Robert Kaplan (“Eurasia’s Coming Anarchy,” March/April 2016) correctly identifies the domestic weaknesses of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. By arguing that these difficulties have produced “naked” aggression on Russia’s part, however, Kaplan suggests a relationship between domestic affairs and foreign policy that does not always hold.
Consider the case of the Soviet Union, which by the mid-1980s had serious economic and political problems of its own. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, these domestic weaknesses yielded an accommodating foreign policy that recognized that the security of the United States and the Soviet Union could be mutually improved. This attitude helped produce arms control agreements on intermediate-range nuclear weapons and conventional weapons between the East and the West and, astoundingly, the Soviet Union’s unilateral withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Eastern Europe. The Cold War ended as a result.
There is no clear one way in which domestic weakness affects foreign policy. Russia’s present weakness may yield an international stance more in line with Western interests than Kaplan seems to think.