History of Soviet/Eurasian Studies at RAND

The Early Decades

In the late 1940s, the U.S. Air Force gave RAND an extraordinary mandate: to create a field of study where none previously existed, utilizing all relevant academic disciplines and validating this knowledge with virtually no means of direct observation or measurement--all in the context of unprecedented revolutions in military technology that redefined the very character of international politics.

RAND research in the early decades was driven by three unprecedented circumstances: a revolution in military technology that spawned wholly new concepts of strategy and security; a bipolar political-military confrontation without parallel in history; and a highly supportive and permissive sponsor prepared to underwrite research on an open-ended basis. This environment attracted exceptional talent to RAND, fostering an unequaled climate of discovery and a spirit of intellectual ferment.

Today, the RAND bookshelf is replete with the names of researchers who pioneered the social scientific analysis of Leninist systems: Nathan Leites, Philip Selznick, Raymond Garthoff, Abram Bergson, Richard Moorsteen, Merle Fainsod, Herbert Dinerstein, Abraham Becker, Alexander George, Donald Zagoria, and Arnold Horelick.

Spurred by the singular challenges of containment and nuclear deterrence, RAND analysts provided invaluable insight into political leadership and foreign policy in the Soviet Union and other communist states; the development of Soviet military strategy and doctrine; and the organization and operation of the Soviet economy. This body of research had an influence well beyond its immediate implications for U.S. national security interests. An array of basic methodological tools, first derived from propaganda analysis techniques devised during World War II, were refined and extended to new analytic challenges. In addition, RAND translated and disseminated unique primary-source documentation (notably, early deliberations among Soviet strategists over the implications of nuclear weapons for military strategy). The detective work needed to mine, validate, and interpret the meager array of Soviet economic data was also nothing short of prodigious, thereby helping spawn the rigorous study of centrally planned economies. RAND also pioneered in the systematic utilization of émigrés as a data source.

These analytic methods provided the natural complement to the equally pathbreaking work underway at RAND on U.S. strategy for the nuclear era. They made possible realistic and informed judgments on the character of the Soviet system, the potential and constraints underlying Soviet economic and military capabilities, and the manner in which Soviet leaders defined and pursued their political and strategic interests.

RAND's substantive research agenda adapted as U.S. policy needs shifted, with RAND analysis frequently providing crucial insights into these shifting circumstances. For example, RAND analyzed in great depth the implications of the Sino-Soviet conflict and the subsequent militarization of this rivalry, helping elucidate the triangular dimensions of U.S. strategy and diplomacy during the 1970s and 1980s. Responding to the sustained buildup of Soviet nuclear-weapon capabilities and the continued augmentation of Soviet military power in Europe and the Third World during the 1970s, RAND analysis increasingly focused on the options for countering the Soviet strategic challenge to U.S. interests and on better understanding the imperatives that were shaping Soviet decisionmaking. This work greatly informed U.S. policymaking, especially when the policy process was driven by unrealistic estimates of Soviet capabilities. The writings of Harry Gelman and Ben Lambeth especially stand out in this regard.

In sum, RAND's unique environment spawned a field of study whose characteristics remain greatly evident today. Indeed, as the United States seeks to grasp the political, economic, and security challenges of a highly uncertain post-Cold War world, the continued relevance of decades of research undertaken at RAND is beyond dispute.

Adapted from Jonathan Pollack, "International Studies," in Project RAND 50th: 1946-1996 (Santa Monica, CA : RAND, 1996).

Chronology of Innovative RAND Research

The Operational Code of the Politburo
Soviet National Income

Handbook on the Theory of Games
The Soviet Political Police
Russian Labor Productivity

Communist Party Organizational Strategy and Tactics

Game Theory

History of Soviet Nuclear Research

Soviet Cybernetics Technology

Strategic Power and Soviet Foreign Policy

Soviet Military Research and Development

Soviet Policy in the Middle East

Review of Decision-Theory-Related Approaches in Soviet Foreign Policy Studies

Soviet Defense Burden and Economic Tradeoffs

Next Phase in U.S.-Soviet Relations

Soviet Political System in Crisis
Soviet Military under Gorbachev

Soviet Environmental Management and Politics

NATO Expansion

Russian Demographics, Ethnopolitical Relations, and Emigration

Russian/American Business Relations