Was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan one of the major reasons that led to the fall of Soviet Union?

That is what the world history teacher told me.

Please show your sources.

  • What makes you think it was a reason ?
    – none
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 2:41
  • 2
    I'm sure the staff colleges of the west are full of analysis on the topic, but I don't think a low intensity little war had a big effect on the USSR.
    – none
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 2:54
  • Gorbachev read letters at a Politburo meeting in October 1985 from Soviet citizens expressing growing dissatisfaction with the war in Afghanistan—including “mothers’ grief over the dead and the crippled” and “heart-wrenching descriptions of funerals.” Yes, the war did have an impact on domestic policy. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 17:42
  • What research have you done?
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


The Review Article, Antony Kalashnikov (2012) "Differing Interpretations: Causes of the Collapse of the Soviet Union" Constellations:

"there is a correlation between mediums of writing and the "factor of collapse" they tend to espouse."

"that the historiography is best classified by "factors for collapse", and that these are: economic, nationalities, political, and systemic. It is interesting to note that while most studies (textbooks being the notable exception) tend to opt for one factor as being most important in bringing about collapse, they don't argue it vis-à-vis others. On the contrary, they do not engage other standpoints,"

Afghanistan is mentioned once in this review article, and only as part of the "briefing" of the context of the time.

Therefore—no substantive historiography of the collapse of the Soviet Union ascribes Afghanistan as a cause.

Therefore—Afghanistan was not one of the major reasons that led to the fall of Soviet Union.

  • 5
    Your response states that "no substantive historiography" ascribes the Afghan War as a cause but a five minute google search was all it took for me to find academic papers arguing that YES the Afghan War was a factor. How do you make this judgement? IMHO, the reasoning here is dependent on the highly subjective assertion that no "substantive" historiography exists, but even one "substantive" argument contra that would invalidate that. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 13:59
  • 2
    Appeal to authority. Selection bias. If you want to convince us that the war wasn't a cause, you have to give us an idea of what the cause more likely was.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 13:53
  • Spencer that is entirely fallacious. Learn what a review article is. @VivaLebowski I checked Constellations peer reviewed status when answering, and I’m content that my answer was correct as of 2012 based on a major scholarly review of the historiography of the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact I specifically searched for a Review Article: a summary of the state of research; to avoid drawing a personal conclusion based on shallow key word searching. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 3:28
  • @SamuelRussell It's really the use of the word no in "no substantive historiography" that bothers me here. Citing a single historiography the underlying claim is one thing; after all, historians can disagree and in my own answer I only use a single source! However even one scholarly work contradicting the conclusion would seem to invalidate that, unless we exclude scholarly works that disagree with the conclusion based on some definition of "substantive" which IMHO can only be a personal subjective conclusion. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 6:51
  • 1
    @SamuelRussell I know very well what a review paper is. You cannot draw the conclusion you drew from the paper you cited, which after all does not seek to rule any specific causes in or out, but just classifies the historiographic approaches, with illustrative examples from the sample of works reviewed.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 0:55

Yes, the soviet defeat in Afghanistan was a major contributor to the fall of the Soviet Union. The Red Army was the institutional guarantee of the Soviet Unions stability; it brought together draftees from all of the member republics into a single organization under Russian domination which could be used to control those same republics and could be used to prop up the Warsaw pact allies.

Imagine if the United States was a one party state where the integrity of the federal whole was dependent on our militaries ability to keep separatist forces in each state under control. Then posit that our once vaunted military is forced to undergo a humiliating withdraw, as in Vietnam. What would this do to the stability of our hypothetical US dictatorship in a time of economic crisis?

To quote one source:

(1) Perception effects: it changed the perceptions of leaders about the efficacy of using the military to hold the empire together and to intervene in foreign countries

(2) Military effects: it discredited the Red Army, created cleavage between the party and the military, and demonstrated that the Red Army was not invincible, which emboldened the non Russian republics to push for independence;

(3) Legitimacy effects: it provided non-Russians with a common cause to demand independence since they viewed this war as a Russian war fought by non Russians against Afghans

(4) Participation effects: it created new forms of political participation, started to transform the press/media before glasnost, initiated the first shots of glasnost, and created a significant mass of war veterans (Afghansti) who formed new civil organizations weakening the political hegemony of the communist party

Obviously, there were many different factors that contributed to the fall of the USSR, with stagnating economic growth perhaps the most critical, but the Afghan war weakened the resolve and cohesion of the Soviet government and strengthened the resolve of dissidents in the USSR and it's Warsaw Pact allies, precisely in the time when the USSR could least afford it economically. No longer having full confidence in the Red Army, the Soviet government under Gorbachev abandoned military intervention as a tool to prop up its satellite states, making bloodless revolutions more likely (see my answer here). Once nationalist revolutions started externally, the effect cascaded internally, where the Afghan War had contributed to internal dissent; the resulting wave of dissent and demands for independence destroyed the Soviet Union itself.


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