Distinctive Aspects Of Soviet And Russian

.. War, showed the importance of simple, standardized and compatible weapon systems. The importance of this derives from the costs of learning to use new weapon systems and the increased probability of breakdown as a result of increased technological complexity. Thus, instead of complex and revolutionary weapon development Soviet weapon systems often developed in an evolutionary manner. For example, there is a long line of Soviet tanks from the T-34 to the T-72 which all have great similarities and interchangeable parts.

Similarly, airplanes (MiGs) and guns (such as the AKs) are designed using past systems as close models. The crucial mechanism in this process of matching weapons to practical needs rather than technological sophistication, is the military representative in the design bureau and factories. These representatives make sure than no new exotic technology is used unless it is deemed necessary by the army. Thus, the different approach to weapon systems is one example of how Soviet military scientific thinking is different from the Western thinking towards high-tech weaponry. That the scientific approach to military thinking has consequences for the force structure is best exemplified by the reserve system that characterizes the Soviet military.

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The system is based on rapid mobilization of reserves instead of a large professional standing army. Once again the civil war taught the Soviets the importance of this strategy: large reserves and good lines of communication were crucial to win the Civil War with no fixed fronts. Since the Soviets plan to turn a future war into such a fluid battle the reserve system makes sure that the Soviets can achieve a very favorable force ratio in battle. One Western soldier may be better trained and have better equipment than one Soviet soldier, but this does not mean that one Western soldier can win against four Soviet soldiers. Based on this lesson Soviet military thinking has led to a different force structure than the Western: Large reserves rather than small professional armies. The last area of difference between Soviet and Western military thought is cultural attitudes.

In many ways this is more a source of the other three differences (ideology, holistic thinking, and the scientific approach) than a separate category. For example, the holistic way of thinking can be traced back to the influence of the Greek Byzantine concept of law in Russia. Unlike the Roman concept, the Greek version did not limit the legitimate involvement of the Sovereign. By not doing so it failed to distinguish between the political and private sphere. The concept of deep operations can be traced back to the Russian attitudes to work originating in the Russian harvest in which an intense period of work was followed by less intense work (storming the plan is still a very recent concept in Russia).

The Russian tradition of maskirovka can be traced back to the culture of secrecy which, as Donnelly writes, is built into the Russian mind. (p. 42). The fact of this is that there are few natural hiding places in the Russian geography so the need for secrecy has to be used in the element of surprise. Except for these cultural origins of already discussed topics there are also significant cultural differences which justify cultural attitudes as a fourth category of distinctiveness. One example is the Russian attitude towards violence and brutality.

The Soviet army was infamous for its harsh peacetime discipline, and even more so for its methods of maintaining discipline during wartime. While most Western military personnel would hesitate before taking civilian hostages, the experiences from the Civil War have taught Russians to use all possible means. Thus, Soviet military thinking was less moved by ethical and moral considerations than Western thinking. If brute force could solve a problem, then brute force was used. Another cultural attitude which influences Russian thinking is their combined feeling of pride, inferiority, and insecurity.

The pride arises from a feeling of being spiritually superior to the Western materialists. It is expressed through the belief in Moscow as the Third Rome and the theory of a superior Slav culture. Combined with this feeling of pride is a feeling of insecurity and inferiority arising from repeated invasions from the West, lastly by Napoleon and Germany. The consequence of these feelings is that Russia will not allow herself to be humiliated with a surprise attack by Western intervention like Operation Barbarossa. Rather than being surprised, it will try to gain the upper hand by itself starting an attack if it feels that war is imminent.

The feeling of insecurity and pride thus give a rise to a dangerous mix of uneasy thinking which could explode unless contained. It makes Russian thinking about war offensive rather than defensive. The four areas of distinctiveness in Soviet thinking about war, security, and strategy creates a formidable challenge to the West. In conclusion one could note two points about this challenge. The first is that one should not overestimate the quality of Soviet thinking.

As Donnelly has pointed out, it is ethnocentric and governed by an unwillingness to admit failures. It is ethnocentric in its approach to war because of its bias towards land operations and relative neglect of wars in other parts of the world under different geographical conditions. Furthermore, it appears to be predictable, thus giving a knowledgeable opponent the opportunity to prepare. Thirdly, the holistic way of thinking may undermine itself in two ways. First, the integration of political and economical life may prove to be so inefficient that there are not enough economic resources to keep up the struggle. Secondly, new technologies require different attitudes (creativity, more education) which may be incompatible with the stability of the political system. So, despite the impressive amount of thought given to military science, it is not flawless.

The second point is that the Soviet challenge still remains despite theoretical flaws and the fall of the Soviet Empire. Significant variables have changed, for example the aim of Soviet thinking is no longer to establish Communism, but establish Capitalism. Nevertheless Soviet modes of analysis still remain in the Russian military. Their thinking is still holistic, governed by a military doctrine formed by a distinct knowledge of the science of war and Russian cultural values. Also, Russian thinking about strategy (at all levels) is very impressive, making it a lesson worth studying for Western military thinkers.

So, the conclusion must be the rather obvious statement that Soviet and Russian thinking, and the threat it represents, should neither be overestimated nor should it underestimated. Rather it represents a body of knowledge from which we can learn. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1). Donnelly, Christopher, Red Banner: The Soviet Military System in Peace and War, Janes Information Group, London, 1988. 2).

Sheer, James, Soviet Power: The Continuing Challenge, Macmillan Press, London, 1987. 3). Mastny, Vojtech, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity, New York, 1996. 4). Barber, John, and Harrison, Mark, The Soviet Home Front, 1941-1945, New York, 1990. 5).

Matlock, Jack F, Autopsy on an Empire, New York, 1995.


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