Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize

2010 Citation Recipient

Oscar Sánchez-Sibony

The Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize, established in 2006 and sponsored by the KAT Charitable Foundation, is awarded annually (if there is a distinguished submission) for an outstanding English-language doctoral dissertation in Soviet or Post-Soviet politics and history in the tradition practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen. The dissertation must be defended at an American or Canadian university and completed during the calendar year prior to the award.

Winner: Oscar Sánchez-Sibony, University of Chicago
Title: “Red Globalization: The Political Economy of Soviet Foreign Relations in the 1950s and 60s”

Oscar Sánchez-Sibony’s dissertation has a persuasively argued original thesis about the Soviet Union in the era of the Cold War that breaks new ground in several respects. It starts by asking a very basic but somehow generally overlooked question about the Soviet Union’s role in international affairs, namely why its imprint on the world economy was so small despite its superpower status. Departing from the bi-polar paradigm that has dominated the historical literature on the Cold War, it creatively employs the framework and insights offered by International Political Economy (IPE) to advance three key arguments:

Soviet trade and aid policies were driven for the most part by pragmatic considerations that responded to opportunities as they presented themselves within the prevailing market-dominated system of global economic exchanges. Soviet trade policy under Stalin was autarchic by accident rather than intent, and after Stalin’s death, Soviet authorities had no intention of undermining the American-led post-war system of international exchanges on which they were increasingly dependent and from which they were convinced the country benefited.

After some initial expectations that it could hold its own in exchanges of industrial goods with western developed economies, the USSR reverted to exchanges more reflective of a developing country, supplying raw materials in exchange for technical goods. From the standpoint of the recently decolonized and developing countries of the South, the USSR represented a useful alternative to acquiescing in the US-dominated liberal trade order.

As in so many other respects, the actual day-to-day handling of foreign trade was prone to all manner of inefficiencies, bureaucratic games, and divergence from central dictates, the result of which was very little if any synergies between trading partners.

These arguments are advanced on the basis of archival materials from central state and party organizations that initiated and oversaw foreign trade, but also the extensive but comparatively neglected published literature produced by western and other economic observers during the 1950s and ’60s, and analyses of economic development strategies of individual trading partners. The results are richly rewarding, challenging both Russianists and historians of the Cold War to reassess their assumptions about the nature and limits of the Soviet Union’s “powers of attraction and influence.” “Red Globalization” has all the promise of a truly outstanding first book.