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Journal of Cold War Studies 3.3 (2001) 100-102

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Book Review

Unarmed Forces:
The Transnational Movement to End the

Cold War

Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. 406 pp. $39.95.

Pacifists and peace activists have long claimed that the power of nonviolence exceeds that of more tangible and traditional forms of weaponry. Mao Zedong may have been convinced that persuasion was best enacted through violence--a belief summed up in his claim that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun"--but even he was fully aware of the value of propaganda in helping to change people's minds. In Unarmed Forces, Matthew Evangelista contends that a transnational movement of scientists and physicians armed only with ideas, data, aquaintanceship, and an abiding fear of nuclear war managed to convince Soviet leaders on several occasions to pursue a path of de-escalation during the Cold War. Viewed from this nontraditional perspective, the Soviet Union and the Cold War did not dissolve solely because of a superior and ultimately bankrupting display of military and economic power by the United States. Instead, the Soviet regime was defeated by the infusion of a set of norms and ideas that found resonance among populations and politicians on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Evangelista's book provides a history of the varied influences on Soviet military policy making during the Cold War. In the process, he tells the little-known story of the transnational peace movement, focusing on several groups, including the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the Soviet-American Disarmament Study group, and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), all of which brought together scientists who could help promote a mutually reinforcing process of peacemaking between the superpowers. Evangelista makes an interesting and at times counterintuitive argument, claiming that the rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian structure of the Soviet regime actually helped the transnational groups achieve a measure of success in their mission. The Communist Party dictatorship, Evangelista maintains, left Soviet "policy entrepreneurs" (p. 7) out of the foreign policy-making process much of the time, but when crises, fundamental disagreements over policy, or changes of leadership occurred, opportunities arose for these entrepreneurs to gain access to the top political leaders and inject their ideas into the system. The top-down nature of policy making then enabled the fresh ideas to be implemented over the objections of Soviet bureaucratic agencies such as the Defense Ministry. According to Evangelista, the post-Soviet period under Boris Yeltsin's leadership witnessed the rise of strong interest groups and state bureaucracies that competed for [End Page 100] influence, thereby forestalling the dictatorial imposition of ideas from above and, ironically, reducing opportunities for transnational activists to influence the policy process in Russia.

In essence, Evangelista is suggesting that our image of the Cold War USSR as impervious to citizen pressures--whether domestic or foreign--is incorrect. We would expect the Soviet foreign policy-making elite and the Politburo to be no more responsive to the demands of ethical, antinuclear American and Soviet scientists than we would expect the Taliban to be responsive to women's rights groups. Evangelista claims that in fact transnational activists were quite influential in shaping Soviet foreign policy, particularly on nuclear testing, antiballistic missile (ABM) systems, and the reduction of conventional forces, albeit to varying degrees over time. Their information and ideas, shared directly and indirectly with Soviet leaders, led to the moderation of hardline policies. For example, Evangelista argues that shifts in Soviet scientists' viewpoints about the dangers of ABMs to strategic stability resulted from contacts with their foreign colleagues, ranging from attendance at Pugwash conferences to reading the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He presents evidence, albeit "circumstantial" (p. 227), that the scientists influenced top Soviet leaders to support the ABM treaty signed in 1972. The groups working in the United States were less successful because they were forced to compete with other, better-funded lobbyists and state bureaucracies...