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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 148-151

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Book Review

Condemned to Repetition?
The Rise, Fall, and Reprise of Soviet-Russian Military Interventionism, 1973-1996

Andrew Bennett, Condemned to Repetition? The Rise, Fall, and Reprise of Soviet-Russian Military Interventionism, 1973-1996. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999. 370 pp. $21.95.

Many political scientists will admire this book, and most historians will not. Testing an intricate theory (a multilevel learning model) across a series of diverse cases (Soviet- Russian "interventionism" in mid-, late-, and post-Cold War circumstances), the book is an ambitious effort that reflects both the promise and the pitfalls of a highly systematized approach to complex political phenomena. Ultimately Bennett succeeds in establishing the centrality of political learning to policy change, but this success sometimes comes despite, rather than because of, his search for analytical rigor.

Bennett's thesis is straightforward: that "the lessons Soviet and Russian leaders learned from their direct experiences with [previous] military interventions explain much of the variance" in subsequent policy (p. 3). He begins by detailing the analytical [End Page 148] weaknesses and predictive failures of other types of explanation, including systemic theories such as neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism, as well as state-level, organizational, and rational choice approaches. Concise yet thorough, this chapter could stand alone as an essay on the analytical and methodological issues raised in recent scholarship on late Soviet and post-Soviet foreign policy. Also impressive is Bennett's review of the diverse literatures related to learning. Synthesizing much theoretical and empirical work from psychology and sociology as well as political science, he lays the foundation for his own model. But it is precisely here that the first questions arise about the feasibility of his approach.

Can at least three different levels and distinct types of learning—individual, organizational, and governmental—be coherently combined in one model? Can a framework be devised to apply that model to a complex case, much less to multiple, diverse cases? The latter is another way of asking whether the techniques of "process tracing" within cases, and the method of "structured, focused comparison" across cases, can surmount such difficulties. Much depends on the quality of evidence and especially on the judiciousness of its selection in abbreviated form needed for discussion of five-plus cases in one book. No less important is the selection of the cases themselves: the Soviet intervention in Angola; the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the subsequent withdrawal; and Russian military intervention in other post-Soviet republics and in Chechnya.

The Soviet Union's intervention in the Angolan civil war in 1975 may be Bennett's strongest case. Drawing on a large secondary literature as well as many primary (mostly translated) sources, he demonstrates how, in the wake of a socialist victory in Vietnam, Moscow's faith that the "correlation of forces" had shifted decisively in favor of the Soviet bloc bolstered expectations of similar success in Africa. These expectations, subsequently strengthened by the West's weak response to the Soviet- Cuban intervention, are analyzed in categories, including beliefs about the causes of regional conflicts and developing states' ripeness for socialism; the costs and benefits of new clients; the likelihood of bandwagoning or balancing responses (that is, the prospect that other states would join the tide in Moscow's favor or band together to counter Soviet strength); the risks of escalation; and the likely impact on relations with the West.

The comprehensiveness of these criteria comes into question with their application to Bennett's second case, the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. More attention might have been devoted to a critical difference with Angola, namely Afghanistan's location not on a distant continent, but on the USSR's Muslim-populated southern frontier, and the timing of the invasion, just ten months after an Islamic revolution had swept Iran. There is good evidence that it was less in the hope that additional dominoes would fall Moscow's way, and more in fear that they would topple against...