[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Turnbull on Garthoff, 'Soviet Leaders and Intelligence: Assessing the American Adversary during the Cold War'

hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sun Dec 11 09:08:33 MST 2016

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: December 11, 2016 at 9:44:15 AM EST
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]:  Turnbull on Garthoff, 'Soviet Leaders and Intelligence: Assessing the American Adversary during the Cold War'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Raymond L. Garthoff.  Soviet Leaders and Intelligence: Assessing the
> American Adversary during the Cold War.  Washington DC  Georgetown
> University Press, 2015.  160 pp.  $26.95 (paper), ISBN
> 978-1-62616-229-7; $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-62616-228-0.
> Reviewed by Brian Turnbull (University of Kansas)
> Published on H-War (December, 2016)
> Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
> Raymond L. Garthoff sets out in this book to provide needed insight
> into the role intelligence played in Soviet leaders' decision making
> toward the United States throughout the Cold War. As a former
> ambassador to Bulgaria and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst,
> he is in a unique position to do so. His experience comes through
> with interesting anecdotal accounts of conversations with his Soviet
> counterparts, but does not form the empirical core of this work. The
> primary research for this book comes from intelligence and Cold War
> literature in both Russian and English. Many of the English works
> will be familiar to students of intelligence or national security
> studies. As a student of this literature myself, I have already read
> similar arguments and conclusions in other scholarship. Contrary to
> what the reader may initially expect from the title, intelligence
> played a minor role in influencing the perspectives and decisions of
> top Soviet leaders, and when intel did manage to gain an ear it was
> often counterproductive and even dangerous. Many factors created an
> environment where leadership disregarded or totally ignored the intel
> produced--a political environment that rejected or even punished
> views counter to the status quo, perspectives dominated by Soviet
> ideology, a focus on "active measures" and operations at the expense
> of analysis within the intelligence apparatus, and attempts by
> intelligence leaders to influence the political situation by
> modifying or suppressing intel.
> Garthoff takes a strategic perspective by focusing exclusively on the
> four primary general/first secretaries of the Soviet Union: Joseph
> Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev. A
> chapter is dedicated to each, with a chronological walk-through of
> how each leader's perspective shifted over time and how this shift
> altered the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United
> States. This approach lends a "Great Man" flavor to his argument that
> is further reinforced by the apparent lack of any real influence on
> their own decision making outside of their personal interpretation of
> events and first-hand experience with US leaders. While it is well
> established that general secretaries had an enormous, relatively
> unconstrained personal influence on Cold War relations between the
> two superpowers, the lack of any real analytical attempt to go beyond
> explaining this relationship in terms of the men involved takes this
> book down well-trodden avenues. The reader finishes the book wanting
> more explanation, particularly of the causal connection between the
> personal experiences of the Soviet leaders and the formation and
> modification of their perspectives. Garthoff takes us through the
> adaptation of perspectives to contemporary events, but we have to
> take his opinion for granted. More empirical support for these
> connections would have been enormously beneficial and would have
> provided valuable new information for the field. Admittedly, such
> information may be impossible to obtain. Garthoff couches many of his
> assertions in the biographies of these leaders, which may be the best
> available sources, but in turn this reliance relegates these aspects
> of the book to more of an analytical literature review.
> The historical walk-through approach results in the large majority of
> the book being dedicated to a straightforward historical progression
> of Soviet leadership, leaving little room for actually establishing
> the role of intelligence. Again this likely stems from the lack of
> real influence intelligence had in top leadership circles, but I
> finished the book still not having a detailed understanding of the
> relationship between Soviet leadership and the intelligence
> community. Garthoff does provide some nuggets, particularly with
> regard to the interaction between the KGB chairman Yuri Andropov and
> Brezhnev, which are interesting, but the work would have benefited
> from a greater focus on the intelligence apparatus. Instead, the near
> exclusive focus on leadership brings the analysis around to the intel
> world only on the rare occasion Soviet leadership interacted with the
> KGB or GRU (_Glavnoye razvedyvatel'noye upravleniye_,_ _or Main
> Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces),
> interactions that appear to have had no real effect. Garthoff does
> provide some insight into the counterproductive role played on
> occasion by the intelligence community, such as the continual
> exaggeration of American capabilities and threat, and even false
> alarms on impending nuclear attacks, which ironically may have been
> the most influence the intelligence apparatus ever had on decision
> making.
> The main conclusions that are drawn from this book are the surprising
> lack of good intel available to both Soviet and American leadership.
> Garthoff does provide a thorough account of the many failings by
> intel agencies on both sides to keep their leaders well informed on
> the adversary. He spends much less time discussing the American
> intelligence community, but the information he does offer may run
> counter to the initial understanding of many with regard to US intel
> capabilities during the Cold War. Finally, the most useful and novel
> conclusion presented by this book is his discussion of the early
> shift in Soviet thinking across much of its leadership to the pursuit
> of a relatively peaceful coexistence with the United States. My own
> understanding put the earliest real shift toward a less aggressive
> stance vis-à-vis the United States during the Brezhnev détente era,
> but Garthoff illustrates a substantial change in thinking as far back
> as Khrushchev. Furthermore, attempts by Soviet leaders to shift
> toward a more peaceful relationship were often thrown off track by
> aggressive posturing by American administrations, another facet that
> is often glossed over in the American intelligence literature. These
> conclusions are well supported and provide what appears to be
> Garthoff's main theme in this work. In fact, the reader would be
> better prepared if "intelligence" was left out of the title entirely,
> and the focus left on the Soviet leadership's assessment of the
> American adversary.
> Regardless, Garthoff provides a thorough description of key events
> within the Cold War and the influence of Soviet leadership on the
> progression of the USSR-US relationship in a concisely worded book
> that would be useful for those without a great deal of experience in
> intelligence or Cold War literature. For those better versed, many of
> the arguments in this work will be familiar, but the discussion of
> the genuine effort on the part of Soviet leadership in the pursuit of
> more peaceful relations between the two superpowers may be both novel
> and valuable.
> Citation: Brian Turnbull. Review of Garthoff, Raymond L., _Soviet
> Leaders and Intelligence: Assessing the American Adversary during the
> Cold War_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. December, 2016.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=45991
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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