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Brezhnev Doctrine


Although in its immediate sense a riposte to the international condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the "Brezhnev Doctrine" was the culmination of the long evolution of a conception of sovereignty in Soviet ideology. At its core was the restatement of a long-standing insistence on the right of the USSR to intervene in a satellite's internal political developments should there be any reason to fear for the future of communist rule in that state.

Linked to the name of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Leonid Brezhnev, because of its encapsulation in a speech he read in Warsaw on November 13, 1968, the doctrine had already been expounded by ideologue Sergei Kovalev in Pravda on September 26, 1968, and, before the invasion, by Soviet commentators critical of the Czechoslovak reforms. It resembled in most respects the defense of the invasion of Hungary in 1956, and included aspects of earlier justifications of hegemony dating to the immediate postwar period and the 1930s.

Sovereignty continued to be interpreted in two regards: first, as the right to demand that the noncommunist world, including organizations such as the United Nations, respect Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, and second, as permitting the USSR's satellites to determine domestic policy only within the narrow bounds of orthodox Marxism-Leninism. Any breach of those parameters would justify military intervention by members of the Warsaw Pact and the removal even of leaders who had come to power in the ways that the Soviet political model would consider legitimate.

The elements of the Brezhnev Doctrine reflecting the exigencies of the late 1960s were the intensified insistence on ideological uniformity in the face of a steady drift to revisionism in West European communist organizations as well as factions of ruling parties, and on bloc unity before venturing a less confrontational coexistence with the West. Preoccupied with protecting the Soviet sphere against external challenges and internal fissures, the Brezhnev Doctrine lacked the ambitious, more expansionist tone of earlier conceptions of sovereignty.

Although not officially overturned until Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze radically reconceptualized foreign policy in the late 1980s, the future of the Brezhnev Doctrine was already in doubt when the USSR decided not to invade Poland in December 1980, after the emergence of the independent trade union, Solidarity. The debates in the Politburo at that time revealed a shift in the thinking of even some of its more hawkish members toward a discourse of Soviet national interest in place of the traditional socialist internationalism.

See also: brezhnev, leonid ilich; czechoslovakia, invasion of


Jones, Robert A. (1990). The Soviet Concept of "Limited Sovereignty" from Lenin to Gorbachev: The Brehznev Doctrine. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Ouimet, M. J. (2000). "National Interest and the Question of Soviet Intervention in Poland, 19801981: Interpreting the Collapse of the 'Brezhnev Doctrine.'" Slavonic and East European Review 78: 710734.

Kieran Williams

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