Commentary Magazine


The Cia and Russia

To the Editor:

I cannot praise too highly Lev Navrozov’s admirably researched and argued article, “What the CIA Knows About Russia” [September]. What he has written badly needed saying, and this article should be must reading for every member of Congress and every syndicated columnist and newspaper editorialist in this country.

In France, before World War II, fears expressed about the growing might of Hitler’s Wehrmacht were habitually brushed aside with the reassuring remark that “the French army is the finest in the world.” We all know what happened when that fatuous assertion was finally put to the test. Yet the same complacency is once again rampant among those, in Washington and elsewhere, who keep parroting that the United States is “the most powerful country in the world.”

The blunt fact of the matter is that the United States is no longer the most powerful nation in the world since we have lost our former superiority in the three vital fields of nuclear weapons, strategic aviation, and naval vessels. Our ever-shrinking superiority is now limited to aircraft carriers, which are not of decisive military significance in land wars, as was demonstrated in Vietnam.

How many Americans know that the USSR maintains a dozen airborne divisions, almost as many ready-to-go divisions as there are in the U.S. army? How many Americans realize that the USSR has already developed a formidable fleet of transport planes capable of airlifting six full divisions, complete with tanks and artillery, over thousands of miles in less than seventy-two hours? The Soviet Union already produces more weapons and has a greater manpower-mobilization potential than the United States, Great Britain, West Germany, and France combined—even though the population of these countries is close to 400 million, compared to slightly more than 260 million inhabitants of the USSR. And this military disparity, instead of shrinking, is relentlessly increasing.

Mr. Navrozov’s article is a somber warning that when nations lose the will to face the facts, they lose the will to survive.

Curtis Cate
Paris, France

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To the Editor:

Lev Navrozov has demonstrated the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to obtain and interpret useful information on the Soviet Union. The CIA’s retroactive doubling of estimates of Soviet defense spending for a recent fourteen-year period is perhaps the most alarming of the examples of misjudgment and incompetence he provides.

In two minor instances, however, I believe the examples Mr. Navrozov chooses lose impact as a result of his failure to clarify his evidence.

  1. In presenting the CIA’s and Senator Percy’s exchange and conclusions about hunger in China, Mr. Navrozov does not supply Miriam and Ivan D. London’s apparently very different conclusions. He implies that the Brooklyn College professors refute the CIA-Percy conclusions, but we cannot be sure since the Londons’ findings are not clearly stated.
  2. That the CIA could not determine whether riots took place in Kiev or Rostov may not prove its incompetence, since a “riot” has come to mean anything from a quickly-controlled outburst of a few people in a single spot (which the CIA might justifiably fail to detect) to a near revolution, as in Nicaragua. Mr. Navrozov should have been more specific about the “riot” the CIA did not discover.

Tom Shuford
Roslyn Heights, New York

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To the Editor:

In his important article, Lev Navrozov has drawn attention to the sorry state of Western expertise on the USSR and to the problem of obtaining objective and accurate estimates of the Soviet Union. Until this article appeared, any discussion of the inadequacy of Western knowledge in this field was virtually taboo.

Surely only critical analysis can improve the situation, and such analysis is all the more necessary since the questions Mr. Navrozov raises are far from being merely academic. The destiny of the United States and mankind critically depends on how these questions will be answered. . . .

One remark in conclusion. “Russia” is a multinational country in which the proportion of ethnic Russians has been decreasing; they now account for less than half the population. Therefore, to speak of the “Russians” is not only inaccurate geographically and politically, it also glosses over the multinational composition of the country and asserts the privileged position of ethnic Russians.

Frantishek Silnitsky
Elmhurst, New York

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To the Editor:

. . . Without going into detail to dispute Lev Navrozov’s investigative methods—which bear all the earmarks of the Soviet “scientific approach”—I would like to take exception to his sideswipes at a most erudite and respected scholar and writer on Soviet affairs: Harrison Salisbury.

If one were to place The Education of Lev Navrozov against Mr. Salisbury’s many serious and thoroughly researched books, one could only conclude that Mr. Navrozov’s education (through no fault of his own) has been deficient in that he has not made a closer study of Mr. Salisbury’s works. . . .

Misha Allen
Toronto, Canada

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Lev Navrozov writes:

To Curtis Cate’s tour de force I would add that the West needs sophisticated intelligence and expertise on the closed Soviet regime in any case, whether or not the latter is preparing world conquest. Free societies have to know about totalitarian regimes in order to spend their resources on defense and survival in the most effective way. Knowledge must precede any foreign policy, not to mention any arms agreement.

Tom Shuford is right. I ought to have mentioned at least the title of one of the articles by Miriam and Ivan D. London—for example, “The Other China: Hunger” (Worldview, No. 5, 1976). Similarly, I ought to have explained that in the Soviet regime not only a riot (any riot) but a strike, demonstration, or any group protest is a rare, extraordinary, much talked about, and long remembered event (even if seven persons participated in a demonstration and it was suppressed within a few minutes), since every participant in such group action is treated, ipso facto, as a criminal, usually to be deported. What makes the involvement really fearful, however, is that any kind of reprisal can be wrought on the “criminals,” and no one knows in advance what the reprisals will be. By these standards, the Rostov and Kiev riots were practically social cataclysms. No wonder the reverberations reached Moscow and were reported by Moscow correspondents. But the CIA knew nothing about these events, though Kiev and Rostov are open to foreigners.

I am grateful to Frantishek Silnitsky for his statement about the critical importance of having adequate knowledge of closed societies. I also appreciate his attention to terminology. I myself never use the word “Russians” the way many Westerners, including President Carter, use it, to denote both Soviet rulers and the more than 100 nations of Russia they rule. Nor do I use Soviet “propaganda packages” like “Soviet Union” or “USSR” (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Once Stalin was asked why he preferred such long names. He answered that each time a Westerner would refer to the object so named, he would have to repeat the whole propaganda package contained in the name. The word “Russia” does give undue prominence to ethnic Russians, especially in English where the two words have identical roots, but it is the lesser evil in this respect. It should be remembered that the full-fledged democracy which originated early in 1917 and was overthrown by Lenin’s coup at the end of the year was called “Russia,” with the implicit consent of all constituent nations.

Misha Allen does not really have to explain how highly respected, influential, and prolific Harrison Salisbury has been for at least thirty years as a “scholar and writer on Soviet affairs.” That is precisely why I chose Mr. Salisbury in order to show, using two examples from his books on Russia, that even outside the CIA, a very great deal of highly respected Western expertise is, at this juncture, dangerous, owing to its naive ethnocentrism. Mr. Allen does not even try to disprove a single word of these two examples of mine concerning Harrison Salisbury.

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