Spies by Calder Walton
Spies by Calder Walton – The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West – is a timely book, well worth reading. It shows an incredible history of spying, between US, UK, russia, and more recently, China. While the history covers about 100 years, the cold war period is presented disproportionately, as I imagined it would. The book offers a balanced view, thus it received a clear 5 stars rating from me.
There were some minor issues of accuracy, such as Ceaușescus’ trial was slightly longer than 2 minutes and the Ukrainian revolution of Dignity started in November 2013 and not February 2014, when it ended. These are minor issues, which make no actual difference of what it was said, as these were just mentions in a paragraph, for example, and not at the core of the argument. So, I awarded the 5 stars without any doubt.
With a book covering so much, there is very little space for analysing all the issues, so from an Eastern European history perspective, it lacks of bit. But, it is a 500+ pages book before the notes and so on, it was simply not enough space to analyse everything and the western vs russia and China approach makes sense. This means that this book will be interesting for most of my followers (all who like reading non-fiction).
What amazed me is how many stupid decisions were taken, in all these countries, from the 1930s to the 2020s. For example, in July 1993 Yeltsin was caught out developing bioweapons, despite russia, US, and UK agreeing to not develop bioweapons in 1972! What’s incredible, that despite knowing this, UK and US put pressure on Ukraine to give russia its nukes for “dismantling” in 1994, something that was paid with American money. This example is, unfortunately, just one of how incredibly poorly intelligence was gathered and used. Also, Ukraine agreed to give up its nukes when the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was signed on 5 December 1994. Only 6 days later, on 11 December 1994, the First Chechen War started with russian troops attacking Chechnya. In November they tried to overthrow the Chechen government and they were unsuccessful. The fact that American and British intelligence thought it was ok to give russia more nukes in this situation looks incredibly stupid.
I used this example because it is relevant today, considering russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. There are so many other topics and examples to consider when reading this book. The last chapter talks primarily about US and China, which is thought-provoking as well.
Spies by Calder Walton
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My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes!
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Year it was published: 2023
About the author: Calder Walton got his PhD in History at Trinity College, Cambridge, UK. He lives with his family in Cambridge, US.
Now he is Assistant Director of the Belfer Center’s Applied History Project and Intelligence Project. His research is broadly concerned with intelligence, history, grand strategy, and international relations. His research has a particular focus on policy-relevant historical lessons for governments and intelligence communities today.
He is also general editor of the multi-volume Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence to be published by Cambridge University Press.
Website & Social Media Links: calderwalton