Interpreting Soviet Nuclear Strategy
To the Editor:
As one who has been involved in the U.S. Congress in SALT issues and defense appropriations, I have experienced the frustrations associated with any effort to have Soviet strategic doctrine and actual force structure taken seriously, as Richard Pipes has done in his article, “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight & Win a Nuclear War” [July]. Soviet doctrine explicitly glorifies the offensive, explicitly states that the supremacy of the offensive is made mandatory by the advent of nuclear weapons, and explicitly states that the side committed to the defensive will be defeated. It would mean less if these doctrines were not reflected in the actual structure of Soviet forces, but they are. Soviet military forces comprise the most powerful offensive capability the world has ever seen. Yet we continue to hide this fact under euphemisms such as “defensive land-based power.”
It is heartening that Richard Pipes could get a hearing in an intellectual publication. But it is disheartening that what he has to say needs a hearing. Why don’t people already know? After all, it is not a new development. Could it be that the listening audience is already informed and that the others are immune? I believe this is so, and I believe that the answer to the question Mr. Pipes left unanswered explains why it is so.
Mr. Pipes does not explain why American strategic doctrine has developed in conscious neglect of Soviet strategic doctrine. I believe the answer is that our intellectuals, academics, and their policy-making students and fellow-traveling journalists cannot take Soviet strategic doctrine and force-structure seriously, because to do so would mean they would have to move out of their adversary role toward the U.S. Western intellectuals have a long tradition of relying on criticism of their own society as the means of achieving progress. This frame of mind explains their concessionary attitudes toward Communism, Third World demands, pornography, crime, poverty, and so forth—attitudes that puzzle the average American. Intellectuals and their policy-making students cannot listen to Mr. Pipes—or to the Russians—without changing their frame of mind, and to do this would leave them homeless. Who can imagine a Western intellectual in an affirmative stance toward his society? The West’s morality is immanent in attacks on itself.
I predict that Mr. Pipes will achieve nothing other than to set himself up as a new bogeyman, a new target for the venting of moral fury. In fact, it has already started. Five days after the Washington Post carried excerpts from his COMMENTARY article, Mr. Pipes was attacked by a Post columnist who knows nothing whatsoever about the issue, as a member of “the military-intellectual complex” who spreads “rank hysteria in scholarly garb.” The columnist went on to say that “Pipes and others of his stripe, such as Paul Nitze” are driven by devils.
I could have warned him. On June 16, 1976, Congressman Jack Kemp, a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and one of the few Congressmen who has bothered to learn about SALT issues and Soviet strategic doctrine, made a speech in the House of Representatives along the same lines as Mr. Pipes’s article. Staff members of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee responded by sending him an article about Congressmen who show “bristling vigilance in the face of a supposed external danger.” This is the subcommittee that is chaired by George Mahon, the dean of the House, who is known as Mr. Defense. If this is the staff attitude in this pro-defense subcommittee, you can imagine what it is like elsewhere.
What does it all mean? It means, perhaps, that henceforth American foreign policy will consist of accommodating the Russians and presenting such accommodation to the American people as successful diplomacy in building a new world order. The stage is set for a new brand of American politician, one who competes for office by escalating concessions to the Russians. The line will be that world peace will be endangered unless we give up . . . and that there is no room for prideful, selfish national interests in a nuclear age. Already Congress hears testimony from our leading academic centers about the need for “concessionary transfers” and “cultivating a disposition of forthcomingness.” Is the West already under the Soviet thumb?
The U.S. has relied for so long on a self-critical posture as its means of achieving progress that it naturally and unthinkingly has adopted this stance in its relations with its external enemies. Even if some Soviet action were to shake this attitude, the U.S. may already be too far behind in the momentum of offensive and defensive capability for the Russians to allow us to redress the balance.
What to do about the Russians is becoming a moot question. Tomorrow the relevant question may be: what will they do to us?
Paul Craig Roberts
To the Editor:
After reading Richard Pipes’s claim that while the U.S. regards all-out nuclear war as a horror beyond imagination, the Soviets consider it as a logical extension of the diplomatic note, I am left with two questions.
First, why examine words rather than actions? Consider the following indicators of willingness to resort to war: shooting wars fought closer to the rival superpower than to home; use of nuclear threats in crises; introduction of major advances in nuclear first-strike capability; nuclear capability ready for launch at an instant’s notice; total nuclear first-strike capability deployed. By every one of these measures, our own actions have been, and are, considerably more impressive than the Soviet Union’s. This is not to say that our nation does not in fact abhor war. But it does suggest that, should Mr. Pipes’s counterpart in the Soviet Union wish to argue, “Comrades, we must understand the Americans don’t think as we do; they have not experienced the ravages of war as we have; their every action demonstrates a willingness to use force at any time to achieve their ends,” he will have better basic material on which to build his case than does Mr. Pipes. The value of strategists on either side gathering around the campfire at night telling goblin stories is. of course, dubious.
Second, why, at this late date, should Soviet intentions be of such concern to us? Mr. Pipes may well be correct that “Soviet military theorists reject the notion that technology (i.e., weapons) decides strategy.” But they cannot escape the fact that technology limits strategy; there is no use adopting a strategy when one lacks the ability to execute it. When Mr. Pipes tells us the Soviets will do us in if they can, he is merely rediscovering the wheel, and in 1977 this hardly merits a Nobel Prize. For three decades the central thrusts of our military and foreign policies have been to insure that, regardless of Soviet intentions, they will clearly lack the ability to do us in without suffering unacceptable retaliation. As long as we retain the necessary retaliatory capabilities—the recent decision to go with the cruise missile instead of the B-1 is a major step in this direction—what the Soviets would do if they could remains an academic exercise, because they can’t.
[Congressman] Thomas J. Downey
House of Representatives
To the Editor:
In his article, Richard Pipes twice cites my work, with quotations, to illustrate my malign influence on American strategic thinking. The first of these citations is a passage which I wrote within weeks of the nuclear explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and which I subsequently included in a book that also contained some chapters written by my then colleagues at Yale. Here Mr. Pipes at least quotes me correctly to the effect that henceforward the American military establishment must be conceived as existing primarily for the sake of averting wars rather than winning them, a statement which I would not today retract or significantly modify except to make clear that I was of course applying that idea only to the kind of war we would think of as major, as with the Soviet Union, which is also the kind of war that Mr. Pipes is writing about.
He is quite wrong, however, in suggesting that the book (The Absolute Weapon, 1946) from which he quotes my statements and those of my co-authors was inspired “by strong pacifist convictions and . . . deep guilt at having participated in the creation of a weapon of such destructive power.” None of us had any part in the creation of atomic weapons, nor were we in the slightest degree participants in any collective guilt sharing. Moreover, most of our professional colleagues regarded us as rather the opposite of pacifists. And insofar as Mr. Pipes takes us to task for having reached our conclusions “without much reference to the analysis of the effects of atomic weapons carried out by the military,” to the slight extent that such analysis existed at the time, it was simply ludicrous. So, by the way, is Mr. Pipes’s contention that “consideration of the traditional principles of warfare” might have preserved us from error. Also, though Mr. Pipes refers to us as “a group of civilian strategic theorists,” he ought to know that none besides myself was at all regarded as such by himself or by others.
Concerning his second citation, which contains a pair of quotations from me from a later book, though nevertheless one written almost twenty years ago, here is how Mr. Pipes puts it:
Strategy in the Missile Age, an influential work by Bernard Brodie . . . which originally came out in 1959, and was republished in 1965, makes only a few offhand allusions to Soviet nuclear strategy, and then either to note with approval that it is “developing along lines familiar in the United States” (p. 171), or else, when the Russians prefer to follow their own track, to dismiss it as a “ridiculous and reckless fantasy” (p. 215).
I am grateful to Mr. Pipes for inserting the page numbers. On page 215 of my book I did indeed find the words “ridiculous and reckless fantasy,” but in reference clearly to American and not Soviet thinking. True, in the footnote appended to the end of the long paragraph containing this phrase I add: “Fortunately for us, this tendency is at least as common in the Soviet Union as in the United States,” and cite as my sources the work of Raymond L. Garthoff and Oleg Hoeffding, both well-known Sovietologists. The first edition of Marshal Sokolovskii’s work on Soviet strategic thinking, which Mr. Pipes takes me to task for not probing seriously, was not published until 1962, three years after my book, and contrary to Mr. Pipes’s statement, my book was not “republished” in 1965 but simply reissued in a paperback version. As any scholar would, Mr. Pipes understands very well the difference between a new edition, which is expected to contain important revisions, and a simple reprinting or reissue. Anyway, the notion seems to me odd that one cannot say anything about what American military policy ought to be without referring everlastingly to what the Russians think. After all, Mr. Pipes is implicitly praising the Russians for preferring “to follow their own track.” Perhaps we ought to also.
What Mr. Pipes takes from my page 171 is literally correct in that I use the words he quotes, though I apply them to a much narrower area of Soviet thinking than he implies. My words are: “Soviet ideas on what can be accomplished, for example by surprise nuclear attack, seem to be developing along lines familiar in the United States” (citing as my source the work of Herbert S. Dinerstein). The view I express in that sentence was certainly correct for the time my book was published, and I might add it is roughly correct even today. If Mr. Pipes would read the publicly expressed views of the American military as assiduously as he reads those of the Soviet military, he would find that there is really nothing as novel or distinctive about the latter. In any case, in neither the United States nor the Soviet Union will the ultimate decisions about war and peace or the use of nuclear weapons be made by the military, and what I find truly remarkable about Mr. Pipes’s article is that he nowhere seems to think it necessary to probe the relevant thoughts of top Soviet political leaders.
There are many other dubious statements in the article, but for reasons of space I shall confine myself to one, to which Mr. Pipes seems to attach central importance. He finds it extraordinarily significant that the Russians believe that “the basic function of warfare, as defined by Clausewitz, remains permanently valid,” and he quotes Sokolovskii to that effect with his own added emphasis: “‘It is well known that the essential nature of war as a continuation of politics does not change with changing technology and armament.’ ” Well, who thinks otherwise? There is nothing at all remarkable in Sokolovskii’s assertion—which could, in fact, be simply rote—so long as one knows what Clausewitz meant in that famous phrase about war being a continuation of politics. That meaning he developed at length in Books I and VIII of On War, and in essence it amounts to the idea that war would be only senseless destruction if it were not in pursuit of some valid political objective. Clausewitz went on to argue that the political objective must therefore dominate the strategy of a war, and it is this latter point that the military of all nations—German, American, and I don’t doubt Russian—have found it difficult to accept, just as they have found it difficult to accept certain other Clausewitzian tenets, such as that “defense is the stronger form of war.” If Marshal Sokolovskii thinks that war can in some meaningful sense be won even in an all-out strategic exchange of nuclear weapons, then I can assure both him and Mr. Pipes that myriads of American military men (and many civilians) think the same. I happen to think otherwise, precisely because I accept the basic Clausewitzian principle that war can make no sense unless it is in pursuit of a meaningful political objective, which objective should then dominate the strategy. Incidentally, the first half of my most recent book (War and Politics, 1973) is devoted to supporting and developing precisely this point, as is my introductory chapter to the recently published translation, by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, of Clausewitz’s great work.
I find it difficult indeed to conceive of a political motive that would justify the initiation of a war which had a significant probability of going into a strategic nuclear exchange. So, I believe, do the Soviet political leaders. Mr. Pipes, despite his expertise in Russian history and his chairmanship of that famous “Team B” which obliged the CIA to revise its estimates of Soviet intentions, has not succeeded in persuading us otherwise. In fact, in no serious way has he even tried to do so.
Pacific Palisades, California
To the Editor:
Richard Pipes would have his readers believe that the Soviet leadership pretends that a nuclear war would destroy only the capitalist half of the world, which is of course arrant nonsense. He further states that the Soviets view a nuclear confrontation as “feasible and winnable,” and in so arguing willfully ignores Soviet statements to the contrary. President and party leader Brezhnev has repeatedly stressed that “mankind would be fully destroyed” in a nuclear exchange, and this view has been echoed by his Politburo colleagues. Mr. Pipes also conveniently ignores the fact that the decisions regarding the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the political leaders in the Politburo and not by the general officers of the high command immersed in military doctrine. A Politburo concerned with protecting its own power would probably not agree with Mr. Pipes’s view that there is no significant difference between terrorist bombs and nuclear war.
Mr. Pipes’s distorted argument suffers from the complete absence of examination of Soviet views that dramatically underscore the danger of nuclear weapons and the need for measures to limit strategic weaponry. In addition to Brezhnev’s remarks in Bucharest last winter, even prominent Soviet military writers have noted the futility of additional strategic deployments. General Simonyan wrote in Pravda only in June that both the U.S. and the USSR had weapons “capable of destroying many times over all life on earth,” and that new armaments would not bring “any substantial military—and, even less, political—advantage.” A similar argument was made last winter by one of the more conservative Soviet military writers, Colonel Rybkin, in the lead article of the organ of the USSR’s Institute of Military History. Rybkin also repeated Brezhnev’s observation in Poland last summer on the destructiveness of nuclear weaponry.
The director of the influential USA Institute, Georgy Arbatov, wrote in 1974 that there can be no political profit from a nuclear war since “no policy can have the objective of destroying the enemy at the cost of self-annihilation.” More recently, these remarks were echoed in the most prestigious Soviet party journal—where only the approved party line is usually allowed—by a retired general officer who is now a senior staff member of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.
What is even more reprehensible for a so-called objective scholar is Mr. Pipes’s distortion of easily available Soviet population figures in order to argue that the USSR is “less vulnerable” to attack. He cites only nine Soviet cities with a population over a million which contain 8.5 per cent of the total population, whereas the 1975 Narkhoz (the USSR’s annual statistical handbook) reports fourteen cities with a population of more than a million each in addition to fifteen cities with more than 750,000 population, which adds up to more than 41 million people in key urban areas that represent more than 16 per cent of the total population. As Professor Henry Morton has wisely observed, these large Soviet cities contain the major industrial and scientific research centers in the country and make Soviet cities even more vulnerable than their American counterparts.
Melvin A. Goodman
To the Editor:
While Richard Pipes has sound views regarding the Soviet threat and presents much useful information, his article contains many factual errors and doubtful interpretations which could mislead the reader and perhaps discredit the cause he seeks to support. . . .
Mr. Pipes writes that the American strategic community relies on a doctrine of mutual deterrence, or the belief that we only need sufficient strategic power to impose unacceptable damage on the Soviet Union and we can therefore ignore the relative strengths of the Soviet Union and the U.S. According to the theory of mutual deterrence, the Soviets have been merely catching up with the U.S. strategic lead and will not build up further once parity is achieved. But, in fact, this position is not the universal U.S. theory or doctrine, but is merely one school of thought, represented principally in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and in academia. It is an important school, perhaps too important, but it is not the only one or even the dominant one.
Mr. Pipes briefly mentions but hardly gives sufficient space to the defense and war-fighting emphasizers, such as Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, and Paul Nitze (and Donald G. Brennan, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner, and a large body of analysts in and outside the government who can be identified by their support of ABM in 1969). This formidable school . . . is powerfully represented in the Pentagon, and among Pentagon contractors and research organizations (“think tanks”).
However, what is perhaps the dominant school of American strategic thought is not mentioned by Mr. Pipes at all—those who have no delusions about Soviet intentions and who would rely almost entirely on deterrence, a concept which Mr. Pipes does not adequately explain. Deterrence is a credible threat of retaliation, of imposing an unacceptable level of damage. The word “credible” is central here, and is the principal argument for U.S. strategic superiority. As pointed out by Mr. Pipes, if the Soviets can retaliate against us at a much more devastating level, our threats to them are not believable. Defense and war-fighting capabilities are not contrary to deterrence, as Mr. Pipes indicates; they improve deterrence.
There is much debate within the strategic community over what it takes to make a threat credible and what level of damage will deter the Russians. Mr. Pipes calls attention to the much quoted fact that the Soviet Union was able to bear 30 million dead . . . during World War II. This datum is the beginning of analysis, but the following must also be considered:
- In 1941 the Soviet Union did not make a conscious decision to endure 30 million casualties. It suffered an unprovoked attack by an ally which shortly made clear its intention to exterminate the Soviet ruling class and turn greater Russia into one vast Gulag.
- During the period 1945-65, when our striking power was less than it is today, the Russians apparently were deterred. It certainly was not the strength of the U.S. army that encouraged the Soviets to back down in the Berlin crisis of 1949.
- The Soviets have changed since 1941-45, and do not appear to be as tough or as tough-minded as they were then.
- Most important, even if the Soviets could bear 30 million or 50 million or 80 million dead in a nuclear war, there must be some level of destruction that would deter them, even if it were the annihilation of their entire population.
Issues of how much killing and by what means dominate discussions of U.S. nuclear strategy, not the obsessions with the abstract concepts of mutual deterrence depicted by Mr. Pipes.
Now let us consider Mr. Pipes’s interpretations of Soviet strategic intentions. While it is interesting to note the doctrine expressed in Soviet military publications, there is a much stronger case than Mr. Pipes admits for not taking this material too seriously. . . .
This Soviet military material reveals a primitive view of the world which may sicken the reader, but he may be just as appalled at the literary products of the U.S. military. . . . Yes, the military is stronger in Russia than in the U.S. Yes, it is properly characterized as a “state within a state,” but . . . other players are involved in the decision-making game. . . .
I do not think that we need to believe that the Soviet leadership is so insane as to be planning to “win” a thermonuclear war. . . . It would seem reasonable that the Russians seek nuclear superiority in order to be the dominant country, to be in a position where the U.S. will back down in the inevitable crises. The Soviet arms build-up and civil-defense preparations are the means of making their deterrence more credible to us. Henry Kissinger is reported to have asked, “What is superiority good for?” Superiority is to make the other side knuckle under. This is what we need fear from the Soviets, not some crackpot schemes for fighting thermonuclear wars. Indeed, Marxist doctrine holds that the decadent bourgeois West will fall into the laps of the Communist East, and there is considerable recent empirical evidence to support that forecast.
If my characterization of U.S. strategic thought is correct, and my speculations about Soviet motives are plausible, why are my views so different from those of Mr. Pipes? There are two possible reasons.
The first is that he is not as well informed in this area as he might be. This is suggested by numerous trivial errors of fact. Contrary to his statements, the U.S. does have general staffs, and though the U.S. grants no higher degrees in “military science,” we have a vast complex of war colleges, of somewhat doubtful utility. According to Mr. Pipes, we have produced no “strategists of international repute,” except for Mahan, one of the not more than ten such strategists. Who is the equivalent Russian? One must also assume that Mr. Pipes believes that only military officers can be strategists—but what of Wohlstetter and Kahn? . . .
Contrary to Mr. Pipes, the Soviets did bomb German cities in World War II—they did not bomb them more frequently because their air force, like all air forces except those of insular Britain and the U.S., were designed and equipped for army and naval support.
U.S. military doctrine in the immediate World War II period, that nuclear bombs made little difference, was not based upon any sort of intellectual theory, but upon the objective conditions of the time—we had very few bombs and few bombers capable of delivering them. . . .
Mr. Pipes’s scorn for the use of “fiscal imperatives” in defense planning is odd. How best to deploy one’s necessarily limited resources has always been the central problem of military planning, even during periods of “total war.”
Mr. Pipes’s claim that American “civil defense was all but abandoned” is an insult to the devoted men who have been laboring for the last generation to improve our domestic defense. It is true that U.S. civil defense is by no means at the Soviet level and should be expanded, but it is a remarkable example of what can be achieved even with limited resources. Perhaps Mr. Pipes has been misled by the lack of publicity given to these endeavors. . . .
Particularly annoying is Mr. Pipes’s reference to U.S. “intent” in his response to a student’s question about “overkill.” . . . In fact, overkill is a technical issue. We need enough weapons to destroy the Soviet Union many times over because prudent planning requires that sufficient weapons survive to destroy Russia after an initial Soviet attack has knocked out a significant number of weapons. In addition, of the surviving weapons, some may fail to launch, others may be intercepted in flight, still others may miss or fail to explode; we must also retain a reserve to deal with the Chinese or any other international scavengers. . . .
The statement that the Soviets “possess a considerably larger arsenal . . . of strategic nuclear weapons” is not supported in any credible published source, and is, indeed, incredible and dangerously defeatist.
Perhaps the above requires special information, but the lay reader can detect places where Mr. Pipes’s enthusiasm has outstripped his argument. He tells us that the armed forces of the Soviet Union must be huge to hold down the greater Russian empire and therefore a mutual-deterrence doctrine which would permit smaller strategic forces is unacceptable. The converse is true: spending less on strategic forces would permit a larger investment in security apparatus, not to mention “butter” to appease popular demands. . . .
All these things aside, however, there is a second possible explanation for Mr. Pipes’s position: . . . Mr. Pipes’s near slander of the competence of civilian analysts and his frequent references to the “military professional” reflect the long-held resentment of serving officers at the interjection of civilian “whiz kids” into the defense-planning apparatus. Mr. Pipes’s article might be described as a sophisticated version of the views of a red-neck colonel. . . .
Mr. Pipes’s citation of Senator Moynihan’s advocacy of not being ashamed to be frightened is appropriate. We should not be afraid to fear, but we should be afraid of being hysterical. The Soviets are intelligent and resourceful adversaries; they are neither primitive nor crazy, nor are we (or most of us) stupid. With a reasonable (and not unreasonably expensive) expansion of our offensive and defensive strategic forces, we can achieve the technological and numerical superiority more than sufficient to deter any aggressive designs on their part. That is a strategy—a strategy for defense of our national interests, values, and allies, and a strategy for peace.
Fort Lee, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Many readers of COMMENTARY will probably address themselves to the argument and data Richard Pipes has used to prove at least to his satisfaction that the Soviet Union thinks it can fight and win a nuclear war. My own concern is less with Mr. Pipes’s analysis of Soviet military doctrine, vulnerable as this analysis may be, than with the kind of madness which drives men to believe—on the assumption the enemy holds the identical belief—that the annihilation of millions of human beings in a nuclear war can be a morally tenable position.
“Such figures are beyond the comprehension of most Americans,” writes Mr. Pipes. Perhaps. But mass murder should not be beyond the comprehension of those of us who have lived through the era of the Nazi Holocaust. What I cannot comprehend is how anyone with the faintest pretense to ethical values can spend some 15,000 words discussing the logistics of nuclear war without the slightest reference to the moral issues involved.
In his ostensibly value-free analysis, Mr. Pipes in fact goes beyond a mere discussion of Soviet intentions, for the clear implication of his assessment is that the United States cannot escape the necessity of launching a preemptive strike. According to Mr. Pipes, Soviet military doctrine calls for “not deterrence but victory . . . not retaliation but offensive action.” He adds, “The costliest lesson which the Soviet military learned in World War II was the importance of surprise. . . . Given the rapidity of modern warfare . . . not to be surprised by the enemy means, in effect, to inflict surprise on him.” If this is so, the ineluctable implication is that the United States must be prepared to inflict surprise on the USSR. All that remains to decide is when. Presumably, whenever we are ready. Since Mr. Pipes doesn’t trouble to indicate what, if any, restraints might be placed upon a preemptive strike, how can we “make it impossible for them [the enemy] to succeed” except by means of such an attack?
But if we initiate the attack, on Mr. Pipes’s assumption that if we don’t, the USSR will, and if in the process we destroy 20.5 or 30 or 40 million Russians—how pleasantly abstract these statistics can be!—in what sense are we significantly different from the enemy? And what if Mr. Pipes turns out to be mistaken—if the USSR has no intention of attempting a preemptive strike? Having failed to perceive this in time, having endorsed Mr. Pipes’s thesis and proceeded with our preemptive strike, don’t we become culpable of a moral atrocity without historical precedent? (I assume, of course, that even Mr. Pipes would agree that the wanton destruction of millions of our fellow creatures, loyal Communists as well as dissidents, would constitute an appalling and brutal act.)
Confronted with this moral dilemma, we are unfortunately left with the mutual-deterrence doctrine as the only practicable solution. I say “unfortunately” because the pacifist solution is still beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of Americans, including Mr. Pipes, who speaks of the “strong pacifist convictions” of those responsible for “the principles of the mutual-deterrence theory which subsequently became the official U.S. strategic doctrine.” For anyone associated with the pacifist movement in America—with the Quakers, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the War Resisters League, to name but a few of the established pacifist groups in this country—Mr. Pipes’s characterization is egregious nonsense. Mutual-deterrence doctrine is abhorrent to pacifists and ultimately as futile as, if somewhat less obviously immoral than, the doctrine of the preemptive strike. But as long as Americans are unprepared to think the unthinkable—which is to say an America willing to accept the considerable risks of total, unilateral disarmament rather than the awful certainties of nuclear war—we must, I suppose, reconcile ourselves to a world that will continue to teeter on the brink of universal disaster. Even this seems preferable to the dehumanized fate that Mr. Pipes’s thesis promise all of us.
Hillsdale, New York
To the Editor:
Richard Pipes’s conclusions as to Soviet strategy rely mainly on published theoretical writings of Soviet military officers. Such sources are dubious footholds for the far-reaching theses he presents. The ideas of military officers do not necessarily reflect the convictions of political leaders.
Still, a careful reading of these sources indicates serious distortion by Mr. Pipes. . . . [He] misreads both Soviet military strategy and Clausewitz. The connection that Soviet strategists make between war and politics is summed up in the fifth edition of Marxism-Leninism On War & Army (1972), an official publication written by a group of eminent Soviet military scholars and officers: “Politics will determine when the armed struggle is to be started and what means to be employed. Nuclear war cannot emerge from nowhere, out of a vacuum, by itself. . . .” In general,
war cannot be understood without first understanding its connection with the policies preceding it. . . . The political interests of the classes at war and of their states determine the war aims, while armed struggle is the means of achieving these aims. . . . War is the continuation of the politics of definite classes and states (conditions) by violent means.
The point is obvious . . . not so scary.
Soviets criticize American nuclear-war doctrine on similar grounds: “The bourgeois ideologists,” says Marxism-Leninism . . . , “do all they can to confuse and distort the question about the sources of wars, their nature, social and class essence.” According to Marxist doctrine, modern wars are the product of “the aggressive forces of imperialism,” meaning, today, the U.S. and its allies. Thus, “By their arguments, the bourgeois theoreticians, consciously or unconsciously, attempt to divorce the nuclear-missile war under preparation from the aggressive policies of imperialism.” They “conceal who is responsible for imperialist aggression.”
Some Soviet writers do say, as Mr. Pipes points out, that a nuclear war is “winnable.” But this is usually not meant in a strictly military sense. It is clear from all Soviet literature that they believe, or at least say, that U.S. imperialism will be the force that starts a nuclear war. Thus, the Soviets write that the masses will unite against such aggression, taking “decisive, anti-imperialist actions . . . political, diplomatic, international-legal, ideological, and other actions against those responsible for unleashing a nuclear adventure.”
Further, Mr. Pipes ignores the historical context of such remarks. As Harriet Fast Scott, the American translator of Sokolovskii’s work, points out, many articles proclaiming that nuclear war is winnable were “prompted by Communist Chinese accusations of revisionism.”
All of these Soviet documents may be pure nonsense and propaganda. But taken in their full context, they certainly do not suggest that the Soviets are about to declare a nuclear war. . . .
Mr. Pipes misreads Clausewitz as well. He ignores the warrior-philosopher’s central point:
As war is no act of blind passion, but is dominated by the political object, therefore the value of that object determines the measure of the sacrifice by which it is to be purchased. . . . No war shall be commenced . . . without first seeking a reply to the question, What is to be attained by and in the same? The first is the final object: the other is the intermediate aim. By this chief consideration, the whole course of the war is prescribed, the extent of the means and the measure of energy are determined.
The authors of Marxism-Leninism . . . echo this theme: “The scale and intensity of wars are determined first of all by the political aims.”
Mr. Pipes does not provide a credible scenario in which the Soviets would risk a chance of a nuclear attack upon their territory, nor does he think up a political goal whose gain would be worth the sacrifice of possible American nuclear retaliation. Instead, he argues that the Soviets would not mind sacrificing 30 million lives in a nuclear war; that they, after all, lost 20 million in World War II. Aside from the fact that far more than 30 million would die, even with civil-defense measures, several points must be made.
First, the Soviets did not enter World War II knowing that 20 million Russians would die in battle. Second, the deaths were spread out over four years, not thirty minutes. Third, the alternative in World War II was a Nazi terror that promised to occupy everything west of the Urals, kill millions of Russians, and enslave the rest. Fourth, the Soviets were able to save much of their industrial base by transporting it eastward as the Nazis started plowing through Russian territory; in a nuclear war, for which there would be little warning and during which targets all across the country would probably be blasted, this would not be possible.
Finally, Mr. Pipes’s claim that the USSR emerged from World War II “stronger politically and militarily than it had ever been” is outrageous falsehood. . . .
Still, Mr. Pipes maintains that a nuclear war might not be so devastating. After all, the trains in Hiroshima were running forty-eight hours after the blast; several buildings were left standing; and Germany was, in the course of World War II, hit with 400 “Hiroshimas” and could still carry out a war.
This is highly misleading. First, P.M.S. Blackett, whom Mr. Pipes uses as a source who downplayed the meaningfulness of atomic weapons, changed his mind dramatically after the first H-bomb test. Second, a comparison of nuclear with conventional blasts ignores the effects of radiation, fallout, firestorms, and so on.
Third, the Hiroshima bomb was only 14 kilotons; only one-third of the city was devastated. The smallest warhead in the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal today is that of the Poseidon, with 40 kilotons. Just one-sixth of the U.S. nuclear-missile submarine force—7 submarines—each loaded with 160 warheads, could thoroughly destroy all 220 Soviet cities with populations greater than 100,000.
This seems to be recognized by the USSR’s political leaders, whom, curiously, Mr. Pipes does not quote. Leonid Brezhnev told the Polish Sejma: “In recent years such a mass of weapons has been accumulated which makes possible the destruction of all life on earth several times.” At the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the Great Patriotic War Victory, he declared that “the starting of a nuclear-missile war would spell inevitable annihilation for the aggressor himself, to say nothing of the vast losses for many other countries perhaps not even formally involved in the war.”
Even Marshal Sokolovskii wrote: “The losses in a world nuclear war will not only be suffered by the U.S. and its NATO allies, but also by the socialist countries. . . . Many hundreds of millions of people would perish, and most of those remaining alive . . . would be subject to radioactive contamination.” . . .
Mr. Pipes is alarmed that the Soviets have a “counterforce” strategy. But what is one to make of the U.S. development of the Mark-12-A warhead (350 kilotons with accuracies less than one-tenth of a mile c.e.p.); of elaborate anti-submarine warfare research and development; of the increasing accuracy of missiles, both ICBM’s and SLBM’s; of this statement from the FY 1978 posture statement:
We believe that a substantial number of military forces and critical industries in the Soviet Union should be directly targeted, and that an important objective of the assured retaliatory mission should be to significantly retard the ability of the USSR to recover from a nuclear exchange and regain the status of a 20th-century military and industrial power more rapidly than the United States.
The “enemy-threat” game can . . . be played on both sides. . . .
As to Mr. Pipes’s discussion of USSR civil defense, there is no space to rebut him effectively. I can only refer the interested reader to a report by the Congressional Joint Committee on Defense Production, Civil Preparedness Review, Part II .
Mr. Pipes is right when he says there is no clear evidence that the USSR accepts the theory of mutual deterrence. (Nor is there any longer much evidence that the U.S. Defense Department does either.) But Mr. Pipes relegates to a footnote the most important element: “. . . The Russians certainly accept the fact of deterrence.” Even if they may find this situation “undesirable” and “transient,” this is the important point. As long as this is the case, and it will be for the foreseeable future, all of the most pessimistic passages in the writings of V. D. Sokolovskii and others don’t really matter.
Institute for Policy Studies
To the Editor:
Richard Pipes’s article is the most effective expression to date of the “unthinkable” nuclear holocaust which might be launched against the United States. Yet it lacks an important dimension because it postulates our collapse in exclusively military terms. We are, in my opinion, marching straight to hell; but not that way.
The Great Depression coincided with the visible rise of Stalin and his Five-Year Plans. Compared to those triumphs, our own dumping of milk and oranges into the Chicago river—while many went hungry—seemed the very nadir of capitalism. Since that time, the kowtowing of American “intellectualism” to Stalinism has, except for the decade or so following World War II, been remarkably consistent. . . .
Mr. Pipes rightly highlights the disaster of our hasty postwar demobilization, an action which made our defensive situation so unwieldy that we had to take recourse in various Maginot-line type strategies, such as the Truman Doctrine, . . . containment, NATO, etc., in the hope that if we ran hard enough, we might be able to stay in the same place. Mr. Pipes also hits the bull’s-eye in stressing the American tendency to think always in terms of saving lives, in contrast to Russia, which through centuries of invasion has grown accustomed to the need for trading millions of bodies for millions of square miles.
My major objection to Mr. Pipes’s article is that he fails entirely to point out that the Clausewitz-Lenin-Soviet military doctrine has a much used rear exit. After all, if war is an extension of politics by other means, then so is politics an extension of war, also by other means. Mr. Pipes assumes that the admittedly secretive military minds of the Soviet Union . . . still think in terms of conventional defeat vs. victory. There has to be some truth in such an assumption, if only because the USSR has never ceased to deprive its citizenry of badly needed consumer goods but seldom stints on military hardware. . . . On the other hand, there is no question but that Americans bitterly resent giving up one iota of their comforts to the requirements of military preparation. Jimmy Carter probably upped his popularity by ditching the B-1 bomber; in any event, few Americans will lose sleep over that or any other crucial military decision. The Soviet people are, of course, never given a choice. . . .
The sad truth, as I see it, is that we are most likely to be defeated from within. Lenin, Stalin, and their successors have always preferred the no-risk or “violence-when-necessary” option. . . .
The assumption of a holocaust foreshadowed by Mr. Pipes may help defeat his purpose by driving our “intellectual leadership” further into its historic ostrich-like position. Mr. Pipes is obviously aware of our emotional vulnerability, and his intention, I believe, in his article is to scare hell out of us by envisioning our total destruction. But this overlooks the malaise of a country so saddled with a death wish that Mr. Pipes’s prophecy of doom comes almost as a happy confirmation of the biblical judgment. . . .
Stanley W. Page
New York City
To the Editor:
It would be well-nigh impossible to exaggerate the importance of Richard Pipes’s article. While the ideas developed in the article are, no doubt, his personal views, it is reasonable to assume that these views are not far removed from those set forth in the suppressed “Team B” report which opposed the conventional wisdom of the civilian-dominated defense establishment—supposedly concurred in by the Russians—that nuclear war is “unthinkable” and “unwinnable.”
For years those who held opinions close to those of Mr. Pipes were constantly frustrated by their inability to receive a public hearing. By publishing this authoritative article, COMMENTARY has performed an invaluable public service. It has insured that there will now be an open debate within the country—and beyond—on these fateful issues. . . .
Regretfully, however, I have one point of disagreement with Mr. Pipes’s brilliant presentation. . . . In his concluding paragraph, he states: “Above all, however, looms the question of intent: as long as the Soviets persist in adhering to the Clausewitzian maxim on the function of war, mutual deterrence does not really exist” (emphasis added).
The question of intent does present itself insofar as the doctrine of the strategic offensive is an extension of the Russian state policy of expansionism, whose dynamics must ultimately lead to war. But Mr. Pipes’s formulation would seem to undercut the very premises which give ultimate validity to his thesis.
The basic problem, is that, as long as nations are free to make war, Clausewitz’s maxims cannot be either “adhered to” or set aside at will. The laws of war are ineluctable . . .: they cannot be repealed by technology, intent, or wishful thinking. The object of war (grand strategy) will always be victory, defined as the destruction of the enemy’s capacity and will to resist and, for this, military superiority, material and strategic, is quintessential. In the nuclear age, nuclear war and conventional war are complements, not alternatives. Consequently, for victory (or to avoid defeat) it is necessary to have a first- and second- and third-strike nuclear capacity as well as the capability of conducting (or repelling) a super-blitzkrieg. As Mr. Pipes has made clear, the Soviet leaders have long understood this, have armed for superiority, and are on the verge of achieving it, if they have not already done so.
This places us at the crossroads. We cannot continue along the present path, deluding ourselves that Sisyphean solutions like SALT II, III, etc., etc., can prevent or alter the laws of war. As a nation, we must summon the courage to look into the abyss, from which we have averted our gaze, and say: the only escape for nations from the scourge of war is for the great powers to transcend both SALT II and MBFR (Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions) and to move together to destroy the very capacity to make war—through rapid, mutual, progressive disarmament, both nuclear and conventional, with on-site inspection and verification at each stage, with open borders and free movements of peoples. There is no other way. There is no mutual deterrence other than mutual disarmament. But if this fails, America has no choice but to proceed full speed ahead with unilateral deterrence.
The hawk-dove dichotomy has always been vulgarly oversimplified. As a nation, if we are to be faithful to our ideals, our proposals and goals must always be under the sign of the dove. But as we would not be masters, so we would not be slaves, and, for this, the eagle is rightfully our national symbol.
If America shows a steadfast will. . . . sooner or later, the Russians will be persuaded, or compelled, by internal and external factors to abandon their expansionist aims and choose peace through general disarmament. Should that day arrive, the world would enter a new era and Clausewitz’s maxim would be transformed into “Peace is the continuation of politics by other means.” But, until that day comes, we would be well-advised to heed Mr. Pipes’s warning and keep our powder dry.
Elias M. Schwarzbart
New York City
Richard Pipes writes:
There is a Russian anecdote from the 1930′s which tells of a sudden rush into Poland of thousands of Soviet rabbits. A puzzled Polish hare stops one and asks for the reason of this mass migration. “Stalin has ordered all camels to be shot,” a Russian rabbit replies. “But you are no camel.” “Sure, but just try to prove it!”
Like these unfortunate rabbits, I would have a very difficult time proving that I am none of the things of which some of the above letters accuse me: a man indifferent to the moral dimensions of nuclear war; an alarmist or else a warmonger; an ill-informed or even deliberately deceptive analyst of Soviet, American, and Clausewitzian doctrines. Nuclear energy in all its forms, but especially in its awesome destructive capacities, is perhaps the single most emotional issue of our time. Many people, as soon as they hear the word “nuclear” pronounced, freeze their mental faculties and begin to thrash in all directions, especially that from which the sound had emanated. As long as they remain in this condition, they are quite incapable of hearing what is being said to them.
How else account for such fantastic assertions as Fred Kaplan’s who interprets my article to mean that the Russians are “about to declare a nuclear war [on us]”; or Irwin Stark’s who has me “clearly” implying that the United States “cannot escape the necessity of launching a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union”; or Congressman Downey’s who takes it to be my opinion that the Russians see nuclear war as a “mere logical extension of the diplomatic note”? What else but some temporary suspension of his critical faculties would cause B. Bruce-Briggs to attribute to me “the much quoted fact” that the Soviet Union had suffered 30 million dead in World War II, although I speak of 20 million? Or to reject my statement that the United States has “no general staff” with the flat assertion, unsupported by evidence, that “we do have general staffs” (who is “we”?, what “general staffs”?)? Or why else would Melvin A. Goodman, who places my scholarship in doubt, compromise his own by “correcting” my figure of nine Soviet multi-million cities, which I had clearly stated as drawn from the 1970 Soviet census (for purposes of comparison with the 1970 U.S. census), with a higher figure, but for 1975?
Be that as it may, there seems no point in taking up space to prove that I am not a camel, or a “sophisticated version” of a “red-neck colonel” (how that image evokes its counterpart, the “long-haired hippie,” conjured by the radical Right whenever it cannot think of a better argument). Experience with Soviet media has long taught me to ignore such personal attacks and misconstructions as one ignores all the other minor irritants of life. Paul Craig Roberts’s interesting letter throws light on the psychology of a certain type of American intellectual who, for good historical reasons, cannot extricate himself from his adversary role vis-à-vis his own government.
There are, nevertheless, several legitimate questions raised by these letters which call for a response. These seem to me to group themselves under two principal headings:
- What, in fact, is Soviet nuclear doctrine, and how, if at all, does it differ from its U.S. counterpart? And the corollary question, what is the relationship between Soviet military doctrine and Soviet political-military practice?
- Does the Soviet war-fighting and war-winning doctrine, which I postulate, make any operational sense in the light of what is known about the destructive effects of thermonuclear warfare?
For clarity of exposition, I shall take up these questions in reverse order.
Nearly all laymen as well as many political scientists and journalists who write on strategic subjects tend to assume that given the number of warheads presently available in the arsenals of the two superpowers as well as their accuracy and immense explosive power, any all-out nuclear war would inevitably cause the destruction on both sides of hundreds of millions of people, as well as of all the large and medium-sized cities and industries. When Mr. Goodman cites the figure of 41 million Soviet citizens presently living in what he defines as major cities, he does so as a means of conveying the immense human losses that the USSR would suffer in an all-out war. Mr. Kapplan does the same when he asserts that under conditions implicit in my postulated scenario, namely a retaliatory U.S. second strike, “far more than 30 million” Soviet citizens would perish. These figures, however, for all their scientific pretense, are no more than articles of faith: they rest on nothing remotely resembling verifiable data. No intelligent consumer would buy a washing machine without doing more investigation of the facts than some of our outspoken strategic writers undertake when addressing themselves to questions crucial to national security.
What are the facts, as best as they can be ascertained? In 1976, scientists working at the Boeing Aerospace Company under the direction of Thomas K. Jones conducted analyses and tests to determine the likely effect of Soviet civil-defense measures on both the survivability of the Soviet population and industry, and on the ability of Soviet society to recover from a nuclear war. The Boeing Report’s extremely careful conclusions are as follows:1 An “out of the blue,” total surprise U.S. attack against population centers would cause between 70 and 105 million Soviet casualties. This figure, however, is for all practical purposes meaningless since the U.S. has no preemptive (surprise) doctrine or plans—although clearly the Soviet General Staff must take such a contingency into account.
More meaningful by far are the probable Soviet casualties that would ensue as a result of a United States second strike, i.e., a retaliation against the USSR in response to its preemptive strike. These estimates vary, being dependent on two principal factors: the way U.S. missiles are targeted (against industries or against people), and the amount of time the Soviet Union would have at its disposal to put into effect its civil-defense measures (that it would have some time to do so is certain since the scenario posits a Soviet first strike). The Boeing Report concludes:
Given a first strike by the USSR, the U.S. would have on the order of half of its nuclear arsenal (ICBM’s, SLBM’s, and bombers) surviving. If these weapons were programmed to achieve maximum destruction of industrial targets, the entire U.S. surviving inventory could destroy unprotected people in, at most, 3 per cent of Soviet territory. If the people were protected by simple, foxhole-type shelters, the lethal area that could be imposed by the U.S. surviving arsenal would be reduced to one-third of 1 per cent of the Soviet land mass. People in the remaining 99 2/3 of the Soviet Union would survive. There would be no lingering lethal fallout.
If the U.S. were to program all its weapons to detonate at ground level, a lethal level of fallout might be spread over a wider area, but such an action would cut in half the lethality of the weapon against industrial targets. With favorable weather conditions, a lethal level of fallout could be spread over up to 15 per cent of Soviet territory. However, simple shelters can be constructed in a few hours to protect people against fallout until the radiation intensity decays to a non-lethal level. . . . Within a week after a worst-case U.S. retaliatory attack, the Russians could be out of their shelters for at least an 8-hour work day in 97 per cent of Soviet territory (p. 7).
As concerns human fatalities resulting from a U.S. retaliatory attack, Mr. Jones estimates that were the Russians to have three days during which to implement their civil-defense program, in an all-out U.S. retaliatory second strike their total casualties would be 10-11 million people. A frightful figure, without doubt: but only half the casualties the Soviet Union had suffered in World War II. Incidentally, this is approximately the number of “kulaks” that, as Stalin confided to Churchill, had been “liquidated” during the post-1928 collectivization drive. By comparison, an all-out Soviet countervalue attack on the U.S. would cause—because of the greater population density and virtual absence of civil-defense measures—between 107 and 130 million fatalities, as well as the destruction of 50-80 per cent of U.S. industrial capacity.
The Boeing team also carried out tests to determine the effects of nuclear blasts on machinery protected by the simple devices recommended in Soviet civil-defense manuals and at least partly implemented in recent years. It found that “even large machines, if properly protected, could survive if they were a few hundred feet from a 40-kiloton nuclear blast and 2,000 feet from a 1-megaton blast” (p. 73). The Report concludes that “if the observed examples of industrial facility dispersal and separation become the pattern for a significant portion of the Soviet Union’s future capital expansion, their industry would require little or no preattack hardening to survive and recover rapidly from a nuclear war” (p. 73).
These facts show how irresponsible it is for uninformed or emotionally-driven persons to ridicule the claims of the Soviet military that a country properly prepared for nuclear war and in possession of a sound strategy could survive a nuclear war and emerge from it both victorious and viable. The notion underpinning our mutual-assured-destruction doctrine since the days of McNamara, namely, that our second-strike deterrent would destroy one-quarter of the Soviet population and two-thirds of Soviet industry, seems to be quite irrelevant in the light of the facts as known today.
Once these calculations are kept in mind—and there is no reason to suppose that Soviet strategists have arrived at significantly different estimates of their potential losses—then we are in a better position to discuss Soviet nuclear doctrine and its relationship to political practice. Several correspondents charge me with ignoring the consequences of the fact which I myself had pointed out, namely, that in the Soviet Union military policies are decided upon by the Politburo and are always subject to overriding political considerations. Clearly, however, in emphasizing the importance of Soviet military doctrine and the preponderant role of generals in its formulation, I was not saying that Soviet generals and their theories would determine when and where their country would wage war, least of all a nuclear war. The point of my thesis was that in view of the fact that in the USSR military affairs are considered the province of the militarily experienced and educated professional, Soviet leadership is guided in its view of the utility of nuclear weapons by its military community. Hence the importance of military doctrine in the Soviet Union as an indication of both what the military think and what the politicians are likely to do should they ever decide on resorting to war. It seems to be inescapable, given the thrust of Soviet military doctrine and the country’s immense diversion of its resources to military purposes (according to some Soviet dissidents, 60 per cent of their country’s industrial plant works for the military sector), that the Soviet leadership has long since bought the military doctrine proffered by its generals. In other words: we do not know and cannot know what the Politburo thinks; no one, the Politburo itself included, knows how it will act in a crisis situation; but we can say with a high degree of confidence that it believes that should nuclear war break out, for whatever reasons, the Soviet Union would be able to fight, survive, and emerge meaningfully victorious from it. In this sense, the Soviet military’s “war-fighting,” “war-winning” doctrine is not an alternative to Soviet political doctrine and the decision-making process, but its accessory.
Are American and Soviet doctrines really as different as I depict them? Mr. Bruce-Briggs calls attention to the fact that in the United States there are many prominent strategists who do not accept the mutual-assured-destruction doctrine, and names, among others, Paul Nitze, Herman Kahn, and Albert Wohlstetter. Bernard Brodie urges me to read “the publicly expressed views of the American military as assiduously as [I read] those of the Soviet military,” and promises me that should I do so, I would find “really nothing . . . novel or distinctive about the latter.”
In the United States, with its free press, anyone can speak up on all matters, strategic ones included. So, in this issue of COMMENTARY, Mr. Stark urges unilateral disarmament, Mr. Kaplan implies that any future war will be started not by the Soviet Union but American “imperialism,” while Mr. Roberts believes that the “Soviet military forces comprise the most powerful offensive capability the world has ever seen” and accepts my conclusions. True, also, Messrs. Nitze, Kahn, and Wohlstetter have often criticized U.S. doctrine. But these writers do not determine U.S. strategic policy, and it is quite misleading to pick out individual voices of dissent (as the Soviet press habitually does) and depict them as authoritative. Our strategic doctrine may have many sources, but it is ultimately formulated by the civilian leadership which constitutionally directs our military policy, i.e., the President and his executive officers charged with management of the defense establishment. Their opinions and theirs alone represent U.S. doctrine. And as one listens to them, there can be no doubt as to what that doctrine is and has been since the early 1960′s. Let me cite, as an illustration, two statements of recent date. The 1977 U.S. Defense Department Report has the following phrase by the then Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld: our policy is to have “some minimum force which can survive even a well-executed surprise attack in adequate numbers to strike back with devastating force at the enemy’s economic and political assets” (p. 46). And here is Paul Warnke, the current head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency:
At the present time there is only one threat to our physical security and that is the Soviet Union. The only way we can deal with the USSR is by nuclear arms with the concept of assured destruction (Strategic Sufficiency, Fact or Fiction, p. 74).
These and many similar authoritative statements define our strategic posture. They are implemented by our defense-procurements policy which decides on weapons systems on the grounds of their contribution (or lack of contribution) to our deterrent capability. Undeniably, there are highly-placed individuals in our government who think differently and would like our doctrine revised. But conventional wisdom, which dominates public opinion and much of congressional opinion, makes it extremely difficult to deviate from the dogma of mutual assured destruction.
It does little good to quote in this context the public pronouncements of a Brezhnev, Arbatov, or some retired general working for Arbatov’s Institute. For one, these are addressed to the Western public as a means of exerting pressure on the U.S. SALT delegation. Secondly, dictatorships with expansionist ambitions like to emphasize what will happen if they are forced to resort to war as a means of ensuring compliance with their demands. They always couple such admonitions with dire warnings to the fictitious “enemy” about what his fate will be if he persists in his obstinacy, the “enemy” being “U.S. imperialism” in the Soviet Union’s view, and “international Jewish finance” in the Nazi. I recall passing through Germany as a refugee in the early months of World War II and being surprised by Nazi postcards depicting the horrors of the very war which the Germans were perpetrating at the time.
My article conceded that the actual differences dividing the strategic doctrines of the two countries may not be quite as sharp as I have drawn them for the sake of exposition. “Our deterrence doctrine leaves room for some limited offensive action,” I wrote, “just as the Russians include elements of deterrence in their ‘war-fighting’ and ‘war-winning’ doctrine.” This said, one assumes that a serious student of political and military affairs has the necessary discrimination to distingush the incidental from the essential, and the exception from the norm. With its help he should not allow himself to be distracted either by scattered Soviet denials of the “war-winning” doctrine or by pronouncements of individual Americans opposing the official U.S. doctrine of mutual assured destruction.
I have left Mr. Brodie’s letter to the end, for it deserves separate treatment. Mr. Brodie was a leading participant in the developments I have sketched and feels personally injured by some of my remarks. Let me state at the outset that I had no intention of singling out his “malign” influence: I happened to cite him because he had had a powerful influence on the evolution of our strategic doctrine and has written on the subject continuously for over thirty years, which gives him unique status as spokesman for our dominant school of strategic thought.
First, let me clear up my alleged misquotation. There is none. In the passage to which I alluded, Mr. Brodie dismisses as a “ridicuous and reckless fantasy” the notion that under conditions of “total war” there is room for “wartime production.” Since this notion happens to be Soviet strategic doctrine and it is hardly taken seriously by anyone in the United States, it seems reasonable to conclude that Mr. Brodie regards both this doctrine and those who hold it, namely, the Soviet military (to whom he alludes in his footnote), as in the grip of a “ridiculous and reckless fantasy.”
Mr. Brodie is upset that I should blame him and his fellow contributors to The Absolute Weapon for having reached their fundamental conclusions on the strategic implications of nuclear weapons “without much reference to the analysis of the effects of atomic weapons carried out by the military.” He retorts that “to the slight extent that such analysis existed at the time, it was simply ludicrous.” That is not exactly correct since the U.S. Strategic Bombing Surveys of the effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were available at the time. But even if he were correct: since when does a scientist draw positive, non-hypothetical conclusions on the basis of “ludicrous” evidence and, when challenged, justify himself that he could not have done better because he only had “ludicrous” evidence at his disposal? Insufficient evidence should yield either no conclusions or highly tentative ones: The Absolute Weapon brims with extremely far-reaching and emphatic conclusions that challenge head-on traditional strategic thinking as it had evolved from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, Jomini, and Delbrück. And why adhere to conclusions reached on the basis of “ludicrous” evidence today, thirty years later (as Mr. Brodie says he still does), after so much excellent evidence has become available?
The distinction between “republishing” and “reissuing” is too fine for my ear: to me the two words mean the same. I realize that Mr. Brodie brought out the original edition of Strategy in the Missile Age in 1959, before Sokolovskii’s manual appeared. But I also know that once this manual had come out and been translated (1962-63), Mr. Brodie had the opportunity of revising his book, or, at the very least, writing a preface to the 1965 “reissue” informing the reader what changes the first Soviet strategic manual to appear in thirty-five years had injected into the picture. In fact his 1965 “reissue” does include a new preface, but one which makes no mention whatsoever of changes in Soviet strategic thinking. He may seek to use all this as justification, but it is really part of the problem: it strongly suggests that he thought Sokolovskii’s book to be of no consequence.
Why this should have been the case Mr. Brodie spells out in his letter. He expresses annoyance with what he perceives to be my nagging insistence that “one cannot say anything about what an American strategy ought to be without referring everlastingly to what the Russians think.” Why not “follow [one's] own track,” he asks, alluding to my seeming praise of Soviet strategic doctrine. First, let me say that I nowhere suggest one must “everlastingly” refer to the Russians: regularly will do. Second, when I spoke of the Russians “following their own track” I obviously did not mean that they ignored our doctrine, but rather that, having looked at ours and found it wanting, they developed their own counter-strategy, intended to neutralize ours. I can assure Mr. Brodie that they are thoroughly familiar with his strategic writings. He, for his part, is so scornful of theirs that apparently he is not even aware that Marshal Sokolovskii has been dead since 1968, since he admonishes him in the present tense.
I simply do not understand the meaning, or at any rate, utility of a strategic doctrine formulated and implemented without constant reference to the strategic thinking of one’s potential enemies. The very notion of such a narcissistic strategy boggles the mind.
Mr. Brodie cites from my article a passage from Marshal Sokolovskii that “the essential nature of war as a continuation of politics does not change with changing technology and armaments,” and asks: “Who thinks otherwise?” Well, Mr. Brodie himself, for one: for to say, as he does, that under nuclear conditions the function of the military is not to win wars but to avert wars means no more and no less than that technology and armaments have removed from the politician’s arsenal the option of going to war. Mr. Kissinger thinks so too, when he asserts that “the traditional mode of military analysis which saw in war a continuation of politics but with its own appropriate means is no longer applicable.”
I concur that anyone who believes in the utility of war ipso facto assumes that it serves political objectives, as Mr. Schwarzbart reminds us. But the whole point is that the dominant school of U.S. strategists has decided that all-out nuclear war has no conceivable utility. “The object of war will always be victory,” Mr. Schwarzbart rightly says. But if in nuclear war there is said to be no possibility of victory, it follows that nuclear war can have no object. In this sense, it seems to me, Clausewitz’s dictum is indeed at the center of the strategic debate. And whether one believes in its continued validity (as the Russians do) or not (as most of our strategists do not) is a matter of no mean consequence for national security.
1 Industrial Survival and Recovery after Nuclear Attack: A Report to the Joint Committee on Defense Production, U.S. Congress (D180-20236-1), 1976.