Soviet Military Doctrine: Why Does it Change So Slowly-If At All?

Alexander Kalinin is a member of the Moscow City Council, of the Congress of People's Deputies, and of the Transnational Radical Party, which promotes nonviolence. First his gloomy letter, then his article:

By Alexander Kalinin | 1991-05-01 12:00:00

A Soviet has to be optimistic and positive if he wants to gain the ear of the Americans. I know many Soviets who are optimistic and positive, pink, healthy, well-dressed, and eager to see the dawn of communism or capitalism-either will do. I appreciate their self-command and coolness but don't envy them. Ernest Neizbestny, the émigré sculptor, called these professional enthusiasts 'the merry suckling-pigs' and with great acumen predicted their inevitable ascendancy. And they have come.... Every day brings new evidence of total moral fall -not of separate figures, but of the overwhelming majority. I am to warn that the Soviet society is decomposing. Not the regime, but the society.

'Though we are waiting for military takeover or something like this, I continue the campaign for the recognition of the right to conscientious objection.... Some of my partners are really good guys who will create the political space of their own and will not aspire to a place within the regime. What is depressing to me is the scramble for places among The democrats.... After Sakharov's death many democratic leaders lost shame, and Soviet politics has lost the moral component..."

The present government is the most incompetent. Perhaps its main mission is to provoke riots that will provide the necessary pretext for introducing the dictatorship. I have never seen a takeover. will my curiosity be satisfied? Then the merry little intelligent pigs will explain to you the iron inevitability and justice of the event. And the arms race will be overtly resumed."

MY TITLE MAY SEEM PROVOCATIVE AND UNFAIR to the present Soviet political and military leaders, who initiated a bold reappraisal of Soviet military doctrine. They demonstrated laudable flexibility at negotiations on arms reductions and displayed astounding restraint during the velvet revolutions in East European countries. Even a prejudiced critic must admit that the Soviet leaders have diminished the threat of war, which seemed imminent only five or six years ago. Don't leaders who made such singular strides deserve our confidence that, if they didn't do more, nobody could have? But why couldn't they move further? Are they willing and able to move further? Should we prompt them to move further? Finally, what is the goal of the movement and do the Soviets have a consensus about it?

To the first question, the answer is definite: No. The Soviet leaders could have moved further but preferred not to do so; they freely chose where to stop. They were constrained more by their mentality than by external, objective circumstances beyond their control.

Extensive changes are still needed-drastic reductions of military capabilities and expenditures; restructuring of the Soviet military along strictly defensive lines; well-conceived con-version planning-to demilitarize a society that has been intoxicated with violence and economically ruined by weapons production. The present Soviet leadership will not perform the formidable task of demilitarization. To be sure, they will conclude treaties and try to abide by them, for they appreciate the delights of good relations with developed countries. However, they will not dismantle the huge Military-Industrial-Political-Scientific-Ideological Establishment, which supports a regime that is still totalitarian, though disguised by the paraphernalia of democracy. Since the tragic events in Central Asia and the Caucasian and Baltic republics, it is evident that perestroika, glasnost, and economic reform have been stopped by that Establishment which, like a malignant tumor, has affected the whole social organism.

WE HAVE NO desire to provoke an aversion to my country or even to its leaders, but I must warn about their limits. Though the regime and the Establishment are different entities, they are twinned and inseparable, sharing the same immune system. Whatever threatens the tumor is resisted by the regime and vice versa. The essence of both is violence: weaponry, a huge repressive apparatus, hatred, and the ability to harm.

Worse yet, the democratic opposition often displays the same traits as the regime. If it does not overcome this, the democratic movement's triumph may turn into yet another defeat of liberty. Irrespective of their personal beliefs (and Shevardnadze's resignation shows the extent of discord between the political and the moral self) those in power now can inflict suffering and promote the worship of violence.

If the Soviet leadership has exhausted its reformist potential and cannot dismantle the military establishment, then this task must be fulfilled by the democratic opposition. Regrettably, how-ever, the democrats are vague about these issues. People who fiercely denounce the Communist Party, the KGB, the Military-Industrial Establishment, and the privileges of generals and marshals, nevertheless avoid discussing national security. I am puzzled: Why do they not declare what their attitudes toward Soviet military might are? Why do they accept uncritically the recommendations of the same security experts who work for the Union government and the Communist Party? (So far as I know, the only group that has proposed military reform are the officers who were elected as People's Deputies of the USSR. Their alternative security plan was rejected by the Supreme Soviet's Standing Committee on Defence and State Security, and received tepid support from the opposition leaders.)

Let me tentatively explain the democratic leaders' strange indifference to national security issues. First, they do not want to be accused of damaging national security, of harboring unpatriotic feelings, or of being ready to preside over the dismemberment of the motherland. While their apprehensions are understandable, a better response would be to discredit frenetic patriotic rhetoric as part of the Establishment's means of perpetuating its dominance over society.

How unified is Soviet public opinion on national security issues? It is hard to say. Many prejudices (e.g. adherence to retaliation, reliance on nuclear weapons, belief in military parity as the only real guarantee of peace) are deep-rooted. However, other dogmas (the defensiveness coming from the feeling of being besieged) are obviously in decline. This thinking might be replaced with new ideas, were the democrats' leaders eager to enter a field still monopolized by the reactionaries.

But the democrats' leaders pass up the chance to capitalize on nascent antimilitaristic attitudes. They do not want to irritate the Establishment by infringing on its traditional monopoly of national security issues. If this stance is a tactical trick, it is a mistake: The Establishment (particularly the military) will not be appeased by anything less than unconditional surrender. The democrats' leaders try to prove their allegiance, but their clumsy curtsies to the military evoke nothing but contempt and accusations of insincerity.

I am a poor judge of Soviet politicians' moral qualities, but some democratic leaders surely believe sincerely in the official mythology of state security. Their motives range from childish dreams of guards of honor, to subconscious awe of military hard-ware, to envy of those who control the deadly marvels of technology. Such motives have a common denominator: the acceptance of force as the proper instrument for solving any problem or conflict.

Soviet democrats fail to understand that demilitarization is not the fruit of other positive changes in the USSR (e.g. democratization, modernization, creation of a market economy, humanization) but the prerequisite of these processes. Although the democratic movement is potentially antimilitaristic, it has no agenda of its own on security issues and generally accepts current military doctrine. For instance, the speech delivered by Gavriil Popov, one of the most prominent leaders of the democratic opposition, at the Fourth Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR, was rewarded with the applause of the hostile audience just once, when he solemnly declared that "we" need a powerful army.

The radical anti-militaristic groups in the movement are marginalized; they lack information networks of their own; they lack resources and leaders of national standing. The same may be said of the Soviet peace movement:

The official peace organizations have ample resources, access to media, an extensive network across the country, and numerous partners abroad. However, they are insipid and try to acquire vitality from informal, mainly local, peace groups. Not surprisingly, the cooperation thrives on the level of international activity, but on the national and local levels it usually results in bitter disillusionment to the local activists and headache to the staff of the official peace organizations. But it is the obscure local activists and not leaders of official organizations who develop the movement.

The national leaders of the democrats are evasive and ambiguous about national security issues, and tend to confine themselves to criticizing the most shameful abuses, such as the generals' dachas (country houses) or excessive waste of resources in a time of scarcity. They do not reject publicly the dominant paradigm of the Soviet military doctrine and its assumptions. Sometimes they flirt with the military and are unsympathetic toward anti-militaristic notions and campaigns on the pretext that they are untimely, unrealistic, stupid, "populist"-in Russian today, "populist" is a terrible insult among both democrats and reactionaries, for all pretend to be respectable, sober, mature, and responsible-and a diversion of democrats' energy from more important goals. For example, one rising star of the Soviet democracy refused to sign a petition in favor of the right to conscientious objection and the introduction of alternative service for conscientious objectors. He told me that such papers had to be dropped into waste baskets.

Thus the democrats' leaders (the advanced "new thinkers") prefer to be moderate on national security issues and to agree with Gorbachev's military and foreign policies, which are getting more erratic. Consider the recent vacillations over the Persian Gulf War, the cheating with conventional arms cuts, the attacks against treaties unifying Germany, and the quarrels with former allies over withdrawal of Soviet troops. Only feebly do the leaders of the democrats denounce these twists.

My final explanation of their excessive flexibility on security issues is that they are trying to reach an agreement with the Establishment to divide the spheres of dominance. By such an agreement, they would recognize for a time the exclusive right of the Establishment to handle security issues, in exchange for their right to define economic policy and possibly to restructure some political institutions. This would explain the maneuvering started by Anatoly Sobehak, Gavriil Popov, and Sergei Stankevich last summer to convince the President of the necessity to form a government of the Left Centre.

These are experienced politicians and perhaps their plan is the only way out of the crisis. However, I suspect that the grand design is flawed. The bargain would be advantageous only for the Establishment and utterly detrimental to the democrats' cause. I cannot see the attractiveness of a coalition that will bind democrats to satisfy the insatiable appetites of the Establishment without controlling its actions on issues of national security. The bargain apparently will not envisage the progressive demilitarization which is the sine qua non of reform in the Soviet Union. The regime, which now tends to violate its international obligations, will certainly not sacrifice its own backbone. [Ed note: Since this article was written, Boris Yeltsin has called for just such a coalition government, but also has begun promoting Kalinin's proposals on conscientious objection and alter-native service.]

ARE THERE OTHER agents of positive change in Soviet military policy?

Some Soviet civilian experts have promoted new ideas on the academic, verbal level, but the practical net result of these theoretical innovations are discouraging. Examples: the enormous military budget for 1991, the accelerating submarine-building program, the senseless overproduction of tanks. Soviet civilian experts have warned against many of these extravagances, but they were not convincing, partly because they did not dispute the traditional paradigm of defence and security policy. They try to limit the military, which, by its very nature, is bound to transgress all limits. The final aim should be total disarmament-not the reproduction of parity on the level of minimum deterrence, not the maintenance of a smaller but still huge army, not the gaining of respite for a renewal of the arms race in the future. Had not the discussion of "reasonable sufficiency" been strangled so hastily, the logic of discourse would have brought at least conditional repudiation of retaliation, which remains the basis of Soviet military doctrine and the obstacle to its revision along strictly defensive lines.

One cannot hope for much from the civilian analysts. As an exclusive circle, integrated into the Establishment, they find it painful to reject traditional military thinking. Even to be recognized as an expert, one has to adhere to these principles and suppress doubts, which betray immaturity or mild insanity. Nevertheless, I am sure that sooner or later some civilian analysts will advance truly alternative concepts of national security. If this does not happen, the work will be done by the democratic movement.

The rank-and-file democrats are increasingly willing to reject the tenet of retaliation, which is the psychological basis for Soviet military doctrine and the still-distorted Soviet mentality.

The next, much-needed step is the articulation of alternative concepts of security and appropriate military doctrines. The democrats have to create their own military-political analysis, even if some professional analysts join the movement, for blind acceptance of their opinion may be imprudent.

SUCH ALTERNATIVE concepts of security and of military reform will be part of the process of empowering the people. The emergence of competing schools of alternative military-political analysis will bring about progressive deep cuts of offensive capabilities, cautious unilateral nuclear disarmament, abolition of other means of mass destruction, a ban on the arms trade, abolition of compulsory military service, and a reduction of the exorbitant military expenditures from the present 20% of GNP (according to some estimates, even 30% of the GNP will be swallowed by the Establishment this year) to 4% or 6% of the GNP. These changes will not be effected overnight, but there is growing awareness that they must be effected to restore balance, to create a prosperous democratic society, and to get rid of violence.

The existing regime can survive many things that are thought to be incompatible with it, as it has survived the repeal of Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution-which that guaranteed the Communist Party its dominant position. The regime can adapt to the market economy and to the multiparty system. However, it will not survive demilitarization. And those who try to compromise on that issue only help the regime to survive.

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1991

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1991, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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