Commentary Magazine

How to Cope With the Soviet Threat A Long-Term Strategy for the West

To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill . . . what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.

—Sun Tzu, 4th century B.C.E.

In 1947, with the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine, the United States took over from Great Britain the responsibility for maintaining a global equilibrium. It was a task that Britain had first assumed in the 17th century, when it began to use a combination of diplomacy, subsidies, and naval force to contain any power—first France, then Russia, and finally Germany—that threatened to gain hegemony over the European continent and the approaches to it. Its empire broken up and its economic resources depleted by two world wars, Britain could no longer afford to carry out this traditional policy. The mission was assumed by the United States, which, in the aftermath of World War II, committed itself to containing the Soviet Union in Europe and in any other part of the world on which it encroached.

America’s global interests, however, were much less extensive than Britain’s: it had no empire to defend, and its foreign trade accounted for a much smaller portion of the national economy. For this reason, U.S. global policy since World War II has tended to display an abstract and ideological quality: it has been less a defense of national interest than of a general international order. In dealing with the Soviet Union, U.S. policies strove above all to persuade it to join the international community by showing it that aggression did not pay, whereas restraint and cooperation did, inasmuch as the one brought rewards and the other punishments. In the words of President Carter: “Our long-term objective must be to convince the Soviet Union of the advantages of cooperation and the costs of disruptive behavior.”

This kind of didactic diplomacy has been the basic premise of U.S. policy toward the USSR in times of the cold war as well as those of detente. Under this approach, the Soviet Union is treated rather as if it were a wayward child, which has to be taught proper manners by the application of pain and pleasure. Why the Soviet Union misbehaves—that is, acts aggressively—is a question which hardly anyone bothers to address, if one leaves aside the opinion of dilettante “experts” who believe that Russia has suffered an extraordinary number of foreign invasions and developed, as a consequence, a collective paranoia that expresses itself in aggression.1

But this, surely, is the critical issue. Experience of the past sixty-seven years indicates that no attempt to influence Soviet behavior has succeeded: neither diplomatic ostracism, nor Yalta-like concessions, nor nuclear threats, nor economic bribery. This record of failure indicates that the cause of Soviet aggression lies deeper—that it is systemic. If this is the case, then it is vain to hope to modify Soviet behavior without modifications in the system which causes it.

The causes of Soviet aggressiveness are varied and many, some of them being rooted in Russian geography and history, others in Marxist-Leninist theory and practice. But perhaps the single most important of these causes resides in the fact that the Soviet Union and its dependencies are run by self-appointed and self-perpetuating elites whose extraordinary power, privileges, and wealth cannot be justified in any other way than by the alleged threat of “imperialist aggression” to the countries they rule. Their status is thus directly related to the level of international tension. They can best keep their restless subjects under control by demonstrating to them that Communist power is invincible, that it will eventually spread around the globe, and that, therefore, all resistance to it is futile. It is through aggression abroad that the Communist elite best safeguards its position at home.

Unfortunately for the Communist elite, Soviet political and economic institutions are in serious trouble. As the bloodless Polish revolution of 1980-81 has demonstrated, a Communist party that grows thoroughly corrupt and self-seeking loses contact with the population and becomes irrelevant. Since the death of Stalin, the Soviet Communist party elite has managed to shed the heavy hand of dictatorial authority over itself and to turn into a parasitic class that picks ever weaker leaders who will not challenge its interests. The economy, overcentralized and lacking in proper incentives, shows ever slower growth and becomes less and less capable of sustaining the regime’s military and imperial commitments. Unable to provide Soviet citizens with a standard of life remotely resembling that of the other industrial nations, the Communist elite has no choice but to tolerate the emergence of a free-enterprise “second economy” that threatens its hold on economic resources as well as the levers of power.

The Soviet leadership faces an agonizing choice between holding on to full power and privilege, thereby risking major internal turmoil such as has occurred in Poland, and forestalling it with costly and unpalatable concessions. It naturally prefers to have its cake and eat it. In this it is assisted by gratuitous friendly gestures from the West, whether these take the form of bowing to Soviet nuclear blackmail, acquiescing in double standards in international relations, or helping the Soviet economy out of its doldrums. All such actions help the Communist elite postpone the inevitable; all encourage it to keep intact the regime which pushes the country toward constant aggression.

Rather than seek to modify Soviet behavior, the West should assist those forces within the Communist bloc which are working for a change of the system. This is best accomplished by refusing to play the game of international relations in the manner which Moscow prefers, and by denying it the opportunities to exploit military, political, and economic relations with the West to its own advantage. The West cannot destabilize the Soviet Union, but neither should it help the Soviet elite to stabilize a system which is increasingly strained by the incompatibility of the means at its disposal and the objectives which it pursues.

The comments which follow will deal with the preferred Western response in the military, political, and economic fields.



1. The Military Aspect

The mission of the military forces of NATO is and has always been a defensive one, namely, preventing Soviet military encroachments on the territories of Western Europe. There is nothing the countries of the Soviet bloc possess that could conceivably tempt the Western alliance to commit aggression against them: neither natural resources (these can be gotten cheaper elsewhere), nor industrial or other forms of man-made wealth (poor and primitive by Western standards), nor markets for their goods (insignificant for lack of hard currency). It would produce an economic disaster of the first magnitude were the West to conquer the Eastern bloc and assume responsibility for administering and feeding the area—the Marshall Plan would look like a grant-in-aid by comparison. The West would be well advised to decline the Communist bloc if offered it free of charge: it certainly cannot have the slightest interest in going to war to seize it by force. Nor do the Communist ideology and way of life exert such attractions as to threaten Western societies with internal subversion.

All these considerations explain why the contingency plans of NATO have always been defensive. Whatever they say in public—and totalitarian regimes have a habit of ascribing to others their own intentions in order to disguise their aggressive designs as defensive reactions—Soviet leaders are well aware of these facts. This is demonstrated by their willingness to maintain most of their military forces, nuclear ones included, on low levels of alert, something they would never dare to risk if they feared coming suddenly under attack.

Most succinctly defined, Western conventional forces have the task of containing the potential enemy, and Western nuclear forces that of deterring him. The relationship between the two types of forces, however, is not well thought out in Western strategic doctrine, which may create some uncertainty in the mind of the Soviet general staff, but is certain to cause chaos and confusion in Western ranks should hostilities ever break out.

Advocates of nuclear disarmament usually balance their calls for unilateral Western cutbacks or declarations of “no first use” with demands for improvements in conventional forces. Their argument rests on the twin assumptions that the shift from nuclear to conventional deterrence would diminish the risks of nuclear war and, at the same time, permit reductions in defense budgets.

The first of these propositions is doubtful because it assumes that the decision to employ nuclear weapons is one for the West to make and depends on the ability of its conventional forces to stop the advance of the Warsaw Pact. Given the central role assigned to nuclear weapons in Soviet strategy, such an assumption seems unrealistic. As will be pointed out below, it is far more likely that recourse to nuclear weapons will be initiated by Moscow.

The second proposition is demonstrably wrong. Nuclear weapons are relatively cheap: they absorb between 10 and 15 percent of the military budgets of the U.S. and the USSR. It is conventional forces that eat up defense allocations in both countries. Reductions of nuclear arsenals may bring all kinds of desirable results, but if they are accompanied by increases in conventional forces, such measures certainly will not reduce defense outlays—not, at any rate, in the West. Furthermore, in any competition restricted to conventional forces, the Soviet side has a marked advantage in that it pays its troops such low salaries that it can devote a much larger proportion of the defense budget to weapons and equipment—by some estimates, between two and three times as much as the United States.2

Setting aside the issue of the most efficient use of defense funds, the amount of money allocated for this purpose must clearly be measured against the military threat with which it is meant to cope and not against domestic needs, however urgent these may be. It is illogical to urge cuts in defense appropriations on the ground that there are higher “priorities” in education or medical services. One may legitimately question whether the United States needs the MX or Britain the Trident submarine, but the argument has to be decided on military, not on social, criteria. Since defense expenditures, both in general and in particular, are designed to meet concrete threats posed by foreign powers—that is, powers outside the reach of our will—they cannot be treated as if they were wholly discretionary.

Nor is it sensible to question defense appropriations on the specious grounds that America’s strength lies in other than military fields—that “the biggest deterrent to the Russians is a healthy economy in America,” as the head of the National Association of Manufacturers has recently put it. Quite apart from the fact that a healthy American economy is precisely what whets the appetite of the Russians, the statement is absurd: for, if it were correct, then a healthy body would be the best deterrent against rape or murder, which is not quite what experience teaches. Economies do not stop armies any more than do schools or hospitals—only armies stop armies. It has been correctly pointed out that since every country has an army on its soil, the only choice citizens can exercise in the matter is to decide whether this army will be their own or someone else’s.



It should be self-evident that the size and structure of military forces are determined by their mission, and that their mission, in turn, is, or at least ought to be, dictated by the size and structure of the forces at the disposal of the potential enemy. For a variety of reasons, however, this is not always the case. Military strategists are inclined to regard their discipline as something of a science, and hence of universal validity. They are disinclined to take seriously other strategic doctrines, especially if such doctrines deviate significantly from their own. This phenomenon almost always bodes disaster for the party that is on the defensive: one need only recall the tragic consequences of the Allied attempt in 1940 to wage a stationary war against an enemy who was making open preparations for a campaign of rapid movement.

Something similar seems to be recurring today. Western strategists have no difficulty confronting the threat posed by the conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact, since it is of a familiar kind, but they do not show the same receptivity to innovative Soviet nuclear strategies. To be sure, the concept of escalation from a conventional to a nuclear defense has formed the backbone of NATO’s “flexible-response” doctrine since the 1960’s. But the United States seems not to have thought through the uses to which nuclear weapons would be put, should circumstance require that the nuclear threshold be crossed.

It is altogether difficult to know how seriously to take this doctrine now that Robert S. McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense when “flexible response” was adopted, has gone on record that in his time the first use of nuclear weapons was not even seriously contemplated: “In long private conversations with successive Presidents—Kennedy and Johnson,” he has recently revealed in the Fall 1983 issue of Foreign Affairs, “I recommended, without qualification, that they never initiate, under any circumstances, the use of nuclear weapons. I believe they accepted my recommendation.” This authoritative statement constitutes an admission that the centerpiece of NATO’s whole strategy has been a bluff since its inception, and that the civilian leaders have been deceiving their citizens for over twenty years in a matter of the greatest national importance.

This underscores the confusion and emotionalism surrounding the entire issue of nuclear weapons in the minds of both military personnel and the public at large. Hardly anyone lacking in professional competence dares to intrude on the discussion of NATO’s conventional forces and their strategy: this is a matter gladly left to the experts. But nuclear weapons have become everyone’s business; indeed, any citizen who would claim incompetence on such issues as the MX or START would risk being accused of social irresponsibility. Certain circles interested in U.S. unilateral nuclear disarmament are not averse to bringing even children into the debate, apparently in the belief that the more important a subject is the less one needs to know about it. People who would not dream of advising a chef on preparing hollandaise sauce dispense advice freely when the topic is the immensely complicated one of nuclear weapons and strategy.

In the West, it is well-nigh axiomatic that nuclear weapons, “in the ultimate analysis,” can perform only one function, and that is to deter or to serve as a kind of monstrous scarecrow, and that as long as this deterrent makes a sufficiently frightening impression, it will never have to be resorted to. Axioms being self-evident, the consequences of the deterrent’s failure to deter have not been seriously considered. From what is known of Soviet doctrine, one must conclude that there exists by now an ominous discrepancy between Allied defensive and Soviet offensive plans—whereas one party (the West) draws a sharp distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons, the other treats the two as different wavelengths on a single and continuous spectrum of the instruments of war.3 It is almost certain that should war ever break out, the Allies would find themselves thoroughly confused by the enemy’s offensive moves and have to improvise their defenses in desperate haste—that is, if they will be given time to do so.

Considering the close correlation between Soviet theoretical writings and deployments, one might expect that Western opinion would come to acknowledge that Moscow does look at nuclear weapons differently and assigns them different missions. Yet this is not the case; indeed, any attempt to call attention to the discrepancy in the two views arouses public anger as if some taboo were being broken.



In the view of much of humanity, nuclear weapons are not weapons in the ordinary meaning of the word but instruments of cosmic destruction, the expectation of which forms part of what Carl Jung called mankind’s “collective unconscious.” It is an unsettling but by no means unusual experience in the 1980’s to attend professional symposiums at which so-called conventional war, which from 1939 to 1945 claimed 50 million lives, is calmly discussed as an acceptable alternative to nuclear war. Such discussions serve to confirm that nuclear weapons are in a category of their own and not only because of their destructiveness.

As a rule, religions that posit the existence of God or gods believe that the world came into being from a deliberate act of divine will. A corollary of this belief is the expectation that the world and life are transient, since whatever had a beginning must also have an end. In widely dispersed regions of the globe, long before the Christian era, legends circulated about the coming doomsday. Some religions envisaged it as taking the form of floods and earthquakes, others as inundations by molten metal flowing out of mountains. But the most prevalent doomsday vision was that of a cosmic holocaust—that is, the annihilation of the earth and life by an all-consuming fire. It is a theme that occurs in the epic of ancient Babylon, in the Indian Vedas, and in the Mithraic tales of Iran. It can be found also in the legends of classical Greece (e.g., the story of Phaeton whose theft of a chariot belonging to his father, Helios, nearly caused the universe to be destroyed by fire), in the epics of the Indo-Germanic peoples, and in Nordic tales.

The Jews seem to have come under the spell of these images as well: in the Bible, the vision of the Last Judgment is closely linked to that of a fiery holocaust:

Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of His jealous wrath,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full, yea, sudden end
He will make of all the inhabitants
of the earth
. . . .

—Zephaniah, 1:18

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness! . . .

Fire devours before them,
and behind them a flame burns. . . .

—Joel, 2:1-3

The author of the two books of Peter in the Christian Bible wrote in this tradition when he prophesied that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (II Peter 3:10).

Because it is so ancient and almost universal, so frequently reiterated in religious works that until recent times have been the main source of human knowledge and wisdom, the expectation of an inevitable final holocaust has embedded itself deeply in the human psyche; it is a classic archetype with which argument is powerless to contend. Once it had made its appearance, “the bomb” filled a role that had awaited casting for thousands of years. One can find surprising anticipations of this weapon in literary works unrelated to religion and religious visions.

Thus, in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, published in 1721, in Letter 105 there occurs out of the blue the following passage: “I am always afraid that they will eventually succeed in discovering some secret which will provide a quicker way of making men die, and exterminate whole countries and nations.” How did this thought cross Montesquieu’s mind? Since in his time there were no scientific grounds for such a supposition, one must assume he was echoing fears whose sources lie in mythology. It is known that so-called Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO’s) were reported at least as early as the 1550’s, because there exist published accounts and illustrations to this effect dating from that time. Hence it is not fanciful to interpret the atomic mushroom cloud, which the “peace movement” likes to use for its logogram, as a modern version of the “flaming torch” of the Prophet Zechariah and the “high flame that reaches to the sky” of the Nordic epic.

The instantaneous pulverization of two Japanese cities by weapons that the public neither anticipated nor understood set off mass anxieties absent in the case of other calamities, of comparable if not greater destructiveness. Mankind apparently can tolerate the death, by starvation, in the man-made famine of the 1930’s, of nine million Ukrainians and Russians, the annihilation by poison gas and bullet of six million Jews, the massacre by Communist forces of between one and two million Cambodians. These calamities, being man-made, are “natural.” Nuclear weapons, however, though manufactured by man, are treated as supernatural: for they come from the sky, destroying by invisible rays. The dread of this magic power has even affected its peaceful uses. It touches on the rawest nerve in man’s collective psyche.

The hundreds of thousands who march to protest nuclear war are not giving expression to their political convictions, since no one clamors in favor of such a war. Rather (when they are not being manipulated), they take part in pseudo-religious rituals meant to propitiate, by tokens of awe and fear, the evil spirits whose abode is neutrons and protons. Anyone who disparages such emotional displays and calls for a dispassionate analysis of the issues or, worse yet, for defenses against nuclear weapons, violates powerful taboos and is appropriately punished by the multitude. This helps to explain why so many proponents of the “freeze” and other forms of unilateral disarmament express no interest in the facts of the case, such as Soviet nuclear doctrine and Soviet nuclear deployments and their combined effect on Western security.

George F. Kennan, whose record shows him to be an eminently well-informed and sober analyst of international relations, as soon as he approaches nuclear issues abandons his customary detachment and even scholarly curiosity. The facts, such as the numbers of missiles and warheads in the Soviet and U.S. arsenals, he dismisses as irrelevant—“I have no patience with ‘worst-case’ estimates of Soviet military strength”; “I have no confidence in sweeping quantitative figures”; “I have no confidence in statistics”; “I must totally reject. . . .”—none of such obiter dicta, drawn from just two pages of a recent exchange, is supported with any evidence. What Kennan does is castigate man for his wickedness and predict his imminent destruction, more in religious than in political or military terms.

The same applies to Jonathan Schell, whose The Fate of the Earth has been praised as a major contribution to the national debate. Actually, it is nothing of the kind. It is, instead, a long-winded jeremiad on the familiar horrors of nuclear war, which never even raises the questions that would really matter in a debate: do Soviet generals think in the same way? If so, why are they piling missile upon missile long after they have crossed the line of “overkill”? And if they do not, what should our response be?

The tragedy of people who approach nuclear matters in archetypal religious terms is that in the genuine Jewish and Christian religious vision (as contrasted with its secular travesty), the holocaust was followed by the Last Judgment, which set the just apart from the wicked and restored Eden; from their heavenly abode the virtuous were to observe the eternal torments of the condemned. But following the general decline of belief in God and the afterlife, man is left with the appalling prospect that his fate has passed into human hands; the unleashing of the holocaust, once the prerogative of God or gods, is now the prerogative of a few mortals with fingers on the “button.” In a man-made holocaust, the virtuous will not be saved but will perish along with the sinners. Thus, agnosticism intensifies an anxiety that has its origins in religious beliefs, leaving the horror but robbing it of hope. It produces an overpowering sense of helplessness that the unscrupulous exploit for their own political ends.



The emotionalism that surrounds the whole issue of these weapons transforms the process of nuclear-arms negotiation from what it ought to be—namely, matter-of-fact bargaining—into a quasi-religious ritual whose success is measured not by the results obtained but by the “sincerity” with which it is approached. In the 1970’s Western planners could not even decide on deploying a modest force of intermediate-range missiles partly to offset Soviet SS-20’s without coupling such deployment to arms negotiations with the Soviet Union: this double-track policy, hailed as the acme of political sophistication, has had the effect of giving Moscow a seat in NATO’s councils. Whenever the USSR commissions, tests, and deploys new missiles, which happens routinely, it never seems to occur to its leaders to make such actions dependent on Western approval. Feelings on this subject, however, run so high that democratic politicians have no choice but to yield to public clamor. President Reagan, who on assuming office had intended to proceed in this matter more deliberately than his predecessors, soon found himself swept up in the emotional tide and compelled first to initiate arms-control talks before he was ready for them, and, secondly, to shift them from the periphery of his foreign policy, where they properly belong, to its very center.

Soviet leaders, who are free of such domestic pressures, attach little importance to arms-control negotiations, except as they help to restrain Western advances in technology and to divide Western opinion. In internal Soviet literature on security issues, the subject is hardly ever mentioned. The USSR has not bothered even to establish a counterpart to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Soviet personnel involved in these negotiations are dominated by the military, who, insofar as can be determined, are accountable to the General Staff, an institution not normally associated with disarmament. Evidence from SALT I, SALT II, and START negotiations suggests that the Soviet side first determines what weapons it requires to meet its strategic objectives and then concentrates on constraining, through negotiations, America’s ability to respond. In the words of the French General Pierre Gallois, “[The Soviets] do what they want and negotiate about what you’re going to do.”

The American experts who in 1972 concluded SALT I with the USSR did not believe in the military utility of nuclear weapons on either the strategic or the theater level. To them, an arms agreement was primarily a political device, the second pillar of détente (the other being credits and trade). As one European specialist put it at the time, “There’s a lot of eyewash in these agreements, but their significance lies in the extent to which they reflect the mutual recognition of the need to cooperate in the nuclear-disarmament field.” In other words, the terms did not matter as much as did the political atmospherics. From the beginning it was indeed the political process, cynically manipulated for its public-relations effect, rather than the deadly reality of the nuclear balance, that the U.S. and its allies regarded as the foremost priority. As a result of this attitude, the U.S. has allowed some very disadvantageous features to intrude into these accords, of which the public at large is quite ignorant.

The Soviet side has from the outset refused to furnish comprehensive data on its strategic systems—in itself a most extraordinary procedure. Since, however, negotiations on limiting numbers could not very well proceed without agreement on what these numbers were, Moscow has consented (without prejudice) to accept the data for its side furnished by the United States. The United States could account for only those Soviet systems of which it had solid evidence from its intelligence-gathering sources, not those that were beyond their scope. Although the Soviet Union subsequently agreed to furnish random data on its nuclear forces, the information at the disposal of the United States is certain to reflect only the minimum dimension of the Soviet nuclear arsenal; the precise dimensions of this arsenal were not and are not known. It would certainly be difficult to find a businessman prepared to enter into relations with a company that refused to provide him with complete information on its assets and debts; in the field of national security, unfortunately, different standards prevail.



Because the United States has been compelled to rely on its “national means of verification” (mainly satellites and electronic intelligence) to verify Soviet compliance with the limits established by SALT, it had to choose a unit of measurement that lent itself to observation by these means. The choice, by mutual consent, fell on “launchers.” In the case of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s), a launcher is a hole in the ground called a silo. A silo can be seen from the air, whereas a missile can be concealed. In real life, however, it is not silos but missiles that fly and their warheads that inflict damage. Knowledge only of launchers (silos, submarine tubes, and bombers) furnishes an inadequate idea of the other side’s destructive capacity. The United States, therefore, cannot be said to dispose of accurate information on the number of missiles and warheads in the Soviet arsenal; the figures used in SALT and START postulate that each launcher holds a corresponding number of missiles, and that no missiles are unaccounted for.

This is almost certainly an incorrect assumption. In the case of Soviet ICBM’s, the number of stockpiled missiles must exceed that of known launchers (silos), because the USSR has been observed experimenting with “cold launch” techniques that allow the missile to fire its boosters after ascending from the silo so as to leave the latter intact for the insertion of a second missile. This practice presupposes a strategic-missile reserve the size of which is not known. The SS-20 intermediate-range mobile missile is believed to be equipped with two missiles per launcher, although in the publicly released balance-of-forces statistics only one is assumed and counted.

More disturbing still is the realization that the USSR need not emplace its ICBM’s in silos at all; the more accurate American missiles become, the less reason Moscow has to place its main strategic force (ICBM’s account for three-quarters of Soviet launchers) in static silos where they are vulnerable. On these grounds, some American experts question whether the silos that satellites are busily observing and counting are not either decoys or expendable goods, while the bulk of Soviet ICBM’s intended for use is concealed to be launched in wartime from soft pads, such as sheds and other places of storage, beyond the range of U.S. observation.



The United States, in its insularity, consented in SALT and START to define a missile as “strategic” if it is capable of striking the continental United States from the Soviet Union and vice versa. Since the nearest distance between these two countries (across the Bering Strait) is a few miles, the range was arbitrarily set to be equal to the distance separating the northeastern U.S. from the northwestern USSR, that is, 5,500 kilometers. Only weapons capable of this or greater ranges come within the purview of SALT limits. Such a definition would perhaps make sense in a narrow “Fortress America” context, under which the United States would have neither forces overseas nor overseas allies whom it was committed to defend. It makes little sense in the context of global strategy. The rules to which the U.S. has agreed have given the Soviet Union, which controls the center of the Eurasian land mass, the license to deploy unlimited quantities of nuclear launchers with ranges just below the “intercontinental” threshold yet capable of striking targets in all the areas adjacent to its immense frontier in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and East Asia.

The Soviet Union accepted this definition of “strategic” only for the purpose of negotiating with the United States; in structuring its own nuclear forces, it has never adopted such a standard, since all its missiles with ranges exceeding 1,000 kilometers come under the command of the Strategic Rocket Forces—a procedure that inadvertently throws light on Soviet thinking about the uses of nuclear weapons. So it has happened that quite lawfully, within the terms of SALT I and SALT II, free of any numerical constraints, the USSR has been able to deploy since the 1970’s a massive force of modern, mostly mobile, intermediate-range nuclear systems.

When NATO awoke to this reality and decided to counter it by deploying some intermediate-range, land-based missiles below the 5,500-kilometer range but capable of striking Soviet territory from Western Europe, the USSR charged that these missiles fell within the definition of “strategic.” Thus, the West’s lack of attention and foresight has already caused it no end of trouble. Even with the Pershing 2’s and cruise missiles in place, the USSR will still enjoy an immense advantage in substrategic systems.

The United States assiduously collects data on Soviet compliance with the provisions of SALT I and SALT II, the latter of which, although not ratified by Washington, is, by mutual consent, treated as though it were. Such investigations have revealed a consistent pattern of violations of the spirit and even the letter of these agreements. The information, however, has not been given much publicity, because committed advocates of arms control, afraid lest it undercut public support for the process, intimidate those who wish to bring it into the open. The fanaticism of some of these people goes to such lengths that instead of blaming the Soviet Union for violations of arms-control agreements, they accuse the United States of ill will for calling attention to them. When President Reagan, in one of his speeches, referred to the poor Soviet record of compliance, he came under certain attack from legislators and journalists for his alleged “insincerity” about arms negotiation. This is a dangerous variant of a theory popular in contemporary liberal circles that the victim of a crime is as guilty as, if not more than, its perpetrator.

Quite apart from its inequities and inconsistencies, the arms-control process has so far failed to achieve its principal stated objective, which is to stop the growth of nuclear arsenals. In 1970, when SALT I was being negotiated, the Soviet Union had approximately 1,400 strategic warheads; in 1977, as SALT II talks neared completion, its arsenal had grown to nearly 5,000 warheads; in 1983-84, during START talks, this arsenal had risen further to 8,700 warheads. This growth represented a six-fold increase. During this same time, the United States, mainly by MIRV’ing its missiles to match the Soviet buildup, had more than tripled the number of warheads in its arsenal (from 2,200 to 7,600). If this is arms control, it might be interesting to experiment for a while with an honest arms race.



In dealing with nuclear weapons nothing is more important than demystifying them, that is, severing the psychic bonds that connect them, in our conscious and subconscious, with ancient religious myths. These are man-made weapons. The Soviet nuclear arsenal is at the disposal neither of gods nor of evil spirits but of ordinary men, many of them overweight and overworked, scared of losing what they have, observed to suffer from dandruff and bad breath. Our main purpose should be to convince these men that they cannot intimidate us. Fear of nuclear weapons, especially in its overt and hysterical forms, does not contribute to peace; on the contrary, it serves to encourage those in the Soviet Union who want to use them to terrorize and blackmail foreign powers and their citizens. It should also be made eminently clear to these people that if they ever should dare to carry out their strategic plans and fire nuclear missiles in anger, they and their families will perish.

It is only when the magic and the taboos that surround it are removed that one can deal with this real danger realistically. The analogy with cancer comes to mind. Not so long ago the very name of this dread disease could not be pronounced for fear of inviting it. Today, cancer is openly discussed, even by its victims, and it is this honest acknowledgment that has made it possible to deal with it more effectively. Nuclear weapons, which are a kind of cancer of the international body politic, should be looked upon with the same dispassion. The beginning of morality, as Pascal has taught, is clear thinking.

It is essential for anyone concerned with nuclear weapons, whether in a professional capacity or as a layman, to familiarize himself with Soviet nuclear doctrine and programs. They are the reality against which U.S. strategies and programs must be matched. In all deliberations on the matter at the public level, the issue should not be settling scores between American liberals and conservatives, nor the undisputed horrors of nuclear war, nor America’s social and other domestic needs, but solely the nature and extent of the Soviet threat. Any statements on the subject of nuclear weapons and strategy that fail to address themselves to this central subject ought to be dismissed as irrelevant.

The strategic forces of the United States should be designed not simply to deter aggression and to punish it after it has been committed, but to prevent threats of subsequent damage. This means, among other things, that it would be good for the United States formally to renounce the policy—as barbaric as it is futile—of retaliatory strikes aimed at the civilian population. The target should be the true culprits of such aggression, the Soviet elite and its armed forces.

Specialists estimate that there are in the Soviet Union between 10,000 and 20,000 objectives of political and military significance. If that assessment is correct, then the United States needs that many accurate warheads left after absorbing a Soviet first strike; this capability alone will provide a deterrent credible to Moscow. It makes little sense to measure existing U.S. strategic forces against those available to the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces command (even assuming that it is known precisely what these are) because the U.S. has no first-strike doctrine or capability whereas the Soviet side has both. The only force that counts, therefore, is the one left following a Soviet first strike. While the present survivable force could inflict grueling punishment on the USSR’s civilian population, it could not destroy its political and military organizations and the nuclear forces at their disposal.



Improving NATO’s conventional forces is indisputably desirable, but it is unlikely in itself to prevent a war from turning nuclear. The assumption that underlies Western strategy—that the decision whether or not to resort to nuclear weapons will be for the West to make—may have made sense when first devised, but it seems unrealistic today in the light of what is known of Soviet plans and capabilities in this regard. A military command that has built its armed forces around a nuclear core is unlikely to defer use of it until the enemy has given it an excuse to do so. The USSR is not in a position, either politically or economically, to engage in a military war of attrition. Such a war would exacerbate all its latent problems and unleash an internal crisis under the worst possible circumstances. Should it decide that war has become unavoidable, therefore, it will almost certainly have prompt recourse to nuclear weapons since they alone offer it a chance of gaining a rapid and decisive victory. Tactical nuclear weapons are fully integrated into Soviet land forces, down to the divisional level, each commander disposing of rocket systems of a range appropriate to his mission, which suggests that they are meant to be fired in the first hours of combat. To cite the conclusions of a recent study of the European nuclear “balance”:

Soviet theater nuclear weapons are not simply “there,” as a “reaction” to NATO nuclear capabilities or even in some vague back-up role for Soviet conventional operations. Rather, they were developed, produced, and deployed in response to specific requirements within a concept of offensive operations; they are assigned specific missions within that concept; and they thus form an integral part of the Soviet/Warsaw Pact posture in Europe.

The scenario for the use of these forces has been depicted by General Gallois, as quoted in the Fall 1981 issue of Orbis, as follows:

It is a fact that the Kremlin leaders know that they may only engage their armed forces in a victorious war. Therefore they would have recourse to the strategy, tactics, and weapons of success. With their ballistic arsenal, utilizable with the advantage of total surprise, they now have possession of such weapons in quantity. . . . [T]he way it today deploys its conventional contingents, NATO obligingly offers up for destruction some 400 to 500 crucial targets that, when neutralized, will leave all resistance completely paralyzed. And these targets are planes in their air fields, the antennae of fixed radars, munition and tank depots, military headquarters, among others. Precision ballistic weapons carrying nuclear warheads, all the more powerful the greater their precision, could destroy the majority of these targets without considerable collateral damage. Thus, and only after having launched this initial salvo, the Warsaw Pact tanks and airborne units would occupy the previously disarmed and practically intact territories.

These considerations suggest that it is as naive to envision a potential East-West conflict being waged on the model of World War II—that is, with tanks and bombers—as it was to expect in the 1930’s to fight another war with Germany in the trenches. Should World War III ever break out, the Soviet Union is likely swiftly to take the initiative with all the weapons at its disposal, including nuclear ones. It makes little sense, therefore, to concentrate one’s attention on preventing nuclear war as such, as if conventional war were a viable alternative; one must strive to avoid war altogether, because any general war with the USSR probably will not remain in a conventional mode for any length of time, if at all.

The West would do well to emulate Soviet planners and pay greater attention to defensive measures. The Reagan administration has taken steps to improve the protection of U.S. command, control, and communications networks, which is welcome news since they are a declared prime target of Soviet strategic forces. Because an effective program of civil defense does not seem practical in a democracy as large and diverse as the United States, there is reason to devote greater effort to antiballistic-missile-defense programs.

Those who dismiss the idea as science fiction might change their minds by taking a close look at Soviet efforts in this direction. The deployment of an elaborate ABM system around Moscow suggests that the Soviets take defenses against missiles seriously. There are so many other indicators of intense Soviet work on missile defenses that some American military analysts fear a technical breakthrough followed by Soviet renunciation of the treaty limiting ABM deployments. Once its arsenals are overflowing with offensive weapons, it would make sense for Moscow to shift its attention in this field to defensive measures which, in any event, have always played a major role in its strategic thinking. Should such a development take place, it would pose a serious threat to U.S. security. Opposition to nuclear defenses on the grounds that they are “destabilizing” should go the way of the advocacy of mutual assured destruction (MAD), whose ill-begotten child it is.

Should political conditions make meaningful arms-control agreements possible, at least three cardinal requirements ought to be met. The most important of those is on-site verification, because the existing “national means,” marvels of technological ingenuity though they are, do not provide the requisite certainty. The second is agreement on a sensible unit of measurement which, once verification on the ground has been agreed upon, will assuredly be something other than launchers. The third calls for the adoption by the United States of a definition of “strategic weapons” that corresponds to the Soviet one; this measure will eliminate the possibility of the USSR being free to construct a panoply of nuclear weapons that, though unable to reach the continental United States, can very well reach and destroy its allies. Arms-control agreements concluded under different circumstances and on other terms are either pointless or deceptive or both.

The rearmament program inaugurated by President Reagan, when completed, should allow the United States to match Soviet military capabilities. This effort is commendable but it is not sufficient. The true military balance lies not in equality of military forces alone but in the combination of force and strategy. The history of warfare knows many examples of superior strategic skill defeating larger armies. Napoleon routinely beat armies that on paper were stronger than his own, only to be crushed, in turn, by the Russian army which, too weak to give him battle, retreated, and in retreating chanced upon a strategy that rendered him helpless. In 1940, the Allied force in France was larger and in many respects better equipped than the Germans, but it was burdened with a strategy that looked backward. Arming oneself, therefore, is not enough; an even greater threat than being outgunned is being outsmarted.



2. The Political Aspect

The chief instrument of Soviet global strategy is political attrition, which, in practice, means exploiting the open character of democratic societies for the purpose of inciting internal divisions among different social groups and between their citizens and their elected governments, as well as sowing discord among the allies. This strategy cannot be completely neutralized if only because democracies will not remain democracies once they disallow conflicts of interest and differences of opinion. But its pernicious effect can be significantly reduced when it is realized what it is and how it functions.

Ideally, political parties in democratic countries should seek to pursue a strictly bipartisan policy in regard to the Soviet Union. That such a policy is possible was demonstrated in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s in both the United States and West Germany. The breakdown of bipartisanship that has occurred subsequently as a result of the Soviet shift to “peaceful coexistence” provides Moscow with excellent opportunities to play on internal political rivalries in democratic countries by encouraging parties that are not in the least degree pro-Soviet or pro-Communist to assume, for narrow partisan interests, the positions it favors.

It was a sorry spectacle to see the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States trying to outbid one another with pledges of being the first to fly to Moscow to “settle” U.S.-Soviet differences with its leader. In several countries (e.g., Great Britain and Germany) socialist parties, in the quest for support from the neutralist segment of the electorate, have taken positions that come dangerously close to unilateral disarmament—positions they would inevitably abandon if elected to office, but which they can irresponsibly exploit as long as responsibility for defense rests on the other party, the party in office. Such pressures from the opposition, in turn, compel heads of state to seek a rapprochement with Moscow at any price, for they cannot afford to find themselves in the exposed and dangerous position of being the “party of war.” If the democracies persist in allowing intraparty rivalries to overshadow the fundamental interest all their citizens have in maintaining their way of life, the day may come when they will lose the right to engage in party politics altogether.

It is essential for the West not to allow Moscow to insinuate itself into its domestic politics and not to give it any opportunity for exploiting the “rifts” in the enemy camp which Lenin regarded as the prime objective of his political strategy. Not that there must be no disagreements in the Western camp, but rather that the West should instantly close ranks whenever the Soviet Union attempts to take part in them. Instead of giving Moscow such an opening, the West would do well to strike back and challenge the Soviet effort to seal off its domain from any outside interference. Through radio broadcasts (and, in the future, possibly television transmissions as well), through speeches of its statesmen, and through symbolic acts, it should be possible to raise in the minds of citizens of Communist countries doubts about the omnipotence of their regimes. To allow the Soviet Union to meddle in Western affairs but to desist from meddling in its affairs is to play into the hands of Soviet strategists.



The Soviet Union is even more successful in exploiting divisions in the Western alliance, whose cohesion, were it realizable, would constitute a most formidable obstacle to Soviet global ambitions.

It requires no elaborate proof to demonstrate that the alliance binding the United States to the countries of NATO, and, once removed, Japan, is of immense value to its members. The industrial democracies linked by this alliance enjoy vast technological and industrial superiority over the Communist bloc. Their combined gross national product is at the lowest reckoning three to four times that of the Soviet bloc and probably considerably in excess of that; the GNP of Western Europe alone is nearly double that of the USSR and its colonies. Were the Soviet Union to succeed in establishing hegemony over Western Europe and Japan, its industrial capacity would in a short time double or treble, enabling it in one fell swoop to overcome all the economic difficulties that now constrain its imperial ambitions. Should this occur, the United States would be left alone to confront the Soviet threat: under these conditions, the survival of free institutions in the United States would become most problematic. This is why the United States stands prepared to defend Western Europe as if it were its own territory, and why the Soviet Union, on its part, regards Western Europe as a prime objective of its grand strategy.

The defensive ties binding the United States to Europe were, from the outset, territorially restricted to Europe, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean north of the Tropic of Cancer. This arrangement created serious problems because Soviet strategy is not regional but global in scope. The result was that all the areas outside the North Atlantic community came within the purview of other regional alliances tied to the United States but not to NATO: among them, the Baghdad Pact, SEATO, and the Rio Treaty. Inasmuch, however, as all regional defensive treaties except for NATO proved to be paper compacts, the United States has had to assume principal responsibility on its own behalf, as well as that of its European allies, for the security of the entire non-Western world outside the North Atlantic region.

Such an arrangement made sense in 1949, when NATO came into being, because at that time Europe was still incapable of insuring its own protection, let alone the defense of distant regions. Today it is difficult to justify either on grounds of equity or military expediency, for it imposes on the United States excessive burdens of protecting the approaches to Europe as well as coping with Soviet expansionism in the Third World. The defense of the Middle East, without whose oil Europe could hardly carry on, is entrusted to the United States, as is that of the mineral resources of Africa, not to speak of the strategic areas in East Asia and Central America. Whenever Communist forces commit acts of aggression in these outlying areas, Europe assumes the stance of a neutral observer. The detachment with which its leaders react to such events sometimes conveys the impression that they are not unhappy to have Russia dissipate its aggressive energies far away from the European continent.4 There seems little awareness in European thinking (a few honorable exceptions apart) that the Soviet Union pursues a global and not a continental strategy, that the invasion of Afghanistan has some bearing on the security of Europe’s oil supplies, that a series of successful Communist revolutions in Central America may have the consequence of diverting American attention away from NATO. These matters, which do not happen to impinge on Europe’s territorial interests but affect its security in every other respect, are left to the care of the United States and such smaller non-European countries as Washington can persuade, bribe, or cajole into rendering it assistance.

An alliance, so inequitable in its principles and kept in place long after the circumstances that had shaped it have disappeared, is a monument to the short-sightedness of American diplomacy. It really is not so much an alliance as an insurance policy, extended by the United States to Western Europe at no expense to the insured but at an immense cost and risk to the insurer. As such, it offers Moscow superb opportunities for driving wedges between the U.S. and Western Europe. Moscow can, and does, deliberately exacerbate its differences with the United States, while offering “security” to Western Europe, so as to reduce artificially the East-West conflict to one that involves only the two “superpowers,” which allegedly does not affect Europe’s interests and from which it had best keep out. It heightens this effect by maintaining a stable East-West border in Europe and committing acts of aggression exclusively in regions outside the confines of NATO, where it runs into American but not European resistance. In this manner, Moscow succeeds in implementing the divide et impera principle which lies at the heart of its political strategy.

The unwillingness of a fully reconstructed and prosperous Europe to join the United States in a policy of global defense and its political and military parochialism have been the principal causes of the discords troubling the alliance during the past twenty years. True, the United States is also annoyed that its allies, although equally affluent, contribute proportionately less to the common defense, but it is not defense budgets that American participants in a 1982 NBC poll had on their mind when four out of five of them responded negatively to the question whether the allies were “providing the right amount of support for American foreign policies.” They meant that the United States was too often left in the lurch to confront Soviet and Soviet-sponsored aggression while the allies looked the other way, as had happened in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and throughout the Middle East.

The American public takes a very sober, even cynical, view of domestic politics. Its attitude toward foreign policy, however, is a different matter. Essentially insular, Americans see no reason to involve themselves in foreign ventures unless it is to promote some ethical ideal, to make the world better, safer, or more democratic. Realpolitik in foreign policy makes no sense to them, since realism tells them to stay home and mind their own business.

Given this attitude, it should cause no surprise that the American public takes a very dim view of allied behavior. In the late 1940’s, it had let itself be persuaded to abandon strongly held, traditional objections to “entangling alliances,” and committed the country to the defense of the “Free World,” understanding this to mean literally the Free World and not a military “forward base” for the protection of the continental United States. Rightly or wrongly, the American public sees no connection between the security of Western Europe and that of the United States. It believes that it is acting selflessly in placing troops in Europe and subjecting the continental United States to the risk of a Soviet nuclear attack. Consequently, it is bewildered and angered by Europe’s lack of cooperation in other regions of the world, by its unconcealed contempt for the moral element that Americans always inject into their foreign policy and lacking which they cannot be drawn out of their insularity, and by Europe’s reluctance to accept nuclear weapons mutually agreed upon to be essential for the Continent’s defense.

This mood carries the risk that some day public support in the United States for NATO will erode to the point where its chief executive will no longer be able to call for the sacrifices that the alliance demands. Some European politicians, in private conversation, profess to be untroubled by this prospect on the grounds that the United States needs Europe more than Europe needs the United States, and hence has no choice but to accommodate itself to Europe’s actions and inactions. This argument is wholly irresponsible. For one thing, “need” is a subjective concept; the objective reality is that the average American simply is not aware that he needs Europe to defend his country. Nor is the military premise of such thinking sound; for, as Walter Hahn has written, while Europe indeed serves as America’s first line of defense, it happens to be Europe’s last.



Of all the allied powers, it is the Federal Republic of Germany that makes the greatest contribution to NATO and causes the greatest problems within it. Germany occupies a location of unique importance, in that any military conflict on the Continent is certain to begin on its territory and there to find its decision. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and provides NATO with the largest contingent of troops. The Soviet leadership, aware of these facts, concentrates its political offensive in Europe on West Germany. It knows that should it succeed in neutralizing Germany, NATO would fall apart and the Continent would become indefensible.

To all appearances, the West German population is fully committed to the alliance. Public-opinion polls indicate that most Germans approve of NATO—78 percent desire to remain in NATO, and 63 percent regard it as essential to their security. Although anti-Americanism is not uncommon in Germany (it has become for some Europeans a psychological surrogate for anti-Semitism), its sporadic manifestations do not reflect the feelings of the population at large. The personal popularity of Americans is relatively high and if anything it is increasing: in 1957, only 37 percent of Germans responded affirmatively to the question, “Do you like Americans?,” whereas in 1981 the proportion of such respondents rose to 56 percent. Fifty-three percent of Germans consider “good relations with the United States” essential for the security of the West, which happens to be a higher proportion than in any other nation of NATO. (By comparison, only one-quarter of British citizens hold this opinion). The Germans, who are among the most heavily polled people in the world, give such answers consistently no matter how the questions are phrased, which indicates a solid majority in favor of the alliance and collaboration with the United States.

But this holds true only as long as the Soviet Union is excluded from the equation and the choice reduces itself to a simple alternative: with NATO and the United States or without them? The instant the USSR is introduced as a factor, the picture turns murky. A good part of the German public wants close association with the NATO allies, but only on condition that this relationship not irritate or appear to menace the Soviet Union. It is as if many Germans wanted the alliance to confine itself to political formalities, largely devoid of military or economic substance; such an alliance would serve Germany as a guarantee that it will not be left alone to face the giant who borders it in the east, that it will have friends to fall back on in the event of trouble, all without having to commit itself to anything faintly anti-Soviet, even if only in a defensive sense.

Thus, 40 percent of West Germans unconditionally oppose the stationing of U.S. nuclear missiles on their soil, regardless of how many such missiles the Soviet Union deploys and targets on Germany. Nearly the same proportion rejects resort to nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for Soviet nuclear strikes. These results indicate that fully two-fifths of German citizens are prepared to surrender once it becomes certain that the alliance cannot defend itself conventionally against either a conventional or a nuclear Soviet assault. Asked whether Germany should cooperate more closely with the United States or the Soviet Union, 56 percent express a preference for the first option, and only 1 percent for the second, but an important bloc (32 percent) want “an even-handed” policy toward both Washington and Moscow.

These results indicate that there exists in Germany a sizable body of committed neutralists—between one-third and two-fifths of the population—who have psychologically opted out of the alliance and regard it either as altogether undesirable or at best as a symbolic bond that imposes no serious obligations on their country. Sociological inquiries indicate that a high proportion of these neutralists consists of mass-educated young people—teachers, students, and functionaries—products of the ambitious higher-education programs of postwar Germany, who live in a cultural no-man’s-land and whose prospects for securing jobs commensurate with what they consider their skills and abilities are so low as to breed in them a permanent state of discontent.

The mood of its electorate obliges every German administration, regardless of its own preferences, to conduct an ambivalent foreign policy in which professions of undying loyalty to the Western alliance are coupled with assurances to the Soviet Union that it can count on Germany being a reliable “partner,” and an “intermediary” between East and West. (“Our national interest does not allow us to stand between East and West,” Chancellor Brandt pronounced cryptically in 1970. “Our country needs cooperation and harmony with the West and agreement with the East.”) German governments are indubitably committed to the defense of the central front, which, after all, cuts across their own territory. They are also willing discreetly to provide money and political support to nations threatened by the Communists: this they have done with excellent results in Portugal and Turkey. But they are emphatically not prepared either to withhold economic and technical aid from the Soviet bloc or to participate in any effort to cope with Soviet military expansion outside the confines of NATO.

In some measure this ambivalence can be explained by geography and history. Germany—Communist and democratic alike—is the focal point of East-West confrontations and the battlefield in any potential war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This location makes Germans particularly sensitive to any worsening of relations between the two blocs. Another factor is the memory of Nazism, which has the effect of discrediting both militarism and anti-Communism; for many Germans, the notion of an anti-Communist alliance evokes sordid associations with the Axis. But probably the most important consideration influencing German attitudes toward the East-West conflict is the division of Germany: Germany is the only politically bifurcated country in Europe, one-fifth of whose population and nearly one-third of whose territory are under foreign occupation.



Germans have never reconciled themselves to the status of a truncated nation, and the desire for reunification is a powerful force in their politics. Theoretically, there are two ways by which reunification can be accomplished: by force or by conciliation. Force is not a realistic option under any conceivable circumstances; even if Germany decided to resort to war to recover its eastern marches, it could not do so alone, and not a single ally would support it. It is the alternative, conciliation, that appears feasible and attractive. Since the 1960’s German policies toward the USSR have been strongly affected by the hope that Ostpolitik, the German variant of détente, will increase contacts between the two Germanys to the point where somehow, in the end, reunification will occur. The expectation is almost certainly misplaced: there is not the remotest chance that the Soviet Union will ever allow East Germany—its military and political springboard against Western Europe—to join with West Germany except on terms that would amount to the Federal Republic being detached from its allies and transformed into a Soviet client state. Nevertheless, the hope persists and affects policy in many ways.

Extensive commercial relations with Moscow are one price that Bonn must pay and is not averse to paying for access to East Germany. In the 1960’s, West Germany tried to make direct contact with its Communist half but that endeavor was thwarted. It discovered eventually that the road to East Berlin required a detour through Moscow. Moscow closely monitors relations between the two halves of Germany and exacts a price for its friendly services—when Bonn is accommodating, it facilitates contacts; when not, it blocks them. Should West Germany ever dare to join the United States in a program of embargoes and boycotts, it would promptly find its lines of communication with East Germany—a very important matter to the millions of Germans who have relatives there—reduced or even cut. West Germany is for the Soviet Union the most important trading partner in NATO, and since East-West trade generally calls for Western credits and subsidies, it is also the recipient of generous German economic aid.



This economic aid is extended to the Soviet Union and its East European colonies not only directly, but also indirectly, by way of East Germany. The founders of the European Economic Community (EEC), which came into being in 1957, in a special protocol attached to the Treaty of Rome, decided to treat Germany as a single political entity. This little-known provision has made Communist East Germany a de-facto member of the EEC, able to enjoy its bounties but exempt from its obligations. The critical factor is that trade between the two halves of Germany is regarded as internal trade, which means that West German firms can import goods from East Germany without having to pay the duties imposed on the other members of the EEC whenever they import from non-members. Through this loophole, East Germany can unload its merchandise in the EEC duty-free. The protocol is so strictly enforced that the exact dimensions of the intra-German trade cannot be determined because Bonn treats it as an internal matter and refuses to share the information with its allies. The arrangement brings no mean profits to the West German economy as well. It is common practice, for instance, for West German firms, eager to profit from lower labor costs there, to subcontract to East Germany; as long as the contractor is West German, the manufactured goods (they are said to include uniforms for the West German army!) are admitted duty-free.

Nor does Bonn’s assistance to Communist Germany stop at trade. It has generously lent it vast sums of money (at latest reckoning, East Germany’s debts amount to $13 billion, most of it owed to West Germany). When, in 1983, East Germany could not meet its interest payments and teetered on the brink of insolvency, Franz-Joseph Strauss, Germany’s leading right-wing politician, came to its rescue by arranging a one-billion-deutschmark ($400 million) loan to East Germany, without political strings attached and without the usual stipulation that the money be used to purchase West German products.

West German subsidies to the East German economy also assume some highly exotic forms. It is estimated, for example, that in the past twenty years, Bonn has ransomed from East German jails 20,000 political prisoners at an average price of 50,000 DM ($20,000) per head, which amounts to the transfer of nearly half-a-billion dollars. In 1983, West Germany completed the construction of a superhighway connecting Berlin with Hamburg. Its ostensible purpose is to ease the economic isolation of West Berlin, but it might just conceivably someday also help solve the transportation problems of Soviet armored units stationed in East Berlin in their race to the North Sea.

When confronted with the evidence and criticized for it, Germans are prone to respond that geographic proximity and age-old contacts have made them uniquely qualified to understand the Russians and to deal with them. One would feel more encouraged by this self-confidence were it not for the historical record. After all, it was the Germans who in World War I had made it possible for the Bolsheviks to come to power in Russia and to hold on to it when in 1918 they were near collapse. In World War II, it was they who brought Russia into the eastern half of Europe. Many of them pride themselves today on conducting a highly sophisticated policy toward the Soviet Union, a policy that someday will pay rich dividends. But one wonders whether they are not once again deceiving themselves, and instead of doing the manipulating are not themselves the victims of manipulation, who will end up fatally weakening the Western alliance without obtaining anything from Moscow in return.



These various strains and inequities call for a reassessment of an alliance that no longer meets the needs of the time. However the matter is worked out in practice, if NATO is to remain viable, changes seem unavoidable. One alternative is for NATO to expand its responsibilities beyond its present confines, to include at least some areas contiguous to Europe, particularly the Middle East. But since it is the unanimous opinion of knowledgeable persons that European parliaments would never approve such a revision of the terms of the alliance, one may have to look for another solution, namely, creating a separate alliance with selected members of NATO to assume this responsibility.

An alternative arrangement would be for the allies to take upon themselves a greater share of the burden of self-defense while the United States withdrew the bulk of its forces from Europe to be able to fulfill its global responsibilities better. It is difficult to see how the United States can continue to meet the global Soviet threat when the overwhelming bulk of its forces is allocated to the defense of Europe and the forces of its European allies are exclusively committed to this end.

Whatever the best solution, clearly something must be done about a treaty that is more than a third of a century old, that was conceived before the USSR had missiles and an oceangoing navy and Western Europe had a GNP greater than that of the United States.

In objection to such proposals, it is said that, should the United States withdraw its troop contingents, Europe would turn neutral and arrive at an accommodation with the Soviet Union. To this argument there are two rejoinders. First, if, indeed, all that prevents Western Europe from Finlandizing itself is the presence of U.S. troops, then it becomes questionable whether it can or should be defended; the function of NATO, after all, is to safeguard Europe from the Soviet Union, not from itself.

Secondly, the threat need not be taken very seriously. Western Europe desperately does not want to become dependent on the Soviet Union, let alone share the fate of Europe’s eastern half. Under the present arrangement, it can avoid either fate because it has U.S. guarantees, purchased at almost no cost. Having persuaded themselves and the United States that NATO primarily serves the interests of U.S. security, not their own, America’s allies are in the comfortable position of being able to eat their cake (conduct a militarily limited and politically semi-neutralist policy) and have it too (enjoy U.S. military protection if this policy fails). One cannot blame them for taking advantage of such an opportunity: NATO probably represents a singular instance in history of an alliance in which the senior partner asks too little rather than too much of his allies.

For these reasons one need not worry that a gradual shift of responsibility for the defense of Western Europe to the Europeans would lead to a disintegration of the alliance and the loss of the continent. Michel Tatu, a prominent French journalist, argued this point very convincingly in the July 1975 Foreign Affairs:

Every government and every society seeks security not in order to become part of one or another system and thus as an end in itself, but because security will permit the government or the society to maintain its identity and its values. Just as a shipwrecked person who has lost one plank will not let himself drown but will look for another plank, so there is no reason to suppose that the European governments, not abandoned by America but simply invited to take charge progressively of their own defense, will immediately give up the values in whose name they [have] so long attached themselves to America. . . .

Must one believe that the European attachment to liberalism and democracy is valid only so long as the United States is willing to guarantee these values? Or is it rather the contrary, that the alliance with America springs from the Europeans’ own attachment to these values? The argument that Europe would turn herself into another Finland lacks dignity as well as cogency.

Should Western Europe confront the prospect of Finlandization or still worse, it is certain to galvanize its resources; but this can happen only if and when the United States extricates itself from the psychological dependence on the alliance, which allows many Europeans to pretend they are doing the United States a favor in allowing themselves to be defended.



3. The Economic Aspect

In the West it is widely believed that the Soviet economy is self-sufficient and that commercial relations with the West are an option that Moscow is at liberty to exercise or to reject. This assumption makes it possible to argue that there is no point in resorting to sanctions and embargoes to withhold equipment and technology from Communist states: the only effect such measures have is to push the Soviet Union toward autarky, to deprive Western firms of business, and to worsen the climate of international relations.

For all its popularity, this argument rests on a fallacious premise. Solid evidence that no one so far has been able to refute shows that the Soviet economy has never been self-sufficient and today is less so than ever. From 1921 on, almost without interruption, the USSR has been importing from the West significant quantities of materiel and know-how to modernize existing industries and to introduce new technology. In the words of Anthony Sutton, the author of the most comprehensive survey of the subject, “From 1930 to 1945 Soviet technology was in effect Western technology converted to the metric system.”5 The debt of the Soviet Union to Western assistance is not widely known because neither of the parties involved wishes to advertise it—the Soviet Union wants to avoid the embarrassment of conceding that it is more or less permanently dependent on the “capitalist camp,” while Western firms are coy about doing business with a power that most Westerners view as hostile and spend great sums to arm themselves against. (To this day, the U.S. Department of Commerce will not release lists of industrial corporations granted export licenses to the Soviet Union, although such business is perfectly legitimate.)

Western assistance to the Soviet economy began as early as 1921, with the inauguration of Lenin’s New Economic Policy. At that time the not inconsiderable industrial plant that the Bolsheviks had inherited from the czarist regime lay in shambles; Russian industry, for all practical purposes, had ceased to function. The first foreigners invited to help with industrial reconstruction came from Germany, with which Moscow had signed a trade agreement in 1921. Their assistance helped Soviet industry attain prewar production levels by 1927. In the late 1920’s, the USSR switched most of its business to the United States, whose corporations became a major factor in the implementation of the first Five-Year Plan. At that time, Ford Motors constructed in Soviet Russia a huge integrated plant at Gorkii to build Model A cars, trucks, and buses. General Electric helped with the development of the Soviet electrical industry, while DuPont contributed to the chemical and RCA to the communications industry. Sutton estimates that during this critical phase of Soviet industrial development, at least 95 percent of Soviet industries benefited from Western assistance.

This cooperation continued during the 1930’s. The McKee Corporation of Cleveland designed the famous Magnitogorsk steel mill, a copy of the U.S. Steel plant at Gary, Indiana, then the largest integrated iron and steel plant in the world. All the refineries in Russia’s principal oil-producing area at Baku were constructed by U.S. firms, which also furnished them with the bulk of their drilling and pumping equipment. Most of the plants built during the third Five-Year Plan (1936-40), with the exception of those working exclusively for the military, were planned and in many cases constructed by Western companies, including (for a while) even those from Nazi Germany. Later on, during the war, U.S. Lend-Lease provided the USSR not only with expendable military materiel but also with advanced equipment, which is estimated to have increased Soviet industrial potential by one-third.

The point is that Western involvement was at no time marginal and therefore a matter of choice; it was all along essential to the entire Soviet industrialization drive. “During the period from 1930 to 1945, Soviet technology was almost completely a transfer from Western countries. . . .” Sutton concludes, “No major technology or major plant under construction between 1930 and 1945 has been identified as a purely Soviet effort.”



So much for the vaunted Soviet-self-sufficiency under Stalin. In the decade immediately following World War II, the USSR imported little from the West because it needed time to absorb its Lend-Lease equipment and the immense quantities of war booty that it had seized in Germany and Eastern Europe. The purchase of Western equipment and know-how resumed in the late 1950’s, this time on a grander scale than ever before.

The critical factor which made such an expansion of individual imports possible was a change in the attitude of Western governments: whereas before they had been rather neutral toward trade with Moscow, they now began actively to encourage it. It is difficult to tell whether in this case economic interest was the driving force and the expectation of political benefits a rationalization, or the other way around; the consequences were the same. Since the late 1950’s, Western governments have cooperated with their banks and business corporations to promote exports of industrial equipment and technology to the USSR and Eastern Europe, as well as to enhance the latter’s ability to earn hard currency with which to pay for these goods. Since the USSR is relatively poor in cash and usually suffers an unfavorable balance of trade with the industrial countries, no significant expansion of East-West trade could take place without Western credits, and no credits could flow without government participation.

The latter assumes two forms: Western governments lend directly to Communist countries to enable them to pay for purchases from their business firms, or they guarantee repayment of the loans extended to the exporting firms by private banks. By availing themselves of this credit, Warsaw Pact countries have run up a debt of over $80 billion, most of it in the decade of the 1970’s. The USSR normally insists on paying interest rates on its loans that are substantially below (as much as 5 percent) those prevailing on international markets. The purpose of this practice, with which Western governments and banks connive, is to help the Soviet Union maintain the reputation for unique credit-worthiness and, in this manner, to enhance its international prestige. As a rule, the USSR discreetly compensates its creditors for their losses on interest by paying premiums for the goods and services purchased with the borrowed money.

An interesting variant in East-West trade practices are the so-called “compensation” deals under which the USSR repays its loans not in cash but in the product that the loans had made possible. This method has been employed in financing the Siberian pipeline, the costs of which are to be recovered in future deliveries of natural gas.6 For a while the Soviet leadership believed that it had found in “compensation” arrangements a kind of financial perpetual-motion machine: Western firms would develop Soviet industrial capacities and natural resources at little or no cost to Moscow, receive payment in the product, reinvest the proceeds, and so on, in perpetuity. Unfortunately, it soon dawned on the Soviet Union’s European partners that by so doing they were competing against themselves and as a result compensation deals became much less popular than expected.



Western economic involvement in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe since the 1960’s has been deep and consequential. Once again, as had happened in the 1890’s and 1930’s, Russia has secured in the West help essential to modernizing those industries that advances in technology had rendered obsolete and learning about technologies that it has not been able to master on its own.

A survey of the technology acquired by the USSR from the West in the past quarter-century shows the following:

Motor vehicles: Italy has built for the Soviet Union at Togliatti a giant automobile plant (equipped mainly, it is to be noted, with U.S. machinery) to turn out copies of Fiat passenger cars, while Pullman-Swindell of Pittsburgh, a subsidiary of the M. W. Kellogg Company, has constructed for Moscow on the Kama River the world’s largest truck plant. The two establishments account for the production of one-half of Soviet passenger cars and heavy trucks, respectively.

Oil industry: the equipment purchased by the USSR from the West has enabled it to raise its oil production substantially, by some estimates as much as two million barrels a day, which at 1984 prices brings in (or saves) $21 billion a year; in effect, this imported technology subsidizes Soviet energy exports to Eastern Europe.

Chemical industry: the USSR has carried out an ambitious program of importing chemical plants from the West. These have largely freed it from the necessity of buying chemicals abroad.

Electronic industry: the Soviet Union has made abroad significant purchases of integrated-circuit technology.

Steel: Moscow has purchased abroad the equipment to produce high-grade specialized steel; currently, the French company Creusot-Loire is constructing in the USSR a mill capable of turning out seven million tons of such steel annually.

Ammonia: Western equipment has enabled the USSR to become the world’s leading exporter of industrial ammonia.

Natural gas: the story of the Yamal pipeline, built with the assistance of critical Western technology (large-diameter pipes and compressors) and capital is well known. At present, negotiations are quietly under way to continue such development beyond the existing line. In addition, the German company Mannesmann, AG, is negotiating for contracts to build in the Soviet Union synthetic liquid fuel plants estimated to be worth as much as $16.5 billion.

Shipping: The bulk of the Soviet merchant navy—the largest in the world—consists of vessels built by foreign shipyards.

Unusual reticence accompanies these and other industrial endeavors, as if the parties had a gentleman’s agreement to keep the information privileged.



The industrial assistance given to the Soviet Union helps its military effort directly and indirectly—directly, by providing so-called “dual-use” technology which can be applied to the production of both military and non-wartime equipment; and indirectly, by strengthening the Soviet military-mobilization base. The development of Soviet energy resources has the effect of providing the USSR with hard currency which its own economy cannot generate; normally most of it is spent on acquiring abroad equipment of some military application.

The “dual-use” technology, lavishly sold to the USSR in the 1960’s and especially the 1970’s, has had a most impressive effect in enhancing Soviet military power. While basic Soviet military equipment is of native manufacture, the West and Japan have supplied the Soviet war industry with specialized and advanced technology which Soviet engineers integrate into their output—it makes all the difference between equipment of passable and of superior quality. A plant built by a U.S. corporation to manufacture rock-drill bits to explore for oil can be and very likely is used to turn out anti-tank ammunition. Specialized steel, sold to the USSR, has a variety of applications in tank armor and submarine hulls. Integrated circuits, knowledge of which was acquired in the West, make critical contributions to electronic warfare. And it takes no great imagination to realize that the heavy trucks that the Kama River truck plant turns out are either shipped to the Red Army or earmarked for it in the event of hostilities. The same applies to the merchant marine, which in peacetime fishes and transports cargoes, but forms an integral part of the Soviet Navy and operates under its command.

The most shocking instance of the contribution that Western technology has made to Soviet military capabilities was the sale by the U.S. in the early 1970’s of equipment to manufacture miniature ball bearings. In 1959-60, the Soviet leadership decided to proceed with the mass-production of nuclear weapons. German technology, acquired after World War II, combined with native science and industry, provided nearly all the components required.

Among the equipment that could not be produced domestically, however, was machinery to manufacture large quantities of miniature ball bearings for missile-guidance systems. At the time, Soviet representatives approached the only firm that made such machinery, the Bryant Chucking Grinder Company, of Springfield, Vermont. In 1961, with Soviet orders pending, Bryant applied for a license to sell this equipment to the Soviet Union, but Defense Department objections caused President Kennedy to deny the application. In 1972, in the more favorable climate of détente, Bryant applied once again for a license to ship its Centalign grinders to the USSR. This time, permission came through. The ball bearings produced by this U.S. equipment are almost certainly integrated into the guidance system of Soviet missiles. In the opinion of some experts, they have materially contributed to the enhancement of the accuracy of Soviet missiles, to the extent of putting at risk the U.S. force of Minuteman ICBM’s and requiring the development of the MX.



Nato long ago recognized the need to withhold from the USSR, and from countries likely to pass on to the USSR, equipment with obvious and direct military applications. In practice, enforcement of this principle has been hopelessly lax, especially since the inauguration of détente.

The agency charged with monitoring technology transfer to the East is known by the acronym COCOM. Formed by NATO countries in 1949 with headquarters in Paris, and joined a few years later by Japan, COCOM maintains lists of embargoed technology, agreed upon by the allies. Alas, COCOM is virtually powerless to carry out its mandate. It is assigned an absurdly small budget (under $500,000 a year) with a correspondingly minuscule staff and can only recommend but not enforce its recommendations. In practice, it routinely processes and approves requests for the sale of equipment and technology to the Soviet bloc; and on the infrequent occasions when it turns down a request, it has no means of insuring that its decisions are implemented, because it has neither the necessary authority nor the personnel. After President Nixon assumed office, the U.S. relaxed its more stringent national rules on exports to Communist countries, which in turn caused a further dilution of COCOM.

If one adds that the neutral countries of Europe—Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria—do not receive COCOM recommendations and both sell embargoed material and provide transit for it, it becomes evident that few effective restrictions exist on the transfer to the Communist bloc of advanced technology with direct military application. The West, notably the Federal Republic of Germany, France, and Japan, which together account for nearly two-thirds of the technology sold to the USSR (1979), constitutes a giant supermarket of military know-how where the USSR shops (often with borrowed money) for goods to integrate into its arsenal of destruction.

The United States seems most aware of the danger of such sales and makes an earnest effort to control them. But Washington has difficulty maintaining its resolve in the face of unremitting pressure from both the allies and domestic commercial interests, usually backed by the Departments of State and Commerce, which argue that such restrictions serve only to divert Soviet business elsewhere. In his first eighteen months in office, President Reagan tried to enforce industrial controls, but his resolve weakened as the allies refused to cooperate and U.S. business firms loudly complained. By the end of 1983, he seemed to have given up trying.

The sad reality is that while there are powerful vested interests lobbying for exports, no one has a vested interest in restricting the flow of technology to the potential enemy. Private enterprise does not seem especially concerned with who buys its product, as if oblivious of any connection between technology and military power; and governments lack the will to impose considerations higher than immediate profit on business. So it happens that while the West busily arms itself, it also helps arm its opponent.



The transfer of military technology, however, is not the only problem; another major Western contribution to the Soviet military effort lies in assistance extended to its mobilization base. In the Soviet Union the line separating the military and civilian economies is so indistinct as to be almost meaningless, inasmuch as the leadership views the entire national economy as either actually or potentially destined for military ends: we are dealing here with a war economy operating on an intermediate level of mobilization. Soviet military personnel participate closely in economic planning and carry a strong, probably critical, voice in decisions on allocations for the civilian sector of the economy. The central planning agency, Gosplan, makes no major investments unless the generals on its staff are satisfied that they meet the needs of wartime mobilization. Furthermore, each major industrial establishment has a military office that supervises those departments working for the armed forces. On the eve of World War II, the German high command compiled a list of Soviet war industries: it turned out to have been virtually identical with a list of Soviet industrial establishments of that time.

Nothing indicates that matters have changed in this respect. Since the Soviet leadership views all industries in the light of their contribution to the war effort, it must view industrial imports in the same manner; from which it follows that any contribution to Soviet industrial potential is at the same time a contribution to its war-making potential. Help extended to the Soviet Union to construct plants for the manufacture of goods which ostensibly serve peaceful purposes, such as automobiles and trucks, tractors, or specialized steel, in fact serve a double purpose, partly civilian, partly military, with the military one always paramount.

The other objection to technology and equipment transfer has to do with its effect on the Stalinist system. Foreign technology and foreign credits help prop up an economic regime which shows every sign of having lost its vitality; they also enable Moscow to allocate its capital and resources in a manner that continues to favor the military sector. It is in the interest of the West that the USSR reform its labor policies, raising productivity by greater incentives and decentralized decision-making. This would represent a step toward weakening the economic and political power of the Soviet elite. To the extent that it helps to make the system more efficient, Western technology makes it easier to avoid such reforms. If one can imagine a Soviet economy that would be 100-percent automated and able to dispense with human labor altogether, such an economy would be entirely freed from the need to take the human factor into account. Of course, such an economy is not possible; but everything that contributes to the automation of Soviet production, that supplies it with that which the Stalinist system cannot provide, serves to solidify the despotic arrangement.



It is difficult to tell whether the democracies, constrained as they are by vested interests, public opinion, and political rivalries, are capable of sustaining an indirect, long-range policy, which requires the courage of quiet firmness and patience. Unquestionably, it is much easier to evoke a response from a democratic electorate with either calls to arms or promises of eternal peace. What can be said with confidence is that as long as the present, essentially Stalinist, system prevails in the Soviet Union, war will remain an ever-present danger which neither rearmament nor accommodation can entirely avert.




1 It would take much more space than is here available to dispel this widespread myth. Suffice it to say that in 1898 a group of Russian military specialists completed a comprehensive history of Russian warfare and concluded, with pride, that in the thirty-eight wars which it had waged since 1700, Russia had fought only two defensive campaigns—the other thirty-six were offensive (nastupatel'nye). N. N. Sukhotin, Voina v istorii russkogo mira [War in the History of the Russian World] (St. Petersburg, 1898), pp. 13-14.

2 A Soviet soldier is paid four rubles a month, which at the official exchange rate amounts to slightly over five dollars, but at black-market rates comes to less than one dollar. Since this is as much as no pay, the bulk of the Soviet army may be said to consist of temporarily bonded serfs. The U.S. private by comparison receives nearly $600 a month.

3 My views on this subject were stated in “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War,” COMMENTARY, July 1977.

4 This is nothing new: Napoleon and Hitler encouraged Russia to expand in the direction of India, while Kaiser Wilhelm II incited it to move against China and Japan. In all three cases the motive was to keep Russia so busy elsewhere that it could not meddle in the affairs of Europe. As early as 1638, the French statesman, Maximilien de Bethune Sully, in his “Great Design,” urged the European powers to expel Russia from Europe and leave it alone to fight the Turks and Persians and, presumably, other Asians.

5 Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1930 to 1945 (Hoover Institution, 1971), p. 329. In his three-volume detailed account of Soviet purchases of Western equipment and technology, of which this is the second volume, Sutton comes to conclusions that are uncomfortable for many businessmen and economists. For this reason his work tends to be either dismissed out of hand as “extreme” or, more often, simply ignored.

6 After these costs have been repaid, the income generated by gas sales is expected to be used by Moscow to buy imports from Germany and the other countries in Western Europe. It was the desire to place cash in Soviet hands for such purchases rather than the alleged need to diversify energy supplies that motivated the German government, financial institutions, and corporations to promote the Siberian pipeline with such single-minded determination, even at the risk of conflict with the United States.

About the Author

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

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