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  • Lessons of the Cold War Getting It Wrong
  • Bruce Parrott (bio)
Archie Brown, The Human Factor: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Thatcher and the End of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. xi + 499 pp.

Erratum:The online version of this article has been updated to include edits that were added after going to publication. An adjusted was made to the end of the last sentence of the first paragraph. Click here for the updated PDF.

Looking back, it is not easy to recall what the first decade after the Cold War was like. Memories of the Soviet Union's political transformation and ultimate disintegration remained vivid, and the prospects for a "new world order" based on the spread of democracy still seemed promising, despite the security risks posed by conflicts in various part of Eurasia. Today, with the world mired in a pandemic, many democratic regimes deeply embattled, and U.S. conflicts with China and Russia on the rise, that first decade after the Cold War and the hopes that existed back then seem especially remote. Equally alarming, these developments have become entangled with one of the gravest domestic political conflicts in the United States since the Civil War.

For students of international affairs, this turn of events has made certain questions unavoidable. Did U.S. officials misunderstand the end of the Cold War and draw the wrong conclusions from it? Might a review of the experience yield fresh lessons to help the country deal with the domestic and international crises it now faces? In recent decades, thoughtful scholars have shown how easy it is to transmute formative historical experiences into mistaken policy prescriptions. 1What, if anything, might we do to avoid "learning" mistaken lessons once again? These questions are not entirely new, but they have acquired new urgency in the past decade or so.

The publication of Archie Brown's splendid new book provides a welcome opportunity to explore such issues. The Human Factormakes a major [End Page 219]contribution to scholarship and policy analysis. Brown is the leading Western authority on Soviet politics in the late Soviet era, about which he has written extensively. 2In addition, he has produced a massive, authoritative study of Communism as an international movement. 3Always interested in comparative issues, he has moved in recent years beyond Communist studies to reflect broadly on the nature of political leadership—a topic long neglected by most U.S. political scientists but one whose centrality has been made obvious by adverse trends in the United States and elsewhere. 4Brown, a shrewd analyst and indefatigable researcher, has been examining these topics in one form or another for nearly five decades.

The Foreign-Domestic Nexus: AussenpolitikVersus Innenpolitik

To appreciate the value of Brown's new study, it is worth reflecting on the scholarly pitfalls of analyzing the interactions among states. In such research, two key questions for scholars are where to stand, intellectually speaking, and where to begin the story. These choices are frequently complicated by scholars' national loyalties, which incline them to favor their own country's perspective, and by the academic division of labor between specialists on foreign relations and specialists on domestic politics. 5That division of labor tends to reproduce the divergent explanatory frameworks summed up in the classic distinction between observers who view international relations primarily through the prism of Aussenpolitikand those whose perspective emphasizes Innenpolitik.

Along with national identities, this scholarly division of labor encourages the adoption of questionable assumptions encapsulated in the unobtrusive [End Page 220]phrase "other things being equal"—a phrase that is hardly innocent. Assuming all else to be equal simplifies analysis, but it invites misunderstanding of the complex political dynamics among states. Politics is nearly always interactive, and one state's policies are often reactions to the initiatives of other states, even when the other states do not perceive them as such. Hence when and where to start to tell each country's story is a fundamental intellectual choice.

That is why we should not be satisfied to examine one state's approach to a conflict by assuming that we can hold other states' behavior constant. The national "two...


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