This month I am reporting from London on the recent publication here of what is undoubtedly one of the most important books ever written on the subject of totalitarian expansionism. I offer this judgment because, although the accident of birth and intellectual curiosity have made Soviet Russia a subject of special interest for me, I have never read anything as powerful as spetsnaz; certainly not since 1973 (when I first read my father’s book in typescript) and perhaps not since 1968 (when, at age 12, in Moscow, I first leafed through Robert Conquest’s Great Terror).

Were the reading public more interested in the immediate prospects for the survival of our civilization than in the opinions of the Nobel committee, the name of Viktor Suvorov—on the strength of this book alone—would doubtless eclipse that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, while the exotic term this pseudonymous defector-turned-author uses as his title—spetsnaz—would become commonplace in our speech. Yet the term “gulag” worked its way out of italicized obscurity thanks to the international publicity carelessly ignited by Khrushchev around Solzhenitsyn; needless to say, the author of Spetsnaz (or Western civilization, depending on which way you look at it) can count on no such boon. As a matter of fact, one has the distinct impression that this book (published by a subsidiary of Penguin) has had an inadequate translator, only a perfunctory editor, no copy editor, and hardly a proofreader, which can only mean that the publisher’s estimate of its chances of commercial success coincides with mine.

What makes Spetsnaz so unusual and compelling is that it is not “history” (that is, “truth about the past,” a commodity dispensed, at times, even by the Soviet regime for tactical purposes of its own). It is the story of the present, of the current threat to Western survival, told by an insider who happens to possess extraordinary common sense, great powers of observation and induction, as well as a fine understanding of history.

The Russian abbreviation spetsnaz stands for “special purposes” and designates elite strata of specially trained fighters integrated into each of the 41 armies the Soviets are ready to field. At the XII World Parachuting Championship, held in France in 1984, the Soviet “team”—spetsnaz—won 22 out of 26 gold medals. “France is the only country in Europe,” Suvorov observes, “that stores strategic nuclear missiles in underground silos. The silos are an extremely important target, possibly the most important in Europe. The force that will put them out of action will be a spetsnaz force.” With bitter irony and in a wooden translator’s English, Suvorov adds:

It is often claimed that sport improves relations between countries. This is a strange argument. If it is the case, why did it not occur to anyone before the Second World War to invite German SS parachutists to their country to improve relations with the Nazis?

Systematically, and basing his conclusions on personal experience of spetsnaz service, Suvorov sketches out the recent history of the contingent slated to fight in the vanguard of Soviet world conquest. He discusses its composition (currently, ethnic Russians and “the Other People,” namely, Soviet citizens born to displaced German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Korean, or other foreign parents); its methods of selection and training (frequently intertwined with the national sports program, Soviet Olympic champions in such events as the biathlon all being in spetsnaz); the agent network on which it relies abroad, the weapons and equipment it uses, and the kinds of missions in which it is involved (nearly always the objective is to neutralize resistance by striking at nuclear installations, centers of communications, and the like). It would be unfair to the author to try and summarize his book in this space. (I urge interested readers to order their copies by writing to Waterstone’s, 99-101 Old Brompton Road, London SW7, because this bookseller is equipped to handle requests from abroad.) But I do want to draw some urgent conclusions.

Just as the totalitarian rulers’ relationship to the countries they rule resembles “private” ownership, so—paradoxically—the totalitarian war machine, at least at its spetsnaz best, displays the characteristics of a “private” army, in the sense we in the West use that term to describe a level of excellence generated by the laws of supply and demand for the quality-conscious consumers in a free economy. Conversely, the West’s military defense structure—excluding its existing industrial base and nearly unlimited technological potential, essential products of civil, free-market activities—seems to belong to the pre-World War I era (the “morality” of conscription, for instance, was the subject of political debate in the U.S. during the 1980 presidential election just as it had been when Saki’s comic character was “bayoneted to death by conscientious objectors” 70 years earlier).

Spanning many military fields, such as intelligence, where the links with private industry and commerce are fewer and the consumer (ultimately, the electorate) is underrepresented or not quality-conscious, this gap—the spetsnaz gap—is the true “window of vulnerability” through which the Soviets will step into Western Europe. The removal; of any part of NATO’s nuclear deterrent from Europe—contemplated as I write these lines— for political reasons by the elected representatives of misinformed electorates, opens a side door as well. For the Soviets, whose totalitarian machine of aggression is designed for the end of the 20th century and advanced enough to take them into the 21st, have given new meaning to Clausewitz’s old mot by standing it on its head: Politics, in 1987, is war continued by other means.