Moscow and the Gulf War

Courtesy Reuters

The war in the Persian Gulf posed a major and untimely crisis for Soviet foreign policy. The drama and pace of Operation Desert Storm tended to distract American attention from the spectacle of Moscow's own confused, shifting, contentious and contradictory approaches to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the American response. At several points in the crisis it was uncertain just how firmly Moscow's principles of "new thinking" in foreign policy would hold. In the end Moscow did indeed sustain its general commitment to all U.N. resolutions on Iraq, but only with a process that proved deeply unsettling within the Soviet Union. This process afforded the world an unprecedented window on the making of Soviet foreign policy in the Gorbachev era. It provided the best understanding yet of the extraordinarily complex factors currently competing for a voice in Moscow's foreign policy. While Soviet new thinking has been much seasoned since its inception, it is still evolving.

For Moscow the Gulf War involved far more than its policy toward Iraq. The crisis embraced a broad range of Soviet interests, in both the West and the Third World, and in military and civilian spheres. Coming as it did at a time of immense turmoil in Soviet politics, the crisis inevitably became the currency of a domestic power struggle as well. Above all, the Gulf War emerged as the single most formative crisis to date in the gradual reformulation of the principles and interests of Soviet foreign policy. While the liberation of eastern Europe and the unification of Germany may have been of greater geopolitical importance, those events occurred when Gorbachev was both more popular and more firmly in control and-almost before the country realized it-had become faits accomplis. Now, in the wake of the Gulf War, both the Soviets and their observers know more about how Soviet interests are new thinking. He once again propounded a willingness to cooperate with Washington and the United Nations in support of newly found common interests, in

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