- From Détente to the Soviet Collapse: The Cold War from 1975 to 1991
Writing the history of very recent events is always a difficult task. Official documents and personal memoirs are not yet available, and actual facts become jumbled with our own, highly subjective and selective, recollections of those facts. Without the passage of time, it is difficult to gain an appropriate perspective or [End Page 624] seek at least a modicum of objectivity. Thus, writing recent history often requires a series of successive approximations, with each new journalistic or would-be historical account getting closer to a complete if still debatable explanation.
From Détente to the Soviet Collapse is a superb example of such a first approximation. It presents the collective papers of a conference held in 2005, only 15 to 20 years after the events it discusses. The historians, political scientists, and direct participants in these events give us a valuable snapshot of the post-Vietnam portion of the Cold War. Benjamin Lambeth, Conrad Crane, and Edward Marolda look at the renaissance of the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy, respectively, during the 1980s, including such once-familiar developments as Red Flag exercises, "The Big Five" army weapons acquisitions, and the 600 ship navy. Other participants evaluate the intelligence issues of the era, such as the "Team B" that produced a very pessimistic re-interpretation of Soviet weapons and intentions, or the difficulties faced by authors of the National Intelligence Estimates who attempted to evaluate the Soviets more fully during the 1980s. Allen Millett contrasts the differing paths of North and South Korea in the past two decades, while Chen Jiang and Li Xiaobing consider the long-term economic as well as political effects of Richard Nixon's decision to open relations with China. Dale Herspring provides his usual deft analysis of civil-military relations, in this case detailing how the East German Army accelerated the peaceful collapse of the German Democratic Republic by refusing to repress its own people.
These and other papers are a useful compilation of once-current events that have not yet been fully integrated into our understanding of history. Several decades from now, when our hindsight about the Cold War approaches 20/20, some of these papers may appear quaint or myopic. Overall, however, this collection is a good first step towards history for now, and a significant reference work for the future.
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