The great predicament of the modern world was summed up by the late President Kennedy in one of his last public remarks: "The family of man can survive differences of race and religion . . . it can accept differences in ideology, politics, economics. But it cannot survive, in the form in which we know it, a nuclear war." Widespread appreciation of this fact accounts in part for the growing significance of the strategic dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union, particularly in so far as it represents a means by which the two great nuclear powers may seek to clarify the complexities and mitigate the dangers of their strategic relationship in the nuclear-missile age.

The two sides are not, of course, speaking just to one another or wholly in the interest of better understanding. Each is seeking to advance its policy interests, to enhance its posture of deterrence, to obtain political advantage from its military power or prevent the other from doing so, to impress the authority of its position upon allies and onlookers, and so on. There is at the same time a perceptible desire on both sides to promote better, or at least more precise, communications with respect to military policy, strategy and corollary problems. This in itself may be a small start toward a more fruitful and intelligent strategic discourse between East and West, with the participants talking past each other less and to each other more.

The most notable new expression of Soviet strategic thinking is a revised and slightly expanded edition of the book "Military Strategy," written by a collective team of Soviet military experts headed by Marshal V. D. Sokolovskii. The original edition, published in mid-1962, was described in the Soviet Union as the first comprehensive work on military strategy to appear there in more than three decades. It attracted a good deal of attention abroad, so much so, indeed, that it was brought out in English translation by two different American publishers, not to mention versions in several other languages.[i]

The revised Sokolovskii edition appeared in the Soviet Union in November 1963. The interval of 15 months between editions was unusually short for such a work. This, plus obvious Soviet awareness of Western interest in the original volume, suggests that the Soviets regard the book as an important vehicle of external as well as internal communication on strategic problems of the nuclear age. Another noteworthy Soviet contribution to the discussion of strategy was a direct riposte to U.S. commentary on the first Sokolovskii edition, published recently in the Soviet newspaper Red Star (November 2, 1963) over the signatures of four of the Sokolovskii authors. Like a number of other recent expressions of Soviet strategic thinking, this article gave evidence of Russian sensitivity to Western interpretations of Soviet military policy and posture, and contained "corrective messages" on such questions as escalation of local conflicts, Soviet second-strike capability and the preëmptive strike.


The last year and a half has been a critical and trying period for the leaders of the Soviet Union. They have been confronted by serious internal difficulties in agriculture and the economy; the dispute with Communist China has worsened, calling into question Soviet leadership of the world Communist movement; and the after-effects of the Cuban missile confrontation with the United States have underscored the failure of this effort to redress the strategic imbalance between the United States and the Soviet Union. These difficulties have sharpened the problems facing the Soviet leadership in the strategic field, including the central problem of the allocation of resources between competing economic and defense requirements. The developments of this period also have left their imprint on Soviet strategic thought, which shows an awareness of the need to adjust policy to changes in the character of the strategic environment.

There is first an insistent effort to enhance the credibility of the Soviet deterrent posture in Western eyes, coupled with an attempt to disabuse the United States of any idea that it can count on a successful first strike or draw political advantage from its strategic position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The methods employed to put this dual point across range from doctrinaire play upon the theme that Soviet military strength and readiness to employ it should be taken seriously by the West to fairly close-knit technical arguments to demonstrate the certainty of the Soviet ability to deliver a retaliatory nuclear strike.

One finds an example of the first type of warning in the preface to the revised Sokolovskii book, where the authors state that the Communist countries do not wish to ". . . leave the enemy with any illusions that they are unprepared to rebuff him." Citing a pamphlet by Marshal Malinovskii, the Soviet Minister of Defense, to the effect that in Soviet eyes the best means of defense is not an attack, but rather "a warning to the enemy about our strength and readiness to destroy him at the first attempt to carry out an act of aggression," the Sokolovskii authors then observe: "That is why, rather than hiding our views on the nature and means of waging a future war, we have revealed them in the book, 'Military Strategy'."[ii]

A more precise argument seeking to establish that the Soviet Union is now militarily in a sound position to carry out a retaliatory second strike can be found in an article by I. Glagolev and V. Larionov in the November 1963 issue of International Affairs. The authors assert that "foreign military analysts" have erroneously concluded that ". . . Soviet nuclear rocket weapons are highly vulnerable and are designed for a first and not a counterstrike."[iii] The authors then make a series of points designed to refute this impression.

First, they argue that Soviet measures to disperse, harden, conceal and otherwise reduce the vulnerability of their strategic forces mean that an enemy "cannot hope to knock out all these counterstrike means simultaneously." Next, they contend that modern warning techniques make it possible for the defender to avoid being taken by surprise, and that even missiles "can be detected in the first section of their flight path"-which, by the way, represents a rather novel claim for very early detection of missile launchings. A third point advanced to buttress their argument is that the attacker would be limited to a relatively small initial strike with missiles if he wishes to achieve "a measure of even relative surprise." The article discounts U.S. bomber forces as a factor in an initial attack on the grounds that they "... would hardly produce any element of surprise, in the modern sense." This tendency to reëvaluate the factor of surprise is to be noted also in the revised Sokolovskii volume, which, while charging that the United States is still actively studying ways to achieve "maximum surprise," suggests at the same time that changing conditions may now be reducing U.S. confidence in the feasibility of conducting a surprise attack.[iv]

Rather interestingly, the Glagolev-Larionov article does not specifically spell out the problem of target location as one of the factors that would have a significant bearing on the success of a U.S. attack. By contrast, in a new discussion of U.S. counterforce strategy in the second edition of the Sokolovskii book, the problem of locating targets receives great emphasis. In fact, this problem emerges from the Sokolovskii authors' analysis as one of the principal reasons for increasing doubt as to the political and military effectiveness of a counterforce strategy: ". . . the political value of a counterforce strategy may be depreciating even more rapidly than its military value, because it becomes increasingly difficult for the representatives of the military command to convince the political leadership of the absolute reliability of their plans and calculations, based on fragmentary intelligence data on enemy targets."[v]

The new treatment of U.S. "counterforce" or "city-sparing" strategy in the revised Sokolovskii work furnishes another example, incidentally, of the tendency to present a more detailed and objectively argued analysis than has been customary in Soviet military discourse. The authors review the evolution of this strategy and examine various basic requirements which they say must be met in order for it to be "realistic and practical."[vi] The resulting analysis indicates that the authors have at least done their homework on the subject, even though their argument is cast in terms designed to support Soviet charges of aggressive U.S. plans and to fortify claims of an invulnerable Soviet retaliatory posture.


In connection with efforts to reinforce the credibility of the Soviet deterrent posture, a notable feature of current Soviet military discourse is the increasing emphasis placed on the strategic missile forces as the main element of Soviet military power. This reflects not only a serious endeavor to adapt the doctrine and structure of the Soviet military establishment to a new technological environment, but also a desire to exploit them for political and psychological purposes.

Today, the strategic missile forces bear a special cachet in Soviet discussion. They are frequently described as "the mighty shield standing in the way of the imperialist aggressors,"[vii] and the "special care" which the Presidium of the Central Committee and Khrushchev personally have bestowed on their development is often mentioned. Besides being pictured as the guarantor of Soviet security, these forces also are credited with being a major tool of Soviet foreign policy. Thus, for example, the Glagolev- Larionov article ascribes a string of diplomatic victories to the Soviet missile forces, observing that the Soviet Union has "used its nuclear rocket might to shield Socialist Cuba, to avert aggression against the Chinese People's Republic, and to safeguard the independence and freedom of Egypt, Syria and Iraq."

Some treatment of the missile forces in the Soviet press in the fall of 1963 dwelt on the superior virtues of missile personnel in a fashion which may have been meant to pave the way psychologically for further reductions in the traditional branches of the Soviet armed forces-a move which Khrushchev later (in December) indicated he intended. An article in Red Star (November 6), for example, seemed to be aimed at spinning a mystique around Soviet rocket personnel. Remarking that a strategic rocketeer may not be distinguishable outwardly from an officer in any other branch of the Soviet armed forces, the author went on to say: "But if you knew that here before you stands a lieutenant or a colonel of strategic rockets-then, word of honor, you would doff your cap in his presence."

A further feature of Soviet discourse today is a consistently negative attitude toward concepts of the controlled use of strategic weapons and restraints designed to limit damage if a major war should occur. The treatment of U.S. counterforce strategy in the new Sokolovskii edition exemplifies Soviet resistance to what the authors describe as "some sort of suggestion to the Soviet Union on 'rules' for the conduct of nuclear war."[viii] Arguing that this strategy is founded on "illusory" American hopes of saving the capitalist system by conducting a "so-called 'controlled' nuclear war," the authors point to what they regard as obstacles to such a strategy. First, how "convince" others of the need to adhere to "new rules" of sparing cities when "most military targets are located in or near cities?" Second, if these rules are to be followed, the United States and its European allies should start to remove all their military installations from cities. However, this is not only unrealistic, but as noted in the Western press, if such a move were carried out, ". . . the U.S.S.R. would draw the conclusion that the United States was preparing to attack."

Throughout Soviet military writing there is insistence that only measures to avert war are a permissible subject of discussion, which of course ignores the question of trying to place limits on the level of violence in case a war unwanted by either side should begin through accident or miscalculation. Nevertheless, the Glagolev-Larionov article displays a notably defensive attitude on this question when taking note of Western comment that "the Soviet strategic concept is rigid and does not set any limits to the use of nuclear weapons in the event of war." The article then goes on to argue, however, that the Soviet refusal to entertain agreements which would have the effect of "legalizing" nuclear war is actually more humanitarian than the position of Western advocates of measures to limit destruction.

On the question of the likelihood of war, current Soviet views remain ambiguous. The general line, consonant with efforts to cultivate an atmosphere of détente in East-West relations, is that the danger of war has abated somewhat, thanks largely to respect in the "imperialist camp" for Soviet military might. The new Sokolovskii volume reflects a divided mind on this matter. On the same page, for example, it offers a slightly more optimistic judgment on the likelihood of war in the current period, but continues to stress the danger of Western attack on the Soviet Union, "despite the growing influence of factors ensuring the preservation of peace."[ix] In general, Soviet military spokesmen seem more inclined than the political leaders to emphasize that the danger of war is ever-present. Although "official" views are generally foreboding, the impromptu remarks of political leaders are sometimes more relaxed, as when Khrushchev suggested in the spring of 1962 that threats of war from both sides had the effect of cancelling each other out and stabilizing things, which, as he put it, ". . . is why we consider the situation to be good."[x]


The subject of limited war customarily has received much less attention in Soviet military literature than has general nuclear war. By insisting that general war will be violent and global in character, and by rejecting the idea of limitations on its scope and destructiveness once it has begun, the Soviets may have hoped to strengthen deterrence by emphasizing an unqualified Soviet nuclear response. Similarly, on the danger of small wars, the Soviets' unvarying stress on the great danger of escalation has reflected a rather high degree of doctrinal rigidity.

Today, however, there are some signs that the Soviet position on local and limited wars is undergoing change. A good deal of inconsistency characterizes Soviet treatment of the subject, and no unified doctrine of limited war applying to Soviet forces has emerged. Nevertheless, more attention is being given to the possibility of local wars, and there seems to be some effort, particularly in military journals, to treat the subject of escalation in a less arbitrary way. These tendencies, which were evident to a small degree in the first Sokolovskii volume, are still more apparent in the new edition and in other current Soviet commentary.

The most interesting evidence of an effort to redefine the Soviet doctrinal position on limited war and escalation is to be found in the November 1963 Red Star article by four of the Sokolovskii authors, who went to rather unusual lengths to make the point that Soviet doctrine does not preach the "inevitable" escalation of limited wars into general war. Taking issue with the U.S. editors of their book, they said they had merely warned that local wars "can grow into a world war," and they charged that the U.S. editors had deliberately ignored an important proviso linking escalation with the participation of the nuclear powers in local conflicts. In point of fact, this charge amounted to setting up a straw man, for the U.S. editors in question had quoted in full from the pertinent passage in the Sokolovskii volume, which stated: "One must emphasize that the present international system and the present state of military technology will cause any armed conflict to develop, inevitably, into a general war if the nuclear powers are drawn into it."[xi]

The Sokolovskii authors then resorted in their Red Star article to the curious step of misquoting themselves in order to reinforce the point they were interested in making. In citing the above passage from their book, they quietly omitted the key word, "inevitably." This particular omission, along with general denial of the inevitability of escalation, represents a notable shift in the usual Soviet argument. The Russians may hope thereby to reduce their vulnerability to Chinese charges that a hard line on escalation immobilizes support of national liberation movements, and at the same time to deter the West from feeling that it has greater freedom to act because of hypersensitive Soviet concern about escalation. It is of some interest, incidentally, that it has been the Soviet military who have recently placed the greatest emphasis on vigorous Soviet support of national liberation struggles.

Related to the apparent Soviet desire to convey an image of greater flexibility in supporting local conflicts is a new suggestion that in the case of certain third-power conflicts the Soviet Union might try to avoid expanding the conflict by withholding attacks against the United States in return for U.S. abstention. This "message" emerges somewhat tentatively from the November Red Star article by the Sokolovskii authors. Commenting on a statement by the U.S. editors of their book to the effect that Soviet doctrine seems to imply a retaliatory strike against the United States in the event of Western action against a Soviet bloc member, the Sokolovskii authors denied that this was a valid interpretation of the Soviet position. In their book, the Soviet authors said, they were dealing simply with the case of "an attack by imperialist forces" on a socialist country, and "the United States was not mentioned." Only if the United States were "to carry out such an attack itself" would the Soviet Union be impelled to deliver a retaliatory blow, "in which case the United States would have been the aggressor."

This circumlocution appears to be more than an effort to avoid the implication that there are circumstances under which the Soviet Union might strike first. Rather, the Soviet authors seem to be trying to convey the thought that there are some situations where the Soviet Union may be anxious to dampen the possibilities of automatic escalation, by distinguishing between the United States and third powers in the event of local conflict. That the Soviets are thinking specifically of Central Europe is suggested by Khrushchev's recent references to the high escalation potential of a local clash between countries in the heart of Europe,[xii] and by statements elsewhere that West Germany might start a local war against East Germany on its own initiative.[xiii]

Despite what seems to be a general Soviet desire to be reassuring to the United States, the Soviet position on preëmption remains, perhaps intentionally, ambivalent. Thus, for example, while the Sokolovskii authors went to some pains in their Red Star article to disclaim that statements of Soviet readiness to frustrate and break up an enemy attack are meant to imply preemption, the revised edition of their book still adheres to a formula that calls for ". . . breaking up the opponent's aggressive plans by dealing him in good time a crushing blow."[xiv] The Glagolev-Larionov excursus also contains a statement suggesting that the Soviet Union may contemplate a strategy approximating that of preëmption, in fact if not in name. Speaking in a context where the Soviet Union represents the defensive side, the article states: "The first rockets and bombers of the side on the defensive would take off even before the aggressor's first rockets, to say nothing of his bombers, reached their targets. (Italics in the original.) If this description is to be taken at face value, a fine line indeed exists between the Soviet conception of a preëmptive and a retaliatory strike.[xv] At the very least the passage seems meant to convey the notion that Soviet response to warning of a strategic attack would be instant and automatic, without waiting for incontrovertible evidence that an attack actually had been launched at Soviet targets.


Much of the East-West strategic dialogue to date has centered on the question whether the balance of military power in the world favors one side or the other. Today, the Soviet voice seems to reflect growing uncertainty whether the Soviet Union's best interest lies in asserting military superiority over the West, at the risk of stimulating more vigorous Western defense efforts, or in settling for the notion of a second-best position. The predominant note in Soviet discourse up to now clearly has favored a doctrine calling for military superiority over the West. Khrushchev himself has more than once made plain that the policy of peaceful coexistence rests in essence on the premise that the Soviet bloc countries, as he puts it, "have a rapidly growing economy and surpass the imperialist camp in armaments and armed forces."[xvi] A typical expression of Soviet commitment to a policy of military superiority was the statement made in the spring of 1963 by Marshal Andrei Grechko, Soviet First Deputy Minister of Defense, and commander of the Warsaw Pact forces: "The Communist Party and the Soviet government base their military policy on the fact that as long as disarmament has not been implemented, the armed forces of the socialist commonwealth must always be superior to those of the imperialists."[xvii]

On the other hand, it is recognized that there are liabilities in professing a policy of military superiority, for if the Soviet military posture is made to look excessively formidable, the result may well be simply to spur the West to greater efforts, leaving the Soviet Union relatively worse off than before. For a country whose resources already seem strained by the high cost of arms competition, this is a serious consideration, and a principal reason for cultivating an atmosphere of détente. A revealing sign of Soviet wavering on the question of military superiority appeared recently in an article by the same Marshal Grechko who some six months before had spoken categorically for a policy of military superiority. Grechko took note of Western military preparations, singling out remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at the NATO Council meeting in December on "the number of American long-range missiles and the number of bombers on air alert." Western preparations, Grechko said, were meant "to attain military superiority over the Soviet Union." Instead of responding with the customary assertion that Soviet forces are superior to those of the West, Grechko adopted a notably restrained tone. The Soviet Union, he said, "has sufficient means to restrain any aggressor, no matter what kind of nuclear power he may possess." Further, said Grechko, the Soviet Union is not "in the least interested in an armaments race," but merely intends to maintain its defense "at the level necessary to assure peace."[xviii]

At bottom, Soviet policy on the question of military superiority is complicated by many factors. Not only is the Soviet Union at a relative disadvantage in resources, but, as experience shows, it has managed to live for a considerable period in a position of strategic inferiority to its major adversary without being subjected to the "imperialist attack" so often predicted. The underlying issue hinges intimately on what the limits of military power in the nuclear age are understood to be. Can the use of military power, or the threat of its use, enable one side to alter the political situation to its advantage, or is the feasible limit merely to prevent the other side from attempting to do so? Putting it another way, has war or the threat of war lost its meaning as an instrument of policy? Interestingly enough, an internal discussion has developed in the Soviet Union during the past year, and has carried over into the polemics with the Chinese, over the continuing validity of the Leninist thesis on war as a continuation of politics by violent means.[xix] This is more than a matter of splitting doctrinal hairs.

If on the one hand there is still a prospect that war can be won-or lost-in a meaningful sense, then it might seem worth the effort to strive for a war- winning strategy and military forces commensurate to this task. But if on the other hand there should no longer seem to be anything to choose between victor and vanquished in a nuclear war, then the course to take might look quite different. So far as Soviet military policy is concerned, a second- best solution might be readily rationalized as the best solution. That is to say, the Soviet leadership might settle indefinitely for a strategy of deterrence and Soviet forces at a level sufficient to maintain credibility but still clearly inferior to those of the adversary. Perhaps it is safe to say that neither the Soviet political nor military leaders have yet made up their minds on this issue, if indeed they have posed it in this way at all. However, life itself, as Khrushchev sometimes puts it, may now be making a place for the matter on the agenda.

It would be premature in the extreme to suggest that the Soviet image of the West, as projected in the strategic dialogue, now mirrors reality with reasonable fidelity. Soviet perception of the West is still filtered through ideological and parochial suspicions that produce a woefully distorted picture, particularly of Western motives and intentions. At the same time, the picture of the West that emerges from recent Soviet strategic discourse is beginning in some respects to take on more objective dimensions, notably in treating the United States as a strong but withal responsible adversary. This in itself can be regarded as a small advance.

[i] The two U.S. versions of the first Sokolovskii edition were: "Military Strategy: Soviet Doctrine and Concepts," published by Frederick A. Praeger, New York, 1963, with an Introduction by Raymond L. Garthoff; and "Soviet Military Strategy," published by Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963, with an Analytical Introduction and Annotations by Herbert S. Dinerstein, Leon Gouré and Thomas W. Wolfe of the RAND Corporation.

[ii] Marshal V. D. Sokolovskii, et al., "Voennaia Strategiia" (Military Strategy), second edition, Voenizdat Ministerstva Oborony S.S.S.R., Moscow, 1963, p. 3 and 4. Hereafter referred to as "Military Strategy," 2nd ed. The pamphlet referred to here was by Marshal R. Y. Malinovskii, Bditel'no stoyat na strazhe mira (Vigilantly Stand Guard Over the Peace), Voenizdat Ministerstva Oborony S.S.S.R., Moscow, 1962, p. 25. Malinovskii had alluded on previous occasions to the value of "warning the enemy." See, for example, his article in Kommunist, No. 7, May 1962, p. 15.

[iii] The authorship of this article represents an interesting combination. Glagolev is a Soviet specialist on international relations and disarmament affairs who has been active in promoting the informal discussion of disarmament questions with various American scientists and government officials. Colonel Larionov, a Soviet military expert and a prolific writer on strategic affairs, is one of the authors of the Sokolovskii work. The collaboration of these two men marks a departure from customary Soviet practice, suggesting that the particular competence of a military specialist like Larionov was deemed desirable to reinforce the policy arguments of the International Affairs article.

[iv] "Military Strategy," 2nd ed., p. 90.

[v] Ibid., p. 87.

[vi] Ibid., p. 85-86. These requirements, as discussed by the Sokolovskii authors, include: (1) reliable reconnaissance; (2) large numbers of missiles of great accuracy, reliability and readiness, "since there are considerably more military targets than cities;" (3) reliable systems of command and control, warning and communications; (4) careful coördination of missile strikes and other military operations; (5) surprise.

[vii] Red Star, November 19, 1963.

[viii] "Military Strategy," 2nd ed., p. 85.

[ix] Op. cit., p. 232.

[x] Remarks by Khrushchev in Maritsa, Bulgaria, on May 15, 1962, broadcast on that date by the Sofia domestic radio, but not circulated in the Soviet Union.

[xi] "Soviet Military Strategy," p. 44.

[xii] Pravda, January 4, 1964.

[xiii] "Military Strategy," 2nd ed., p. 362.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 260.

[xv] There are large practical differences between a preëmptive strike- which by definition would be intended to break up or blunt an enemy attack that had already been set in motion-and a retaliatory or second-strike which would be mounted only after having absorbed the full force of the enemy's initial blow. Soviet rhetoric customarily claims the practical results to be expected from a preëmptive strike, while disclaiming at the same time that the Soviet Union would ever contemplate any course but a retaliatory strike. Ambiguity as to where the Soviets really stand on this question is the result.

[xvi] Pravda, February, 28, 1963.

[xvii] Izvestia, May 9, 1963.

[xviii] Red Star, December 22, 1963.

[xix] Soviet discussion of this question may be found in the following articles: Boris Dimitryev, "Brass Hats, Peking and Clausewitz," Izvestia, September 24, 1963; Colonel P. Trifonenkov, "War and Politics," Red Star, October 30, 1963; Marshal S. Biryuzov, "Policy and Nuclear Arms," Izvestia, December 11, 1963. See also "Military Strategy," 2nd ed., p. 25, 216.

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