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The Kremlin's view of nuclear war

Amid spreading concern over the potential danger of nuclear war, an urgent question arises: Are American perceptions of Soviet military strategy outdated or unfounded? Is there evidence, within current Soviet literature on war and military strategy, of a sea change in the Soviet view toward the purpose and nature of war in the thermonuclear era, the achievement of military supremacy before such a war, the winnability of a global nuclear war, and the survivability of one side over the other from such a war?

A Soviet general recently appeared to tell the American audience that, yes, the Soviets had changed their minds about all of these matters. He emphasized that nuclear weapons "must never be used [and] are not an instrument for waging war in any rational sense [nor are they] weapons with which one can achieve foreign policy goals."

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In an interview with the New York Times in August, Lt. Gen. M. A. Milshtein insisted that emerging new American policies are based on a false reading of Soviet military doctrine. He said that important portions of Soviet strategy, as found in Soviet texts, are now "obsolete."

General Milshtein was less than candid with the Times interviwer.he declined to comment on what the most recent Soviet sourcebooks say on the Soviet view toward war. Such sources would include the Soviet Military Encyclopedia and several works by military strategists (who work for the Soviet Ministry of Defense, not the propaganda-oriented Institute of the USA and Canada for which the general writes regularity). These are still required reading in the "Officer's Librart" and the "Soldier's Bookshelf." Most were published between 1970 and 1980.

All wars, including a possible nuclear one "are continuations of the policy of classes and states by violent means," writes Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov in an encyclopedia article. "Soviet strategy views such a war as the decisive clash between the two opposing world social and economic systems, socialist and capitalist."

A 1972 work titled "Marxism-Leninism on War and Army" states that nuclear war is neither "unthinkable" nor "irrational":

"Nuclear war has not ceased to be an instrument of policy, as is claimed by the overwhelming majority of the spokesmen for pacifist, antiwar movements in the bourgeois world . . . Marxist-Leninists do not confuse the issue [of how nuclear war differs from conventional war] by asking whether or not thermonuclear war is admissible as a political means, whether or not it is rational to use weapons of mass destruction."

A future nuclear war, Soviet texts insist, could only be initiated by the "imperialists." Nonetheless, there have been hints in military writings that the imperialists, "who are preparing a surprise nuclear stike against the USSR" (the standard line), might be prevented from doing so by "frustrating a surprise attack," or "forestalling," "disrupting," or "breaking up" preparations for such an attack.

"Mass nuclear strikes at the armed forces of the opponent and at his key economic and political objectives," says "Marxism-Leninism on War and Army," "can determine the victory of one side and the defeat of the other at the very beginning of the war."

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General Milshtein went out of his way to deny that the Soviets could find any use of nuclear weapons to "achieve foreign policy goals." Here, his denials fly in the face of both civilian and military writings. Knowledge by the enemy of Soviet strategic as well as local military strength "can serve to restrain the imperialists," writes Col. V. M. Kulish in his 1972 book, "Military Force and International Relations."

While vehemently denying that the Soviets intend to use nuclear war to resolve the struggle against capitalism "in favor of socialism" and thus "end all war forever," Soviet civilian and military writers (including Chief of Staff Marshall Ogarkov) nevertheless speak in terms of a nuclear world war in which the USSR is victorious and, moreover, survives and witnesses the triumph of communism worldwide.

For propaganda purposes, any soviet military buildup, like the impressive one in all types of weapons over the past 15 years, must be denied. Yet, in military writings, Soviet military superiority over any and all enemies is regarded as crucial to victory in a nuclear world war. This applies, Soviet writers maintain, especially to nuclear weaponry, the quantity and quality of which, they say, can determine the outcome of the war from the very start.

As to all-around Soviet military superiority (despite SALT-I protestations concerning "rough parity"), "Marxism-Leninism on War and Army" is blunt: "The correct assessment of the elements that compose the supremacy over the opponent and the ability to exploit them before the opponent does are the key to victory in [nuclear war]."

Even civilian spokesmen, up to the including President Brezhnev, speak of the crucial importance of the "shift in the correlation of forces" (including the military factor) in favor of the Soviet side.This, apparently, is what the Soviets mean by "rough parity."

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