Washington — It takes two to Tango. Will the other superpower play along with whatever course Ameerican planners finally settle on as the most likely way to avoid nuclear war?
Is the Soviet Union -- in the sardonic hawk phraseology -- really serious about nuclear detente? Is it -- in the rhetorical counterquestion of the doves -- really serious about surviving? Why should it -- in the Russians' own formulation-- conform to Western strategic concepts devised to shore up the stability of a world division of power that Moscow does not accept as legitimate?
The answers to these questions must remain a matter of conjecture. Soviet leaders explain little of their underlying premises and analysis. They regard nuclear strategy as secret. And they may never have evolved a coherent nuclear theory at all, beyond a patchwork of revised prenuclear maxims.
This dearth leaves outside observers grasping at clues from such oblique themes as Nikita Khrushchev's "noninevitability of war," Soviet "war fighting" nuclear capabilities, and the perceived degree of devastation in any all-out war. The divergent readings of these clues define one of the most fundamental splits between Western hawks and doves. Both sides can marshal batteries of quotations and statistics to support their contrary theses. Neither side can ever be proved right or wrong, short of the ultimate breakdown of deterrence in nuclear catastrophe.
There is, however, some initial agreement between hawk and dove:
The Soviet Union is no mirror image of the United States. It is an authoritarian state with an urge to expand its international influence, and it is untempered by any strong domestic political restraints. This drive is both historical (harking back to the czars) and ideological (heralding the messianic triumph of communism). It is exacerbated on the one hand by the Soviet inferiority complex toward the West and on the other by a pride in the Soviet Union's new global power. It is manifested in the Soviet refusal to endorse any status quo short of the total world victory of communism, and possibly also int he recent Soviet arms buildup.
The global triumph of Soviet-led socialism is deemed historically inevitable in Moscow. But the Soviet Union still sees itself as charged with hastening the advent of the inevitable. The process is a dialectical one of struggle and antitheses which knows no lasting stability until that final, all-encompassing socialist victory.
This is a concept vastly different from the West's model of world pluralism, stability of the status quo, and hte imperative of not upsetting teh existing international order by force.
Until Khrushchev's time, this Soviet image of the world held was to the inevitable. With the death of Joseph Stalin, the arrival of the cataclysmic nuclear age, and the emergence of the Soviet Union out of its old siege mentality, however, Khrushchev made the leap of declaring war with capitalist states no longer inevitable. The ultimate triumph of Soviet socialism remained assured, but the transition to it in individual countries could come through pacific means. And before the final socialist victory there could be an indefinte period of "peaceful coexistence of states with different social systems."
"Peaceful coexistence" thus became the foundation for Leonid Brezhnev's detente. And that, say Western hawks, is detente's fatal flaw.
From this point on, the hawk-dove consensus breaks down. Hawks make a "worst case" interpretation of Soviet intentions, military doctrine, force posture, and implications for the coming decade. Doves make a less dire interpretation. The opposing arguments run as follows: The hawk version Intentions
Soviet "peaceful coexistence" is only a temporary expedient. It is a soft-line ploy to help shift the world "correlation of forces" in favor of the self-proclaimed revolutionary that aims to overthrow the international order and bury capitalism. It specifically exempts national liberation movements -- and Soviet assistance to national liberation movements -- from any pledges of nonviolence. Peaceful coexistence lures the West into letting down its guard and forgoing various new weapons, while selling to the Russians the computers, ball-bearing grinders, and electronics the Soviet Army needs but cannot procure in the Soviet Union.
Even if the revolutionary ideology is discounted and Soviet foreign policy is viewed in more traditional national terms, Soviet actions still give cause for alarm. The Soviet definition of security sometimes seems so extreme as to demand the total insecurity of its neighbors -- including, most recently, Afghanistan.
Moreover -- in Henry Kissinger's famous analysis -- the Soviet Union is entering an especially assertive phase in the 1980s. For a decade it has had rough strategic equivalence with America. In the late 1970s it acquired the sea and air power to project its conventional military might to Africa and other distant spots. As a parvenu, a new "imperial" nation with global interests and, suddenly, the wherewithal to pursue them, the Soviet Union is especially eager to demonstrate its strength to the world. Awkwardly, it does not yet have enough self-confidence, or enough middle-aged boredom, to curb its appetite for power. Awkwardly, the only fellow superpower standing in the way of Soviet aggrandizement is an America that is still partly traumatized by its Vietnam misadventure.
Soviet military doctrine and force posture both indicate that the Soviet military establishment has never accpeted the fundamental Western premises of the '60s and '70s: that superpower nuclear war is unthinkable and that an agreed nuclear balance offers much less risk of war -- and therefore much more security -- than an open-ended arms race. Moscow does not acknowledge the necessity of mutual vulnerability, the distinction and even conflict between deterrence and defense, or the risks of destabilization from such things as first-strike "counterforce" (antimissile) capability.
Departing from the American emphasis on the deterrent or war-preventing character of nuclear weapons, Soviet military manuals stress a "war winning" approach and "war fighting" capabilities at all levels of combat, including nuclear. They do not anticipate that both "winner" and "loser" societies would be functionarlly destroyed by nuclear devastation. Instead -- and this was the clincher in Khrushchev's otherwise welcome innovation about the "noninevitability" of war -- the Soviets say that if war should, in fact, break out, capitalism would be destroyed, while the world's survivors would go on to build Soviet-style socialism.
Lip service by Soviet civilian leaders to the concept that nuclear war would equal mutual suicide -- and civilian protestations that the Soviet Union is not seeking military superiority over the West -- are thus only camouflage for the real Soviet intentions revealed in military doctrine. Significantly, this military doctrine stresses surprise in battle -- and, since Khrushchev, the decisiveness of the first phase of any nuclear exchange.
The Soviet Union, of course, asserts that it would never be the aggressor. But taken together, Soviet attitudes on nuclear war and world politics imply that Moscow considers an initial "pre-emptive" nuclear attack a real military option. (American strategy, by contrast, virtually rules out any initial pre-emptive nuclear strike.)
Naturally, the Soviet Union would prefer deterrence; it would prefer to make its conquests without war, simply by using any nuclear superiority to blackmail Western Europe, for example, into doing Moscow's bidding. But this hardly means deterrence in the Western sense. Force posture
Moscow's force posture shows a commensurate push for superiority rather than mere equivalence with the United States. The US reached a plateau in defense spending and nuclear and conventional weapons deployment at the end of the 1960s and reduced its real military spending throughout the decade of the 1970s. The Soviet Union, however, did not meet America's unilateral restraint with restraint of its own.
For the past decade the Soviet Union has plowed more than twice as much as the US into military spending in percentage of GNP (Soviet GNP is 55 percent of the American) for an absolute figure higher than America's. This spending was 50 percent higher in dollar costs last year, or about 30 percent higher in ruble costs, according to a recent Central Intelligence Agency estimate. (There are two main ways of comparing US-Soviet defense spending: the dollar estimate, which tries to measure how much it would cost the United States to build a force equal to Soviet Union's; and the ruble estimate, which tires to measure the burden of the Soviet military machine on the Russian economy by estimating its cost in Russian currency).
The Soviet Union developed seven new ICBM systems between 1965 and 1979, while the US developed only one. It has deployed a giant SS-18 missile that carries 10 times the weight of America's Minuteman.
America's resulting silo-missile vulnerability is not merely academic; the two other legs of the land-sea-air triad are far less credible as deterrents, because the fragile communications to submarines would be wiped out in the first day of war and only half of the slow strategic bombers would get through the massive Soviet air defense. Besides, the presumed acquisition by both sides of a laser antisatellite capability in the 1980s would threaten the US more than the Soviet Union, because of the greater American reliance on sophisticated satellite navigation, intelligence, and communication for the far-flung territory it is defending.
In broader terms, there is no indication that the Soviet Union ever accepted the old Western analysis that nuclear stability is based on each side's assured ability to wreak unacceptable damage on the other. According to the old Western concepts, this would require both sides to abstain from the destabilization of building weapons capable of a "disabling first strike" against the other side -- and also to abstain from building any defense that would limit unacceptable damage and thus make nuclear war acceptable.
Yet the Soviet constellation of extensive civil defense, the most extensive conventional air defense in the world, and hard-target counterforce capability lacks only an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system to qualify as a comprehensive "damage limiting," and therefore destabilizing, defense. And there is some evidence that the Soviet Union violated the 1972 SALT I restrictions on development of ABM systems.
There is evidence as well that the Soviet Union has breached the spirit if not quite the letter of various previous treaties in testing antisatellite (ASAT) systems in space. Furthermore, the Russians are experimenting intensively with charged-particle beam weapons that could give Moscow a breakthrough in defense and overturn the present balance based on mutual vulnerability.
(The US, by comparison, has virtually no civil or air defense, and has not even deployed the minimal ABM installations permitted under SALT I. Its declared targetting, up until the August 1980 White House shift, was primarily "countervalue," aimed at hostage Soviet city populations -- and therefore less threatening to Soviet military survival -- rather than "counterforce, aimed at Soviet missiles. In practice, however, the US has consistently targeted Soviet missile silos and command bunkers far more extensively than it has admitted publicly. The new official American abandonment of a "countervalue" principle of "mutual assured destruction" of civilian targets in favor of a graduated "counterforce" capability now brings American doctrine more closely into line with existing US targeting practice -- and with the doctrine of Soviet manuals. Conclusions
Deductions for the 1980s from this analysis differ from hawk to hawk. A few expect that a combination of an unpredictable Soviet successsion to leadership, short-term silo superiority over the US, and the long-term prospect of growing domestic economic and nationality problems will drive a bellicose Soviet Union to threaten Armageddon in the next few years. The main-stream hawks, however, expect that the US -- if it displays sufficient "will" -- can get through its early '80s fixed-base missile vulnerability unscathed.
There will probably continue to be a ggreater risk of war in the late 1980s than there has been up to now, though, given the combination of closer Soviet-American equivalence, the greater technological volatility, and the greater Soviet temptation to pre-emption in any gathering crisis.
The 1980s are going to be dangerous. The dove version Intentions
It's true that the Soviet Union is a self-proclaimed revolutionary that sets for itself the ultimate goal of global victory for Soviet-led socialism. But it is also true -- and far more pertinent to an evaluation of the superpower strategic balance -- that world revolution is low on Soviet priorities. Survival of the Soviet Union and of its considerable domestic achievements is its prime objective -- and ever since Khrushchev this survival has meant, above all, deterrence of nuclear war.
Time and again President (and honorary Marshal and Commander in Chief) Leonid Brezhnev has endorsed the twin propositions that nuclear war would be catastrophic for both sides -- and that more security can be gained through agreed superpower party than through any Soviet surge for elusive military preponderance. It is bizarre for Western hawks to ignore this post-Khrushchev evolution of Soviet thinking; to dismiss Soviet civilian policy statements as mere propaganda; and to regard less authoritative military statements about battlefield situations as the real key to Soviet strategic thinking.
The Soviet military operational manuals cited by Western hawks are essentially geared to bolstering troop morale, so they do not dare treat nuclear war as unwinnable. They are contradicted in any case by frequent past and occasional present Soviet insistence that any nuclear war could not remain limited but would quickly escalate to a massive nuclear exchange. The manuals also confine themselves to military doctrine, which consists only of ambiguous and generalized guidelines about the nature of future war, should that war come. They do not address the broader strategic analysis of the role of war or the usage of nuclear weapons in war, peace, and diplomacy. These more fundamental issues remain a policy matter for determination at the highest civilian levels.
Any perception of Soviet intentions must therefore begin with the fact that in internal debate that lasted from 1974 to 1977 Soviet civilian politicians clearly laid down the line of superpower equality and the unthinkability of nuclear war. Soviet military resistance to this revisionism in the course of the debate indicates that the civilian assertions were far from just a propaganda exercise to lull the West.
As early as 1969 the Soviet delegation at the first business meeting in the SALT talks declared that "war between our two countries would be disastrous for both sides. And it would be tantamount to suicide for the ones who decided to start such a war."
Then at the 1971 Soviet Communist Party Congress, Brezhnev went public with the new Soviet concern about the arms race. Abandoning his earlier orthodox calls "to preserve the superiority" of Soviet weapons, he now defined the Soviet goal in the SALT negotiations as "the security of the parties considered equally." Since that pronouncement Soviet officials have not again made any public appeals for superiority.
In 1974 Brezhnev went a step further, terming the world nuclear stockpiles excessive, and asserting, "There is an immeasurably greater risk in continuing to accumulate weappons wihtout restraint" than in reducing arsenals. He added that current stockpiles are already "sufficient to destroy everything living on earth several times." This latter statement was especially noteworthy, since Brezhnev's last public statement on the subject 10 years earlier had projected a differential nuclear devastation that would end "in the complete defeat of capitalism."
In January 1977, Brezhnev nudged ahead another step, for the first time denying explicitly that the Soviet Union sought military superiority. The Soviet (civilian) defense minister and the Warsaw Pact commander repeated Brezhnev's renunciation of superiority shortly thereafter. And even Soviet military spokesman who had earlier rejected such revisionism now called parity in "reality" and said it had been the basis of US-Soviet relations "in recent years."
In this context the Soviet stress on maintaining "war fighting" or "war winning" nuclear capability doesn't negate deterrence. Originally -- along with the reorganization of Soviet civil defense -- it mirrored the Kennedy administration's stress, in the early '60s, on very thinkable limited nuclear war; it was seen by the Russians as the best way to ensure deterrence.
In any case, America's weapons designers and (as of August) its theoreticians make the same point: Every US strategic system has come "war fighting" rationale as well, or it would never provide any deterrent threat.
But Russians civil defense, on close scrutiny, looks less like a real "damage limiting" program than a bureaucratic morale-building exercise. The 1978 CIA study of it concluded that with even a few hours' warning. Soviet civil defense still could not prevent 50 million immediate Soviet deaths in any American retaliatory nuclear strike. Force posture
When the argument shifts from theory to actual force posture, here, too, a picture emerges that is far less alarming than Western hawks allege. (And here one must distinguish clearly between the central issue of the nuclear balance and the peripheral issues of the Soviet military buildup in Europe and Soviet conventional intervention in Afghanistan.)
In the strategic balance the US had the capacity to fire off a disabling first strike at the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Soviet development of heavy missiles and counterforce point- targetting could therefore be seen less a proof of malevolence than as a response to the US jump from only 200 silo missiles in 1963 to 1,190 to 1966. And the Soviet buildup of missiles since the mid-'60s -- despite the simultaneous American "plateau" -- could also be seen as a continued response to America's early 1960s burst and the Soviet humiliation in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
The SALT I agreement of 1972 marked a grudging American acceptance of the principle of nuclear parity between the superpowers. But it also marked the beginning of actual American superiority in the new category (and American innovation) of multiple, MIRVed warheads on single missiles. These meant that the US, even though it let the Soviet Union build more missiles than American, maintained a substantial lead in the one item that contend most: total warheads. It currently has some 9,200 to the Soviet Union's 6,000 though the numbers would be equalized under SALT II.
The area of pronounced American superiority that will remain throughout the late 1980s is in strategic missile submarines and antisubmarine warfare. According to public statements by US military officers and Defense Department officials in 1978, the US had tracked every single Soviet strategic submarine since 1961 as soon as it had left home port, while the Soviet Union had not managed to track even one of America's strategic subs in the same period. In a decade when the accurate new American Trident subs will have considerable counterforce capability against Soviet fixed-base missile sites, this trucking capacity is a formidable American superiority.
It will be joined, moreover, by a very potent US first-strike antisilo capability if the US goes ahead with the MX missile.
Under these circumstances it could well be that the Soviet Union perceives itself, despite its heavier missiles, as still trying to catch up with American rather than trying to surpass it.
Similar observations could be made about Soviet ABM and ASAT programs. Soviet ABM concepts appear to be still centered on radars, and radars remain so vulnerable to any initial attack that they would not constitute a credible missile defense. (Soviet testing of these radars was stopped in any case when the US challenged the testing under SALT I.)
As the ASAT, Soviet tests so far have involved only fairly primitive means for shooting down low-orbiting satellites; they do not approach the range of American navigation, communication, and early-warning satellites. And the American ASAT research program announced in reaction to the Soviet testing already utilizes much more sophisticated and longer-range devices.
In the more exotic technologies, some (though not all) top American specialists dismiss the Soviet charged-particle-beam program as a waste of money in a dead end. More important, supersecret American advances in ASAT laser beams already outstrip Soviet experiments.
In fact, now as habitually in the past, the US still leads the Soviet Union in virtually every strategic technology except side-looking radar.
All this is not to say that Soviet worst-case military planners are any more justified than American worst-case planners in keeping a blinkered focus on the adversary's strengths and their own weaknessess. Nor is it to say that the extraordinary Soviet military spending won't be alarming if it continues unabated. But it is to say that some sense of proportion has to scale down mutual fears if the next cycle of action and reaction is to be contained. Conclusions
While not following specific American strategic tenets, the Soviet Union does adhere to the broad imperatives of deterrence. The impending succession to Mr. Brezhnev, with its traditional caution in foreign adventures before the new leader is firmly seated, should reinforce deterrence during the early '80s period of relatively greater American silo vulnerability.
In the late '80s, though, there will probably be a greater risk of war than there has been up to now, given the uncertainties of the post-Brezhnev leadership, the decade's technological volatility, the reciprocal vulnerability of fixed-base missiles, and the possible greater Soviet temptation to preemption in any gathering crisis.
The 1980s are going to be dangerous.
Next: The Long Range Issues Further reading
The basic hawk view is presented in Joseph Douglass Jr. and Amoretta Hoeber's book "Soviet Strategy for Nuclear War," Stanford, Hoover Press, 1979.
There is no comparable book giving the dove view; the best basic article for this is Raymond Garthoff's "Mutual Deterrence and Strategic Arms Limitation in Soviet Policy," in the summer 1978 International Security. This is followed up with dialogue and challenge to Garthoff's analysis in Fritz Earmarth's "Contrasts in American and Soviet Strategic Thought" (fall 1978), and exchanges in winter 1978-79 and spring 1979.Analysis uncommitted to either hawk or dove view is found in Helmut Sonnenfeldt and William Hyland's "Soviet Perspective on Security," IISS Adelphi Paper No. 150, London.
Some of the raw material that analyses are based on is offered in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's May 25, 1979, "Analysis Report: President Brezhnev and the Soviet Union's Changing Security Policy" (for Soviet civilian views) and (for military views) the US Air Force translation of Soviet Col. M. P. Skirdo's book "The People, the Army, the Commander" (US Government Printing Office). The FBI's report is perhaps the only publication so far that analyzes top-level Soviet civilian strategic views rather than extrapolating nuclear strategy up from military doctrine.