The Sacred Cause: Civil-Military Conflict over Soviet National Security, 1917-1992

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The Sacred Cause: Civil-Military Conflict over Soviet National Security, 1917-1992

By Thomas M. Nichols
Cornell University Press, 1993
259 pp. $32.50
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The subject is not new. The relationship between the Soviet military and the Soviet political class has been studied and disputed often before. Of the two basic schools-one that saw tension and conflict in the relationship and the other that insisted the underlying relationship was cozy and like-minded-Nichols chooses the first. His book has the merit of showing the pattern of disaffection and maneuvering on the part of military leaders throughout the history of the Soviet Union, all of which stands out more clearly when set against the ultimate contest in the Gorbachev era, a subject he treats at some length.

Nichols, however, does more than bolster the case of those who believe that Soviet officers have had their own view on matters of war and how to prepare and fight it, how to run the military, and how to judge the adversary and deal with him even in peacetime, and that they have often quarreled with politicians in trying to get their way. He subordinates all this to a more fundamental thesis: namely that the Soviet system unwittingly (through inventions like the notion of military doctrine) drew military leaders into politics after having successfully molded their minds according to the regime's ideology. The result was a military whose leadership had become ideologues (with party leaders the pragmatists) and, worse, a military up to its ears in the politics of defense and much of foreign policy. The author will be challenged on the thesis, first, because it is more asserted than demonstrated, and second, because he argues by extension that this is the dangerous nature of the military with which Yeltsin and the leaders of the other new states must contend.

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