The decline of the Soviet military: downsizing, fragmentation, and possible disintegration

by Edward L. Warner


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With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Armed Forces face radical downsizing and fragmentation and possible spontaneous disintegration. This paper, completed in mid-January 1992 for presentation at an Aspen Institute conference, discusses Soviet force cuts and reorganization under the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); the establishment of national forces by the CIS member states; the command, control, and storage of nuclear weapons; signs of military disintegration; and the declining military threat. The author concludes that the Soviet Armed Forces have no potential to project substantial conventional military power against the West; they will, however, remain capable of posing a serious nuclear threat, even to the United States. The greatest danger lies in the possibility that (1) the breakdown of central authority might create conditions that would allow disaffected military units to employ nuclear weapons without authorization, or (2) that civil war might lead to the use of such weapons.

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