restricted access International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War
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InternationalRelations Theory and the End o f the Cold War John Lewis Gaddis I Princes have always sought out soothsayers of one kind or another for the purpose of learning what the future holds. These hired visionaries have found portents in the configurations of stars, the entrails of animals, and most indicators in between. The results, on the whole, have been disappointing. Surprise remains one of the few things one can count on, and very few princes have succeeded in avoiding it, however assiduous the efforts of their respective wizards, medicine men, counselors, advisers, and think tank consultants to ward it off. Surprise is still very much with us. The abrupt end of the Cold War, an unanticipated hot war in the Persian Gulf, and the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union astonished almost everyone, whether in government, the academy, the media, or the think tanks. Although there was nothing inherently implausible about these eventsthe Cold War did have to end sometime, war had always been a possibility in the Middle East, and communism’s failures had been obvious for years-the fact that they arose so unexpectedly suggests that deficiencies persist in the means by which contemporary princes and the soothsayers they employ seek to discern the future course of world affairs. No modern soothsayer, of course, would aspire to total clairvoyance. We have no equivalent of Isaac Asimov’s famous character, the mathematician Hari Seldon, whose predictive powers were so great that he was able to leave precise holographic instructions for his followers, to be consulted at successiveintervals decades after his death.’ But historians, political scientists, economists, psychologists, and even mathematiJohnLewis Gaddis is Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the ContemporaryHistory Institute at Ohio University. During the 2992-93 academicyear, he is serving as Harmsworth Professorof American History at Oxford University. His most recent book is The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations foxford University Press, 2992). I would like to acknowledge support, in the preparation of this essay, from the National Research Council’s Committee on Contributions of Behavioral and Social Science to the Prevention of Nuclear War. My thanks, for research assistance, to Ed Merta, and for advice and comments to Kennette Benedict, David Broscious, Richard Crockatt, Barbara Gaddis, Michael Gaddis, Alexander George, Samuel P. Huntington, Robert Jervis, Andrew Katz, Ed Merta, Harold Molineu, Philip Nash, Olav Njalstad, Stefan Rossbach, J. David Singer, Paul Stern, and Philip E. Tetlock. I also benefited from an opportunity to present preliminary conclusions from this essay at a conference on ”The Transformation of the International System and International Relations Theory,” organized by Richard Ned Lebow and Thomas Risse-Kappen at Cornell University in October 1991, as well as from the suggestions of several anonymous reviewers for the National Research Council and International Security. The views expressed herein are, of course, my own only. 1. Isaac Asimov, Foundation (New York: Ballantine Books, 1951). International Security, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Winter 1992/93), pp. 5-58 0 1992by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 5 lnternational Security 17:3 I 6 cians have claimed the power to detect patterns in the behavior of nations and the individuals who lead them; an awareness of these, they have assured us, will better equip statesmen-and states-to deal with the uncertainties that lie ahead. The end of the Cold War presents an unusual opportunity to test these claims. That event was of such importance that no approach to the study of international relations claiming both foresight and competence should have failed to see it coming. None actually did so, though, and that fact ought to raise questions about the methods we have developed for trying to understand world politics. The following essay suggests some reasons for this failure of modern-day soothsaying; it will also advance a few ideas on how the accuracy of that enterprise might henceforth be improved. The0y, Forecasting, and the Possibility of Prediction2 The claims that those who study world politics have made regarding their ability to forecast the future grow, for the most part, out of efforts to construct theories of international relations. There is...