Air University Review, May-June 1976

Soviet Military Theory in English

the language barrier hurdled

Dr. Kenneth R. Whiting

A review of Harriet Fast Scott's new edition of Sokolovsky's Soviet Military Strategy and of William F. Scott's Soviet Sources of Military Doctrine and Strategy.

Until1963 the study of Soviet military doctrine and strategy was an arcane area limited to those who read Russian. The literature in English dealing with the topic was about Soviet military thinking, i.e., how the American or British writer interpreted the Soviet thinker he was dealing with at the time. Then in 1962 came the Sokolovsky classic on military strategy and translations of that work in 1963, thus opening up Soviet military thinking to those who did not read Russian.1 Since then English translations of Soviet books and articles on military topics have proliferated, and the inability to read Russian is no longer a valid excuse for ignorance about Soviet military thought.

A revised edition of Sokolovsky's Military Strategy was published in 1963 and another revision in 1968. It is still the classic work on the subject and is recommended reading for Soviet officers right down to the present time. And now we have a new English version edited and analyzed by Mrs. Harriet Fast Scott.* Mrs. Scott combines all three editions in one volume, with marginal symbols to indicate the various editions. Furthermore, in her notes she points out and reproduces the passages excised in later editions. She also puts the book in perspective in a twenty-page introduction and precedes each chapter with a brief analysis. All in all, the ghost of the late Marshal Sokolovsky would be very ungallant indeed to complain about the elaborate treatment that Mrs. Scott has accorded his book.

*V. D. Sokolovsky, Marshal of the Soviet Union, editor, Soviet Military Strategy, edited, with an analysis and commentary, by Harriet Fast Scott (New York: Crane, Russak & Company, Inc., 1975, $17.50), 494 pages.

Military Strategy was written by fifteen military theorists, mostly generals and colonels, who worked under the overall direction of the late Marshal Sokolovsky, Chief of the General Staff between 1955 and 1960. The work represents the first full-dress exposition of Soviet military strategy since the publication of Svechin's Strategiya in 1926.

The authors, in the first chapter of their book, go into great detail in describing just what "strategy"' is and how it dovetails into "operational art" one echelon below and into "military doctrine"one echelon higher. As they point out, the Soviet use of the word "strategy" is equivalent to the term "grand strategy" in Western parlance. They also admit, in contrast to earlier Soviet theorists, that the "laws of strategy are objective and apply impartially to both hostile sides." (p. 9) They go on to point out that the development of weapons technology has considerably influenced the nature of war and military strategy.

The appearance of the nuclear rocket weapon radically changed previous concepts of the nature of war. Modern nuclear rocket war in its destructive and death-dealing potential cannot be compared with previous wars. Mass application of nuclear rocket weapons makes it possible within a very short time to force a country from the war, or a number of countries, even those with relatively large territories, well-developed economies, and populations on the order of tens of millions.

There is an immeasurable increase in the spatial scope of modern war. The almost unlimited range of the means of delivery of nuclear weapons gives modern war such an infinite scope that the boundaries between the front lines and the rear areas are erased, eliminating the previous concept of the theater of military operation. (p.11)

The revolution in strategy has made it necessary to revise a whole series of previously accepted principles, such as the concentration of forces and weapons in decisive areas, less reliance on "potential capabilities" because of the great importance of the initial period of the war, and the idea of gaining victory through a series of partial victories. Furthermore, such a basic element of strategy as the "theater of military operations" has changed completely: strategic bombers and long-range missiles have wiped out the old concept. Theaters are now whole continents, vast regions of the atmosphere, and the endless reaches of space.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to a somewhat shrill exposition of the eternal verity of the Marxist-Leninist ideological underpinnings for a correct military strategy. They maintain that, in spite of rumors to the contrary, the essential nature of war as a continuation of politics in a more violent form does not change with developments in technology and armament. Kingston-McCloughery's dictum that nuclear warfare will result in mutual annihilation and thus put an end to all politics is cited as an example of bourgeois propaganda, although the authors fail to explain how politics continue once mutual annihilation has ensued. Actually, they assert, state policy determines not only the strategic aims but also the general nature of strategy. For example, imperialism is an outmoded social system, and thus its strategy is adventurist and ignores the laws of armed conflict, the role of the popular masses, etc. Imperialism cannot have a viable strategy, and thus the present theories of "limited war," "massive retaliation," and "global war" advanced in such profusion by bourgeois military theorists.

In Chapter 2, entitled "Military Strategy of Imperialist Countries and Their Preparation of New Wars," the Sokolovsky team describes and analyzes imperialist strategy, especially the American variety; at least they describe their version of imperialist strategy.

The first section deals with "Contemporary Military Strategy of the U.S.A. and NATO." Following the defeat of Germany and Japan, Britain, France, and other European countries that had been occupied by Germany were in bad economic straits. But the U.S. had reaped unbelievable profits from the war and used its position to strengthen its economic, political, and military positions.

The political aims of the American imperialists were and are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and, having turned them into obedient instruments, to unite them into various military and political blocs and groups aimed against the countries of the socialist camp. All this follows the main goal: the achievement of world domination. (p. 52)

In the early postwar years the military and foreign policy of the United States was to surround the socialist camp with military and political blocs in a simple anti-Communist coalition. Then came the "expansionist" policy, exemplified in the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the Eisenhower Doctrine. Shortly thereafter came NATO (1949), NATO (1954), and CENTO (1955), plus pacts with "vassal" states such as Japan, South Korea, and the Kuomintang clique. The appearance of nuclear weapons facilitated the formation of a single imperialist military policy dictated by the Americans, an integral part of which was the concept of dealing "from a position of strength" toward the Soviet Union.

Between 1954 and late 1960 the U.S. held to the strategy of "massive retaliation," but the imperialists were "in reality preparing for a surprise nuclear attack against the Soviet Union and the other countries of the socialist camp." (p. 54) But Soviet achievements in nuclear weapons, missiles, and exploration of space revealed the concept of "massive retaliation" to be unrealistic. The tremendous increase in the number of nuclear weapons and missiles and the incredible danger involved in their use led to an American-NATO re-evaluation and the concept of "mutual deterrence." The inflexibility of "massive retaliation" also resulted in the idea of "flexible response," a concept which makes "it possible, if necessary, to conduct either a general nuclear war or a limited war with or without the use of tactical nuclear weapons." (p. 57) This theory was formulated by General Maxwell Taylor in his book The Uncertain Trumpet and subsequently adopted by the Kennedy administration. In 1962 Defense Secretary Robert McNamara came up with the "counterforce" strategy, which posits the main task as the destruction of the enemy's armed forces, not attacks on the civilian population. The illusory nature of the "counterforce" strategy is only too obvious: "If nuclear war is unleashed by the militarists, then no strategy, however it may be called, will save imperialism from destruction." (p. 59) "The strategy of 'counterforce' primarily stems from the necessity for preventive war and the achievement of surprise." (p. 61) Then there was the concept of "guaranteed destruction," dating from 1965, which calls for the American capability to destroy a potential enemy even after a well-planned attack by him. McNamara accompanied this strategy with his "damage limiting" concept whereby strikes against the enemy's nuclear means of attack, plus passive defense measures to protect the civilian population, limit the destruction in a general nuclear war.

Our soldier-scholars then devote some six pages to a discussion of "limited war." (This discussion is an addition to the third edition.) Although they explore the concept in some depth and quote copiously from American authorities, their attitude is somewhat ambiguous; in their opening paragraph they say:

The concept of a limited war is adventuristic calculation of the U.S. imperialist circles for conducting war on foreign territories; it is a concept for assuring safety of the U.S. by excluding their territory from the possible zone of limited warfare; and finally, it is one of the methods preparing an unlimited nuclear war against the Soviet Union and the socialist countries. (p. 64)

But as they go more deeply into the subject, their attitude is less dogmatic. They acknowledge that little is known about how the use of tactical nuclear weapons may affect the course of a limited war and go on to quote Kissinger's dictum (Foreign Affairs, July 1962) that "limited nuclear war will automatically escalate into a general war because the losing side will continually commit new resources in order to restore the situation." (p. 68)

The authors (writing before the Bonn-Moscow agreements of 1970, of course) really take out after the West German "revanchists":

It is a reflection of the revanchist policy of the West German imperialists, those maniacs of particular variety, who, in spite of the complete defeat in two world wars, continue pedantically, openly, and secretly, to plan, and methodically and persistently to create, an extensive system of political, economic, military, and psychological measures in preparation for a new war. (p. 70)

The rest of the chapter is devoted to a description of the American and NATO forces and their economic preparations for war. On the whole, the factual data for the second half of the 1960s are accurate enough, but the interpretation is permeated with "imperialist" subterfuges and the idée fixe of a surprise attack on the Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist bloc.

Chapter 3 is a lengthy description of the evolution of Soviet military strategy between 1917 and 1945, which may be of interest to the historian but neither breaks any new ground nor reveals any startlingly new data.

Chapter 4, entitled "Nature of Modern War," gets to the heart of the matter. The authors again emphasize the Clausewitzian dictum of war as a continuation of politics by more violent means and assert that all the attempts of the imperialists and heretical Marxists to change that truth will avail nothing. Modern historical development is nothing other than a conflict between imperialism and socialism [i.e., Communism--KRW], with socialism now the stronger of the two. It is this strength of socialism that makes the policy of "peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems" possible. At the present time, however, there is a real danger that a world war may be unleashed by an imperialist attack on the Soviet Union and other countries of the socialist camp:

But an evaluation of the military-strategic situation of both camps as a whole is that the position of the socialist camp is considerably more advantageous and will ensure victory in the case of imperialist aggression. "Such powerful, invincible forces now oppose the aggressors that if they unleash war, then they will get nothing except their own destruction"--such was the conclusion made in the Report of the Central Committee to the XXIII Congress CPSU. (p. 187)

According to the authors, a new world war would be one between great coalitions, socialist and capitalist, and would be fought to the bitter end. It would involve tremendous numbers of people and embrace enormous geographical areas. It would be a nuclear-missile war, and the qualitative changes in the weapon systems involved would affect strategy--for instance, give immense importance to the initial period of the war. The authors, at this point, view with pride the size of the Soviet warheads and see them as a real advantage if a nuclear war were unleashed.

After all these apocalyptic forebodings about the inevitability of any new major war being a nuclear-missile conflict, the authors fall back on the old refrain of Soviet military theory:

. . . no matter how important the role of such means of strategy as Strategic Rocket Troops and rocket-carrying submarines may be in a future war, victory over the aggressor can be achieved only by the combined efforts of all means of waging wart Ground Troops, National PVO Troops, Air Forces, and the Navy as a whole with the active participation of the people. (p 198)

They then describe the various services and their roles in any future general war and come to the conclusion that "final victory will be attained only as a result of the mutual efforts of all services of the Armed Forces." (p. 210)

In summary, a third world war will be a nuclear-missile war in which "entire countries will be wiped off the face of the earth," "the war will acquire an unprecedented spatial scope," and "the initial period of the war will be of decisive importance for the outcome of the entire war."(p. 210)

CHAPTER 5, entitled "Problems of Organization of Armed Forces," is devoted to describing the tasks allotted to the various branches of the armed forces. Although it is taken as axiomatic that the nuclear missile is the basic weapon and that it determines how the armed forces are organized and how a future war will be waged, nevertheless the conventional weapons and services are extolled, as can be seen from the following excerpts:

It is well known that nuclear weapons have terrible devastating might and destructive power, that they are able, with one blow, to erase from the face of the earth entire countries with small territories. Enormous damage can also be done in large countries, especially when massive nuclear strikes are made against the most densely populated industrial regions. However, in order to completely defeat an enemy it is necessary to eliminate his ability to resist, to destroy his means of nuclear attack and to eliminate his naval bases. These problems can be solved only by complete defeat of the enemy's armed forces and by seizure of his territories.

It is not possible to accomplish all these tasks with nuclear weapons alone. Other types of weapons will also be needed, as well as different kinds of fighting equipment. In particular, in a future war one may expect the employment of chemical and bacteriological weapons the development of which is being given great attention in the Western countries, especially the United States. (p. 243)

The advent of nuclear rocket weapons and the development of aviation and other means of armed conflict have, as we have already indicated, again brought to life the notorious theory of the possibility of waging war by small but technically well-equipped armies. The advocates of such theories fail to consider that the new weapons and the new military equipment, far from reducing the requirements of the armed forces for personnel, increases them both in respect to combat personnel and in respect to support personnel. The necessity of massive armies is also occasioned by the fact that large simultaneous losses from nuclear blows require considerable reserves for the reinforcement of the troops and the restoration of their combat capacity. Furthermore, the increase in the geographic extent of the war and the creation by nuclear blows of enormous zones of destruction and radioactive contamination require a large number of troops for the defense and protection of national borders, rear targets and communications, and for the liquidation of the consequences of the atomic blows delivered by the enemy. Therefore, there can be no doubt about the fact that a future war will be waged by massive multimillion-man armed forces. (pp. 244-45)

In their view, large ground forces are still necessary, but will have to move with great speed, largely in armored personnel carriers. Airborne troops will be used mainly to capture, hold, or destroy missile, air, or naval bases deep in the enemy's territory. PVO (antiaircraft defense) will have the job of fending off nuclear air strikes on the ground forces, which, the authors admit, will be no small problem, given the sophistication of modern offensive weapon systems. Although the bomber has yielded first place to the missile, nevertheless both will be used simultaneously in a future war. Actually, some specific missions, such as hitting mobile targets, can best be accomplished by bombers. The air force as a whole (fighters, fighter-bombers, strategic bombers, and transports) is still a very necessary part of the modern armed forces.

Chapter 6 is concerned with the "methods of conducting warfare, which the authors define as "the aggregate of the procedures for waging military operations." (p. 260) The term includes the methods of using the armed forces as a whole and the utilization of the individual services.

In a 15-page minihistory of the development of the methods of conducting warfare since Napoleon, which provides the authors an opportunity to point up the insignificance of the American-British contribution in World War II,* they point out the quantum leap in the development of methods for conducting wars occurring in the post-World War II period. This qualitative jump has resulted in a radical alteration in the structure, technical equipment, and training of the armed forces, "a complete revolution in the military art and in the methods of conducting armed conflict." (p. 274) Instead of the armed conflict being resolved in the theaters of military operations, strategic nuclear strikes will be directed against the economy, national administrative system, military bases, and armed forces simultaneously throughout the depth of an enemyís territory. The ground forces, in coordination with the Air Force, will use the results of the nuclear strikes to complete the annihilation of remaining enemy units through unrelenting attacks at great speed and in great depth. Simultaneously, the fleets will be carrying out nuclear strikes against "objectives on the continents" and searching out and destroying enemy naval units on all the oceans and seas of the globe.

*The authors use the neat device of quotations from various American writers to the effect that strategic bombing in World War II was a miserable failure, and they elaborate on the Soviet thesis that the Americans and British delayed the opening of the second front until the Russians had all but defeated the Germans.

In a section entitled "Nuclear rocket attack by strategic weapons" (pp. 288-92) the authors outline the probable Soviet strategy in any future general war. The primary targets of the Soviet ICBM's will be the enemy's strategic aviation, ICBM and IRBM sites, tactical bomber aviation, naval bases, and nuclear weapon stockpiles. Incidentally, they shrug off the nuclear submarine threat in a short and pithy paragraph that merely states that the Polaris submarines are vulnerable to antisubmarine submarines! Pointing out that a "most important task is the destruction of the military-economic potential of the enemy," (p. 290) they list the United States and West Germany as the main economic pillars of imperialist might. The conflict will be characterized "by great violence, the mass destruction of troops, colossal destruction, and the formation of broad zones . . . of radioactive contamination." (p. 292)

The team also describes the probable offensive operations in the land theaters, defensive operations, the role of PVO Strany in keeping the enemy off the back of the troops and out of the homeland, and the role of the navy. In short, although the Strategic Rocket Troops are to be the fair-haired lads, there is a role for every service in the next war.

CHAPTER 7 is devoted to the problem of how to prepare the Soviet Union to repel imperialist aggression, i.e., how to stand lip to a future world war. This problem of preparation is broken down into three elements: the armed forces, the national economy, and the people themselves. The availability of missiles and nuclear weapons of megaton yields permits cutbacks in conventional forces without a reduction in overall firepower. But the existence of those very weapons means that the technical and material basis for waging a long war can be destroyed at the very outset of hostilities. Lastly, one cannot disregard the fact that enormous losses in population in a very short period of time will have psychological effects, especially since it will be something new in human experience.

The authors agree that it would be nice to have peacetime forces adequate to achieve the objectives of the initial period of the war without additional mobilization, but no nation has that kind of dough. The existing peacetime forces, however, must be able to deal a nuclear blow in good time, to repel a surprise attack, and to fight theater actions while additional forces are being mobilized.

The authors point out that the whole country must be prepared as a theater of operations. Since the nation's entire territory will be dotted with missile sites, airfields, and PVO positions--all potential targets for enemy missile and air attacks--the country as a whole will constitute a theater of operations.

The rest of the chapter goes into a good deal of detail about which services must be in readiness at all times, which should be ready for immediate mobilization, and the problems associated with general mobilization. In addition there are relatively long sections on the value of strategic intelligence, on the preparation of the national economy for war, and on how to deal with the population in the matter of civil defense.

CHAPTER 8, entitled "Leadership of the Armed Forces," is a very disappointing part of the book in that it is largely concerned with the history of command systems in the major capitalist nations and in the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. gets the lion's share of space, and for the historian it is an excellent survey, from an ultrapatriotic point of view, of the evolution of the command system in the Red Army from early 1918 through the Second World War.

All in all, the Sokolovsky book is still the most comprehensive treatment of Soviet military strategy to date. But for the Western reader it is somewhat disappointing in that it tends to fudge on some important problems of modern warfare and often compels the reader to make do with a thoroughly confused answer from this team of soldier-scholars. On the whole, the most important part of the book, at least in this reviewer's opinion, is Chapter 2, especially those sections that first appeared in the third edition.

Mrs. Scott's edition of the Sokolovsky opus was hardly off the press when her husband, Colonel William F. Scott, USAF (Retired),* came out with a book on Soviet sources of military doctrine and strategy. This handy monograph provides the student of Soviet military theory an annotated bibliography of important Soviet books dealing with military doctrine and strategy published between 1960 and 1974.

*William F. Scott Soviet Sources of Military Doctrine and Strategy (New York: Crane, Russak & Co., 1975, 1975, 72 pages.

Colonel Scott begins with a discussion of who writes Soviet military theory and describes how the major military academies and institutes fit into the picture. He then moves on to an analysis of the newspapers and periodicals devoted to military affairs and a brief description of military book publishing business. He also includes some comments on the nonmilitary journals that may impinge upon the military field. The rest of his monograph is devoted to the bibliography itself. This section is arranged in chronological order by year of publication. As with wines, some years were better than others. For example, for 1963 Colonel Scott found only three books worthy of inclusion, while for both 1970 and 1971 there are eighteen entries.

Unfortunately, of the 168 books listed and described, only nineteen have been translated into English. These are listed at the end of the book, with information for ordering them. In the last two years six of these books dealing with Soviet military doctrine and strategy have been produced in English under the auspices of the USAF, the series entitled "Soviet Military Thought":

No. 1--A. A. Sidorenko, The Offensive, Moscow, 1972. (Translated and published under the auspices of the USAF; Washington, D.C., GPO, 1973, $1.70)

No. 2--Marxism-Leninism on War and Army, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1972. (GPO, 1974, $2.45)

No. 3--N. A. Loom (editor), Scientific-Technical Progress and the Revolution in Military Affairs, Moscow, 1973. (GPO, 1974, $2.25)

No. 4--V. Ye. Savkin, The Basic Principles of Operational Art and Tactics, Moscow, 1972. (GPO, 1974, $2.30)

No. 5--A. S. Milovidov and V. G. Kozlov, The Philosophical Heritage of V. I. Lenin and the Problems of Contemporary War, Moscow, 1972. (GPO, 1974, $2.35)

No. 6--V. V. Druzhinin and D. S. Kontorov, Concept, Algorithm, Decision, Moscow, 1972. (GPO, 1975, $2.80)

Thanks to the assiduous labors of the Scott family and the USAF's "Soviet Military Thought" series, those interested in Soviet military theory, especially doctrine and strategy, need no longer feel debarred from the field because they read no Russian. These six books and the two here reviewed total 2280 pages, enough, one would think, to satisfy anyone except the specialist, at least for the nonce.

Maxwell AFB, Alabama


1. V. D. Sokolovsky (editor), Voennaya Strategiya (Military Strategy), (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1962). There were two translations of the book into English in 1963: one by the Foreign Technology Division, Air Force Systems Command, Wright-Patterson AFB, which was also published by Praeger with an introduction by Raymond Garthoff. The better version of the first edition is the RAND translation done by H. S. Dinerstein, L. Gouré, and T. W. Wolfe and published by Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1963.

Editorís note

The books numbered 1 and 2 were reviewed by Dr. Whiting in the January-February 1975 issues of Air University Review.


Dr. Kenneth R. Whiting (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Director of the Documentary Research Directorate, Air University. A frequent contributor to Air University Review, he is the author of The Soviet Union Today: A Concise Handbook (1962) and of numerous monographs on Russian and Asian subjects. Dr. Whiting formerly taught Russian history at Tufts University and is fluent in the Russian language.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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