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The role of domestic factors in ending the Cold War

Essay 2012 5 Seiten

Politik - Politische Systeme - Historisches


What role, if any, did domestic factors play in ending the Cold War?

The end of the Cold War1 left many IR scholars puzzled: how could, after 40 years, the Cold War end that peacefully? Why did Soviet foreign policy change so drastically within a few years? How come US perception of the Soviet Union (SU) changed within a decade from the "evil empire"2 to an allied partner3 ? Neither realism nor liberalism could have predicted or fully explained this event. Realism failed - firstly, because rivalry between the US and the SU ended peacefully; secondly, moving from a bipolar to a unipolar system clearly contradicted realist expectations on balance of power and power equilibrium (Risse-Kappen, 1994). Instead, the end of the Cold War proved the "unbashed victory of economic and political liberalism" (Fukuyama, 1989). SU's move toward liberal order4 brough forward the end of the Cold War, but this does not answer why the SU chose to adopt liberal order, why to such an extent and why around the mid 1980s. Hence, domestic factors, having been excluded from the analysis so far, must have played a key role.

After a theoretical review on domestic variables in IR, I will analyze how domestic factors influenced Soviet foreign policy, especially Soviet "new thinkers", economic factors and domestic political infrastructure. To provide a complete analysis, I will also shed light on the influence of US5 domestic variables.

Influence of domestic politics in IR was long neglected by realists: states are regarded as unitary actors, with exogenous preferences and with anarchy as the underlying concept. Domestic factors have only been invoked at the end of the 1980s by liberalism6. Liberal scholars7 revised Waltz's second image of the nation-state and showed that domestic politics, state interests and state preferences do matter and that foreign and domestic politics mutually influence each other. The black box of the state needs to be unpacked to fully understand and


1 In my analysis, the end of the Cold War does not necessarily refer to a one time event, i.e. the official collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but rather to a series of impactful events from 1988 on, such as the INF treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1988, unilateral troop reduction from Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union in 1989, the end of the Afghanistan war in 1989, fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 - all leading to a more cooperative and peaceful relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union and, hence, to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

2 In a speech in 1983, also known as the Evil Empire Speech, US president Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the "evil empire" (National Center of Public Policy Research).

3 Here, I refer to the Iraq war of 1990/91, in which Soviet Union and United States fought together against Iraq.

4 Glasnost and Perestroika

5 Of course, other Western powers engaged in the Cold War should be analyzed, however, given to the word limit, the analysis will be limited to the Soviet Union and the United States as the two main powers "fighting" the Cold War.

6 Especially by transnationalism and neoclassical liberalism.

7 Such as Moravcisk, Risse and Allison.


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Titel: The role of domestic factors in ending the Cold War