Institutional Dynamics in Collapsing Empires: Domestic Structural Change in the USSR, Post-Soviet Russia and Independent Ukraine

What are the causal variables behind domestic structural change? This paper sketches a comparative analysis of three 'most different cases' of the Eastern bloc; one of the conclusions drawn is that individual agency, while crucial in an authoritarian setting, must be supplemented by constructivist insights of social learning and ideational exchange.

ARENA Working Paper 02/1999 (html)

Jeffrey T. Checkel

This chapter explores the sources, dynamics and consequences of domestic structural change in the former Soviet Union. I consider such changes in well-established (USSR), successor (post-Soviet Russia) and new states (independent Ukraine), and do so in two different policy arenas: foreign/security-policy; and human-rights/citizenship. Triggers of change include traditional realist variables (shifting external power balances), as well as constructivist ones (international institutions as promoters of norms). Given the authoritarian legacy in the former USSR, individual agency, not surprisingly, plays a central role in bringing about domestic structural change; however, that same legacy has severely limited political leaders’ ability to carry through such change in new structural contexts. The central problem is weak state capacity. At the level of agents, the chapter demonstrates that strategic calculation by knowledgeable actors is but one possible engine of change; uncertainty and social learning are equally important. This suggests the methodological individualist understanding of agency advanced in the volume's first chapter needs to be supplemented with insights drawn from social constructivist theorizing.

A later version of this article was published in A. P. Cortell and s. Peterson (eds) (2002) Altered States - International Relations, Domestic Politics and Institutional Change, Lexington Books, USA.

Tags: ideas, post-Communism, international regimes, leadership
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 26, 2011 2:21 PM