In AGS’s final History and International Security Series event of the semester, Professor Miles joined Vladislav M. Zubok, professor of International History at the London School of Economics, to discuss his new book Collapse – The Fall of the Soviet Union.
Event summary by Eleanor Ross:
On November 18th, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy was joined by Professor Vladislav Zubok, a professor of international history at Columbia University’s London School of Economics. Moderated by Professor Simon Miles, the discussion centered around Prof. Zubok’s new book Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union. Born and educated in Moscow, Prof. Zubok is a world-renowned expert on Soviet and Cold War history. Contending that Western policies did not destroy the Soviet Union, Prof. Zubok began the conversation by arguing that internal policies led to the Soviet Union’s downfall. Counter to the common assumptions of Star Wars, Chernobyl, and the drop in oil prices, he asserted that Gorbachev’s campaign of political liberalization ended the Soviet Union. He specifically referenced the misguided economic reforms of perestroika which turned party members against communism.
The conversation then shifted to Gorbachev’s role in government as he adopted Western advice to shift the ailing trajectory of the Soviet Union. Though the Soviet Union had been deeply overdue for reforms, Prof. Zubok maintained that the country’s leaders lacked a vision for change. As Gorbachev entered the political scene during this climate, he is consequently seen as either doing too much too soon or too little too late. Prof. Zubok believes the truth lies somewhere in the middle as Gorbachev initially sponsored trial and error, but eventually began to fear turning back. Over time, Gorbachev became more hesitant to act with his previous boldness and open-mindedness which led to the Soviet Union’s collapse. Prof. Zubok argued Gorbachev signaled the breakdown of the Soviet Union when the Soviet threat began to melt. and he suggested that Gorbachev was determined to have his country integrated into Europe as an integral part of the new world order, but, after the Berlin Wall fell, it was clear that his vision would not succeed. Finally, Professor Miles invited the audience to ask questions, prompting discussions about the Soviet Union’s economy, its foreign policy, and the role Gorbachev had in Afghanistan’s collapse in the late 1900’s.