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Soviets Planned Nuclear First Strike to
Preempt West, Documents Show

Warsaw Pact Allies Resented Soviet Dominance and "Nuclear Romanticism"

Bloc Saw Military Balance in West's Favor from 1970s On, Especially in Technology

New Volume of Formerly Secret Records Published on 50th Anniversary of Warsaw Pact

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 154

For more information contact
Vojtech Mastny 202/415-6707
Malcolm Byrne - 202/994-7043

May 13, 2005

Read "The Warsaw Pact, gone with a whimper"
by Malcolm Byrne and Vojtech Mastny
The International Herald Tribune
May 14, 2005

"The Warsaw Pact, gone with a whimper"
by Malcolm Byrne and Vojtech Mastny, International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2005
Advance praise for new volume:
A "remarkable book … not just a story for experts or historians - it is a chronology of significance and an era we must never forget."
The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, NATO Secretary General '99-'03
"A remarkable achievement … [T]his pioneer effort will be an indispensable resource for Cold War scholars."
Lawrence S. Kaplan, Georgetown U., author of NATO Divided, NATO United
"[T]his invaluable volume illuminates not only the 'inside history' of the Warsaw Pact, but, as reflected in that story, the history of Soviet-East European relations."
William Taubman, Amherst College, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era
"[Mastny] and Byrne are to be congratulated for producing this monumental volume, with a trove of translated documents that is a major boon to both scholars and teachers."
William E. Odom (Lt. Gen., Ret.), former Director, U.S. National Security Agency, author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military





Washington D.C. May 13, 2005 - The Soviet-led Warsaw Pact had a long-standing strategy to attack Western Europe that included being the first to use nuclear weapons, according to a new book of previously Secret Warsaw Pact documents published tomorrow. Although the aim was apparently to preempt NATO "aggression," the Soviets clearly expected that nuclear war was likely and planned specifically to fight and win such a conflict.

The documents show that Moscow's allies went along with these plans but the alliance was weakened by resentment over Soviet domination and the belief that nuclear planning was sometimes highly unrealistic. Just the opposite of Western views at the time, Pact members saw themselves increasingly at a disadvantage compared to the West in the military balance, especially with NATO's ability to incorporate high-technology weaponry and organize more effectively, beginning in the late 1970s.

These and other findings appear in a new volume published tomorrow on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Warsaw Pact. Consisting of 193 documents originating from all eight original member-states, the volume, A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991, provides significant new evidence of the intentions and capabilities of one of the most feared military machines in history.

Highlights of the 726-page volume include highly confidential internal reports, military assessments, minutes of Warsaw Pact leadership meetings, and Politburo discussions on topics such as:

  • The shift beginning in the 1960s from defensive operations to plans to launch attacks deep into Western Europe. (Documents Nos. 16, 20a-b, 21)
  • Plans to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, ostensibly to preempt Western first-use. (Documents Nos. 81, 83)
  • Soviet expectations that conventional conflicts would go nuclear, and plans to fight and win such conflicts. (Documents Nos. 81, 83)
  • The deep resentment of alliance members, behind the façade of solidarity, of Soviet dominance and the unequal share of the military burden that was imposed on them. (Documents Nos. 4-6, 33-37, 47, 52)
  • East European views on the futility of plans for nuclear war and the realization that their countries, far more than the Soviet Union, would suffer the most devastating consequences of such a conflict. (Documents Nos. 22b, 38, 50, 52)
  • The "nuclear romanticism," primarily of Soviet planners, concerning the viability of unconventional warfare, including a memorable retort by the Polish leader that "no one should have the idea that in a nuclear war one could enjoy a cup of coffee in Paris in five or six days." (Documents Nos. 31, 115)
  • Ideologically warped notions of Warsaw Pact planners about the West's presumed propensity to initiate hostilities and the prospects for defeating it. (Documents Nos. 50, 73, 79, 81)
  • The impact of Chernobyl as a reality check for Soviet officials on the effects of nuclear weapons. (Document No. 115)
  • The pervasiveness and efficacy of East bloc spying on NATO, mainly by East Germans (Documents Nos. 11, 28, 80, 97, 109, 112)
  • Warsaw Pact shortcomings in resisting hostile military action, including difficulties in firing nuclear weapons. (Documents Nos. 44, 143)
  • Data on the often disputed East-West military balance, seen from the Soviet bloc side as much more favorable to the West than the West itself saw it, with the technological edge increasingly in Western favor since the time of the Carter administration (Documents Nos. 47, 79, 81, 82, 130, 131, 135, 136)

The motives accounting for the Warsaw Pact's offensive military culture included not only the obsessive Soviet memory of having been taken by surprise by the nearly fatal Nazi attack in June 1941 but primarily the ideological militancy of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine that posited irreconcilable hostility of the capitalist adversaries. The influence of the doctrine explains, for example, the distorted interpretation of secret Western planning documents that were unequivocally defensive documents to which Warsaw Pact spies had extensive access. So integral was the offensive strategy to the Soviet system that its replacement by a defensive strategy under Gorbachev proved impossible to implement before the system itself disintegrated.

The Soviet military, as the ideologically most devoted and disciplined part of the Soviet establishment, were given extensive leeway by the political leadership in designing the Warsaw Pact's plans for war and preparing for their implementation. Although the leadership reserved the authority to decide under what circumstances they would be implemented and never actually tried to act on them, the chances of a crisis spiraling out of control may have been greater than imagined at the time. The plans had dynamics of their own and the grip of the aging leadership continued to diminish with the passage of time.

The new collection of documents published today is the first of its kind in examining the Warsaw Pact from the inside, with the benefit of materials once thought to be sealed from public scrutiny in perpetuity. It was prepared by the Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact (PHP), an international scholarly network formed to explore and disseminate documentation on the military and security aspects of contemporary history. The book appears as part of the "National Security Archive Cold War Reader Series" through Central European University Press.

The PHP's founders and partners are the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research organization based at The George Washington University; the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich; the Institute for Strategy and Security Policy at the Austrian Defense Academy in Vienna; the Machiavelli Center for Cold War Studies in Florence; and the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies in Oslo.

In addition to documents, the volume features a major original essay by Vojtech Mastny, a leading historian of the Warsaw Pact, and contextual headnotes for each document by co-editor Malcolm Byrne. A detailed chronology, glossaries and bibliography are also included.

The documents in the collection were obtained by numerous scholars and archivists, many of them associated with PHP and its partners, including the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C.

The vast majority of the documents were translated especially for this volume and have never previously appeared in English.

Attached to this notice are ten representative documents taken from the list above. They appear as they do in the volume, i.e. with explanatory headnotes at the top of each item.

The documents in their original languages can be found in their entirety on the Center for Security Studies website.

On Saturday, May 14, a book launch for A Cardboard Castle? will take place in Warsaw at the Military Office of Historical Research. The address is: 2, ul. Stefana Banacha, Room 218. It will begin at 11:30 a.m. Speakers include:

  • Gen. William E. Odom, former Director, U.S. National Security Agency
  • Gen. Tadeusz Pioro, senior Polish representative to the Warsaw Pact
  • Brig. Gen. Leslaw Dudek, Polish representative to the alliance
  • Prof. dr. hab. Andrzej Paczkowski, Polish Academy of Sciences
  • Dr hab. Krzysztof Komorowski, Military Office of Historical Research
  • Prof. dr hab. Wojciech Materski, Polish Academy of Sciences

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Below are ten representative documents from A Cardboard Castle?. They are numbered as they are in the volume and include explanatory headnotes at the top of each item. Links to the original documents -- in their orginal languages -- appear at the end of each entry.

Document No. 16: Speech by Marshal Malinovskii Describing the Need for Warsaw Pact Offensive Operations, May 1961 - original language

Document No. 21: Organizational Principles of the Czechoslovak Army, November 22, 1962 - original language

Document No. 50: Memorandum of the Academic Staff of the Czechoslovak Military Academies on Czechoslovakia's Defense Doctrine, June 4, 1968 - original language

Document No. 64: Report by Ceaus,escu to the Romanian Politburo on the PCC Meeting in Budapest, March 18, 1969 - original language

Document No. 81: Marshal Ogarkov Analysis of the ?Zapad? Exercise, May 30-June 9, 1977 - original language

Document No. 83: Soviet Statement at the Chiefs of General Staff Meeting in Sofia,
June 12-14, 1978 - original language

Document No. 109: East German Intelligence Assessment of NATO?s Intelligence on the Warsaw Pact, December 16, 1985 - original language

Document No. 115: Minutes of the Political Consultative Committee Party Secretaries? Meeting in Budapest, June 11, 1986 - original language (part 1 - part 2 - part 3)

Document No. 136: Summary of Discussion among Defense Ministers at the Political Consultative Committee Meeting in Warsaw, July 15, 1988 - original language (part 1 - part 2)

Document No. 143: Czechoslovak Description of ?Vltava-89? Exercise, May 23, 1989 - original language

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