The Brezhnev Doctrine was a Soviet foreign policy, first and most clearly outlined by S. Kovalev in a September 26, 1968, Pravda article, entitled Sovereignty and the International Obligations of Socialist Countries. Leonid Brezhnev reiterated it in a speech at the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party on November 13, 1968, which stated:
- When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.
This doctrine was announced to retroactively justify the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 that ended the Prague Spring, along with earlier Soviet military interventions, such as the invasion of Hungary in 1956. These interventions were meant to put an end to liberalization efforts and uprisings that had the potential to compromise Soviet hegemony inside the Eastern Bloc, which was considered by the Soviets to be an essential defensive and strategic buffer in case hostilities with NATO were to break out.
In practice, the policy meant that only limited independence of the satellite states' communist parties was allowed and that no country would be allowed to compromise the cohesiveness of the Eastern Bloc in any way. That is, no country could leave the Warsaw Pact or disturb a ruling communist party's monopoly on power. Implicit in this doctrine was that the leadership of the Soviet Union reserved, for itself, the power to define "socialism" and "capitalism". Following the announcement of the Brezhnev Doctrine, numerous treaties were signed between the Soviet Union and its satellite states to reassert these points and to further ensure inter-state cooperation. The principles of the doctrine were so broad that the Soviets even used it to justify their military intervention in the non-Warsaw Pact nation of Afghanistan in 1979. The Brezhnev Doctrine stayed in effect until it was ended with the Soviet reaction to the Polish crisis of 1980–81. Mikhail Gorbachev refused to use military force when Poland held free elections in 1989 and Solidarity defeated the Polish United Workers' Party. It was superseded by the facetiously named Sinatra Doctrine in 1989, alluding to the Frank Sinatra song "My Way".
1956 Hungarian Crisis
The period between 1953-1968 was saturated with dissidence and reformation within the Soviet satellite states. 1953 saw the death of Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin, followed closely by Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’ denouncing Stalin in 1956. This denouncement of the former leader led to a period of the Soviet Era known commonly as “De-Stalinization.” Under the blanket reforms of this process, Imre Nagy came to power in Hungary as the new Prime Minister, taking over for Mátyás Rákosi. Almost immediately Nagy set out on a path of reform. Police power was reduced, collectivized farms were breaking apart, industry and food production shifted and religious tolerance was becoming more prominent. These reforms shocked the Hungarian Communist Party. Nagy was quickly overthrown by Rákosi in 1955, and stripped of his political livelihood. Shortly after this coup, Khrushchev signed the Belgrade Declaration which stated “separate paths to socialism were permissible within the Soviet Bloc.” With hopes for serious reform just having been extinguished in Hungary, this declaration was not received well by the Hungarians. Tensions quickly mounted in Hungary with demonstrations and calls for not only the withdrawal of Soviet troops, but for a Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact as well. By October 23 Soviet forces landed in Budapest. A chaotic and bloody squashing of revolutionary forces lasted from the October 24 until November 7. Although order was restored, tensions remained on both sides of the conflict. Hungarians resented the end of the reformation, and the Soviets wanted to avoid a similar crisis from occurring again anywhere in the socialist camp.
1968 Prague Spring
Notions of reform had been slowly growing in Czechoslovakia since the early-mid 1960s. However, once the Stalinist President Antonín Novotný resigned as head of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in January 1968, the Prague Spring began to take shape. Alexander Dubček replaced Novotný as head of the party, initially thought a friend to the Soviet Union. It was not long before Dubček began making serious liberal reforms. In an effort to establish what Dubček called “developed socialism”, he instituted changes in Czechoslovakia to create a much more free and liberal version of the socialist state. Aspects of a market economy were implemented, travel abroad became easier for citizens, state censorship loosened, the power of the secret police was limited, and steps were taken to improve relations with the west. As the reforms piled up, the Kremlin quickly grew uneasy as they hoped to not only preserve socialism within Czechoslovakia, but to avoid another Hungarian-style crisis as well. Soviet panic compounded in March of ’68 when student protests erupted in Poland and Antonín Novotný resigned as the Czechoslovak President. March 21 Yuri Andropov, the KGB Chairman, issued a grave statement concerning the reforms taking place under Dubček. “The methods and forms by which the work is progressing in Czechoslovakia remind one very much of Hungary. In this outward appearance of chaos…there is a certain order. It all began like this in Hungary also, but then came the first and second echelons, and then, finally the social democrats.”
Leonid Brezhnev sought clarification from Dubček on March 21, with the Politburo convened, on the situation in Czechoslovakia . Eager to avoid a similar fate as Imre Nagy, Dubček reassured Brezhnev that the reforms were totally under control and not on a similar path to those seen in 1956 in Hungary. Despite Dubček’s assurances, other socialist allies grew uneasy by the reforms taking place in an Eastern European neighbor. Namely, the Ukrainians were very alarmed by the Czechoslovak deviation from standard socialism. The First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party called on Moscow for an immediate invasion of Czechoslovakia in order to stop Dubček’s ‘socialism with a human face’ from spreading into Ukraine and sparking unrest. By May 6 Brezhnev condemned Dubček’s system, declaring it a step toward “the complete collapse of the Warsaw Pact.” After three months of negotiations, agreements, and rising tensions between Moscow and Czechoslovakia, the Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion began on the night of August 20, 1968 which was to be met with great Czechoslovak discontent and resistance for many months into 1970.
Formation of the Doctrine
Brezhnev realized the need for a shift from Nikita Khrushchev’s idea of “different paths to socialism” towards one that fostered a more unified vision throughout the socialist camp. “Economic integration, political consolidation, a return to ideological orthodoxy, and inter-Party cooperation became the new watchwords of Soviet bloc relations.” On November 12, 1968 Brezhnev stated that “[w]hen external and internal forces hostile to socialism try to turn the development of a given socialist country in the direction of…the capitalist system...this is no longer merely a problem for that country’s people, but a common problem, the concern of all socialist countries.” Brezhnev’s statement at the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers Party effectively classified the issue of sovereignty as less important than the preservation of international socialism. While no new doctrine had been officially announced, it was clear that Soviet intervention was imminent if Moscow perceived any country to be at risk of jeopardizing the integrity of socialism.
Brezhnev Doctrine in Practice
The vague, broad nature of the Brezhnev Doctrine allowed application to any international situation the USSR saw fit. This is clearly evident not only through the Prague Spring in 1968, and the indirect pressure on Poland from 1980–81, but also in the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan starting in the ‘70s. Any instance which caused the USSR to question whether or not a country was becoming a risk to international socialism, the use of military intervention was, in Soviet eyes, not only justified, but necessary.
The long lasting struggle of the war in Afghanistan made the Soviets realize that their reach and influence was in fact limited. “[The war in Afghanistan] had shown that socialist internationalism and Soviet national interests were not always compatible.” Tensions between the USSR and Czechoslovakia since 1968, as well as Poland in 1980 proved the inefficiencies inherent in the Brezhnev Doctrine. Although the Soviet Union wanted to preserve socialism in its allies sometimes that proved easier said than done. Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika finally opened the door for Soviet Bloc countries and republics to make reforms without Soviet intervention.
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- Truman Doctrine
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- Reagan Doctrine
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- Sinatra Doctrine
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- Hunt 2009, p. 945
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- Ouimet, Matthew J. (2003). The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-8078-2740-1.
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- Ouimet, Matthew J. (2003). The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-8078-2740-1.
- Ouimet, Matthew: The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London. 2003.
- Hunt, Lynn: "The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures." Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston and London. 2009.
- Pravda, September 25, 1968; translated by Novosti, Soviet press agency. Reprinted in L. S. Stavrianos, TheEpic of Man (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: PrenticeHall, 1971), pp. 465–466.