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Why Russia Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War

Why Russia Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War

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Published by EyemanProphet

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Published by: EyemanProphet on Aug 24, 2011
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11/25/2012

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Why the Soviet Union Thinks it Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War 
  by Richard PipesBaird Professor of History, Harvard UniversityReprinted from Commentary, 1977A Summary of the Argument by Bill SomersAmerican and Soviet nuclear doctrines are diametrically opposed. They are products of totally different historical experiences and political and socioeconomic systems. Theapparent contradictions in Soviet nuclear doctrine and the dangers of U. S. unilateraladherence to a strategy of mutual deterrence are best understood when put in historical perspective.The American view of war has been conditioned by the ideas characteristic of a Westerncommercial society. Underlying it is the notion that human conflict results frommisunderstandings that can be resolved by negotiation. Marxism, on the other hand, holdsconflict to be normal (and military forces as a political tool and a part of grand strategy.Americans generally regard war as an abnormal situation and want to end it rapidlythrough technological superiority and with the least possible loss of friendly (but notnecessarily enemy) lives. Large peacetime forces are an unwelcome expense.These contrary views of war were affected differently by the coming of nuclear weapons.In the U. S., atomic and thermonuclear bombs were considered "absolute" weapons,capable of destroying a society or even a civilization, and against which there was nodefense. Thus, Clausewitz's dictum that war is an extension of politics was considereddead. Since nuclear war could serve no rational political purpose, the function of strategicforces should be to avert war. Because of the vast destructiveness of nuclear weapons, a"sufficiency" of weapons to retaliate was believed to be enough. Numerical superioritywas thought to have little meaning. To ensure a stable balance, in which conflicts could be resolved by negotiation, the USSR should even have the ability to do unacceptablesecond-strike damage to the U. S. This concept of mutual deterrence, or mutual assureddestruction, became U. S. policy and as nuclear delivery capabilities improved, remainedthe foundation of a somewhat more flexible policy.These U. S. strategic theories were developed largely by civilian scientists and"accountants," with little contribution from military professionals. The theorists wereguided significantly by fiscal imperatives -- the desire to reduce the defense budget whileretaining a capacity to deter Soviet threats to U. S. interests. The theories wereformulated without reference to their Soviet counterparts, and in the belief that we can"educate" the Soviets to adopt our views.In the USSR, where strategy is considered a science and the special province of themilitary, nuclear weapons were not held to be "absolute," except perhaps briefly after 

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