Soviet Military Doctrine : Under Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev


Khrushchev's Era (1954-64)
Freed from the stupefying control of Stalin, military doctrine changed significantly under Khrushchev. The major doctrinal trend was to adopt the new nuclear weapons, missile technology, and means of conflict to the old views and concepts of future war. Khrushchev dropped the idea of the inevitability of war between socialism and capitalism. He did not see war as a protracted affair between massed conventional ground forces in Europe. 

Instead, the war would result from the inevitable escalation of a small conventional war into a nuclear one. Short, intense, massive exchange of nuclear weapons delivered by rockets and aircraft dominated this view of war. Because of this outlook, Khrushchev downgraded and partially demobilized ground forces and tactical air forces. Conventional options were rendered obsolescent, and the Strategic Rocket Forces emerged as preeminent receiving the lions share of the Soviet defense budget.

The new doctrine connoted that enemy forces would be dealt a nuclear strike to weaken them, and then they would be attacked by tanks and mechanized forces at a high tempo. Nuclear weapons became the means of establishing favorable conditions for the rapid advance of the ground forces. With the defense weakened, the ground forces would break through, avoid a frontal assault on strong points, and carry out flexible maneuvers to deal decisive blows to the enemy's flanks and rear.


This view of the future battlefield led to the offense becoming the dominant form of battle to the Soviets. Such a doctrine accordingly emphasized the role of surprise. War was not likely to last long so the initial period would be the most important. Both sides would try to achieve the initiative at the start. This doctrine created a different set of contributions for airpower. Instead of being viewed as long-range artillery in support of the ground forces, it became a prime instrument to deliver the nuclear blows. Additionally, it was the force of choice preventing an enemy from delivering his nuclear response to the Soviet offense.


Other factors influenced doctrine evolution. The U. S. strategic nuclear superiority and cold war challenge led to the Soviet policy of preemption. On the domestic side, populist reforms and advances in technology emphasized modernity and international competition, especially with the United States. By not stressing the inevitability of idealistic war, the Marxist-Leninist dialectic had less impact on the military doctrine than under Stalin. The experience of World War II continued in its influence on doctrine; however, Soviets began to analyze the failures in the 1941-42 operations to prevent their recurrence.