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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.4 (2002) 122-125

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Book Review

Voenno-promyshlennyi kompleks SSSR v gody kholodnoi voiny.
(Vtoraya polovina 40-kh—nachalo 60-kh godov)

I. V. Bystrova, Voenno-promyshlennyi kompleks SSSR v gody kholodnoi voiny. (Vtoraya polovina 40-kh—nachalo 60-kh godov). Moscow: Institut rossiiskoi istorii RAN, 2000. 359 pp.

Arguably, no other omission has so flawed our understanding of Soviet economic and political history as the gap in our knowledge of the military-industrial sector. Henry Roberts, one of the founders of Soviet studies at Columbia University after World War II, objected to "gap filling" history, preferring the "pole vault" approach instead. Most "gaps," he argued, exist because they are unimportant, and it is better to "pole vault over them to important questions." But if Roberts were still alive, he would surely recommend vaulting to the military-industrial gap, not over it. [End Page 122]

Now that scholars have gained access to archives in Russia, the gap has started to be filled. David Stone's study of the role of military industries in the First Five Year Plan, Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926-1933 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2000), Nikolai Simonov's Voenno-promyshlennyi kompleks SSSR v 1920-1950-e gody: Tempy ekonomicheskogo rosta, struktura, organi- zatsiya proizvodstva i upravlenie (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1996), and the collection edited by John Barber and Mark Harrison, The Soviet Defence-Industry Complex from Stalin to Khrushchev (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000) are perhaps the leading examples thus far. A Russian scholar, Irina Bystrova, has given us another contribution with her groundbreaking monograph on "the military-industrial complex of the USSR" after World War II. Although she was able to use a lot of archival material, she reports that many sources remain closed. According to Bystrova, access to Russian archives with documents concerning military industries varies from open to limited to nonexistent. To flesh out her own account, she turned to the memoirs of top military industrialists, including some books that are reasonably well known to interested Western scholars. Surprisingly, she also used declassified U.S. intelligence documents to show the distorted glimpses that American leaders had of the Soviet side of the arms race.

Bystrova divides her book into two parts. In the first she examines technological change and how the Soviet Union dealt with it, mainly in three areas—nuclear weapons, the means for delivering nuclear weapons (i.e., missiles and bombers), and radar technology applied primarily to air-defense systems. Thus, she ignores many topics, such as the modernization of ground forces, the navy, and communications. Treating all of them, of course, would have required more than one monograph, but let us hope she devotes another book to that task, especially because those areas are less explored in the West than the ones she examines. For example, David Holloway's treatment of the Soviet nuclear weapons program, Stalin and the Bomb (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), is more comprehensive than Bystrova's, although she provides additional details and different perspectives. Soviet missile programs have received more attention in the West as well, and Sergei Khrushchev's memoir of his father, recently published in English translation, adds a lengthy description of the missile programs from a parochial insider's viewpoint. Bystrova, however, offers a useful corrective to several of the younger Khrushchev's undocumented claims. Her book is also better than other sources in covering the budgeting, locations, and descriptions of industrial and testing facilities; the system of resource allocation; and the force reductions that Nikita Khrushchev made in the late 1950s.

The management structure for Soviet military industries was fairly well known in Western intelligence circles, and by the 1980s it was also discussed in several open sources. Bystrova mostly confirms what was known with her description of the "Voenno-Promyshlennaya Komissiya" (Military-Industrial Commission, abbreviated as VPK), but she also explains the postwar bureaucratic politics that produced the VPK. After the all-powerful State Committee...