When was the peak of Soviet Military Power? (Cold War)

Maybe even later than that- the US went into a recession in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and during the first half of the 1980s median income growth in the Soviet Union was actually higher (and this was pretty much the worst period for the pre-Gorbachev soviet union). The outcome of the Cold War wasn’t a sure thing even at that point.

Well, in fact, we did; the 1980-81 grain embargo against the Soviet Union (as a response against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and various crackdowns in the Warsaw Pact ‘client states’) the US stopped selling grain and Canada restricted it, which harshened the already restricted supply of grain due to crop failures in the late 'Seventies. In response, the Soviet Union turned to the developing world in Africa and Asia (especially India), and started selling (rather than just providing) weapons in the Middle East, a tradition that started them on the path to being the world’s largest weapons dealer (in terms of total volume of weapons sold) for some time in the late 'Eighties and in the post-Soviet 'Nineties (later to be eclipsed by the PRC). However, the US, Canada, and Western Europe had a need for the high grade titanium ore for various strategic purposes. Trade was never been a large part of the Soviet economy in monetary figures, but it was critical for getting technology, manufactured goods, and needed perishables during times of low agricultural yield. The Soviet economy was faltering even before WWII and was never ‘successful’ in the sense that any European or North American democracy was, largely because of the corruption and incompetence in their theoretically optimized planned economy.

One shocking thing we learned after the fall of the Soviet Union was that while the Soviet military did have technical numerical superiority of conventional weapons, their battlefield survivability, the training of their largely conscript enlisted forces (and political appointments in their officer corps), and most significantly, their ability to maintain the extended logistical chain of fuel, food, and ammunition on an extended thrust through Europe was so poor that practically speaking they presented very little threat at all. Even the imposition of martial law in Poland while sustaining their invasion of Afghanistan tasked the Soviet Army to the breaking point; actually invading a hostile nation with the ability to respond with force-on-force was well beyond anything the Soviets could have plausibly hoped for. The scenario in Red Storm Rising, as conceived by Larry Bond and Tom Clancy from wargaming simulations turned out to be hopelessly optimistic for the Soviets; the truth is that the Red Army would have starved on its feet and wheels well within a month, and probably could have been cut off and beat down inside of two weeks.

The real ‘peak’ of practical Soviet military power was in WWII, when virtually the entire population of adult males were conscripted to fight the invading German forces. Since then, the Soviets lived and died on their reputation and their nuclear arsenal, which was inferior to that of the US in both size and capability until the early 'Seventies, Kennedy’s campaign plank of closing the supposed “missile gap” to the contrary.


True, but at other times the U.S. was sometimes willing to sell large quantities of grain at extremely generous terms. Nixon in particular offered trade terms so favorable that the Soviets were stunned and believed he had some kind of cunning plan. He sort of did have one: he wanted to ease tensions. We knew the Soviets were in dire straights, but rather than raking them over the coals gave them an easy out. Whether that was wise or not is another story, but it wouldn’t be the first time the United States used food as a diplomatic tool.

This is the one thing I question. As far as I can tell, the Soviets were desperately dependent on selling raw resources like oil and gold. While it’s true that in monetary terms, the value was low, I’ve never been sure if this actually reflected the economic reality given the USSR’s planned economy. That is, trade accounted for around 4% of their economy because the leadership said so. Since most of that trade occurred with other left-wing dictatorships with similar systems, the economic notation is effectively meaningless on both ends.

Because the grain farmers of the USA would have been really upset. And they’re voters.

And the giant agri-businesses (Cargill, ADM, etc.) would have been really upset. And they’re campaign contributors.

Did we ever sell them brains?