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Poland: the military implications

By Joseph C. Harsch / July 14, 1981



The standard scenario for World War III opens with 30 Soviet divisions (13 of them armored) surging from take-off positions primarily in East Germany across the north German plain headed for Aachen.

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Some 60 more Soviet divisions would be in a second wave coming out of the European part of the Soviet Union itself and falling in behind the spearhead forces. About 50 divisions of Warsaw Pact forces would be in supporting roles.

That makes for a total of some 140 divisions in an offensive force which starts from Central Europe headed into Western Europe. It is a formidable prospect to any soldier.

NATO forces in West Europe in a position to meet this advancing force immediately total about 50 divisions.Britain has an additional 8 divisions at home earmarked to support its forward Army of the Rhine of 5 divisions. The United States has 9 divisions at home earmarked to reinforce its 7 divisions based in Europe.

Moscow is extremely worried about recent events in Poland. Soviet military forces are again in positions from which they could move into Poland and take effective control of that country as they were during last December and again in April. They have warned the Poles that they will do whatever they think is necessary to prevent developments in Poland which they say would "change the balance of power in Europe and the world."

If Poland were to become truly independent (which, of course, is what most Poles want), the balance of power in Europe would be altered radically -- to the disadvantage of Moscow and to the advantage of the West. The old scenario for the opening phase of World War III would go to that attic of history.

A truly independent Poland would mean that the starting line for any Soviet offensive into Europe would be pulled back by 500 miles. Instead of being able to start from East Germany the Soviet spearheads would have to start from behind the Soviet frontier itself. The takeoff line would be in Eastern Europe, not in Central Europe.

The original strike force might have as many divisions. But it could no longer count on those 50 Warsaw Pact divisions in supporting roles. And it would have to travel that extra 500 miles before it could get into battle against NATO forces. That would mean that the NATO forces would have time to get into position and fly to Europe those reserves from Britain and the US which could make all the difference.

As a matter of fact, if Poland became truly independent there would no longer be a realistic scenario for the Soviet armed forces attempting, or threatening, to invade Western Europe because the balance of power would have already turned too heavily against them. For the first time since the beginning of the "cold war" the peoples of Western Europe could live free of the threat of such an attack.

They would be free of the threat because without Poland the Warsaw Pact becomes militarily meaningless. Poland is the largest of the Soviet client states in Eastern Europe. It is strategically vital. Moscow cannot supply or support its army of occupation in East Germany without control over the supply lines running through Poland.

The overall military situation for the Soviet Union would be deeply affected by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

The Soviet Union at present has 173 divisions in its order of battle. Of these, 46 are committed to the Chinese front. Another 24 based in southern Russia are probably tied down there by lively resistance to Soviet intervention of Afghanistan and by the general instability of the whole area further to the south. That leaves 73 divisions for use elsewhere.

But some of those would be needed for the home front. And certainly 30 or more would be needed to police the satellite countries if any Soviet offensive had to push through their territories without their willing support.

In other words, a successful drive for independence by Poland would transform the balance of power in Europe. The NATO countries would actually enjoy a potential military advantage. It would be a decisive advantage if most of the Warsaw Pact countries pulled out and managed to get themselves into a neutral position. Probably all would seek neutrality except for Bulgaria which is traditionally pro-Russian.

Moscow has plenty of reason to worry about developments in Poland.