DISTINCTIVE ASPECTS OF SOVIET AND RUSSIAN
MILITARY THINKING

HISTORY 421









This research paper will argue that there are four main areas in which Soviet thinking about war, strategy and defense was, and to a large extent is, distinct from Western thinking. Firstly, Soviet and Western thinking were governed by different aims. While the Soviet aim was messianic, the West was content to defend “national interests.” Secondly, Russian military thinking is more holistic than Western military thinking. This means that the Russians, unlike many in the West, do not draw sharp lines between different sectors such as the military and civilian components. Thirdly, Russian thinking is based on systematic use of previous experience to develop a unitary scientific theory of how to prepare for and win wars. Fourthly and lastly, Soviet military thinking is characterized by certain distinctive cultural attitudes shaped by geography, history, and ideology.
These four areas of distinctiveness: the Ideological, Holistic, Scientific, and Cultural ways of thinking are not chosen randomly. The criterion of significance in this research paper is that these highlighted areas are the most important from a Western security perspective. An understanding of these four areas of distinctiveness was vital to our own survival during the Cold War. They are still relevant today since much of the mode of thinking remains; though the messianic aims of Communism no longer play a major role.
Soviet thinking was based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, and from a Western security point of view the aim of this ideology was important because it meant the advance of Communism and the destruction of Imperialism, especially Capitalism. This aim is based on a theory of history that sees conflict between material interests of classes as “natural”. In contrast, Western thinking often assumes that people have harmonious interests. The role of war in the Marxist theory is to accelerate an inevitable process towards Communism. War does this by putting nations to test since it aggravates the social contradictions in society. Hence, Soviet military thinking was governed by an aim, the Communist society, and war was seen as a tool that could in certain circumstances advance this goal.
The significance of this aim in Soviet thinking was to give it an overall coherence that the West was lacking. Everything is purposefully subjected to this aim in a systematic way through the expression and implementation of military doctrine. The overall coherence was dangerous to the West because it gave the Soviets an advantage by allowing them to specialize in one vital area, winning conflicts, while the West spread its resources over many areas. Metaphorically speaking one could say that there is no help in having a team full of good and diverse athletes if your survival depends only on how good your team is at soccer.
At the same time that the ideological way of thinking presented frightening scenarios, it also restrained the Soviets from adventurism. The soviets were unlikely to gamble on a war unless they were sure to win it. The reason being that the setback resulting from a loss would be very serious. It meant that the Soviet Union could not be the revolutionary agent they thought they were.
The second characteristic of Soviet military thinking is their holistic approach to war, security and strategy. This follows logically from the first characteristic of subjecting everything to a single aim. The holistic way of thinking implies that there are no sharp boundaries between the civilian and military sector; no separation of foreign and domestic policy; no false dichotomy between war and politics; and no neglect of intangible assets over tangible assets. A few examples would highlight these previous statements.
Civilian and military life in the Soviet Union was intimately intertwined. The only airline company, Aeroflot, was headed by a military official. All trucks were designed to function in war conditions as well as in peace. Military training was an integrated part of the education system. Lastly, civilian factories were designed so that they may convert to military production if necessary. These examples show that Soviet thinking did not make the same distinction between civilian and military life as many do in the West. The importance of this is that the fighting capability of the Soviet Union was much larger than a simple counting of tanks and planes.
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