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[Russia's Historical Alliance Behavior:] The Soviet Union and World Order

This book chapter establishes continuities in Russian and Soviet international behavior, but without extrapolating Tsarist foreign policy goals (e.g., the search for warm-water ports) to explain Soviet foreign policy. Rather, focuses on patterns of cooperative and conflictual behavior at the systemic level. It identifies three chronological periods: (1) from Russia's emergence as a European power through the destruction of Tsarist rule by world and civil wars; (2) the two decades between the two world wars of the twentieth century; and (3) the roughly four decades between the end of the Second World War and 1987, the date of the chapter's publication. The historical memory of other international actors with whom the Bolsheviks were obliged to deal, plus geopolitical interests inherited from the Russian Empire, provide the continuity between the first and second periods. As Soviet diplomacy adapted Realpolitik lessons from the Imperial Russian experience to the new conditions in which the Soviet Union was born, a complex of motives resulted—making single-factor explanations futile—in which a traditional balance-of-power policy was combined with the desire for international guarantees of state interests, so producing a policy animated by a combination of conflictual and cooperative tendencies. Soviet actions and attitudes concerning international conflict and cooperation during the third period continued evolve, yet still bore the imprint of their original shaping by the Bolshevik experience between the two wars. Implicit analogical reasoning accounts for continuities in patterns of Soviet international behavior between the second and third chronological periods, while contrasts in system structure between the two international systems themselves accounts for differences in how those continuities manifest themselves in actual foreign policy behavior. Excerpts are available below, and the full text of this book chapter (88KB) is available in printer-friendly format.
First publication:  Robert M. Cutler, "The Soviet Union and World Order," pp. 76–100 in Global Peace and Security: Trends and Challenges, ed. Wolfram F. Hanrieder (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987).
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[ Excerpts ]

[ page 78 ]

Until the convocation of the Congress of Vienna, which led directly to the Concert of Europe,[5] Russia pursued her interests in Europe in the egoistic manner that marks perhaps the most inefficient and dangerous aspect of the traditional European balance of power. She considered herself a full partner in the Concert of Europe and felt betrayed in the Crimean War. …

… The Congress's two essential features were to retain the idea of a coalition of states founded on public law, and to reinforce that public

[ page 79 ]

law through precedents that would establish the basis of the future practice of diplomacy.[6] By establishing agreement on a set of common values, it enabled the Powers to cooperate. The Concert of Europe, building on these values, sought, as an international system, not to eradicate but instead to manage international disagreements.[7] It accomplished this by motivating the independent states to limit the ends toward which they would seek to assert their sovereign power.

… When Russia and Turkey went to war in the Crimea, the other European Powers, in order to maintain the existing balance in Asia Minor and the Balkans, intervened against Russia on the side of the Ottoman Empire. The Crimean War was not in itself any different from previous conflicts that the Concert had resolved, but the British portayed it as an antimonarchist crusade against the Tsar on behalf of liberal values.[8] … The underlying contradiction between the principles of Metternichism and those of liberalism was exacerbated, and the Concert of Europe foundered on the rocks of this reemergent ideological divide.

The late 1860s saw the unification of Germany under Bismarck, who after the Franco–Prussian war in 1870–1871 became the first Imperial Chancellor of now–Kaiser Wilhelm I and ruled Germany at the center of a series of parliamentary coalitions for the next two decades. Germany's unification confirmed the dominance of its influence in central Europe …

[ page 80 ]

… With the establishment of the Dual Alliance of France and Russia in opposition to the Triple Alliance, the division of continental Europe into two hostile camps was complete. England's "splendid isolation" was ended by its Entente Cordiale with France (1904), through which it allowed France to have Morocco in return for recognition of her own conquest of Egypt.

The Entente Cordiale … did not itself improve relations between Russia and England, [but] the entry into office by new governments in both these countries in 1905 did lead to the Anglo–Russian Convention (1907), which delimited the signatories' spheres of influence in southern Asia. …

[ page 85 ]

Alliance patterns inherited from Tsarist Russia thus provide an important explanation why the Soviets were able during the interwar years concurrently and creatively to pursue both collective-security and balance-of-power policies. The first pattern was entente or alliance with the central European empires, as in the Dreikaiserbund [the "Three Emperors' League" of the 1870s, which united Germany, Russia, and Austria]; indeed, this pattern harks back to the partitions of Poland. The second traditional pattern was entente or alliance with the western European republics, as in the Dual Alliance and Anglo–Russian Convention, with the goal of containing Germany. With the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the first pattern was reduced to Russo–German mutual assistance, expressed through the simple codeword "Rapallo." After the Treaty of Versailles, the second pattern became known as "collective security." Enduring the upheaval of the Russian revolutions and Civil War, these alliance patterns bequeathed to Soviet Russia an inheritance that permitted her a remarkable flexibility in interwar diplomacy. They provide a continuity between late Imperial and early Bolshevik foreign policy.

When the Soviets pursued a balance-of-power policy in the interwar years, this occurred chiefly through rapprochement or alliance with Germany, as at Rapallo. But Soviet rapprochement with an Anglo–French entente in the 1930s replicated Russia's pattern of foreign relations 30 years earlier when threatened by Germany. Indeed, Soviet participation in collective security arrangements during the interwar period, including finally her admission to the League, recalls her having been accepted as an equal by the major European powers a century earlier, through membership of the Concert of Europe.[19] After the Munich agreement finally killed the illusion of collective security in 1938, the Soviets had no choice but to return to the balance-of-power pattern. For Russia, the balance-of-power tradition had signified alliance with Germany; earlier in the Soviet period, it had animated Rapallo; and the year after Munich, the Hitler–Stalin Pact was struck, which Hitler's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union annulled. …

[ page 89 ]

Combined with the substitution of the United States for Germany in the role of the principal enemy, the socialist offensive in international law explains contemporary Soviet strategy in international politics as a present-day structural analogue of the interwar Soviet collective-security strategy. In particular: the United States is the analogue of Germany; the Third World is the analogue of the western members of the League of Nations; the general system of international law is the analogue of the League's collective-security mechanism; and the doctrine that the socialist countries are the "natural allies" of the developing countries against international imperialism is the analogue of the USSR's entente with England and France, a counterweight against Germany organized under the aegis of collective security. During the interwar period the Soviets attempted both to deal bilaterally with their principal enemy (Germany) and simultaneously to restrain Germany through multilateral arrangements, collective security in particular. Today [i.e., 1987] the Soviets attempt to deal bilaterally with their new principal enemy (the United States), and simultaneously to restrain the United States through multilateral arrangements in international law that also include the developing countries. …

[ page 91 ]

This survey of Imperial Russian and Soviet history suggests various patterns in the organization of international affairs that may consciously or unconsciously underlie current Soviet policies. In the prerevolutionary era, two patterns are evident. First is the unilateralist and egoistic diplomacy practiced during the eighteenth century, and particularly in the last half of the nineteenth century after Bismarck's departure from the European scene, of which the First World War illustrated the ultimate disaster, so far as Russia's place in Europe was concerned. Second is the Concert of Europe, a multilaterally guaranteed security régime in which Russia was a full partner and in the framework of which she was also a member of the Holy Alliance. The Concert addressed economic issues only insofar as these were directly linked to territory; and after the breakdown of the Concert, Russia's drive toward the Caucasus and the Black Sea had in part the economic motive to exploit the natural resources there.

During the interwar years two patterns of international behavior also dominated the policy of the Russian state, each a continuation of one of those just identified. The tradition of egoistic unilateral diplomacy was transformed into entente with the main enemy, Germany. By reenacting the most favorable pattern of diplomacy that emerged from Tsarist practice—alliance with Germany—the Bolsheviks concluded that bilateral arrangements even with a hostile power (as Germany was after 1933) could satisfy their national interests. The alliance with Germany followed in the geographic footsteps of the Three Emperors' League, itself the Bismarckian and most successful Imperial Russian formulation of egoistic diplomacy during the period between the Crimean War and Brest-Litovsk.

The tradition of the Concert of Europe was transformed during the interwar years into the policy of collective security, a universal defensive alliance against the main enemy, Germany. The eventual bankruptcy of this pattern led the Soviets to rely increasingly upon alliance with the main enemy, even as the activity of the Communist International (and its Popular Front strategy in particular) was subordinated after 1933 to the struggle against the main enemy, complementing the collective

[ page 92 ]

security strategy. That the two patterns of behavior were thus simultaneously pursued is no contradiction.

Following World War II the creation of the Soviet bloc—a throwback to the waning age of conventional weapons and the Eurocentric balance of power—realized Russia's succession, blocked first by Bismarck and then by Hitler, to Austria-Hungary as the dominant power in east central Europe and to the Ottoman Empire as the hegemon of the Balkan provinces.[31] During these years the principal enemy had become the United States, no longer Germany. Paradoxically, the nuclear weapons that kept the Cold War cold created conditions for replicating the Soviet pattern of entente with the main enemy: for in the early postwar years, relations between the two blocs (or the absence of these) seemed governed by an unwritten entente—the tacit mutual acknowledgment of spheres of influence—between the superpowers: an entente enforced by America's unwillingness to unleash its nuclear superiority. Indeed, in the 1960s this entente took the form of a Soviet–American condominium in which the Soviets accepted the role of junior partner.[32] …

[ page 95 ]

… The situation is analogous to that in the mid-1930s, when two broad groups of states could be distinguished in world politics: the status quo powers (England, France, and the United States; today, "the West") and the revisionist powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan; today, the Third World). In the 1930s the Soviet Union remained largely outside the framework of the traditional international system; and yet it played a certain role in balancing this system, though it did not determine the balance in the balance of power.

[ page 96 ]

For the Soviets today [1987], as was the case in both the interwar and immediate post–World War II periods, indeed as was the case too for the Russian Empire throughout the nineteenth century, the preferred scheme is inclusion in a general security system. In the absence of this, the second-best approach—itself quite effective—is the combination of status quo and revisionist components into a single line that is applied differentially according to the particular policy arena. Through such a strategy the USSR seeks not only to have its interests taken into account within the existing international system, but also to demonstrate to world opinion (an audience subsuming other states as well as mass publics) that the existing system is really not satisfactory as it stands. …

[Note 5]. See Robert Jervis, "From Balance to Concert: A Study in International Security Cooperation," World Politics 38, no. 1 (October 1985): 58–79.

[ page 97 ]

[Note 6]. Hinsley, "Development of the European States System," 69–80.

[Note 7]. See Richard B. Elrod, "The Concert of Europe: A Fresh Look at an International System," World Politics 28, no. 2 (January 1976): 159–74.

[Note 8]. The only comprehensive account of the affair from Russia's perspective is John Shelton Curtiss, Russia's Crimean War (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1979). …

[Note 19]. Of course there was no twentieth-century analogue of the Holy Alliance (which included Prussia and Austria); but the Concert's real guarantor was the Quadruple Alliance, which augmented the members of the Holy Alliance with England. …

[ page 98 ]

[Note 31]. Grzybowski, "La théorie soviétique du droit international," 93 and n. 39, compares contemporary Soviet power and influence in Eastern Europe

[ page 99 ]

with those exerted in the region by the Holy Alliance within the overall framework of the Concert of Europe, observing that the Alliance's power and influence "were based on a particular conception of legitimacy, combined with the right to intervene in the affairs of any European country in order to defend the principles animating the Alliance." The right to such military intervention had been established as a principle of international law by the Treaty of Paris (1815).

[Note 32]. Vernon V. Aspaturian, "Soviet Foreign Policy Perspectives in the Sixties," in Aspaturian, Process and Power in Soviet Foreign Policy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), pp. 771–99; for the argument that a tacit entente of this nature preceded even the 1960s, see "The Enemy Partners," ch. 18 of Raymond Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations, translated from the French by Richard Howard and Annette Baker Fox (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966). …

First publication:  Robert M. Cutler, "The Soviet Union and World Order," pp. 76–100 in Global Peace and Security: Trends and Challenges, ed. Wolfram F. Hanrieder (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987).
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Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

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