Evolution of Soviet Military Doctrine: Under Stalin

Joseph Stalin

Soviet military doctrine changed because of changes in the same complex interrelationships that formed it international political and military environments, foreign military doctrines, history, technology, ideology, and internal political, social moral, and economic constraints. The perceived strategic imbalance has been the prime motivator in the Soviets doctrinal evolution. 

Michael MccGwire notes:
"The Soviet military doctrine has evolved in response to what has been seen as a series of direct threats to the existence of the state; Nuclear testing aside, Soviet actions and the doctrines behind them must be seen as responses to the perceived threat posed by American decisions."
Military doctrine evolution in the former Soviet Union and Russia today, therefore represents an amalgam of many factors. The effect of the international political environment and an assessment of the probability of war, over time, forms the political component of doctrine. The evolution of Soviet military doctrine reflected foreign doctrines, especially that of Clausewitz and German "blitzkrieg." Past Soviet experience and history formed the Soviet perspective of the war. World War II, with its ten million Soviet deaths, had a profound effect. Internal political, economic, and social constraints, as well as the nature of Soviet decision making, greatly affected the nature of doctrine. Technological innovation also had a key role. The military doctrine of the former Soviet Union arose from the interaction of this multitude of often conflicting factors.

Post World War II Stalin's Era (1945-53)

The effect of World War II marks this period. The formative impact of the war led military doctrine to cast all future war in the mold of that experience protracted land war, with ground troops directly supported by tanks, artillery, and aircraft. Soviet leaders believed surprise attack would characterize this period. Although the war laid the foundation of military doctrine, there was a little critical examination of Soviet major failures in 1941 and 1942. Furthermore, Stalin placed great importance on atomic weapons and rocketry for the international prestige. Despite Stalin's xenophobic reaction to the West, the NATO military environment influenced Soviet military doctrine. U.S. superiority in strategic nuclear weapons and airpower prompted a Soviet emphasis on strong conventional forces and offensive counterattack into Europe from Soviet bases in Eastern Europe.

Shaping the military doctrine was also the international political environment and Marxist -Leninist ideology. The Soviets saw capitalism encircling them, with the United States as its superpower. Marxist idealism included the concept of the inevitable violent clash between capitalism and socialism. This shaped the objective constraints and historical experiences that reinforced the Soviets view of the world and their military doctrine. More than any other factor was the role played by the nature of the internal Soviet political system. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union became even more authoritarian. He elevated to doctrinal status those factors he believed were responsible for winning the war. Stalin ignored developments in conventional weapons, the role of surprise on the battlefield, foreign developments, and any failures the Soviets may have had during the German push to Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad. He regarded these all as irrelevant to victory.

If conventional warfare occurred, both defense and offense played major roles. The victory resulted from accumulating successful battles fought along slowly moving continuous Fronts. Frontal breakthroughs occurred by deliberating massing forces on a main axis of attack. Men, tanks, artillery, and aircraft were concentrated in the strike sectors for speed, firepower and shock to penetrate, envelop, and thrust into the enemy's rear areas. Combined arms, with preeminent ground forces in a European environment, was the primary vision of future war.