MIKHAIL Gorbachev has enjoyed enormous success since his ascent to power in the Kremlin in March 1985. He has promoted his own men and retired others, swiftly moving to transform the Soviet leadership from an aged, paralyzed group to a more dynamic and responsive one. While the West still knows little of the Soviet leader, his actions signify his firm intent to manage the Kremlin decision process. Change is most obvious at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko has been removed to become Soviet president. But it is the Soviet defense sector that has accumulated the most significant changes. Until his death in December 1984, Defense Minister Dmitri F. Ustinov exercised control over defense policy similar to Gromyko's in foreign policy. His power was less associated with his personal drive, however, than with the traditional monopoly of the defense establishment over
information necessary for decisions on defense policy. As a result of that monopoly, the Soviet military has long tended to determine its own requirements.
Gorbachev, it seems, is challenging this tradition with an attack on the defense institution. The Soviet defense sector has lost the votes it had on the ruling Politburo with Ustinov's death and the removal of Grigory Romanov, the military industry representative and a Gorbachev rival. Sergei Sokolov, Ustinov's successor as minister of defense, is a candidate member of the Politburo but has no vote. As a result, the Soviet military now has no official vote on top Kremlin decisions.
Gorbachev might be trying to limit the defense sector's role because the military, long a successful closed system, has threatened to be intractable to the policy directions that Gorbachev has in mind. Soviet military policy and strategy have been preoccupied for 30 years with nuclear weapons and their effect on the balance of strategic power. Although evidence is still weak on this score, Gorbachev seems less concerned with the nuclear balance than with trends in strategic power based on many factors.