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    Trustees of Princeton University

    Internal Battles and External Wars: Politics, Learning, and the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan Author(s): Sarah E. Mendelson Reviewed work(s): Source: World Politics, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Apr., 1993), pp. 327-360

    Published by: Cambridge University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2950722 .

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    INTERNAL

    BATTLES

    AND

    EXTERNAL

    WARS

    Politics, Learning,and the Soviet

    Withdrawal

    rom

    Afghanistan

    By

    SARAH

    E.

    MENDELSON*

    OW

    do scholars

    account

    for the

    dramatic

    changes

    that

    occurred

    in Soviet foreign policy in the late 1980s and that contributed to

    ending

    the cold

    war? Thus

    far,

    the debate

    on the nature of the

    changes

    has

    centered

    around

    the issue of

    whether Soviet accommodationist

    poli-

    cies

    represented

    lessons

    learned about the international

    system

    and su-

    perpower

    conflict,

    or whether

    they represented

    instead needs and inter-

    ests

    generated

    by

    domestic

    politics.'

    In

    this

    essay,

    I

    address this debate

    and

    reframe

    it

    by stressing

    the influence of both

    learning

    and

    politics

    in explaining

    change

    in

    Soviet foreign policy.

    I widen the focus of study to include not only external political deter-

    minants,

    such

    as the structure

    of

    the international

    system,

    but most im-

    portantly

    internal

    political

    determinants,

    such as

    power

    consolidating

    strategies,

    reformist

    ideas,

    and the

    legitimation

    of

    policy

    entrepreneurs

    in foreign

    policy.

    Instead of

    emphasizing

    the role of

    learning

    about the

    international

    system,

    I

    stress

    the role of ideas about

    both

    the foreign and

    domestic

    scenes.

    Also

    important

    are the networks

    of

    specialists

    that

    helped

    put

    these

    ideas on the national

    agenda.

    I

    argue

    that ideas alone

    cannot explain any one outcome; they must be understood, rather, in

    terms

    of the

    political process

    by

    which

    they

    are selected.

    Thus,

    I

    examine

    the

    interplay

    of the

    ideas,

    the

    people

    who

    voice the

    ideas,

    and

    the

    political

    process through

    which the ideas are

    institutionalized and the

    people

    em-

    *

    I

    would especially

    like

    to

    thank Jack Snyder,

    Lynn Eden, George

    Breslauer,

    and

    Nina

    Tannenwald

    for careful

    and

    repeated

    readings.

    I

    would

    also like to thank Ted Hopf, Peter

    Lavoy,

    Richard Ned Lebow, Janice Stein,

    Scott

    Sagan,

    Elizabeth Valkenier, and participants

    at the 1991 SSRC

    workshop on Soviet

    Domestic Politics and Society.

    I

    gratefully

    acknowledge

    financial

    support for

    research and

    writing

    from

    the Center for International Security and

    Arms Control at Stanford University, the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University, the

    Harriman

    Institute at Columbia

    University, and the ACTR Variable

    Term Program.

    I

    For an example of

    a

    learning

    approach, see Robert Legvold,

    Soviet Learning in

    the

    1980s, in

    George

    W. Breslauer

    and

    Philip

    E. Tetlock, eds.,

    Learning in U.S. and Soviet

    Foreign

    Policy (Boulder,

    Colo.:

    Westview

    Press,

    1991).

    For an

    example

    of a domestic politics

    approach,

    see

    Jack Snyder,

    The Gorbachev Revolution:

    A

    Waning

    of Soviet

    Expansion-

    ism?

    International Security

    12

    (Winter

    1987-88).

    WorldPolitics 45 (April 1993),

    327-60

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    328

    WORLD

    POLITICS

    powered.

    In this

    way,

    I

    show how

    ideas

    and

    political process

    are related

    to policy outcome.

    This article focuses on a critical example of great change

    in foreign

    policy: the Soviet

    withdrawal from

    Afghanistan

    in

    1989. Based on inter-

    views in Moscow and extensive reading of the Soviet press, I argue that

    the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a by-product of

    the Gorbachev

    coalition gaining

    control of

    political

    resources and

    placing

    reformist

    ideas

    squarely

    on the

    political agenda.2

    Change

    in Soviet

    foreign policy

    in

    the late 1980s is the

    story of the

    coalescing

    of a reformist

    constituency,

    its

    empowerment

    inside

    and out-

    side

    the

    Party,

    and

    ultimately

    its

    ability

    to

    affect the

    political

    environ-

    ment

    in which

    policy

    is made. The

    timing

    and nature of

    specialists'

    ad-

    vice and the reformist ideas the specialists articulated explain in part this

    change

    in policy.3

    Without the

    convergence

    of

    interests and the diffusion

    of ideas

    between the

    specialist

    network and the

    leadership, however,

    there

    would be

    no

    story

    at all. Gorbachev and his

    advisers

    substantially

    increased

    the

    ability

    of reformers both inside and outside

    traditional So-

    viet institutions

    to influence the

    political agenda

    through personnel

    changes

    in the

    Politburo,

    Central

    Committee,

    and various

    ministries and

    through

    the

    empowerment

    of certain

    policy

    intellectuals.4 The

    reform-

    ers' access to the political agenda transformed the political environment;

    domestic

    political pressures

    increased as

    reformists

    articulated

    economic

    and social

    realities.

    Change

    in

    certain

    foreign policies,

    such as

    the Soviet

    retreat

    from

    Afghanistan,

    became not

    only possible

    but

    necessary.

    Politics and, specifically

    in

    this

    case,

    the

    process

    of

    selecting

    and

    pro-

    moting

    ideas

    and

    policies

    act as the main

    determining

    force

    in

    this

    story.

    The

    process

    involves

    leadership style,

    coalition

    building, personnel

    2

    From September 1, 1990, to January 15, 1991,

    I

    conducted interviews in Moscow with

    participants

    in and observers

    of the

    foreign

    and

    domestic

    policy

    process.

    All

    translations

    are