SOVIET THINKING ON THE POSSIBILITY OF ARMED CONFRONTATION WITH THE UNITED STATE

Created: 12/30/1983

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OF INTELLIGENCE3 Soviet Thinking on the Possibility of Armed Confrontation with the United States

Summary

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to the impression conveyed by Soviet propaganda, Moscow does not appear toear-term military confrontation with the United States. With the major exception of the Middle East, there appears to be no region In which the Soviets are now apprehensive that action in support of clients could lead to Soviet-American armed collision. By playing up the "waroscow hopes to encourage resistance to INF deployment In Western Europe, deepen cleavages within the Atlantic alliance, and increase public pressure in the United Statesore conciliatory posture toward the USSR. I

Soviet policymakers, however, almost certainly are very concerned that trends they foresee in long-term US military programs could in time erode the USSR's military gains of the past fifteen years, heighten US political leverage, and perhaps Increase the chances of confrontation. I

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moscow's sense of pressure and challenge from the united states fs probably magnified by difficult near-term policy dilemmas which us actions pose. the kremlin must consider painful any increases in the rate of military spending;ust provide or deny additional assistance to client regimes under serious insurgent attack; and it must reactharp ideological offensive against communist ruleime of growing public demoralisation arising from stagnationiving standards in the ussr and eastern europe. not surprisingly, moscow is frustrated by and angry at the reagan administration. |

1. soviet rhetoric would suggest that moscow believes the reagan administration has sharply increased the likelihood of armed confrontation between the united states and the ussr. soviet spokesmen have accused the president and his advisers ofextremism" and "criminality" in the conduct of relations with the ussr. they have charged that the united states isuclear first strike capability and preparing to unleash nuclear wareans of crushing communism. the soviets maintain that the reagan administration is eager to apply military force in the third world and has no intention of resolving its differences with moscow through

2. conversations by westerners with soviet citizens indicate that the "war danger" propaganda line is probably widely believed by the public at large, and that various elements of this line are accepted within the foreign policy advlsory commun1ty.

3, the question of whether soviet leaders actually believe that war could break out, and whether they are basing policy onudgment, is critical. if the answer to this question were positive, then moscow wouldtrong incenttve to pre-empt the united states and might be so hypersensitive to us moves that the chances of accidental conflict would be greatly increased. in our view, however, soviet leaders do not believe their own war danger propaganda and are not likely to base policy on it. rather, theyundamental and transparent policy interest in makingppear to the world public that the ussr is dedicated to preserving the

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positive elements of the bilateral relationship, that the United States has been Intransigent and Irresponsible, and that the Soviet sideightfully angry. Thefr purpose Is to:

Encourage continuing resistance to INF deployment by the "peace movement"estern Europe.

supportestructuring of arps control talksasis more acceptable to Moscow.

a long-term shift In Western Europe toward neutral ism.

" Deepen suspicions In West European governments of the motives and competence of the Reagan Administration.

public pressure in the United States for concessions to the USSR in futurecontrol negotiations.

Undercut the President's reelection prospects.

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an Impression that the US-USSR dialogue has that the relationship is careening dam "his Interpretationupported by

justifying higher military spending, and tighter labor discipline.

Apart from the basic Soviet interest in fostering the appearance that confrontation with the United States could erupt at any moment, there are other strong reasons for skepticism that Soviet policymakers either believe this proposition or base policy on it:

Moscow's inflexibility in Its INF tactics. Its suspension of arms negotiations, and Its reduction of contacts with the United States, are not moves the Kremlin would have taken If it genuinely feared confrontation. Rather,ould have tried to keep the dialogue open in order to keep closely in touch with US intentions and lessen the chances of miscalculation.

0 Soviet policymakers almost certainly realize that the developments most disturbing to then--full US inf deployment, the broad US strategic buildup, and strengthening of US general purpose forces--could influence the military balance only gradually, would not affect the near-term US calculus of risks, and are still subject to substantial political uncertainty.

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Historically, Soviet policy has generally been driven by prudent calculation of interests and dogged pursuit of long-term objectives, evenhe face of great adversity, rather than by sudden swells of fear or anger.

However disturbed Soviet policymakers might be by the Reagan Administration, they alsoense of the USSR's strengths and of potential domestic and International vulnerabilities of the United States. They typicallyonger view of Soviet prospects, and the perception from thelj^remllny no means one of unrelieved gloom.

6. These considerations imply that any anticipations of near-term confrontation that may exist in Moscow are likely to affect policy more at the nargln than at the core. We believe this generalization is supported by how the Soviets probably assess the risk of conflict with the United States arising from two most likely quarters: nuclear-strategic rivalry, and competition In the Third World.

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7. Despite their impassioned rhetoric about the "nucleare strongly believe that the Soviets are fundamentally concerned not about any hypothetical near-term US nuclear attack, but about possible five-to-ten year shifts in the strategic balance. V interviewecember, the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Ogarkov, pointed to the factors that would presumably now deter even the most hostile US administrationeliberate first strike attenpt--the large Soviet stockpile of nuclear weapons, diverse delivery systems, "repeatedly redundant systems of controllingnd the vulnerability of the United States to retaliation. And,peech onecember, Minster of Defense Ustinov stated there was no need to "dramatize" the current tense situation, mgnm

The Soviets probably do believe that US inf missiles, when fully deployed, would significantly affect their plans for conducting nuclear war. They think that the Pershing ii is part

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roader HS strategic plan to acquire forces to fightnuclear war in the European theater, and that It wouldto strike critical strategic targets--particularlycommand and control systen--in the Western USSR,confidence In its 1aunch-on-tact 1cal warningprobably believe their public assertion that the rangePershing IIm rather thanm claimedwhichas theyudden disabling nuclear attack of theand strategic command and control facilitiesthe Moscow region. But they apparently were willing torisk of passingossible INF deal Involving nodeployments, in order to pursue their maximum objective ofil "s 'oyn-ent at all. They are aware that fullot scheduled to be completedhat 1t

will be attended by heavy political opposition in Western Europe, and that It could be aborted or limited. Their likely near-term countermeasures to INF deployment are not provocative, and do not appear to be emotionally inspired. In Europe,act, there has been no serious Soviet threatening, and efforts to woo the democratic Left and maintain economic ties continue.

9. As INF deployment is completed about the same time new US strategic systems are being fielded, the Soviets couldreater possibility of confrontation with the United States. We do not believe the Soviets think that deployment will decisively alter the strategic balance, but they could think it wouldembolden the United States to take more risks and Increase the mi cnanceccidental war. With the sharp reduction in warning time accompanying deployment of the Pershing lis, the Soviets could also well fear--as some spokemen have obliquely implied--that they thenselves might mistakenlyuclear exchange.

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in the Third World

Despite the truculent mood in Moscow, we see no signs of any emerging general pattern of Soviet behavior risking armed confrontation with the United States in the Third World. Nor, by the same token, do we detect much fear that US actions in most parts of the Third World might precipitate an armed clash with Soviet forces that Moscow could not avoid.

The single case today in which Moscow clearly doeseightened threat of armed confrontation with the United States is Syria-Lebanon. The Soviets almost certainly are apprehensive that the proximity of US and Soviet combat units couldirect conflict. They may also fear that the

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recent us-israeli security agreement could increase the risks-soviet clash in the event of renewed major hostilities between israel and syria. the soviets have given no sign of interest in attempting actively to use their military resources in syria and lebanon to provoke washington. and moscow's public response to recent syrian-us hostilities has been quite cautious. yet, the soviets have not been moved by fear of confrontation with the united states to qualify their support of assad. thus, in attempting to protect their equities in relations with syria, they haveostureossible clash with the us that remains basically reactive. the soviets have privately warned the united states not to attack the syrians, have pledged to match with their support any us escalation of hostilities, and have asserted that they will use whatever means are needed to maintain their presence in syria. they will feel under pressure to demonstrate that they and their client cannot be pushed around by the united states. should us or israeli military operations expand into syria itself, the soviets might beg to provide much greater (and riskier) military support to syria.

12. in attempting to make good on their threats, the soviets might face choices that could lead directly to confrontation with the united states, but moscow's capability to act militarily in the lebanese-syrian theater itself in ways that threatened armed confrontation with the united statesimited physically by severe constraints on the soviet ability to project force rapidly into the region during hostilities, and would be influenced psychologically by considerable uncertainty about reactions that might be anticipated from the white house. the soviets might agree to expand the number of soviet advisers in lebanon if the syrians demanded this, but would strive hard to limit their combat exposure. they would probably prefer to ignore us-caused casualties among their advisers in lebanon. at higher escalation levels, they might choose to increase their naval presence in the eastern mediterranean if they had not already done so, dispatch some fighter aircraft to syria, and deploy small numbers of airborne or naval infantry troops to rear areas in syria--with the intention of showing the flag more and the deterrent tripwire. |

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tnsyrna to participate in combat operations, and probably would authorize soviet pilots already in syria to fly combat missions within syrian air space. they would try to use thenly tn defense of syrian territory, and even then might restrain themselves if us attacks on syrian targets were not extensive. they would certainly attempt to defendites against us strikes.

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Concerns

13. Having asserted that the Soviets basically are not acting on the belief that war is likely to "break out" soon, we must add that in Moscow the Reagan Administration is nevertheless the least loved of any IIS administration since that of President Truman; that some Soviet officials may have talked themselves into believing their own war scare propaganda; and that the general level of frustration and anxiety surrounding relations with the United States is substantially higher thanashe

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Soviet officials haveardening of US policy beginninghe latter part of the Carter Administration, But US actions since President Reagan's election have heightened Soviet anxieties. The major foreign policy defeat represented by the Initiation of INF deployment, the perceived unyielding current US posture in the START talks, the US action in Grenada, the deployment of marinesebanon, US aid to Insurgencies against Soviet client regimes, the Reagan Administration's perceived political "exploitation" of the KAL shootdown, and in general the Administration's perceived unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Soviet regime or to treat the Kremlin with the "superpower" deference It desires, appear to have combined toense of anger toward the United States among Soviet officialselligerent mood.

Moscow, moreover,robably genuinely concerned or uncertain about several developments that seem to have changed the terms of reference in bilateral relations and could potentially increase the likelihood of hostilities between the United States and the USSR or constrain opportunities for Soviet political gains abroad. These include:

ossible adverse shift downstream in the overall

military balance with the United States arising from the acceleration of US defense spending, support in Americaroad range of new strategic force programs, and increased momentum behind development of US general purpose forces.

--The perceived lower priority accorded by the Reagan

Administration to arms control negotiations with Moscow, its unwillingness to accommodate Soviet interests in arms talks, and its apparent intention of developing weapons systems that Moscow may have thought were blocked simply by the fact that arms talks were ongoing.

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__thp end of tne -vietnam syndrome" and readinessto use force once again in the third world,

either by supporting insurgencies against soviet client reg1mes--as in nicaragua, or acting dfrectly--as in lebanon and grenada.

immediate psychological and political impactdevelopments--the enlivened sense of uss probably greatly magnified bynear-term policy dilemmas they pose for thethe defense area, us plans to deploy the peacekeeper,evelopment of thend stealth bomber,of deployment of pershing lis and glcms, developmentguided munitions to attack armored forces, and

rogram to develop space-based defense systems

rs confront soviet leadersainful and possiblyof accelerating the growth of defense spending in the

ive-year plan. decisions on the plan must be made over theonths, and even the costs at the margin of slighting either investment or some improvement of living standards are clearly viewed by the soviet leadership as very high indeed.

against client regimes alsonear-term policy choices which probably reinforceseige mentality on moscow's part. instead of beingattack, the ussr has been placed on the defensive. it 1s

edeither to up the ante of military and economic aid,

vrs or pay tne pr,ce of loss of political influence. increasesassistance carry withossible indirect costs in

relations with third parties. not least, the existence of insurgencies casts an unwanted propaganda spotlight on the repressiveness of allies of the ussr.

the soviets have an obvious interesttheir own side as deeply offended by the militancyreagan administration's ideological offensivethey probably do in fact find it quite unsettling. purely personal level, the top soviet leadershipresent heing challenged publicly by the president ofstates, more importantly, perhaps, moscow is noto treat the administration's words as "rhetoric,"them aserious policy aimed atpolitical vulnerabilities across the board in thethe soviet bloc. the soviets are well aware ofgenerated by stagnating consumption and corruption,repressed nationalism throughout their empire; and they do not

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prospects

19. the sovietsumber of options for dealing with the situation as they perceive it. they are probably still counting on the reagan administration overreaching itself and

the 'peace movement" in western europe.

ant1-amertcanlsn in the middle east, central america and elsewhere in the third world.

0 losing support among american voters.

their response to inf deployment provides evidence that theydoned hope of capitalizing upon such developments. ^jpj

20. they could attempt to heighten the war of nervesin threatening military operations, conductingexercises or the like. their approach here wouldbe selective in order to avoid counteracting the attemptthe united states as the major threat to peace. sohave not systematically engaged in such activities. totheir war scare propaganda has already backfired oneastern europe, where there has been considerablethe emplacement of new soviet missiles as anato inf deployment. I

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21. they could also attempt through proxies to step up the pace of ongoing leftist insurgencies {for example, in central america) or to provoke new armed conflicts that would, by forcing either us engagement or abstention, damage american interests. pakistan's border with afghanistan, or zaire, perhaps, night be candidates for such attention. however, there are important obstacles or disincentivesost instances to pressing destabl11zation too hard and too openly, and thus the attractiveness of currently available options along such lines is arguable. hpm

if soviet security concerns are basically long-term, as

we believe, and are seriously felt, as is likely, we would expect that anxieties here would be expressed in an acceleration of the pace of military spending inive-year plan. the current tense superpower environment will probably increase the pressures on the politburo to accept "worst-case" threat assessments and stipulations of requirements from military

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