Tom Gervasi, New York: Harper and Row 1986, 545pp
Since the collapse of the wartime alliance, the U.S./Soviet relationship has been defined in military terms. A belief in Soviet superiority is the reason given for Reagan's buildup. Tom Gervasi's new book, The Myth of Soviet Military Superiority, assesses the overall U.S.-Soviet force balance and helps readers determine who really is "ahead" in the arms race and what "ahead" means in 1986. It analyzes the accusations and assumptions upon which American defence policy, in particular the Reagan Administration's colossal armament program, is based by reviewing comprehensive data derived in the main from the government and armed forces themselves. Gervasi makes clear that if an imbalance does exist, it favors the United States and its NATO partners. But superiority in this lethal confrontation is largely meaningless. Both superpowers had long possessed nuclear weapons invulnerable to a first strike. This meant that each had the capability to inflict unacceptable levels of damage upon the other in retaliation for a first strike. No additional strategic forces had ever been able to change that fundamental fact. None in existence or contemplated held any promise of ever being able to change it, frequent though such promises were.
Gervasi is a former counter-intelligence officer and author of "Arsenal of Democracy," which details the enormous power of American arms. "Arsenal" is a terrific book but I was always frustrated by its suggestions of preponderant American strength, particularly in Europe, that weren't fully addressed. In his new book Gervasi supplies the background to which he had earlier only alluded.
"Knowledge," he writes, "is what our people need." To this end he doesn't oversimplify. Myth contains over 250 pages of notes and tables, a seemingly impossible handful for ordinary readers. Gervasi's prose, though, is clear and his text well argued and organized. Though intolerant of the ignorance and duplicity that distort popular writing in this area, he isn't shrill.
Successive sections illustrate the real objectives of military procurement and policy, show how support for these measures is established and maintained through selective and misleading use of complex information and then examine the most pervasive "myths" about military balance. These are the myths of Soviet strategic superiority in Europe and of overall conventional superiority. His analysis is supported by an exhaustive appraisal of Soviet capabilities. Gervasi concludes with a review of ancillary issues such as alleged treaty violations and verification.
The Myth of Soviet Military Superiority is a fine work. By detailing the falsehood of many commonly held beliefs about the U.S.-Soviet confrontation, it promotes a more realistic assessment of the relationship. This is all to the good. For both countries, coming to terms with the unassailable nature of their armed might is a precondition to the stable relationship for which their citizens yearn.