Thinking About the Unthinkable in Ukraine
What Happens If Putin Goes Nuclear?
One vital benefit which is struggling to emerge from the prolonged debate about President Reagan's military budget proposals is a recognition that this country and its NATO allies have until now, incredibly, lacked a meaningful and coherent strategy of defense against the Soviet Union. Appreciation of this fact may not yet fully have penetrated the Pentagon or been recognized by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. But it does appear to have reached the White House. The first indication of this came in a little noticed but potentially vastly important statement made by William P. Clark, the President's National Security Adviser, at Georgetown University last May 20. Our new strategy, he declared, would include "diplomatic, political, economic and informational components built on a foundation of military strength." In a limited application of this concept, he noted that "We must force our principal adversary, the Soviet Union, to bear the brunt of its economic shortcomings."
In this context, President Reagan's attempt at the Versailles Summit shortly thereafter to persuade our European allies to impose strict limits on new credits extended to the Soviet bloc, and his subsequent ban on the use of U.S. high technology components or licenses to help build the planned Soviet-West European natural gas pipeline, should logically be viewed as significant initial efforts to develop and implement the new, more comprehensive defense strategy projected by Mr. Clark. Unfortunately, they were neither presented nor received as such.
The stiff opposition and criticism the Reagan initiatives encountered, both abroad and at home, were based on quite other grounds. European leaders, at the Summit, agreed only to a toothless statement on the matter of credits. They later flatly refused to honor President Reagan's pipeline-related ban, calling it an invasion of sovereignty and incompatible with the continued supply of U.S. grains to the Soviet Union. Domestic critics faulted the initiatives as bungling efforts to wage economic warfare or to gain political leverage, which could not succeed, and which were creating a serious rift within the Western Alliance.
In mid-November, the Administration dropped its sanctions, in the context of what appears to be only a general statement of principles little more forceful than the Versailles Summit communiqué. Apparently the hope is that a further series of studies within the Alliance, now agreed, will in time produce a new common approach to East-West trade and credit. But the obstacles both at home and abroad remain formidable.
The debate therefore, while vigorous, has not yet heightened awareness of the serious inadequacies of U.S. and Western defense strategy or of the core requirements of a truly coherent strategy of defense. A review of what has until now passed as our defense strategy, and an analysis of why previously missing major elements need to be built into existing strategy, are therefore in order. They will show that these non-military paths along which President Reagan is trying to move-albeit gropingly-are indeed headed in the right direction, and therefore merit constructive, sympathetic criticism and support, and allied cooperation.
Most critics of President Reagan's proposed military budgets maintain that substantial reductions must be made to help reduce the horrendous fiscal deficits with which the country is confronted. Some of them see specific weapons programs like the B-1 bomber, the two costly nuclear-powered aircraft carriers or the as yet unbased MX missile as dispensable. Others simply assume that within so greatly enlarged a military program as that proposed ($1,600 billion for five years), there must be a good deal of "fat" that can and should be trimmed.
But a much smaller number of more discerning critics contend that these military spending proposals have not clearly been related to specific threats to our national security or to a coherent defense strategy, and thus lack substantiation. They state, in effect, "If the Administration has not identified clearly the national interests that are threatened, formulated a strategy to counter those threats, or shown why the weapons and forces requested are necessary to effectuate such a strategy, it is impossible to judge whether these requests are indeed essential."
The array of those who are troubled by these questions, and who have challenged or urged the Administration to formulate a strategy that will help to answer them, is quite formidable. In the Congress, it includes Representative James Jones, Chairman of the House Budget Committee; Representative Robert Michel, the House Republican Leader; Representative Les Aspin of Wisconsin; and Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. Outside the Congress, it includes General Maxwell Taylor, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Edward Luttwak, professional defense consultant and Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Walter Laqueur, political scientist and Chairman of the Research Council at the same Center.1
Of these critics, Walter Laqueur came closest to specifying the essential characteristics of the defense strategy we lack. "A strategy," he observed, "is not yet in sight . . . . In fact, it does not seem to be fully realized that such a strategy is needed, that defense, foreign policy, and international economics have to be coordinated and integrated" (Italics added.) We may well wonder whether the Joint Chiefs of Staff have ever consulted Webster's dictionary for a definition of "strategy." It reads: "strategy: the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war."
It is of course inconceivable that our Presidents, the Armed Forces Committees of the Congress, and the Pentagon have operated all these years without some notions of how to defend the security of the United States which in their minds constituted a strategy of defense. "The main strands of the Administration's military strategy," as Richard Halloran has written, "run through the congressional testimony and speeches by senior officials and are summed up in the annual report, called the posture statement, that accompanied the 1983 military budget to Capitol Hill." The core declarations he cited from this statement read as follows:
The United States remains committed to a defensive use of its military strength . . . . Our objective is to deter aggression or to respond to it if deterrence fails, not to initiate warfare or pre-emptive attacks. From this premise it follows that our military forces must be prepared to react after the enemy has seized the first initiative and react so strongly that our counterattacks will inflict unacceptably high cost on the enemy.
And, as regards nuclear warfare policy:
The United States will maintain a strategic nuclear force posture such that, in a crisis, the Soviet Union will have no incentive to initiate a nuclear attack on the United States or our allies . . . . The United States will be capable under all conditions of war initiation to survive a Soviet first strike and retaliate in a way that permits the United States to achieve its objectives.
These statements obviously are not strategy. They are a combination rather of policy and posture. To contain, to deter and, if deterrence fails, to counterattack-this is policy. To be prepared to react so strongly as to inflict unacceptable damage on the enemy-this is posture. The "posture statement" is thus well named.
But how are these objectives to be accomplished? The Pentagon's answer, it would seem, is by building up our armed strength in every category and variety to whatever levels may be necessary to implement this policy and posture. As Edward Luttwak has described it, this is nothing more than "the simple, straight-forward 'logistical' approach followed since 1941, whereby all threats were to be defeated by mustering a sheer superiority in materiel and firepower." But such an approach, he warns, "can only now guarantee defeat in the face of an opponent who can outgun us in all areas of the world adjacent to its territory . . . the time has come when we can no longer get by unless we can devise truly strategical solutions . . . ."2 There are people, one cannot help recalling, who have been insisting that we cannot solve our social and welfare problems in this country simply by "throwing money at them." It seems we have also been trying to solve our national security problem by doing just that.
Chess, according to an old Chinese saying, is "the play of the science of war." The encyclopedia tells us that "Two chess players fighting over the board may fitly be compared to two famous generals encountering each other on the battlefield, the strategy and the tactics being not dissimilar in spirit." Significantly, the Russians take chess much more seriously than we do. Since the mid-1950s, with a brief interruption only in 1972-74, the world's chess championship has been held by Russians, and chess is reported to be an important course of study in the training of their military officers. They are better chess players than we are.
At any given stage in the course of a chess match against a formidable opponent, the grand master will base his strategy on his assessment of his opponent's strategy, and on his analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of his opponent's and his own positions. In like manner, the formulation of a defense strategy requires a perceptive assessment of the intentions and strategy of one's adversary and a realistic analysis of his strengths and weaknesses, as well as of one's own.
What is it the Soviets are after? How do these intentions and objectives threaten us? What strategy are they pursuing to effectuate these purposes? What are the Soviet strengths we must evade or counter? What are the Soviet weaknesses we can exploit? How can we best utilize our own strengths, and best reduce our own vulnerabilities, as we seek to ensure our own national security?
If we begin, as we should, with the ultimate aim of the Soviet Union, we cannot avoid restatement of the banal. The ultimate aim of the Soviet Union, from its inception, has been the overthrow of capitalist societies everywhere, and the creation of a communist world. (In such a world, although Marxism-Leninism is silent on this score, the Soviet Union would surely expect to play a leading, central and even dominant role.) The ideology, moreover, is quite explicit in defining how this objective is to be achieved. Capitalist societies, it holds, will be overturned by revolutions from within, in conditions of class conflict exacerbated by imperialist rivalries and wars-not by conquest from without.
Thus, the Soviet Union has naturally sought to provide leadership, encouragement and all feasible assistance to "progressive elements" in capitalist and formerly colonial nations to expedite the "inevitable" victory of the "working classes." In other words, it has tried to foment, guide, assist and exploit revolutionary or potentially revolutionary movements and situations, wherever these were considered to exist. The major Soviet threat, ideologically guided, has thus been one of subversion, rather than of direct aggression.
Times and conditions change, however, and with them, aims. Revolutionary and ideological ardor burned bright in the Soviet Union, despite great internal difficulties, in the early years after the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Hopes there rose perhaps even higher in the decade of the Great Depression, and Soviet leaders undoubtedly anticipated that great opportunities for the spread of communism would follow in the wake of the cataclysm of World War II. They surely were elated when, with their armies astride Eastern Europe and well into Germany at the end of that war, they found it easy to engineer communist takeovers throughout the occupied countries on their western border.
But this was really their high water mark, soon to be followed by a series of major defeats. Communist movements in Western Europe, especially threatening in postwar France and Italy, were overcome with the help of the Marshall Plan. The communist thrusts at Greece and Turkey were successfully parried. Newly independent nations in Asia and Africa, one after another, rejected Soviet blandishments and quelled local communist attempts to seize power. Communist Yugoslavia and China threw off the Soviet yoke. Workers' and youth rebellions broke out in East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and could be suppressed only by Soviet tanks.
Confronted by a rapidly reviving and dramatically strengthened Western Europe, the NATO Alliance, and the obvious appeal of the democratic idea to most of the newly independent countries, and plagued increasingly by internal economic difficulties and dissent within their satellite allies, as well as at home, the Soviet leaders were compelled to accommodate their aims to the new realities. They continued to give lip service, to be sure, to the ultimate goal of a communist world which remains the official faith, whether believed in or not, and to meddle, where they could, in troubled waters. But during the 1950s and for much of the 1960s, their real aim of necessity was reduced basically to an effort to make the world safe for communism. This could be paraphrased as: to safeguard the continued control of the Soviet leaders over the Soviet Union and its increasingly reluctant satellite allies, together, of course, with the continuation of their own privileged status and perquisites of power.
Starting shortly after the mid-1950s, a series of major developments favorable to the Soviet Union reversed the ebb in its international fortunes and led to the evolution of new aims and a new strategy. Sputnik gave a big boost to Soviet prestige. By the end of the 1960s, the accelerated buildup of its nuclear weaponry and power, on which the Soviet Union had embarked after its humiliation in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, had reached a stage with which the Soviets felt much more secure. At the same time, the United States had been greatly weakened by its interminable war in Vietnam. It had lost prestige, status and respect in the international community, and its self-confidence and resolution had been eroded by internal divisiveness and civil disorder. These found their own counterparts in Europe and Japan. The failure of the West to react vigorously to the wave of Palestine Liberation Organization terrorism in the late 1960s-to the repeated hijacking of passenger planes, the taking of innocent hostages, the death toll of bombing outrages and, even worse, the unchallenged granting of asylum to the terrorists by Arab countries-all these were indicative of a loss of nerve by the Western democracies. This was confirmed by, and probably helped to encourage, the imposition of the oil embargo and the outrageous economic rape by quadrupled Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil prices in 1973-an unparalleled act of aggression to which the United States and the West supinely submitted.
That oil price hike, and the even larger ones which followed, threw the economies of the industrialized democracies into a state of shock from which they have not yet been able to recover. Low economic growth, high unemployment and inflation have plagued the United States and its European allies ever since. Social fragmentation, intergroup discord, cultural rebellion and an attitude of "me-firstism" flourished in an atmosphere of national irresolution. Widespread feelings of guilt among Western intellectuals and liberals for the poverty of the so-called Third World, aggravated by the Vietnam War, persuaded them that the major world problem was the issue of equitable North-South relations, rather than the issue of freedom versus slavery inherent in the East-West rivalry.
In combination, these and companion developments far outweighed the effects of others unfavorable to the Soviet Union. Encouraged and emboldened, the Soviet leaders progressively shifted during these years, from their basically defensive posture of the 1950s and much of the 1960s, in the direction of their earlier ultimate aims. But there was a significant difference in the position at which they arrived.
For the earlier goal of a communist world, they substituted the aim of a world dominated by communism or, at the very least, a world in which the Soviet Union would be the dominant power. Their strategy for achieving this also changed, correspondingly, in a most significant way. Abandoning hope that class conflict and revolutions within capitalist societies would seize power for communism, the new strategy would rely chiefly on a combination of intimidation by the armed might of the Soviet Union and subversion aimed at the destruction of morale and the erosion of the will of peoples in the democratic societies to resist, opening the door to Soviet domination. This new aim and this new strategy emerge unmistakably from an examination of Soviet strengths and weaknesses, and from a consideration of how skillfully the Soviet leaders have exploited U.S. and Western weaknesses to negate our strengths, and used Western strengths to compensate for their own glaring weaknesses.
The greatest and most obvious of the Soviet strengths vis-à-vis the United States and the West is its awesome military power both in men under arms and in weaponry. This holds for its land, sea and air forces, whether conventional or nuclear, in both offensive and defensive deployments. Not only are its armed forces highly disciplined; their pay is low, permitting the Soviet Union to spend roughly two-thirds of its military budget on weaponry, while the relatively high pay of U.S. military personnel has consumed perhaps two-thirds of our military budgets, leaving only one-third for weaponry. The Soviet leaders also have the advantage of being able to allocate to the military as large a share of their total resources as they wish, without accountability to an electorate. (The actual military burden on the Soviet gross national product is, however, not as great as is implied by U.S. estimates of their military spending, because these are estimated in terms of what such materiel and services would cost in the United States, rather than in their actual cost to the Soviets.)
This enormous military strength is complemented by very important strategic locational advantages. The Soviet forces enjoy proximity to the major areas of U.S. vital interest and of potential conflict. They stand at the borders of Western Europe and the Middle East, from which the United States is separated by thousands of miles, so that it would have to deploy and supply its armed forces over seas infested by Soviet submarines. Moreover, the basic locational advantages enjoyed by the Soviet Union are enhanced by the Soviet presence, whether direct or by virtue of Cuban and East German proxies, in Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen and Afghanistan. Indeed, the ability of the Soviet Union to use proxies to advance its position and power while avoiding direct confrontation with the United States must be accounted as yet another significant element in its favor.
A third major strength of the Soviet Union, the importance of which cannot be overestimated, is the mastery of its leaders of the art of manipulating social groups and forces, especially in the Western democracies, toward beliefs and in directions the Soviets desire. Marxist analysis has provided the Soviet leaders with an incomparable tool for selecting key groups and assessing their economic interests, ideas and value systems, as well as their disaffections, rivalries, suspicions and fears. Many decades of experience in the use of agitative propaganda have enabled the Soviets to play on these with the skill of a master programmer at a computer keyboard and with almost equal control. They have used this ability to confuse, obfuscate and mislead, all in the service of their own interests.
Thus, they have portrayed their own expansionary and aggressive actions as essentially defensive responses to capitalist-imperialist encirclement and aggression. They have encouraged poor Third World countries to believe that their poverty and backwardness was the result of capitalist-colonialist exploitation. They encouraged the outrageous oil price and embargo actions of OPEC as acts of long overdue justice, to sabotage and weaken the economies of the West and to terrorize them by the fear that the oil lifeline might be cut off. During a decade of economic slow-down in the West, they exploited the appetites of Western producers and banks for profitable exports and loans, persuading them to work for governmental policies which made it possible for the Soviet Union and its satellites to obtain goods, technology and credits they desperately needed. They used post-Vietnam War disillusionment to foster mistrust of Western governments and institutions by their own citizens.
Above all, the Soviet Union has played upon universal desires for peace and fears of war, especially nuclear war. Indeed, they have been able to persuade literally millions of innocent people of goodwill throughout the West that it is their own governments, rather than the Soviet Union, whose policies threaten to lead the world to a nuclear holocaust. The effect of all this has been to develop politically significant constituencies who seriously misperceive the nature of the real struggle between the totalitarian and democratic ways of life, and to undermine their support of their governments' resolve to safeguard democracy.
Finally, we must acknowledge as an important strength of the Soviet Union that, in pursuing its strategy vis-à-vis the West-on which we shall shortly elaborate-the Soviet leadership is unhampered by sentiment or scruple, is ruthlessly objective, and is infinitely patient in its cautious pursuit of its long-term objectives. This combination of persistence, determination and caution makes it a more, not less, dangerous adversary.
Our respect for these great strengths of the Soviet Union must not, however, be permitted to cloud our eyes to its equally significant weaknesses and vulnerabilities. These concentrate heavily in economic and morale factors which must be taken importantly into account in any U.S. and Western strategy of defense.
Despite its massive manpower, rich natural resources and substantial industrial development, the economic strength of the Soviet Union is gravely flawed. First, except possibly for the military sector, the economy of the Soviet Union operates at very low levels of efficiency and productivity. (So, in general, do those of its satellites.) This results chiefly from a combination of bureaucratic rigidities, the inescapable inefficiencies of a completely controlled non-market system and low worker morale. These same factors apply to Soviet agriculture, where they are further aggravated by the utilization for crops of a vast acreage subject to the vagaries of uncertain rains and weather.
In consequence, the once rapid economic growth of the Soviet Union has slowed, in recent years, to a very low rate which is not cyclical but persistent. Moreover, low population growth rates mean correspondingly slow growth in the labor force, further inhibiting future economic growth. On the resource side, the natural resources of European Russia are already fully utilized. Large additional resources, chiefly oil, gas and minerals, are available only in far-off Siberia. Due to extreme cold, the depth of the permafrost, the need to move and settle large numbers of reluctant workers to exploit these resources, and the high cost of transportation facilities and operations, huge investments far beyond the financial and technological means of the Soviet Union are required to bring these additional resources into full production and use.
This combination of low economic efficiency and productivity, inadequate technology, and inability to self-finance essential additional development has made the Soviet Union in recent years increasingly and heavily dependent on capital goods, technology and credits from the West, while recurring major shortages in the production of food grains have required their large-scale importation, chiefly from the United States. A final element to be noted in this economic picture is the heavy drain on Soviet economic capabilities imposed by the need to subsidize client states like Cuba and Vietnam, and to provide assistance to avert economic and possibly political collapse in allied states like Poland, Hungary and Romania.
The poor morale which is so destructive of productivity in Soviet factories and farms is pervasive throughout Soviet society. It is a long time since Party slogans and exhortations have been able to inspire or move the working people of the Soviet Union. Continuing shortages of essential consumer goods, endless queues and resentment against the special privileges and access reserved for Party insiders-to cushy jobs, special shops amply stocked with imported goodies, preferred housing, automobiles, and university and career opportunities for their children-have long since created a disillusioned, sullen, apathetic populace.
Among technicians, professionals, intellectuals and artists, morale is also poor. Most of them, of course, continue to play the game because they are unwilling to risk or surrender their status and material benefits. But seeing through the make-believe, they can scarcely have been able to retain their self-respect. And of course, while the number of outspoken dissidents is limited, and there can be only a few Solzhenitsyns, Sakharovs, Mandelstams and Medvedevs, their views have gained wide currency, and their effectiveness cannot be undone. Within this overall picture, a number of ethnic minority groups nurse their own special dissatisfactions. And increasing numbers of Soviet youth are captivated by the fashions, music and diversions enjoyed by young people in the West, and envy their freedoms.
By and large, these morale factors are also operative in the satellite countries of Eastern Europe. But in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and probably in East Germany and Bulgaria as well, these are aggravated by the spirit of nationalism. Resentment against Soviet domination and exploitation is widespread among their populations and must also be present, to some extent at least, among their leaders.
In the face of such widespread disillusionment, apathy, cynicism, dissidence and resentment, the Soviet leaders have little choice but to propagandize the image of a beleaguered Motherland surrounded by capitalist-imperialist nations intent on her destruction. In the absence of a common fear of the external enemy, their control would be seriously jeopardized, and might not be able to survive.
To these weaknesses of the Soviet economy and its people's morale must be added the enmity of the People's Republic of China, seemingly unaffected by recent Soviet propitiatory gestures. China, to be sure, is still relatively backward and weak. But with nearly four times the population of the Soviet Union (one-fourth the population of the entire planet), with a leadership which claims that it, rather than the Soviets, follows the true Marxist path and threatens increasingly to challenge the Soviet Union as their country grows in development and strength, the strategic role and potential of China cannot be ignored by either the Soviet Union or the West.
Of a lesser but not negligible order of importance in assessing the weaknesses of the Soviet Union is the fact that most Third World countries have learned to see through the sophistry and shams practiced by the Soviet Union. Even though they make use of its resources and pretensions when they can and when it serves their own purposes to do so, and while they undoubtedly respect its raw power, they clearly lack friendship or affection for it, and are unlikely to display either of these should the Soviet Union ever need them.
Lastly, we may note as a final element of significant weakness that, while the Soviet leadership may no longer really believe in the Marxist-Leninist credo, they are involuntary prisoners of it. This severely limits their flexibility in policy and action and makes their future behavior, at least in its broad patterns, quite predictable.
If we consider the recent actions and current posture of the Soviet Union vis-à-vis the United States and the West in the light of this assessment, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Soviet leaders have carefully taken all these strengths and weaknesses into account in designing a strategy which could be capable, with a minimum of risk to themselves, of defeating the United States and the West and of gaining the world dominance they seek.
Given the awesome strength of the Soviets' massive conventional forces on the borders of Western Europe, the reluctance of the NATO allies to attempt to match that strength, and the stalemate of the nuclear weapons counted upon for so long to offset the Soviets' superior land forces, the European democracies have been increasingly intimidated.
But Western Europe has fears not only of being overrun, or of serving as a theater for nuclear warfare-for almost a decade now it has also had to fear that the Soviet Union might, alternatively, cut off the oil supplies of the Middle East which constitute its economic lifeline. This additional threat the Soviet Union has been able to mount with little risk to itself in a combination of ways-by helping to keep the Middle East in turmoil, by encouraging the Arab nations to impose an oil embargo and raise oil prices to levels which have debilitated the Western economies, and by employing Cuban and East German forces as proxies in strategic locations like Angola, Ethiopia and Yemen, which could serve as bases for cutting the shipping lanes from the Persian Gulf to Europe or for military action in the oil producing areas. The Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, placing its troops closer to Iranian oil fields than before, gravely heightened this threat.
Complementing these uses of the Soviet Union's military and locational strengths has been the application of its great manipulative and propaganda powers to erode the will of the West to resist the expansion of Soviet power, and to utilize the great economic and technological strengths of the West to offset the Soviets' major economic weaknesses. The basic good will, innocence, credulity, desire for peace and fear of nuclear holocaust of peoples in the West have not been difficult to play upon, and large constituencies have developed in all Western countries in favor of détente, peace, disarmament and a freeze of nuclear weapons. They have also been encouraged to believe that the really critical issue of our time is the North-South issue, not the East-West issue. These tactics have played an important role in restraining Western governments from matching the Soviet arms buildup.
At the same time, the Soviet leaders, starting in the early 1970s, initiated a policy of greatly expanded trade with the West. Supported by extremely liberal supplier and government-guaranteed and -subsidized credits, the volume of East-West trade multiplied rapidly. Western governments viewed this trade as an important aspect of détente, and as a potentially significant lever in persuading the Soviet Union to pursue moderation in its foreign policies. But the Soviet Union saw this trade as an unprecedented opportunity to obtain from the West high-technology capital goods which would spark its own lagging, low-productivity industrial economy, help relieve the embarrassing shortages to which it was condemned by its inherent inefficiencies, and at least partially assuage the discontents of its own people.
In addition to the support of gullible, guilt-ridden, pro-peace-détente-disarmament groups, this Western policy had the support of two powerful institutional forces. The economic slowdowns imposed by OPEC's oil price extortions had brought Western capital-goods-producing industries to persistently low levels of operation and made them eager for new markets and orders. And major Western banks, swollen with deposits of excess earnings from the oil-producing countries, and faced with low levels of domestic demand for loans, were equally desirous of extending profitable credits to new customers. Economic self-interest and political naïveté thus provided support for those political leaders who believed that the potential threat to curtail such benefits in the future, once the Soviets and their allies had become dependent on them, could be a potent influence in ensuring moderate Soviet behavior. Within a decade, the volume of two-way East-West trade had exploded to some $80 billion annually, and the volume of credits to the Soviet bloc had grown to a similar figure.
In supplying huge volumes of Western goods (and, in turn, taking in exchange increasingly large volumes of Eastern goods on essentially a barter basis), the West of course endeavored to prohibit the sale of goods and technology which would contribute directly to the Soviets' military strength. In implementing this policy, however, the criteria were necessarily cloudy, especially in the case of goods which could readily be converted to military purposes-e.g. plants and equipment for manufacturing civilian trucks which could readily be converted to the production of military personnel carriers.
But the policy was in any case essentially naïve. Even purely civilian supplies, and especially machinery and equipment embodying advanced technology, contribute indirectly to Soviet military power in a number of significant ways:
- By improving the productivity, output and quality of goods for the domestic market, they reduce the proportionate burden of resources allocated to the military sector, and help to appease workers' demands for more and better consumer goods, thus reducing potentially troublesome tides of discontent. (U.S. grain sales, mainly for animal fodder, both ease the pressure for more agricultural investment and help to eke out the scanty supply of meat products available to Soviet workers, another important factor in containing their discontents.)
- They enable the Soviets to shift their very best technicians and research talent to the military sector and still avoid the collapse of their civilian industries.
- They help the Eastern bloc to produce improved goods which could compete with Western manufacturers in Third World and even some European markets.
- They enable the Soviets to save huge sums which would otherwise have to be spent on civilian research and development, again increasing the resources available to the military sector.
- Currently, they are supplying the credits, goods and technology without which the Soviets would be unable to develop the great, virtually untapped natural resources of far-off Siberia essential to their future growth and economic strength.
Best of all, the Soviets and their allies have been able to finance their investment needs and balance their increasing trade deficits with the West with generous, often subsidized, Western credits. Lenin once said that capitalists would supply to the Soviet Union the rope with which they themselves would one day be hanged. He might well have added, "They will even supply us with the rope on credit."
These key components of the Soviet strategy, and the underlying strengths and weaknesses to which they have so ingeniously been adapted, suggest with a near certainty that the Soviets do not intend or seek an armed conflict with the West, whether of conventional arms, nuclear weapons, or both. Such a conflict would impose upon them not only very great, but quite unnecessary costs and risks-risks which could bring the entire Soviet empire, and communism itself, tumbling down. It would expose the Soviet Union to serious internal dissent, strains and possibly rebellion within the civilian population. It would expose it to the danger that its missiles, tanks and airplanes, as suggested by recent combat experience in the Beka'a valley of Lebanon, might be ineffectual in the face of superior Western military technology. It would expose it to the danger of loss of control over its Warsaw Pact allies, or of their internal collapse. Such a conflict would also bring to an abrupt halt the flow of Western goods, technology and credits on which the bloc depends so much. Moreover, even if the Soviets were finally to triumph in such a conflict, a devastated West would scarcely be able to continue to supply them with golden eggs. It is clearly in the Soviet interest to be in a position to exploit Western wealth and productivity, not to destroy them.
It is therefore in the Soviet interest to rely not on armed conflict, but on the low-cost, low-risk exploitation of Western weaknesses. These encompass credulity, political innocence, short memories, cupidity, differences and strains within the Western Alliance, and above all, a fear of nuclear war. Combined with huge armed forces, massive weaponry and well-timed military bluster and threats, the Soviet strategy in recent years has been very successful indeed. The Soviet leaders have in fact made important strides on their desired path to world domination.
The single most important conclusion which emerges from this analysis is that a U.S. and Western defense strategy cannot be based on military considerations alone. These must indeed lie at the core of such a strategy; but they must be complemented and reinforced, wherever appropriate, by economic, political and social factors. Indeed, judgments concerning the strength, composition, deployment and utilization of military forces may be influenced in significant degree by these complementary aspects of an integrated, coherent strategy.
Above all, U.S. and Western defense strategy must avoid or severely limit any actions and policies which contribute significantly to the strength of the Soviet Union and its allies or help them to overcome their weaknesses. In the first instance, this means curtailing in significant degree the flow of Western high-technology industrial goods and food grains, and the credits which facilitate and increase the volume of this flow. Such curtailment should embrace not only military technology, but civilian technology which contributes significantly, albeit indirectly, to Soviet economic and military strength as well. Such limitations, and the hardships they will inevitably impose on the Soviet Union and its allies, will reduce the volume of resources the Soviets can allocate to their military machine. At the same time, they will remove the props that have helped the Soviet leaders to maintain at least a very low level of morale among their peoples, and expose them to increasingly outspoken dissent and unrest.
There are of course other, more direct, ways, both overt and covert, to address and exploit the low morale which is so rife throughout the Soviet Empire. The substance of our message to the peoples of the Soviet Empire should be, "We are your friends. We recognize and sympathize with your plight, we appreciate your desire for freedom. Till now, we have extended help to your governments in the form of goods and credits in the hope that this would conduce to a peaceful coexistence. We see this has been an error on our part. Peace as we understand it is not what your rulers desire. So, we shall curtail the aid that has helped your rulers to maintain their control, so inept and inefficient in everything except the ways of tyranny. But although we wish you well, we cannot win for you your freedom. This only you can win."
This simplified presentation of the major components seriously lacking in Western defense strategy is not intended to suggest that the formulation and implementation of the policy measures advocated would be either simple or painless. Significant limitations on the supply of industrial goods to the Soviet Union would impose severe hardships on many capital-goods industries and firms already operating at low or unprofitable levels of capacity, especially in Western Europe. Comparable limitations on shipments of U.S. food grains would impose similar hardships on many American farmers. Limitations on Western credits, even if restricted to the denial of government guarantees and interest subsidies to supplier credits and bank loans, would not only affect the flow of goods: they would discourage international banks from rolling over existing credits the East European allies of the Soviet Union can no longer service without fresh capital inflows, and might thus plunge them into default. Such defaults, in the scores of billions of dollars, could hurtle the entire international financial structure into disarray.
There are many plausible arguments which can and have been made in opposition to such seemingly Draconian policies. Western unemployment, already severe, would be increased. The hopes of many that an ever increasing web of economic ties and benefits might induce the Soviet Union to moderate its actions, or wean its satellites away from it, would be discarded as unrealistic. Our European allies, whose trade with and loans to the Soviet bloc are much larger, both absolutely and in relative terms, than are those of the United States, would feel the impact much more severely. As European reactions to President Reagan's recent sanctions have demonstrated, the danger of a serious rift in the Western Alliance would be great.
But even if this difference were bridged, and even if we and our allies were sufficiently resolute to adopt such measures, there would still remain very difficult questions of how far and how fast they should be applied, partly to cushion and equitably share the burdens of the economic shocks they would impose on us, but even more importantly because, if their effect was such as to threaten the continued control of communist governments over their own peoples, the Soviet leaders might be tempted or impelled to risk a heightened adventurism.
All of these questions therefore require the most careful consideration. What can be said about such measures, however, is that in some degree, sooner or later, they are essential. Plainly stated, we need them if we are to stop undermining our own defenses by strengthening our adversary. No matter how painful and costly they might be in the short run, they would surely be less painful, costly and hazardous than would be the military forces, measures and risks that would otherwise be required. This does not necessarily mean, however, that they would be politically acceptable.
The strengthening of our own economy, and of the morale in our own society, are also therefore essential components of-perhaps even prerequisites for-a comprehensive and improved defense strategy and capability. For unless we and our allies succeed in restoring healthy economic growth, our peoples are not likely to accept the burdens of a denial policy, even if the costs to the Soviet Union of such a policy exceed its costs to us.
The mishmash of internally contradictory Reagan economics policies which have, irrationally and unnecessarily, plunged this country into deep and prolonged recession, are inimical to our strength, morale and defense. For more than a year, contrary to the obvious realities and to warnings from virtually all sides, the President has held tenaciously to his stated positions and called upon the country to "stay the course." The Soviet leaders are stuck with their discredited ideologies: there is no excuse for leadership in a democracy to be similarly hidebound.
If a strong and sustainable economic recovery here and in Europe is a prerequisite for public acceptance of an effective economic denial policy, what can be said about the near-term prospects for achieving such a recovery? The inflation rate, to be sure, has come down considerably. This has made it possible for the Federal Reserve Board to loosen its stifling grip on the money supply and spark a substantial decline in nominal interest rates. Almost surely, this will stimulate important interest-rate-sensitive activities like residential construction and automobile production, and the beginning of a more general economic recovery.
As yet, however, few forecasters believe the recovery will be more than weak and short-lived. Significant additional declines in interest rates are essential to a strong economic recovery, but until prospective federal deficits are reduced substantially in size, the Fed will not venture to loosen its monetary controls, or ease interest rates, much further, for fear of rekindling inflation. Indeed, rapidly growing credit demands from the private sector, generated in the initial phases of a recovery, might soon force it to reverse its most recent policy course and tighten its controls once again, aborting the recovery. The key to a strong economic recovery without renewed inflation would thus appear to be a significant reduction in the deficits we now anticipate.
To this end the strengthened Democratic majority in the House will be in a position to bring great pressure on President Reagan to compromise both on tax increases, including the cancellation of the third scheduled step of his cherished tax reduction program, and on his military budget. The tax cut might be reduced or stretched out or deferred, in a hard fight. Resistance to cuts in the military budget might well be less strong. Since budget figures for the planned multi-year military buildup assumed continuation of the very high inflation rate prevailing at the time, recalculation based on lower current and prospective rates would itself reduce forward military budget requirements significantly without affecting the real program at all. In addition, it seems very likely that some extremely costly new weapons systems, seriously challenged from the time they were first put forward, will have to go. In the end, if proper priority is given to the economic component in our overall defensive strength, the military component may be reduced without weakening our overall defensive capabilities.
Opportunities significantly to reduce anticipated budget deficits are thus at hand. This realized, the Fed could continue to moderate its monetary controls, lower real interest rates and turn the economy around. Substantially lower interest rates here would permit our European allies to lower their rates as well, lifting the constraints which have depressed their economic activities. The stage could thus be set for acceptance of an economic denial program.
As has been the case with Reaganomics, attempts by the Administration to generate public support for huge military budgets and ever more sophisticated and destructive nuclear weaponry by alleging that the Soviet Union has gained "nuclear superiority" have also been counterproductive. They have undermined the ability and resolve of our peoples in the United States and Western Europe to think calmly and act firmly in support of an adequate defense. They have created among millions of political innocents a near hysteria about the dangers of a nuclear holocaust. And the popular support for a nuclear freeze, as expressed in recent referenda, appears to be strong.
Instead of less than persuasive claims that the Soviet Union has achieved a position of nuclear superiority, it would be more useful for our leaders now to affirm that they do not believe the Soviet Union desires or plans or would dare to risk direct military confrontation. But they should also make it very clear to all Western peace lovers that the Soviet leaders do not understand by peace what we understand the term to mean. The venerated dogma from which they cannot escape tells them that wars are caused, inevitably, by clashing capitalist-imperialist rivalries. Peace, in their lexicon, cannot therefore be achieved until such governments are overthrown. Lenin said it very succinctly. "As an ultimate objective peace simply means communist world control." This is why, when the Soviet leaders speak of the road to peace, they refer to it always as a struggle. We must understand and make plain to all what they mean by this.
Real peace, as we understand it, cannot be made with Soviet leaders who adhere to such beliefs. Failing fundamental political change in the Soviet Union, the war of ideologies, between democracy and totalitarianism, between freedom and enslavement, will go on. The challenge to us is to ensure that it remains a war of ideologies only. This we can do, if we pursue policies of moderation, calm and resolve, and improve our relative strength, chiefly by restoring our economy to vigorous health and growth, and by cutting back on the economic aid and comfort we have accorded to the Soviet Union and its allies.
The Soviet Union, with our assistance, could match our military buildup, whatever its size, and maintain its military power relative to ours. But it will not be able to compensate, without serious sacrifices, for progressive withdrawals of Western goods, technology and credit. In the last analysis, we shall triumph when the peoples of the Soviet Empire decide they have lived in subjection and misery long enough, and take steps to achieve the freedom to which they too aspire. The Polish people have already taken the first giant step.
1 An excellent report by Richard Halloran in The New York Times, March 22, provided a number of cogent illustrations of this growing tide of criticism. Rep. Jones contended that "the Administration has not related plans for military forces to worldwide commitments." Rep. Michel "asked the President to define his national security policy and how military spending relates to it." Rep. Aspin stated: "I don't have any idea what this Administration's defense policy is. I have read the posture statement (the military budget justification) and I still don't know." Senator Hart observed: "Once again, the wrong questions are being asked. The debate is focusing on how much to spend, rather than on what it should be spent for. It is missing the point; the best defense money can buy is not necessarily the best defense." General Taylor "urged Congress in a recent article to insist that the Administration identify the threats to national security, and then to 'review the size, composition, and the readiness of the forces that the President and his advisors consider necessary to cope with these threats.'" Mr. Kissinger, somewhat more broadly, "urged the President to 'design a longer term, fully-rounded concept of our strategy, our resources, and our broader objectives in the world.'"
2 Edward N. Luttwak, "Why We Need More Waste, Fraud and Mismanagement in the Pentagon," Commentary, February 1982, p. 25.