Learning from the Cold War to prevent war with Russia today

Summary: Clinton has stocked her foreign policy team with advisors belligerent and reckless, eager for conflict with Russia – continuing Team Obama’s work. The military-industrial complex’s propaganda mills work to arouse fear and hatred of Russia, as  they did during the Cold War. Let’s learn from that history before we starting risk a terrible war. We were told mostly false stories about the Soviet Union. How accurate are those about Russia? {This updates my post from Oct 2009.}

“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”

— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about starting the Cold War. Truman did so in his famous speech on 12 March 1947. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place by James Warburg (he helped develop the US WWII propaganda programs).

Ministry of Truth



  1. “Exaggeration Of The Threat: Then & Now”.
  2. A look at the Soviet side of the Cold War
  3. Heinlein saw Russia’s long crash – in 1960.
  4. About the demographic collapse of Russia.
  5. Reforming the US intelligence apparatus.
  6. For More information.

(1) Exaggerating the Soviet threat

We can learn much about the Cold War being brewed today by reading about the first one. Histories of the CIA document its poor performance as an intelligence agency. While incompetence played a role, the CIA’s obedience to its political masters probably was more significant — driving the hyping of the Soviet Union’s capabilities and hostile intentions during the Cold War. For a summary see “Exaggeration Of The Threat: Then And Now” by Melvin A. Goodman in The Public Record, 14 September 2009 — Excerpt…

“A recently declassified study on Soviet intentions during the Cold War identifies significant failures in U.S. intelligence analysis on Soviet military intentions and demonstrates the constant exaggeration of the Soviet threat.

“The study, which was released last week by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, was prepared by a Pentagon contractor in 1995 that had access to former senior Soviet defense officials, military officers, and industrial specialists. It demonstrates the consistent U.S. exaggeration of Soviet “aggressiveness” and the failure to recognize Soviet fears of a U.S. first strike. The study begs serious questions about current U.S. exaggeration of “threats” emanating from Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

“In the 1980s, long after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signaled reduced growth in Soviet defense spending, the CIA produced a series of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) titled “Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Nuclear Conflict,” which concluded that the Soviet Union sought “superior capabilities to fight and win a nuclear war with the United States, and have been working to improve their chances of prevailing in such a conflict.”

“…The Pentagon study demonstrates that the Soviet military high command “understood the devastating consequences of nuclear war” and believed that the use of nuclear weapons had to be avoided at “all costs.” Nevertheless, in 1975, presidential chief of staff Dick Cheney and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld introduced a group of neoconservatives, led by Harvard professor Richard Pipes, to the CIA in order to make sure that future NIEs would falsely conclude that the Soviet Union rejected nuclear parity, were bent on fighting and winning a nuclear war, and were radically increasing their military spending.

“The neocons (known as Team B) and the CIA (Team A) then wrongly predicted a series of Soviet weapons developments that never took place, including directed energy weapons, mobile ABM systems, and anti-satellite capabilities. CIA deputy director Gates used this worst-case reasoning in a series of speeches to insinuate himself with CIA director Bill Casey and the Reagan administration.

“In view of the consistent exaggeration of the Soviet threat throughout the 1980s, when the USSR was on a glide path toward collapse, it is fair to speculate on current geopolitical situations that are far less threatening than our policy and intelligence experts assert.”

About the author

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.

For more about this propaganda attack on America by the neocons, see “Conservatives’ ‘Team B’ Revisionism“ by Matt Duss at ThinkProgress. While their conclusions were mostly wrong, the careers of “Team B” were supercharged. They went on to become senior executives of America. This is just one instance of our leader’s lying to us on The Big List of Lies by our Leaders. Post it everywhere to change America.

The Truth key

(2)  A look at the Soviet side of the Cold War

Here are a few excerpts from that 1995 study, taken from analysis by William Burr and Svetlana Savranskaya. Posted at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. They also link to the full documents.

Previously Classified Interviews with Former Soviet Officials Reveal U.S. Strategic Intelligence Failure Over Decades.

A 1995 Study Finds that U.S. Analysts Exaggerated Soviet Aggressiveness and Understated Moscow’s Fears of a U.S. First Strike.

“During a 1972 command post exercise, leaders of the Kremlin listened to a briefing on the results of a hypothetical war with the United States. A U.S. attack would kill 80 million Soviet citizens and destroy 85% of the country’s industrial capacity. According to the recollections of a Soviet general who was present, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev “trembled” when he was asked to push a button, asking Soviet defense minister Grechko “this is definitely an exercise?”

“This story appears in a recently released two-volume study on Soviet intentions, 1965-1985 prepared in 1995 by the Pentagon contractor BDM Corporation, published today for the first time by the National Security Archive. Based on an extraordinarily revealing series of interviews with former senior Soviet defense officials — “unhappy Cold Warriors” — during the final days of the Soviet Union, the BDM study puts Soviet nuclear policy in a fresh light by highlighting Soviet leaders’ recognition of the catastrophe of nuclear conflict, even while they supported preparations for fighting an unsurvivable war.

“BDM’s unique interview evidence with former Soviet military officers, military analysts, and industrial specialists, reproduced in volume 2 of the study, covers a wide range of strategic issues, including force levels and postures, targeting and war planning, weapons effects, and the role of defense industries. Using this new evidence, the BDM staffers compared it with mainly official and semi-official U.S. interpretations designed to explain Soviet strategic policy and decision-making during the Cold War. While the BDM analysts found that some interpretations of Soviet policy were consistent with the interview evidence (e.g., the Soviet interest in avoiding nuclear war and Moscow’s quest for superiority), they identified what they believed to be important failures of analysis, including…

(a) “[Erring] on the side of overestimating Soviet aggressiveness” and underestimated “the extent to which the Soviet leadership was deterred from using nuclear weapons.” Recent evidence from oral history sources supports this finding. The Soviet leadership of the 1960’s and 1970’s suffered from a strategic inferiority complex that supports its drive for parity with (or even superiority over) the United States. All of the strategic models developed by Soviet military experts had a defensive character and assumed a first strike by NATO. …

(b) “Seriously misjudg[ing] Soviet military intentions, which had the potential [to] mislead…U.S. decision makers in the event of an extreme crisis.” For example, the authors observed that the Soviet leadership did not rule out a preemptive strike option, even though U.S. officials came to downplay the “probability” of Soviet preemption. This misperception left open the possibility of U.S. action during a crisis that could invite a Soviet preemptive response and a nuclear catastrophe.

(c) “Serious[ly] misunderstanding …the Soviet decision-making process” by underestimating the “decisive influence exercised by the defense industry.” That the defense industrial complex, not the Soviet high command, played a key role in driving the quantitative arms buildup “led U.S. analysts to …exaggerate the aggressive intentions of the Soviets.”

Robert Heinlein

(3) It was obvious in 1960 to Heinlein

Robert and Virginia Heinlein visited Moscow in 1960 and discovered Russia’s population crash, then in the early stages. The CIA discovered this two decades later. Excerpt from Robert Heinlein’s Expanded Universe (1980):

“For many days we prowled Moskva — by car, by taxi, by subway, by bus, and on foot. Mrs. Heinlein, in her fluent Russian, go acquainted with many people — drivers, chambermaids, anyone. The Russians are delightful people, always happy to talk with visitors …She was able to ask personal questions by freely answering questions about us and showing warm interest in that person — not faked; she is a warm person. But buried in chitchat, she always learned these things. How old are you? Are you married? How many children do you have? How many brothers and sisters do yo have? What ages? How many nieces and nephews do you have?

“Put baldly, that sounds as offensive as a quiz by a Kinsey reporter. But it was not put baldly — e.g., “Oh, how lucky you are! Gospodin Heinlein and I didn’t meet until the Great Patriotic War …and we have no children although we wanted them. But we have lots of nieces and nephews.” Etc, etc. She often told more than she got but she accumulated the data she wanted, often without asking questions.

“One day we were seated on a park bench, back of the Kremlin and facing the Moskva River …{Virginia said} ‘I haven’t found even one family with more than 3 children. The average is less than 2. And they marry late. Robert, they aren’t even replacing themselves.'”

Trained analysts could have made much of this observation, but they were tasked with describing Russia’s great and growing power.. Population crashes start in the cities, whose fertility rate is usually less than that of rural areas. Moscow is the heart of Russia, and it’s likely the rot started there. By the 1990’s it had spread so that Russia’s total population began to decline.

Update: Heinlein got the right answer, but his reasoning was fallacious. See the details in Did Robert Heinlein in 1961 predict the fall of the Soviet Union?

(4) About the demographic collapse of Russia

Russia’s demographic collapse progressed beyond anything Heinlein imagined, as explained in “Demography and development in Russia“, a report by the UN Development Program, 28 April 2008 — Excerpt…

Russia is one of the few countries in the world where life expectancy has decreased in comparison to 1960s levels. Russia is behind developed countries in terms of life expectancy by 15-19 years for men and 7-12 years for women. … The Russian phenomenon of hypermortality comes to be observed primarily in working-age populations: compared to the majority of countries that have similar level of economic development, mortality in Russia is 3-5 times higher for men and twice as high for women.

(5) Articles about reforming the US intelligence apparatus

  1. The best history of the CIA: Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA).
  2. The Secret History – Can Leon Panetta move the C.I.A. forward without confronting its past?“, Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, 22 June 2009.
  3. The U.S. Intelligence Community and Foreign Policy: Getting Analysis Right“, Kenneth G. Lieberthal, Brookings Institute, September 2009.
  4. One More Feckless Study On Intelligence Reform“, Melvin A. Goodman, The Public Record, 17 September 2009 — Analysis of Lieberthal’s proposals.

(5) For more information

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5 thoughts on “Learning from the Cold War to prevent war with Russia today”

    1. Mike,

      This post is about the usual exaggerations given of foes’ intentions and capabilities. You mention the equally interesting question about excuses for intervention. RTP (see Wikipedia on its origin and evolution) is imo a fantastic success by the MIC, greatly expanding the opportunities for wars AND coopting the Left as allies.

      It’s the kind of innovation in political engineering that changes history.

      The idea is not new. The first I know of is Robert Heinlein’s “space patrol”. They can’t prevent wars, but they end them by destroying the aggressor. Although writing young adult science fiction, his stories recognized the problematic nature of the Patrol.

      Thank you for raising this. I’ll write a post about it.

    2. FM,

      Don’t get me wrong. This was a great article. It’s just interesting how quickly the neoliberals have moved from RTP to New Cold War in Syria.


      1. Mike,

        Your comment was on target and brilliant. Much appreciated. Amazing how quickly the Boomers on the Left have moved from “no war” peaceniks to global peace enforcers to active military interventionists — fantastic change in one evolution.

        Much as they have evolved in domestic policy. From protesting to say the work f**k in public to Puritans without the fancy dress, enforcing draconian standards for speech.

  1. Pingback: A Captain describes our broken military & how to fix it - Fabius Maximus website (blog) | Bible Prophecy In The Daily Headlines

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