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Title: Realism and the end of the cold war

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Realism and the End of the Cold War
WilliamC. Wohlforth
iNlodern realism began as a reaction to the breakdown of the post-World War I international order in the 1930s. The collapse of great-power cooperation after World War II helped establish it as the dominant approach to the theory and practice of international politics in the United States. During the Cold War, efforts to displace realism from its dominant position were repeatedly thwarted by the continued salience of the U.S.-Soviet antagonism: although indirect, the con-
nection between events and theory was undeniable. Now, the U.S.-Soviet antagonism is history. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and
with hardly a shot fired in anger, Russian power has been withdrawn from the Elbe to the Eurasian steppe. A central question faces students and practitioners of international politics. Do the rapid decline and comparatively peaceful collapse of the Soviet state, and with it the entire postwar international order, discredit the realist approach?
Scholars have answered this question in two ways. Most argue that the events of the late 1980s and early 1990s utterly confound realism's expectations, and call into question its relevance for understanding the post-Cold War world.' Others-realist and non-realist alike-disagree, maintaining that the
WilliamC. Wohlforthis Assistant Professorat the Departmentof Politics, Princeton University. He is the editorofWitnesses to the End of the Cold War(Baltimore,Md.:TheJohnsHopkinsUniversityPress, forthcoming 1995).
I am grateful to Chip Blacker, David Dessler, Lynn Eden, David Holloway, Oliver Meier, Michael McFaul, Sarah Mendelson, Jon Mercer, and Pascal Venneson for their most helpful comments on earlier drafts. I wrote this article while a Social Science Fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control. My thanks to the Center and the Carnegie Corporation ofNewYorkforsupportingmyfellowship.
1.SeeCharlesW.Kegley,Jr.,"TheNeoidealist MomentinInternationalStudies?RealistMythsand the New International Realities," InternationalStudies Quarterly,Vol. 37, No. 2 (June 1993), pp. 131- 147, and the sources cited therein; Richard Ned Lebow, "The Long Peace, the End of the Cold War, and the Failure of Realism," and Rey Koslowski and Friedrich Kratochwil, "Understanding Change in International Relations: The Soviet Empire's Demise and the International System," both in IniternationaOlrganization,Vol.48,No.2(Spring1994);FriedrichKratochwil,"TheEmbarrassment of Changes: Neo-Realism as the Science of Realpolitikwithout Politics," Review of International Studies,Vol.19,No. 1(January1993),pp. 63-80;JohnLewis Gaddis, "InternationalRelations Theory and the End of the Cold War,"InternationalSecurity, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Winter 1992/93), pp. 5-58; Thomas Risse-Kappen and Richard Ned Lebow, "International Relations Theory and the Transfor- mation of the International System," draft introduction (September 1993) for Risse-Kappen and
Itiernational Sectirity,Winter 1994/95 (Vol. 19, No. 3), pp. 91-129 ? 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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post-1989 transformation of international politics is not an appropriate test for theory. The end of the Cold War,they argue, was "merely a single data point." Even if it is inconsistent with realism it is insufficient to falsify it, because international relations theories are capable only of predicting patterns of be- havior; they cannot make point predictions. And many scholars are pessimistic about the capacity of social science theory to explain unique and complex historical events involving revolutionary change. Therefore, our evaluation of theory should look to future patterns rather than past events.2
Both answers are wrong. Realist theories are not invalidated by the post-1989 transformation of world politics. Indeed, they explain much of the story. Real- ism is rich and varied, and cannot be limited just to structural realism, which deals poorly with change.3 Many criticisms of realism based on the post-1989 system transformation contrast the most parsimonious form of realism, Kenneth Waltz's structural realism, with the richest and most context-specific alternative explanations derived from liberalism, the new institutionalism, or constructivism. This is not a fair or convincing approach to the evaluation of theories.
Instead, a thoroughly realist explanation of the Cold War's end and the relatively peaceful nature of the Soviet Union's decline that relies entirely on the propositions of pre-1989 theory is in many ways superior to rich explana- tions based on other theoretical traditions. But to carry on as if there are no lessons in this series of events for international relations theory in general and realist theories in particular is as indefensible intellectually as the claim that
Lebow, eds., International Relations Theory and the End of The Cold War, forthcoming; Richard Rosecrance and Arthur A. Stein, "Beyond Realism: The Study of Grand Strategy," in Rosecrance and Stein, eds., The Domestic Bases of Grand Strategy (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1993). Other important works in the post-Cold War debate are discussed below.
2. On theory and revolutionary change, see Peter J. Katzenstein, "International Relations Theory and the Analysis of Change," in Ernst-Otto Czempiel and James N. Rosenau eds., GlobalChanges and TheoreticalChallenges:Approachesto WorldPolitics for the 1990s (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1989). Lebow attributes the "data point" quotation to a "prominent participant" in a 1991 confer- ence on international relations theory in Lebow, "TheLong Peace, the End of the Cold War,and the Failure of Realism," pp. 251-252. The two most important collections on international theory published after the Cold War look almost entirely to the future (especially of the European Union and NATO) to evaluate competing theories: Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller, eds., The Cold Warand After: Prospectsfor Peace-An International Security Reader(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993); and David A. Baldwin, ed., Neorealismand Neoliberalism:TheContemporaryDebate(New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).
3. Kenneth N. Waltz, Theoryof InternationalPolitics (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1979). For analyses, see Robert Keohane, ed., Neorealismand its Critics (New York:Columbia University Press, 1986); and Barry Buzan, Charles Jones, and Richard Little, The Logic of Anarchy:Neorealismto Structural Realism(New York:Columbia University Press, 1993).
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the post-1989 transformation single-handedly invalidates any and all realist theories. As critics of realism rightly note, the events of the last half-decade highlight the indeterminacy of realist predictions about state behavior. Realist theories can be made more determinate, but only in ex post explanation rather than ex ante prediction. Realist theories are terribly weak. They are too easy to confirm and too hard to falsify. They do not come close to the ideal of scientific theory. Their strength is only evident when they are compared to the alterna- tives, which suffer from similar or worse indeterminacy but do not possess comparable explanatory power. The proper attitude toward the realist ap- proach, even on the part of its defenders, ought to be reluctant acceptance conditioned on a determination to improve it, or to dispose of it if something better comes along.
I perform four basic tasks in this article. First, I discuss briefly the intellectual challenge presented by the post-1989 changes in world politics. What exactly should we expect this series of events to tell us about international relations theories? How much should we expect such theories to tell us about these events? This issue surely ought to lie at the center of any assessment of the Soviet collapse, but thus far it has not. Second, I outline the realist explanation of recent change in world politics that I elaborate upon further throughout the article. Third, I examine the many critiques of realism based on the end of the Cold War and the Soviet collapse: (a) predictive failure; (b) lack of correlation between independent and dependent variables; and (c) important patterns of state behavior defying realist expectations and explanations. Finally, I suggest some preliminary lessons that ought to be drawn from the post-1989 experi- ence, and outline their implications for further research.
The Cold War'sEnd and Social Science Theory
Like the French Revolution or the decline and fall of Rome, the Cold War's end is an event whose importance commands attention but whose complexity frustrates explanation. Few who took up the study of international politics during the Cold War will be content with the notion that the waning of that conflict is simply a single observation no more important than hundreds of others.
And like other complex events in history, the end of the Cold War is unique. The precise set of antecedent conditions and the precise nature of the outcome never occurred before and are exceedingly unlikely ever to recur. So the case cannot be explained in the ideal-scientific manner, as an instance of a general
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law. That is, the Cold War's end cannot easily be characterized as a type of outcome generally associated with a particular set of antecedent conditions: "Given such-and-such conditions, international systems tend to be trans- formed; since those conditions obtained in 1987, the Cold War ended as a result."4 There are simply too many important novel elements in the Cold War story and too few other events even roughly comparable for an explanation of this type to work.
However, if we concentrate on the event itself, we face the familiar problem of too many variables and too few independent observations. International relations theories are almost never monocausal. The claim is rarely "A, not B, caused E," but rather "both A and B caused E but A was more important."5 Establishing whether nuclear weapons, the balance of power, domestic politics, liberal values, the personalities of leaders, or other factors were truly "most important" in bringing the Cold War to an end is a predictably inconclusive business. In the language of statistics, the researcher faces negative degrees of freedom. If we accept the statistician's view of causality, causal inference cannot be made on the basis of negative degrees of freedom, so the causes of a single outcome cannot be established, and a single outcome will be compatible with numerous theories.6
The problem is clear: weak theories that at best can make probabilistic predictions confront a single, complex, but fatefully important event. The solution is twofold. First, it is necessary to disaggregate the event.7 Elements of the larger event may be susceptible to general explanation. Different theories may explain different regularities that came together to produce the end of the Cold War.At the very least, disaggregation simplifies analysis and clarifies the
4. The impossibility of applying the "covering-law" model to the explanation of complex or "aggregative" historical events is discussed in Ernest Nagel, The Structure of Science:Problemsin the Logicof ScientificExplanation(New York:Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961), pp. 568-575; and Carl G. Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: Free Press, 1965), chap 12. David Dessler's paper, "Scientific Realism is Just Positivism Reconstructed," prepared for delivery at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Washington, D.C., March 28-April 1, 1994, alerted me to these sources.
5. See Nagel, Structure of Science, pp. 584-588, for the many ways one cause can be said to be "more important" than others. 6. Degrees of freedom are the number of observations minus the number of independent variables minus one. We are all familiar with this logic. Was it worn spark plugs or a dirty air filter that caused our poor gas mileage? We'll never know if we do both repairs simultaneously and only measure gas mileage in one period. We need at least three observations (one with no change; one with new plugs and old filter; and one with old plugs and new filter). But our confidence in any finding would be increased by further observations, to control for different driving conditions, weather, number of passengers, or types of gasoline used.
7. This solution is proposed by Nagel, Structure of Science; and Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation.
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dependent variable. Second, having selected a piece of the puzzle whose explanation may fall under the purview of a given theory, it is still necessary to go "beyond correlations," in David Dessler's phrase, and toward "a direct examination of a theory's postulated generative processes."8 The only way to evaluate theory in each instance is to trace the process through which the posited cause produced (or influenced) the outcome. Having posited a cause, and shown a correlation, it will still be necessary to show empirically the mechanism that connects cause to effect.9
For the purposes of international theory, it is reasonable to separate the great-power element of the whole case: dramatic change in Soviet security policy; the emergence of a deep detente between the superpowers after 1987; Moscow's peaceful acquiescence in regime changes in East-Central Europe, and the subsequent collapse of its alliance and the reunification of Germany in 1989 and 1990. These events do not constitute the entire story, but they are an important part of it that is particularly relevant to international relations theory. Realist theories of all stripes highlight a single independent variable: the bal- ance of power. They describe recent international change primarily as the result of declining relative Soviet power conditioned by the global distribution of power. For the purpose of evaluating realism, then, much post-1987 interna- tional change can be defined as a single series of events, linked by a single generative cause. A causal analysis of that link implies close examination of the influence of power on great-power decision-making during the Cold War endgame.
Strictly speaking, no particular finding about the Cold War's end will suffice to "falsify" an entire research program, such as realism. For a single series of events to constitute a critical test of a theory, it must not only be inconsistent with the theory but be unambiguously ruled out by it.10However it may
8. David Dessler, "Beyond Correlations: Toward a Causal Theory of War,"InternationalStudies Quarterly,Vol. 35, No. 3, (September 1991), pp. 337-355. 9. The "scientific" status of analyzing causal mechanisms is disputed among philosophers and methodologists of social science. Cf. Dessler, ibid.; Alexander L. George and Timothy J.McKeown, "Case Studies and Theories of Organizational Decision Making," in Advances in InformationProc- essing in Organizations,Vol. 2 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1985); and Alexander L. George, "Case Studies and Theory Development: The Method of Structured, Focused Comparison," in Paul Gordon Lauren, ed., Diplomacy:New Approachesin History, Theoryand Policy (New York:The Free Press, 1979), with Gary King, Robert 0. Keohane and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiny: Scientific Inferencein Qualitative Research(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), who maintain that causality can only be understood statistically, and therefore that "process tracing" is merely another method of increasing the sample.
10. See Karl R. Popper, Conjecturesand Refutations:The Growthof ScientificKnowledge(New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 117. I am indebted to David Dessler for helping me navigate Popper's arguments.
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appear to critics of realism, realist theories do not rule out an event-series involving the emergence of deep superpower d6tente and the relatively peace- ful contraction of Soviet power. But the importance of the exercise goes beyond formal arguments about theory-testing. If realism can be shown to have noth- ing to say about the Cold War's end, its relevance to the postwar world can be called into doubt. And a rigorous search for the causal mechanisms at work in important cases adds to our historical understanding. The clash of theories over the explanation of important events leads to a better understanding of those events.
An Outline of a Realist Explanation
Recent changes in world politics can be explained by realist hypotheses, de- rived from classical realism and from theories of hegemonic rivalry and power- transition, which have been obscured in recent years by the more influential structural variant.11The account I offer is simply an extension of the general realist system of explanation to a specific case with inevitably unique features that could not be anticipated and probably will not recur. Its power derives from the fact that it captures central causal relationships and is connected to a set of theories that have proven their utility in a great many different instances.
The Cold Warwas caused by the rise of Soviet power and the fear this caused in the West. The end of the Cold War was caused by the relative decline in Sov.iet power and the reassurance this gave the West. Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev may have had many reasons for competing with the United States, ranging from genuine fear to ideological conviction, but a necessary condition for competition was their perception that they had the capabilityto do so. Gorbachev may have had numerous reasons for seeking to withdraw from the rivalry with the United States, but a necessary precondition was the perception of reducedcapabilityto continue competing.
Realists of all kinds view change in state behavior as adaptation to external constraints conditioned by changes in relative power. The best way to make
11. This kind of analysis is applied to the entire Cold War in Wohlforth, The Elusive Balance:Power and PerceptionsDuring the Cold War (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1993). The only other effort to apply realist ideas systematically to an analysis of the Cold War's end that I have located is Kenneth Oye's "Explaining the End of the Cold War:Morphological and Behavioral Adaptations to the Nuclear Peace," draft chapter (December 1992) for Risse-Kappen and Lebow, eds., Interna- tionalRelationsTheoryandtheEndofTheColdWar.IshareOye's emphasis on relative Soviet decline, but focus less on nuclear weapons, while introducing new arguments for the absence of war.
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sense of the recent international change and to think about the future of world politics is to view the Cold War as a credible but ultimately failed Soviet challenge to U.S. hegemony"2 What made the Cold War era seem so different from earlier eras in world history was the reduced uncertainty about alliance choices and the consequent stability of central power relations over four dec- ades. The great popularity of structural realism was very largely due to the fact that it seemed to explain this state of affairs. An alternative explanation, truer to classical balance-of-power theory, is that the Cold War was explained by the Soviet Union's near-domination of Eurasia.13 Of course, the real degree of Russia's power and threat was arguable, but it was clearer in the Cold War than during any other time of peace. Moscow's position resembled France's in 1813 or Germany's in 1917 and 1941, thus accounting for the stability of the opposing coalition. This was a novel situation, and it came to an end in novel ways.
There are three keys to understanding the peculiarities of the Cold War's end and the Soviet Union's sudden but peaceful collapse that have not been ad- dressed heretofore. First, decision-makers'assessments of power are what matters. For any balance-of-power theory to explain state behavior, it must specify the mechanism through which capabilities are translated into actions. That mecha- nism can only be the assessments of the people who act on behalf of states. One reason balance-of-power theories cannot make deterministic predictions about state behavior is that so many factors can influence assessments of capabilities. As Hans Morgenthau argued almost a half century ago, power is composed of a complex combination of material and non-material factors. Even if, unlike Morgenthau, we distinguish carefully between power as influenceand power as capabilities,the basic insight holds.14 Capability contains vitally im-
12. Distinguishing features of works on hegemonic rise and decline include a focus on hierarchy as an ordering principle, hegemonic rivalry and power transitions. See Robert Gilpin, Warand Change in WorldPolitics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); A.F.K. Organski, World Politics (New York:Knopf, 1968); Karl Deutsch, TheAnalysis of IinternationiaRlelationis(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968); Organski and Jacek Kugler, The WarLedger(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); and Michael Howard, TheCausesof Wars(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), chap. 1. For an effort to formalize and test power-transition theory, see Woosang Kim and James D. Morrow, "When do Power Shifts Lead to War?"AmericanJouirnalof Political Science, Vol. 36, No. 4 (November 1992), pp. 896-922.
13. For theoretical analyses of balance-of-power theory that powerfully explicate this view, see R. Harrison Wagner, "What was Bipolarity?" InterniationalOrganization,Vol. 47, No. 1 (Winter 1993), pp. 77-106; and Wagner, "Peace, War,and the Balance of Power," AmericanPolitical ScienceReviezv, Vol. 88, No. 3 (September 1994), pp. 593-607.
14. Hans Morgenthau, PoliticsAmonigNations:TheStruiggleforPowerandPeace(New York:Knopf, 1948), Part 3. I define power as,resources throughout this article. For empirical and conceptual
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portant non-material elements that make it very difficult or even impossible to measure. Rational decision-makers may revise assessments of capabilities dra- matically and suddenly when confronted with new information about non-ma- terial elements of capability, even when material measures change only slightly Crude quantitative indicators of capabilities cannot accurately represent deci- sion-makers' assessments.
The corollary of a perceptual approach to power is the realization that expectations inform policy. All policies are future-oriented. All decisions are bets on the future. A decision to reform, retrench, or go to war reflects expec- tations about future trends and assessments of the likely effect of today's policies on tomorrow's distribution of relative power. Theories of hegemonic rivalry suggest that during power transitions, sets of expectations that make decisions for war seem attractive are likely to occur. As in the case of assess- ments of power, it is difficult to make deterministic predictions about decision- makers' expectations in any case. How any state reacts to perceived decline will be determined by decision-makers' expectations. Obviously, if they con- clude that decline is reversible, they will be less likely to opt for risky, forceful solutions to decline and more likely to choose retrenchment and reform. Robert Gilpin argued in 1981 that the two superpowers' basic ideological faith in the future was one of the factors that stabilized the Cold War.15What is striking about the Cold War's end is how very late in the game the Soviet leaders clung to this faith.
Second, declining challengersare more likely than declining hegemons to try to retrenchandreformratherthanoptforpreventivewar.Itis vital to note that in the 1980s, the Soviet Union was not a declining hegemon, but a declining chal- lenger. From 1917 onward, the Soviet Union stood formally for revision of the international status quo. Its real commitment to revisionism varied, and as its relative power grew its revisionist impulse assumed increasingly typical great- power forms. But the country's post-1945 hegemonic status and consequent conservatism in the Central European region should not be confused with global hegemony. Worldwide, successive Soviet leaderships chafed against an American-dominated system. They never doubted who the real hegemon was.
analysis of how decision-makers assess power, see Aaron L. Friedberg, The WearyTitan:Britainand the Experienceof Relative Decline, 1895-1905 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988); Wohlforth, Elusive Balance;and Wohlforth, "The Perception of Power: Russia in the Pre-1914 Balance," WorldPolitics, Vol. 39, No. 3 (April 1987), pp. 353-381.
15. Gilpin, Warand Change,p. 240. For more on the relationship between risk attitudes and the likelihood of war in power transitions, see Kim and Morrow, "When do Power Shifts lead to War?"
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Theories of hegemonic rivalry do not make deterministic predictions about individual states' reactions to decline. But they do suggest that hegemons are more likely to react violently to decline than either a challenger that never became powerful enough to contemplate taking over leadership, or a state not directly contending for leadership. For all such theories, the danger point, when war is most likely (though not inevitable), is a transitionin relative position, not the rapid decline of a challenger. Soviet power rose and fell without reaching such a transition point. Theorists of hegemonic war, perhaps under Thucydides' spell, tended to concentrate on dynamic challengers and mori- bund hegemons. They always thought of the problem of peaceful change as one of accommodating the demands of a rising challenger. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union seemed to fit the bill. But roles were mixed in the Cold War endgame. Rigid, Spartan Soviet Russia was the moribund challenger, and dynamic, Athenian America the rising defender.
The third key is that sudden decline or civil strife on the losing side of a struggle is less destabilizingglobally than such decline or strife on the winning side.'6 Internal strife on the losing side ratifies the previously-existing power relationship; it merely confirms what political actors knew to be the case just prior to the advent of the strife. Thus, it provides no incentive to renew the struggle. Civil strife on the winning side, of course, gives the losing party an incentive to carry on with the struggle. This helps to account not only for the relatively peaceful nature of Soviet decline and collapse, but also for the widespread obsession (both in the West and in Moscow) with U.S. decline during the Cold War.If we accept that the Soviet Union was behind the United States in power terms, then Soviet rise and U.S. decline were much more dangerous in terms of power-transition theory than vice-versa. Unlike structural realism, which in- sists on seeing the two superpowers as identical "sensible duopolists,"17 this explanation sees the Soviet Union as occupying a quite different international position than United States and expects different consequences from changes in its relative power.
It follows that the basic hierarchy of the international system-with the United States at the top-has not only not been challenged by the Soviet collapse, but has been decisively reinforced by it."8This leads to a portrayal of
16. This is merely an extension of the logic in Geoffrey Blainey, TheCausesof War,(New York:The Free Press, 1973), p. 82. 17. Waltz, Theoryof InternationalPolitics, p. 203. 18. This conclusion resembles the views of Marxist world-system theorists. See Richard Herrmann, "International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War,"draft chapter (July 1993) for Lebow and Risse-Kappen, InternationalRelations Theory.It is important to stress, however, that the realist
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the near future of world politics as strikingly different from that suggested by structural realism. While structural realists focus on the war-proneness of the emerging multipolarity, theories of hegemonic rivalry highlight the relative stability and order that the existence of a clear hierarchy of prestige and power will impart to great-power relations. In short, there are (non-structural) realist reasons for regarding the near future of great-power relations relatively opti- mistically, even ignoring such important factors as the existence of nuclear weapons and the unprecedented popularity of liberal and democratic values.
Realistsand TheirCritics
Together, these non-structural realist arguments help explain change in Soviet security policy, the consequent emergence of deep superpower detente, the Soviet Union's adoption of reform and retrenchment rather than violent oppo- sition to decline, and the ability of the international system to accommodate unprecedented power and territorial changes without great-power war. Objec- tions to such an explanation can be anticipated by examining the post-Cold War debate on international theory Below, I examine three lines of criticism: (1) egregious predictive failure; (2) lack of correlation between independent and dependent variables; (3) state behavior inconsistent with realist predictions, including the Soviet withdrawal from East-Central Europe, the high levels of great-power cooperation, and a potentially "critical" absence of great-power war. Many of these criticisms point to areas where realist theories must either improve or make more modest claims. Yet most of them are most damaging to the structural version of realism, whose inability to deal adequately with international change is acknowledged even by its most ardent defenders.
FAILURE TO PREDICT Rational actors learn from predictive failures. One can reject the premise that prediction is a necessary condition of explanation yet still conclude that wide- spread failure to anticipate vitally important events even in general terms should cause us to wonder about the theories on which expectations were based."9
explanation proposed here regards military power, prestige, and security, and thus the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, as central, while world-system theorists see the Soviet challenge as peripheral. See, for example, Immanuel Wallerstein, Geopoliticsand Geoculture:Essays on the Changing World-System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Edition de la Maison des Sciences de L'Homme, 1992), chap. 1, who continues to see post-1989 systems changes as results of U.S. decline.
19. For a general critique of international relations theories, based on their failure to anticipate the Cold War's end, see Gaddis, "International Relations Theory"; on realism in particular, see Kra-
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Most scrutiny has been directed at structural realism. The main charge against this theory is that it not only failed to anticipate change, but led those who believed in it to expect the opposite: stability To the extent that structural realism sought to explain the Cold War by reference to bipolarity, this criticism appears justified. Ambiguity surrounds the definition of bipolarity, but its most common meaning is the concentration of capabilities in two powers, in this case the United States and the Soviet Union.20 In 1988, Waltz argued that the Cold War was "firmly rooted in the structure of postwar international politics, and will last as long as that structure endures."21 It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that any reasonably intelligent consumer of Waltz's theory in 1988 would have expected the Cold War to last as long as the bipolar structure itself. The Cold War ended over the course of the next two years; however, according to Waltz in 1993, "bipolarity endures, but in an altered state." In short, the Cold War's end caused an important amendment to be added to the theory: while bipolarity leads to Cold War, "altered bipolarity" leads to detente.22
However accurate, such criticisms miss Waltz's main contention: that a theory of international politics cannot predict state behavior or explain inter- national change.23Waltz and his followers often employed the theory to discuss Cold War statecraft, but its core predictions are only two: balances will form;
tochwil, "The Embarrassment of Changes"; and Lebow, "The Long Peace, the End of the Cold War, and the Failure of Realism." For a helpful discussion of the relative importance of prediction in assessing theory, see David Dessler, "Explanation, Prediction, Critique: The Aims of Rationalistic International Relations Theory," College of William and Mary, unpublished ms., May 1994.
20. That was how it was seen by the postwar realists in opposition to whom Waltz first articulated his arguments about bipolarity. See Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, chap. 19; Morgen- thau discusses the new postwar structure of power in the 1948 edition of his classic text, although he does not use the term "bipolarity"; John H. Herz, InternationalPolitics in the Atomic Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), chap. 7; and Kenneth Waltz, "The Stability of a Bipolar World," Daedalus (Summer 1964), pp. 881-909. On the vexing ambiguities surrounding the concept, see Wagner, "What was Bipolarity?" Ned Lebow also develops a penetrating critique in "The Long Peace, the End of the Cold War,and the Failure of Realism."
21. Waltz, "The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory," in Robert I. Rotberg and Theodore K. Rabb, eds., The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 52. That structure would likely endure for some time because Waltz, like most international relations theorists, believed that "national rankings change slowly. War aside, the economic and other bases of power change little more rapidly." In addition, "the barriers to entering the super- power club have never been higher or more numerous." Waltz, Theonjof InternationalPolitics, p. 177.
22. Waltz, "The Emerging Structure of International Politics," InternationalSecurity,Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall 1993), pp. 48-52. 23. "The behavior of states and statesmen," Waltz states, "is indeterminate." Theoryof International Politics, p. 68; "Changes in, and transformation of, systems originate not in the structure of a system but in its parts. Systems change, or are transformed, depending on the resources and aims of their units and on the fates that befall them." Waltz, "Reflections on Theoryof InternationalPolitics: A Response to my Critics," in Keohane, Neorealismannd its Critics, p. 343.
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and bipolar systems are less war-prone than multipolar ones, due to reduced uncertainty about alliance choices. The latter prediction seems borne out by the history of the Cold War and even its end. The bipolar structure, it could be argued, was so primed for peace that even German reunification and Soviet dissolution did not upset the great powers' repose. The continued tendency of all the great powers to bandwagon with the United States after the Soviet collapse does contradict the theory's prediction of balancing. But Waltz always allowed that unit causes could delay system incentives for prolonged periods. The epistemological modesty of the theory renders it hard to criticize (and to falsify).
Theories of hegemonic rivalry clearly benefit in this instance from their focus on change. They urge the reader to think of any international system as temporary, and to look for the underlying causes of change, which accumulate slowly but are realized in rare, concentrated bursts. They encourage scholars and policy-makers to be on the lookout for gaps between the capabilities of states and the demands placed upon them by their international roles. It is thus no surprise that the predictions that look best in hindsight came from people who thought in these terms. An example is the sociologist Randall Collins, who identified early the Soviet geopolitical overstretch as the basic harbinger of international change. Relying on a theory whose central variables were relative capability and geopolitical position, he began predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1970s, noting that the loss would result not mainly from ethnic revolt or a single major war but from the geopolitical exhaustion of the imperial center and "a loss of political confidence" among the Russians.24
The main criticism of theories of hegemonic rivalry is that none generated the kind of explanation I suggested above-even speculatively-before the fact.25In general, realists of all types tended to associate large-scale interna-
24. Randall Collins, WeberianSociologicalTheory(New York:Cambridge University Press, 1986), chaps. 7, 8. See also Randall Collins, "Some Principles of Long TermSocial Change: The Territorial Power of States," in Louis Kriesberg, ed., Researchin SocialMovements,Conflictsand Change,Vol. 1 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1978), pp. 1-34; Randall Collins and David Waller, "What Theories Predicted the State Breakdowns and Revolutions of the Soviet Bloc?" in Louis Kriesberg and David R. Segal, eds., Researchin Social Movements, Conflictsand Change,Vol. 14 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1992); and Ted Hopf's letter, "Getting the End of the Cold War Wrong," InternationalSecurity, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall 1993), pp. 202-208, which alerted me to Collins's work. Another, much better known prediction is Andrei Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984? (New York:Harper and Row, 1970), whose scenario of collapse centers on the Soviet leadership's resort to a diversion- ary war with China.
25. 1 first put together the argument sketched out above in the spring of 1990, after the collapse of Moscow's outer empire, but before the collapse of its inner one. William C. Wohlforth, "Gor- bachev's Foreign Policy: From New Thinking to Decline," in Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, ed., EmergingDimensions of EuropeanSecurity Policy (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1991), pp. 47-62.
Realismand the End of the Cold War| 103
tional change with war. In particular, those who did contemplate Soviet decline in the context of the Cold War tended to assume that Moscow would not face decline gracefully.26The reasons for these assumptions are not intrinsic to the theory. There is no barrier in the theory that prevents one from pulling together various strands and constructing a scenario for the relatively peaceful ending of the Cold War rivalry Many theorists of power transition and hegemonic rivalry themselves thought that retreat to more defensible positions and do- mestic reform were quite often the best strategies for a declining state. Indeed, those who thought that the United States was overextended urged precisely such a course on the U.S. government.
One explanation, as Ted Hopf argues, is that curiously little effort was devoted to thinking about how the Cold Warmight end.27At least one reason for that neglect is the difficulty of assessing power. The debate focused like a laser beam on U.S. decline, even as the Soviet Union was entering the initial stages of its final crisis. While many did identify a gap between Soviet capa- bilities and commitments, very few shared Collins's dire assessment. Most international relations theorists in the 1980s relied on the dominant assessment then prevalent among Sovietologists: the Soviet Union was in deep trouble, but a very long way from collapse. That Sovietological assessment mirrored the prevalent mood in Moscow's policy-making circles. The possibility of precipi- tous Soviet decline seemed so remote and so speculative up until 1989 that little analytical energy was devoted to working through scenarios involving a declining challenger in the context of a prolonged great-power rivalry.28
26. On the association of war and change see, for a small sampling of quotations, Gilpin, Warand Change, p. 15; A.F.K. Organski, WorldPolitics (New York: Knopf, 1985), p. 333; Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press), p. 34; J.W. Burton, InternationalRelations:A GeneralTheory(Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 76-77. In Theoryof InternationalPolitics, Waltz discusses various roads to structural transformation without explicitly connecting them to war; however, he insisted that the only structural transfor- mation in history, from multi- to bipolarity, was caused by World War II. For mid-1980s thinking on Soviet decline, see Kurt M. Campbell, "Prospects and Consequences of Soviet Decline," in Joseph S. Nye, Graham T. Allison, and Albert Carnesale, eds., Fateful Visions: Avoiding Nuclear Catastrophe(Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1988); and Paul M. Kennedy, TheRise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York:Random House, 1987), esp. pp. 488-514.
27. Hopf, "Getting the End of the Cold War Wrong." 28. As Raymond Aron remarked to Hedley Bull at a 1982 conference, Soviet decline was "the most important and indeed most neglected question in contemporary international relations scholar- ship." Cited by Campbell, "Prospects and Consequences of Soviet Decline," p. 153. On the stability assumption in Sovietology, see Thomas Remington, "Sovietology and System Stability,"in Post-So- viet Affairs,Vol. 8, No. 3 (July-September 1992), pp. 239-269. Other good post-mortems on Sovie- tology include the articles by Robert Tucker and George Breslauer in the same issue; Alexander Dallin, "Causes of the Collapse pf the USSR," Post-SovietAffairs,Vol. 8, No. 4 (December 1992), pp. 279-302; Peter Rutland, "Sovietology: Notes for a Post-Mortem," The National Interest, Vol. 31 (Spring 1993), pp. 109-123.
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It is not surprising, then, that when people did contemplate Soviet decline or large-scale international change they took the easiest intellectual route: induction. That is, episodes of rapid international change appeared to be associated historically with war, and empires rarely accepted their decline with graceful resignation.29 Major international change and precipitous Soviet de- cline seemed remote enough that writers felt it sufficient to note in passing that analogous events in the past had usually been accompanied by large-scale violence. They did not ponder at length whether the set of perceptions and expectations that had accompanied such violence in the past was really as likely to appear in this instance.
This inductive association of war and major change is an important reason so many scholars failed to prepare intellectually for the transformation of world politics that occurred after 1989. Most analysts assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that the relevant political actors themselves would be constrained by the association of war and change, and precisely for that reason believed that change was most likely to be marginal in the near term. Fearing that radical change would raise the specter of war, the key political actors would endeavor to moderate their behavior in a rational cost-benefit calculation. So all the indications of new Soviet perceptions of power and interest, and of impending revolution in Eastern Europe, that stand out so clearly in hindsight were balanced at the time by the feeling that the magnitude of change would be managed by decision-makers apprehensive about potential instability and war. The iaotable feature of those analysts now regarded to have "got it most right" about the Soviet Union's fate is their dispassionate consideration of violence as the road to Soviet dissolution.
If scholars had thought more about the problem of how the Cold War system might end, they would not have met insuperable theoretical barriers blocking rough anticipation of the likely nature of international change. Indeed, they might have overcome the danger that always accompanies historical induction: selection bias, whereby scholars highlighted only those cases of international
29. See Jack Levy, "Declining Power and the Preventive Motivation for War," WorldPolitics, Vol. 40, No. 1 (April 1988), p. 97. The association between war and change is hard to measure, but Paul F. Diehl and Gary Goertz, "TerritorialChange and Militarized Conflict," Journalof ConflictResolu- tion, Vol. 32, No. 1 (March 1988), pp. 103-122, do find that if territorial change is "important" and "among the major powers" it tends to be associated with war. Also relevant here is: Jack Levy, War in the Modern GreatPower System, 1495-1975 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983). Note that it usually takes a war to convince contemporaries and scholars in retrospect that a state has either become or ceased to be a "great power." See Levy, Warin the Modern GreatPower System, p. 24.
Realismand the End of the Cold War | 105
change and national decline that were associated with violence, and down- played or ignored other cases.30 Because they were accustomed to thinking about the Cold War in terms of rising Soviet power and precarious U.S. hegemony (or, in the 1980s, in terms of two "sensible duopolist" superpowers adjusting to a bipolar structure) they were not inclined to sift the historical record for evidence about declining challengers.
However, if more analytical energy had been devoted to thinking through scenarios of systemic change, exponents of both structural realism and theories of hegemonic rivalry might have focused upon the unique features of the post-World War II international system in terms of both types of theory. For structural realists, bipolarity was a world-historical first. For hegemony theo- rists, never before had a challenger come so close to dominating Eurasia in peacetime, and never had such a challenger begun to decline well before the main status-quo states. Both theories thus should have led to the suspicion that change might be different this time around, even apart from such important new features as nuclear weapons.
The predictive failure of realist theories, including those that self-consciously addressed the problem of change in world politics, was linked to the difficulty of assessing power. The gap between a state's capabilities and its international role is easy to identify in hindsight, after capabilities have been put to some test. Before the fact, however, the existence or significance of such a gap will always be a matter of speculation. Any capabilities-based theory which recog- nizes that capabilities contain significant non-material elements must recognize the impossibility of making precise power assessments.
THE CORRELATION BETWEEN "POWER" AND "CHANGE" Realists see change as the result of the rise and decline of states' relative power conditioned by the nature of the overall distribution of capabilities. A structural realist account of the Cold War's end would feature bipolarity, whose simplic- ity and ease of management might explain the comparatively peaceful nature of the change. Theories of hegemonic rivalry would highlight the U.S.-domi- nated hierarchy of world politics in explaining the same outcome. For either version, relative decline explains the change in Soviet behavior and interests that was the necessary condition for the emergence of deep superpower
30. Note Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's different argument about case selection bias in this theory in, "Pride of Place: The Origins of German Hegemony," WorldPolitics, Vol. 43, No. 1 (October 1990), pp. 28-52.
InternationalSecurity 19:3 | 106
detente, the revolutions in East-Central Europe, and the reunification of Ger- many In this section, I aim to develop a richer understanding of the connection between decline and international change that defuses many criticisms of realism.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DECLINE AND POLICY CHANGE. Perhaps the central theme of recent challenges to realism is the proposition that the realist emphasis on declining relative power is inconsistent with the "Gorbachev revolution." While acknowledging that change in Soviet security policy was the key permissive cause of the Cold War's end, many recent analyses question whether declining power caused that change. Rather, they feature other ex- planatory variables, such as the emergence of industrial society in the West,31 emergence of civil society in East-Central Europe and a legitimization crisis of the communist parties,32Soviet modernization,33 the Soviet domestic political competition between hard-liners and soft-liners,34domestic politics in both the Soviet Union and Western Europe,35Soviet elite or leadership learning,36the existence of nuclear weapons and superpower learning about them,37or some combination of these factors.38
31. Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, "The International Sources of Soviet Domestic Change," InternationalSecurity,Vol. 13, No. 3 (Winter 1991/92), pp. 74-118. 32. Kratochwil, "The Embarassment of Changes"; and Koslowski and Kratochwil, "Understanding Change."
33. Jack Snyder, "The Gorbachev Revolution: A Waning of Soviet Expansionism?" International Security, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Winter 1987/88), pp. 93-131; and Myths of Empire:Domestic Politics and InterrtationalAmbition (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1991), chap. 6. 34. Matthew Evangelista, "Internal and External Constraints on Soviet Grand Strategy," in Rose- crance and Stein, Domestic Bases of Grand Strategy;Richard Anderson, "Why Competitive Politics Inhibits Learning in Soviet Foreign Policy," in Robert Jervis and Jack Snyder, eds., Dominoes and Bandwagons:StrategicBeliefsandGreatPowerCompetitionintheEurasianRimland(New York:Oxford University Press, 1991).
35. Thomas Risse-Kappen, "Did 'Peace Through Strength' End the Cold War?Lessons from INF," InternationalSecurity,Vol. 16, No. 1 (Summer 1991), pp. 162-188. 36. George Breslauer, "What Have We Learned about Learning?" in Breslauer and Phillip Tetlock, eds., Learning in U.S. and Soviet Foreign Policy (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1991); and Andrew Bennett, "Patterns of Soviet Military Interventionism, 1975-1990: Alternative Explanations and their Implications," in William Zimmerman, ed., Beyond the Soviet Threat:Rethinking American Security Policy in a New Era (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992). Janice Gross Stein, "Political Learning by Doing: Gorbachev as Uncommitted Thinker and Motivated Learner," in InternationalOrganization,Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring 1994), pp. 155-183, stresses individual learning by Gorbachev.
37. Steve Weber, "Security after the Revolutions of 1989 and 1991: The Future with Nuclear Weapons," in Patrick J. Garrity and Steven A. Maaranen, eds., Nuclear Weaponsin the Changing World:Perspectivesfrom Europe,Asia and North America(New York:Plenum Press, 1992). 38. For accounts that combine the learning and the leadership competition/domestic politics approaches, see Sarah E. Mendelson, "Internal Battles and External Wars: Politics, Learning and the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan," WorldPolitics, Vol. 45, No. 3 (April 1993), pp. 327-360;
Realismand the End of the Cold War| 107
This literature faces a basic problem, however: the centrality of economic reform to the rise and demise of the Gorbachev revolution.39 The problem for anti-realists (and realists) is that the declining-relative-capabilities explanation is difficult to differentiate from the domestic explanation focusing on the need to revitalize the economy40 This is the basic dilemma of much international relations theory: the difficulty of assigning relative weight to internal versus international factors when they continually influence one another. For surely no critic of realism thinks that the Soviet leaders would have initiated reforms if their economy had been bounding along at six percent a year while the West was mired in a depression. As Alexander Zinoviev put it in 1989, "if there were no West . . . the state of the communist economy would be extolled as the height of perfection, the communist system of power-as the height of democ- racy, the population's living conditions-as an earthly paradise."'4 And surely no realist thinks that the end of the Cold War can be explained adequately without reference to the peculiar mix of centralized authority, weakness and brittleness that we now know was characteristic of the Soviet domestic order.
Any realist discussion of international change must combine the domestic and international levels of analysis. A realist explanation cannot offer a com- prehensive account of precisely why a given state's domestic political, social, and economic institutions decline in comparison to those of competing powers. Instead, it makes only two claims, both of which distinguish it from an account focusing solely on domestic politics. First, definitions of interests are related to perceived relative power. A given state's leadership seeks greater influence on the world stage when it thinks it can, and resolves to retrench internationally
and George Breslauer, "Explaining Soviet Policy Changes: The Interaction of Politics and Learn- ing," in Breslauer, ed., Soviet Policy in Africa: From the Old to the New Thinking (Berkeley, Calif.: Berkeley-Stanford Program in Soviet Studies, 1992). For an argument in favor of combining many of the theories listed above, see Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, "Soviet Reforms and the End of the Cold War: Explaining Large-Scale Historical Change," Review of InternationalStudies, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Summer 1991), pp. 225-250. A convincing effort to combine international influences and domestic institutional and ideational factors is Jeff Checkel, "Ideas, Institutions, and the Gorbachev Foreign Policy Revolution," WorldPolitics, Vol. 45, No. 2 (January 1993), pp. 271-300. 39. Coit D. Blacker,HostagetoRevolution:GorbachevandSovietSecurityPolicy,1985-1991 (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993), makes a compelling case for the primacy of economic reform in the whole story, connecting it to changes in security policy. As Deudney and Ikenberry note in "The International Sources of Soviet Domestic Change," p. 80: "About the character of the crisis there is wide agreement. Virtually every commentator of these events points to economic stagna- tion as the decisive impetus for change."
40. Most analyses critical of realism acknowledge the importance of economic decline to the whole story, but some authors, discussed below, question its significance compared to other variables. 41. Alexander Zinoviev, "The Missing World War III, the Crisis of Communism, and the Offense of Democracy," Detente, No. 15 (1989), p. 5.
InternationalSecurity 19:3 | 108
when it feels it must. The impetus to address economic deficiencies must be understood in terms of the relative economic efficiency of rival states and the strategic implications of the economy. Second, relative decline is connected to the costs of international competition or security In the case of the Soviet Union and the Cold War's end, perceived relative decline was a necessary condition for the adoption of perestroika and "new thinking," and decline was connected to the burdens imposed by the Soviet Union's international position.
Many recent criticisms of realism maintain that changes in the Soviet political elite's preferences had little or nothing to do with changes in relative Soviet capabilities. They argue that the Soviet Union was not in decline or at least that Soviet decline was not noticeably worse than earlier periods-until after Gorbachev began his reforms.42They argue that Gorbachev's reforms were a cause rather than a consequence of decline. Since they argue that Soviet decline was not particularly acute, many critics of realism see Gorbachev-era change in Soviet security policy as a willful intellectual revolution, not a reaction to the grim realities of the shifting scales of power.43In general, these anti-realists stress Gorbachev's intentionality: he wanted to do what he did because his preferences had changed in ways realists would never expect; he wished to give up "socialism" and join the West.
These arguments do not stand up to scrutiny Critics of realism contrast a simplistic view of the relationship between decline and policy change against a nuanced and complex view of the relationship between their favored ex-
42. See, e.g., Lebow, "Stability and Change in International Relations: A Critique of Realism," esp. p. 266; Friedrich Kratochwil, "The Embarrassment of Changes"; and Stein, "Political Learning by Doing." The strongest case against the declining-capabilities view of Gorbachev is Evangelista, "Internal and External Constraints on Soviet Grand Strategy," in Rosecrance and Stein, Domestic Basesof GrandStrategy.See also John Meuller, "TheImpact of Ideas on Grand Strategy,"in ibid., p. 53.
43. This is an old debate. See Stephen Sestanovich, "Gorbachev's Foreign Policy: A Diplomacy of Decline," Problemsof Communism,(January-February 1988), pp. 1-15; and the important sources cited in Richard K. Herrmann, "Soviet Behavior in Regional Conflicts: Old Questions, New Strategies, and Important Lessons," WorldPolitics, Vol. 44, No. 3 (April 1992), pp. 432-465. The debate is surely not over. On the importance of external causes for Soviet retrenchment, see Celeste A. Wallander, "Opportunity, Incrementalism, and Learning in the, Extension and Retraction of Soviet Global Commitments," and Richard Weitz, "The Soviet Retreat from Third World Conflicts: The Importance of Systemic Factors," both in Security Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Spring 1992), pp. 514- 579, and Celeste A. Wallander and Jane E. Prokop, "Soviet Security Strategies Toward Europe After the Wall, With Their Backs Up Against It," in Robert 0. Keohane, Joseph S. Nye and Stanley Hoffmann, eds., After the Cold War:InternationalInstitutions and State Strategiesin Europe,(Cam- bridge: Harvard University Press, 1993). Finally, for a strong argument in favor of a cognitive learning explanation for Soviet retrenchment, see Andrew Bennett, "Patterns of Soviet Military Interventionism, 1975-1990: Alternative Explanations and their Implications."
Realismand the End of the Cold WarI109
planatory variable and policy change. They also compare incompatible meas- ures. Their nuanced explanations filled with rich case detail are evaluated against quantitative indicators of "power." They ignore perceptions of power. However, if one wants to know whether change in ideas is caused by changes in power relations, one must investigate changing ideas about power.
A causal evaluation of a power-centric theory would have to trace the influence of power as assessed by the individuals and organizations concerned. Critics of realism, who do not do this, often ignore relative decline. The ABC of realism is that relative gains and losses are what matters. Data on absolute Soviet economic performance or defense expenditures are uninteresting to realists; even Soviet-U.S. comparisons are insufficient. The issue is the Soviet Union's capabilities relative to those powers aligned against it on the world stage.
TRACING THE INFLUENCE OF POWER. Tracing the influence of power assess- ments on the evolution of policy is a complex task requiring all the historian's skill and care in evaluating evidence, and maximum access to archival materi- als. 44 The documentary record of Soviet decision-making in the Gorbachev era is sparse, yet a surprising amount of evidence has come to light. This evidence suggests the importance of many factors: the sense of security provided by nuclear weapons; the force of Gorbachev's convictions; the exigencies of do- mestic politics; luck, chance and caprice. But the available evidence also sug- gests that the story cannot be told now and will not be able to be told in the future without according an important causal role to the problem of relative decline. The keys to keep in mind in any causal evaluation are that power is always relative; that perceptions and expectations link power to policy; and that rational assessments can change quickly when new evidence becomes available.
What perceptions of power surrounded the initial decisions to opt for reform, and how did feedback from the new policies feed into subsequent decisions? Most Sovietologists were long aware that reform sentiments had existed within and around the Soviet Communist Party elite since Khrushchev's Twentieth Party Congress. But through the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet leadership had a robust view of the Soviet Union's relative capabilities; this view was buttressed
44. As difficult as it is, it can and has been done, especially for the periods preceding the two world wars. Examples include Friedberg, The WearyTitan;Wohlforth, "The Perception of Power"; Risto Ropponen, Die KraftRuisslands(Helsinki: Historiallisia tutkimiksia, 1968); and Ernest R. May, ed., Knowing One's Enemies:Intelligence Assessments beforethe Two World Wars, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986).
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by foreign governments, led by the United States, which viewed it as a rising power that had to be accommodated politically. That set of perceptions con- trasted starkly with the views in the early 1980s, when reform ideas began to get through to members of the top leadership.45
Two factors helped bring reform notions to the fore in the early 1980s: the system-wide decline in socialism's economic performance-dramatically high- lighted by the Solidarity movement in Poland-against a backdrop of economic recovery in the West; and the Soviet Union's awful geopolitical position, with every other major power in the entire world, in every region, allied or aligned against Moscow. Each general secretary from Brezhnev on acknowledged these problems openly in speeches and policy pronouncements, and official concern was detectable even in the pages of the censored press and scholarly journals. Reformist analysts at research institutes penned pessimistic classified assess- ments arguing for new policies to address both problems.46 The situation seemed doubly grim because many Soviet analysts were changing the way they measured power. They began to replace the old brute indicators of steel pro- duction and energy consumption with new measures that highlighted efficiency and high technology
The ideas for foreign and domestic policy change that began to get through to the top leadership in this period were not new, but the combination of external and internal problems was. Gorbachev and members of his inner circle date the immediate origins of the reforms precisely to the 1982-83 period. The key issue around which the reformers mobilized was the need to hold a party plenum to consider the issue of the scientific-technical revolution which, they argued, was passing socialism by and would continue to do so in the absence of reforms. The program Gorbachev announced to the April 1985 party plenum one month after his selection as general secretary had been developed in 1983 and 1984.47
45. Wohlforth, Elusive Balance,chaps. 7, 8. 46. On open acknowledgment of problems, see Wohlforth, Elusive Balance,pp. 224-229, and sources cited therein. For classified institute assessments of the international situation, see Robert English, "Russia Views the West: Intellectuals, Ideology and Foreign Policy, " Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, forthcoming in 1994, chap. 7. 47. Transcript of Michael McFaul's summer 1992 interview with N.I. Ryzhkov for the Hoover Institution's oral history project, pp. 127, 136-138. Gorbachev dated the immediate origins of his reforms to 1982: see John Gooding, "Perestroika as a Revolution from Within," Russian Review,Vol. 51, No. 1 (January 1992), p. 46, fn. 29. Other accounts concur: Yegor Ligachev, Inside Gorbachev's Kremlin,trans. Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Michele A. Berdy, and Dorbochna Dyrcz-Freeman (New York:Pantheon,1993),chap.1;N.I.Ryzhkov,Perestroika:IstoriiaPredatel'stv(Moscow:Novosti,
Realismand the End of the Cold WarI111
Thus, the impetus for innovation and even the contours of the new policies are inexplicable without reference to the interconnected problems of perceived relative decline and overextension. The policy that emerged from these circum- stances sought to bring capabilities and commitments into line while reducing the cohesion and hostility of the opposing coalition of states through careful appeasement. This would reduce the threat, potentially facilitate valuable co- operation with more advanced rival states, and allow a reallocation of domestic resources to assist in the long-term revitalization of Soviet socialism. "New thinking" ideas and policy concepts-many of them western in origin-pro- vided the policy's intellectual undergirding. Two central ideas suggested how Moscow might reduce its massive commitment to military power at minimal cost to itself: recognition of the security dilemma, and belief in the prevalence of bala

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