Soviet foreign policy changed dramatically in the 1980s. The shift,
bitterly resisted by the country's foreign policy traditionalists,
ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the
end of the Cold War. In "Changing Course," Sarah Mendelson
demonstrates that interpretations that stress the impact of the
international system, and particularly of U.S. foreign policy, or
that focus on the role of ideas or politics alone, fail to explain
the contingent process of change. Mendelson tells a story of
internal battles where "misfit" ideas--ones that severely
challenged the status quo--were turned into policies. She draws on
firsthand interviews with those who ran Soviet foreign policy and
the war in Afghanistan and on recently declassified material from
Soviet archives to show that both ideas "and" political strategies
were needed to make reform happen.
Focusing on the Soviet decision to withdraw from Afghanistan,
Mendelson details the strategies used by the Gorbachev coalition to
shift the internal balance of power in favor of constituencies
pushing new ideas--mutual security, for example--while undermining
the power of old constituencies resistant to change. The
interactive dynamic between ideas and politics that she identifies
in the case of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is
fundamental to understanding other shifts in Soviet foreign policy
and the end of the Cold War. Her exclusive interviews with the
foreign policy elite also offer a unique glimpse of the inner
workings of the former Soviet power structure.
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