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Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight & Win a Nuclear War

- Abstract

IN A RECENT interview with the New Republic, Paul Warnke, the newly appointed head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, responded as follows to the question of how the United States ought to react to indications that the Soviet leadership thinks it possible to fight and win a nuclear war. “In my view,” he replied, “this kind of thinking is on a level of abstraction which is unrealistic. It seems to me that instead of talking in those terms, which would indulge what I regard as the primitive aspects of Soviet nuclear doctrine, we ought to be trying to educate them into the real world of strategic nuclear weapons, which is that nobody could possibly win.”

Even after allowance has been made for Mr. Warnke’s notoriously careless syntax, puzzling questions remain. On what grounds does he, a Washington lawyer, presume to “educate” the Soviet general staff composed of professional soldiers who thirty years ago defeated the Wehrmacht-and, of all things, about the “real world of strategic nuclear weapons” of which they happen to possess a considerably larger arsenal than we? Why does he consider them children who ought not to be “indulged”? And why does he chastise for what he regards as a “primitive” and unrealistic strategic doctrine not those who hold it, namely the Soviet military, but Americans who worry about their holding it?

About the Author

Richard Pipes is professor of history emeritus at Harvard and the author most recently of Russian Conservatism and Its Critics (Yale).