'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991
In comparison, the United States spent 13 percent of its GNP on defense at the height of the Korean War, 9 percent at the peak of the Vietnam War, 6 to 7 percent during the military buildup of the 1980s, and 42 percent during the maximum World War II mobilization during 1943 and 1944. The Soviet figure of one-third of GNP spent on defense during peacetime is truly staggering. As Soviet Academician Oleg Bogomolov stated in Moscow News, number 20 of 1990: "For decades we lived ... in conditions of a wartime economy."
Some estimates of Soviet military spending are even higher. In the March 26, 1992 issue of Izvestia, Russian presidential adviser Anatoly Rakitov stated:
The May 21, 1992 issue of the Washington Post reported Senator Bill Bradley's comment, after a recent trip to Russia and Ukraine, that, "In St. Petersburg, 70 percent of the people have jobs directly tied to the military. ...Nationwide, it's over 50 percent of the people."
For decades, Soviet leaders sought to deceive the world about the monumental extent of their military spending with a conciliatory disinformation campaign. Prior to Gorbachev, the disinformation was crude and simplistic. Until 1989, the Soviets claimed that they spent only a tiny amount on defense, which hardly varied from year to year. They presented only a single total figure for defense spending, with no further elaboration or breakdown.
Then, in May 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev stated that the Soviet Union would spend 77 billion rubles on defense that year, a dramatic increase from the prior official figure of 20 billion rubles in 1988. The 77 billion figure represented some 9 percent of Soviet GNP, which was more accurate than the earlier absurd claim that the Soviets had been spending only 2 to 3 percent of their GNP on defense, but still not an honest figure.
In an April 1990 speech, Gorbachev revised this figure upward, stating that Soviet military spending was 18 percent of Soviet national income, or approximately 15 percent of gross national product. Awkwardly, the official Soviet figure for military spending remained 77 billion rubles for 1989, with no real effort made to explain the discrepancy between Gorbachev's speech and the official government position. In October 1990, in a triumph of thoroughness over logic, the Soviet government released a detailed breakdown of Soviet military spending, completely ignoring Gorbachev's figure and adamantly sticking to its official position on total military spending. Commenting on this, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovsky proudly stated: "Glasnost is reaching out into that once closed sphere, the military budget."
Gorbachev's unexplained revelation in his April 1990 speech undercut this attempt to concoct more credible, sophisticated disinformation on this issue. soon, even higher unofficial estimates began to appear in the Soviet press, capped by Lobov's and Gorbachev's statements in November 1991 that the real figure for military spending was one-third of GNP, if not higher.
As mentioned earlier, U.S. estimates of Soviet military spending were off by approximately 100 percent, even as late as 1991. The USSR was able to successfully hide from the world the fact that their "supermilitarized economy," as Gorbachev put in it in Moscow News, was placing unsustainable strains on the Soviet economy and citizens, a situation which eventually led the Soviet leaders to adopt the policy of perestroika.
Inaccurate Western estimates about the burden of military spending on the Soviet economy were not caused by Soviet disinformation efforts but by Soviet secrecy and the inability of most Western analysts to comprehend the emphasis the Soviets placed on military strength. Pre-Gorbachev disinformation was crude and ineffective, and the more detailed and credible deceptions of the era of glasnost were overtaken by the collapse of the Soviet system. But the "post-Cold War" era did witness fabrications that were of a much higher quality than prior deceptive efforts.