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Soviet military power, 1985, fourth edition.

Every year the Reagan Pentagon issues a widely distributed, glossy volume called Soviet Military Power, which suggests where Soviet forces are in relation to ours, and, by inference, why we need more hardware to match them.

Although we could use a good East-West force comparison, this book misses the mark. Soviet Military Power fails because of distortions and irrelevancies and because it does not explain the significance of the facts and trends presented. Charts and graphs are often exaggerated and inconsistent with the text. Paradoxically, these distortions take the form of three favorite Soviet techniques--Gigantomania (bigger/more is better), socialist realism (treating the future as if it were already here), and selective comparison.

In the Gigantomania category, charts showing strategic missiles, space launch vehicles, and submarines are calibrated by height or length, characteristics that bear little relationship to system performance. Nevertheless, one is repeatedly left with the freudian impression that somehow their systems are always bigger than ours. This presumably leads to missile envy and to MX acquisition.

Most foolish is the book's treatment of the new typhoon class Soviet ballistic missile submarine, which is described as the world's largest, and one-third larger than our latest, the Ohio class Trident boat. You must look carefully at the text to discover that the Ohio is actually the far more capable craft, with solid-fueled missiles rather than liquid, four more missile tubes, and at least ten MIRVs per boat. In the Typhoon case, size is a disadvantage. A larger boat needs bigger and noisier engines, thus making it easier to find and destroy.

The socialist realism tendency becomes apparent when the reader must resort to footnotes to discover that the Soviet medium and heavy space vehicles and reusable space plane, included on a chart of "Space Launch Vehicles," do not really exist. Rather, they are in the "final stages of development," in contrast to the U.S. shuttle, which has been up and flying for years. Our shuttle, by the way, appears nowhere in the book.

Most curious is the book's internally contradictory treatment of the Soviet effort to build laser weapons for strategic defense. Either the planned Soviet system "could be operational by the late 1980s" or "testing of the components of the large-scale development system could begin in the 1990s" or "initial operational deployment is not likely in this century." Which is it?

Contradictions of this kind are unfortunate because of discrediting some of the information presented, Soviet Military Power raises questions about all of it. Soviet forces are large and capable enough without hype from the Pentagon. In short, Soviet Military Power tells us little about how Comrade Gorbachev's military resources actually compare with ours, or about what he could really do with them.
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Author:Hirschfeld, Thomas
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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