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Science and Sovietology: Bridging the Methods Gap in Soviet Foreign Policy Studies

  • Jack Snyder (a1)


Specialists in the study of Soviet foreign policy increasingly feel torn between the positivist culture of political science departments and the holistic traditions of the Soviet area-studies programs. In fact, these approaches are largely complementary. Examples taken from literature on Soviet security policy and on the domestic sources of Soviet expansionism show how positivist theories and methods can be used to clarify holist (or traditionalist) arguments, to sharpen debates, to suggest more telling tests, and to invigorate the field's research agenda.



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1 These are ideal types. Real scholars often use both approaches in varying combinations or proportions. For example, some positivist scholars, like Kenneth Waltz, look at whole systems or, like Robert Jervis, try to explain the subjective understandings of actors. Despite these qualifications, I would contend that the above distinctions capture the most important lines of epistemological cleavage. The term “holism” is unsatisfactory, but alternatives like “traditionalism” or “non-positivism” are even more problematic. For further discussion, see Diesing, Paul, Patterns of Discovery in the Social Sciences (New York: Aldine, 1971), and Polkinghorne, Donald, Methodology for the Human Sciences (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983).

2 Snyder, Jack, “Richness, Rigor, and Relevance in the Study of Soviet Foreign Policy,” International Security 9 (Winter 19841985), 89108.

3 For elaboration and qualifications, see Snyder (fn. 2) and Diesing (fn. 1).

4 Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (January 1978), 167214.

5 Levy, Jack S., “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology: A Theoretical and Historical Analysis,” International Studies Quarterly 28 (Summer 1984), 219–38.

6 Jervis, Robert, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), chap. 6, illustrates how to detect spurious causal inferences.

7 Jervis (fn. 4).

8 Legvold, Robert, “Military Power in International Politics: Soviet Doctrine on Its Centrality and Instrumentality,” in Nerlich, Uwe, ed., Soviet Power and Western Negotiating Strategies (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1983), 124, quoting Hoffmann, Stanley, “Perception, Reality, and the Franco-American Conflict,” Journal of International Affairs 21 (No. 1, 1967), 57.

9 Legvold (fn. 8), 125, 123, and passim. I will return to Legvold's study in order to suggest how it might be recast in positivist terms.

10 Diesing (fn. 1.)

11 Shulman, Marshall, Stalin's Foreign Policy Reappraised (New York: Atheneum, 1969); Talbott, Strobe, Endgame (New York: Harper Colophon, 1980), 80.

12 Shulman (fn. 11), 3, 50, 259, and passim.

13 Ibid., 8, 14, 123, and passim.

14 Ibid., 8, comes close to doing this, citing a few instances of Soviet attempts to buy time during periods of weakness.

15 On Zhdanov and Molotov, see Ibid., 14–15, 117–18. Suslov's militancy, however, is linked to the argument that the correlation of forces was turning in favor of socialism; see Ibid., 119.

16 See especially the discussion of Malenkov, Ibid., 111–17.

17 On cybernetic decision making and how it differs from analytic rationality, see Steinbruner, John, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974).

18 Shulman (fn. 11), 3–9, 263–71.

19 , Gelman, The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline ofDetente (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984). On the problem of a priori underdetermination and a posteriori overdeter-mination, see Kurth, James, “United States Foreign Policy and Latin American Military Rule,” in Schmitter, Phillippe, ed., Military Rule in Latin America (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1973). 244322.

20 lbld., 83.

21 Ibid., 46, 52–58.

22 Breslauer, George, Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982), conclusion, esp. 280, 284–90.

23 Riker, William H. and Brams, Steven J., “The Paradox of Vote Trading,” American Political Science Review 67 (December 1973), 1235–47.

24 Gelman (fn. 19), 73; also 79, 90, 114.

25 Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979), 50, used this phrase to characterize earlier systems theories.

26 Jervis (fn. 6), 128–42.

27 The last hypothesis, omitted in most accounts of the links between totalitarianism and foreign policy, is based on Gerschenkron, Alexander, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1962). For other arguments, see Friedrich, Carl and Brzezinski, Zbigniew, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), and Brzezinski, Zbigniew, Ideology and Power in Soviet Politics (New York: Praeger, 1962).

28 See Toulmin, Stephen, Human Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).

29 A recent example of work done in this tradition is the special issue of World Politics 38 (October 1985), also published as Cooperation under Anarchy, Oye, Kenneth A., ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

30 See, for example, Kratochwil, Friedrich and Ruggiel, John“International Organization: A State of the Art on an Art of the State,” International Organization 40 (Fall, 1986).

31 “A Garthoff-Pipes Debate on Soviet Strategic Doctrine,” Strategic Review 10 (Fall 1982), 3663.

32 Schelling, Thomas C., Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), chaps. 2 and 3; , Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), chap. 2.

33 , Jervis, “Why Nuclear Superiority Doesn't Matter,” Political Science Quarterly 94 (Winter 19791980), 617–33.

34 Schelling (fn. 32, 1966), 106.

35 Strategic Review (fn. 31), 57.

36 McConnell, James M., “The ‘Rules of the Game’: A Theory on the Practice of Superpower Naval Diplomacy,” in Dismukes, Bradford and McConnell, James, eds., Soviet Naval Diplomacy (New York: Pergamon, 1979).

37 For example, the argument (Ibid., 265–66) that the United States was the defender in the mining of Haiphong Harbor, though not unreasonable, makes use of ad hoc criteria that place more weight on American statements linking the action to the defense of South Vietnam than on the pritnafacie offensive character of U.S. behavior.

38 See also Blechman, Barry and Kaplan, Stephen, Force without War (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1978), 127–29.

39 For this point, and qualifications to it, see McConnell (fn. 36), 244.

40 Ibid., 247–48.

41 Ibid., 265.

42 McConnell's own conclusions from these cases are somewhat more complex. See ibid., 246, 267–76.

43 Betts, Richard K., “Elusive Equivalence: The Political and Military Meaning of the Nuclear Balance,” in Huntington, Samuel P., The Strategic Imperative (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1982), 108, draws attention to this question. See also Betts, Richard, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1987), which carries out detailed, sophisticated tests similar to those described above.

44 Schelling (fn. 32, 1966), 46–47. This vignette seems to be a conflation of several Khrushchev remarks. For an example of the invocation of uncontrollable risk, see Slusser, Robert, The Berlin Crisis of 1961 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 9899; for asymmetry in motivation, Adomeit, Hannes, Soviet Risk-Taking and Crisis Behavior (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982), 207, and Schick, Jack, The Berlin Crisis, 1958–1962 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), 178; for the onus of the last clear chance, Talbott, Strobe, ed., Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament (New York: Bantam, 1974), 575. For more examples and for some qualifications to this view, see Hope Harrison, “Was Khrushchev a Student of Thomas Schelling?: Khrushchev's Coercive Diplomacy in the 1958–1961 Berlin Crisis,” unpub. (Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 1987).

45 Leites, Nathan, A Study of Bolshevism (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1953); George, Alexander, “The ‘Operational Code’: A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political Leaders and Decision-Making,” in Hoffmann, Erik and Fleron, Frederic, eds., The Conduct of Soviet Foreign Policy, 2d ed. (New York: Aldine, 1980), 191212.

46 Polkinghorne (fn. 1), 107 and passim.

47 Zimmerman, William and Axelrod, Robert, “The ‘Lessons’ of Vietnam and Soviet Foreign Policy,” World Politics 34 (October 1981), 124.

48 Ibid., 10–11.

49 Ibid., 8.

50 Polkinghorne (fn. 1), 117–18; Lakatos, Imre, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” in Lakatos, Imre and Musgrave, Alan, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, Vol. IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

51 Legvold (fn. 8), 131.

52 MccGwire, Michael, Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1987).

* The present article is based on a report prepared for the Subcommittee on Soviet Foreign Policy of the Joint Committee on Soviet Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies; the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the subcommittee or its members. Douglas Blum, Richard Herrmann, Theodore Hopf, Robert Jervis, Friedrich Kratochwil, Robert Legvold, Cynthia Roberts, and Marshall Shulman have offered helpful suggestions and criticisms.

Science and Sovietology: Bridging the Methods Gap in Soviet Foreign Policy Studies

  • Jack Snyder (a1)


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