The Military History of the Soviet Union

By Schwonek, Matthew R. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Military History of the Soviet Union


Schwonek, Matthew R., Air & Space Power Journal


The Military History of the Soviet Union edited by Robin Higham and Frederick W. Kagan. Palgrave Macmillan (http://www.palgrave-usa.com), 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010, 2002, 328 pages, $59.95.

Once a mystery to Western audiences, the military history of the Soviet Union has aroused great attention in recent years. Robin Higham and Frederick W. Kagan, leading experts on the Russian and Soviet armed forces, have taken a crack at synthesizing this new understanding in a handy one-volume military history of the Soviet Union that will delight enthusiasts and assist instructors. Companion to The Military History of Tsarist Russia, compiled by the same authors, this collection of 17 essays by leading experts constitutes a comprehensive military history of the Soviet Union-as opposed to a history of the Red Army, national-security policy, or civil-military relations. The authors have cast a broad net, considering politics, strategy, institutions, and campaigns from the military aspects of the Russian Civil War to the immediate post-Soviet period. Coming in for particular attention is the operational art, the subject of some of the book's best chapters. Two penetrating chapters contributed by Kagan effectively survey a burgeoning literature to offer some sensible thoughts on the rise of modern warfare doctrines in the 1920s and the subsequent atrophy of the military art on the eve of the Second World War. A particular theme is the outsized and baleful role of ideology, which significantly figured in the demise of prewar doctrines of maneuver warfare. Despite the terrible lesson of the Second World War, in which the operational art had to be relearned at great cost, the influence of ideology remained important. Scott McMichael cogently argues that political ideology hampered the Red Army in its development of a counterinsurgency doctrine for use in Afghanistan. This debilitating war left the development of Soviet doctrine and forces further crabbed, in that the lessons learned from Afghanistan were not regarded as an advanced course in small wars, but as instruction on dealing with internal threats. Chapters on the Cold War have real relevance for today's world and effectively cast a long shadow over a post-Soviet military already burdened, as widely reported in the press, by aging equipment as well as weak socioeconomic support. …

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