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The average Russian, still bemused by the removal of Nikita Khrushchev two weeks earlier, must have wondered whether the appearance of Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, flanked by Premier Alexei Kosygin and Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev at ceremonies marking the 47th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, was a sign that new political plums were about to fall into the anxious hands of the military hierarchy.
hy Captain Paul 11. Schratz, U. S. Navy
The recent tragedies striking both the American and Soviet space programs may force a re-evaluation, on both sides, of the drive for mastery of the world’s harshest environment. The terrible loss of American astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafie dimmed temporarily the spectacular success of the Gemini orbital flights and of the Surveyor moon probes. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, whose two-year doldrums in their space effort were interrupted only by the fatal plunge of Colonel Vladimir Komorov to his death in Soyuz I, will certainly be further delayed until completion of an extensive investigation. The pause seems appropriate for reflection as well as investigation.
The fiery scratch in the skies by Sputnik I in October 1957 triggered a vast new era in American scientific-military-technological development. Are we only now discovering that Sputnik may have marked the end of the old and the beginning of a new era in Soviet civil-military politics as well? The Communist political system was effective when the military was an unsophisticated adjunct to the state security system. Glamorous rocketry and nuclear thunderbolts, atomic- powered ships and intercontinental missiles, however, have added vast new dimensions, new problems, and new tensions in the strained Soviet hierarchy. The 50th anniversary of the October Revolution again set the stage for the Soyuz space spectacular. But the Soviet space program lately has been marked more by failure than by flamboyance. A question naturally arises. Is the current Soviet “bureaucracy of clerks” capable of the flexibility necessary to accommodate the transition from the age of terror to the age of technology?
A reappraisal of the Soviet political system and its ability to cope with modern military power and space technology seems much in order. Soviet civil-military relations have changed greatly in recent years. Even as the first Sputnik was being readied to challenge the scientific world, Marshal Grigory Konstantinovich Zhukov, head of the Soviet armed forces, was readying a challenge to the Khrushchev regime for supreme political power. The difficulties of the Soviet system in coping with the complexities of modern technology, however, suggest first a review of Soviet military strategic development.
“Subordinate the military point of view to the political.”—V. I. Lenin
The lean skeleton of Russian military- strategic thought is a significant element in the seeming stalemate in Soviet society. Though the Soviet Union possesses a very large merchant marine and the world’s second largest navy, her national strategy is not that of a maritime power. Like Germany in two world wars, she follows the continental philosophy of a land power whose entire military establishment is tied to support of the ground forces. Barren Arctic wastes and castellated land masses deny Russian access to the sea and emphasize her territorial isolation. Through the cruelty of geography, the seas are not highways of world commerce but moats protecting her heartland from external threat. Modern Soviet maritime strategy, carried over from the Czars, stresses not domination of the seas but denial of enemy access through the seas. Her major weapon is the submarine, “the guerrilla of the seas,” a weapon not of control of the seas but of attrition, aiming to cleanse the enemy from the watery deserts. A prisoner of both geographic and psychological introversion, military power to the Russians is not naval and air forces but ground forces. In Lenin’s words, “The Navy is a waste and therefore a needless drain on the people’s treasure.” Nikita Khrushchev thought both the air force and the surface navy were obsolete. Even he was not as vehement as his predecessor, under whom supporters of Admiral A. T. Mahan’s theories of the dominance of the battleship over the submarine paid for their views with their lives.
The primacy of land power and the need in a closed society for close control over the Army, makes the Army not only a necessary ally but the natural enemy of the ruling hierarchy. In the brutal Stalinist purges of 1937-1938, Army chief of staff M. N. Tu- kachevsky topped the list of military leaders marked for an early grave. When Hitler brought war and invasion a few years later, the “Second War of the Fatherland” restored the prestige of the Soviet ground forces but again marked the military as a threat to Stalin’s totalitarian power. A few
months of public homage and adulation for the Red Army heroes in the early postwar days gave Stalin the chance to offset their glory, first by promoting himself to the super grade of Generalissimo—and very shortly after, by extracting from many of the leading marshals the price of prominence through banishment, imprisonment, and disgrace.
A few years after Stalin’s unlamented death in 1953, the Army for the third time reached for the heights of political power. Marshal Zhukov threw the decisive support to Khrushchev in the latter’s power grab in June 1957. But the inevitable lesson was not lost on the new Chairman. If a marshal of the Soviet Union could save him, might he not on another occasion turn the armed forces against him? On the first occasion of political ineptness by Zhukov, riding the tide of success, Khrushchev struck. Like Stalin before him, Khrushchev removed the potential opponent from office in disgrace and re-established strong and detailed Party control over the armed forces. Once more the power of military decision-making was curtailed. Khrushchev brought in his cronies (the “Stalingrad group”) for the top military positions, and the army, thoroughly infiltrated by the state apparatus, sank back to the position of an interest group.
The failure of the military to assert its authority in the political arena behind Marshal Zhukov’s leadership was influenced by another major factor, the growth of modern technology. New achievements in rocketry and new strategic considerations both had a divisive effect on civil-military—or better, in Party-military—relations in the Soviet
Marshal M. N. Tukhachevsky’s execution by firing squad in 1937 for "espionage and high treason” removed one of Stalin’s most formidable rivals.
Union which rapidly became critical.
“In the pages of military press and within the walls of the General Staff Academy, unfortunately, no unity of views has been achieved.'1'’—General Zhilin
During the early days of de-Stalinization, the military made vigorous efforts to break the restrictive bonds of “Stalinist military science” and to adjust belatedly to the world of jet aviation and nuclear weapons. Revision of basic doctrine was not attempted, however. New weaponry was merely warped into traditional concepts of strategy. At a time when American atomic-powered naval vessels cruised with impunity beneath the seas of the Soviet Arctic, when American U-2 aircraft flew unopposed photo missions high in the Soviet skies, when their own Sputnik was a daily word in Soviet propaganda releases, the Soviet military still had no apparent plans for rocket war; Soviet military academies were still teaching in terms of World War II. Years after the Twentieth Party Congress (1956) exposed the evils of Stalinism, the Stalinist “monopoly of thought on matters of military theory” was still literally and officially a dead hand on the development of strategy.
As Sokolovsky and Cherednichenko pointed out in Soviet Military Structure, “The unmasking of the personality cult at that Congress released great creative forces, making it possible to close the gap between theory and practice.” Yet the “great creative forces” left the Soviet military still grossly deficient in strategic development. The burgeoning military writings, even after Khrushchev’s fall, indicate that Soviet strategy and doctrine is in a state of confusion with many of the thorniest problems being avoided. Soviet Military Strategy itself does not present a military strategy. “While this book is a considerable improvement in quality of Soviet thought,” Liddell Hart says, “it is palpably inadequate to overcome Soviet deficiencies in strategic sophistication. On the evidence of such published writings, Soviet military thinking is extraordinarily backward and much slower in adaptation to changing conditions even than official military thinking in the West.”
Nor was the Party content with military
strategic development. The secret debates in the Central Committee—the real and final policy-making group that was composed of Khrushchev, Mikoyan, Suslov, Kosygin, and Brezhnev—convinced Khrushchev by January of 1960 that he must overrule the army leaders and reshape the armed forces despite the strong protests. The new look emphasized nuclear rocketry at the price of large reductions in conventional strength. Stressing the decisive role of missiles, Khrushchev referred to the air force and surface navy as being “not reduced but replaced.” Dismissal of senior defense officials was aimed to encourage acceptance of the new philosophy by those remaining. Although it discouraged the opposition, a new strategic debate broke out, spurred by political leaders who desired still more drastic changes in doctrine, strategy, and force structure to meet the demands of the missile era. The military, torn by internal dissension between “traditionalists” and “radicals” both vying for support of the hierarchy, could only drag its feet in resisting change. Against Khrushchev and the Military Intelligence Committee’s direct preferences, the marshals and generals were overruled but still were able to impose limits on the flexibility of the political chiefs. The new strategy in part became a strategy of stalemate.
By mid-1961, a very complex internecine power struggle had emerged. The impact of technology on strategy had clearly divided both the Party and the military and subdivided the military in further splits between the conservative-traditional school emphasizing conventional forces, and the more radical “modern” school placing major emphasis on the strategic nuclear rocket forces. The divergent views were compounded by a lateral split in the “radical” view in both the Party and the military which foresaw a relatively short, intercontinental missile war on the one hand, and long theater campaigns even with a missile exchange by the “conservative” military majority on the other.
The military was generally in opposition to the Central Committee views on strategy. There was no inclination to resume open ‘Zhukovism” in Party-military relations, however. Not until years later, with the appointment of General Epishev as political
head of the military forces in February 1963, was Khrushchev finally able to bring sharper control over the central apparatus of the armed forces, especially over the marshals and top generals.
To understand better the nature of the critical conflict within the Soviet Union on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis, it is necessary to go back a bit in our story. Only thus can we bring into focus the extreme pressures and counter-pressures which resulted from the Premier’s heavy handed emphasis on nuclear missiles and which partly motivated the Cuban crisis. Unfortunately for Khrushchev, the decision toward major reliance on nuclear rockets was not only a wrong decision but extremely bad timing for any decision at all.
“I do not trust the appraisals of generals on strategic questions”—Khrushchev
A decade and a half previous, in the late 1940s, Washington and Moscow both faced the identical problem of a race for an intercontinental ballistic missile. Each made a critical decision, but each made the opposite choice. Both the United States and Soviet Union had on hand a German V-2 rocket which could propel a 60-pound payload almost 300 miles. Needed was a rocket thrust to propel a 9,000-pound Hiroshima bomb clear into outer space so as to leapfrog the vast oceans and reach any target on earth. The Kremlin opted for big boosters and simplified the problem by putting the V-2 in bundles so as to be able to lift the massive, primitive A-bombs into orbit. The United States tackled the more difficult
Marshal Zhukov’s support saved Khrushchev’s political life in 1957—the Premier repaid by removing the World War II hero in disgrace.
approach by designing smaller, far more highly sophisticated nuclear weapons which needed far less rocket thrust for propulsion. Each got what it went after. The Soviets achieved early success with Sputnik and the space spectaculars; much later the United States acquired a highly sophisticated arsenal of ICBMs, the Polaris submarine, and tactical nuclear weapons.
By the summer of 1961, however, the Soviet experts realized that they had made the wrong decision and were well on their way to losing the missile race. The crash program for crude rocketry throughout the 1950s had been dictated by propaganda goals. Rocket priorities forced delays in a number of other military-technological programs which particularly galled both the technicians and the military. At this time the forces converging on Khrushchev were roughly the following:
• The extremely conservative early rocket design and the excessive weight in nonfunctional components carried into orbit limited the maximum weight orbited and stunted the potential of the space program.
• Technical limitations on Soviet scientists and the excessively high priority given the space spectaculars prevented development of improved weapons even after it had become obvious in the late 1950s that their ICBM was no longer a sensible design.
• Underestimates by Soviet scientists of the complexity of the planetary probes initiated in 1960 caused a series of at least 14 documented consecutive failures. Neglect of the tedious environmental testing which the United States found so vital in advanced
systems now began to haunt the Soviet space program and may be the key to the Soyuz tragedy.
• The U. S. decision on a crash program of hardened, dispersed ICBMs and Polaris submarines nullified the long-range Soviet political plans for a missile superiority by 1961.
• The unexpectedly high quality of American photography revealed by the U-2 shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960 erased any lingering Soviet hope of concealment of missile sites in the vastness of the Soviet Union. Before the U-2 incident, Kremlin leaders repeatedly claimed Soviet rocket superiority, never thereafter. The Samos satellite photography highlighted the Soviet vulnerability just as the Polaris submarine, already deployed with impunity in the waters of the Soviet moats, emphasized the corresponding invulnerability of the American missile force.
• Khrushchev, who had committed the Soviet Union to a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1959, now found himself barred from the critically necessary series of tests essential to the redesign and perfection of smaller nuclear warheads.
• Increasing tension with the Chinese forecast a not-to-be-denied showdown and generated increasing pressure by the Soviet Army leaders over the continuing reductions in conventional forces.
• Khrushchev, on a mis-estimate of President John F. Kennedy’s character, formed as a result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and at their Vienna meeting, had manufactured a new Berlin crisis only to discover to his consternation an unexpectedly strong young President who confidently ignored his ultimatum.
Beneath the bombast of the Titov-Gagarin space extravaganza the military and technological pressures and counter-pressures on the perturbed Premier produced a series of major decisions in mid-1961. Related to U. S. and Soviet moves and countermoves in Berlin, the 1960 program of military reductions was suspended. Second, the nuclear test moratorium was deliberately broken in September of 1961. Sacrificing world opinion to the critical necessity of developing small nuclear weaponry, the Soviets tried to conceal their weakness by diverting attention to
the largest single bomb ever exploded (58 Mt). Third, attempts were made to break the “range gap” (Superior in medium range missiles, the Soviets were seriously deficient m long range ICBM types.) in two ways. Long overdue priorities were given to both the nuclear submarine and the submerged launch missile in order to bring short-range weapons to bear on the United States. Lastly, and ominously, somebody in the Kremlin (probably not Khrushchev) devised the plan to overcome Soviet deficiencies by capitalizing on their superiority in short and medium range, land-based weapons through sponsorship of a missile base in Cuba.
“ A modern army cannot be built without science.”— Lenin
It is quite clear that the Cuban showdown in October 1962 was a major aggravation of Party-military relations. Criticisms were hurled back and forth, many appearing in public print. Khrushchev’s “military genius” was ridiculed. When President Kennedy called his bluff, he lost face with both the Party and the military. His panic was drastically revealed in the famous “secret letter” to President Kennedy on 26 October 1962. Because he cracked in the crisis, his vacillation undoubtedly was a major factor in his removal two years later.
The pathological fright Khrushchev received in the Cuban crisis had at least one other by-product. Perhaps because his technicians had completed tests for a primitive anti-missile system defense in the 1961 series, but largely clutching at straws, Khrushchev willingly agreed to a formal test ban treaty with the United States and Britain in negotiations which culminated in August 1963—only to reopen once more the internal split between the military conservatives and radicals to a degree far greater than had happened in either the United States or Britain. Even more important, the salve of the test ban treaty aggravated the festering sore in the Communist world, the split with Communist China. Mao Tse-tung saw the Moscow treaty as a capitulation by the Soviets to the imperialists “at the expense of the true interests of the people of the world.” Peking therefore made clear its view that the test ban treaty was directed against China as a plot by the Soviet Union and the imperialists to “contain the Chinese Peoples’ Republic.” The test ban treaty thus became a major catalyst in the Sino-Soviet split, greatly exacerbating the growing rupture. A probable direct result was a renewed increase in the influence of the ground forces in the Soviet policy apparatus.
Yet, with the sudden downfall of Khrushchev now so near at hand, the internal discord did not allow a “kingmaker” role by the marshals. Events during and since the Khrushchev fall appear to confirm that the military had no active part in the plot. Western newsmen claimed that the late Marshal Rodion Malinovsky had played an important role but probably acted only as an individual in the Party apparatus rather than as a military leader. No significant change in the Soviet military budget could be interpreted
as a reward for good behavior nor did other plums fall to the waiting hands of the military hierarchy. No military men were promoted to leading organs of the Party (as had happened in 1957) and no major changes were made to increase the strategic missile emphasis at the expense of conventional theater forces. Malinovsky did appear to have a significant role in the 23rd Party Congress in April 1966, but the Congress itself appeared to be on a very low key. Any agreements reached were probably achieved in the closets and corridors rather than in the conference rooms. The Soviet military itself, in fact, is paying the price of politics. Mutually unable to trust the loyalty of the new elite on either the political or military sides, the military today is a monument to superannuation; the average age of field grade officers is 59 to 60 and of the marshals, an ancient 67 years.
“ The Plenum granted N. S. Khrushchev's request to be relieved from his posts . . . ”—Istoriia SSSR. 1917-1964
More than two years after the Khrushchev fall in the “Revolution of the Clerks,” several significant elements in the civil-military arena seem to disturb the sterile placidity of Soviet politics. Evidence of decreased military influence in decision-making is apparent. The policy process is less personalized and more bureaucratized. Meanwhile the defense problems of the Khrushchev era still remain unsolved. The early Sputnik successes, we have seen, had prompted the major drive to translate Soviet rocket superiority into political gains. When Khrushchev overreached himself in the Berlin crisis, coupled with the firm stand of the Western powers, the emptiness of his ultimatums, bluster, and threats was exposed to the world. The myth of Soviet missile superiority was exploded in 1961. Khrushchev’s attempt in 1962 at a stunning, dramatic, short-term improvement in the strategic balance through closing the “range gap” failed in Cuba with the eyes of the world upon him. Success in Cuba would have made Berlin fall in his lap like a ripe fruit. The extent of his failure and his paralyzing fear of the consequences made him vulnerable to both Party and military pressure. The development of a plausible nuclear
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy in the Class of 1939, Captain Schratz had extensive duty in submarines during World War II. During the Korean conflict he commanded the USS Pickerel and then served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations until 1954 He graduated from the Naval War College in 1959 and continued on the War College staff. He was the Joint Chiefs of Staff Representative at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, until 1964, when he was assigned to the Plans and Policy Section of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. Since August 1966, he has been a member of the faculty of the National War College.
strategy is still a lingering debate in which neither the political nor the military leaders are sure what their strategy either is or should be. Raymond Garthoff observed that the original edition of Military Strategy clearly conceded the leadership in Soviet military science to the “policies of the Communist Party and the Soviet Government.” The 1964 edition emphasized the strategic- political split by the addendum to the earlier statement underscored below:
The leading role in the development of Soviet military science belongs to politics ... to the policies of the Communist Party and the Soviet Government.
If it is true that armed conflict is a special form of political struggle, then it is true that military science has its own special domain.
In other words, there are limits to the influence of politics on military theory and military-technical problems.
The reaction from the Cuban crisis—the open Chinese hostility in the East and increasing national drives by the Warsaw members in the West—produced conservatism bordering on timidity in current Soviet policy-making. The Soviets display extreme caution in risks even of limited hostility and wars of national liberation. Soviet docility may have encouraged Chinese excesses. The power struggle with China for influence in North Vietnam has indicated Soviet preference for material aid rather than troops. The world can see, of course, that any success by the North Vietnamese will aid not the
Soviet Union but China. And the full extent of direct Chinese hostility against its Russian neighbor can hardly be estimated at this time.
“ fC? have a terrible number of people eager to reorganize in every possible way, and this reorganizing is such a calamity that I have never known a greater one in my whole life.”—Lenin, quoted in Pravda, 8 November 1964
Despite its internal divergencies, the Soviet military represents an organized internal political force, a self-contained professional body outside the Party. As such its very successes in politics have paved the way for its downfall. The price of success has uniformly been the removal, often with utmost brutality, of the military leaders from participation in foreign policy and national strategic decision-making. Khrushchev, like Hitler, could not tolerate an autonomous organization within the hierarchy. The ease with which the purges were conducted makes obvious to the military leadership the need either to be very careful not to cross the line between advice and active intervention in the policy-making process—or to be very sure.
The continued attempts to dominate the military leadership by a Party clique and the relegation of the leadership to a consultative political role will tend to downgrade the conservatives or traditionalists in the military establishment and to encourage the modernists; the China problem will do the reverse.
The problem of balancing military professionalism and efficiency against political interference remains acute. New problems have arisen as the military-technological revolution puts a higher and higher premium °n professional competence. The Soviets, notwithstanding their earlier achievements, and even without the Soyuz tragedy, appear to have little or no chance of a successful lunar landing ahead of our Apollo program. At the International Astronautical Congress in Madrid last October, Soviet scientists confessed to “real trouble” in the general area of electronics. They are handicapped by the death of Sergei Korolev, their leading space architect, last year. Further, they seem neither equal to building the advanced systems to achieve the more difficult space goals now in sight, nor do they appear ready to make the effort. The necessary effort will strengthen the military-technological leadership vis d vis the political elite, but as an elite they clearly cannot expect to dominate Soviet policy-making. With other elites bureaucrats, engineers, professionals, scholars, and technicians—and the consequent fragmentation of authority, a new era of the “organization man” has dawned in Soviet politics. The regime must pay the inevitable price of sophistication. The result seems to augur a trend away from absolute to limited power. The competitive checks, in fact, already seem to have reduced policy-making to stalemate and stagnation with history held in suspension.
The traditional Russian drive for access to the sea, the drive to improve her gross geographic maritime inferiority, appears hopelessly stymied. The new technology of armaments seems to point away from the sea to an expansion in a new space frontier. The Soviets may spurn the cruel sea to project from behind the Malinovsky “blue belt” into the vast outer reaches. Soviet technical publications already claim that “Soviet rocket building is seen in the opening of the cosmic ocean.” Only thus can she apparently concentrate her resources on the spatial seaports for access to the cosmic oceans and a new challenge for mastery of the outer regions. Apparently condemned to permanent inferiority in missilery, stymied politically and ideologically among her Communist neighbors, the new frontier of challenge appears quite likely to be in the cosmos. The high correlation of political values already apparent in space achievements seems both a warning and a guarantee. The 40th anniversary of the October Revolution, in 1957, brought Sputnik itself. The 50th, in 1967, brings thus far only tragedy and disillusionment. Is this merely a temporary setback or is it a far more serious indicator of extensive internal problems?