If Soviet intentions in the early 1950s now seem less ambitious than once believed, does this vindicate those who questioned the need for Western efforts through NATO to prevent what was thought to be an imminent Soviet attack? To make such a judgement, it is important to take several additional factors into consideration. Firstly, what we know today is not what Western leaders knew at the time. Secondly, although we now know that Stalin did not wish to repeat the Korean experience in Europe, it is not clear whether his attitude would have been the same had NATO not existed. In fact, his decision to give the go- ahead for the attack on South Korea in the summer of 1950 was probably based on a misreading of the likely US reac- tion, after then US Secretary of State Dean Acheson had publicly excluded the Korean peninsula from the US securi- ty sphere. When the United States intervened in Korea, Stalin could be almost sure that it would also honour its obligations under the Washington Treaty in Europe. If, therefore, NATO’s exis- tence failed to deter a commu- nist attack on Korea, it was, nevertheless, indispensable as an insurance policy for the West in its aftermath.
conflict and its potential consequences in East and West. According to Soviet military planners of the time, nuclear weapons would determine the speed of war, but not its entire character. Since nuclear arms considerably short- ened the stages of war, Soviet strategists argued, it would be necessary to try to gain the initiative with a powerful, pre- emptive nuclear and conventional strike. Whereas Western planners never envisaged actions beyond the initial, mas- sive nuclear clash — as can be seen in Gregory Pedlow’s edited NATO Strategy Documents: 1949-1969 (NATO, 1997) — Soviet strategists assumed that their massive strike would prepare the way for a ground offensive. Persuaded of the possibility of winning a nuclear war, Eastern-bloc operational plans viewed such a conflict as a
realistic scenario, thereby downgrading any Western deterrent and making war per- ilously more realistic as a prospect.
This crude military think- ing can also be seen in a plan which I uncovered in the mili- tary archives in Prague, whose details can be found on the Parallel History of NATO and the Warsaw Pact web site and will be analysed in a
forthcoming International issue Cold of Wa r The shift from defensive to offensive thinking in the Warsaw Pact seems, ironically, to have taken place in the peri- od that has traditionally been viewed as a time of improving East-West relations after of Stalin’s death. This trans- formation was closely con- nected with a reassessment of the role of nuclear arms. Although Stalin was eager to acquire nuclear weapons, he did not consider them a criti- cal, strategic factor because of, among other reasons, their small number. In the wake of Stalin’s death, Soviet strate- gists began to discuss the implications of nuclear war, at a time when nuclear weapons already formed the corner- stone of NATO’s doctrine of massive retaliation. In this way, nuclear weapons were belatedly included in the strate- gic plans of Eastern European armies in the mid-1950s. This discussion and its results are brilliantly described by Herbert Dinerstein in War and the Soviet Union: Nuclear Weapons and the Revolution in Soviet Military and Political Thinking (Praeger, 1959) and Raymond Garthoff in Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age (Praeger, 1958). History Bulletin. According to this document, which dates from 1964, the then Czechoslovak and Soviet mil- itary planners anticipated advancing into France within a few days of the outbreak of a war, capturing Lyon on the ninth day and turning Western Europe into a nuclear inferno. The 1964 Czechoslovak war plan The 1964 Czechoslovak war plan ignored the possibili- ty of a non-nuclear war in Europe and assumed that the war would start with a massive nuclear strike by the West. Drawn up in the period of détente after the conclusion of the first arms-control agreement, the 1963 Test-Ban Treaty, it shows that the Soviet leaders at this time remained wedded to Leninist notions of an aggressive Western bloc, views that were harboured by Soviet leaders and their Eastern European allies well into the 1980s. The plan is something of a revelation, since it appears that NATO’s doctrine of flexible response, which sought to enhance the credibility of deterrence by limiting conflict to a supposedly manageable level, failed to discourage the Soviets from harbouring notions of winning a nuclear war. Moreover, it indicates that the Soviets had no illusions about the possibility of fighting either a conventional or a limited nuclear war. As these and other authors have pointed out, there were fundamental differences in the understanding of nuclear
32 NATO review