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Soviet Union

Conventional Arms Control

For many years, the Soviet Union could not reconcile conventional arms control with its military objectives of avoiding wars and being prepared to fight them. Soviet operational concepts have called for numerical superiority in conventional forces both to deter the adversary from starting a war and to destroy the adversary's forces and armaments and occupy its territory should a war break out. Yet deep reductions in Soviet armed forces have a precedent: Khrushchev reduced conventional forces by more than 2.1 million personnel between l955 and l958, and he announced further reductions of 1.2 million troops in l960.

Since Khrushchev's ouster in 1964, the Soviet military has frowned on personnel reductions. In the l960s, when United States secretary of state William Rogers suggested negotiations to reduce armed forces in Europe, the Soviet leaders resisted bitterly. They finally agreed to negotiate in exchange for United States participation in a European security conference. The Mutual Balanced Forces Reduction Talks (MBFR) began in l973 but remained stalemated for years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Soviet conventional buildup in Europe progressed. Soviet leaders showed interest in the talks only in December l975, when the Western proposal included a reduction in United States tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

In 1987 the Soviet Union called for a new forum to discuss the balance of conventional forces in Europe "from the Atlantic to the Urals." Soviet leaders appeared to espouse the new Soviet strategic concepts of "reasonable sufficiency" and nonprovocative defense, and they maintained that reductions in conventional forces should make it impossible for either side to undertake offensive actions and launch surprise strikes. However, the Soviet military resisted a defensive concept because deep cuts in personnel and armaments such as tanks could prevent Soviet forces from pursuing their military objectives under the doctrine calling for victory.

In December 1988, Gorbachev announced unilateral reductions in Soviet armed forces. Soviet forces were to be reduced by 500,000 men by 1991. Soviet forces in the Atlantic-to-the-Urals area were to be reduced by 10,000 tanks, 8,500 artillery pieces, and 800 combat aircraft. Several Soviet tank divisions were to be withdrawn from Eastern Europe, together with assault-landing and assaultriver -crossing units. Soviet and East European divisions were to be reorganized, with a major cutback in the number of tanks. During 1988 and 1989, the Non-Soviet Warsaw Pact countries also announced unilateral reductions in manpower and conventional armaments.

In 1989 the Soviet leadership appeared to be interested in negotiating seriously on conventional arms control in order to reduce the threat of new Western weapons and operational concepts, to create a "breathing space" for internal economic and social restructuring, and to divert manpower and resources to the country's economy. New negotiations on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) opened in March 1989. Both Warsaw Pact and NATO negotiators expressed interest in stabilizing the strategic situation in Europe by eliminating capabilities for initiating surprise attacks and large-scale offensive actions.

Although Gorbachev proclaimed his commitment to a doctrine that emphasized war avoidance, diplomacy, and the achievement of political goals with political means, the Soviet military continued to press for high-quality military capabilities, commensurate with perceived present and future threats to Soviet and Warsaw Pact security. Soviet military authorities endorsed Gorbachev's arms control efforts as well as the concepts of parity and "reasonable sufficiency." Nevertheless, they supported Gorbachev's pragmatic policies largely in the hope that a renewed economy would help create a modern industrial base. Such a base, they believed, would make it possible not merely to counter Western emerging technologies but also to produce fundamentally new weapons for the twenty-first century.

A transformation of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact, as proposed by Soviet leaders in 1989, would necessitate that both sides adopt a defensive, no-victory doctrine, stressing negotiations and restoration of the status quo. On the Soviet side, this would call for rejecting or circumventing Marxist-Leninist dogma and for revising political goals. Only then could the rewriting of Soviet military art yield a strategy, operational art, and tactics based on genuinely defensive principles, excluding deep offensive operations, massive counteroffensives, and the requisite capabilities. In 1989, however, Soviet military doctrine still bore the burden of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary ideology predicting the eventual worldwide ascendancy of socialism.

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Most original sources on Soviet military doctrine, policy, and strategy are available only in Russian. However, a good introduction to Soviet military thought, The Soviet Art of War, edited by Harriet F. Scott and William F. Scott, is a judicious combination of the editors' commentaries and of excerpts from translated writings of Soviet military authorities. Paul D. Kelley's Soviet General Doctrine for War, a 1987 publication of the United States Army Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center (USAITAC), contains a detailed treatment of Soviet military doctrine and military science. Students of Soviet tactics should also consider William P. Baxter's The Soviet Way of Warfare, in which the author discusses the offensive and defensive options of Soviet tactical combat. Michael MccGwire's Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy offers a comprehensive overview of Soviet strategic and military objectives and of Soviet operational planning. Finally, the annual Department of Defense publication Soviet Military Power presents the official United States Department of Defense view of Soviet military developments.

For the reader who would like to study Soviet military thought, the United States Air Force series of translations of Soviet military monographs is invaluable. Among the most illuminating and thought-provoking in the series are the l972 translation of the l968 classic, Marxism-Leninism on War and the Army, and the controversial Basic Principles of Operational Art and Tactics by V. E. Savkin. Although the heavy nuclear emphasis in both works appeared outdated in the 1980s, the doctrinal tenets and many of the strategic and operational concepts remained valid. Scientific-Technical Progress and the Revolution in Military Affairs edited by N.A. Lomovand, published in l973, is an important reminder that nuclear weapons were only a stage in the technological revolution and that other revolutionary developments may follow. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1989

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