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Reviewed by:
  • Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999
  • Angela E. Stent
Ted Hopf , Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. 299 pp. $49.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.

Throughout the Soviet period, scholars confronted the challenge of interpreting Moscow's foreign policies motives. They sought to understand how Soviet leaders defined the country's interests and why they pursued certain policies. The only available pieces of evidence were official party statements and newspaper articles that occasionally allowed the creative scholar to read between the lines and speculate intelligently. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the range of sources on Soviet and Russian foreign policymaking became more abundant, yet the search for understanding motives and interests remained elusive. Foreign policymaking in Vladimir Putin's Kremlin is still a puzzle, despite a press that is more pluralistic than in Soviet times.

Ted Hopf approaches the question of motivation and definitions of national interest through a constructivist prism. He disregards the influence of external factors in determining Soviet and Russian foreign policy and focuses instead on domestic factors, particularly the identities of key actors, in producing "a thin cognitive account of identity that is thickly inductive and empirical" (p.3). His book is intended to provide "an account of how a state's domestic identities constitute a social cognitive structure that makes threats and opportunities, enemies and allies, intelligible, thinkable, and possible" (p.16). His case studies are the thaw in Soviet foreign policy in 1955, including the rapprochement with Yugoslavia, and the adoption of a more hard-line [End Page 184] Russian policy in 1999, particularly the opposition to the Kosovo war. His aim is to explain Russian policy in these two pivotal years in terms of a changing national discourse on identity.

The book's most important contribution is its discussion of debates over identity, illustrating both the continuities and the discontinuities in recent Russian discourse. Arguing that "Soviet national identity was Russian" (p.56), Hopf focuses on class, modernity, nation, and the New Soviet Man as the four primary identities that dominated the Moscow debate in 1955. He posits a direct connection between tolerance of diversity at home—in this case, the literary thaw—and tolerance of diversity abroad, in this case, Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. He uses documents from the former Communist Party archives and published materials to analyze Vyacheslav Molotov's opposition to Nikita Khrushchev's and Anastas Mikoyan's pursuit of a rapprochement with Yugoslavia, and he explains the Soviet decision to begin supplying China with the wherewithal to produce nuclear weapons, the formation of the Indian-Soviet alliance, and Moscow's assent to the Austrian State Treaty.

Scholars have long recognized that the death of Josif Stalin and the ensuing succession brought about a reassessment of Soviet foreign policy interests, and Hopf illuminates the emerging debate well. Nevertheless, there were important external factors that enabled the Soviet Union to change its policies in 1955, particularly the stabilization of the Cold War in Europe and the process of decolonization that provided Moscow with opportunities it had not earlier enjoyed to extend its influence.

Hopf's discussion of emerging Russian identities in 1999 is excellent, going far beyond the conventional division of Russian commentators into Atlanticists and Eurasianists. Hopf focuses on three major schools of thought on Russian identity. The first, the New Western Russian, seeks full integration with the West on its terms, rejecting a unique Russian identity and favoring a free-market economy. The second, the New Soviet Russian, expresses nostalgia for the Soviet period, seeking to restore Russia's great-power status and its state-run economy. The third, the Liberal Essentialist, takes a position between the previous two, believing in the uniqueness of Russian national identity but favoring some attributes of Western society and preferring closer ties to Europe than to the United States. Hopf explains Russia's opposition to the Kosovo war in terms of the prevailing Liberal Essentialist view that opposed U.S. domination and supported the Serbs as fellow Slavs.

The social constructivism model that Hopf offers to explain Russian foreign...