December 1991 was a month perhaps without precedence in the history of the world. For during that month, one of the two most powerful countries on the planet simply disappeared from the face of the earth virtually overnight, without a shot being fired. Other countries, generally much smaller ones, have been greatly transformed or diminished as a result of war, but usually at least the name remained. But by December 31, 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which had been the largest and most militarily powerful country on earth at the start of the month, was no longer extant in either form or name. It was superseded by fifteen independent countries, most (but not all) of them joined together in a loose confederation termed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), created to address the common interests and problems of these newly independent republics (Figure 1.1).