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A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

May 26, 2011 // 4:00pm5:30pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
History and Public Policy Program
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The current conflict in Afghanistan looms large in the collective consciousness of Americans. What has the United States achieved, and how will it withdraw without sacrificing those gains? Artemy Kalinovsky's latest book entitled A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan discusses how the Soviet Union confronted these same questions in the 1980s, and how the USSR's nine-year struggle to extricate itself from Afghanistan and bring its troops home provides a sobering perspective on exit options in the region.

Kalinovsky's focus is not on motives for initiating the conflict but on the factors that prevented the Soviet leadership from ending a demoralizing war. Why did the USSR linger for so long, given that key elites recognized the flaws in the mission shortly after the initial deployment?

Drawing extensively on newly available archival material, supplemented by interviews with major actors, allows Kalinovsky to reconstruct the fierce debates among Soviet diplomats, KGB officials, military leaders, and top Politburo figures. The fear that withdrawal would diminish the USSR's stature in the Third World is palpable in these disagreements, as are the competing interests of Afghan factions and the Soviet Union's superpower rival in the West. A Long Goodbye challenges many widely held views about the actual costs of the conflict to the Soviet leadership, and its findings illuminate the Cold War context of a military engagement that went very wrong, for much too long.

Joining Kalinovsky on the panel is Ambassador Peter Tomsen, former United States Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Christian Ostermann, director of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program, will chair the event.

Artemy Kalinovsky is assistant professor in Eastern European history in the Department of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Formerly, Kalinovsky was an associate of the Cold War Studies Programme and was a Pinto Post-Doctoral Fellow at the London School of Economics Center for the Study of International Affairs, Diplomacy and Grand Strategy ( LSE IDEAS), as well as editor of IDEAS Today. Kalinovsky's publications include The End of the Cold War and the Third World; Soviet Decision-making during the War in Afghanistan, from Intervention to Withdrawal; and Politics, Diplomacy and the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan: From National Reconciliation to the Geneva Accords. Kalinovsky has also written for Foreign Policy, National Journal, and Neoamericanist. Currently, he is working on a history of Soviet advising in the Third World and a political history of Soviet Central Asia. Kalinovsky holds a BA in international history from The George Washington University, and a MA and Ph.D. in international history from the London School of Economics.

Peter Tomsen, former American special envoy to the Afghan resistance, is at present ambassador in residence at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Additionally, he writes articles on Afghanistan and Central Asia, conducts research for a book he is preparing on Afghanistan, and lectures on international affairs to community groups around the country. Ambassador Tomsen was American ambassador to Armenia from 1995 to 1998, and was President George W. Bush's special envoy on Afghanistan with the rank of ambassador, 1989-1992. Prior to assuming his duties as ambassador to Armenia, Tomsen was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Department of State, and under the Assistant Secretary, he was the senior manager of United States diplomacy in this area, from Burma to Micronesia, China to Australia. Formerly, Ambassador Tomsen has served as the United States deputy chief of mission in China, and in Moscow as first secretary in the American Embassy's political section. Ambassador Tomsen's foreign service career began in 1967, with an assignment in Thailand followed by a post to Vietnam's Mekong Delta, as a district senior advisor to an ARVN lieutenant colonel. Ambassador Tomsen subsequently served in India for five years, and in China for five years. After two years as political officer in the American Embassy in China, he was the director of the State Department's office of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldive Affairs, 1983-1985. Among the awards Ambassador Tomsen has received are three Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, one State Department Superior and two Meritorious Honor awards.

 
Event Speakers List: 
  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center
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Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Laura Deal // Catalog Specialist
  • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
  • Charles Kraus // Program Assistant
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
  • Roy O. Kim // Program Assistant
  • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project