Soviet Strategy for Nuclear War, by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr. and Amoretta M. Hoeber, Stanford Calif: Hoover Institution Press, 1979, 154 pp., $5.95.
For over a decade, our SALT negotiators have assumed that the Soviet leadership is motivated by the same fears, perceptions, and aspirations as we are. This assumption also has been adopted by revisionist historians who interpret the Soviet military buildup as a defensive response to American imperialism. Now, when controversy over the prospect of nuclear war has reached a pitch unmatched since 1962, it is all the more important to face the evidence against this assumption.
Revisionist explanations of Soviet behavior were tenable only while so little information was available on Soviet strategic policy. Douglass and Hoeber fill this information gap by referring to authoritative Soviet military textbooks and citing excerpts from declassified translations of the theoretical journal of the Soviet Ministry of Defense. The reader is confronted with unimpeachable documentation of Soviet plans and objectives.
The Soviets reject the common American view that nuclear war is unthinkable. For them, it is more than thinkable—it is inevitable. Marxist-Leninist doctrine predicts that the capitalist-imperialist West would never tolerate the growing power of revolutionary-socialist nations. Eventually the West is expected to unite in a coalition to destroy socialism's defender, the Soviet Union. The Soviet objective is to avert this destruction with a "coalition war," in which the use of nuclear weapons would be strategically decisive.
It must be recognized that the Politburo is composed of men with personal military experience dating back to World War II. They embrace Clausewitz's principle that war is only one part of the spectrum of politics. Accordingly, the decision to go to war will be based on political considerations. While "detente" is regarded as ultimately infeasible, negotiations can be used to prolong the West's unpreparedness and allow time for the accumulation of strategic materiel. The elements of conciliation, deception, surprise, treachery, and brute force are considered as strategic assets in the conduct of such a war.
Crucial to Soviet strategic thought is the clear conviction that a nuclear war is winnable. The Soviet Union's historical experience is that massive loss of population and territory does not rule out the attainment of victory. Further, the Politburo are all veterans of Stalin's rule, when the extermination of 20 million countrymen was accepted as an administrative necessity. If a nuclear war can be fought at all, it can be fought to win. With nuclear war as a realistic likelihood in the course of capitalist-socialist class struggle, Soviet strategy sets forth detailed conditions of victory over the West: defeat of enemy military potential, seizure of strategic areas, occupation of enemy territory, installation of satraps, and ideological conversion of the enemy masses (which historically has meant the liquidation of the bourgeois elite).
Soviet strategic literature places extreme emphasis on preemption of the enemy. Extensive prewar preparations would seek to preserve the element of surprise by political misdirection and military diversions. War deployments would be disguised as training maneuvers. Domestic political disruptions would be fomented among the enemy nations. Fleet submarine dispositions would be masked by decoys. Diplomatic initiatives might be announced to lull the enemy into a state of inattention or relaxation. (The authors relate the events of 1940, in which the Soviet Union negotiated a peace treaty with Finland—only to mount a devastating artillery barrage on the Finnish lines, scant minutes before the armistice was to take effect.)
As envisioned by Soviet strategists, the coalition war has two phases. The first phase is a nuclear engagement designed to stun and disable the enemy, resulting in a "correlation of forces" favorable to Soviet victory. This phase would require a succession of nuclear strikes over a period of days or weeks. Each strike would allocate a portion of the Soviet ICBM arsenal to the destruction of strategic targets. The interval between strikes would be used for reconnaissance, missile silo reloading, damage assessment, and riding out any nuclear response from the West. In this way, the progress of the nuclear phase of the war would be "managed" to achieve flexible strategic goals with the minimum expenditure of weapons.
Soviet targeting philosophy transcends the distinction between "counterforce" and "countervalue" objectives. The guiding principle of target selection is to render the enemy incapable of military resistance. Typical targets would include command centers, military installations, electrical power plants, petroleum refineries, and transportation complexes such as airfields and railroad terminals. Mass populations per se are not regarded as relevant target objectives. Special consideration is given to all aspects of target selection, including fallout patterns and demographic effects. While not discussed by the authors, these aspects lead to the conceivable selection of nuclear power plants as attractive targets: destruction of such targets would achieve immediate crippling effects, as well as resulting in the contamination of vast tracts of land, which would interrupt ground transportation and overwhelm civil defense operations.
Although militarily decisive, the nuclear strikes would not be sufficient to win the war. They are regarded as precursors to the second phase of the conflict: an extended period of conventional warfare to consolidate the conditions of victory. This phase might last for months and would be supported by reserves of fighting materiel previously accumulated during peacetime. (Current trends in Soviet arms production support the needs of such a strategic policy.) Postnuclear operations would be facilitated by a well-coordinated civil defense program. Soviet civil defense is primarily intended to maintain essential military communication and transportation infrastructures. A secondary objective is to limit civilian losses to five to eight percent of the general population, or about 10 million people. Such losses would be about half of those experienced during World War II…and would be consistent with Stalinist standards of acceptability.
Thus, the coalition war would end in a gigantic mop-up and occupation of the kind imposed on Eastern Europe. The spoils of war would remain largely intact, being the subject populations, arable land, natural resources, and industrial capacity of the vanquished capitalists.
The scenario analyzed in this book is sobering. The evidence cannot be dismissed or denied. It compels the reader to put aside comforting assumptions about Soviet intentions and awaken to an unpleasant reality.
Michael Dunn is a rocket propulsion engineer at the Boeing Aerospace Company.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Soviet Realism".