In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy
  • Gregory F. Domber
Matthew J. Ouimet , The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003. 309 pp. $55.00.

Matthew J. Ouimet seeks to trace the fate of the Brezhnev Doctrine—the "doctrine of limited sovereignty" enunciated by the Soviet government to justify intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968—while simultaneously attempting to tackle some of the central historical questions in Soviet foreign policy: the role of ideology; the tension between Soviet national interest and Moscow's commitments to the Soviet bloc; and the use of military intervention as a policy tool. Adding to a growing body of scholarship focusing on the importance of the 1980–1981 Polish Crisis on the end of the Cold War and attempts to date the Brezhnev Doctrine's demise, Ouimet argues, controversially, that the turning point in Soviet foreign policy thinking that allowed Eastern Europe to break away from Soviet influence during the revolutions of 1989 was not the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev but the Polish crisis of 1980–1981.

Taking the wide, analytical view of a "lumper"—fitting for an addition to John Lewis Gaddis's "New Cold War History" series at Chapel Hill—Ouimet begins his argument with a brief synopsis of the events surrounding the Soviet Union's decision to intervene in Hungary in 1956 and then quickly moves to a discussion of the Prague Spring. He claims that from 1956 to 1968, the Soviet authorities changed their threat perceptions from armed insurgency or riots in the street to "a more complex perception of political jeopardy" in which "peaceful reformism and ideological evolution within the Party itself were what seemed poised to undermine socialist norms in Czechoslovakia" (p. 36). Taking into account Soviet steps toward normalization in Czechoslovakia and Leonid Brezhnev's efforts to foster socialist internationalism and bloc unity, Ouimet argues that in the early 1970s the Soviet Union defined "any political threat to socialism in Eastern Europe as a threat to its domestic security" (p. 61).

By the late 1970s, however, it became increasingly clear to Soviet leaders that imposing a strict ideological norm would be difficult. In particular, large oil subsidies for the Eastern bloc throughout the 1970s, the decision to intervene in Afghanistan in 1979, and the rise of Catholic nationalism in Poland began to "demonstrate that the costs of international commitments were at times sharply at variance with Soviet national interests" (p. 131). Ouimet thus believes that on the verge of the Polish crisis of 1980–1981 Soviet leaders were beginning to redefine their national interests vis-à-vis Eastern Europe. [End Page 186]

Moving on to the Polish crisis, Ouimet draws on the work of others in arguing that during the first stage of the crisis (until December 1980) the Soviet Union contemplated the use of force but had enough faith in the Polish Communist authorities to give them a chance to take care of the situation on their own. But as the Solidarity trade union became stronger and stronger, Moscow, he claims, had to reevaluate its position. Ouimet contends that a breaking point for Soviet agreement about the existence of a counterrevolution in Poland and the subsequent decision about whether to use military force came in mid-June 1981. Ouimet cites both General Anatolii Gribkov, who was a senior officer on the Soviet General Staff during the crisis, and Mikhail Suslov, a leading member of the Soviet Politburo, as having made statements condemning the possible use of military force in Poland. (Again, this has earlier been documented by other scholars.) In Ouimet's view, the Soviet Union "grew more convinced of the need to defend vital Soviet interests such as access to Western markets and products and preservation of Soviet prestige" (p. 242) and was therefore less committed to defending socialism in Poland. In subsequent months Soviet leaders continued to push their Polish comrades to take action against the opposition, but they did not change their alleged determination to refrain from military intervention. From Ouimet's perspective the Soviet authorities no longer regarded stability in Eastern Europe as essential to...