The CPSU Politburo and its Commissions under Brezhnev:
Decision Making in the Cases of Afghanistan and Poland
Sungho KIM

Copyright (c) 1998 by the Slavic Research Center( English / Japanese ) All rights reserved.

This paper takes up the twists and turns of the CPSU Politburo and its commissions around the Soviet army's invasion of Afghanistan (1979) and the proclamation of the martial law in Poland (1981), relying upon the sources which became accessible after the collapse of the USSR. A comparison of these two processes of decision-making will illuminate crucial phases of the USSR foreign policy in the waning months of the Brezhnev era.
The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979. It is supposed that the Afghanistan commission attached to the CPSU Politburo had been established in September, 1979 or possibly a little later, when the main leader of Afghanistan, Taraki, was ousted by its second figure, Amin. This commission consisted of Andrei Gromyko (the Foreign Minister), Yurii Andropov (the KGB Chair), Dmitrii Ustinov (the Defense Minister), Boris Ponomarev (the chief of the International Department at the CPSU Central Committee) and their deputies. Among its duties, the commission was assigned to collect information, adjust policy, and make suggestions to the Politburo. The Politburo minutes indicate that it decided to invade Afghanistan because of the following perceptions: (1) the unstable political situation would nullify the gains brought by the Afghanistan April Revolution; (2) the Amin government was corrupt and losing its ability to govern; (3) the USSR would be strategically damaged, if Amin approached the United States; (4) Karmal's request for USSR military aid based on the USSR-Afghanistan Treaty concluded in December, 1978 could be regarded as legitimate; (5) if Afghanistan, a country bordering both the Soviet Central Asia and China, was destabilized, the USSR would be jeopardized too; and lastly, (6) rapid changes in Afghanistan's political situation were becoming even more dangerous than the supposed damages of the invasion, such as inevitable negative reactions from both the socialist allies and the "imperialist" countries.
Two years later, in December, 1981, martial law was proclaimed to suppress the "Solidarity" movement in Poland. A Politburo commission addressed to this issue had been organized as early as August, 1980. It was chaired by Mikhail Suslov, and consisted of Gromyko, Andropov, Ustinov, Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Zimianin (a secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU in charge of ideology), Ivan Arkhipov (the Deputy Chair of USSR Council of Ministers), Leonid Zamiatin (the chief of the International Information Department at the CPSU Central Committee), and Oleg Rakhmanin (the first deputy chief of the Department of Relations with the Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries at the CPSU Central Committee). Whereas the membership of this commission was larger and "stronger" than the Afghanistan one, their role was similar. It is noteworthy that in April, 1981 the Poland commission made a suggestion to the Politburo to utilize the fear harbored by "reactionaries" in Poland and by "international imperialism" that the USSR might appeal to force to resolve the problem.
In April, 1981 Andropov and Ustinov, who had been dispatched by Brezhnev to Brest, a border city between the USSR and Poland, forced Kania and Jaruzelski to sign a document to declare the introduction of martial law. On the other hand, in October of this year the leaders of the CPSU Politburo agreed not to send Soviet troops even if the martial law they had requested ended in failure. In the Politburo meeting held on December 10, a few days before the introduction of martial law in Poland, Andropov repeated this position, criticizing Jaruzelski who was counting on military aid from the USSR if the worst happened.
This study illustrated that the Politburo commissions played an important role in effecting a "collective leadership" in USSR foreign policy while Brezhnev's health was on the decline. Whether they were organized and played a similar role in other periods of Soviet history is another issue to be scrutinized further.

Full Text in Japanese