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Soviet Union

Chapter 18. Armed Forces and Defense Organization

IN 1988 THE ARMED FORCES of the Soviet Union celebrated their seventieth anniversary. As old as the Soviet state, they have been highly integrated into its political, economic, and social systems. The missions of the Soviet armed forces were to defend the Soviet Union and its socialist (see Glossary) allies, to ensure favorable conditions for the development of the world socialist system, and to assist the national liberation movements around the world. The armed forces have defended communist parties that dominate Sovietallied socialist countries as well as the Soviet Union. They also have projected military power abroad to help pro-Soviet forces gain or maintain political power. Thus, the armed forces have provided the military might that is the basis of the Soviet Union's claim to be a superpower with global interests. To ensure that the military pursues these largely political objectives, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) controls the armed forces through a combination of political indoctrination, co-optation, and party supervision at every level.

The Soviet armed forces, the world's largest military establishment, in 1989 had nearly 6 million troops in uniform. The armed forces had five armed services rather than the standard army, navy, and air force organizations found in most of the world's armed forces. In their official order of importance, the Soviet armed services were the Strategic Rocket Forces, Ground Forces, Air Forces, Air Defense Forces, and Naval Forces. The Soviet armed forces also included two paramilitary forces, the Internal Troops and the Border Troops.

The Soviet Union has always been a militarized state. Onefourth of the entire Soviet population in 1989 was engaged in military activities, whether active duty, military production, or civilian military training. Yet the sheer size of the armed forces has not translated directly into combat power. Manpower, training, logistics, equipment, and economic problems combined to limit the operational effectiveness of Soviet forces. Many servicemen were assigned nonmilitary duties that in many other countries were performed by civilians.

Data as of May 1989