Created: 10/1/1967

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The Evolution of Soviet Doctrine on Limited War

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CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of Intelligence 9 7


Thc_EyoIution of Soviet Coctrir.e on Limited War


Soviet military writers have given increasing attention in recent years to the proposition that the Soviet armed forces should be equipped and trained for limited military emergencies, and not just general war alone.

Their writings do not, however,ully articulated doctrine of flexible response, nor do they distinguish the requirements posed by theof distant limited military actions from those posed by the possibility of limited military actions in areas close to the homeland.

As the Soviet Union's confidence in deterrent capabilities increases with the growth of itsoffensive and defensive forces, the military leaders will probably turn increasing attention to the problems involved in upgrading the capabilities of the Soviet armed forces to support foreignin various areas of the world. This willlead them to press the government for somewhat larger and more versatile general purpose forces, with greater lift and support capabilities.

The Soviet Union already has limitedforpresence" in areas ofcontention, and henceore activeof military power in pursuit of foreign policy

Sate; This memorandum was produced solely by CIA. It was prepared by the Office of Strategic Research and coordinated with the Office of National Estimates and the Office of Current Intelligence*



objectives. The exercise of these capabilities depends less on the adequacy of the forces available than on the willingness of the political leadership to accept tho political and military risks thatof military forces might entail.

That limited war is possible, and that theUnion should prepare to deal with both nuclear and nonnuclear military emergencies, are propositions that are by now well established in Soviet military doctrine. There is considerable uncertainty,as to precise implications of tho Sovietlargely because the texts in which these ideas are expressed aro difficult to interpret and By classifying these texts under the concepts they seem to express, and by illustrating thesewith typioal examples, we canetter idea of how tho Soviet view on limited war ie evolving.


The Evidence on the Soviet View

There is, properly speaking, no doctrine of flexible response in Soviet military writings. There is,equence of observations about the nature of war, and about the defense problems facing the Soviet Union, thatrowing appreciation of the need for maintaining anda broad range of military capabilities. These observations have been madeeriod of years when profound changes were taking place in the structure of Soviet forces, and when political battles were being fought over the role of thepurpose forces in the country's defense

These circumstances may explain some of the ambiguities that characterize Soviet statements on limited war. In drawing attention to theof limited war, and in stressing the utility of nonnuclear forces, Soviet military writers have been concerned, not only with adjusting theirto the realitieshanging strategicbut also with defending the vestedinterests to which they are committed. The maintenance of large ground forces, equipped with the full panoply of weapons that the nation's science and industry are able to provide, has always ranked high among these interests.

Soviet military writings on limited war and the utility of conventional forces are not merely meretricious, however. Whatever axes they may have to grind, Soviet officers are conscious of their professional responsibility to work for continuous improvements of the military power needed to support the policies of the regime. There is unmistakable evidence that they have studied American writings on the doctrine of flexible response with great care. And there can be little doubt that Soviet officers have drawn lessons from the successes the United States has achieved in various crisisin recent years by its ability to back up its policy with appropriate military forces.




In their occasional direct and indirectto these US actions therelearthat Soviet military writers are pointingeed for the development of similar capabilities by the Soviet Union. Thus far, however, they have not spelled out this need, perhaps because theof distant limited military action is so closely identified in their writings with theof "imperialism" that it would be politically awkward to do so.

Early References to Limited War

References to the possibility of limited warelatively long history in Soviet doctrinal writings. The first reaction to the emergence of the US doctrine of flexible response in thes was to dismiss the ideaestern device for applying military pressure against the Communist world withouteneral war. This line was well suited to buttressing Khrushchev's strategy of nuclear deterrence. However, some seriousto the possibility of Soviet involvementimited conflict began to appear as part of the military reaction to Khrushchev's efforts to reduce the conventional forces sharply. Although theof limited war was considered in only the most vague terms, these references indicated that the military had not bought Khrushchev's view that the only contingency worth preparing foreneral nuclear war. Marshal Sokolovskiy's book. Military Strategy, published2both these divergent interests. It asserted that hostilities involving the nuclear powers would leadeneral war, but it also said that the Soviet armed forces should be prepared for limited war.

r.ess ambiguous reference to the possibility of limited war also appeared at this time as in the following examples:


Soviet military science considers that the imperialists may engage us in one or another form of war without the use ofweapons. The practical conclusion from this is that our armed forces should be ready to respond in an appropriatewith conventional weapons. (Major D. Kazakov,

In modernf things develop in one way then military operations will be characterized by the massive use of nuclear weapons, if in another way then by their partial use, and if inhird way thenomplete abstention from their use. It all depends on the conditions, the place, and the time. (Colonel I. Grudinin,

With Khrushchev'sore vigorousof these ideas began. Therelear implication in statements in5 that thewas beingew look. Some ofritical flavor, as though the authors were calling for greater attention to the problem.

One must not forget about the "small wars" which the imperialists arewaging. Theoretical thinking ought to take this situation into account and give more attention to the problem oflocal wars. (Lt. Colonel Ye. Rybkin,

Another statement gave tacit testimony to this renewal of interest in the subject by implying that Soviet military theorists were already giving adequate attention to the subject.

The infantry, as before, will remain the main and decisive force in local wars, without the use or with limited use ofweapons. The possibility of theof such wars is neither denied nor ignored since they are already waged by



imperialists in various areas of the globe. (Colonol General Shtcmenko,

These statements, which suggested some acceptance of tho possibility of limited war, were matched in the same period by other comments suggestingirect clash between the major nuclear powers could not be kept limited. These comments provide son* definition of the problem faced by Soviet planners in coming to grips with the US strategy of flexible response. This problem was focused sharply onbecause this was the area of the maximumof the USSR. The notionew and moreset of conditions for the European theater was difficult to accept and met with considerable skepticism.

It is obviousar in Europe, saturated with nuclear rocket weapons, could immediately take on the widest scopo. How is it possible to uso tho term "local war" at all, as applied to the European continent? (Maj. General V. Zemskov,

The skepticism was also stated in broader terms,trong expectation that any conflictthe nuclear powers or threatening their vitalwould escalate or expand.

It is obvious that the probability of the escalationimited warucloar world war if nuclear powersinvolved in the conflict is always groat and under certain circumstances may become inevitable. (Colonel General N. Lomov,

Local wars, especially thoseupon the interests of the socialist camp, intrinsically threaten to go beyond the original territorial bounds. S. Malyonchikov,




As the above remarks suggest, the idea ofwarfare between the nuclear powers was notrejected as categorically as it had been under Khrushchev. Some Soviet officers seemed to be more willing than others to concede the possibility of such warfare. rivate conversation inor example. Marshal Rotmistrov asserted that the Soviet Union would maintain the ability toEurope inoays inuclear or nonnuclear situation. Thus, he appeared toar in Europe could be limited toweapons. At the same time, Rotmistrov was emphasizing the long-held marshals' view that Europe should be kept hostage to the massive military might of the USSR. He stressed that the USSR ishich "must maintain control offor which purpose the Soviet ground forces had been strengthened both with nuclear missiles and with conventional arms. His conception did not necessarilyeightened expectationar between the nuclear powers could be kept limited. Rather, itecognition that conventional warfare capabilities were essential to the defense posture of the Soviet Union in Europe.

Development of Limited War Theory in Post-khrushchev Period

In6 it became apparent that some resolution of Soviet views on limited war was in the making. The idea of limited conflict was now treatedealistic possibility, although where such conflicts were most likely to occur was still not specified. Thereew tendoncy, moreover, to discuss the subject in declarative terms, to assert that the Soviet Union not only recognized the possibility of limited war but was actually preparing its forces for this contingency.

The Soviet armed forces must be ready to ensure the defeat of the enemy not only under conditions in which nuclear weapons are employed, but also in which onlymeans of conflict are utilized. (Colonel I. Prusanov,



Soviet military doctrinethe fact that to achievein conventional and nuclear warof the armed forces (besidesRocket Porces) will betoreatAir Defense, and Navalof the Armed Forces,

These observations in the doctrinal literature were strengthenedolicy-level statement of Minister of Defense Malinovskiy:

The Ground Forces still remain one of the basic types of armed forces. They are the forces entrusted with the task of finally crushing the aggressor's ground forces immediately after the nuclear rocket They can play an even more important rolear in which conventional weapons are used. (Marshal Malinovskiy,

The credibility of these statements wasby several Warsaw Pact exercises. Beginning5 these joint maneuvers included the idea of flexible responseoctrinal theme, although the short conventional phase of the maneuversthat the likelihood of escalation tonuclear war was rated as high. Nevertheless, the exercises demonstratedlexible response doctrine was indeed beginning to have an impact on Soviet planning for the European theater. This was confirmed in public statements, such as this comment by an officer engaged in the6 maneuvers:

The aims and objectives of thewere naturally considered not only from the aspect of our own military doctrine, but also from the aspect of the military aims of the adversary. It is well known that the strategic military concept of the Unitedtheory of flexibletheof wars with limited use of




nuclear weapons or with conventionalonly. (Lt. General Prchlik,

The statements which have appeared thus far7 have broadened the concept of limited war situations towhole range" of What these possibilities include, however, remains to be spelled out.

Our military doctrine provides that the Soviet armed forces must be ready to conductorldimited war, with employment of nuclear weapons or without them. (Colonel N. Kozlov,

Modern conditions do not exclude the possibility of the appearance of wars which differ in scale and in means of combat. In the imperialistpreparation is proceeding not onlylobal nuclear rocket war, but for wars which correspond to the most diverse levels of "escalation" of aggression. (Colonel Yu. Vlasyevich,

The Uses of Military Power in Non-War Situations

Most Soviet statements on the uses ofmilitary power assume the employment of this power in some form of overt hostilities. This can be explained, in part, by the fact that moston this subject is done by military officers whose principal subject of concern has been the ground forces. Recontly, however, there has been some broadening of this conceptual framework in Soviet military writings. Several statements by navalhaveew emphasis on theuses of military power. This appears toew departure in Soviet military thinking, and may point the way towards departures in policy which would represent oviet form of strategy of flexible response.



The following quotation from an article by the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy isof this new note in Soviet doctrinal thinking:

ell balanced navy weavy which, in composition and armament, is capable of carrying out missions assigned it, not onlyuclear rocket war, butar which does not make use of nuclear weapons, and is also able to support state interests at sea in peacetime. (Admiral Gorshkov,

As the military position of the Soviet Unionwith the growth of its strategicdefensive forces, the Soviet militaryprobably turn increasing attention to theof adapting their forces for use in limitedsituations. This prospect may already beimpetus to current equipment programs whichat improving Soviet capabilities in this Theeavy air transport will begininto service in7ndAlligator-class landing ship beqan to

in the meantime, the Soviet Union already has limited capabilities forpresence" in areas of political contention, and henceore active employment of military power in pursuit of foreign policy objectives. Whether to exercise these capabilitiesolitical rather than aquestion. It depends less on the adequacy of the forces available than on the willingness of the political leadership to accept the political and military risks that the commitment of military forces might entail. In some cases, quickness of response rather than the magnitude of the forces brought to bear could be the decisive factor inthe outcomeocal crisis. TheUnion could begin toore active politico-military strategy, even without the forces capable of fighting limited wars in areas remote from the homeland, and evenheory on flexible response fully articulated in its doctrine.

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