FOREIGN SERVICE DISPATCH 116, of September 8, 1952
FROM AMERICAN EMBASSY, MOSCOW
TO DEPARTMENT OF STATE, WASHINGTON
SUBJECT: The Soviet Union and the Atlantic Pact
In view of what appears to be the increasing importance of the problems revolving around the impact of NATO policies and activities on the Soviet Union, and of the probability that these problems may soon have to be the object of a careful examination within our government, I thought that it might be useful for me to set forth at this time certain general considerations concerning the place which the North Atlantic Pact has had in Soviet thinking and the effect it has had on Soviet policy.
When World War II came to an end, the leaders of the Soviet Union had no desire to face another major foreign war for a long, long time to come. Within the Soviet Union, the war had left great exhaustion and physical damage in its train. In addition to this, it had meant a setback of approximately a decade in the effort of the Soviet leaders to make out of the traditional Russian territory a powerful military-industrial center. It was plain that even when recovery from the damages and fatigues of the war had been effected, Russia would still be a country with a crude and unbalanced industrial foundation, lacking an adequate energetic basis and a modern transportation system. Finally, in the newly won satellite area, the Kremlin faced a formidable problem in the task of consolidation of its power, involving the liquidation of the older influential classes and political groups, the training of a new administrative class, the formation of new police and military forces, etc. All of these things were bound to take time. The building of a modern transportation system in the Soviet Union, in the absence of major aid
from capitalist sources, would alone represent at least a ten- to fifteen year operation. Another major military involvement, striking into the heart of the programs for the completion of these tasks, would obviously have most disruptive and undesirable effects, in part even dangerous to the security of Soviet power. For all of these specific domestic reasons the Kremlin leaders had no desire, at the close of World War II, to become involved in another major foreign war for the foreseeable future, and this—in terms of Soviet policy determination—meant anything up to fifteen or twenty years.
Nor, we may safely conclude, did the Soviet leaders think ii likely in the years1945-1946 that any such war would be forced upon them in the immediately forthcoming period. The Western Democracies were also exhausted from the long exertion. The United States was demobilizing with great rapidity. In Japan, although the Soviet Union had been excluded from any direct voice in the control, the occupying forces were for various reasons following a policy little different in many respects from that which Moscow would have urged, involving in particular complete demilitarization and the rapid dismantlement of the military-industrial potential of the country. Above all, Germany, most important of all countries from the standpoint of Soviet security, lay prostrate: occupied, dismembered, and divided—a considerable portion of her territory and military potential actually ceded to the Soviet Union or to Soviet satellites and a further proportion under Soviet occupation. In these circumstances, the formation of a foreign military coalition which could threaten the Soviet Union did not loom as a likely eventuality on the Soviet horizon. The men in the Kremlin could hope that it would be many years, at any rate, before they would have reason to fear that a war might be forced upon them by foreign initiative.
Before we leave this question of the outlook of the Kremlin on the problems of war or peace at the conclusion of World War II, let us hasten to recognize two things that this outlook did not mean.
In the first place, it did not mean a relinquishment on the part of the Kremlin of the hope of further expanding its power in the coming period. We must remember here that the Bolshevik leaders had never been taught to view an outright military attack by the Soviet Union on the capitalist world as a promising or correct approach, much less the only possible approach, to the task of expanding Communist power. This was not for reasons of moral scruple, but for a number of other reasons: among them the congenital caution of the land-power-minded and semi-Oriental Russian statesman; the specific calculation, prevalent up to that time, that communism was still weaker than the main forces of capitalism and must avoid an open and all-out contest with them as a matter of common prudence; and finally, the belief that the capitalist world was itself afflicted with incurable weaknesses, divisions and diseases which would operate with inexorable logic to weaken its unity and its power, even in the absence of a major military conflict between the forces of "socialism" and "capitalism."
In these circumstances, ever since the beginning of the revolution it had been orthodox Communist strategy not to seek an open and general military confrontation with capitalist power, but rather precisely to avoid such confrontation and to conduct the attack on the capitalist world in a much more cautious manner, representing what Lenin termed a "state of partial war," and involving the elastic and opportunistic use of a wide variety of tactics including outstandingly such things as deception, concealed penetration and subversion, psychological warfare, and above all the adroit exploitation of every conceivable form of division in capitalist society, whether on the international scale or within the domestic framework of capitalist states. By such means it was considered, the Soviet Union could avoid the danger of annihilation that had always to be considered to reside in a general war between communism and capitalism, and yet make the most of those weaknesses, divisions and diseases to which the capitalist world was held to be a prey.
Actually, the conditions that existed as World War II came to an end seemed to offer high promise for the success of such tactics. The effects of Nazi rule on the social fabric of the occupied countries, as well as of Germany herself, had weakened the traditional institutions of those countries, and had in fact performed a good deal of the work which the Communists would in any case have wished to carry out in order to soften these countries up for seizure of power by Communist minorities. The postwar exhaustion and bewilderment of peoples everywhere heightened vulnerability to Communist pressures and deceits. The positions gained in Eastern Europe by the advance of the Red Army in the final phases of the war, plus the Soviet right, on the basis of Yalta and Potsdam, to a prominent voice in the determination of the future of Germany, protected by the veto power in the Council of Foreign Ministers, made it seem to Moscow implausible that vigor and hope and economic strength could ever be returned to the Western European area otherwise than on Moscow's terms; and these terms, in the Kremlin's mind, would be built around a set of conditions in which the triumph of Soviet-controlled forces would be assured. In France and Italy, furthermore, the Communists had succeeded in exploiting both the resistance to the Germans and ultimately the liberation from them, for purposes of infiltration into every possible point of political, military and economic control, and had thereby reached positions of influence from which it seemed most unlikely that they could be dislodged without chaos and civil war. In these circumstances the Kremlin had good reason to hope that a relatively brief period—let us say three to five years—would see Communist power, or at least Communist domination, extended to the Western European area in general, even in the absence of any further military effort by the Soviet Union. By virtue of such a development, as Moscow saw it, the preponderance of military-industrial strength in the world would be assembled under Soviet control. England would represent at best an isolated industrial slum, extensively dependent on the Communist-controlled Continent across the channel. Taken together with the possibilities for Communist success in China, where the immediately desired phase of "expelling the imperialists" seemed to he progressing almost unbelievably well with no effort at all on Moscow's part, all this meant that prospects were not bad for the rapid advance of the Kremlin to a dominant and almost unchallengeable position in world affairs. Thus the lack of desire or expectancy for a new major foreign war did not mean that Moscow had no hope for the expansion of Bolshevik power in the postwar period.
The second thing that was not implied in this Soviet view about war, at the termination of the great military struggle with the Germans, was the necessity for any drastic demobilization of Soviet military strength, comparable to the demobilization which was taking place in the West. While a considerable demobilization was actually carried out in the Soviet Union, an armed establishment was retained which far outclassed, in numbers and power of ground forces in particular, anything that existed in the non-Communist sector of the world.
There were a number of reasons for this. The Soviet naval and air forces were regarded at the end of the war as so inferior to the comparable Western contingents that no policy was conceivable in Moscow except one of the most vigorous continued expansion of these arms. As for the rest—the maintenance in peacetime of ground forces of forbidding and, to all outward appearances, quite excessive strength was traditional not only to the Soviet government but to Russian governments generally. The annals of the nineteenth century are replete with complaints of other powers over just this sort of policy on the part of the Tsar's government It was practiced again in the Twenties and Thirties of the present century. At that time Soviet ground forces were generally far superior numerically to any other force in Europe, and remained so until completion of German rearmament in the late 1930s. The prompt reversion to this pattern after World War II represented, therefore, the resumption of a practice which seemed quite normal to Soviet leaders.
If one looks at the psychological basis of this practice one finds a welter of considerations and explanations. For various reasons, Russian forces have generally appeared—have often, in fact, been deliberately caused to appear—more formidable to outsiders, particularly from the standpoint of possible offensive employment, than they appeared to their masters within Russia. Russian political leaders have usually operated against a background of uncertainty and anxiety with respect to domestic political and economic conditions which heightened their congenital sense of insecurity and caused them to wish for a larger margin of numerical safety in armed strength than would be thought necessary elsewhere. The maintenance of land armies in Russia has generally been cheap financially, and has had certain domestic political advantages insofar as it kept a good portion of the young male population in a regimented and controlled status. Finally, the Soviet leaders, interested in extending their real power by measures short of general war, have not been oblivious to the possibilities of such things as threats and intimidation—the possibilities of the use of the shadow of armed strength rather than its substance—as a means of influencing the political behavior of peoples elsewhere. In the wake of World War II, the maintenance of large land forces (with the number of divisions somewhat inflated by their relatively small size) served this purpose excellently, particularly in the face of the extreme nervousness of the war-shocked and terrorized populations of Western Europe.
If, then, we may summarize the Soviet position with respect to the prospects of major war and peace in the postwar period, as this position existed, let us say, in the beginning of the year 1946, it would be somewhat as follows: A third major war was not desirable, and was not likely to occur for many years. During this period the Soviets would continue the "partial war" against Western society with undiminished vigor and with very good chances of success. For traditional reasons, and as a useful contribution to the political struggle, the Kremlin would continue to maintain a large Soviet armed force and to supplement it as, rapidly as possible with Communist-dominated and Communist-inspired forces in the satellite countries.
The year 1947 and the first months of 1948 produced a number of phenomena which from the Soviet point of view were both surprising and displeasing. In the first place the Western powers, although they had agreed to peace treaties with the satellites which left the structure of Soviet power in those countries undamaged, refused to agree to treaties for Germany and Austria which would sanction the permanent establishment of Soviet power or influence in those countries. And in each case they contrived to bypass the Soviet veto in the Council of Foreign Ministers by setting about independently to re-create life and hope in their own zones of control. This was the first great blow to Soviet hopes in the political war. Then, in the spring of 1947, a serious and ominous challenge to further Soviet political expansion in Europe was presented by United States acceptance of responsibility for assistance to Greece. This was followed shortly by the shattering impact of General Marshall's Harvard speech and the launching of the Marshall Plan project. These events led directly to the crisis of the spring of 1948, marked by the final passage of the first regular ERP legislation by the Congress of the United States, the arrival in Europe of the first large shipments of interim aid, the failure of the Communist-inspired wave of strikes and the challenge to the civil order in France, and the failure of the Italian Communists in the elections of that spring.
Both the imposition of the Berlin blockade and the Soviet crackdown in Czechoslovakia were reactions to these reverses for Moscow in the cold war. Of these, the development in Czechoslovakia was particularly important from the standpoint of Western reaction. Ever since the return of the Benes regime in 1945 the situation in Czechoslovakia had been in reality completely in Moscow's control. The Kremlin had seen fit to let the Czechoslovak Communists take things easy in 1946-1947 and had permitted a certain amount of outward freedom in Czechoslovakia up to that time, partly because things were going its way in large degree behind the scenes, partly in the hope of misleading Western European intellectuals into believing that Communist domination in a given country did not necessarily mean extreme and immediate sovietization, but rather represented something "liberal" people could safely contemplate or accept. Such a policy of relative moderation and liberality gave promise of success, and could he followed with relative impunity, as long as Moscow was on the political offensive in Western Europe. It was needed, as indicated above, to deceive and render complacent elements in the Western European public whose tolerance or cooperation were required for the completion of the Communist plans. And while it involved certain dangers and disadvantages, it was clear that these would easily be taken in the Communist stride if further successes could be had farther afield. But once the Communist forces in Western Europe were thrown on the defensive, as indeed they were by the launching of the Marshall Plan project in the summer of 1947, it became dangerous for Moscow to continue to tolerate this relatively high degree of outward freedom and liberality in Czechoslovakia. When on the political offensive, one could afford to ignore large pockets of enemy forces behind one's lines; when one was on the defensive, such pockets became intolerable. Czechoslovakia and the Western sectors of Berlin were both such pockets. The Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia in 1948 therefore flowed logically from the inauguration of the Marshall Plan program, and was confidently predicted by United States government observers six months in advance of the event.
It is clear from the above that the sudden consolidation of Communist power in Czechoslovakia in 1948 was not a sign of any "new Soviet aggressiveness" and had nothing to do with any Soviet decision to launch its military forces against the West. Nevertheless, it was the spring of 1948, and particularly the period on the heels of the Czech developments, that saw the rise of a strong wave of military anxiety throughout the Western countries, and even a species of "war scare," supported particularly by reports from Western observers in Berlin. To date there has never been any evidence that would tend to confirm that Moscow had any thought at that time of launching its armed forces against the West or that its views on this subject were in any way different from those described above. Nevertheless, a firm opinion crystallized in Western circles there was danger of a Soviet attack; and with this opinion came a feeling that rather than, or at least together with, consolidating the political gains that had been achieved in the past year and proceeding to the crushing of the Western European Communist parties in conjunction with the restoration of decent economic conditions in the countries concerned, the thing to do was to proceed to the formation of a Western military alliance against the Soviet Union. As will be recalled, the negotiations in this direction, namely the negotiations for the Atlantic Pact, were begun in June 1948 and concluded in December of that year.
I do not mean to say that there was no justification for the conclusion of the Atlantic Pact. Large numbers of people, both in Western Europe and in the United States, were incapable of understanding the Russian technique of penetration and "partial war" or of thinking in terms of this technique. They were capable of thinking about international developments only in the old-fashioned terms of full-fledged war or full-fledged peace. It was inconceivable to them that there could be real and serious threats to the independence of their countries that did not come
to them in the form of foreign armies marching across frontiers; and it was natural that in undertaking to combat what they conceived to be a foreign threat they should have turned to the old-fashioned and familiar expedient of military alliance. They had understood that there was a threat; but they had not understood the nature of that threat, and were hardly capable of doing so.
Nor was it possible for anyone to argue that this outlook was wholly wrong. In the first place, the use of violence had never been ruled out of the Soviet bag of tricks; violence occupied, in fact, a prominent place in that collection. One could not even say that international violence—that is, war—had been fully ruled out. The Soviet outlook still allowed for the use of violence on the international scale in certain circumstances. Its lack of plans for instigating major warfare at that particular time rested primarily on the peculiarities of a given situation which rendered such an idea unpromising and inexpedient. Were the Western world to fall into a state of military weakness that constituted a direct invitation to cheap and easy aggression, it was quite possible that Soviet thinking might change. Or again, were the political war to progress favorably enough from the Soviet standpoint, it was always possible that a decision might be taken to use the Red Army in the wake of successful political operations, for purposes of giving the decisive push or conducting the mopping-up operations at minor cost. Any drastic alteration in the terms and course of the cold war, either to Soviet advantage or disadvantage, might in fact have operated to alter the Soviet attitude on war.
Furthermore, it was clear that any marked disparity between the armed strength of the Communist and non-Communist world, to the disadvantage of the latter, would be mercilessly if subtly exploited by the Kremlin for purposes of intimidating Western European peoples and inflicting them with uncertainty and lack of confidence in resisting Communist political pressures. In fact, the mere existence of such a disparity would have this effect even in the absence of any deliberate, overt Soviet effort to exploit it. There was thus a clear, legitimate and undeniable need for strong military strength in the West. And this, in terms of modern armament, meant arrangements for pooling in many ways the military resources and territorial facilities necessary for the conduct of modern war on the grand scale by the Western powers as a group.
It was impossible, therefore, for anyone to argue that war had no place at all in Soviet thinking, or that there was no need of a strong military posture on the other side. Yet in the manner in which the Atlantic Pact concept was put forward and received in Western society, there was unquestionably a certain misplacement of emphasis and lack of balance. The crucial fact was simply than despite the good and sound reasons for Western rearmament and alliance, in the given situation an attack on Western Europe was not likely. Such an attack did not constitute the device by which at that time the Soviets hoped or expected to expand their power in Western Europe. In the threat that unquestionably hovered over the peoples of Western Europe, and of which they had now become extensively conscious, the accent simply did not lie on the prospect of open aggression by the Red Army: it lay on the continuation of sharp political pressure by a variety of much more subtle and insidious devices. And these devices were of such a nature that they would not be fully or decisively answered by a decision of the Western powers to unite together for purposes of military defense. The only important immediate effect which such a decision would have upon them lay in the degree to which it might deprive the Kremlin of the weapon of military intimidation. This weapon constituted an important part of the Kremlin's strength in the "partial war," but it was by no means the only part or even the main one. Yet these things were never adequately explained to the world public in the original advancement of the Atlantic Pact project.
For all these reasons, I believe that the men in the Kremlin were somewhat amazed and puzzled by the manner in which the Western powers proceeded, in the year 1948, to the conclusion of a military alliance—a manner bound to interfere to some extent with the economic aid program which was only then being undertaken by the United States and which, in its initial stages, had been attended by such striking political success. It seemed implausible to the Soviet leaders, knowing as they did the nature of their own approach to the military problem, and assuming that the Western powers must have known it too, that defensive considerations alone could have impelled the Western governments to give the relative emphasis they actually gave to a program irrelevant in many respects to the outcome of the political struggle in Western Europe (on which Moscow Was staking everything) and only partially justified, as Moscow saw it, as a response to actual Soviet intentions.
This reaction on the Soviet side was probably fortified by the publicity which attended the negotiation of the pact in the Western countries and the arguments used to support it before the Western Parliaments. To justify a treaty of alliance as a response to the Soviet threat, it was inexorably necessary to oversimplify and to some extent distort the nature of this threat. To the Soviet mind this was a suspicious circumstance. The Kremlin leaders were attempting in every possible way to weaken and destroy the structure of the non-Communist world. In the course of this endeavor they were up to many things which gave plenty of cause for complaint on the part of Western statesmen. They would not have been surprised if these things had been made the touch stone of Western reaction. But why, they might ask, were they being accused precisely of the one thing they had not done, which was to plan, as yet, to conduct an overt and unprovoked invasion of Western Europe? Why was the imputation to them of this intention put forward as the rationale for Western rearmament? Did this not imply some ulterior purpose on the part of those mysterious and sinister forces which, by Communist conviction, were at all times to be found sitting like a spider in the center of the web of capitalist power, and animating by their will all the impulses that might travel throughout its far-flung structure?
As the military program worked out under the Atlantic Pact began to take form, this sort of cosmic misunderstanding between the Kremlin and the Western powers was deepened by the general overrating of the strength of the Soviet armed forces which attended the beginning of remilitarization of the West. In part, the Soviet leaders were here the victims of their own passion for secrecy and bluff; for they had really succeeded, by one means or another, in presenting to foreign intelligence agencies a general picture of their capabilities that was to some extent, certainly, an exaggeration of reality. But there were also natural tendencies in the Western countries that contributed to the creation of a somewhat inflated image of Soviet strength. The obligation of military planners to assume at all times the most pessimistic and unfavorable of hypotheses as the only prudent basis for planning, and the tendency to justify appeals for appropriations by references to the military equation rather than by general politico-military considerations, both contributed to the creation of such an image. And to the distortion of the actual numerical and ordnance strength of the Soviet forces there was gradually added a similar distortion of their state of readiness. The unforeseen launching of hostilities by the North Koreans, in 1950, with the ensuing tendency of uninformed people to blame the intelligence services for their failure to foresee it, had precisely this effect; for it compelled Western intelligence services thereafter to take the position, for their own protection, that wherever they could not prove the contrary (and this meant practically everywhere) Soviet and Soviet controlled forces had to be considered as permanency in a state of complete readiness for any conceivable type of operation, without need for any further preparations and without assurance of any warning whatsoever on the Western side. But this image, so out of accord precisely with Russian traditions and realities, was also unquestionably a distortion and an exaggeration.
In general, therefore, it can be said that in the implementation of the collective Western effort toward rearmament, involving as it did the understanding and consent of a multitude of people—officials, parliamentarians, journalists, leaders of public opinion—it proved impossible to retain the measure and subtlety of approach requisite to creating and holding before world opinion at all times an accurate image of the nature of the Soviet threat, and that in place of such an image there emerged in Western councils and in Western public opinion a somewhat oversimplified and inaccurate one, in which the real delimitation both of Soviet intentions and of Soviet strength became confused and distorted.
The result of all this was that the Soviet leaders, themselves in so many respects irrational in their approach to their external environment, found themselves confronted with a line of policy on the part of the Western powers for which they could discover no adequate rationale. Had they been people capable of examining attentively and dispassionately the nature of Western society, they would no doubt have understood the logic by virtue of which the surprised and indignant reaction of the Western public to their conduct of the "partial war" could not come otherwise than in the traditional form of a military alliance, designed to protect against overt aggression. They would also have understood why a collective Western effort at rearmament could not fail to be attended by considerable distortion of the intentions and strength of the main potential adversary.
But the Soviet leaders were not this sort of people, and not capable of such an analysis of their world environment. The belief that the capitalist world was a conspiracy, headed by a few powerful and clever schemers buried somewhere in the recesses of "Wall Street," was deeply ingrained in Soviet psychology. It occupied too prominent a part in the structure of their philosophy, and in the pattern of human behavior as they themselves knew it and practiced it, for them to dispense with it Believing the Western world a conspiracy; finding themselves unable to discover a fully rational justification for the Atlantic Pact (in the form in which it was presented) as a move of their capitalist adversaries in the political war; noting that it was in fact in certain respects disruptive—rather than promotive—of firm political morale in the Western countries; observing, finally, that the pact was supported publicly by a portrayal of their own intentions and strength that they did not recognize as fully accurate—it was no wonder that the Soviet leaders found it easy to conclude that the Atlantic Pact project concealed intentions not revealed to the public, and that these intentions must add up to a determination on the part of the Western powers to bring to a head a military conflict with the Soviet Union as soon as the requisite strength had been created on the Western side.
It must be noted that such a conclusion was supported, to the suspicious Soviet mind, by such things as the sensational treatment of atomic capabilities in the American press, the publication of maps showing the accessibility of Soviet cities to the American strategic bombing weapon, public discussion as to whether the bomb should or should not be used as a means of political intimidation ("Come across, or we'll drop the bomb"), the somewhat fevered public attention in the United States to problems of civil defense, radar networks, etc. It was also supported, with a curious semblance of prophetic accuracy, by the ideological tenets of Marxism-Leninism, according to which the capitalists, once pressed into a corner by the advance of the revolution, would turn and attempt to destroy socialism in a last desperate convulsion of armed force. In 1918 Lenin had referred to the "monstrous and savage frenzy in the face of death" on the part of "that wild beast, capitalism." And in 1933, Stalin had said: "We must bear in mind that the growth of the power of the Soviet state will intensify the resistance of the last remnants of the dying classes. It is precisely because they are dying . . . that they will go on from one form of attack to other, sharper forms of attack."
This sort of what might be called "misunderstanding between adversaries" was considerably heightened by the outbreak of the Korean war, for there is no evidence that in regard to this matter, either side understood very well the motives underlying the behavior of the other side.
The launching of the Korean venture was for Moscow primarily what might be called a "countervailing" move, the timing of which was probably occasioned mostly by the growing evidence of the intention of the United States to make a separate peace treaty with Japan and to retain armed forces in the Japanese Islands in the post-treaty period. There is no evidence that it was part of any global pattern of projected Soviet military moves, nor the product of any "new aggressiveness" on the part of the Soviet Union. It represented merely the unleashing of a military-political action (conceived as a move in the 'partial war") which the Kremlin had obviously been preparing, with vigor and with little attempt at concealment, over the course of several years and which, if it were to serve the purpose for which it was designed, would obviously have to be launched at the moment of maximum military superiority of North Korean over South Korean forces and before a restored and rearmed Japan could be reinserted into the Korean picture. Furthermore, in point of form, the action in Korea was viewed by Moscow as a civil war in a third country, and thus something which could not be held to involve formally the responsibility of the Soviet government or its armed forces. Up to that time, at least, Moscow had considered the successful instigation of civil war in a third country as a perfectly fair and acceptable political expedient, which anyone was entitled to get away with if he had the skill and enterprise to do so. Moscow did not consider (and was quite sincere in its protests before the United Nations to this effect) that civil war constituted a proper subject for the invocation of international law or of United Nations action. In particular, it did not consider that it was any of the United Nations' business what political forces had inspired a given civil war.
In the United States, on the other hand, opinion rapidly coalesced to the effect that the North Korean attack was only the opening gambit in an elaborate program of Soviet armed aggression against the free world. The attack was subsequently freely cited in American official utterances as an example of new Soviet "aggressiveness." This came as a certain surprise to the Soviet mind, for the venture was thought of in Moscow only as an attempt to capitalize on a political advantage which the Communists had worked hard to establish and had considered quite within the rules of the game.
Let me stress that it was not the action of the United States in putting forces ashore in Korea that led to the type of misunderstanding I am referring to here. The fact of our entry came as a tactical surprise to the Kremlin, for the Soviet leaders had not thought it likely; but the rationale for it, under their concepts, was plain and unexceptional. It was rather our decision to treat a civil war as an act of international aggression and to invoke the authority of the United Nations on that basis, that seemed to the Soviets strange and disingenuous, and probably a mask for other intentions.
A similar reaction may well have been produced on the Soviet leaders by the failure of the Western powers, and particularly the United States, to seek what Moscow would have regarded as a realistic compromise over the disposal of Germany and Japan, and by the decision to proceed, instead, to the rearmament of Japan and Western Germany. The Soviet leaders would almost certainly have been prepared to acquiesce formally in a demilitarized and unoccupied Japan, and would probably not have attacked it by overt military action, so long as it succeeded in keeping its own Communist Party under control, and barring any drastic change in the world situation. Whether they could have been brought actually to accept a withdrawal of forces from Germany on the basis of a continued demilitarization of that country and genuine freedom for German political life is difficult to say—the probabilities were against it. But by the same token, they were probably puzzled by our failure to press for precisely this sort of a solution. Had the circumstances been reversed, and had their cause, instead of ours, had the unquestioned political support of by far the larger portion of Germany, they would surely have been howling boldly and incessantly for the withdrawal of troops, the removal of the division of Germany, and the immediate creation of a free German political life. That we, with what must have seemed to them our immense political advantage in Germany, failed to pursue this course and preferred to proceed instead to the rearmament and "integration" of Western Germany, must again have seemed to the Russian mind a policy going beyond what could be explained by mere timidity and caution, and presumably motivated by other and more sinister considerations.
We must not be misled by these reflections to the conclusion that all expressed Soviet suspicions of the United States are sincere, or that they all stem from such things as the conclusion of the Atlantic Pact, Korea, or Western policy toward Germany. One of the most confusing aspects of Soviet attitudes is that they are so often a mixture of the sincere and the disingenuous, the honest and the dishonest, the real and the feigned. An attitude of suspicion and cynicism about the motives of capitalist powers has been congenital to Soviet communism ever since its inception, and it is important to note that the fluctuations in the degree to which the Soviet Union has actually been threatened from the outside in the course of its history have never been matched by any corresponding fluctuations in the image of the foreign danger the regime has attempted to give to its own people. The attempt to portray the outside world as menacing, whether or nor it actually was so at any given moment, has been part of the stock in trade of Soviet rule. But underneath that unvarying and cynical policy the Soviet leaders have naturally made their own calculations at every juncture as to the real degree of external danger, and the results of these calculations have varied widely at different times and in different situations. The evidence adduced above concerning Soviet reactions merely seems co me to indicate only that if one were able to strip away all the overgrowth of propagandistic distortion and maligning of foreign intentions which is the normal encumbrance of Soviet utterances and attitudes, one should find that there remained in recent years a certain hard core of genuine belief in the sinisterness of Western intentions and chat this belief was in considerable part, though not entirely, the result of a misinterpretation on their part of Western policies in the years from 1948 to the present.
Accepting, then, the thesis that there is some degree of sincerity in the Soviet allegations of the aggressiveness of Western intentions, what have been the effects of this on Soviet policy and behavior? To what extent has it caused actual anxiety in the Kremlin? What displacement, if any, has it made in the threshold of Soviet tolerance to foreign threats or Western expansion?
These questions are extremely difficult to answer. The evidence bearing on them is so inconclusive, and in some instances so contradictory, that one wonders whether these questions have not been the subject of considerable differences and vacillations within the Soviet hierarchy itself. In attempting to form some idea as to the answers it is perhaps best first to isolate and note certain identifiable or calculable elements of the Soviet reaction. The following might be included in this category:
1. Unquestionably, as Western rearmament proceeded and as the emphasis on the military aspect of the problem was observed and absorbed in Moscow, there must have been a corresponding tendency in Soviet circles to put increasing emphasis on the military aspects of the East-West conflict at the expense of political ones. The development of Western policy must have led to a constantly higher rating in Moscow of the likelihood of an eventual third world war. This, in turn, must have affected to a considerable extent Soviet thinking and procedure.
The Soviet apparatus of power, while free of pressures of a parliamentary system and a free press, is nevertheless not wholly immune to the operation of that law of political affairs by which military preparations attain a momentum of their own and make more likely the very thing that they are supposed—by the invariable claim of all governments—to deter and prevent. For every government, the calculations of probabilities with respect to military conflict set up something in the nature of magnetic fields, which in turn affect behavior. To believe in the likelihood of war, whether rightly or wrongly, means in some degree to behave in a manner that will actually enhance that likelihood, insofar as it implies the neglect of alternative courses and some degree of commitment to the requirements of the course you would take if you knew definitely that war would come. Therefore, what was said about Soviet attitudes in 1945 and 1946 would no longer be fully applicable to Soviet attitudes in 1950 and 1951. By this time the Kremlin must have been seriously shaken in its original feeling that major warfare did not have to be reckoned with as something that might well occur in the near future. It must have been forced to gear its policy and plans more and more to the prospect that war might occur. Soviet policy, in other words, must also have been to some extent drawn into the magnetic field of belief in a relatively greater probability of war. And since what you do to be prepared for a war is very often the enemy of what you would do if you wished to avoid it, Soviet ability to pursue policies designed to avoid a future war must have suffered accordingly.
The great unanswered question is as to the degree to which Soviet policy may have been thus affected—the degree, in other words, to which the Soviet leaders themselves have come to regard a major military conflict as likely or inevitable within the next three or four years, and have committed their policy to this prospect. This is of greatest importance, for obviously belief in the inevitability of an early outbreak of war could even bring the Kremlin to decide to take advantage of the element of surprise and to bring on the conflict at its own time and in its own way.
There is, however, no evidence that Moscow has come to this point. My guess would be that Soviet minds are still relatively flexible and undecided on this subject. Soviet policy-makers have no doubt been materially aided in their task of analysis, as compared with ourselves by the fact that their system of policy formulation does not require them to sit down and write papers on this subject. I believe they are much more conscious than we are of the interplay of action and reaction in international affairs, of the way in which events mesh into each other and reflect each other, of the number of variables that can enter into the determination of a situation some years removed; and that they would be less inclined, for this reason, to feel themselves under the obligation to arrive at any firm or final judgment at the present time about the likelihood of war in a more distant future. Within this limitation, my estimate would be that they would think it quite possible and perhaps likely that they would become involved in war with us, more probably through our initiative than through theirs, at some point in the next few years, though probably not he immediate future; but that this would not affect their policy to the same degree as we might think, for the reason that they would be much more keenly aware of the importance of what might happen in the meantime and of the possibility that our actual ability to conduct a war against them might be appreciably modified during this intervening period by a course of events in the political war favorable to Soviet interests.
2. The Soviet leaders have of course been quick to sense the extent to which the overemphasis on the purely military danger in Western policy could be exploited to the detriment of confidence in the United States and unity in the Western camp. If one of the main facets of Soviet policy for the past three years has been the exploitation of the "peace" theme and the building up of a worldwide "peace" moved as a cloak for its own political warfare policies, this is because the issue, as they saw it, was presented to them ready-made by the Western powers. The fact that they were able to pursue their own military preparations with a complete absence of publicity and without the necessity of overcoming parliamentary pressure has placed them in an advantageous position to pose as the protagonists of peace vis-a-vis a Western world which could get military appropriations out of its parliamentary bodies only by a constant emphasis on military danger and the likelihood of war. The Soviet peace congresses of 1952 represent the price paid by the Western democracies for their inability to put the need for rearmament and military alliance to their peoples in less primitive and more accurate terms and for their consequent overemphasizing of the prospect of war.
3. Unquestionably, the Kremlin has increased its own levels of military preparedness to the best of its ability, in order to match what was occurring in the West. However it has done this without outward emphasis and without giving the impression it was departing materially from its peacetime developmental programs. It has contrived to give its people, and a portion of the world public, the impression that while others are arming to the teeth and talking of war, the Soviet Union is confidently going along the path of peaceful construction, building canals and hydroelectric projects, planting trees and irrigating land, increasing the fruitfulness of the earth and the possibilities of human productivity for peaceful purposes.
4. The Soviet leaders have maintained relatively strong forces at all possible points of military conflict with the Western powers and have shown themselves extremely sensitive and ruthlessly vigilant about the inviolability of their own frontiers. In this they have doubtless been animated by a desire to demonstrate that they are not intimidated by Western rearmament and not prepared to stand any trifling with their territory or their armed forces. They are extremely conscious of the dynamics of evidences of strength or weakness, and particularly of the possibilities for blackmail that come into existence when anyone yields openly, or appears to yield, to superior strength without causing the adversary to expend that strength in the process. They will yield in many instances when confronted with superior force, but not unless by doing so they can reduce the pressure brought to bear against them and insure themselves against being asked to make further and repeated concessions in response to the same means of pressure. They will not, in other words, yield to pressure if they feel it starts them on a path to which they can see no ending. For these reasons, they will not tolerate trifling with any such thing as their territorial integrity and will continue to be vigilant about the protection of their frontiers. This vigilance will not be apt to show any variation in accordance with alterations in the military equation.
5. In accordance with this reasoning, and in the growing consciousness of strong military force being arrayed against them, they have shown themselves particularly sensitive to their maritime border, which they are unable to protect by the usual device of a belt of puppet states. Their desire to have the Black and Baltic seas recognized as in effect Soviet internal waterways stems from the same cast of mind which seeks buffer states all around its land borders. The fact that they have not been able to achieve this goal makes them extremely nervous. It seems, in fact, to them, as a land-minded nation not accustomed to the problems of the sea, preposterous that foreign planes and naval vessels should be able to approach to within a few miles of their coastal installations with impunity. For these reasons they have shown and will continue to show an extreme, and almost pathological, decree of sensitivity about their maritime frontiers.
6. despite these sharp edges and peculiar points of sensitivity, the Soviet leaders have thus far exhibited both in the Berlin blockade and in the Korean War, marked restraint and a clear disinclination to become involved at this juncture in a major military conflict with the Western powers.
7. In the real sense, the Soviet leaders have broken diplomatic relations with the Western world. The fact that they permit Western diplomatic missions to remain in Moscow, and maintain such missions themselves in Western capitals, does not alter this fact. The Western missions in Moscow have been isolated as completely and effectively as though they were on enemy territory in wartime. They are simply not considered or used by the Soviet government as vehicles for any real exchange of views with the Western governments. This situation is not altered by the fact that communications of a demonstrative character, designed not to make any real impact on the thinking of the other party but only to embarrass him in the eyes of the world public, are exchanged through the technical facilities of these missions. The fact remains that during these past years diplomatic relations in the normal and traditional sense, which existed between the Soviet Union and the Western powers on a partial scale and in an imperfect form in the Twenties and Thirties as well as during World War II, ceased entirely to exist.
This has an important effect on the reaction both in the Soviet Union and in the Western countries to military events and impulses, insofar as it means that there is no longer the usual diplomatic cushion between impact and reaction. There is no opportunity, for example, for Western representatives in Moscow to explain in a normal way the meaning of individual Western military moves, or even to know when serious misunderstandings concerning such moves are arising in the Soviet mind. If these last should provoke counter-moves actually dangerous to peace, there is little the diplomat can do to prevent deterioration of the situation Furthermore, since the exertion of normal diplomatic influence is excluded, the Western powers can easily be placed in a position where they cannot bring pressure to bear on the Soviet government by any means other than the demonstration of a readiness to go to war over a given issue.
This situation gives added and unique delicacy to all questions of military preparation in times of peace, particularly those involving use of the territory of third countries, for in the absence of any diplomatic language such moves, and the reactions to them, become in themselves a form of communication between the two camps, and one replete with opportunities for misunderstanding.
8. The Soviet propaganda apparatus has continued to encourage influential and responsible party circles in the Soviet and satellite area to believe that Western rearmament has not only not relieved the Western democracies of their fatal burden of weaknesses, divisions and diseases but has actually exacerbated these conditions and increased the momentum of what is referred to in Moscow as "the general crisis of capitalism " In these circumstances, we are probably safe in assuming that to a large degree this represents the belief of the highest Soviet authorities themselves.
If we were to base our analysis on these points, then the following might serve as a rough approximation of Soviet reaction to recent Western policies, and above all to NATO activities (for the sake of vividness, I have put it in the sort of terms the Soviet leaders might themselves be expected to use):
"The Western leaders have decided to rearm and eventually to finish us, if they can, in a military encounter. This reflects their consciousness of their inferiority in the political war. It confirms the Marxist analysis of the illness of capitalism and the increasing sterility of its political capacities. It also confirms the Leninist analysis that the capitalists, when confronted with the hopelessness of their position and the inexorable nature of their own decline, would turn like a savage beast and attempt to strike a last desperate blow at the successful forces of socialism.
"We have always detested the capitalists and applied ourselves to the destruction of their power. For many years they were reluctant fully to recognize this, and it then proved expedient for us to profit by their semi-blindness, to put them off guard, and to tap their economic resources by a policy of diplomatic dealings with them. But today they, too, have become conscious of what divides us, and they have finally learned to see us as their enemies. We will continue, then, to place no real value on this sorry farce of participation in a traditional system of international relations; and we will treat the capitalist countries on the diplomatic level as though we were at war with them.
"As for the military danger, we must be wary and cautious; for the moment, there is no need for outward nervousness or abrupt actions. The Americans are not yet ready; their rearmament is still only in a beginning stage; they will not be apt to attack us deliberately at this juncture, provided we continue to show due vigilance and determination and do not offer them invitations to easy successes.
"Of course, they would like to be able at some point to attack and destroy us, but the question is: will they be able to? Will the time ever come when they will find it profitable and expedient to strike? War is obviously an extremely serious matter, nothing to be lightly considered. It could bring to us great dangers or great opportunities, depending on the context of circumstances in which it might occur, the mistakes our adversaries might or might not make, the nature of military operations, etc. But the prospect of it, while serious, is no occasion for any outward signs of nervousness. We arc developing our own power fairly steadily, both in the industrial and military sense. The Americans are relying primarily on the atomic bomb and the possibilities for strategic bombardment; but we are developing our own atomic capability, and they will soon learn that the weapons of mass destruction cancel each other out when both sides have them in great force. Meanwhile, their own contradictions will continue to catch up with, and eventually lame, their will and their movements. Thus while their weapon, namely strategic air power, comes under the law of diminishing returns as our retaliatory power is developed, our weapon, namely political warfare, will grow in strength and effectiveness.
"The greatest danger, of course, is that war may develop prematurely and accidentally over some issue involving Korea or Germany. We will try not m encourage such a development, but we will not modify our policies in any important way to obviate it. If it must be, then let it be. It will be serious and full of dangers, but no more so than was the Hitlerite invasion. The Americans lack Hitler's land capabilities. Like him, they will make mistakes, and we shall profit from them. They can bomb us, perhaps, but the losses to themselves will be heavy, and the effect on our military capacity probably not fatal. If they concentrate their air attack on our cities rather than our points of maximum economic vulnerability, which they may do for their own peculiar reasons, then the injuries they inflict on our civilian population may actually improve, rather than worsen, civilian morale in our country. Meanwhile, our land forces will not be idle, nor the foreign Communist parties. We may have to take some bombing, but they may be forced to leave large parts of Europe.
"No major war at all would be preferable, from our standpoint, to a war of this sort; for if there is no such war we will perhaps eventually gain Europe anyway without suffering the damage to ourselves that a major war would involve. But if it must come, we can accept it. Meanwhile, the danger of it is not so great that we need give our population the impression we are embarked on a program of preparation or mobilization for war. By giving the opposite impression we will continue to pose as the champions of peace and to derive the political profit that flows therefrom in a world yearning for nothing more than for security and the absence of violence."
Actually, this resume probably gives a somewhat too confident and decided image of the Soviet outlook. About certain elements of this, above all the likelihood of an early Western attack, the dangerousness of such an attack, and the advantages or disadvantages of attempting to promote Soviet interests by the resumption of something resembling genuine diplomatic dealings with the Western powers, there is probably considerable vacillation, doubt and conflict within the Soviet hierarchy, not only as between individuals or groups but also within individual minds. On these points, doubts, fears, hopes and spirits rise and fall with the barometer of international happenings; and this barometer is fairly sensitive to the utterances and conduct of the Western community itself. The image given above merely represents that which has seemed to emerge from Soviet behavior and utterances in recent months. But that is not to say that this cast of mind is not actually under considerable strain at a number of points, especially the point of interpretation of the trend of events in the Western world, and that it could not be materially altered by the course of events and by the decisions and actions of the Western powers.
Holding in mind the above, we face the final question as to the overall principles by which the NATO community might best be guided in the conduct of its affairs with a view to avoiding the all-out conflict with Soviet power on the military plane and winning it on the political one (which words I suppose, could stand as a rough summary of Western policy). The following points seem to me to flow from the considerations put forth above by way of answer to this question:
1. The NATO powers, while clinging to their insistence on rapid and vigorous rearmament, should make a deliberate and systematic effort to avoid every sort of overemphasis of the military danger, saber-rattling of all sorts, statements that appear to constitute threats of military action against the Soviet Union, words or acts that may be taken to indicate a belief in the inevitability or even the likelihood of war. A major effort should be undertaken to make the peoples of the Western countries understand why rearmament and alliance are an important and unavoidable part of the Western response to the type of political warfare conducted by the Soviet Union. This means that we must not seem to assume in our statements, as we often do, that the Soviet Union is probably planning to attack the West, although we must never wholly exclude this possibility; and we must make people understand why rearmament is nevertheless required. At the same time we must be careful to emphasize that it is only part of the answer, and can actually be disruptive of the total pattern of Western resistance if it is not balanced by many other factors, such as economic health and political confidence and the belief in, and hope for, a peaceful future. To the extent that this can be done—to the extent, that is, that rearmament and alliance can be portrayed simply as safeguards of something peaceful and constructive, for which we still confidently hope, rather than just as preparations for a war to which we have resigned ourselves hopelessly—the "peace" card will be struck from the Soviet hand and Soviet success in the political war will be reduced.
2. A given pattern of military preparations always appears to the public as the reflection of a given pattern of calculations and intentions. It is important that the building of the NATO structure appear to reflect not the feverish preparations of people who regard war as inevitable and are working against a limit of time, but the calm and judicious measures of people simply building a fence, not in the belief that someone else is likely to try to knock it down, but rather in the normal and prudent desire to have clarity on all sides and to prevent any and all misunderstandings. Such a view must inevitably have certain disadvantages from the standpoint of the achievement at the earliest possible moment of the ideal military posture. But it must be accepted and remembered that there is an incurable conflict in certain respects between the goal of the ideal military posture and the goal of winning the political war—a war which is still in progress and which we have no choice but to continue to fight. The requirements of either of these approaches, the military or the political, would—if carried to extremes—be quite destructive of the requirements of the other. But neither could be successful if the other were fully destroyed. If problems were to be faced only from the political standpoint, the degree of actual military preparation that would ensue would be quite inadequate for purposes of a war, if one were actually to occur. On the other hand, if the professional military planner were to be given all that he desired from the standpoint of the preparation of an adequate military posture against Soviet power, the results would probably be quite disruptive of the political resistance of the Western peoples.
What we are faced with, therefore, is the need for a reasonable and sensible compromise between these two requirements; and it seems to me we would find it at approximately that point where Western rearmament would appear to the uninitiated public as the reflection of firm and reasonable precaution against misunderstandings or accident or ill will, but not as the reflection of a hopeless commitment to the dynamics of an arms race What we must avoid is to appear fascinated and enmeshed by the relentless and deceptive logic of the military equation. What people need to be shown is that we are the masters, not the slaves of the process of military and political tension.
3. NATO community should bear in mind that the Soviet leaders are extremely curious people in whose minds there are areas of what we might call rationality but other areas that are quite irrational. They have shown restraint on several occasions and have exhibited no recent signs of an actual desire for an armed conflict. But they are secretive and often erratic in their reactions, and it is not easy to tell when you are going to touch one of the neuralgic and irrational points. They are plainly sensitive about the frontiers of their power, and particularly such frontiers as can be approached by sea. They are also quite naturally sensitive about being surrounded by a ring of air bases plainly grouped with a view to penetration of their own territory.
Obviously, there is no clear line between the offensive and the defensive in military considerations. Many of our defensive measures must appear offensively motivated to the Russians. Equally obviously, we cannot let that be a reason for paralyzing our entire effort at an adequate Western defense posture. But here again le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. Surely as one moves one's bases and military facilities toward the Soviet frontiers there comes a point where they tend to create the very thing they were designed to avoid. It is not for us to—assume that there are no limits to Soviet patience in the face of encirclement by American bases. Quite aside from political considerations, no great country, peaceful or aggressive, rational or irrational, could sit by and witness with indifference the progressive studding of its own frontiers with the military installations of a great-power competitor. Here again, a compromise must be struck, and one which will inevitably fall somewhat short of the military ideal. This compromise must be struck with a view to the peculiarities of Russian mentality and tradition. We must remember that almost the only language in which we can now communicate with the Soviet leaders is the language of overt military and political moves. If we still hope to have the ultimate decision confined to the political field and to win on that field, let us be sure the words we speak in this peculiar language do not operate to reduce the Soviet leaders to a state of mind in which for them, as for people everywhere who accept the belief in the inevitability of war, the only question is not "whether" but "when."
In conclusion, I would beg leave to say the following: The present situation has in it several of those tremendous dilemmas which in the past have been the makings of great wars, and there is as yet no visible prospect of a solution of these dilemmas by nonmilitary means. It is easy, in these circumstances, to argue for the inevitability of war and to sell one's soul to it. Unquestionably, the events of the past four or five years have brought war much further into the realm of possibility and have heightened the danger of its imminent outbreak, not so much as a result of any deliberate desire of either side that it should break out, but rather as a result of the inability of people in given possible contingencies to find any acceptable alternative solution. Yet an intensive scrutiny of the Moscow scene yields no reason to believe that war is yet inevitable, and provides no justification for those who would sell their souls to this assumption. We have, as an anchor of reassurance, the overwhelmingly important fact that there is no evidence that the Soviet leaders, obsessed as they are with hatred of the West and deaf as they are to the voice of reason, regard the turmoil and suffering of another world war as the preferred milieu in which to seek the satisfaction of their aspirations; and the contemporary development of weapons is hardly such as to impel them in that direction. For the moment, they seem content to continue to maintain the contest on their curious level of "partial war"; and I, for one, am reluctant to believe that they cannot be successfully coped with by us on this terrain. Whether, in the event the "partial war" should go badly for them, they would retain their preference for contest on the political level, or how long they would retain it, I cannot say. But I think we can say of them, as they now say of us, that if they were to be forced by political reverses to a point of great desperation, their military power would by that time have been appreciably deflated in its real capabilities, and their effort, in turn, would then be the sharp but unpromising struggle of the cornered animal.
For these reasons, I would plead for the continuation of a policy based on the requirements of the possibility that there may be no war as well as on the requirements of the possibility that there may be one. And if the skeptical voice of precedent and experience would seem to argue against this relative optimism, I would again submit that the peculiarities of our age are such that we have no greater right to accept the extreme pessimistic implications of past experience than to accept the extreme optimistic ones. Human history has recorded a great number of international situations, but none that would stand as a fully reliable precedent for the conflict between the Communist and non-Communist worlds in the year 1952.
GEORGE F. KENNAN