold in the 1980s under Gorbachev but not in the 1960s and 1970s under Brezhnev is somewhat weaker. Consider the early detente years. As director of IMEMO from 1966 until 1982, Inozemtsev headed the institute during almost the entire Brezhnev period. All this while, except for 1982, when IMEMO became the target of a pressure campaign, Inozemtsev was able to oversee a research program based on a paradigm that differed fundamentally from the official Marxist-Leninist paradigm. Checkel states that Brezhnev's "deep aversion to radical change" (p. 46), combined with Inozemtsev's characteristic sense of caution, was sufficiently strong that, while Brezhnev's preferences changed to include important elements of the new foreign policy paradigm, the views of other Politburo members and senior members of the defense establishment and the main political administration (who subscribed to the Marxist-Leninist paradigm) prevailed.
This explanation begs many questions. Why was Brezhnev willing to "protect" Inozemtsev? A cautious leader, especially one cautious enough not to challenge openly the Marxist-Leninist paradigm against strong opposition, would not have gone out of his way to protect an institute director. Why was it as late as 1982 before IMEMO became the target of a pressure campaign? Checkel's contention that "the state seemed unwilling or unable to curtail the supply of new ideas from academic researchers at IMEMO and elsewhere" (p. 69) is an incomplete one, at best. Who or what constituted the "state"? Why were these individuals unable or unwilling to curtail the research at IMEMO? And why did Politburo member Viktor Grishin embark on this task in 1982? The "stability of cadres" policy agreed upon by the Brezhnev Politburo and succession politics in 1982 may better explain some of the questions raised above.
As for the Gorbachev-era changes in elite preferences, Checkel reasons thus: A crisis-ridden international political climate and a reform-minded leadership created open policy windows that allowed strong policy entrepreneurs, such as Alexander Yakovlev (and later Yevgeniy Primakov) at IMEMO and Georgiy Arbatov at ISKAN, to promote actively their new ideas on international politics and security. Checkel makes a strong case for the thesis that the source of Gorbachev's ideas on security and interdependence was the sustained research conducted in these areas over a couple of decades at IMEMO and ISKAN, and he notes the stronger entrepreneurial roles played by Yakovlev, Primakov, and Arbatov, but an important fact does not receive attention in this study: the large-scale turnover in personnel at the top levels of the policymaking elite under Gorbachev. In other words, Gorbachev took an active role in staffing important nomenklatura positions with those whose views echoed his reform agenda. Thus, Yakovlev, in political exile in Canada as Soviet ambassador, was appointed director of IMEMO and later made head of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee. Anatoliy Dobrinin, Soviet ambassador to the United States, was brought back to Moscow to head the International Department. One may ask how strong the causal link is between ideas and institutions and elite foreign policy preferences. Do ideas influence elite preferences, or do members of the elite seek ideas that fit in with preferences, even if these preferences are inchoate? To put it another way, is the influence of ideas on elite preferences unidirectional, or is there a symbiotic relationship between the two?
A final observation concerns the use of the term "elite," which the author defines as "heads of governmental bureaucracies and top-level decision makers" (p. 5). Under Brezhnev, key members of this elite (based on references made by the author) included assorted Politburo members, the head of the main political administration, and the minister of defense. No rationale is provided on criteria for the inclusion of some and exclusion of others. For instance, Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko is nowhere mentioned, whereas Eduard Shevardnadze, Gorbachev's foreign minister, is included. Was it because Gromyko was not influential, or did his preferences have no effect on policy? Another often confusing aspect of this study is the use of the term elite as a collective noun, in reference to an individual, as in "at least one top elite - Gorbachev - had indicated an openness to new types of solutions" (p. 81). Since elite foreign policy preferences represent the dependent variable in this work, a more careful elucidation of the criteria for membership in the elite would have been useful.
Notwithstanding these reservations, this is a very thought-provoking book, and it is an important first step in the study of the role of ideas in generating political change. It should appeal both to comparativists and students of international relations.
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|Publication:||American Political Science Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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