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  • Perspectives on Unified Military Industries of the Soviet Bloc
  • Mark Harrison (bio) and Viktor Pál (bio)
Pál Germuska, Unified Military Industries of the Soviet Bloc: Hungary and the Division of Labor in Military Production. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015. xxi + 304 pp.

Pál Germuska, Unified Military Industries of the Soviet Bloc: Hungary and the Division of Labor in Military Production. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015. xxi + 304 pp.
Reviewed by Mark Harrison, University of Warwick (UK)

Pál Germuska is a historian of Communist-era Eastern Europe at the Hungarian Ministry of Defense and the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. His new book completes a major project of research into the coordination of the defense industries of the Soviet-bloc economies. This fascinating story adds substantially to our existing knowledge at the interface of two established literatures, one dealing with the history of the Soviet Union's defense industry, and the other with the structure and evolution of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), the Soviet-led counterpart to the Organization for European Economic Cooperation. Unified Military Industries of the Soviet Bloc is the first attempt to bridge these topics and fill in the gaps, making it an important contribution to scholarship.

The book is organized chronologically, with successive chapters that pursue the subject through four decades from the first days of CMEA to the collapse of Communism. Within each chapter is some thematic organization, usually on the lines of the changing structure and focus of CMEA.

The story is not easy to sum up. When history must be reconstructed from documents, scholars can adopt strict or loose constructions. Germuska is a strict constructionist; he does not stray far from the documentary record. For the reader this has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage of strict construction is that it enables the reader to become intimately familiar with the evidence base of the research: 40 years of records of secret meetings and reports that in various ways expressed the changing circumstances and agreements or disagreements of officials from different countries with overlapping but also sometimes conflicting beliefs, identities, and perceived interests. The [End Page 225] corresponding disadvantage of strict construction is that it complicates the task of synthesizing and generalizing conclusions.

Germuska suggests (p. xvii) that CMEA began as an expression of the Soviet Union's "imperial" domination over Eastern Europe but evolved toward a more "hegemonic" arrangement that increasingly accommodated the distinct interests of the East European member-states. In his view the story confirms the direction of evolution but also reveals its limits. Hungarian officials, Germuska argues, worked hard at military-industrial coordination through CMEA and contributed to the development of its working arrangements. CMEA was, in principle, a consensus-based organization, and to the extent that its officials took the need for consensus seriously they also helped to set limits on the power of any one member to dictate to others. Thus Hungary was able to pursue national economic advantage from cooperation through CMEA. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union continued to set limits on CMEA members' cooperation with one another and with outside powers. CMEA's evolution therefore remained incomplete, as Germuska notes, and the "imperial" outlook remained the basis of Soviet authority until the end.

What were the underlying obstacles to the multilateral harmony and consensus that CMEA officials sought to achieve? These were many. From the beginning to the end, the Soviet Union monopolized the most secret and most rapidly changing technologies such as nuclear weapons and advanced aircraft (pp. 59–60). The scope for multilateral harmonization was immediately restricted to the branches not reserved for Soviet industry. On the surface this should have eased the problem of multilateral coordination insofar as CMEA was saved from having to manage the most complex and unforeseeable developments. However, the obstacles to multilateralism did not stop there.

Another obstacle was secrecy. Even though the CMEA officials did not have to handle the most highly secret branches of technology, everything they did handle was still top secret. Soviet nervousness about information sharing meant that Soviet officials continually tried to narrow the channels of communications to bilateral dealing (p. 91).

The lack of a truly...