The Collapse of the Soviet Military
William E. Odam. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1998. 523 pp. Notes. Bib. Index. $35.00 ($31.50).
Reviewed by Richard F. Staar
A West Point graduate with a Ph.D. from Columbia, Lieutenant General Odom retired as head of the National Security Agency after a distinguished military career. He is currently director of National Security Studies for the Hudson Institute as well as adjunct professor at Yale. His previous positions included assistant army attaché in Moscow, military assistant to the national security advisor in Washington, and chief of U.S. Army intelligence. The author's expertise is evident throughout this book, which represents the most authoritative source to date on the subject. Nevertheless, it is written in an elegant style that makes the text understandable to the "attentive public," as well as to the specialist. Superb documentation, often from Russian language sources, includes data elicited from numerous interviews with former Soviet civilian and military officials.
The author indicates that the first part of the book is based on a graduate seminar he had taught at Yale. This section includes chapters on the Soviet philosophy of war, the party-state military structure, armed forces manpower, the military-industrial complex, and military strategy. Odom then goes on to discuss Mikhail Gorbachev 's perestroika. In early December 1988 President Gorbachev announced the withdrawal by 1991 of six tank divisions from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany (50,000 men and 5,000 tanks).
However, military reform would not take hold, and the status quo remained even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor could the military-industrial complex (VPK) be transformed, because of economic stagnation. Attempts at limited conversion to production of civilian goods also failed. The author estimates that the size of the VPK was "not less than a fifth, perhaps more than 30% of GOP" (p. 235). According to academician Iurii V. Iaremenko—who stated at a 15 April 1993 conference in Washington, D.C., that about half of the Soviet economy (22% for production of weapons, plus 28% for investment in plal.1ts and machinery) had worked for the VPK—the foregoing estimates may have been on the low side.
In the meantime, Soviet armed forces, after a decade of war in Afghanistan, were directed to suppress domestic disorder successively in Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijian, and Lithuania. Regular as well as elite troops also became involved as "peace makers" against ethnic groups in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Central Asia, and Trans-Dniester in Moldova. Such interventions, according to the author, demoralized the officers who had been dispatched to restore law and order along the empire's peripheries.
Withdrawal of the Soviet military to the U.S.S.R. from East-Central Europe coincided with unilateral force reductions, some of which could be applied to equipment levels that were mandated by the December 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. It should also be noted that an attempt had been made to sabotage these obligations by Marshal Dmitri T. Iazov, Soviet Defense Minister, who boasted in Krasnaia zvezda (29 November 1990, p. 3) even before the treaty was signed that he had moved 75,450 main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery systems, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters—almost half the equipment located in the reduction area in mid-1988—beyond the Ural Mountains (i.e., outside the reduction area).
The unsuccessful coup of August 1991 resulted in Gorbachev losing much of his power, and he resigned before the end of that year. This drama is covered in detail by the author, who examines why the military did not attempt to seize power, and then he discusses the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the organization of the defense ministry in Russia. In all instances, Odom explains the how and why, as well as the who and what of each issue. Even speculation appears well-founded on the basis of analyzing multiple sources:
The author concludes with a historical perspective and evaluation of why the Soviet military collapsed and provides some perceptive in sights regarding Gorbachev's behavior. A most useful chronology, short biographical notes on important military and civilian personalities, comprehensive footnotes, and a detailed bibliography of both English and Russian language sources add to the value of this book.
The only recent book that can be compared with the magnificent tome being reviewed is Robert V. Barylski's The Soldier Under Gorbachev and Yeltsin (Transaction Publishers, 1998). Barylski limits his discussion to civil-military relations in a book which truly can be called a masterpiece. The volume under review shows the results of similar painstaking research. Policy makers in the U.S. government as well as academicians and students of the subject will learn much from reading these two volumes.
Dr. Staar is visiting professor of political science at Duquesne University and an associate of the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard. He is also author of The New Military in Russia (Naval Institute Press, 1996).
George V. Galdorisi and Kevin R. Vienna. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997. 229 pp. Appendices. Notes. Bib. index. $65.00 ($61.75).
Reviewed by Captain James Stavridis, U.S. Navy
This well-written volume is a superb compilation of law, history, public policy, and international relations as each relates to the world's oceans, with a specific focus on the 1982 Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of every serious mariner and naval strategist. Above all, it is a fascinating, well-organized chronology of the emerging ocean regime and an excellent survey of current ocean policy.
Building on a solid foundation of history and legal discussion concerning the 1982 Convention—which the United States declined to sign—the authors then do an outstanding job of explaining how international and domestic attitudes toward the treaty eventually led to acceptance and signature by the Clinton administration over a decade later in 1994.
They provide a particularly good explanation of the changes in the controversial deep seabed mining regime, based on the lowered international expectations for return on capital investment in the pursuit of minerals from the deep seabed. As the authors make clear, once the United States was able to neutralize concerns over deep seabed mining issues, the path was clear to move the treaty forward. The Clinton administration correctly realized the Convention represents U.S. interests because it provides for exclusive economic zones (200 nautical miles), restriction on territorial seas (12 nautical miles), freedom of navigation, and environmental regulation.
Beyond the Law of the Sea concludes with a discussion of several options for the formation of a more coherent U.S. national ocean policy. The authors discuss such ideas as the creation of a national commission to examine the issues of ocean governance; empowerment of a high-level group within the administration or an interagency task force; or the appointment of a national research council committee—among other ideas.
Overall, this is a volume that rewards the serious mariner who seeks to understand the fundamental regime governing the oceans upon which he or she sailed.
Captain Stavridis is the Executive Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy. He holds a PhD in international relations from Tufts University.
Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History
B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. Dallas, TX: Verity, 1998. 692 pp. Photos. Appendices. Index. $3 1.95 ($28.79).
Reviewed by Colonel W. Hays Parks, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)
B. G. Burkett is a Vietnam veteran. In 1986 he was invited to join in raising money for a Texas Vietnam memorial. To his chagrin, he found little support even from traditional supporters (including established veterans' groups) because, he discerned, Vietnam veterans were regarded as "losers." The popular image of the Vietnam veteran—an unkempt homeless person wearing a tattered camouflage outfit, admitting to wartime atrocities—was not conducive to charitable donations. Burkett was frustrated by and curious about the image that surrounded the Vietnam veteran. His curiosity led to more than a decade of research. Combining with award-winning journalist Glenna Whitley, he has produced a book that thoroughly refutes this negative image while exposing the role the media and Hollywood played in creating it.
Chapter three is worth the price of the book alone. It destroys many of the myths about Vietnam, such as that the war was fought by unwilling, draftee teenagers (in fact, the average age of those killed was 22.8 years, volunteers accounted for 77% of Vietnam combat deaths, and only 101 18-year-old draftees died), most of whom were high school drop outs (in fact, 80% of those who served in Vietnam were high school graduates, compared to 45% of those who served in the military during World War II). Proportionately, three times as many college graduates served in Vietnam as in World War II. Nor, as commonly claimed, was it a class war. While 30% of Vietnam casualties came from the lowest third of the income range, 26% came from the highest third. The chapter refutes similar myths with regard to drug use, desertion, suicide rates, and post-Vietnam unemployment.
This chapter also serves as a foundation for one of the book's main points: that the homeless person or a person charged with a crime who blames his condition or act on Vietnam service in all likelihood never served in the military—much less Vietnam. Similarly, there are many claims of decorated status, usually from being in special operations units engaged in "illegal covert operations." In each case the claimant has gotten away with his or her claim because no court or member of the media bothered to verify the claim. It is here that Burkett's tenacity has borne major fruit:
Dan Gisel appeared in an Army Special Forces uniform wearing a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star to lecture annually to large audiences at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he described the 1965 defense of the Special Forces camp at Dong Xoai in which he allegedly participated. Burkett's research determined that Gisel was never in the Special Forces, had not received the Distinguished Service Cross or Silver Star, and at the time of the battle at Dong Xoai was a military policeman in Japan. Burkett's efforts led to a 20120 segment in which Gisel's fraud was disclosed. University officials never thought it necessary to verify his credentials.
Larry Cable, popular professor at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Special Operations School, and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, based his lectures in part on his participation in a CIA-backed "covert paramilitary unit" during his 1965-66 tour as a Marine in Vietnam. Cable abruptly resigned from his teaching positions and disappeared when Burkett's research determined there was no record of Cable's military service.
Following a 60 Minutes segment in which convicted murderer Joe Yandle claimed that flashbacks to his Vietnam service as a Marine rifleman at Khe Sanh led him to a life of drugs and crime, Massachusetts governor William Weld reluctantly yielded to public pressure and commuted Yandle's sentence. Burkett determined that Yandle was sent overseas more than six months after the battle of Khe Sanh ended, and that he served as a supply administration clerk in Okinawa rather than in combat. Yandle is in jail, awaiting possible return to prison.
Burkett and Whitley have produced a well-researched, highly readable book. Copious appendices fully document their prodigious study. When major publishers declined to publish Stolen Valor, Burkett published it privately. Police departments regularly rely on his work, and his efforts have been praised by Colonel Harry Summers, and former Marine and former Secretary of the Navy James Webb, among many others. Their praise is merited.
Colonel Parks, 1990 Naval Institute Author of the Year, served in combat and staff positions with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam in 1968-69.