Review of International Studies

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Soviet foreign policymaking and the Afghanistan war: from ‘second Mongolia’ to ‘bleeding wound’



The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, lasting from 1979 to 1989, was one of the major chapters in the Cold War. Analysis of how Soviet policy was made has, hitherto, focused on the decision to intervene, in December 1979. Equally important, however, as an episode in the final stages of the Cold War, and as an example of Soviet policy formulation, was the decision to withdraw. Basing itself on declassified Soviet documents, and on a range of interviews with former Soviet and Afghan officials, this article charts the protracted history of the Soviet decision and sets it in context: as with the decision to invade, the withdrawal reflected assessment of multiple dimensions of policymaking, not only the interests and calculation of Soviet leaders, but also relations within the Afghan communist leadership on the one hand, and strategic negotiation with the West on the other.


1 This article is part of the outcome of a research project funded by the ESRC on the Afghan communist regime between 1978 and 1992. The author visited Kabul in 1980, on behalf of the World Council of Churches, to study possible diplomatic solutions to the Afghan crisis. Background material used is taken from that visit, from three later research visits to Moscow, and from regular contacts, throughout the 1980s, with Soviet, Afghan government and opposition and UN representatives concerned with this issue. Further research is available in the article by Fred Halliday and Zahir Tanin, n. 7, and the 26-part oral history Afghanistan in the Twentieth Century, prepared by Zahir Tanin for the BBC Persian Service. I would like to thank Margot Light, Zahir Tanin, Jonathan Steele, Antonio Giustozzi and Arne Westad for their help with research materials and for comments on earlier drafts, as well as the anonymous reviewers of this journal.