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Conventional Arms in Soviet Foreign Policy

  • David D. Finley (a1)


Military relations between the United States and the Soviet Union over the past decade exhibit an apparent paradox: professed mutual interests in parity yielding in practice to a competitive military buildup. The paper examines four hypothetical explanations—denoted respectively as the hypotheses of mirage, momentum, victory, and spillover—in the context of conventional military force development. While certain valid elements are identified in each hypothesis, the author concludes that it is the appeal of spillover, the non-fighting functions of conventional military advantage, which despite a mixed payoff may be regarded as the most significant determinant of Soviet behavior. The evolution of force levels and military budgets, and the political purposes and activities of the U.S.S.R. in the First and Third Worlds, provide the data for analysis.



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1 See Martin, Laurence, “Changes in American Strategic Doctrine, An Initial Interpretation,” Survival, XVI (July-August 1974).

2 See Gallois, Pierre M., “Soviet Military Doctrine and European Defense,” Conflict Studies, No. 96 (June 1978); and “SALT II—The Eurostrategic Imbalance,” Conflict Studies, No. 104 (February 1979). See also Second German-American Roundtable on NATO: The Theater Nuclear Balance (Cambridge, Mass.: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 1978); Galen, Justin, “Theater Nuclear Balance,” Armed Forces Journal International, December 1977 and January 1978.

3 Barnaby, Frank and Huisken, Ronald, Arms Uncontrolled (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), chap. 1. Totals are reported annually in World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (Washington: U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), and the Yearbooks of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), World Armaments and Disarmament (London: Taylor & Francis).

4 Pipes, Richard, “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War,” Commentary, Vol. 64 (July 1977), 2134.

5 Barnet, Richard, The Giants (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978). Henry Kissinger has expressed the view that the Soviet Union goes on accumulating power because its bureaucratic processes have not been redirected; they simply continue to do what they are accustomed to. Zorza, Victor, “Kissinger Breaks His Silence,” International Herald Tribune, March 16, 1977. Kissinger was widely quoted as denigrating the utility of military superiority for either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. in his Moscow press conference in July 1974. See also his speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, February 3, 1976.

6 The late Minister of Defense, Grechko, Marshal A. A., in The Armed Forces of the Soviet State (Washington, D.C.: U.S.G.P.O., 1976; originally published in 1975), stressed the Soviet capacity to fight and win a nuclear war.

7 According to Arbatov, G. (Pravda, February 5, 1977), the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. had achieved approximate military parity, which had been the Soviet aim, rather than superiority; it was the West that could not be satisfied with parity, and circles in the West that threatened a new arms race.

8 The argument is persuasively developed by Vincent, R. J., Military Power and Political Influence: The Soviet Union and Western Europe, Adelphi Paper No. 119 (London: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1975), 4. Also see Osgood, Robert E. and Tucker, Robert W., Force, Order and Justice (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), and Tucker, , The Inequality of Nations (New York: Basic Books, 1977).

9 Arbatov, G. A., “On Soviet-American Relations,” Pravda, April 2, 1976, p. 5.

10 Collins, John M., American and Soviet Military Trends Since the Cuban Missile Crisis (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, 1978), 395–96.

11 In The Giants (fn. 5), Barnet presents a more mechanistic view of Soviet military power allowed by new Soviet industrial capacity to expand as dictated by the enlarged scope of perceived Soviet global interests. Liska, George, in States in Evolution: Changing Societies and Traditional Systems in World Politics (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1973), 104–12, develops a theory of convergence in the evolution of capabilities and attitudes of great powers; Rapoport, Anatol, The Big Two (New York: Pegasus, 1972), develops a theory of conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. rooted chiefly in mutual misperception.

12 Alexander, Arthur J., in Decision-Making in Soviet Weapons Procurement, Adelphi Papers No. 147/148 (London, 1979), presents a meticulous analysis of the interaction of organizational arrangements, decision-making practices and political leadership. He concludes that the present relationship favors continuity of procurement habits, which will be disrupted only when a strong political leadership actively intervenes to in novate.

13 Thus, for example, Gallois (fn. 2), 15–16: Why, it is often asked, does the Soviet Union maintain such large conventional forces? The answer lies in the facts of Soviet imperialism. To keep some 90 million East Europeans in order, the Russians need about 28 divisions. But to occupy and control the territory of 250 million West Europeans and impose a new regime on them, they would need three times as many, say a further 85 divisions. In fact, the real total of 168 divisions is close to this figure.

14 See Is America Becoming Number Two? (Washington, D.C.: Committee on the Present Danger, 1978).

15 Steibel's, Gerald L. Détente: Promises and Pitfalls (New York: Crane, Russak, 1975), is almost entirely devoted to the “pitfalls”; it typifies the contrast with the optimistic prospects popularly contemplated a few years earlier. See in this connection Finley, , “Détente and Soviet-American Trade,” Studies in Comparative Communism, VIII (Spring/Summer 1975), 6697.

16 For instance, Eugene V. Rostow introduces Lee's, William T. analysis of erroneous C.I.A. estimates of Soviet defense spending, Understanding the Soviet Military Threat, Agenda Paper No. 6 (New York: National Strategy Information Center, 1977), 56, as follows:

Is it fair or realistic to blame our intelligence experts for not evaluating Soviet programs correctly when the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and the main organs of political and intellectual opinion are proclaiming the end of the Cold War; the substitution of negotiation for confrontation in our relationship with the Soviet Union; and the achievement of détente? … Nor does it make it easier for them to admit error that many of those who have been right all along are commonly viewed in their social and cultural milieu as reactionaries, cranks, Neanderthals or zealots, or classified under some other pejorative label designed to facilitate a flight from reality.

17 The theme that “force unused need not lack utility” (Vincent, fn. 8, p. 2) has of course a long history. It is examined in the context of contemporary Soviet foreign relations by Wolfe, Thomas, Soviet Power and Europe, 1945–1970 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), esp. at 501–15; by several of the contributors to Whetton, Lawrence, ed., The Political Implications of Soviet Military Power (New York: Crane, Russak, 1977); by Horelick, Arnold and Rush, Myron, Strategic Power and Soviet Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966); and by Booth, Ken, The Military Instrument in Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917–1972 (London: Royal United Services Institute, 1973), among others. None of these writers, however, directly considers the non-fighting functions of military power as the primary drive behind Soviet military growth.

18 See Nicolson's, Harold G. classic, Diplomacy, 3rd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), esp. the 1961 epilogue; Iklé, Fred C., How Nations Negotiate (New York: Harper & Row, 1964); and Schelling, Thomas C., Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966).

19 All unclassified statistics on Soviet military strength, except possibly those published by the Chinese, appear to rely heavily on what is released by the U.S. Intelligence agencies and makes its way into the public domain via Congressional Committee reports. The present article draws on Collins (fn. 10); Military Balance and Strategic Survey, published annually by the I.I.S.S.; SIPRI Yearbooks; and Allocations of Resources in the Soviet Union and China—1977, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Priorities in Government of the Joint Economic Committee, June-July 1977 (Washington, D.C.: U.S.G.P.O., 1977).

20 Report to the 25th Congress, C.P.S.U., February 24, 1976, as published in Pravda and Izvestiia, February 25, 1976.

21 Press Conference in Bonn, May 2, 1978, reported in the Financial Times (London), May 3, 1978. However, it is difficult to give credence to the following statement contained in a widely distributed collection of Soviet statements on disarmament, Disarmament: Soviet Initiatives (Moscow: Novosti, 1977), 24:

For several years now the Soviet Union has not increased the combat strength of its armed forces in Central Europe. But the response of the NATO countries has been to continue to build up their armed forces in this area.

22 Head, Richard G., “Technology and the Military Balance,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 56 (April 1978), 551.

23 Jonathan Alford considers the implications of doctrinal asymmetries for mutual perceptions of threat in his introductory article in Alford, , ed., The Future of Arms Control: Part III, Confidence-Building Measures, Adelphi Paper No. 149 (London, 1979), 210.

24 Collins (fn. 10), 237–58; Military Balance (1978–1979), 114–18.

23 Gorshkov, S., Seapower of the State (New York and Oxford: Pergamon, 1979), 278–84. See also McGwire, Michael, ed., Soviet Naval Developments (New York: Praeger, 1973).

26 Collins (fn. 10), 289–92, 301.

27 Military Balance (1978–1979), 112.

28 These difficulties are given a lucid and ideologically neutral airing in “Estimating Soviet Military Expenditure,” World Armaments and Disarmament (London: SIPRI. 1975), Appendix 8B, 172–204. See also the 1978 SIPRI Yearbook, 286–87.

29 See Blechman, and others, The Soviet Military Buildup and U.S. Defense Spending (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1977), chap. 1. The pattern of rapid decrease from 1968 until the mid-1970s and the subsequent reversal are corroborated and updated in Brown, Harold, Department of Defense Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1979, Appendix A, Table 1; also Section II, Table II–1, 12.

30 The data are contained in the SIPRI Yearbook (1978), Appendix 6A, Tables 6A–2 and 6A–5, 142–45. We do not have a precise breakdown of the proportion of Soviet defense expenditures allocated to conventional forces over these years. Alexander (fn. 12), 5, indicates that between 1970 and 1975, Soviet ground forces received the largest share of the budget, and that that share grew, though relatively slowly.

31 Bush, Keith, “The USSR Supreme Soviet Session of December, 1978: The Plan and Budget Reports,” Radio Liberty Research (RL 274/78), November 29, 1978, p. 2.

32 SIPRI Yearbook (1978), 286–87.

33 Blechman (fn. 29), 7.

34 A Dollar Cost Comparison of Soviet and U.S. Defense Activities, 1966–1977, C.I.A. SR 78–10002, January 1978.

35 Lee (fn. 16), 10–11, drawing on his book, Soviet Defense Expenditures, 1955–1975, An Unconventional Approach (New York: Praeger, 1977).

36 Peking Review, November 1975 and January 1976, as interpreted in Military Balance (1978–1979), 11.

37 Bush (fn. 31), 2–4.

38 Western projections of a continuing slowdown in Soviet growth in the 1980s, and a steep decrease until 1986 in the annual additions to the Soviet labor force, suggest a marked increase of the defense burden to the Soviet economy, given present trends. See the statement of C.I.A. Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, in Allocation of Resources in the Soviet Union and China–1977, Part 3 (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1977), 24.

39 Haig, speech to the German Foreign Policy Society in Bonn, as reported in the International Herald Tribune, September 18, 1978.

40 Triska, Jan F. and Finley, David D., Soviet Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 346–49.

41 Ibid.; see Wolfe (fn. 17), 499–515.

42 Booth (fn. 17), 37–40.

43 Ulam, Adam B., Expansion and Coexistence, 2d ed. (New York: Praeger, 1974), chaps. 12–13.

44 Vincent (fn. 8), Part III.

45 Blechman, Barry M. and Kaplan, Stephan S., Force Without War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1978), 129. See Azar, Edward E. and Sloan, Thomas J., Dimensions of Interaction: A Source Book for the Study of the Behavior of 31 Nations from 1948 through 1973 (Pittsburgh: International Studies Association, 1975).

46 Personal conversations in Eastern Europe, May 1979.

47 Erickson, John, in “Trends in the Soviet Combined Arms Concept,” Strategic Review, v (No. 1, 1977), 3852, analyzes an article by then Soviet Chief of Staff, General of the Kulikov, Army V.. “Soviet Military Science Today,” Kommunist (May 1976), 3847, which is reprinted in translation in the above-cited issue of Strategic Review. See also Collins (fn. 10), 169–74, and fns. 54, 55, 204, drawing on U.S. Army Field Manual 100–5, Operations; Scott, William F., Soviet Sources of Military Doctrine and Strategy (New York: Crane, Russak, 1975).

48 Military Balance (1978–1979), 113.

49 Consider, for example, the conception of the security challenge with which John Collins introduces the detailed appraisal of U.S. and Soviet military trends on which we have drawn heavily above: Collins (fn. 10), 1–2. Likewise, consider the setting of defense policy presented in the summary by which Secretary Brown introduced the Department of Defense Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1979, pp. 1–11.

50 See the analysis of the M.I.C. concept by Charles Moskos, Jr., “The Military-Industrial Complex: Theoretical Antecedents and Conceptual Contradictions,” and the companion chapter by Wolf, Charles Jr, “Military-Industrial Simplicities, Complexities and Realities,” both in Sarkesian, Sam C., ed., The Military-Industrial Complex, A Reassessment (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1972).

51 Booth (fn. 17), 7, reviews these functions; see also Ulam (fn. 43), 738–40.

52 Blechman and Kaplan (fn. 45), 5–11.

53 Vincent (fn. 8), Part II. See also Horelick and Rush (fn. 17), 10.

54 Strategic Survey (1971), 26–34; Vincent (fn. 8), 14.

55 See “The Tempting of Germany,” Economist, March 31, 1979, pp. 12–13. Kennan's, George challenge to the notion of creeping “Finlandization,” in “Europe's Problems, Europe's Choices,” Foreign Policy, No. 14 (Spring 1974), is contingent upon a level of economic stability and political will in Western Europe which may appear doubtful, at least to Soviet readers.

56 Aron, , “The 1978 Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture,” Survival, XXI (January-February 1979), 3.

57 Vincent (fn. 8), 4; see also Tucker, Robert W., The Inequality of Nations (New York: Basic Books, 1977).

58 Pravda, April 9, 1966, asserting themes renamed the “peace program” at the 24th Congress in 1971 and reiterated in Brezhnev's report to the 25th Congress in February 1976.

59 See a Soviet account of these activities under the heading, “Beginning of a Change in Soviet-US Relations,” in Popov, V. I. and others, eds., A Study of Soviet Foreign Policy (Moscow: Progress, 1975), 175–81. A good survey of these years is in Berner, Wolfgang and others, eds., The Soviet Union, 1974–75, trans. from the German by Adomeit, Hannes and Moreton, Edwina (London: C. Hurst, 1976), 171270. See also the successive issues of Strategic Survey for chronology.

60 Strategic Survey (1974), 62. See also Popov (fn. 59), 371–72, and Berner (fn. 59), 174–78.

61 For a Soviet view of these strains, see Davidov, Yu. P., ed., SShA-Zapadnaia Evropa [USA-Western Europe] (Moscow: Nauka, 1978), esp. Part II, chap. 2, and Part III, chaps. 1 and 4.

62 Popov (fn. 59), 167, 188–89, 207–08, 257.

63 Triska and Finley (fn. 40), 267–72.

64 Statistics drawn from successive annual issues of Narodnoe Khoziaistvo SSSR, statisticheskii ezhegodnik (Moscow: Statistika), and Narodnoe Khozhiaistvo SSR za 60 let, 1917–77 (Moscow: Statistika, 1977), 665. For further breakdowns, see Vneshniaia torgovlia SSSR (Moscow: Vneshtorgizdat, annual).

65 SIPRI, Arms Trade with the Third World (London: Paul Elek, 1971), 189214; SIPRI Yearbook (1978), 223–31, Table 8A–2, 256–57.

66 Scott Thompson, W., Power Projection (New York: National Strategy Information Center, 1978) 2044.

67 Knorr, Klaus, On the Uses of Military Power in the Nuclear Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966); Force in Modern Societies: Its Place in International Politics, Adelphi Paper No. 102 (London, 1973); Tucker (fn. 57).

68 In Force in Modern Societies … (fn. 67), 21.

* This article was originally prepared for the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., August 31-September 3, 1979. A longer preliminary version appeared as ACIS Working Paper No. 20, Center for International and Strategic Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles. I am indebted to personnel of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, and of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, for help that was essential to my research. I am also grateful to colleagues in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who, while frequently disagreeing with me, patiently discussed the issues and an early formulation. I want to acknowledge with thanks both time and a research grant provided by The Colorado College. Finally, I have been helped more than the text reveals by useful criticism from Larry T. Caldwell (Occidental College), Paul M. Johnson (Yale University), Dan Nelson (University of Kentucky), Henry W. Schaefer (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), and Bruce W. Watson (Center for Naval Analyses).


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