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Soviet Union (former) Military Doctrine in the Late 1980s
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The l970s and l980s were a period of questioning and transition in Soviet doctrine and strategy. Soviet military doctrine continued to assume that the Soviet Union could fight and prevail in a nuclear war and that Soviet strategic nuclear missiles could influence a war's course and outcome. Nevertheless, prominent military figures voiced concern about the military efficacy of nuclear weapons, among them the former chief of the General Staff, Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai V. Ogarkov; Colonel General Makhmut A. Gareev, author of a monograph on military theoretician Frunze; and Volkogonov, chief editor of Marxist-Leninist Teaching on War and the Army. They each expressed reservations about whether a world war of the future could be fought and won with nuclear weapons. Ogarkov, in particular, advanced the revolutionary view that a twenty-first-century battlefield might be dominated by nonnuclear, high-technology armaments and a global war could be fought with conventional weapons alone.

    In the mid- to late 1980s, CPSU leaders and some military officials began to focus on the political aspects of Soviet national security and played down its military aspect. They advocated a new military doctrine based on the defensive concept of "reasonable sufficiency" and on a military potential "sufficient for safeguarding the security of the country" but not adequate for launching offensives, especially surprise attacks on an adversary. In l987 some military spokesmen also mentioned the possible reformulation of Soviet military doctrine. The chief of the General Staff, Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei F. Akhromeev, and the minister of defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union Dmitrii T. Iazov, declared that a new Soviet military doctrine was being developed in accordance with the principles of the "new thinking" in foreign and military policy. In May l987, the Warsaw Pact's Consultative Committee met in East Berlin and adopted a document on a defenseoriented military doctrine. In particular, the document called for reduction of conventional armaments in Europe to a level that could not support offensive operations.

    When asked to explain the purportedly new concepts of war prevention and military sufficiency, however, Warsaw Pact and Soviet spokesmen mentioned an emphasis on quality, high combat readiness, and decisive counteroperations, in short, a victory orientation that a purely defensive doctrine based on "reasonable sufficiency" could not support. The contradiction at the heart of Soviet doctrine, which claimed to be defensive but posited war scenarios calling for applying force offensively, damaged Soviet credibility in the West and led to conflicting views on Soviet intentions. Many Western analysts, among them William T. Lee and Richard F. Staar, continued to interpret Soviet intentions as "very aggressive." Others, such as Michael MccGwire and Raymond L. Garthoff, who focused on the Soviet viewpoint, saw the Soviet Union as being constrained by doctrinal requirements and threat assessments to adopt a force posture adequate for fighting a world war with both nuclear and conventional weapons.

    In the late 1980s, a consensus emerged in the West on the probable Soviet doctrine. Western specialists believed that the Soviet Union would not start a nuclear war without provocation. They also believed, however, that, should a war start, the Soviet Union would strive for victory and for protection of its territory from enemy strikes. Western specialists also held that the Soviet leadership would prefer to fight a conventional war in Europe and, should such a war escalate, would try to limit a nuclear war to Central and Western Europe. A protracted conventional conflict in the shadow of nuclear weapons, possibly worldwide, was another likely option. Many Western analysts also thought that, despite having in 1982 unilaterally forsworn the first use of nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union retained the option of a surprise first strike against the United States. They maintained that Soviet leaders would consider this option if they believed they could thereby win the war and limit damage to the homeland.

    Data as of May 1989

    NOTE: The information regarding Soviet Union (former) on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Soviet Union (former) Military Doctrine in the Late 1980s information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Soviet Union (former) Military Doctrine in the Late 1980s should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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