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The "Lessons" of Vietnam and Soviet Foreign Policy

William Zimmerman and Robert Axelrod
World Politics
Vol. 34, No. 1 (Oct., 1981), pp. 1-24
DOI: 10.2307/2010148
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2010148
Page Count: 24
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The "Lessons" of Vietnam and Soviet Foreign Policy
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Abstract

This study systematically identifies the Soviet lessons of Vietnam as presented in eleven Soviet newspapers (specialized and regional as well as the central papers) and eight journals. Altogether, 1,585 citations were coded, representing more than 70 different lessons. A predominant finding is that the most common lessons the Soviet Union learned from Vietnam differed from their American counterparts: the Soviet lessons would not have warned the leadership about the dangers of military intervention in Afghanistan. A left/right scale was constructed, based on such issue clusters as why the communists won in Vietnam, the nature of imperialism, and the implications of Soviet policy in the Third World. Substantial variation was found among the media examined, many of which are linked to specific Soviet institutions. The implication is that Soviet foreign policy is contingent upon individual choices, institutional interplay, and changing contexts. This, in turn, suggests that Western policy makers should not lose sight of their capacity to influence the Soviet policy dialogue, and hence Soviet policy choices.

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