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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 146-148

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Book Review

Smokestack Diplomacy:
Cooperation and Conflict in East-West Environmental Politics

Robert G. Darst, Smokestack Diplomacy: Cooperation and Conflict in East-West Environmental Politics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001. 300 pp. $22.95.

Well before the demise of Communism environmental problems in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had reached grave levels. Environmental disasters such as the nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl and the nuclear weapons production facility [End Page 146] accident in Chelyabinsk; the poisoning of lakes, waterways, and seas (notably the Aral and Caspian Seas and Lake Baikal); the widespread air pollution; and the contamination of agricultural land all contributed over time to the undermining of Communism. These conditions prompted Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr. to remark, in their book Ecocide in the USSR (New York: Basic Books, 1992), that "no other great industrial civilization so systematically and so long poisoned its land, air, water and people."

After Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, most of the new governments initiated at least a modicum of democratic reform and market-oriented economic policies. Although the results varied from country to country, the one thing that did not change—at least immediately—was the grave nature of environmental problems in the region. The health and long-term livelihood of the people and ecosystems in the former Communist world remain under threat. Because the new governments have had to cope with acute social, economic, and political issues, most of them have done little or nothing to redress damage to the environment.

Robert Darst's Smokestack Diplomacy examines international efforts to promote environmentally responsible policies in the former Soviet Union and five post-Soviet republics—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine. Starting in the 1960s and continuing to the present, the book focuses on three environmental issues facing the post-Soviet states and their Western neighbors: Baltic Sea pollution, transboundary air pollution, and nuclear energy. According to Darst, East-West cooperation on environmental issues was greatest in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, when the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, undertook several unprecedented initiatives with the West to mitigate transboundary environmental pollution. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, however, East-West relations concerning the environment reverted to a more confrontational approach, described by Darst as "smokestack diplomacy." The former Soviet states have been much less willing to work together to address transboundary environmental problems and at times have threatened their Western neighbors with "greater transboundary dangers in order to exact payments from them—a form of environmental blackmail never employed by the USSR, even during the darkest days of the Cold War" (p. 3).

Darst attributes the changing nature of East-West environmental relations in the Cold War and post-Cold War periods to the "instrumental manipulation of external environmental concerns" (p. 3). During the final years of the Cold War the Soviet Union sought to moderate East-West hostility by displaying a willingness to cooperate on certain international environmental issues of great interest to the West. Gorbachev shared formerly secret environmental information with the West and undertook several costly and ambitious efforts to cut transboundary emissions. After 1991, however, Russia and the other former Soviet republics began to manipulate the more affluent and environmentally concerned Western states to secure resources for economic development and the resolution of their own internally generated environmental problems. In response, Western governments disbursed billions of dollars through direct grants and low-interest loans to finance economic development and environmental protection [End Page 147] measures. Two of the most prominent examples of manipulation include Russia's threat to resume dumping of radioactive waste at sea unless its more affluent Western neighbors financed alternative methods of disposal and Ukraine's threat to continue the operation of the Chernobyl nuclear plant unless the West paid for cleanup and replacement of the plant.

Darst concludes with a list of factors that help to explain the degree of contentiousness and cooperation in East-West...