Cover: The Future of the Soviet Union

The Future of the Soviet Union

What is the Western Interest?

Published 1991

by Arnold L. Horelick


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Following the Persian Gulf crisis, the West's attention has shifted to the ongoing crises in the Soviet Union. Uncertainty about the shape and character of the post-Cold War international system is dominated by uncertainty about the future of the Soviet Union — its political structure, economic system, territorial configuration, and ethno-national composition. Radically different outcomes could have vastly different consequences for the West. This paper explores the implications of some of the most widely discussed Soviet futures and examines the current Western debate on appropriate economic assistance policies for helping to shape a favorable Soviet outcome. Two major dichotomous possibilities dominate the Western debate: preservation of the Soviet Union essentially within its present borders and with a strong center representing it to the outside world; or chaotic disintegration of the Soviet state into multiple independent republics or clusters of republics. Virtually all Western governments have identified Western interests with preservation of the union, believing its breakup would have disastrously destabilizing consequences for the Soviet Union that would also pose grave threats to Western interests.

This report is part of the RAND occasional paper (Soviet) series. The occasional paper series was a product of RAND from 1985 to 1992. It included the occasional paper education (OPE) and occasional paper Soviet (OPS), which was issued jointly by the RAND/UCLA Center for Soviet Studies (CSS) to facilitate the exchange of ideas among those who shared the research interests of the Center and of scholars participating in its research and seminar programs.

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