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The Collapse of the Soviet Military

The Collapse of the Soviet Military

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 544
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    The Collapse of the Soviet Military
    Book Description:

    One of the great surprises in modern military history is the collapse of the Soviet Armed Forces in 1991-along with the party-state with which it was inextricably intertwined. In this important book, a distinguished United States Army officer and scholar traces the rise and fall of the Soviet military, arguing that it had a far greater impact on Soviet politics and economic development than was perceived in the West.General William E. Odom asserts that Gorbachev saw that dramatically shrinking the military and the military-industrial sector of the economy was essential for fully implementing perestroika and that his efforts to do this led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Odom enhances his account with interviews with key actors in the Soviet Union before, during, and after the collapse. He describes the condition of the Soviet military during the mid-1980s and explains how it became what it was-its organizational structures, manpower policies, and military-industrial arrangements. He then moves to the dramatic events that led to its destruction, taking us to the most secret circles of Soviet policy making, as well as describing the public debates, factional struggles in the new parliament, and street combat as army units tried to repress the political forces unleashed by glasnost. Odom shows that just as the military was the ultimate source of stability for the multinational Soviet state, the communist ideology justified the military's priority claim on the economy. When Gorbachev tried to shift resources from the military to the civilian sector to overcome economic stagnation, he had to revise the official ideology in order to justify removing the military from its central place. Paralyzed by corruption, mistrust, and public disillusionment, the military was unable and unwilling to intervene against either Gorbachev's perestroika or Yeltsin's dissolution of the Soviet Union.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14551-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xi)

    In a mere six years, the world’s largest and arguably most powerful military melted like the spring ice in Russia’s arctic rivers as it breaks up, drifts in floes, and slowly disappears. The Soviet military was not destroyed by invading armies. It did not attempt to seize political power from the disintegrating Communist Party and Soviet state, not even as a desperate act of self-preservation. Nor did it launch a foreign war to rally domestic support for the imperiled regime. Sitting on the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world, it made no threats to use them. Instead, the Soviet...

  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  7. ONE The Soviet Philosophy of War
    (pp. 1-15)

    Few issues divided Western observers as sharply during the Cold War as how to explain the intellectual basis of Soviet military thought. Opinion varied from an overly mechanistic view that Marxism-Leninism explained almost everything to an excessively ethnocentric view that it explained nothing. The character of modern military technology, in this latter view, removed the ideological factor; moreover, Soviet military forces could be explained primarily as a reaction to U.S. military programs. A third view, a “political culture” explanation, was occasionally invoked to explain Soviet behavior that was inconsistent with the second view: frequent foreign invasions over the centuries had...

  8. TWO Party, State, and Military Structure
    (pp. 16-37)

    Formal structures constrain, regularize, and to some extent determine the policy making of governments, militaries, and business corporations. Understanding them is analogous to knowing the rules for football, baseball, or cricket. This is especially true for comprehending Gorbachev’s military policies. A leader asserting his own free will in policy making—and Gorbachev certainly asserted his in surprising ways—can confound predictions of his policy choices, but his capacity to implement radically new policies is critically limited by the institutional context in which he operates. A central question, therefore, is how organizational structure both enabled and constrained Gorbachev.

    Figure i provides...

  9. THREE How the Military Was Manned
    (pp. 38-48)

    The unique way the Red Army manned its forces goes far in explaining how it won both the Russian civil war and World War II.¹ Manpower politics also goes far in explaining the Soviet military’s collapse. By the 1980s, it had become the military’s Achilles’ heal.

    The Soviet Armed Forces were nearly six million strong in 1985, larger than any other military in the world.² Because all males were subject to military service until they reached age fifty, an estimated twenty-five million reserves were available for wartime mobilization.³ In sum, the trained military manpower base was large, very large. As...

  10. FOUR The Permanent War Economy
    (pp. 49-64)

    The military-industrial sector was part of the Soviet military iceberg, largely concealed below the bureaucratic waters of military secrecy but a weighty factor in any calculation to alter military policy. It was much larger than generally realized in the West, notwithstanding the large efforts devoted by Western intelligence services and scholars to estimating its size.¹ The well-known large quantity of weaponry and matériel it was producing, however, had long revealed its enormity. Table i provides a conservative estimate of the Soviet military’s “order of battle” for weapons and major equipment items in 1985–86, and although it makes no distinctions...

  11. FIVE Military Strategy
    (pp. 65-87)

    Peaceful coexistence” was the Soviet grand strategy for advancing the socialist revolution from the early 1920s and into the 1930s. It was dropped by Stalin as World War II approached, revived by Khrushchev in the mid-1950s, written into the Third Party Program in 1961, and retained right up until Gorbachev’s time. Soviet military strategy was designed to support it. Although military strategy is concerned with the conduct of war, it also involves peacetime uses of military power for political influence, as well as arms control negotiations. We therefore must look at all three components.

    A country’s initial wartime strategy is...

  12. SIX Deciding to Change Course
    (pp. 88-117)

    Gorbachev took the fateful decision to reverse seven decades of Soviet military policy cautiously, almost by stealth, as a necessary step for political and economic change. There was no clearly developed credo or manifesto for general reform behind which a coalition of political forces had been mobilized. Most of the senior party leaders understood that a change in military policy was necessary, but they apparently never discussed the details, or even the broad outlines, during the first years of Gorbachev’s rule. And not surprisingly. The military question could not initially be analyzed in this way without raising basic questions about...

  13. SEVEN Defensive Doctrine and Arms Reductions
    (pp. 118-146)

    The Rust flight affair made it relatively easy for Gorbachev to purge the senior military ranks. Cutting forces and armaments production was another matter indeed, requiring skill not unlike that of a cat enticing mice from their hole, but cat-and-mouse games could not go on indefinitely if real progress was to be made.¹ At some point Gorbachev either had to drop the cozy half-truths about his real intentions or give up the economic strategy of major shifts of resources from the military to civilian sector. He eventually made the choice before the United Nations in December 1988 by announcing a...

  14. EIGHT Glasnost and the Public Debate
    (pp. 147-172)

    The INF treaty could have been fully implemented without significant change in overall Soviet force structure. Reducing manpower by 500,000 (from a total of about 5.2 million) personnel and cutting 10,000 tanks (from 53,000), 8,500 artillery systems (from 29,000), 800 combat aircraft (from about 4,880) was another matter, especially in light of the demobilization of six divisions in Eastern Europe and the withdrawal of 50,000 personnel.¹ The General Staff could no longer pretend that “new thinking” was only for Western consumption. It had to act.

    Gorbachev counted on his political reforms to help force the military to respond to his...

  15. NINE Legislating Military Reform
    (pp. 173-202)

    Gorbachev’s political reforms in 1989 left unchanged all of the “executive branch” structures described earlier. Although he added a “presidency” to the executive a year later, his first and most significant change was in the legislative branch, where he replaced the old Supreme Soviet with a new one. It quickly became a forum for several political forces newly unleashed by glasnost and by genuine multicandidate, competitive elections that chose its members. Some members made valiant efforts to shape military policy, but they eventually failed, mainly because of the structural nature of the political reform, which reflected the ambiguities of Gorbachev’s...

  16. TEN The Intractable Party-Military Connection
    (pp. 203-222)

    When Gorbachev took the path of political reform toward a “law-based society,” it became necessary to remove the Communist Party from its “leading role” not only as the rule maker in the Soviet political system but also as the rule implementer. This involved breaking the grip of the party’s regional and local committees and secretaries on all the state executive and judicial structures, both economic and noneconomic. Shakhnazarov, it will be recalled, noted the inconsistency of creating the presidency and the new legislature at the center while failing to make analogous organizational changes at the regional levels of government. Radical...

  17. ELEVEN The Intractable Military-Industrial Sector
    (pp. 223-243)

    Cutting back military forces, as Gorbachev knew, was difficult: reducing the military-industrial sector, he discovered, was close to impossible. The obstacles presented by the VPK in particular and the command economy in general have already been elaborated, but the three main impediments bear review: First, the military-industrial sector was very large, much larger than even the highest Western estimate. Second, ideological precepts gave both the military industrialists and the military consumers a powerful justification for first-priority claim on all economic resources as long as the worldwide victory of the working-class revolution was incomplete. Third, the command economy was essentially a...

  18. TWELVE The Army and Maintaining Domestic Order
    (pp. 244-271)

    During the entire post-1945 period, the Soviet military conducted combat operations almost exclusively against peoples inside the socialist camp. True, Soviet pilots flew combat missions for Egypt, Soviet air force and air defense units fought in the Korean War, and Soviet military advisers participated in the war in Vietnam and a few other Third World conflicts. But the major deployments of Soviet military units in combat operations—some of them quite large—were dedicated to the maintenance of communist parties’ rule in countries where they already held power. A massive Soviet military operation, in more than one hundred cities and...

  19. THIRTEEN From Force Reductions to Disintegration
    (pp. 272-304)

    When the army of an empire can no longer recruit effectively, the regime itself is in danger. The Soviet empire crossed that threshold in 1989–91. As it broke apart, so did the Soviet Armed Forces. Only their Russian core managed to survive in a weakened and decayed state as the armed forces of the Russian Federation.

    In 1985 the Soviet Armed Forces had about 5.3 million men under arms.¹ By 1990 the number had reportedly declined to 3.99 million.² With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the residual Soviet Armed Forces belonging to the Russian Federation were 2.72 million...

  20. FOURTEEN The August Crisis
    (pp. 305-346)

    The so-called State Committee for the State of Emergency in the USSR (GKChP) opened the last act in the drama of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The generals might have saved it, but they did not. Failing to change the course of history by acting collectively to storm the White House, they changed the course of history by acting individually to open the doors of power to Yeltsin.

    On 18 August, Gennadii Yanaev, Valentin Pavlov, and Oleg Baklanov signed “The Statement by the Soviet Leadership,” citing “the impossibility, owing to his state of health, of Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev fulfilling...

  21. FIFTEEN Illusions of Another Chance
    (pp. 347-374)

    The Soviet military would last only four more months. Its commands, staffs, formations, and other components would endure several months longer in an ambiguous status, but the Soviet military formally ceased to exist at the end of the last hour of the last day of 1991. On the first day of 1992, it was stateless, sure neither of its name nor to what political authority it owed allegiance. But in the days and weeks after the August crisis its leaders showed no awareness of its imminent demise.

    Two parallel processes characterized life in the MoD and the General Staff during...

  22. SIXTEEN The Illusion of the CIS Armed Forces
    (pp. 375-387)

    Pretenses that the Soviet Armed Forces would survive with only a change in name continued for another year and a half. President Yeltsin had promised that the CIS would have a unified military, and Marshal Shaposhnikov was determined to see that it did. By March 1992 most officers’ illusions about this goal were rapidly evaporating, but Shaposhnikov maintained his own until mid-1993, when Yeltsin asked him to step down as the commander in chief of the CIS Armed Forces and take a position as secretary of the Russian Security Council.¹ By that time, a Russian ministry of defense had been...

  23. Conclusion
    (pp. 388-404)

    In the opening pages of this study, two questions were posed to guide us through the saga of the Soviet military’s demise—how and why did it happen? A prior question had to be answered before starting on that journey—whatwasthe Soviet military? More specifically, what was distinctive or unique about it, compared with Western militaries defending against it? Answers to all three questions should now be apparent. Some critical summing up, nevertheless, is necessary, not only to bring those answers into sharper focus and prevent them from being lost in the vast details of the story, but...

  24. Chronology
    (pp. 405-412)
  25. Biographical Reference
    (pp. 413-420)
  26. Notes
    (pp. 421-478)
  27. Bibliography
    (pp. 479-498)
  28. Index
    (pp. 499-523)