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.

Spies by Calder Walton

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

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes!
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Year it was published: 2023
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): History
Pages: 688

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

2 thoughts on “Spies by Calder Walton”

    • I was surprised by how balanced this book was considering the subject, the author did a great job. This is why I loved the book so much. There are so many other things in the book, like AIDS. Do consider reading it if you have the time.

      With some of those decisions I would say they were stupid when they were made. My example of de-arming Ukraine under US pressure, while US was bankrolling russia when it was attacking the Chechens. There is no way seeing russians bombing Grozny would square the circle of “these guys are trustworthy”, the same ones that had bioweapons. There are plenty more examples of this, including with China, which is why the situation is what it is now with them.

      Spying means gathering intelligence and data, it can confirm that the other countries are doing what they say or that they are not, thus even more important to know what is happening. But US and UK decided time and time again to cut down on intelligence, because they hoped it will end up fine. That’s just stupid, for lack of a better word.

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