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Last month’s Proceedings covered the Soviet Navy under Fleet Admiral Gorshkov, 1955-76. In 1977, Gorshkov watched his navy suffer cutbacks, primarily in the Mediterranean; but by 1983 construction of large combatants had resumed.
The year 1976 was the start of a new five-year plan for the Soviet Union. It was also the year the Soviets appear to have adopted the 1970s strategy in full, with some adjustments and additions that affected all branches of the service.1
The most far-reaching of these adjustments was the Soviets’ new emphasis on the Sea of Okhotsk. At the party congress in March 1976, Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party, signaled a reversal of Soviet policy concerning the Japanese “northern territories,” indicating the Soviets had already decided to use the Sea of Okhotsk for the deployment of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). In 1978, the Soviets began deploying troops to the four southern islands of the Kurile chain and building support facilities. This indicated that the Soviets had concluded that closing off the Arctic Ocean was not a viable concept. The chances of denying NATO submarines access to the area were negligible. The benefits were outweighed by the operational costs (both naval and land) of establishing command of the surface of the Norwegian Sea and the hideously expensive naval building programs required to sustain such operations.
The Soviets abandoned the idea of closing off the Arctic Ocean and either canceled or curtailed the related naval programs. For instance, series construction programs for both the Ivan Rogov landing ship and the Berezina fast replenishment ship were canceled; only the lead units were completed at the time. The long-range, large-capacity, high-speed Ivan Rogov was intended to seize distant islands and stretches of coast in the Norwegian Sea. The heavily armed Berezina had been designed as the final response to the requirement for underway replenishment in a combat environment, which was not needed under the 1960s strategy.
‘Part 1, published on pages 44 to 51 of the August issue, covered the history of the Soviet Navy from 1955 to 1975.
The Typhoon-class SSBN had also been intended for series construction. Precedent, the reactor account, yard capacity, and Soviet arms control proposals suggested a program of 20 units over ten years. But the Typhoon was designed to roam freely in the Arctic basin. Now that survival would depend partially on concealment and evasion, her massive size was a serious disadvantage, and her cost almost prohibitive. The program was curtailed and the atypical Delta IV program introduced in its place.
Size also may have been a factor in curtailing construction of the Oscar-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines (SSGNs). This program could have been expected to deliver 30 units in ten years. The Soviets’ apparent hesitation at this time to continue the Kirov, Kiev, and Slava programs (the latter initially cut back to only three units) suggests a more generalized objection to the underlying operational concept. It could have reflected a turn against the sea-based counter-carrier capability, which is hard to control in crises or to coordinate for attack in war, in favor of land-based air.
If it is true that the Soviets had authorized the Amer- ican-style aircraft carrier in 1973-74, they certainly canceled it at this time, and reestablished the “universal’ air-capable ship in the program. The increase in the navy’s allocation of nuclear reactors (for deliveries starting in 1983) was also rescinded. Indeed, warship deliveries from 1983 to 1987 imply that the allocation was cut back from the 20 reactors a year that had prevailed for the previous 15 years, to 10 to 12 a year.
This decrease in nuclear reactors, however, could reflect production problems with a new-design reactor rather than a decision to cut submarine construction. Whatever the reason, this constraint severely limited production of the new family of attack submarines programmed to start delivery in 1983, and would have justified the atypical revival of the Victor-Ill program.
The Soviet Navy’s forward deployment suffered a more immediate cutback. In 1977, the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean was reduced by 15%, reverting to the level first achieved in the early 1970s. This was part of 3 general decline in the use of Soviet naval forces in the Third World, another of the policies Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergei G. Gorshkov had advocated-
To add insult to injury, all references to naval (as distinct from military) science were removed from the second edition of Sea Power of the State. A new section was
added, affirming that military strategy was a unified whole and criticizing those who argued that it could be divided into separate naval and land components, an argument implicit in Gorshkov’s writings. And in April 1979, the separate doctorate in naval science was discontinued.
The wholesale reversal in the Soviet Navy’s fortunes is striking and suggests more than the normal play of institutional politics. The idea of closing off the Arctic is as likely to have originated with the General Staff as with the navy, but the navy probably welcomed the concept as justification for the kind of forces needed in a world war against a coalition of maritime powers. Perhaps the navy was overconfident in its ability to exclude Western submarines. In any case, the concept turned out to be a costly mistake. The military establishment placed the primary blame on the navy and generally discredited the policies that Gorshkov had advocated in 1972. Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai Ogarkov was chief of the General Staff at this time, and the original draft of his 1985 book, History Teaches Vigilance, is said to have contained material that was highly critical of the navy. This was removed before publication of the book, however, by which time Ogarkov had been reappointed.
In 1981, the Soviet Navy cautiously embarked on an attempt to recover some of the doctrinal leverage it had lost when “naval science” was deleted from the strategic lexicon. In a series of 11 articles published in Morskoy Sbornik between April 1981 and July 1983, various senior officers, including Admiral of the Fleet Vladimir N. Cher- navin and Gorshkov (who summed up the series), conducted a structured debate on the need for theory about the development and employment of the navy. The only discordant article reflected the General Staff’s view. The main points in contention were the nature of a “balanced fleet” and the scope of the proposed theory. The article argued that the theory should be limited to the combat employment and structuring of the navy, whereas Gorshkov extended its scope to include the defense of Soviet state interests in distant sea areas in peacetime.
These articles imply that the navy’s autonomous tendencies and the further development of the fleet were still matters of dispute. Work on The Navy: Its Role, Prospects for Development, and Employment probably began in about 1984. While it stayed within the scope of the General Staff’s definition of the theory, the book can be seen as a further step in the process of reasserting the navy’s contribution to the assessment of military requirements. Developments in U. S. maritime policy would have highlighted this process.
In 1976, when the Soviet military leadership reversed the navy’s plans and programs, the United States seemed determined to stabilize its fleet at 12 carrier battle groups and some 475 ships. By 1984, it was clearly set on reestablishing the force of 15 carrier battle groups that its Navy had consistently enjoyed between 1955 and 1975. Besides this resurgence in traditional U. S. naval capabilities, the newly developed strategic-range, nuclear-armed cruise missile was beginning to enter service. All U. S. attack submarines and most major surface combatants would carry it, significantly increasing the strategic threat
to the Soviet Union from the maritime axes of attack.
As if to emphasize these adverse developments, the U. S. Navy was publicly advocating a strategy of offensive strikes and deep intrusions at the onset of major war, and horizontal escalation in lesser conflicts. It had embarked on a peacetime policy of assertive forward deployments, particularly in the Pacific, where its exercise maneuvers were designed to provoke a Soviet military reaction.
This combination of circumstances was probably the justification for a decision the Soviets apparently made in about 1983 to extend or resume the construction of the larger antisurface ship types: the Kirov, Slava, and Oscar. In the Pacific, they could operate under cover of shore- based air, while the threat to the Kuriles chain justified reactivating the Ivan Rogov landing ship program.
These developments, combined with the need to educate a wider audience about the maritime aspects of contemporary war and to publicize and defend the methodology used to formulate naval requirements, underlay the decision to prepare The Navy for publication. The book was written after 30 years of swinging changes in Soviet naval requirements; these changes had radically affected the navy’s structure and its pattern of deployment. During this 30 years, the navy had had to make do with much less than it needed to discharge the tasks the army-dominated political-military leadership had imposed on it. And in the last decade, the navy’s potential role in world war had been formally circumscribed, while previously approved building programs had been canceled or curtailed.
The Navy was written with knowledge of the U. S. Defense Guidance for 1984-88, which had been leaked in 1982 and was in no way reassuring. It was written in light of the official Soviet conclusion in late 1983 that the United States was embarked on a crusade against communism and was determined to “eliminate socialism as a sociopolitical system.” And it was written against a background of “the most aggressive anti-Soviet rhetoric in 25 years, backed by record U. S. defense budgets and an uncompromising stance in nuclear arms control negotiations” (to quote Coit D. Blacker in Current History)-
Meanwhile, the Soviets had made another adjustment to their military doctrine.
The 1983-84 Policy Review
In 1983, the Soviets finally acknowledged that the assumptions that had shaped foreign policy since 1971 were no longer valid. They could not evade the fact that in restructuring their forces to better avoid nuclear escalation in the event of world war, the Soviets had greatly increased tension, thereby making such a war more likely- They had also incurred massive economic, political, and military costs. The latter included the deployment of Pet' shing II missiles and NATO’s application of emerging technologies to a potential war to Europe.
In 1983-84 the Soviets addressed the symptoms of this problem, rather than its root. Although at the political- military level Soviet doctrine had always been defensive, at the military-technical (or applied strategy) level it was
^questionably offensive. So, too, was the Soviets’ posture regarding Europe. Therefore, they reasoned that if jhey adopted a defensive doctrine at the military-technical 'evel, this would relax tension, reduce pressure to build up NATO’s strength, improve political relations, and make Mutual arms reductions possible, bringing economic bene- I'ts to the Warsaw Pact.
By mid-1984, the Soviets had decided to widen the pool °f individuals involved in analyzing defense matters, to adoPt a defensive doctrine at the military-technical level, Ur|d also to give precedence at that level to averting rather than not losing a war. The latter implied a defensive postUre, which meant forgoing the option for a surprise at- t;ick, and also opened the door to intrusive verification of c°nventional forces in Europe.
According to Marshal of the Soviet Union S. F. Akhromeyev, then-Chief of the General Staff, it took two years to work out the implications, and the new policy was °rrnally publicized in the Warsaw Pact declaration of Une 1986, known as the Budapest Appeal. The declarator! proposed renouncing the possibility of surprise attack, accepted intrusive verification, and suggested mutual reductions in an area extending from the Atlantic to the Urals of 100,000-150,000 troops in the first two years, ollowed by another 500,000 in the 1990s.
The object of averting war would henceforth take precedence at the military-technical level over not losing it. •his would affect such matters as day-to-day posture, mil- Uary behavior in crises, and decisions on mobilization, but he possibility of world war remained the central contingency. This implied that the requirement for a measure of 1111 titary superiority over NATO forces in Europe not only |ernained but theoretically would increase, to compensate °r losing the advantage of operational surprise.
According to Akhromeyev, in the event of conflict in Europe the Soviets would initially conduct defensive oper- at>ons, but if hostilities were not terminated within 20 to d days, the Soviets would move to the offensive. One
As Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Akhromeyev encouraged the 1980s shift to a defensive posture, in order to reduce tensions between the superpowers. This did not materially change the missions of the Soviet armed forces; it just made them harder to fulfill.
must assume that the 1970s strategy would still apply in such circumstances, implying a blitzkreig offensive, the defeat of NATO in Europe, and the eviction of U. S. forces from the continent. In other words, the new defensive doctrine should improve stability and might reduce tension, but it did not materially affect the roles and missions of the Soviet armed forces, although it made them harder to fulfill.
It was against this doctrinal background that The Navy was produced. It was sent for typesetting in June 1987 and cleared for printing in October. Chemavin took over as commander in chief in December 1985, and Gorshkov died in May 1988. But by early 1987, yet more sweeping changes were already afoot that made The Navy if not obsolete, at best a reflection of the “old political thinking” that Mikhail Gorbachev was so determined to be rid of.
“New Political Thinking’’ About International Relations
In the final months of 1986, under the pressure of economic duress, the Gorbachev leadership was forced to focus on the roots of the problem already identified in 1983. It concluded that the age-old dictum “if you seek peace, prepare for war” no longer applied, and that to avoid war in the nuclear age one must cease preparing for it. By early 1987 the Soviets had adopted the planning assumption that, given the appropriate policies, world war could be averted. Whereas Soviet military requirements had previously been driven by the increasingly demanding objective of not losing a world war, they would now be shaped by the limited objective of ensuring the territorial integrity and internal cohesion of the Soviet bloc.
This meant that the Soviets no longer had a requirement for an offensive posture facing NATO, for ground and air superiority, or for operational surprise. It also made nonoffensive means of defense feasible. It took two years to work out the practical implications of this decision. Not until December 1988 was Gorbachev able to announce a unilateral reduction of 500,000 Soviet troops by 1991, while Warsaw Pact forces in Eastern Europe (including Soviet forces) would be reduced by some 110,000. The Warsaw Pact statement of June 1987, however, implied this planning assumption in proposing that both sides forgo the capability for offensive operations. Akhromeyev made it explicit in December of that year when he explained that Soviet military doctrine was now about averting war, and it was no longer about the nature of war and how to wage it.
This fundamental change in doctrine was just one of a series of major developments that originated in late 1986 and early 1987. These developments were precipitated by the decision that if economic perestroika was to succeed,
the leadership would have to engage the energies of the Soviet people directly. In September 1986 at Krasnodar, Gorbachev had floated the need for democratization, and the far-reaching political changes to achieve that end were announced at the Central Committee plenum in January 1987. By Gorbachev’s own account, that was the turning point. The period from January 1987 through the June plenum, which set forth the theses for economic reform, was a watershed. The political issues became clear and the lines of battle were drawn.
In the four months between Krasnodor and the January plenum, Gorbachev would have had to enlist support for democratization, and also to develop policies that would mitigate its destabilizing effects. In essence, he was proposing to rerig the ship of state on the high seas and restep its masts in midocean. To have some chance of success he needed a calm maritime environment, a compliant crew, and (if possible) outside assistance. A series of initiatives designed to have these effects can be dated to this period. They include Andrei S. Zakharov’s return from exile in Gorki; a 14-fold increase in emigration; a deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan; and modifications to the Marxist theory of international relations. But the most important concerned the superpower relationship.
The bizarre experience of the Reykjavik summit and its turbulent aftermath seem to have formalized the conclusion that the Soviet Union had been at fault in allowing the United States to define the competition in military terms- By responding in kind it had provided the external threat that was the lifeblood of the U. S. military-industrial complex and allowed itself to be drawn into a ruinous arms race. This played into the hands of “aggressive circles’’ in the West and those who wished to bring about the failure of socialism by economic means.
This critical diagnosis of past policy blended with Gorbachev’s “new political thinking” about international relations to yield three interlocking policy prescriptions:
► Take active measures to de-demonize the Soviet Union and to deny the West the military threat that was so important to many of its policies.
► Extricate the Soviet Union from the arms race, if necessary sacrificing national pride and what was “fair” to more important interests.
► Plan on the assumption that world war could and would be averted.
Without that assumption, concepts of sufficiency and defensive doctrine were essentially meaningless. Only by ceasing to plan for the contingency of world war would it be possible to move significant resources out of defense and into the civilian sector. The assumption of “no world war’ ’ was essential if the Soviets were to make the major unilateral cuts that would prime the pump of mutual force reductions.
This is not the place to pursue the far-reaching implications of discarding the central assumption that has shaped Soviet strategy and driven its military requirements for the last 40 years. Ground and air forces facing NATO in Eu-
rope are most directly involved, but it will affect the structure and posture of Soviet forces worldwide. The navy, meanwhile, still has its traditional mission of defending the homeland.
While this mission will now be interpreted in the narrow sense of “rebuffing aggression” rather than the open- ended requirements of world war, the main opponent remains the same and so does the substance of the threat. And the traditional requirement to counter the threat from the maritime axes of attack now extends to cover long- range cruise missiles, whether carried by aircraft, surface ships, or submarines.
As concerns strategic nuclear forces, one must distinguish between the requirements for world war and the strangle balance, and arms reductions. In the absence of World war, in theory no requirement exists to defend the t'SBN force against Western attempts to draw down its strength. On the other hand, the Soviets must still pay attention to the strategic balance. In 1969, they adopted lhe objective of parity at as low a level as possible for military reasons, and it subsequently became a key element of Gorbachev’s new political thinking. However, the United States has yet to renounce its attempts to regain the superiority it enjoyed until the latter part of the
While one can argue that such superiority would be Meaningless, the record shows that the United States will jM'y negotiate arms reductions in areas where the Soviet . nion already matches its capability. Furthermore, there Is a significant body of U. S. opinion that continues to eheve that superiority yields advantage in crises. It there- °ro seems unlikely that the Soviet Union will willingly t0rgo parity.
The Soviets may, however, be interested in dispensing jUth the sea-based element of their nuclear force. SSBNs dck the inherent protection of sovereign territory and in- °duce additional problems of command and control. °bile land-based systems embody most of the advances while avoiding the disadvantages, which include the
high costs of naval forces required to protect the SSBNs. This may be difficult to negotiate, however, given the advantage the United States sees in the present situation and its changeable position on mobile missiles. The Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, if agreed upon, could result in cutting the number of SSBNs by more than half. But this would have a less than proportionate effect on the requirement for supporting forces, which are needed for area defense as much as for direct protection.
The Soviet Navy’s future is not at all clear. The new Soviet leadership would be sure to welcome the opportunity to reduce the economic burden of the navy, which takes a disproportionate share of the nation’s high-technology production capacity. Even the hulls are no longer simple containers; they require expensive specialized metals and advanced assembly techniques. The navy needs highly qualified people to construct, operate, and maintain its warships. To power them, the navy has needed 20 nuclear reactors a year, besides countless diesel engines, gas turbines, and steam power plants. Its hulls are stuffed with complex weapons and equipment, incorporating the latest technological developments, all of which have to meet the rigorous demands of a maritime operating environment.
Reductions clearly are desirable, but the possibilities may be limited. For the foreseeable future, and irrespec- five of what agreements are reached in limiting strategic weapons and reducing the military confrontation in Europe, the United States will continue to view its own Navy as a primary instrument of peacetime foreign policy. In such circumstances, the Soviets may consider it necessary to retain the capability to defend their four fleet areas against a concentration of naval force. While land-based missiles and aircraft can meet part of this requirement, naval forces are likely to continue playing a predominant role. Defense of the homeland, in its most traditional sense, will remain the core mission of the Soviet fleet.
Michael MccGwire, a former British naval officer, is now a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D C.