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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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A momentous staple in the history of international relations is the Cold War. The animosity within this international dissonance elucidates bipolarity at the highest global level between the two contending poles: The United States and the Soviet Union. Upon the culmination of world war 2, the international community witnessed these two global hegemons possess contrasting ideologies and were at odds challenging each other for the dominance within Europe as they participated in a nuclear arms race while having international allies at both sides. In addition, throughout duration of the Cold War, the Soviet Union were diligent participants in a plethora of wars for national liberation within countries of the third world. A question that can be contemplated upon pertaining the involvement of the Soviet Union within wars of national liberation is why did the Soviet Union withdraw their involvement and change their policy on the liberation movement? Many can contend that it was due to systemic or international reasons that induced the modification of the policy on liberation movements. However, that is not the direction that this essay will precede towards. In this essay, I am going to compellingly argue the reasons as to why the Soviet Union changed its policy and it is going to be substantiated upon two levels of analysis: the individual and national levels. At an individual level, I will assess the prominence that Mikhail Gorbachev possessed in his attempts for the betterment of the state. At a national level, I will examine the prevalence of internal domestic politics, and analyze the economic stagnation and decline within the Soviet Union and its influence towards altering the policy on liberation wars. Furthermore, I will refute the notion that an international level of analysis is more instrumental than a national or individual level of analysis.

An individual level of analysis entails that an individual’s ideology or way of thinking is prominent towards making decisions. Throughout the duration of the Soviet Union’s assistance in national liberation within third world countries, Mikhail Gorbachev’s influence in the permutation of the policy on liberation is second to none. It was conspicuous to see that Gorbachev had contrasting ideologies in comparison to the leaders before him pertaining the domestic and international condition of the Soviet Union. While the economic decline of the Soviet Union can be analyzed through a national level of analysis, the retort Gorbachev showcased in how to combat this economic stagnation can be analyzed through an individual lens. Firstly, unlike prior leaders, he recognized that an economic reform was imperative and necessary for the Soviet Union and acted in accordance to this belief. To merely possess this mentality towards an issue like this exemplifies the influence a mere individual can have on vital decisions for a country. Furthermore, many members of the bureaucracy opposed Gorbachev’s outlook on this matter which induced a momentous step within his reform programme, openness and democratization, in hopes that citizens would publicly confide their displeasure with the old system and support Gorbachev’s plan. Many could perceive this as a deviant act to contest the values and ideologies of the bureaucrats, but this was one step in Gorbachev’s strategy in hopes to revitalize the Soviet economy and liberalize the state. Thirdly, in what could be deemed as Gorbachev’s most infamous conduct executed as leader was proposing the foreign policy of “new thinking”. Firstly, he presumed that through the cooperation with other international entities common security could be possessed, which is why as opposed to continuing their association with a nuclear arms race, he ventilated a decree to possess a minimal amount of nuclear weaponry for protection. Furthermore, pertaining towards the concept of “new thinking”, their association with third-world country liberation wars proved to be detrimental to their wavering economy, and did not provide positive repercussions which incited the removal of Soviet troops within these countries.  This proposed policy altered the security policy and their involvement with other countries for Soviet economic benefits. This was antithetical to the confrontational outlook that the previous leader possessed against the West, and although it did not prove to be successful in the long run, Gorbachev’s actions in accordance towards an economic stimulation and resurrection proved to be crucial towards the policy change of the Soviet Union towards liberation movements.

State level analysis looks at the influence that domestic politics, domestic society, or the machinery of the government can invoke within international relations amongst the global community. The domestic politics of the Soviet Union at the state level can be held responsible for the policy change. While some look at the individual influence that Mikhail Gorbachev had, the change of leadership and his election to come into power falls under internal politics at a national level within the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the former foreign policy enacted and legislated by government before Gorbachev and Gorbachev’s willingness to oppose it with his own ideas elucidates domestic political affairs that contributed to the reconstruction of the foreign policy on liberation. Additionally, a decisive component of domestic affairs for this incident is the economic decline and stagnation prevalent in the Soviet Union. The deterioration of the Soviet economy was evident and engaging in an expensive arms race with a technologically advanced nemesis, the United States, proved to be too much to handle for a frail economy. While many can allocate Gorbachev’s attempt at galvanizing economic development, the economic situation prevalent at the time is a key reason Gorbachev even had that ideology. If the Soviet Union possessed a prosperous economic situation, it would not be outside the realm of reality for the continuance of the involvement within countries in liberation wars and persevere through a financially exorbitant arms race. However, the economic situation was not ideal and caused the soviet leader Gorbachev to withdraw troops and from the nuclear arms race for the benefit of a tenuous Soviet economy. Nationalism can also be attributed to the revision of the foreign policy towards liberation. The Soviet Union withdrew troops and aid from their clients even if meant that absence of Soviet aid would cause these countries detrimental repercussions such as Afghanistan. The Soviet Union encapsulates nationalism for they acted in accordance to the best interest of their individual state as opposed to external international states.

An alternative perspective towards the revision of the liberation policies by the Soviets is to examine this through an international level of analysis. Throughout the duration of this process, the Soviet Union had a plethora of interactions at an international level with other countries. As the Soviet Union’s international adversary at the time, the United States, hoped to mitigate the impact the Soviets perpetuated amongst the countries engaging liberation wars. This can be elucidated by the Reagan Doctrine. Reagan sought out impede the ever-growing influence of the Soviet Union, and this was illustrated within his foreign policies as president. In February 1985, the Reagan Doctrine was enacted and its intent was to combat Soviet and Cuban supported regimes within countries, such as Afghanistan and Nicaragua. This is imperative because the United States still felt the effects of the Vietnam syndrome, which caused the United States to be hesitant to involve themselves in hostile violent interactions, which led the United States to aid in countries, such as Afghanistan, that contain anti- Soviet insurgence by means of providing a repertoire of advanced military artillery. While these acts aided in hopes of containing the Soviet influence, the United States conspicuous disdain for the Soviet regime through their foreign policy was not the definitive factor that altered the Soviet policy on liberation. As previously stated, the individual culpable for the change in the policy was Mikhail Gorbachev, not Ronald Reagan. Gorbachev was responsible for proposing an alternative perspective on how to tackle the economic downturn of the Soviet Union which induced the refinement of the policy. Furthermore, it was not the anti-Soviet insurgence that drove the Soviet’s out of these countries, but rather the domestic state politics and inopportune economic situation of the Soviets that played a gargantuan role in the retraction of involvement by the Soviet Union.

In conclusion, the Cold War is a monumental staple within the history of international relations. The two international hegemons involved, the United States and the Soviet Union were heavily involved in the wars on national liberations in numerous regions of the world such as Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Although the Soviet Union’s involvement within these countries containing conflict is historically documented, eventually their stance towards aiding wars of national liberation within these countries changed. Many ponder upon as to why the Soviets decided to change their foreign policy. This essay contends that this amended foreign policy can be examined through an individual and national level of analysis. Mikhail Gorbachev is greatly responsible for the altered stance the Soviet Union possessed. His role as the Soviet leader would result in the disengagement of involvement towards the liberation wars transpiring in a plethora of countries that relied on Soviet aid. Furthermore, at a national level, the internal and domestic politics played a pivotal role in changing the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the problematic economic decline that was occurring within the Soviet Union played an imperative role in the decisions that were made to change the policy on the liberation movement. While the withdrawal from active participation caused detrimental outcomes in some countries, like Afghanistan, the Soviet Union exemplified nationalism for they acted in accordance to the best interest of their home state. Furthermore, although there were global interactions that can be examine through an international level of analysis, for instance such as the United States involvement by means of the Reagan doctrine, the decisive factors of changing the foreign policy on liberation movements were through individual and national factors as previously stated.

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