This Note discusses one of the less visible but increasingly important aspects of Soviet-West European relations: the network of consultation agreements that Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze inherited from the Brezhnev period and that they have worked to expand and deepen. These agreements provide for institutionalized political contact at the subministerial level; they thus supplement contact through traditional diplomatic channels and summit and foreign ministerial meetings. The author briefly examines the traditional role of obligatory consultation in European diplomacy, traces important antecedents to the current wave of Soviet interest in consultation agreements, analyzes the likely reasons for the Soviet interest in concluding such agreements, and outlines the prospects for this evolving diplomatic institution. An appendix contains a list of Soviet consultations with selected NATO countries that took place between 1980 and 1989.
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