The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword: The Rise and Fall of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000

By Van Nederveen, Gilles | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword: The Rise and Fall of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000


Van Nederveen, Gilles, Air & Space Power Journal


The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword: The Rise and Fall of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000 by Steven J. Zaloga. Smithsonian Institution Press (http://www.sipress.si.edu), 750 Ninth Street NW, Suite 4300, Washington, D.C. 20560-- 0950, 2002, 288 pages, $45.00 (hardcover).

This historical overview charts the highlights and pitfalls of Soviet weapons development. Well documented and utilizing new Russian source material, it casts light on Soviet and Russian secrets. During the Cold War, this book would have been a gold mine to Western intelligence agencies since system details and Soviet decision making regarding weapons procurement were shrouded in secrecy. Initially, Western readers will grapple with the code names and nomenclature of Soviet weapon systems-many do not even match the terms found in arms-control treaties sponsored by the Soviet Union. The practice of dual naming has led to some interesting crossovers. For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) designated a nuclear-attack submarine Akula, and the Soviets then named their largest missile-carrying submarine class Akula (which the West designated Typhoon). Missile variations are even harder to follow since the Soviet Defense Ministry and missile designers all used different terminology to describe the same missile or variant. However, Zaloga's introduction, appendixes, and a Soviet/NATO crossreference list serve as aids to the military-minded reader.

With the help of newly available sources, the book documents the threat perceptions that drove the Soviet Union to develop, build, and deploy nuclear forces, especially land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The Soviet air force, wary of rockets and missiles in the 1950s, lost manpower and three air armies to the newly formed Strategic Rocket Forces when the Communist Party leadership decided that rockets were better than bombers. The navy, overcoming technological hurdles, finally got submarine missiles in the 1960s, and Zaloga chronicles the difficulties encountered during this process.

Like Pavel Podvig's Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (2001), Zaloga's book covers Soviet developments in nuclear weaponry quite closely. Zaloga, however, has a few surprises and hints that more may come as additional Soviet-era archives become available. Particularly intriguing is his account of how the Soviet defense industry manipulated and influenced the Soviet defense minister and political leadership to obtain funding and production decisions. Continuing technical problems and deep xenophobic fears forced the Soviet Union to develop and field more nuclear systems than the West. …

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