The academic debate about the end of the Cold War has reached an impasse. Realists draw on evidence of economic decline and external pressure to explain the Soviet Union's retrenchment. Constructivists emphasize ideational change and Mikhail Gorbachev's “new thinking” as the source of accommodation. Neither approach sufficiently accounts for the fact that many powerful Soviet institutions did not support Gorbachev's approach from early on, well before his decisions contributed to the disintegration of the country. Even so, Gorbachev persuaded influential people who disagreed with him to accept his policy proposals. William Riker's concept of heresthetics—the use of language to manipulate the political agenda—goes a long way toward explaining Gorbachev's success. Heresthetics could be a way to bridge the gap between realist and constructivist approaches to international relations.

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