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The Soviet Press on Soviet Foreign Policy: A Usually Reliable Source

  • Robert Axelrod and William Zimmerman

Regimes are often preoccupied with maintaining their credibility. Great powers wish to convey to their allies the impression that they are not only strong but reliable. In limited adversary relationships, credibility is viewed as a resource to perpetuate and develop the more co-operative aspects of a fragile relationship. During war time, during the Cold War, or in other sharply adversarial relationships, leaders have an interest in conveying to their rivals a sense of what they consider important. Regimes also cherish credibility as part of their own self-image. There is yet another, more paradoxical, reason why credibility is valued: it can be used as a resource to achieve deception. On the occasions when statements are meant to deceive, the effort will not be effective if it is based on a reputation for thoroughgoing mendacity.

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1 Thus we did not deal with such matters as Soviet oil and natural gas delivery commitments to Eastern Europe. On the change of Comecon oil prices in the aftermath of the 1963 OPEC oil price jump, see Zimmerman, William, ‘The Energy Crisis, Western “Stagflation”, and the Evolution of Soviet-East European Relations’, in Neuberger, Egon and Tyson, Laura, eds., Transmission and Response: Impact of International Economic Disturbances on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Elmsford, New York: Pergamon Press, 1980).

2 Zimmerman, William, ‘Distinguishing Advocacy and Policy in the Soviet Media: A Research Note’ (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Institute of Public Policy Studies, Discussion Paper No. 136).

3 Allison, Graham, Essence of Decision (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1971), pp. 4951.

4 In this and later translations of extended quotes we have employed the Current Digest of the Soviet Press, checking the translation ourselves when necessary.

5 Leaders of communist states are far more accustomed to other, more esoteric communications.

6 Incentives for deception about nuclear war strategy are discussed in Richelson, Jeffrey T., ‘Soviet Strategic Doctrine and Limited Nuclear Operations’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, XXIII (1979), 326–36.

7 For the theoretical development of the propositions which follow, see Axelrod, Robert, ‘The Rational Timing of Surprise’, World Politics, XXXI (1979), 228–46.

8 An illustration of this type concerns emigration. On 14 December 1969, L. Berenshtein and M. Fridel published an article in Izvestia (‘Pod ch'iu dudku pliashut Sionisty’) which acknowledged that ‘some Soviet Jews, mainly the elderly’, were being allowed to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. When the migration began in the early 1960s the elderly were definitely over-represented. By the end of the decade the elderly represented a much lower proportion of the migrants, giving rise to Arab charges that the Soviet Union was aiding Israel by sending men and women who could fight in the Israeli army. By 1969, the statement by Berenshtein and Fridel was probably false. We are informed by Zvi Gitelman (a close student of the Soviet migration to Israel) that no age breakdown of the migrants prior to 1967 exists. For the years 1967–74 cumulative data are available, but a breakdown on a year-by-year basis is unavailable.

9 Allison, , Essence of Decision, pp. 40–1.

10 Skilling, H. Gordon, Czechoslovakia's Interrupted Revolution (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), pp. 716–17.

11 Classman, Jon P., Arms for the Arabs: The Soviet Union and War in the Middle East (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), p. 74.

12 Glassman, , Arms for the Arabs, p. 78; Kolcum, Edward H., ‘SAM Changes Force New Strategy’, Aviation Week and Space Technology (16 11 1969), 1621; Whetten, Lawrence L., ‘June 1967 to June 1971: Four Years of Canal War Reconsidered’, New Middle East, XXXIV (1971), 1525.

13 The date of Karmal's return, 31 December, is given by American government sources, New York Times, 1 01 1980. Even if Karmal were underground in Afghanistan prior to that date, he was not in a position to issue an authoritative appeal for help.

14 Kalb, Marvin and Kalb, Bernard, Kissinger (New York: Dell, 1975), pp. 242–4; and Kissinger, Henry, The While House Years (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1979), pp. 632–52.

15 See, for instance, Pravda, 14 07 1948. Interestingly, a month earlier (Pravda, 20 June) the Soviet position had only claimed that ‘Berlin was located’ in the Soviet zone.

16 It should be noted, however, that in recent years there has been a tendency to glorify Soviet spies, especially those active in the Second World War.

17 Skilling, , Czechoslovakia's Interrupted Revolution, p. 310, italics added. Later, Brezhnev said that the Soviet Union had responded to ‘the appeals of party and state leaders, Communists and working people of Czechoslovakia.’ (Pravda, 31 03 1971.)

18 Scherer, John L., USSR Facts and Figures Annual, 111 (1979), 127–38; and SIPRI (Stockholm Peace Research Institute), Yearbook (1978), pp. 147–49.

19 Brezhnev's claim is in Pravda and Izvestia, 26 04 1978. On Soviet combat and support troops and Soviet reinforcements, see the figures mustered each year in the International Institute of Strategic Studies, The Military Balance. According to IISS, Soviet reinforcements in Central Europe in 1975 included thirty-six armoured, seventy-three mechanized and six other divisions (Military Balance, 1975/1976, p. 98); while in 1978 Soviet reinforcements included twenty-nine armoured, thirty-two mechanized, and eight other divisions (Military Balance, p. 109).

20 Horelick, Arnold and Rush, Myron, Strategic Power and Soviet Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 51.

21 Horelick, and Rush, , Strategic Power, p. 81.

22 See Washington Post, 15 02 1979, and New York Times, 15 and 16 02 1979. In one version it is alleged that the Soviet advisers directed the Afghan police to attack the hotel, but in other versions the Soviet advisers ignored the pleas of Americans to intercede.

23 Jabber, Paul and Kolkowicz, Roman, ‘Soviet Use of Military Power as a Political Instrument in the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973’ in Kaplan, Stephen, ed., The Soviet Union and the Use of Force (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, forthcoming).

24 Stockwell, John, In Search of Enemies (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 94

25 Poles, we are told, view the fact that no mention of the considerable reduction of censorship in Poland in 1978–79 has appeared in the Soviet press as Soviet tolerance of this development.

26 Glassman, , Arms for the Arabs, p. 78; and Heikal, Mohamed, The Roadlo Ramadan (London: Collins, 1975).

27 Finney, John W., New York Times (19 06 1975).

28 Pravda (17 10 1964), and Izvestia (18 10 1964) pontificated against ‘bragging and bluster’ three days after Khrushchev had been removed.

29 Husband, William B., ‘Soviet Perceptions of US “Positions of Strength” Diplomacy in the 1970s’, World Politics, XXXI (1979), 495517; Spechler, Dina, Domestic Influences on Soviet Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1978); and Zimmerman, , ‘Distinguishing Advocacy and Policy in the Soviet Media’.

30 Hauslohner, Peter, ‘The Obkom First Secretaries and Foreign Policy’, World Politics (forthcoming).

* Institute of Public Policy Studies, The University of Michigan. Research for this paper was supported by grants to Axelrod and Zimmerman from the Ford Foundation and the Earhart Foundation, as well as an award to Axelrod by the National Council for Soviet-East European Research. The research assistance of Jeannette Austin, Robert Cutler, and J. Pat Willerton is also acknowledged.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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