SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE LIKELIHOOD OF SOVIET INITIATION OF WAR

Created: 8/24/1959

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C jvf. Some Reflections on tha Likelihood of Soviet Initiation

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Introduction

One problen to which no other defers in importance is the refinenent and strengthening of estimates on the likelihood of Soviet initiation of war. This problen isew timeliness with the eniergence of what son regsrd as tho increasing possibilityoviet surprise attack after they haduperiority in ICSi's, in the period of thes, before the DS hasubstantial invulnerable strategic rissilo capability.

This menorandun exanines the question of initiation of war in the national policy and strategy of the USSR frcn the standpoint of Soviet policy calculations. It is consistent with, though it goes beyond, tho reasoning seti(, hetat3 of the art of weaponry, and intelligence on Soviet military

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eflections on tba Likelihood of Soviet Initiation of Utr

Introduction

protler. to which no other defers in ir.portar.eerefinsr.ent and strengthening of estir^tes on theSoviet Initiation of war. This problen is assuringth the r.ee of whategard asoviet surprise attackhey had builtin ZCKSUj inicd of thebeforo

CS hasubstantial invulnerable strategic rlssilo capability.

r.sr.orrriun exir.ir.s3 the question ofwar inl policy and strategy o? tha USSR frcnof Soviet policy calculaticns. It is consistentit goes fcayordj ths rsasonin; sit forth in

Tho

rtato of the art cfands o- Sr.'itty

developments, are taton into account, but it will be argued that in the eyes of the Soviet leadership thereroader and governing political and ideological context in which this "technical" military aspect, while inportant, is not supreme.

Objectives

3. It is often resarkod that while Soviet tactics change, the fundamental objectives remain unchanged. Hone of us dispute that tho Soviet leaders aspire to see Communism ultimatelythrcughout the world. But we nust not focus on the Soviet goal of world Cornunisn at the expense of attention to the core iirr-ediata and concrete challenges of Soviet policy. The prinary operative ain is to maintain the security 3nd peer of the Soviet state. Beyond this, it is also an aim of Soviet policy to expand influence end power beyond the Cc-munist Bloc in furtherance of aspirations to world hegsrony, but only insofar as this objective can be attained without ris>dng the Soviet regime and state. The fundamental operative objective, underlying and guiding Soviet political and military strategy, can therefore be stated to be: to advance the power of the USSR in whatever waysst obedient so long as tha survival of tho Soviet pswer itself i3 not endangered.

It, The Soviet objective thus mirrors the fact that the Sovietolib-rate initiation of gswrsl war

veili not be ininterest so long as they would fee endangered thereby. Secondly, it nans further thit the Soviet Union will seek to avoid serious risk of general war. Thirdly, it means that the Sovfe ts will probably continue toolicy of expansion of their influence and power byhort of war. They will probably continue to atter-.pt to identify themselves with ideals widely held in tht wcrldidsals such as peace,er.t, progress and national liberation and independence movementsell of which they soak to contrast with alleged imperialist warmongering, arms race, reactionary policies, and colonialism. Finally, it Is nonethelessthit within this general policy they will be alert to exploit eounterdeterrence* when they consider the risks

cossarily ility longer

The tern, "countei-deterrsnce" se-:ms useful to denote the neutralisation of someone elsa's deterrent. The United States and the Soviet Union eachtrategic striking capability which serveseterrent to possible attacks upon itself by tho

other. This is mutual dcterre exclude strategic cour.terdet

whichirect Soviet attack on North America night noe effective to CHt certain lesser challenges not directly and mortally threatening the US. If the credibility of our use of our strategic deterrent were underoir.ad, the Soviets vculd havo achieved counterdeterrence of, the Ar.sriean deterrent for such situations.

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to ca low, especially in cases -horn aggression can be indirect* While gerwrallyelligerent posture, the Soviet advertise their growing power, and wa may expect boldly insinuatod threats whan they consider it appropriate. They may even come to decide upon deliberate initiation cf limitedn cases where the risks of general war seer, low and indirect aggression eoild be masked to lull those in the world who are prone toall but the most blatant Communist aggression.

ocB in Policy-making

5, It ie unnecessary to analyse in full the respective roles of ideology end power politics in Soviet policy-making. For present purposes, for examining policy on war and peace, there is no divergence or discrepancy. Both the Communist ideology and purely pc-er-political considerations place the criterion of calculated risk, cost, and gain at tho foundation of any strategic initiative. Communist doctrine certainly does inject unusually strong hostility end suspicion into Sovietbutoes not .propel tht Soviot Union toward the tmbrace of war or tho witting assumption cf great risks. should the Soviet leaders, confiic-nt in covin- with the sweep cf history, court disasterrematura garble?

'. In developing political and military strategies, tho Soviet leaders are guided by their estinate of the world situation, of the balar.ee of power between the Soviet and Western blocs. Such estir.ates aro nada t7 all po vers, but en important difference characterizes Soviat strategy. Harxisn-Leninlsn, claims monopolyniquely scientific ir.eans of estimating the situation and of selecting the appropriate strategy. InWrms, thisprocess is called "the calculation of tha relation ofenin ence called it "the ncin point in Marxisn and Kantiannd on another occasion h* noted thattrict calculation of the mass forces and mutual class relations we have determined tbf expediency of one or another forc cf struggle". Without dwelling cn tho pclitical role of this calculation, itbe worthwhile to point out in passing that the famous "general (Party) line"there can be only one correct line or policy at any given tlx*is detorrinsd byculition of the relation of forces in that particular situation. This estimate forms ths basis for decisions on war or peace, cn advance or retreat, on direct or indirect offensive or defensive action. Tha political "deviations" rtproatnt erroneous un-Harxist calculations: tha "Left" deviation oris an underestimation of the hostile forces; the Right deviation crturii5ri" isi-esiir.ati.cn of thers, s tstcin^ an vn-arrar.tedm

which the objective situation does not permit; opportunism is overlooking and not seizing upon the potentialityain or advance which the objective relation of forces does permit,

7, What are the "forces" which are calculated? Broadly, they are the elements which we implicitly include in our political concept of "the balance of power." Khrushohev himself has defined the relation of forces as ua broad conception which embraces political, economic and military factors." The relation of forces in the world arena was until recently described in termscapitalist encirclement" of the Soviet Union, though over7 tho Soviets have spoken of the socialist and capitalistt the XXI Party Congress this year, the Soviets claimed that the shift that is occurring in th* world relation of forces is decisive and irrevocable. The Soviats have also now explicitly concluded that capitalist encirclement has ended and been replacedough parity of the power of the West and of tho Communist Bloc, Thus,omewhat differont angle, the Scviets too have come to judge the present world situation as cne of mutual deterrence. Under the prevailing balance of forces, the cardinal role of Soviet military and political strategy is scon as deterringest from launching war end also counterdeterrins tha ^'sst from effective reactions to Comunist sdvancos short of war. However, with thoirfotaniialitrlosvariousa,

economic, and military forms of advancing Soviet power short of general war, they by no meanstalemate respecting anything other than use of strategic nuclear military power. It is also an important Marxian principle thA the future relation of forces can be affected and manipulated by ths careful exploitation of latent potentialities in the present, and by efforts to prevent the opponent from utilising his opportunities.

in moving toward eventual powerultimata victory, the Soviet leaders avoid anywhich would prematurely lead to total strug;;la at a

time when victory was not assured by the alignment of forces. Whether despite or because of these ideological influences in Soviet policy-making, questions of war and peace era decided essentially on the basis of calculations of relative power and of relative risk,

deterrence has resulted from theglobal thermonuclear strikingy the United States andUnion. Mutual detci-rence has bean described as aof terror." Sut while this balance is indeedbyna inevitably enduring, it is not fragile. Thecensaqtsnceslobal thermonuclear holocaust eretho Soviet lenders? who strive to avoid any "adventurist" gamble.

Tha import an ca in Soviet policy of the overall balance of power, tho "relation of forces in the worldilitatesreoccupation with purely military solutions. The Soviet leaders aro not poised to unleash theirand*ourmilitary power as soon as the theoretical probability of military victory crosses some calibrated balance of 5C$r indeed perhaps. In the Communist view, history can not be made hostage to tho mathematical computations of some "coirrwiivac".

10, Thus total nuclear warthough not necessarily other, limited, forms of war seems ever loss likelyational tool for tha Soviet Union to advance its position. Of course, irrational decision is not inconceivable But more dangerous, because more probable, is the possibilitywar by miscalculation,'1 which could occur in anyumber of possible ways. One very important one, often noted, is the possibility that local hostilitiea (nuclear oright be expanded in ths vortex of actions and reactionseneral nuclear war. Perhaps even more important is the case* of miscalculation which could arise froa the danger ofide incorrectly believing the enemy to be cbout tourprise attack, and thereforereemptive blow in order to seise tho initiativet in the first strike,

11. In short, we see that while genoral nuclear war ia all too possible, it is not probabletrategy fashioned to advance Soviet power. Tho flexibility in determining concrete Soviet objectives, depending upon concrete opportunities and constraints, evokes flexibility in their strategic thinking, doctrine, and plans. It also extends to flexibility in selection of political or military means, and in selection among military means if such are to be employed at all.

12* While concluding that the Soviets will saek to avoid general war, it is necessary to consider whether there may arise circumstances under which the Soviot could conclude that "initiation" of general war had become mora expedient than not doing so.

The Preemotive Strike

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13. There occurred, inignificant innovation in Soviet strategy and war planning associated with the increased importance accorded to surprise. At that time, the Soviets adopted the conclusion that mero rt*>ulsa of an attempted surprise attack upon the Soviet Inion might be insufficient, and that if an enemy were clearly about to attack tho Sovietreemptive strike should be made. Ass been some confusi.cn on this point, let us be clear that the Soviets explicitly distinguished thi3

preemptive strike from preventive warit isndertaken cnly if the enemy should himself attempt tourpriseoviet preemptive attack is contemplatedituation which isire of Soviet choosing or tha resulteliberate planned buildup for optimum Soviet position for war, butimo whan the Soviets believe that they must act cr forfeit the strategic initiative to us. It would not represent or reflect Soviet conviction that requirements for the total neutralization of the Western retaliatory force had been met. It would in factesperate last-minute effort to seize the initiative from tho ensuy uho is irrevocably committed to launch an iwiinant attack or already in the process of doing so* This preemptive strategy has never been discussed in the open military press, except to be denied in propaganda, but it has been referred toumber of occasions in secret Soviet sourcesalways in terns of the concept asabovo. "Preventive war"or simply deliberate initiation of hostilitieswould cf coursa not be discussed .even in the type of classified Soviet sources which have discussed prsemptiTO attack. But in considering available indications of Soviet military thinking, the concept of preemptive attack cannot be assumed to represent plans or intentions tc prepareurprise attack on tha West*

The Deliberate rlrst Strike

ecision to embarkolicy of building up maximum iCBIi capabilityowerful surprise attack to destroy the US, and thus dispose ofould be made by the Soviet leaders, but only if they concluded from their calculations that there were an overwhelming probability of destroying our retaliatory military power without suffering unacceptable losses. The tricky points ore, of course, to determine what is an "overwhelmingand what are "acceptable losses".

15. In evaluating the possibility that the Soviet leaders might conclude thatrobability was overwhelming, we must not use our ovn defense assumptions. It is prudent and proper for the defense planner to guard against the enemy's maxinum gross capability. Doii;ts, and thero are inevitably many (in terms of proficiency, probable aborts, and the like, as well as less than complete certainty about thenJ capability of the enemy force) must be resolved in the attacker's favor in orderto meet the possible er.amy threat. But tha attacker, if he is calculating the probability of destroying virtually ell of the retaliatory strike capabilitymrerful adversary, must resolve such doubts in the favor of tha defense. Of course, tha Soviot must be presumed to hive goodf our order of battle, though they can

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never be auro they know about it all. In short, in calculating probability of successu-den massive assault, the Soviets if anything will probably be impressed by our full retaliatory capabilityafety margin nurtured by doubt. This inhibition ontrike decision is heavily reinforced by the Soviet proclivity not to consider surprise asecisive outcome if other factors are at all in doubt. Finally, as noted earlier, there is an ideological tendency not to gamble everythingrobability calculation which could be entirely upsat by any one of many incalculables.

The problem ofrobability of near-complete destruction of Western retaliatory capabilities la greatly complicated by^jvvariety of such forces involved and by their widely dispersed deployment. Mot only will ICBKs and IR3Hs supplement SAC'a combers and the naval carrier task forces, but Polaris IRBM-firlngwill ie added, and finally even tha major part of our tactical fighters and light bombers locatei in numerous bases in western Europe and elseuhertf in the turasian periphery ha-rc tho capability of one-way missions delivering nueloar weapons on almost all areas of the Soviet Union.

Notwithstanding thesa considerations, let us for purposes of this analysis unciim Soviets couldif we

builtelatively snail and vulnerable ICBM force in the next three or four years, and kept SAC on the groundconclude thatrash effort over the ne:tt few years they could get an overwhelming probability of destroying, .let us say,f our strategic retaliatory capabilityuddennd TREM strike, supplemented by bombers. This option would be open only for tha few years before the USubstantial and relatively invulnerable retaliatory capability, with hardened 1GEM sites and the Polaris missile system. Also, it should be noted, the option is not ona to recommend itself on the basisi "Well, we'll build up on the chance it will look attractive at the time and then take another close look before really deciding whether to usehe cost would be ve-ry great both in terms of curtailed Soviet economic growth and of possible instability, and of alerting the West to greater defensive preparations which would geometrically increase Soviet attack require rants. There would at no profit inuildup unless the Soviet leaders were fairly determined that they would urs ittrike. Evenuperior force were achieved, the adventagen fade away as the US built up and dispersed its own ICBvi capabilities,

ut let us suppose that they thought the chances of achievingnockout were geod en.-uch to justify the effort on grounds of that criterion, uli the predictable consequences

of this strike be within the hounds cf "acceptable losses"? Those who would incline to answer in the affirmative tend to argue that the Communists are ruthless and would sacrificar ICO million Soviet citizensed be to attain world domination. The Soviet leaders, indeed,tandard of values in which humanitarianisn is low, Nonetheless, it is very doubtful that they would considar such losses as acceptable,umber of reascns. One is that the consequences for the social and political fabric of Soviet societyend hence the consequences for their own regimeould he ominous and incalculable. ld be the relative weakening of the USSHis all other countries than the US and such allies as also had been devastated. China, India, Sweden, Argentina would be the new great powers cf the wsrld. Thirdly, there ara the genuine expectations of gradual victory of communismat least as pertinent as Bolshevik ruthlossness, and as ideologically poicsr-ful. And finally, the military balance projected into the future, even though conservatively for us and liberally for them, does not provide the kind of assurances of probability of destruction of cur nuclear po'.rer which yield even as good odds as those cited above for illustrative purposes.

19. oviet decision touildupeliberate initiation of general wor is highly unlikely tecaura (a) the prospect ofu.te ca-Abilities to insura

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acceptable losses isKpro-ilslng, (b) .tbey are advancing their power in the world ty other means (and they believe that even if there were setbacks that they are foreordained to win ultimate victory withoutnd (c) apart from the above technical-military and ideological considerations, self-preservation isigher priority in Soviet policy than expansion of Cormunist control, so that tho military calculated risks and ideological compulsions ere in fact governed by political re alio a.

all these reas?ns, seme of then elaboratedgreater detail, this alternative probably does not rank even

as an active candidate forhoicealthough until it is clearly disproved by hard lntellignac* we are obliged to bear it in mind as not inconceivable.

Thei Deterrent

Is it the only alternative Soviet national strategic concept to the one we estimate at present? If it-is to th* "left" of the cne ws see nowersti'jn, is there another, ooe perhaps more favorable to theeece and gradual accommodation, to the "right" 7

The idea of "rJ.nir.unf by that va raan southinguogn thabjective to

be discountedossible Soviet policy* Mot onlyilitary capability limited to the minimisi for deterrence fall to provide the vsriety of military capabilities necessaryorceful and broad-gauged foreign policyhich alone would prove bankrupt in the event of general war. Deterrence of general war nay te not only one's goal but also one's firm expectationbut it cannot be raised to the level of natural law. Deterrence cannot be absolutely guaranteed to ba an absolute guarantee. If the Soviets ware to settleinimum deterrent force, let usew hundred ICSMs, then if faced with general war they would not only fail to have acceptable losses in prospect, but they would indeed virtually be assured of unacceptable losses. Just as one does not invest all his income in savings and life insurance, so he dees notif he is prudentInvest the minimum to pay for his funeral*.

23* Nonetheless, minimum deterrence which at least allows prospects fcr gain through continuing political warfaremust be ranked ahead of the one-chance buildup for thehar.ee strike. On balencs, neither seems really even in the running so far as the Soviet leaders are concerned.

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2q. The Soviet military and political leaders wouldnot be eontenteterrent force, because they would see the neciar should come to employ all forms cf their military power including strategico reduce the US long-range strike capability, even though tho US force could havo destroyed most of its original objectives. On the otber hand,uld weigh ddded capabilities in terms of declining marginal Increments balanced against their expense to other political and economic programs which they consider will shape the courso of history. Consequently, so longure antiseptio first-strike force is not attainable, they will probably not procure tho maximum technically attainable missile force, but will bid.orce for deterrence and aggressiveedging against the unlikely eventuality cf general war.

Raymond L. Garthoff

Original document.

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