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Soviet Union

Evolution of Military Doctrine

Soviet military theorists first formulated a uniform military doctrine in the l920s under the influence of both Lenin's teachings on the defense of the socialist homeland and the writings of Mikhail V. Frunze, a prominent Bolshevik (see Glossary) commander in the Civil War (1918-21) and a military theoretician. Frunze considered the basic conditions for the vitality of doctrine to be, first, its uniformity, i.e., doctrine should be the same for all services of the armed forces, and, second, "its conformity with the state's objectives and the resources at its disposal."

Since Frunze, Soviet doctrinal views on the nature and likelihood of future war have evolved as Soviet theorists have attempted to adapt doctrine to the changing nature of future war, to the shifting alignment of forces in the world, and to changes in the domestic economy and in the combat potential of the Soviet armed forces.

The most important changes in Soviet views on the nature of war came after World War II. At that time, Stalin added the concept of the "two camps"--two mutually irreconcilable coalitions--and their impending worldwide clash to the traditional Soviet concepts of capitalist encirclement (see Glossary) and inevitability of capitalist attack. In February l956, the Twentieth Party Congress modified the idea of inevitability when Khrushchev declared that a world war with capitalism was no longer "fatalistically inevitable."

Doctrinal views on the methods of fighting a future world war also have changed significantly since the end of World War II. Stalin, who for most of his rule did not have a nuclear arsenal, envisioned future war as a fierce combined arms struggle in Europe. As both the United States and the Soviet armed forces in Europe acquired nuclear weapons in the 1950s, Stalin's views gradually changed. In l960 and 196l, Khrushchev tried to impose the concept of nuclear deterrence on the military. Nuclear deterrence holds that the reason for having nuclear weapons is to discourage their use by a potential enemy. With each side deterred from war because of the threat of its escalation into a nuclear conflict, Khrushchev believed, "peaceful coexistence" (see Glossary) with capitalism would become permanent and allow the inherent superiority of socialism to emerge in economic and cultural competition with the West.

Khrushchev hoped that exclusive reliance on the nuclear firepower of the newly created Strategic Rocket Forces would remove the need for increased defense expenditures (see Strategic Rocket Forces , ch. l8). He also sought to use nuclear deterrence to justify his massive troop cuts; his downgrading of the Ground Forces, traditionally the "fighting arm" of the Soviet armed forces; and his plans to replace bombers with missiles and the surface fleet with nuclear missile submarines.

Khrushchev's attempt to introduce a nuclear doctrine limited to deterrence into Soviet military thought misfired. Discussion of nuclear war in the first authoritative Soviet monograph on strategy since the l920s, Marshal Vasilii D. Sokolovskii's Military Strategy (published in 1962, 1963, and 1968) and in the l968 edition of Marxism-Leninism on War and the Army, focused upon the use of nuclear weapons for fighting rather than for deterring a war. Should such a war break out, both sides would pursue the most decisive aims with the most forceful means and methods. Intercontinental ballistic missiles and aircraft would deliver massed nuclear strikes on the enemy's military and civilian objectives. The war would assume an unprecedented geographical scope, but Soviet military writers argued that the use of nuclear weapons in the initial period of the war would decide the course and outcome of the war as a whole. Both in doctrine and in strategy, the nuclear weapon reigned supreme.

After Khrushchev's ouster in l964, Soviet doctrine began to consider the new United States concept of "flexible response," i.e., a graduated response to aggression on several levels, beginning with conventional arms. In the mid-1960s, Soviet military thinkers allowed for the possibility of a phase of conventional warfare preceding a general nuclear war. Another adjustment also occurred in the mid-1960s, as doctrine evolved to maintain that a world war need not inevitably escalate to an intercontinental nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. Soviet doctrine allowed for the possibility of avoiding such an exchange altogether and limiting nuclear strikes to specific theaters of war. Soviet military strategists held that nuclear war could be fought in and confined to Western and Central Europe and that both United States and Soviet territory might escape nuclear devastation. Finally, after l967, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officially adopted the "flexible response" concept and began to structure its forces accordingly, Soviet doctrine began to consider the possibility of fighting an entire war with conventional arms. It did, however, allow for the likelihood of the adversary's escalating to the use of nuclear weapons.

Data as of May 1989

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