Strategic Impasse: Offense, Defense, and Deterrence Theory and Practice

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview

5

Deterrence in Europe and Soviet Operational Art

Paul K.Davis once wrote to me that I had overly stressed the nuclear issues in a manuscript about deterrence and war in Europe to the exclusion of “plain vanilla” war. This is certainly the perspective of professional military planners. Those wars that are likely to happen are those fought with conventional, not nuclear, weapons. And the Soviets’ expectation for war in Europe is that they might have a war-winning strategy without nuclear escalation, if their supposedly superior conventional forces could rout NATO. 1 Certainly NATO’s worst case would be a Soviet conventional blitzkrieg that attained its objectives, whatever they might be, and either forcibly prevented, or deterred, NATO nuclear escalation.

We must also look at the issue of conventional war in Europe from another angle. The kinds of operational art that NATO and Warsaw Pact armies take into battle may have as much to do with the outcome as their respective theories of deterrence or escalation. The labors of theorists notwithstanding, it is the generals who will have to plan the battle and the colonels who will have to fight it. On the issue of military doctrine, NATO has a unified declaratory political doctrine but a disparate collection of operational military ones. The Warsaw Pact will presumably be equipped with the consensus imposed by a unifying Soviet military doctrine, even if political disunity is not totally absent.

Soviet operational art has been misdescribed as totally dependent upon a Muscovite version of lightning war, striking before NATO is fully prepared and mobilized in order to take advantage of confusion and chaos in the opponent. That the USSR has made a careful study of the potential for blitzkrieg in Europe, and close on, is no secret. It would

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