Perhaps it is inevitable that the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa (already dubbed the “Bo Derek of the Steppes” in a British press report) will come to the United States. If Secretary Gorbachev does visit, the journalists and commentators who report the visit should be required to read The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline of Detente by Harry Gelman. The book is an insightful analysis of Soviet assumptions and objectives and of the external events which affected the leadership of Soviet government from 1964 through 1983. Mr. Gelman’s sober assessment of Soviet political power indicates that Moscow ought not be mistaken for Camelot.
Mr. Gelman, an Assistant National Intelligence Officer for the U.S. government and now an analyst for the Rand Corporation, argues persuasively that the Politburo functions as an isolated oligarchy deeply committed to opportunistic expansion of the Soviet cause and preservation of their own considerable perquisites. He shows detente for what it was—a Soviet attempt to neutralize the U.S. rapprochement with China, gain Western credits and technology, and prevent American deployment of a superior antiballistic missile system. After many Brezhnev rivals had been dropped from the ruling body during the ruthless infighting that put the policy in place, detente still failed to produce the desired credits and technology from the West, partly because of the October War of 1973 and because of the limits the Soviets placed on Jewish migration. Then, too, the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate weakness of the United States created too many openings for Soviet adventurism all over the globe. To preserve detente by ignoring these opportunities would have been simply un-Soviet.
Yuri Andropov was the Soviet leader at the time Mr. Gelman’s well-researched study ends. But the Soviet succession procedure is the next best thing to cloning, and Gelman’s book remains an excellent guide to Mr, Gorbachev’s concerns and limitations.
[The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline of Detente, by Harry Gelman; Cornell University Press; Ithaca, NY]