from our internal discussions. I recently remarked to Edward that for much of the US government’s foreign policy apparatus, Russia is still Not Europe. This view is a legacy (still) of the Cold War period in which most of the decision-makers and working-level staff were trained and gained experience. It shapes basic reflexes toward Europe and the post-Soviet space, and knowing the background may at some level help outsiders understand this or that about official US approaches. (There are of course many levels of complexity, not least Congressional politics, commercial interests and ethnically based politicking, but this is meant to be a brief note.)
Back in the day, the State Department had one bureau for democratic Western Europe and one for communist Eastern Europe. After 1989, and particularly after 1991, this setup made less sense. Change was slow, and contested. Putting, say, Poland into the Western Europe bureau reflected the changes there, but knowledge of conditions during the communist period was (and is) essential to understanding the country’s politics today. And commonalities among the post-communist countries are still significant enough to justify some policy attention.
Several shifts were made during the Clinton administration, but no truly satisfactory approach emerged. With Strobe Talbott, a genuine expert on the USSR, close to the president and a strong career ambassador in Moscow, the bureaucratic uncertainty was less troublesome.
Now, the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs covers the whole shebang. The title is a euphemism for “Europe plus the former Soviet Union” and means that Iceland to Kamchatka and, in terms of wealth, Switzerland to Kyrgyzstan fall under the same part of the State Department. So what you have now are people with something like specialization in communist or post-communist states coexisting with people who have come up through the ranks dealing with EU-type problems.
Incidentally, the peculiarity is likely to persist. The academic attention given to the Soviet Union means that there are a fair number of tenured faculty in the field, and that university departments tend to reproduce the former division of Europe. Russia continues to be studied out of proportion to its importance; Central Europe is often an odd off-shoot, uneasily coexisting in places where it is clear it used to be a subset of Soviet studies but now ought to be more affiliated with Western Europe/EU studies.