Soviet Military Doctrine : Under Brezhnev

Soviet Military Doctrine : Under Brezhnev

Brezhnev's Era (1964-82)
Only minor changes in thought regarding the nature of future war occurred under Brezhnev. Given the massive nuclear capabilities on both sides, military doctrine during this era reflected a belief that conflict would eventually involve large-scale exchanges of nuclear weapons. Conventional options and the concept of strategic operations within the Western TVD opposite NATO became dominant.
Central to this doctrine was the belief that a Warsaw Pact strategic conventional offensive could preemptively deny NATO any incentive to initiate a nuclear war. Success depended on
  1. attaining early air superiority 
  2. timely and discrete cooperation among the Warsaw Pact allies and 
  3. strategic surprise.
The primary doctrinal change was the reemergence of conventional operations in a major war. The new doctrine postulated an initial conventional phase at the start of a war. If a balance of forces existing between both sides, the initial conventional phase might last quite a long time. Given that the enemy might strike with nuclear weapons first, the initial conventional phase took on very specific characteristics. Time was the "coin of the realm." Friendly forces needed to destroy the enemy's advance defense lines and the enemy's tactical nuclear weapons quickly. The initial conventional strikes had to seize as many enemies critical targets as possible to disrupt the enemy's defensive position.

As in the Khrushchev era, doctrine continued to emphasize surprise, especially its strategic value. The most dangerous, and likely scenario to start a war, was a surprise attack by the enemy. Given scenarios based on speed and surprise, it is logical that the doctrine insisted on the primacy of the offense. An external international effect influencing doctrine was the Soviet Unions achieving nuclear parity with the United States. For the first time, the Soviets possessed a credible nuclear offensive capability to deter nuclear escalation. In the international political arena, Soviet tensions eased with other countries. As the Soviet economy began to expand domestically, they could field the forces necessary to carry out the military doctrine they espoused.

Perhaps two of the most important factors influencing military doctrine was the influence of foreign military doctrines and changes in the nature of the Soviet political system. In 1961, the United States moved away from an exclusive nuclear response (massive retaliation), to selective nuclear options (flexible response). Thus, conventional operations became more interesting to Soviet planners. The historical significance of the USSR being involved in two major world wars on the continent continued to influence military doctrines reliance on large conventional forces. More importantly, the internal political apparatus under Brezhnev became more conservative, pluralist, and bureaucratic in decision-making. The military, KGB, and heavy and light industry all received representation on the Politburo. As a result, significant real appropriations increased for each of these sectors each year. In this context, a change in military doctrine to one emphasizing a conventional option enhanced the role of the ground forces and again made them "a more integral and legitimate actor in the decision-making process."