Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955-1991

Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955-1991

Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955-1991

Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955-1991


Did a doctrine race exist alongside the much-publicized arms competition between East and West? Using recent insights from organization theory, Kimberly Marten Zisk answers this question in the affirmative. Zisk challenges the standard portrayal of Soviet military officers as bureaucratic actors wedded to the status quo: she maintains that when they were confronted by a changing external security environment, they reacted by producing innovative doctrine. The author's extensive evidence is drawn from newly declassified Soviet military journals, and from her interviews with retired high-ranking Soviet General Staff officers and highly placed Soviet- Russian civilian defense experts. According to Zisk, the Cold War in Europe was powerfully influenced by the reactions of Soviet military officers and civilian defense experts to modifications in U.S. and NATO military doctrine. Zisk also asserts that, contrary to the expectations of many analysts, civilian intervention in military policy-making need not provoke pitched civil-military conflict. Under Gorbachev's leadership, for instance, great efforts were made to ensure that defensive defense policies reflected military officers' input and expertise. Engaging the Enemy makes an important contribution not only to the theory of military organizations and the history of Soviet military policy but also to current policy debates on East-West security issues. Kimberly Marten Zisk is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Faculty Associate of the Mershon Center at the Ohio State University.


As the evidence presented below demonstrates, U.S. and nato planning for the flexible use of conventional weapons against the Soviet Union in the European theater had a strong impact on Soviet military debates and Soviet military planning from the mid-1960s onward.

The doctrine of Flexible Response was officially adopted by the United States in 1961, and by nato as a whole in 1967. However, these dates are not the ones which mark actual Western operational policy for the limited use of conventional weapons against a Soviet military threat in Europe. in reality, nato military planners and politicians realized by the late 1950s that their declaratory doctrine of Massive Retaliation lacked credibility. This doctrine stated that large numbers of strategic nuclear weapons would be used against Soviet territory in the event of any Soviet military incursion in Western Europe. Many Western planners believed that this doctrine might tempt the Soviet Union to play a nibbling game, since it was unlikely that the alliance would agree to allow the use of nuclear weapons in response to small instances of hostile military activity by the Soviets. the Western perception of a credibility gap was strengthened by the series of threatening but minor military confrontations which the Soviet Union began in divided Berlin in 1958. in fact by the early 1960s, nato operational plans included options for limited conventional-only weapons use in response to small-scale Soviet military threats in Europe.

At the same time, nato outlays on conventional weapons deployments and troop levels never reached the level originally forseen by Flexible Response proponents. Both Western and Soviet observers agreed that while nato leaders appeared to want to avoid the use of nuclear weapons for as long as possible, nato commanders would face defeat by superior Soviet conventional forces in a matter of days (or perhaps even hours) in a major war, unless nato battlefield and theater nuclear weapons were then used.

Thus from the early 1960s on the Soviet military faced a real change in nato military operational planning, such that limited incursions would be met by limited means. Yet from the mid-1960s on it became clear that if war continued past a day or two, nato nuclear weapons would likely be used. While some Western analysts have emphasized the ineffectiveness of Flexible Response as an alternative to nuclear warfare, and the . . .

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