In This Review
The Collapse of the Soviet Military

The Collapse of the Soviet Military

By William E. Odom

Yale University Press, 1998, 480 pp.

The ranks of soldier-scholar-spies are limited, and in the United States one of the foremost is Odom, a retired lieutenant general and chief of the National Security Agency who holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and directs national security programs at the Hudson Institute. He has written 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. Odom also explores the impact of the Afghanistan war, technological competition with the West, and the collapse of domestic morale at the end of the 1980s, describing how the Russian military's "brain" -- its general staff and intellectual organs -- remained intact even as its limbs succumbed to palsy. In a decade or two, access to more records may make a revision of this work necessary, but until then it will hold the field.