Gulf War Forces Change in Soviet Defense Doctrine

By , Mary FitzGerald is a research fellow in the Washington office of the Hudson Institute.

IN the Persian Gulf war, the Soviet military has seen the future - and it works. According to Soviet war college officials, the Gulf war was a ``technological operation'' and therefore a prototype of future war. Hence, the development of the Soviet armed forces will now be planned ``through the prism of the Persian Gulf.'' The Soviet military has been quick to link the coalition's victory to the element of surprise and air superiority. As a result, military experts stress that the Gulf war dictates significant changes in Moscow's ``defensive doctrine.''

The Gulf war was a clash between two concepts of warfare. The Iraqis lost because they were fighting in the past. The coalition won because they were fighting in the future. Military experts predict that the wide-scale deployment of ACMs, directed-energy weapons, and third-generation nuclear weapons is a reality of the near future that can be ignored only at Moscow's peril. These so-called ``reconnaissance-strike complexes'' thus constitute the nucleus of the Soviet military's future vision of warfare.

Soviet Marshal Kulikov says the Gulf war operations ``modified the ideas that we had regarding the nature of modern military operations.'' First, say military spokesmen, the war ``showed the advantages of a highly professional armed force over a mass army based on universal military service.'' Second, the outcome of the war was not determined by a clash of masses of ground troops and equipment in a defensive stance. Third, the performance of advanced weapons such as cruise missiles and Stealth aircraft proved these weapons could ``disturb the qualitative parity in the weapons sector and have serious consequences for the future.'' Finally, the ``determining'' factor in the war was the achievement of surprise and air superiority. The implications for Moscow are profound.

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General Slinchenko argues that warfare has shifted from reliance on ground forces to reliance on air attack weapons. The role of piloted aircraft has changed. The introduction of such novel elements as ACMs and cruise missiles permitted a ``technological operation'' that wasn't massive, but was effective. According to General Slipchenko and others, the Gulf war dictates significant changes in the military doctrine published in 1990. Since the early 1980s, Soviet analyses have stressed the blurring of the boundary between offense and defense under the impact of emerging technologies. In fact, the so-called ``meeting engagement'' - military action where both sides meet on the offensive - was emerging as the primary type of action. The strategic ``air'' and ``anti-air'' operations have converged into a single operation for gaining ``command of the air.'' According to military experts, however, it would be a mistake to consider that the concepts of ``offense'' and ``defense'' as now understood have become obsolete. An offense or defense by ground forces is possible. But they can occur in the course of the war - most probably in its concluding stage - and not at the outset of war as was previously believed.

The nature of future warfare thus dictates that the Armed Forces be allowed to conduct whatever forms of military action are necessary. In compelling the Soviet military to conduct only defensive operations to repel aggression, the new defensive doctrine is thus ``extremely dangerous'' for both the Armed Forces and the Soviet Union. Instead, the Soviet Armed Forces must be fully prepared to conduct all types of combat actions: ``The defensive doctrine does not mean a defensive strategy.'' Since the Gulf war, Soviet statements about ``strictly defensive actions'' at the outset of war have thus been replaced by the concept of ``adequate response.''

While the Soviet military's interpretation of the defense doctrine never merged with that of Gorbachev, the current divergence is an open offensive against a linchpin of Gorbachev's ``new thinking.'' The defensive doctrine was largely responsible for the most dramatic shift in the political-military landscape of Europe in the postwar period. Its demise could send no small shudder through the European ``common house.''

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