Harvard University Press
The conflict in Afghanistan looms large in the collective consciousness of Americans. What has the United States achieved, and how will it withdraw without sacrificing those gains? The Soviet Union confronted these same questions in the 1980s, and Artemy Kalinovsky’s history of the USSR’s nine-year struggle to extricate itself from Afghanistan and bring its troops home provides a sobering perspective on exit options in the region.
What makes Kalinovsky’s intense account both timely and important is its focus not on motives for initiating the conflict but on the factors that prevented the Soviet leadership from ending a demoralizing war. Why did the USSR linger for so long, given that key elites recognized the blunder of the mission shortly after the initial deployment?
Newly available archival material, supplemented by interviews with major actors, allows Kalinovsky to reconstruct the fierce debates among Soviet diplomats, KGB officials, the Red Army, and top Politburo figures. The fear that withdrawal would diminish the USSR’s status as leader of the Third World is palpable in these disagreements, as are the competing interests of Afghan factions and the Soviet Union’s superpower rival in the West. This book challenges many widely held views about the actual costs of the conflict to the Soviet leadership, and its findings illuminate the Cold War context of a military engagement that went very wrong, for much too long.
Why did the USSR linger so long in Afghanistan? What makes this account of the Soviet-Afghan conflict both timely and important is its focus on the factors that prevented the Soviet leadership from ending a demoralizing and costly war and on the long-term consequences for the Soviet Union and the region.Book News
Asking a question of both historical and contemporary significance, Kalinovsky (U. of Amsterdam), wonders why it took the Soviet Union so long to bring its troops home from Afghanistan even as many within the Soviet leadership quickly came to see the harm to accruing to the Soviet Union because of the invasion and occupation. His analysis is primarily a study of Soviet decision-making, exploring the impact of ideology, political legacies, patron-client relations, superpower diplomacy, and bureaucratic politics on elite decisions about the Afghan war. He identifies four key paradigms as helping to determine the slow pace of disengagement: the Soviet Union's legitimizing self-image as a defender of the third world against imperialism, Soviet confidence that it could transform the political-economy of Afghanistan and thus stabilize the Afghan client government, failures of institutional coordination (particularly between the Soviet military and the KGB) that allowed Afghan clients to manipulate Moscow, and high levels of Cold War tensions with the United States that precluded a diplomatic settlement in light of US support for the anti-Soviet mujahedeen. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)