Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#7 - JRL 7024
Financial Times (UK)
January 18, 2003
Other views of Soviet strategy
From Mr David Habakkuk.

Sir, Not everyone is as convinced as your correspondent John Lloyd appears to be that Richard Pipes is a prophet vindicated on the question of Soviet nuclear strategy (FT Weekend January 11-12).

Noting that President Ronald Reagan's adviser on negotiation with the Soviets took Mikhail Gorbachev's statement that "a nuclear war could never be won and must never be fought" as a significant reversal of policy, the liberal Russian historian Vladislav Zubok comments that the irony was that "principled agreement" on this point "had become an undisputed consensus in the Politburo" back in the 1970s. In 1983, the Brookings Institution scholar Michael MccGwire, using a methodology rooted in his earlier work as the head of the Soviet naval section of British Defence Intelligence, identified a big change away from strategies of nuclear pre-emption on the part of the Soviets in the late 1960s and concluded that as a result they would eschew first use of nuclear weapons. The accuracy of this prediction was demonstrated when in 1988 MccGwire's colleague Raymond Garthoff identified a reference in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought to a secret directive of the Central Committee in 1973-74 instructing that military planning should be based on the assumption that "the Soviet Union shall not be the first to employ nuclear weapons".

On this basis, both MccGwire and Garthoff argued that, as Gorbachev's "new thinking" developed existing lines of thought, the chances of a reversal of policy were greatly overestimated; and also that the arguments of the "new thinkers" against strategies of "deterrence" deserved a serious hearing.

In the event, the questionable assumption that the outcome of the cold war constitutes a vindication of western security strategies continues to dominate debate. The bizarre outcome is that our security experts hymn the virtues of employing apocalyptic threats to use weapons of mass destruction to counter an adversary superior in conventional power, at a time when the US is the natural target of such strategies.

If one treats nuclear weapons as a panacea for oneself, which one must deny to others, obviously the only real basis for a non-proliferation strategy is willingness to resort to preventive war. Some may think that such a strategy will lead to what your correspondent terms "the restoration of democracy" in at least parts of the Middle East. Others will fear it is liable to lead to a full-scale "clash of civilisations" - the only conceivable means by which Islamic radicals could realise their dreams of destroying western liberal society.

David Habakkuk, London W4 2LN

Back to the Top    Next Article