Inside the Soviet Alternate Universe

The Cold War's End and the Soviet Union's Fall Reappraised

By (author) Dick Combs Footnotes by Jack F. Matlock Jr.

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 August 2012

Length of book:

384 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271033563

Much ink has been spilled by scholars, journalists, and former government officials from both the United States and the Soviet Union in efforts to explain how the Cold War came to an end and the Soviet system collapsed. Yet little consensus has emerged regarding these historic events. In this unique contribution to the debate, Dick Combs brings his many years of experience as an academic researcher, policy analyst, and government insider to bear on these questions and finds the answer primarily in the destabilizing impact of Mikhail Gorbachev’s effort to modernize the Kremlin’s Stalinist mind-set.

Part I of the book sets the stage by affording the reader an “existential feel for the reality, including the psychological atmosphere, of Soviet communism” in everyday life as the author himself experienced it while serving as a young diplomat in the U.S. legation in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the late 1960s and later during eight years of diplomatic service at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Part II then builds on this direct exposure to the Soviet mind-set to develop an analytical perspective on the causes for the Cold War’s end and the USSR’s disintegration as arising “essentially from Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the regime’s official conception of governance” once the Stalinist fixation on international class struggle had proven no longer viable as a basic rationale for policy-making. Part III, finally, deploys this perspective to explain the unfolding of events that led to the ending of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet system, to reveal the relationship between the two, to point out the relevance of this explanation to current U.S. foreign policy, and to show how it can help us better understand what is happening in today’s Russia.

Dick Combs was by training and experience a leading analyst of Soviet doctrine and behavior within the U.S. from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. His book combines scholarly exegesis with historical narrative. It will interest anyone seeking to make sense of the sudden collapse of the Soviet state. Its account of decision-making and advocacy within the Department of State and the National Security Council is equally compelling. In short, Mr. Combs has made a significant contribution to the international history of the twentieth century.

—Richard H. Ullman, David K.E. Bruce Professor of International Affairs, Emeritus, Princeton University