The Collapse of the Soviet Military

William E. Odom

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March 11, 2000
544 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4"
ISBN: 9780300082715
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

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.

William E. Odom retired in 1988 as a lieutenant general in the United States Army and as director of the National Security Agency. He is currently director of national security studies at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct professor of political science at Yale University.

A selection of the History Book Club

"America’s premier expert on Soviet military affairs has produced a seminal work of far-reaching political and strategic importance. . . . Indispensable to an understanding not only of the current stage of the Russian military but also of the wider geostrategic implications of Russia’s current condition."—Zbigniew Brzezinski









"Comprehensive and scholarly, yet not pedantic. Leaders of our military establishment should add this book to their must-read pile, for it tells the story of how our once invincible enemy was brought to its knees, a caveat for any empire."—Christopher M. Stang, Boston Book Review

"A superb account of how one of the most powerful militaries in the world collapsed within a decade, like a dinosaur struck by a strange and mortal disease. In a remarkable synthesis of history and political science, Odom argues that observers of the Soviet Union have underestimated the importance of foolhardy decisions by Mikhail Gorbachev, which together with the system’s well-known long-term afflictions killed the U.S.S.R."—Elliot A Cohen, Foreign Affairs


"A subtle, profound, and authoritative assessment of the life and sudden death of the Soviet military by the former director of the National Security Agency. . . A careful, thoughtful, and outstanding contribution to the understanding of a tumultuous period.”—Kirkus Reviews


“William Odom has written the first major book on the collapse of the Soviet military. . . . Having spent much of his life countering the Soviet menace, he is now countering the creeping suspicion that, as he puts it, the Soviet military was all along ‘a paper tiger.’ What emerges from Odom’s account is a semi-acknowledged paradox: the Soviet Union was a mortal threat, the Soviet Union was a hopeless mess.”—Stephen Kotkin, New Republic

"Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency, makes extensive use of interviews with participants to offer the most convincing analysis to date of what happened to the Soviet military in its final years. . . . A well-written account."—Publishers Weekly

"Odom’s well-written account suggests that the Russian successor state is on a new path and that the military may eventually become guardians of a constitutional order."—Publishers Weekly



"A marvelous tombstone of a book. Set over the grave not only of the Soviet military, but of the Soviet empire, it is about much more than missiles and tanks. Here, the failure of a system of government is examined through a military prism, and it is high drama. This is an unexpectedly interesting and readable book, not least because the author, William E. Odom, is a former general who headed Army intelligence and then directed the National Security Agency. . . . A work of integrity and conviction, this book will be equally infuriating to apologists for Moscow and to conservatives desperate for a strategic threat."—Ralph Peters, Washington Monthly

"Far and away the most impressive treatment of the subject yet to appear. No other single volume rivals the thoroughness of Odom’s account or equals the complexity of his analysis. From beginning to end, the force of his argument challenges his readers to think in new ways about one of the most complex phenomena of modern times. . . . The book will be essential reading for everyone who wants to understand why America’s Cold War rival acted the way it did and what caused that opponent to become a colossus with feet of clay."—W. Bruce Lincoln, Washington Post

"General Odom has produced a well researched and masterfully organized guide to that process. It will be required reading in the study courses of America and Russia alike for decades to come."—Martin Sieff, Washington Times

“There is much interesting history in The Collapse of the Soviet Military.”Andrew Cockburn, Los Angeles Times

“[This book] is a superb and comprehensive study that will stand as a major pillar in support of a thorough understanding of the Gorbachev period and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It also provides needed perspective for the evaluation of the problems confronting the Russian military today.”—Walter Uhler, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A meticulously researched account. . . . Provocative and interesting read."—Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle

"This book is essential reading, not only for historians wishing to understand the events of the Gorbachev regime, but also for anyone who needs to make a serious estimate about how matters may develop in future."—James Wilson, Army Quarterly and Defence Journal


"William Odom has written a definitive history of the final years of the Soviet military organization. . . . Odom fills in a wealth of encyclopedic detail that will be of use to specialists as much as it is to the general reader. . . Both the clarity and comprehensiveness of Odom’s research and analysis make this book an outstanding reference source."— Political Science Quarterly

"[Odom’s] book has the advantage that he has had the opportunity to go back to Russia and talk with many of those who were involved in making some of the key decisions. It is this unique insight that provides the reader with one of the most thorough analysis available anywhere of the end of the Soviet Union."—Dale R. Herspring, Journal of Slavic Military Studies

“Odom has written an important book on the history of the Red Army, and those interested in the future of the Russian army in this time of troubles would be well advised to read it.”—Jacob W. Kipp, Naval War College Review

“This is likely to become the standard work on the military elements of the collapse of the Soviet Union.”—Michael Orr, International Affairs

The Collapse of the Soviet Military is the most comprehensive treatment yet of the Soviet military’s final years, and a worthy summary of Odom’s decades of research on the Soviet armed forces. Students of Soviet politics and history will find a great deal of value . . . in this impressive volume.”—Brian D. Taylor, Journal of Cold War Studies

“An invaluable, extraordinarily well-informed, and at times riveting account of the collapse of the whole soviet system and the armed forces that were at its core. . . . Remarkably vivid and detailed.”—Lawrence Freedman, International History Review

“This is . . . an important book on an important subject, and is unlikely to be surpassed until we have greater access to Russian archives on late Soviet period.”—Evan Mawdsley, Europe-Asia Studies

“This monumental book will stand as a major reference on the Soviet military system’s last decade. . . . An essential work on the period. . . . An essential work on the period.”—Robert V. Barylski, Slavic Review

“William E. Odom has written a superb book, one which not only deftly catalogues the collapse of the Soviet military, as the title suggests, but which masterfully unravels the tightly wound stranglehold of ideological confusion, organizational redundance and intrigue which finally choked the life out of the Soviet Union. . . . This is a book that scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, and the general public can make good use of, now and for a long time to come.”—Marcia A. Weigle, Review of Politics

“[The book] belongs on the shelf of every student of Soviet affairs and should be a standard text in courses on the Soviet Union and the cold war.”—Donald P. Steury, History

The Collapse of the Soviet Military is a marvelous tombstone of a book. Set over the grave not only of the Soviet military, but of the Soviet empire, it is about much more than missiles and tanks. Here, the failure of a system of government is examined through a military prism, and it is high drama.”—Ralph Peters, Washington Monthly

“Odom’s book . . . opinionated and . . . exciting—sees the dissolution of the Union as intimately linked to military collapse.”—John Lloyd, Financial Times

“A major contribution to understanding the collapse of not only the Soviet armed forces but also the Soviet Union itself.”—Journal of Political and Military Sociology

"Nowhere has the all-important 'military question’ pervading both Soviet and post-Soviet political life and socio-economic developments received such rigorous investigation, trenchant analysis and illuminating commentary as presented in The Collapse of the Soviet Military. Here is an end to supposed impenetrable mystery, the complete authoritative disclosure of the causes, course and consequences of Soviet military disintegration, the apparently inconceivable made convincingly comprehensible."—John Erickson, Emeritus Professor, Defence Studies, University of Edinburgh

Co-winner of the Shulman Prize given by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS)
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