Friday book # 40: Inside the Soviet Army

This week we have yet another book by Viktor Suvorov – it’s the sort of stuff I used to read back when I was a young, impressionable army officer in the dying stages of the Cold War. Opening it up yesterday for the first time in many years, I discovered that it is dedicated to Andrei  Andreevich Vlasov. Hmm…

soviet-army

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11 thoughts on “Friday book # 40: Inside the Soviet Army”

  1. “I discovered that it is dedicated to Andrei Andreevich Vlasov. Hmm…”

    No surprise here. After all (following the logic of the so-called “Russian liberals” and nationalists) “he didn’t kill Russians – only Soviets” (c). And anyone who was against “Soviets” is de-facto a Good Guy, and Friend of the Freedom.

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    1. “Rather as if an American author were to dedicate a book to Robert E. Lee… or a British one to Prince Rupert of the Rhine.”

      Not even close as an analogy. More correct analogy would be an ex-CIA/MI6 agent defecting to China and didicating his book to Benedict Arnold/Sir Oswald Mosley.

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      1. Arnold would probably be a closer analogy than Mosley – Mosley was a fascist, but not actually, as far as I know, a traitor. Vlasov, by contrast, was a traitor but not a fascist.

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      2. “Vlasov, by contrast, was a traitor but not a fascist.”

        Why, this obviously absolves him of all guilt, right?

        Okay, how about instead dedicating this supposed work to the brave people commanding the Legion Freies Indien, e.g. to Subhas Chandra Bose.

        Only he was Indian. So, there is always will be a lot of apologists for him.

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  2. I remember reading that one too, back in 1983 when I also was a young impressionable Army officer. I didn’t find a copy of his “The Liberators” until quite a while later.

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  3. Paul,

    There is an interesting figure called Robin Ramsay, who for many years has edited a magazine called ‘The Lobster’, which deals with the intelligence services.

    Back in 2000, he gave a lecture to a body entitled the ‘International Centre for Security Analysis’, which is attached to King’s College, London.

    In it, he talked about ‘Suvorov’:

    ‘In the last decade of the cold war the Soviet Union – the Soviet state – was portrayed in the West as a vast chaotic shambles in which nothing worked, all was cheap and second rate; a state which never managed to produce a decent refrigerator, and whose chosen motor car was the Lada, built on the cast-off assembly line from the Fiat factories. Oddly enough though, in the midst of this ocean of mediocrity there were apparently exceptions – oases of excellence. Somehow the Soviet military – and the Soviet intelligence services – had escaped the bureaucratic nightmare which was the Soviet command economy and had become the exception which proved the rule: they were efficient and a deadly threat to us. This never seemed likely to me and I was delighted to read the book by the pseudonymous Soviet defector Viktor Suvorov, called The Liberators: inside the Soviet Army. In The Liberators, published in London in 1981, Suvorov portrayed the Soviet armed forces I expected to find: a brutal, inefficient, cynical, farcical army of conscripts, skiving off at the first opportunity and doing their best to stay permanently smashed on anything they could smoke, drink or inject – the mirror image of wider Soviet society, in short; and about as threatening to NATO as the girl guides.

    ‘Alas for Suvorov, his handlers in the British (?) state did not seem happy with this portrayal of the Soviet armed forces and the next year he published – or put his name to – another book whose main title was the subtitle of his previous book: Inside the Soviet Army. In the year since The Liberators Mr Suvorov had experienced a dramatic change of memory and his second book presented the efficient, menacing, Red Army required by Western intelligence and military budgets. Suvorov subsequently wrote – or put his name to – a whole slew of books amplifying the Soviet menace in the 1980s. The range of his expertise was astonishing for a relatively junior officer…………. Flipping through some of those recently I was reminded of Derek Draper’s immortal response to the question, ‘Did you actually write your book New Labour’s First 100 Days?’ “Write it?” said Draper. “I didn’t even read it.”

    ‘File the Suvorov episode away as a dramatic example of the way host countries manipulate defectors; and remember his name the next time you read about the new “threats” facing NATO.’

    (See http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/articles/security.htm .)

    As it happens, I have read neither book, and for what little it is worth, I suspect that one may be as unreliable and misleading as the other.

    Actually, it was not so long after the ‘Liberators’ study was published that I came across the writings of the former head of the Soviet naval section of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Commander Michael MccGwire – to give him his naval title.

    At the time, he was working at the Brookings Institution – a very different place to what it is now – where he was a colleague of Ambassador Raymond Garthoff and Bruce Blair.

    As you of course know, historically in Britain the navy really was the ‘senior service’. In Russia, as in Germany, it was the army which had to deal with the challenges of fighting against adversaries of equally economic power and technological and intellectual sophistication, in a world where so many of the relevant ‘parameters’ were in constant flux.

    In Britain, this was not the case with the peacetime army, while it was with the navy. One of the effects of this was that, in both world wars, naval intelligence was really rather good. The wartime DNIs – William Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall, and John Godfrey – were perhaps the most formidable figures in British intelligence since Sir Francis Walsingham.

    A key part of this tradition was that a primary function of intelligence analysis is to get into an opponent’s head. That is how you defeat him – because you can read his thoughts, and he cannot read yours.

    It was out of this tradition that MccGwire came.

    But the effects were paradoxical. On the one hand – as a naval intelligence officer and staff planner – MccGwire had a great deal of professional respect for Soviet military planners.

    By contrast, he was inclined to regard NATO military planning as a kind of hopeless mess, in which different political and institutional pressures ended up creating a system where nothing made much sense, either from a professional military planner’s point of view or from a ‘grand strategic’ point of view.

    On the other – and bound up with this – MccGwire thought that Western conceptions of the ‘Soviet threat’ were largely bunkum.

    A central part of his polemic was directed against the familiar mantra ‘judge capabilities not intentions’.

    His objection to this was not that it was simply false. Rather, the problem was that it conflated two different kinds of problem, and two different kinds of analysis.

    One set of problems relates to prudent contingency planning for a possible war. Here, it is commonly perfectly reasonable to regard intentions as a secondary variable, and focus on capabilities.

    Another relates to assessing what an adversary is likely to do, and – crucially – how he is likely to respond to one’s own actions. And here, analysis of intentions is critical – not least because, without such understanding one cannot begin to assess the evidence about how an adversary interprets one’s own actions.

    What MccGwire – like Garthoff – had come to believe was that in fundamental respects Western understandings of the Cold War had been radically wrong from the start.

    Some time back, I found that the typescript of a paper he had finalised in July 1987, which he sent me at the time, which accurately anticipated the kind of liquidation of the contingency planning for a ‘blitzkrieg’ into Western Europe which then materialised, had surfaced on the net.
    The paper also in my view, critical to any serious thinking about the lessons of the Cold War.

    (See http://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/1987-800-05-McGwire.pdf .)

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