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Soviet Union

Nuclear Strategy in the 1950s

After the explosions of the first Soviet atomic device in l949 and the Soviet hydrogen bomb in l953, the Soviet armed forces acquired nuclear weapons. Also introduced in the 1950s were ballistic- and cruise-missile technologies, jet engines, and artificial earth satellites, as well as computers and automated control systems. These important events were known in the Soviet Union as the "revolution in military affairs." Of all the new developments, nuclear weapons most affected Soviet strategy. Nuclear weapons altered the nature and methods of armed struggle on the strategic level because they could accomplish the military's strategic tasks without operational art and tactics. Not until Stalin's death in l953, however, could the Soviet military begin exploring the full strategic potential of the new weapons. Although he had pushed for the development of the "bomb," Stalin played down its importance and did not encourage the military to formulate a new strategy incorporating nuclear weapons.

Transition to a nuclear strategy began in the mid-1950s, when Soviet military thinkers began recognizing the importance of surprise, of the initial period of war, and of using nuclear strikes to determine the course and outcome of a war. In February l955, Marshal Pavel A. Rotmistrov published in the Soviet journal Voennaia mysl' (Military Thought) a ground-breaking article on "surprise." He stressed the importance of landing the first, "preemptive" nuclear blow to destroy the enemy's weapons when the latter was preparing a surprise attack. Since the mid-l950s, the concept of preempting an enemy's nuclear weapons has become firmly entrenched in Soviet military thought.

As the Soviet military came to view nuclear weapons as particularly suitable for general war, it needed a strategy for their use. In l957 a series of military seminars at the highest level helped leaders develop the elements of a new nuclear strategy. A group of Soviet military strategists under the direction of Marshal Sokolovskii continued the work of the seminars. In l962 they published Military Strategy, the first Soviet treatise on strategy since l927.

Data as of May 1989