Soviet Union had plans for first use of N-weapons in Europe
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The Soviet Union had plans to attack Western Europe that included being the first to use nuclear weapons, according to a new book of previously secret Warsaw Pact documents published at the weekend.
Although the declared aim was to pre-empt NATO “aggression,” the Soviets clearly expected that nuclear war was likely and planned specifically to fight and win such a conflict.
The documents show that Moscow’s allies went along with these plans but the alliance was weakened by resentment over Soviet domination and the belief that nuclear planning was sometimes highly unrealistic. Contrary to Western views at the time, pact members saw themselves increasingly at a disadvantage compared to the West in the military balance, especially with NATO’s ability to incorporate high-technology weaponry and organise more effectively, beginning in the late 1970s.
According to a news release by the National Security Archives that declassified the material on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Warsaw Pact that makes up the 726-page volume, the shift began in the 1960s from defensive operations to plans to launch attacks deep into Western Europe. There were also plans to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, ostensibly to pre-empt Western first-use. Soviet expectations were based on the assumption that conventional conflicts would go nuclear, and there should be plans to fight and win such conflicts. The documents make clear the deep resentment of alliance members, behind the façade of solidarity, of Soviet dominance and the unequal share of the military burden that was imposed on them.
Also evident from them are East European views on the futility of plans for nuclear war and the realisation that their countries, far more than the Soviet Union, would suffer the most devastating consequences of such a conflict. The documents underline the “nuclear romanticism,” primarily of Soviet planners, concerning the viability of unconventional warfare. The papers include a retort by a Polish leader that “no one should have the idea that in a nuclear war one could enjoy a cup of coffee in Paris in five or six days.”
The documents also underscore ideologically the impact of Chernobyl as a reality check for Soviet officials on the effects of nuclear weapons. There was pervasive spying on NATO, mainly by East Germans. There is also data on the often disputed East-West military balance, seen from the Soviet bloc side as much more favourable to the West than the West itself saw it, with the technological edge increasingly in Western favour since the time of the Carter administration. The motives accounting for the Warsaw Pact’s offensive military culture included not only the obsessive Soviet memory of having been taken by surprise by the nearly fatal Nazi attack in June 1941 but primarily the ideological militancy of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine that posited irreconcilable hostility of the capitalist adversaries. The influence of the doctrine may explains the distorted interpretation of secret Western planning documents that were unequivocally defensive documents to which Warsaw Pact spies had extensive access. So integral was the offensive strategy to the Soviet system that its replacement by a defensive strategy under Gorbachev proved impossible to implement before the system itself disintegrated.
According to the news release, “The Soviet military, as the ideologically most devoted and disciplined part of the Soviet establishment, were given extensive leeway by the political leadership in designing the Warsaw Pact’s plans for war and preparing for their implementation. Although the leadership reserved the authority to decide under what circumstances they would be implemented and never actually tried to act on them, the chances of a crisis spiralling out of control may have been greater than imagined at the time. The plans had dynamics of their own and the grip of the ageing leadership continued to diminish with the passage of time.”