From the Archives: 1989

Communist supporters hold a Soviet flag during a rally in central Moscow February 23, 2007. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the 1989 revolutions that ended communist rule in Eastern Europe. Two decades later, analysts are debating where the momentum for these events came from, how anticommunist movements played out in individual countries, and how to manage the post-Cold War relationship between the United States and Russia.  We are pleased to bring you these select articles from the Foreign Affairs archives that recapture how those momentous events appeared in real time. 

"The Revolution in Soviet Foreign Policy." By Robert Legvold. Foreign Affairs 68, no. 1 (1988/89): pp. 82-89.
Gorbachev's Nationalities Problem." By Gail W. Lapidus. Foreign Affairs 68, no. 4 (1989): pp. 92-108.
The Collapse of Soviet Power in Europe." By Coit D. Blacker. Foreign Affairs 70, no. 1 (1990/91): 88-102.
U.S.-Soviet Relations: The Threshold of a New Era." By Arnold L. Horelick. Foreign Affairs 69, no. 1 (1989/90): pp. 51-69.

By the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had drastically reformed Soviet foreign policy by turning away from the old notion of socialist internationalism to a new principle of noninterference in the politics of satellite countries. Robert Legvold explained the switch as a product of both the Soviets' worsening economic situation and Gorbachev's new security calculus: not only was the existing policy enormously costly, but it also dragged the Soviet Union into dangerous and unnecessary standoffs with the West. Legvold noted that Gorbachev's reforms left Eastern European regimes "alone to solve their own problems and make their own mistakes." Gail Lapidus, writing just a few months before the revolutions, examined the unintended consequences of Gorbachev's noninterference policy. By abandoning socialist internationalism, she wrote, the Soviet leaders had lost the one force that had kept ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe at bay. With that gone, the Soviet leadership would have a difficult time keeping its satellites in order. Coit Blacker, for his part, wrote that, while Gorbachev's decisions may have indeed been his own undoing, his calculus may not have been all wrong. A Soviet Union less threatening to the United States, Blacker noted, would stand

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