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The Theory and Conduct of War


3.1 Strategy



Strategy, narrowly defined, means "the art of the general" (from the Greek strategos). In a strictly military sense, the term first gained currency at the end of the 18th century, when warfare was still relatively simple and limited. In its military aspect, the term had to do with stratagems by which a general sought to deceive an enemy, with plans he made for a campaign, and with the way he moved and disposed his forces in war. Often defined as the art of projecting and directing campaigns, military strategy came to preempt almost the whole field of generalship, short of the battlefield itself. It also came to include the planning of naval warfare. To tactics military jargon reserved the art of executing plans and handling forces in battle.

The term strategy has expanded far beyond its original military meaning. As society and warfare have steadily grown more complex, military factors have become more and more inseparable from the nonmilitary in the conduct of war and in programs designed to secure peace. Nations have found it necessary to adjust and correlate political, economic, technological, and psychological factors, along with military elements, in the management of their national policies. The demarcation between strategy as a purely military phenomenon and national strategy of the broader variety became blurred in the 19th century, particularly in wartime. The distinction became even less clear in the 20th century when nations became more interdependent and the line between war and peace less clearly definable. As a result, the appearance of the term grand strategy (or higher strategy), meaning the art of employing all the resources of a nation or coalition of nations to achieve the objects of war (and peace), steadily became more popular in the literature of warfare and statecraft of the 20th century.

This broadened scope of strategy has tended to blur distinctions customarily drawn by earlier writers between strategy and statesmanship and between garden varieties and higher, or "grand," forms of strategy. Though there is still no agreed definition of the precise meaning of the term strategy, few students of the subject any longer accept the earlier narrow definition. Also, few contest that strategy, whether in its narrow or broad sense, will, by the very nature of its shifting bases, continue to be a changing art. The search for principles.

The starting point of all strategic planning and action is national policy. Once the national aims are set forth by the leaders of the state, the commander sets about drawing up his plans. He must take many matters into account; for example, factors of space and time, the state of his own forces, the enemy's capabilities and intentions, and reactions at home and abroad to his projected moves. The strategist deals in many uncertainties and imponderables. Indeed, the art of the strategist is the art of the "calculated risk."

The growing complexity of modern warfare has led some students to take a fresh look at the principles that have traditionally guided military strategists in war. It has long been a favourite occupation of military theorists to seek to distill from the great mass of military experience simple but all-pervasive truths--lists of principles--to guide commanders. Usually they have derived such principles from a study of campaigns of the great captains of history; occasionally outstanding practitioners have set them down on the basis of personal experience. As far back as 400 BC Sun-tzu, a Chinese general, set forth 13 principles. The axioms range from American Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest's simple admonition about getting there first with the most men to Napoleon's 115 maxims. The stress varies from list to list. For example, the followers and interpreters of the 19th-century theorist Carl von Clausewitz believed that the battle was all and that defeat of the enemy's armed forces was the correct objective and path to victory. Exponents of "the strategy of indirect approach," on the other hand, sought victory by indirect methods.

Though there is no complete agreement on the number of principles, most lists include the following: the objective, the offensive, cooperation (unity of command), mass (concentration), economy of force, maneuver, surprise, security, and simplicity. The British have added one called "administration"; the Soviets, another, translated as "annihilation." Despite debate over their precise number and meaning, the principles of war are widely taught, and most military students accept them as basic concepts.

The individual authors of the lists have almost uniformly claimed the principles to be immutable. They have argued that success in military strategy in the past has been the result of adhering to them and that the advantages of the offensive, the concentration of force, the effort to achieve surprise, the proper movement of forces, and their security from attack, sabotage, or subversion are in the province of modern as well as ancient warfare. Some authorities have even argued that since war is not the concern of soldiers only, the "principles" deserve a wider application throughout government--in grand as well as military strategy.

Other authorities have argued that the claim of immutability cannot be accepted literally, that there is little agreement as to what the principles are and mean, that they overlap, that they are fluid and require constant re-examination, that they are not comparable with scientific laws since no two military situations are ever completely alike, that the so-called principles are not really principles at all but merely methods and commonsense procedures adopted by great commanders of the past, and that changes in the conditions of war alter their relative importance.

The debate over principles was renewed with the coming of the nuclear era. Some theorists argued that the new weapons had destroyed whatever value the principles once had; others contended that the principles were as valid as ever, even more so. To some extent this was a debate over semantics. Defenders pointed out that each age must make its own applications of the "fundamental truths" of strategy. Opponents argued that there can be no set rules for the art; the so-called principles must by no means be interpreted as pat formulas for victory to be followed blindly and rigidly; the only sound guide in war and strategy is flexibility. Relation between strategy and tactics.

In the theory of warfare, strategy and tactics have generally been put into separate categories. The two fields have traditionally been defined in terms of different dimensions: strategy dealing with wide spaces, long periods of time, and large movements of forces, tactics dealing with the opposite. Strategy is usually understood to be the prelude to the battlefield, and tactics the action on the battlefield itself. As a result, much of the literature and theory of strategy has in the past been preoccupied with the proper approach to the battlefield, the leading of troops up to the time of contact with the enemy. This situation explains the attention to strategic maneuver--aimed at putting one's army into the most favourable position to engage the enemy and compelling the enemy to engage at a disadvantage and depriving him of freedom of movement. Indeed, early writers on strategy dealt heavily in the so-called "geometrical strategy"--the angles formed by lines of movement and supply of opposing armies.

Despite distinctions in theory, strategy and tactics cannot always be separated in practice. In fact, the language of strategic maneuver (for example, "envelopment," "penetration," "encirclement") is also largely the language of tactics. Movement begets action, and action results in new movement. The one merges into the other. Strategy gives tactics its mission and wherewithal and seeks to reap the results. But tactics has also become an important conditioning factor of strategy, and as it changes, so does strategy. Battles and fronts are no longer necessarily restricted in space and time, and the distinction between battles and campaigns is no longer so clear-cut, as the tridimensional warfare of World Wars I and II demonstrated. Indeed, in World War II theatre commanders were as much concerned with the actual fighting of armed forces in battle as they were with larger strategic decisions such as relations to allies, economic problems, and political questions on the ground. Although in theory strategy continues to occupy a middle ground between national policy and tactics, in practice the line dividing it from the other two fields has become difficult to draw. Strategic leadership and war planning.

Count Alfred von Schlieffen, the famous German military leader of the period just before World War I, once said: "A man is born, and not made, a strategist." But it is obvious that even a born strategist--if there be such a natural genius--has much to learn. In the past strategic leadership was a relatively simple affair. J.F.C. Fuller, the British student of warfare, pointed out in The Foundations of the Science of War (1926) that until relatively recent times the death, capture, or wounding of either of two opposing generals normally decided a conflict, "for the general was the plan." He could personally devise the plans and direct his troops. By the mid-20th century this was rarely possible. As warfare has become complicated, strategic leadership has become more difficult. The art has taken on many more facets, and systematic training is required to master them. The strategist has retired from the scene of battle, and large, specialized staffs have grown up to help him. Although the responsibility for strategy remains the general's, many of his functions have been delegated to his planning staff. In modern states corporate leadership has become the rule in the management of military strategy, as in the direction of large business enterprises.

The example of an Alexander the Great completing his advance planning and leaping into battle at the head of his troops would in modern warfare be considered most unusual. Napoleon was wont to make his plans and then retire with his retinue of trusted advisers to survey the battlefield on horseback from the top of a hill. Generals in World War I were often pictured in their offices in large headquarters--usually in a château behind the lines, studying a map on the desk and dispatching orders via the telephone and motorcar at hand. In World War II the headquarters staffs of commanders in the theatres of war grew even larger and more elaborate. Tridimensional warfare--land, sea, and air--had enlarged the field of operations far beyond individual battlefields, and usually a high commander reached his decisions in a headquarters far removed from the field of battle and months before the battle itself took place. Far from striking the classic pose of the officer on a well-schooled charger, some of the greatest generals issued their orders from desks and fought their most important battles at conference tables. As strategic planning became a highly organized affair, planning committees and conferences in the capital cities of the warring powers made the blueprints for victory in the global, coalition struggle. In their capital command posts, military leaders kept in touch with the manifold phases of the national government's war effort and dealt with the worldwide problems transcending those of the individual theatres of war. With the aid of new devices for rapid communication, these leaders and their staffs sought to set the patterns of strategy and keep abreast of the movement of armies as the Caesars and Napoleons had done in earlier eras.

As war became more total, war planning became a significant peacetime function of governments. The manufacture of strategic plans has become a highly specialized industry in modern military establishments. At the same time, more and more governmental agencies have been drawn into the business of planning for national security. The plans they produce may vary from a simple design to shift a small task force to a danger spot to an elaborate plan for the conduct of war in its entirety. To be realistic, strategic plans and estimates must constantly be reexamined and brought into harmony.

Against this general background in the nature of the art, it is now possible to sketch the important contributions made in key periods to modern strategic theory and practice. It is important to remember that the art of strategy has changed from age to age, just as has war itself, and that each is the product of its own society and time.



Though the serious and systematic study of modern strategy may be dated from the 18th century, various authorities have identified strategic precedents going back to earliest times. Students of warfare of primitive ages have associated with primitive tribes and clans a stratagem of surprise from darkness or by ambush, and they have identified a strategy of hunt and pounce, like that of a lion or tiger. The Bible points to the care with which Moses prepared his operations--an early form of advance planning. The ancient world developed a strategy of mass attack by phalanx, legion, or cavalry. Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar, who combined in their own persons political and military direction of the state, planned their famous campaigns far ahead. They have been singled out as forerunners of the modern art of grand strategy. Writers in modern times have used the campaigns of these great captains to illustrate practically every known "principle of war." But important as their attention to strategic considerations in war and especially to strategic approaches to the battlefield may have been, the foundations of the ancient art of warfare were tactics and battles. To a considerable extent battles--often short and furious--also held the centre of the military stage in the European Middle Ages. Strategy was notably absent in the excursions of the Huns, the Muslims, and the crusaders. Far more important from a strategic viewpoint were the campaigns of Genghis Khan and his general, Sabutai, in the 13th century. Their advance planning and bold strategic maneuvers in broad sweeps from Mongolia across Asia and Europe showed an appreciation of strategic problems most unusual for their age.

In the transition to modern times two other figures who touched on the field of strategy are often mentioned -- Niccolò Machiavelli in the realm of military thought and Gustav II Adolf in the field of generalship. Machiavelli's Art of War (1520) emphasized the larger aspects of war, particularly the close relationship between the civil and military spheres. A century later, Gustav, ruler-general of Sweden, intervened in the Thirty Years' War and, maneuvering skillfully, drove his enemy's armies out of northern Germany. 18th-century warfare.

After the death of Gustav Adolf in 1632, warfare again settled down to a slower pace and a more stable mold. The 17th and 18th centuries experienced the growth of professional armies loyal to the king. But the great cost of building and maintaining such armies led to a concern for their safety, a hesitation to risk them in bloody encounters, and a preoccupation with defense and fortifications. Strategy during this period was essentially of limited aim and was greatly concerned with the art of siegecraft, for which elaborate rules were prescribed. In Prussia of the mid-18th century, however, circumstances compelled Frederick the Great to try a new and aggressive approach and to break through the accepted military pattern of the day.

Confronted at the outset of the Seven Years' War (1756-63) by a coalition of Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony, Frederick found himself virtually surrounded. His task was to devise a strategy to defend his territory and not to dissipate his outnumbered troops. The strategy he evolved did not follow set rules or recipes. Indeed, never was the definition of strategy as a "system of makeshifts"--offered in a later age by the Prussian general Count Helmuth von Moltke--better demonstrated. In his planning Frederick capitalized on two valuable assets--his army, a superior and highly disciplined instrument of war, and a central position. He sought always to keep the initiative, to attack first one enemy and then another, to assemble at decisive points a force superior to that of his foe, and to avoid long, drawn-out wars. Using his central position to concentrate against individual armies of the enemy before they could be reinforced by others, he developed the classical "strategy of interior lines." But even Frederick, the statesman-warrior, could not entirely escape the conditions imposed by the warfare of his times. Indeed, the statesman imposed caution on the warrior. He could not expose his costly armies to the risk of destruction and bloody decision by battle. His battles were not those of annihilation. In the end his wars were decided by reasons of state, and those wars left his nation exhausted.

The age that immediately followed Frederick chose to imitate his caution rather than his aim. Military theory was characterized by ideas of victory without battle, maneuvering for position, a system of lines and angles of operation. Geometric concepts and cunning tricks and artifices replaced the aim to destroy enemies. Great emphasis was put on terrain and the occupation of key geographic points. The 18th century, it must be remembered, was the era of enlightenment, and warfare conformed to the spirit of the age. Strategy, like all warfare, became "mathematical" and "scientific." Theorists optimistically maintained that a general who knew mathematics and topography could direct campaigns with geometric precision and win wars without even fighting. But the new mode of warfare ushered in by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era was soon to challenge these optimistic assumptions. Napoleonic warfare.

The French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic periods (1789-1815) witnessed great changes in the methods of war--the revolution in society accompanying and reinforcing the one in warfare. When Napoleon, the first great military strategist of the modern Western world, burst upon the European scene, the groundwork for a new age in warfare had already been laid. The French Revolution gave birth (1793) to the "nation in arms," and all Frenchmen became liable for military service. The patriotic citizen-soldier succeeded the mercenary professional. Skirmish tactics, or the loose formation, replaced the straight line; divisional organization came into use, along with lightweight artillery of great range and firing power. When Napoleon came to reap the benefits of these changes, he completely transformed strategy as well as tactics. He applied the same basic principle to the one as to the other--never to divide his forces but to concentrate all his might against the enemy forces at the critical point. His emphasis was on careful preparation, on uniting his forces before the action, on overpowering weight of striking power, on shock attack, on great daring, and on bloody decision by battle. His methods were simple, direct, overpowering--even brutal; his aim was nothing short of the destruction of the enemy forces. Against such power, neat geometric calculations stood little chance and ordinary stratagems were helpless. Again and again he showed his military genius for bringing a mass to bear against the flanks of his enemy, for selection of battlegrounds advantageous to his forces, and for deploying his forces for battle. He gave supreme expression to the idea of victory by battle. (see also  Napoleonic Wars)

Though as a military leader, operational strategist, and tactician of the battlefield Napoleon is regarded by many as unparalleled, in the larger field of national or grand strategy he had shortcomings. Embodying in his own person the leadership of the state and its military affairs, he recognized the value of incorporating political and economic measures, along with military moves, to increase the chances of victory in war. But he could not successfully grasp and cope with the challenge finally put to him by Great Britain and its European allies. British strategy sought to meet the Napoleonic threat to Europe by using naval power to blockade the Continent and by conducting a war of exhaustion on land through peripheral warfare, such as the Duke of Wellington's famous campaign on the Iberian Peninsula. Napoleon's reply to the British naval blockade was the continental system prohibiting British goods from entering. But this helped bring his downfall, since he was needed everywhere--to hold the coast and to fight in Spain, in Holland, and against Austria and Russia. His veteran French forces were dissipated, and he had to rely on impressed nationalities of Europe. Eventually the coalition of his enemies was to use the methods and means of warfare that the French Revolution had introduced and Napoleon had perfected to reinvigorate their own forces and overwhelm him. (see also  strategy of exhaustion)

Despite his mistakes, Napoleon's preeminent place in the history of strategy is secure. His tactics and strategy influenced military leaders for a century. His maxims were widely studied and were said to have been carried in the saddlebag of the famous Confederate general of the American Civil War, Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson. Students of strategy have long pointed to Napoleon's battles and campaigns for classical illustrations of "principles" of war--of surprise, mobility, concentration of force, and economy of force. Possibly more than that of any other general, his competent practice oriented modern military theory toward the search for underlying principles. Indeed, the art of strategy as evolved by theorists since 1800 may be traced largely to his operations. For this development two great interpreters of Napoleonic strategy, Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz, were especially responsible. Carl von Clausewitz.

Clausewitz (1780-1831), a Prussian, was the first great student of strategy and the father of modern strategical study. He was trained in systematic study of philosophy in the school of Immanuel Kant, thus it was natural for him to range widely over the whole field of military knowledge and to reduce Napoleonic warfare to a unified philosophical conception. His famous work On War, written as an outgrowth of his studies of Napoleon's campaigns, remains the best general study of the art of war. He died with his work unfinished, but his writings published after his death became the standard textbooks on war in Prussia and elsewhere. Their influence was felt profoundly in the Franco-German War of 1870-71, and leading generals of World Wars I and II were brought up on them and on the works of his followers.

The contributions of Clausewitz to strategic thought are many and diverse. To some his work is the Bible of strategy, and, like that great book, susceptible to many conflicting interpretations. His work set forth fully and clearly for the first time the relationship between political and military leadership. He dwelt on decision by battle as the first rule of war, on seeking the destruction of the enemy's forces, and on achieving superiority at the decisive spot. Rejecting the optimism and rationalism of the 18th century, he held that war was not a scientific game but an act of violence. Mathematical and topographical factors, he held, were important in tactics but less so in strategy. "We . . . do not hesitate," he asserted, "to regard as an established truth that in strategy more depends on the number and the magnitude of the victorious combats than on the form of the great lines by which they are connected." The key to victory was battle, however bloody. He defined strategy as the employment of battles to gain the end of war.

Clausewitz devoted much of his work to showing that war is both a social development and a political act. He went further and said that "war is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of policy carried out by other means." War was therefore not an independent phenomenon unto itself to be handed over to soldiers and sailors. Again and again he asserted that military and political strategy must go hand in hand. "War," he declared, "admittedly has its own grammar, but not its own logic."

Clausewitz' emphasis on the aim of strategy as the destruction of the enemy's forces on the battlefield has had a great influence on subsequent military thinking. His disciples, however, have generally overlooked the fact that he also recognized another strategical form--a strategy of limited aim for limited warfare, of wearing down an opponent. When Clausewitz wrote, warfare was conducted in two dimensions, and it was rarely possible for one nation to impose its will without first destroying the opposing army. But Clausewitz recognized clearly what many of his followers in subsequent generations forgot, that the destruction was only a means to enforce policy and not an end in itself. Antoine Jomini.

In the history of military thought, the French general Antoine-Henri Jomini (1779-1869), one of Napoleon's staff officers and a contemporary of Clausewitz, presents a striking contrast to the Prussian philosopher of war. Lacking the philosophical bent of Clausewitz, Jomini concentrated his thinking on what he regarded as practical issues in war rather than on war as a whole. He became the chief expounder of Napoleonic methods, and out of his studies evolved a theory of strategy. Although he opposed "systems of war" purporting to provide for all contingencies, he nevertheless believed that in the field of strategy certain rules and general principles--eternally true--could and should be formulated "as a compass for the commander-in-chief of an army." To establish these principles, he believed, was the major problem of military science. (see also  pragmatism)

The heart of Jomini's theory lay in the theatre of war and the campaign. But he thought primarily of occupying all or part of the enemy's territory rather than of annihilating his army. This occupation was to be achieved by progressive domination of zones of territory. Jomini emphasized throughout his work the proper choice by the general of decisive maneuvering lines and their adaptation to geometric configurations of zones of operation. Campaigns must be carefully planned in advance. The task of strategy is to make preliminary plans--to establish lines of operation and to bring military means into conformity with geographic realities of the chosen zone of operations. He laid down two basic principles: massing troops against fractions of the enemy by rapid movement and striking in the most decisive direction.

Jomini's great contribution to military thought lay in his definition of the place of strategy in warfare. Probably more than any other work, his Summary of the Art of War (1838; Précis de l'art de la guerre) fixed the major fields of modern military art. Subsequent wars were to cast doubt on much of his work, particularly on his conception of geographic campaigns and of the superiority of interior lines of operation. But, like Clausewitz in German strategic thinking, Jomini had an enduring influence on French military thought. His emphasis on planning for operations and on intelligence took root in military staffs and schools throughout Europe, and his work became the textbook for the conduct of the American Civil War. American Civil War to World War I.

Often called the first of the really modern wars, the American Civil War (1861-65) marked a transition to a new era in strategy. It gathered up new phenomena that had begun to influence warfare in the middle of the 19th century and whose fuller consequences were to be felt in the half century that followed. It was a period marked by refinement of the old in strategic theory and practice and by the addition of new strands--by such famous figures as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and William T. Sherman on the battlefield and Count von Moltke, Count von Schlieffen, Hans Delbrück, and Alfred T. Mahan in the literature of strategy. Strategies of North and South.

Bridge on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, rebuilt by Union engineers. Railroads became. . .
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (B8184-B185)

The Civil War is significant in the history of strategy in a number of ways. The basis of strategy--particularly factors of time and space--began to change. The use of steam power for land and water military transportation received its first major test. Railroads gave strategy a new speed of movement but tended to make strategy stick to straight lines and fixed routes. The Civil War also tested ironclad ships and heavy naval ordnance. The relation among the combat arms was completely upset by the introduction of the long-range infantry rifle. The accuracy of long-range weapons in the hands of defending infantry shattered the effectiveness of the rapidly concentrated attack in which Napoleonic strategy had culminated. But, as so often has been noted in the history of warfare, armaments and weapons are more readily changed than ideas, and Napoleon's principles continued to be maintained, sometimes with disastrous consequences on the battlefield.

Aside from the effect of new inventions, the Civil War revealed the growing importance of the economy and manpower in war. Industry was called on more and more, and conscription was adopted to provide manpower. The war also revealed the impact of systematic West Point training received by the leading generals on both sides. Finally, the Civil War was long studied for classic examples of maneuver and of offensive and defensive strategy and for lessons in the relation among policy, strategy, and means of war. Essentially the Civil War demonstrated local or theatre strategy and tactics. Though elements of grand strategy were at hand--political, economic, military, and psychological--the art was still not well understood or consistently applied. Despite conscription and the partial mobilization of industry and the railroads, there was no well-worked-out grand design correlating the widely scattered forces and the war industries that supported them.

The strategies of the North and South were rooted in different political objectives. The objective of the North was to prevent the Confederate states from seceding from the Union, that of the South was to attain independence. Because the South was greatly inferior to the North in population and resources, it could not hope to conquer the North. The dual purposes of its strategy were to convince the North that forcing the South to remain in the Union was not worth the cost and to bring about foreign intervention in favour of the South. General Robert E. Lee, the great Southern leader, believed the best way to realize these objectives was to carry the war into the North and to defeat the Northern armies in their own territory. For a time, therefore, his strategy was essentially offensive. But after his defeat at Gettysburg, Pa., he no longer had the wherewithal to continue the offensive, and at the same time it became obvious that foreign intervention would not be forthcoming. From that time to the end of the war his strategy was defensive, with the object of wearing down the patience, if not the power, of the North.

To achieve its political object, the North, on the other hand, developed another strategy. The Federal design had three main goals: (1) to blockade and isolate the Confederacy, (2) to cut it in two, and (3) to strike at Richmond, Va., its capital. The naval blockade, though not completely effective, brought virtual commercial isolation to the South. Partition was gained by capturing Vicksburg on the Mississippi in July 1863 and by severing the east-west railroad connections. The capture of Vicksburg cut the South off from its sources of supplies beyond the Mississippi. Only gradually did the North change its design from that of attacking Richmond to that of striking at the main army of the Confederacy and the remaining sources of supply. Grant's elevation to the supreme command of the armies in March 1864 enabled him to put this concept into effect. The famous march of General Sherman through Georgia to the sea in the fall of 1864 was an outstanding example of strategic maneuver and surprise. Leaving his supply line, Sherman feinted against one city and attacked another, finally cutting off Lee's army in Virginia from its war resources in the South. The cooperation of the Federal eastern and western armies in a grand converging movement resulted in the evacuation of Richmond and, finally, in the surrender of Lee's army to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia in April 1865. (see also  Vicksburg Campaign, Sea, March to the)

The period from the close of the Civil War to the outbreak of World War I saw the further growth of trends already apparent. Space and time factors began to appear in a new light. A nation with a well-developed railway net gained significant advantages in war. The speed of mobilizing and concentrating armies became a basic element in strategic calculations, and the timetable based on it became the heart of staff plans drawn up in anticipation of war. Increased firepower in the machine gun, universal liability of able-bodied males for military service, rapid mobilization of reserve military units, and increased potential of fortifications influenced military planning. The Prussian-German strategists.

Strategic thinking in the half century before World War I showed a remarkable diversity. To the Prussian-German school--Moltke and Schlieffen--the new trends in warfare seemed to reinforce Clausewitz' teachings about battles and the aim of defeating the enemy's armies. (see also  Prussia, Germany)

To Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke (1800-91) belongs the chief credit for molding the Prussian army into a formidable war machine, which defeated the Danes (1864), Austrians (1866), and French (1870-71). Moltke agreed with Clausewitz that battles were the primary means of breaking the will of the enemy. But Moltke did not believe a strategist could follow a rigid set of rules. To him strategy was a system of "ad hoc expedients." It was "the art of action under the pressure of the most difficult conditions." No plan of operations, he believed, could look with any assurance beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces. The offensive, according to Moltke, is "the straight way to the goal," whereas the defensive is "the long way around." He became famous for his skillful conduct of operations on the outer line leading to encirclement. In addition to exploiting the altered conditions of space and time created by the railroads and improved highways, he capitalized on the possibilities offered by the telegraph for handling armies of great size. Recognizing that the field of operations had become too vast to be surveyed by the eye of the commander, he introduced a new system of delegating power to subordinate commanders. Broad directives took the place of detailed orders. Moltke always fought with superior forces, and his wars, culminating in that against France in 1870-71, are regarded by some authorities as classical models of conception and execution in military strategy.

Field Marshal Count Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913), chief of the Prussian general staff before World War I and ablest of Moltke's successors, carried the strong line of strategic reasoning running from Napoleon through Clausewitz and Moltke to its logical conclusion in his conception of a "strategy of annihilation." Like Moltke, he stressed the military side of strategy, the concentration on decisive victory by battle. But, unlike Moltke, he could not count on superior forces and had to prepare for war on two fronts. The basis for German strategy before World War I as developed by him was embodied in the famous Schlieffen plan. The plan was extremely simple. The bulk of the German forces were to attack the nearest opponent, the one in the west (France), and to defeat him in a great battle; meanwhile, in the east (Russia) the Germans would stand on the defensive. Schlieffen proposed to gain the decision in the great battle by means of an enveloping attack--if possible, by a double envelopment. Once the enemy in the west was defeated, the Germans would attack the foe in the east. This was the essence of the plan with which the Germans entered World War I.

Schlieffen's theories were to have wide influence, largely through his book Cannae. Analyzing Hannibal's great victory over the Romans in 216 BC, he had developed his theory of the battle of annihilation by means of encirclement and double envelopment. The decisive German campaign against the Russians at Tannenberg, East Prussia, in August 1914 was fought in this mold, and Schlieffen's theories were studied exhaustively in the higher army schools of the United States and Europe after World War I. As General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, pointed out, General Eisenhower and many of his staff officers, products of these schools, "were imbued with the idea of this type of wide, bold maneuver for decisive results." (see also  Tannenberg, Battle of) Political-military strategy: Delbrück and Mahan.

Moltke and Schlieffen thought of war as military action--the speediest decisive defeat of the main opponent. But the closing years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries witnessed the emergence of new approaches and different emphases in strategy. Two thinkers looking to past history for light on the problems of their times made signal contributions to strategic theory--one, Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), an American, in the field of naval strategy, the other, Hans Delbrück (1848-1929), a German, in the area of military strategy. Each recognized an intimate relationship between war and politics in every age, that political and military (or naval) strategy must be in harmony. Each showed an awareness of the growing importance of the economic bases of strategy, of state policy, geographic position, and available means as determinants of the mode of strategy, and of accommodating strategic action to suit the particular times and needs. (see also  political science)

Carrying forward a line of thinking already suggested by Clausewitz, Delbrück presented his theory of the "strategy of exhaustion"--of wearing down an opponent by a variety of means. Clausewitz had merely indicated the existence of two methods of conducting war--one aimed at annihilation of the enemy, the other limited warfare. Delbrück expounded on the differences. The sole aim of the strategy of annihilation he identified as the decisive battle. The second type he called variously the "strategy of exhaustion" and "two-pole strategy." The commander could move between battle and maneuver; the political object of war could be obtained by other means than battle--by occupying territory, blockade, destroying crops or commerce. In Delbrück's view, Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon had been strategists of annihilation; Pericles, Gustav II Adolf, and Frederick the Great, equally great generals, exponents of the strategy of exhaustion. Holding that the strategy of exhaustion was just as valid as the strategy of annihilation--each depending on the political aims and means at hand--Delbrück's theories ran counter to the military thinking of his day and brought down a storm of criticism about his head. But he persisted in reminding his age, intent on victory by battle, of other important and forgotten aspects of Clausewitz' teachings. (see also  Napoleonic Wars)

While Delbrück was battling his military critics in Germany, a scholarly navy captain and teacher at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., was quietly breaking ground in pursuing his brilliant researches in military and naval history and strategy. This pioneer was Alfred Thayer Mahan, indefatigable student of the strategy of Napoleon and Jomini. His masterly works, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (published in 1890) and The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812 (published in 1892), marked a revolution in naval thought. While advances in technology were affecting naval architecture and weapons, and steam, armour plate, and rifled guns were coming into vogue, Mahan aimed to bring naval strategic thinking up to date. The books and articles that poured from his pen down to World War I about warfare of the second dimension--the sea--had a profound influence on the theory of warfare and on naval policy and strategy in many countries. (see also  naval warfare)

An advocate of a big navy, of overseas bases, of national greatness through sea power, he was the American apostle of "looking outward." Mahan emphasized the significance of commerce in war and of economic warfare through the application of sea power. His researches convinced him that the nation or group of nations that commanded the seas could best draw on the trade, wealth, and economic resources of the world and was the more likely to win wars. Strongly influenced by Jomini's teachings, he looked for fundamental truths and formulated "principles" of naval strategy. Naval strategy and sea power, he recognized, were conditioned by a nation's insular or continental situation. To Mahan, a central position gave the same great advantages on the sea or on land--interior lines. Concentration of force he viewed as a fundamental principle of land and sea warfare. The backbone of fleet strength, in his opinion, was the battleship or capital ship. Under Mahan's tutelage, the twin theories of coastal defense and commerce raiding, which hitherto held sway in American naval strategy, gave way to the theory of command of the sea. Command of the sea can be defined as that condition under which friendly ships can use the sea freely but under which an enemy, though venturing out to sea, cannot do so with any security. Mahan's concepts of naval strategy and faith in preponderant naval power and the use of the navy as an instrument of national power were accepted by the U.S. Navy and President Theodore Roosevelt. His doctrines stimulated the trend toward overseas expansion and growth of the navies of the world between 1898 and 1914. The sudden acquisition of an overseas empire in the Spanish-American War of 1898 greatly changed the strategic position and problems of the United States. Its emergence as a world power, beginning in these years, was to have important bearings on the strategic balance of power among the nations of the world, an equilibrium that World War I altered profoundly. World War I. The war.

World War I, the first of the great coalition wars of the 20th century, was an important landmark in the story of the evolution of modern strategy. Never was the phenomenon of cultural lag as applied to warfare more clearly demonstrated. Beginning in the accepted mold of strategic planning popular since 1870, it soon ran head on into countertrends that were altering the very bases of strategic action and that strategic thinking in the intervening years had not yet fully grasped. Despite the experiences in the South African and Russo-Japanese wars with the machine gun as a defensive weapon of tremendous firepower, French and German military leaders at the outbreak of the war continued to put their faith in the offensive. In fact, they were convinced that new weapons and methods of control, the radio and telephone, actually improved the offensive capabilities of their mass armies. The universal underestimation of the effect of modern firearms on the defense had important repercussions on strategy both during and after the war. (see also  strategic offense)

The first moves in the war began in 1914 as French and German strategists had planned. In seven days the Germans concentrated more than three million men on the eastern and western fronts from mobilization points. In approximately the same time the French assembled 1.2 million men on the western front. Both sides made heavy use of railroad lines to speed assembly of great masses of troops. Both sides were determined to attack. Out of the movements of mass armies came the first battles on the frontiers. As Schlieffen had planned, the Germans catapulted into Belgium, but the enveloping wing was not as strong as Schlieffen, who had died the previous year, had wished. It was compressed into a smaller corridor by the political decision not to violate Dutch neutrality. The anticipated six-week campaign of annihilation against France envisaged by Schlieffen could not be executed. The French attack also soon hit a snag. Although the French army's right wing reached the Rhine, its centre was endangered by a German pincer movement. Only a hasty retreat and a counteroffensive at the Marne River saved Paris. "Pinwheel strategy"--each side attacking and driving the enemy back--had stalled badly. (see also  Marne, First Battle of the)

Meanwhile, on the eastern front, the German prewar strategy of holding until France had been quickly defeated was compromised by the desire of the Austrian ally to push against the Russians, partners of the French. The German victory at Tannenberg counterbalanced the Austrian defeat at Lemberg (Lvov). The eastern front became stabilized.

By the close of 1914 the war had become a stalemate on both the eastern and western fronts. The conflict had resolved itself into trench warfare from Switzerland to the English Channel. Machine guns and artillery took over the battlefield. The conflict had settled down into a war of position, and strategic mobility was lost. World War I became a classic case of arrested strategy.

The first phase of the war was over by the end of 1914. Prewar plans had failed; the war of movement, of mass offensives, had ceased. The big question thenceforth was how to dig the war out of the trenches. In answering that question important elements of grand strategy came into play. The heavy demands upon industry for munitions of war multiplied, and technology was called upon for new means--the tank and poison gas--of breaking the stalemate. Britain's naval blockade to starve Germany took on added significance. The German countermeasures helped bring the United States into the war in 1917. The United States was not prepared for war, however, and the buildup of its forces across the Atlantic was slow. The Germans, seeking in 1918 to forestall the full impact of U.S. might, put their resources into a great offensive that came close to succeeding. When the Americans finally arrived in force, they played a valuable part in military strategy in reducing the salients within the Allied lines. Eventually the German allies were defeated; the German armies reached a point of exhaustion and the homeland a stage of semistarvation. Germany asked for an armistice. (see also  military technology) The lessons.

Although much has been written about World War I, the strategic lessons of that conflict for coalition warfare have not been fully comprehended. Never was the dependence of strategy on statecraft more clearly demonstrated. As political circumstances of the war changed, strategy changed. The Central Powers, led by Germany and Austria-Hungary, never had a common plan of campaign or effective unity of command. The Allied side achieved unity only under necessity. Along with the military factors, economic and psychological considerations proved important in conducting the war and gaining victory. Although the aim of annihilating the enemy was paramount with both sides--especially in the opening campaigns--the desire to exhaust him also influenced strategy, and fresh confirmation was given to Moltke's description of strategy as a "system of makeshifts." (see also  Allied Powers)

Military leaders in World War I had to master three basic factors in strategic calculations: masses of men, technological advances, and wide areas. The movement of huge masses became an art in itself, for armies had taken on unprecedented dimensions. Millions of men were in action. Railroads and motor transport became important not only for concentrations but also for establishing new strategic points on the fronts themselves. The arena of war embraced whole continents. Battles lasted for days and weeks, and the fighting continued even after the great battles were over.

New weapons came into play. Aerial reconnaissance enabled a commander to gain some insight into the enemy's intentions and movements. New means of communication--telephone, radio telegraphy, the automobile, and the airplane--promoted faster execution of orders and unified command over widely scattered forces. The overwhelming firepower of modern weapons checked the effectiveness of the attack, long considered the ideal path to victory. The tank, however, offered fresh possibilities in redressing the balance between the defensive and the offensive. Tactics became more than ever a prelude and conditioning factor of strategy, since without freedom of movement, strategy was only an academic exercise. Tactics came to mark the beginning rather than the conclusion of an operation. (see also  communication system)

There were also larger strategic influences at work. If World War I was a war of masses, it was also a war of matériel. War was becoming increasingly total and cut deeper into the life of the nation. Some of the foremost leaders and students of World War I--notably Winston Churchill and Georges Clemenceau--recognized that military strategy had become but a part of a greater national strategy. Symptomatic of this thinking was Clemenceau's widely quoted statement that war was too important a business to be left to soldiers. More than ever strategy and politics would have to be correlated. The increasing totality of modern war would have to be matched by a broader national strategy. The large impact of the war in the international sphere--the effects of the defeat of Germany, the weakening of England and France, the rise of the Soviet Union on the strategic balance of power in the world--could not yet be foreseen. Between World Wars I and II.

The period between 1918 and 1939 saw strategy once more in process of flux. As an outgrowth of the experience of World War I, strategy came largely to mean defense. In France, particularly, a mentality favouring fixed defenses began to take hold, eventually leading to the building of the concrete fortifications of the Maginot Line, bordering Germany. The belief was strong that field fortifications aided by the machine gun would contain any attack. The huge losses of World War I would thereby be avoided. Douhet: air supremacy.

Countertrends, however, were soon to dispute this prevalent emphasis in strategic thinking. One strong challenge came from the new school of exponents of air power. In World War I the air arm had had its beginnings. The period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II saw it come into its own; air forces and air organization expanded greatly. Theorists began to develop the strategy of warfare of the third dimension. Foremost among these was the Italian general Giulio Douhet (1869-1930). He first presented the doctrine that the air arm alone would decide wars of the future. In his view, land and sea forces would no longer be decisive. On the ground, armies could act henceforth only on the defensive, since attack, and with it the decision, could be gained only through the air. Air power could quickly conquer time and space. The air arm could circumvent every kind of ground resistance and nullify fortified positions and obstacles of terrain. It could strike at the enemy's sources of power before his armies could fire a shot. It could strike at his capital, industrial centres, and communications. In short, it could so reduce his ability and willingness to resist that he would surrender. Douhet proposed to expand the air arm as much as possible, keep land and sea forces only as support for war in the air, and gain control of the air by defeating enemy air forces in battles or destroying them in their airfields. He made strategic bombing and the industrial objective--strikes at the opponent's heart--the core of his doctrines.

Douhet's epoch-making ideas found many supporters in other countries. This school of thought generally argued that huge armies would no longer be necessary. The opponent's will could be overcome even if his armed forces remain undefeated. Some of Douhet's adherents went further and demanded the abolition of land and sea forces altogether. In any event, the rise of air power accentuated the need of thinking of strategy as dealing with something more than the movements of armies on land or of ships at sea. Fuller: mechanized armour.

Meanwhile, army leaders began to advocate another solution to break the strategic stalemate of World War I. To overcome the superiority of the defensive, they put their faith in developing a modern cavalry of tanks and armoured, motor-driven vehicles. The best known among the great champions of mechanization and motorization that arose in Great Britain was Major General J.F.C. Fuller (1878-1966). These advocates saw in the armoured vehicle, combining firepower, extreme mobility, and armoured protection, the best answer to overcoming defensive forces relying on machine guns. This system was particularly suited to needs of an insular country, protected by a strong air force and navy, and of a relatively small army intended primarily for expeditionary purposes in support of continental allies. But this solution on the ground found support in Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In France, Charles de Gaulle bucked the strong tide of opinion and advocated tank warfare to restore a strategy of mobility and the offensive.

In the late 1930s the Germans combined air power and tanks into a new form of assault that also aimed to overthrow defensive superiority. Developing a highly mobile form of warfare for lightning strikes and mechanized attacks, they were to contribute the art of the blitzkrieg--the spearhead of a conquering, offensive strategy that Hitler unleashed in World War II. Ludendorff: total war.

In Germany, too, other influences supporting offensive strategy came to the fore. To overcome strategic stalemate of the World War I variety, the German general Erich Ludendorff contributed his theory of total war. He envisaged total mobilization of a nation's human power and resources for war. The nation at war would be led by a supreme military commander; strategy would dictate policy. The concept of total war moved geography and economics into prominent positions in Nazi thinking. Even before World War I the British geographer Halford J. Mackinder had posed the potential threat of a heartland power, in control of Eurasia, to sea power--a counter to Mahan's theory of control of the seas. The German geopoliticians after the war took over the "heartlands" concept, and through their teachings the concept of control of Eurasia became embedded in Nazi statecraft. Their doctrines gave support to the main strands in Hitler's offensive strategy--continental expansion, autarky (national economic self-sufficiency), and Lebensraum ("living space").

Before war burst upon Europe in 1939, it was apparent that important changes also were brewing in naval strategy. All major sea powers were producing high-speed battleships, and the aircraft carrier was becoming a significant and integral member of the fleet. In the crucible of World War II, the emerging elements in ground, air, naval, and nonmilitary strategy were to take clearer shape. (Ma.M.) World War II. The first phase.

In spite of the ideas of military reformers such as Douhet and Fuller, the lesson derived from World War I by orthodox strategists throughout Europe was that war between industrial societies would involve the total mobilization of all national resources and would be a test as much of economic strength and civilian morale as of military skills.

Germany was no exception. Hitler's military advisers warned him that the Third Reich, which had begun to rearm only in 1934, would not be ready to confront France and Britain until 1941 at the earliest. Hitler in September 1939 ignored this advice. He recognized that his adversaries were even less ready for war than he was, and he had, in the combination of infantry, armour, and air support developed by elite units of the Wehrmacht, an ideal instrument for his immediate objective of overrunning Poland. It proved equally successful when turned against the West in May 1940. Hitler's panzer divisions broke through the French defenses at the Ardennes and cut the Allied armies in two. The forces to the north had to be evacuated over the beaches of Dunkirk with the loss of all of their heavy equipment. A week later the Germans attacked the demoralized remainder of the French armies to the south, and on June 16 the French government asked for terms. Germany accepted the surrender of nearly two million French prisoners and had lost only 50,000 men. (see also  France, Battle of)

The French defeat had been as much moral as military. The people had faced the prospect of war with dread and had accepted with relief the assurance of their military leaders that World War I had proved the invincibility of the defensive. The "Maginot mentality" had little to do with the Maginot Line itself--that system of fortifications along France's eastern frontier that was designed quite properly to economize on personnel and that the Germans never attacked. Rather, the French military leadership simply could not believe in the possibility of open warfare and therefore had provided their forces with neither the equipment nor the training nor the communications to undertake it. (see also  defensive tactics)

The British had relied on France to provide the main land forces while they were to deploy their traditional strength at sea and contribute a long-range bomber force to attack German industrial strength at the source. But the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1939 had neither the range nor the equipment nor the capacity to attack the German homeland in the necessary strength, and it was to take three years for its raids to have any serious effect. The RAF came into its own in a defensive role in the summer of 1940 when Hitler launched his Luftwaffe to obtain command of the air over Britain as a preliminary to a seaborne invasion. Britain had made a massive investment in radar early-warning systems and fast-climbing fighters, and these aircraft, fighting over their own territory, just turned the scale in what became known as the Battle of Britain. Hitler postponed the invasion and decided instead to neutralize Britain by submarine blockade and air bombardment while he prepared to attack the Soviet Union.

If Hitler was to achieve his long-term objective of a self-sufficient Third Reich controlling the grainfields of the Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus, he had to destroy the Soviet Union sooner or later. His decision to do so sooner was probably precipitated by his need for those resources if he was to defeat a Britain sustained by all the resources of a United States--which, although at this stage determined to keep out of the war, was equally determined not to see Britain lose. Further, Hitler and his military advisers held Russian military capability in contempt. The incompetence of the Red Army had been shown when, in the Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40, it had taken three months to break the resistance of the small state of Finland. The directive for attack was issued on Dec. 18, 1940, and the attack launched on June 22, 1941. (see also  Barbarossa, Operation)

At first all went as expected. German armoured divisions, driving deep in a series of encircling attacks, had by the beginning of December occupied 900,000 square miles (2,340,000 square kilometres) of Soviet territory, taken three million prisoners, and reached the suburbs of Moscow. But the Soviet leadership was prepared for such setbacks. Soviet prewar military doctrine had stressed total mobilization of the population, elasticity in operations, and defense in depth. Soviet war industries lay behind the Ural Mountains, beyond Hitler's reach. Reserve forces were switched from the Far East and counterattacked north of Moscow on Dec. 5, 1941. Two days later Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the war became global. (see also  Eastern Front) Global war.

Japan had been gradually expanding its power on the Asian mainland since the beginning of the century and had been at war with China since 1937. In 1940 the defeat of France, Britain, and The Netherlands in Europe exposed their possessions in Southeast Asia to attack. Japan's military leaders resolved to seize them so as to establish an autarkic empire immune to the economic sanctions by which the United States was attempting to check their expansion into China. The attack at Pearl Harbor was a preemptive strike to gain command of the western Pacific. Simultaneously, Japanese forces attacked the Philippines, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies. The British fortress of Singapore capitulated with 130,000 troops to a Japanese force 15,000 strong on Feb. 15, 1942. An American garrison held out at Corregidor in the Philippines until May, but within three months of launching their attack the Japanese had gained all of their immediate objectives.

The United States thus found itself at war, alongside two hard-pressed allies, with two triumphant military empires that were still expanding their power. Germany, checked through the winter, opened a powerful offensive in the spring of 1942 toward the Caucasus. In June, Japan launched a further drive toward the U.S. bases in Hawaii. This was foiled on June 5 by the decisive Battle of Midway, which not only established U.S. command of the seas but confirmed the role of the aircraft carrier as the new "capital ship" of naval warfare. By the end of 1942 Germany and Japan had expanded to the limit of their capacity. At the long Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942-February 1943), German offensive power was broken by Soviet armies as decisively as the Japanese had been by the U.S. Navy at Midway. The Allies were now able to mobilize and deploy an overwhelming superiority of resources. But German and Japanese defensive strength was still intact, and German submarines prevented the full deployment of Allied strength until the spring of 1943.

British and American war leaders agreed that defeat of Germany should be given first priority--a decision accepted with reluctance by the U.S. Navy, whose prewar planning had been directed primarily against Japan. But whereas the U.S. strategy for a European war was simple--accumulation of a large force in Britain in 1942, a cross-Channel attack and decisive battle in France in 1943--the British urged an initial concentration in the Mediterranean, where their troops had been fighting in North Africa since 1940, in order to knock Hitler's ally Italy out of the war and divert German forces from the Russian front. Both agreed, however, on a combined bombing offensive against Germany, and by 1944, in spite of German countermeasures, Allied bomber forces were inflicting lethal damage on the German economy. A series of compromises resulted in Allied landings in French North Africa in November 1942, in Sicily and Italy in 1943, and finally a cross-Channel attack in 1944, just as the victorious Soviet armies were advancing into eastern Europe. Invaded from east and west, its cities destroyed from the air, Germany capitulated on May 8, 1945. (see also  strategic bombing)

Although Britain fought a successful campaign to recapture Burma (Myanmar), and the Soviet Union participated in the last days of the war, the direction of the war against Japan was the exclusive concern of the United States. The U.S. Army favoured a land-based approach via New Guinea and the Philippines to mainland China, whence a major invasion could be launched against the Japanese homeland. The Navy pressed for a direct advance via the islands of the central Pacific, so as to blockade and starve out Japan. Resources were in fact available for both strategies. With complete command of the sea, U.S. forces had by March 1945 captured island bases from which their heavy bombers could destroy Japanese cities one by one. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, were only the coup de grace in this process of destruction.

The orthodox prewar strategists were proved correct: World War II was indeed eventually won by the mobilization of superior resources, ruthlessly and often wastefully employed against militarily more skillful foes. The use of nuclear weapons signaled both the consummation and the transformation of total war. ( M.E.Ho.)



Strategic thinking after World War II, at least with regard to conflict between the great powers, was dominated by two related developments. The first was nuclear weapons, which raised the prospect of war as the ultimate catastrophe. This led to a shift of focus in strategic thinking toward the deterrence of war rather than the waging and winning of war.

The second development was a decades-long continuity in the East-West conflict, with two alliances each dominated by a superpower -- the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by the United States and the Warsaw Pact by the Soviet Union. Although attempts to reproduce these alliances in continents other than Europe met with scant success, their stability within Europe meant that they were virtually taken for granted. Therefore, there was less postwar interest in the issues of alliance formation and disintegration, which had preoccupied earlier generations of strategists. (see also  Cold War) The atomic bomb and American strategic thought.

First atomic bomb test, Alamogordo, N.M., July 16, 1945
By courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico

The first successful test of the atomic bomb took place in New Mexico in July 1945 (see photograph), as the leaders of Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States met at the Potsdam Conference to discuss the shape of the postwar world. This context coloured the early American appreciation of the potential foreign-policy role of the new weapons, with the result that nuclear strategy thereafter became bound up with the twists and turns of the Cold War between East and West.

However, the decision actually to use the bomb against Japan reflected the more immediate urge to end the war as soon as possible and certainly before it became necessary to mount an invasion of the mainland. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was a means of shocking Japan into surrender. The choice of civilian rather than purely military targets, and the consequent immense loss of life, reflected the brutalizing experience of the massive air raids that had become commonplace during the war. Afterward it was assumed that any future atomic bombing would also be against cities. As weapons of terror, they appeared to have brought 20th-century trends in warfare to their logical conclusion.

The first nuclear weapons were in the range of other munitions (the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was equivalent to the load of some 200 B-29 bombers); also, at least initially, the weapons were scarce. The key development introduced by atomic bombs was less in the scale of their destructive power than in their efficiency. By the start of the 1950s, though, this situation had been transformed by two related developments. The first was the breaking of the U.S. monopoly by the Soviet Union, which conducted its first atomic bomb test in August 1949. Once two could play the nuclear game, the rules had to be changed. Anyone who thought of initiating nuclear war would henceforth need to consider the possibility of retaliation.

The second development followed from the first. In an effort to extend its effective nuclear superiority, the United States produced thermonuclear bombs, based on the principles of nuclear fusion rather than fission, upon which the atomic bombs were based. This made possible weapons with no obvious limits to their destructive potential. Opposition to this development by influential nuclear scientists, such as Robert Oppenheimer, was disregarded by President Harry S. Truman on the grounds that the Soviet Union would not suffer from any comparable moral inhibitions.

This move was not matched by a pronounced nuclear bias in U.S. strategy. The weapons were still scarce, and it seemed only a matter of time before whatever advantages accruing to the United States through its lead would be neutralized as the Soviet Union caught up. The Truman administration assumed that the introduction of thermonuclear weapons would extend the time available to the United States and its allies (including NATO) to build up conventional forces to match those of the Soviet Union and its satellites. A series of events, from the Berlin blockade of 1948 to the Korean War of 1950-53, had convinced the United States that the communists were prepared to use military means to pursue their political ambitions and that this could be countered only by a major program of Western rearmament. Massive retaliation.

The administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which came to power in January 1953, saw things differently. It reflected on the frustrating experience of the inconclusive conventional war fought in Korea and wondered why the West had not made more of its nuclear superiority. Eisenhower was also extremely worried about the economic burden of conventional rearmament. Assigning a greater priority to nuclear weapons provided the opportunity to scale down expensive conventional forces. By this time the nuclear arsenal was becoming more plentiful and more powerful.

The strategy that emerged from these considerations became known as "massive retaliation," following a speech made by U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles in January 1954, when he declared that in the future a U.S. response to aggression would be "at places and with means of our own choosing." This doctrine was interpreted as threatening nuclear attack against targets in the Soviet Union and China in response to conventional aggression anywhere in the world. (see also  nuclear deterrence)

Massive retaliation was widely criticized. In the United States the Democratic Party, whose policy under Truman was being reversed--and the army and navy, whose budgets were being cut at the expense of the air force's Strategic Air Command--charged that it placed undue reliance on nuclear threats, which would become less credible as Soviet nuclear strength grew. If a limited challenge developed anywhere around the Sino-Soviet periphery (the two communist giants were seen to constitute a virtual monolith), and the United States neglected its own conventional forces, then a choice would have to be faced between "suicide or surrender." First and second strikes.

Massive retaliation was also criticized for failing to appreciate possible areas of Soviet superiority. This criticism grew after the Soviet Union demonstrated its technological prowess by successfully launching the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik 1) in October 1957, not long after it had also made the first tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the SS-6. Concern grew that the Soviet Union was outpacing the United States in missile production, so leading to a "missile gap." (It might have been argued that after a certain level of destructive capability had been reached by both sides, an effective stalemate would be reached and extra weapons would make little difference, promising only, as British prime minister Winston Churchill put it, to make "the rubble bounce.")

However, by this time nuclear strategy was becoming much more sophisticated. With the RAND Corporation, a think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif., taking the lead, new analytical techniques were being developed. These were often drawn from engineering and economics, rather than the more traditional strategic disciplines of history and politics. In a celebrated RAND study of the mid-1950s, a team led by Albert Wohlstetter demonstrated that the air bases of the Strategic Air Command could be vulnerable to a surprise attack, after which retaliation would be impossible, thereby exposing the United States and its allies to Soviet blackmail.

A devastating surprise attack was considered possible because, with improved guidance systems, nuclear weapons were becoming more precise. Therefore, it was not inevitable that they would be used solely in "counter-value" strikes against easily targeted political and economic centres; instead it was just as likely that they would be used in "counterforce" strikes against military targets. A successful counterforce attack that rendered retaliation impossible--known as a "first strike"--would be strategically decisive. If, however, the attacked nation possessed sufficient forces to survive an attempted first strike with retaliatory weapons intact, then it would have what became known as a second-strike capability.

Other strategists, such as Thomas Schelling, warned that if both sides sought a first-strike capability, this could lead to an extremely unstable situation, especially during a period of high political tension when both were nervous as to the other's intentions. If it were feared that an enemy first strike was imminent, then there would be powerful pressures to attack first, and if the enemy recognized these pressures, then that would encourage him to get in his strike. Schelling described this as the "reciprocal fear of surprise attack."

On the other hand, if both sides were confident of their second-strike capabilities, then there would be considerable stability, as there would be no premium attached to unleashing nuclear hostilities. The benefits of a mutual second-strike capability led to the concept of arms control, by which potential adversaries would put less priority on simply lowering their force levels (as advocated by proponents of disarmament) and more on removing incentives to take the military initiative in the event of a severe crisis. Mutual assured destruction.

In the event, technological developments supported the second strike. Initially, long-range bombers had to be kept on continual alert to prevent them from being eliminated in a surprise attack. When ICBMs moved into full production in the early 1960s with such systems as the U.S. Titan and Minuteman I and the Soviet SS-7 and SS-8, they were placed in hardened underground silos, so that an unlikely direct hit would be required to destroy them. Even less vulnerable were submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) such as the U.S. Polaris and the Soviet SS-N-5 and SS-N-6, which could take full advantage of the ocean expanses to hide from enemy attack.

Meanwhile, attempts to develop effective defenses against nuclear attack proved futile. The standards for antiaircraft defense in the nuclear age had to be much higher than for conventional air raids, since any penetration of the defensive screen would threaten the defender with catastrophe. Progress was made using surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), such as the U.S. Nike series, in developing defenses against bombers, but the move to ICBMs, with their minimal warning time before impact, appeared to render the defensive task hopeless. Then, during the 1960s, advances in radars and long-range SAMs promised a breakthrough in antiballistic missile defense, but by the early 1970s these in turn were countered by improvements in offensive missiles--notably multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), which could swamp any defenses. (The first MIRVed ICBMs were the U.S. Minuteman III and the Soviet SS-17.)

Measures of civil defense, which could offer little protection to the civilian populace against nuclear explosions and, at best, only some chance of avoiding exposure to nuclear fallout, also appeared hopeless in the face of the overwhelming destructive power being accumulated by both sides.

By the mid-1960s fears had eased of a technological arms race that might encourage either side to unleash a surprise attack. For the foreseeable future each side could eliminate the other as a modern industrial state. Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of defense for much of that decade, argued that so long as the two superpowers had confidence in their capacity for mutual assured destruction--an ability to impose "unacceptable damage" defined as 25 percent of population and 50 percent of industry--the relationship between the two would be stable.

The need to maintain strategic stability influenced the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT), which began in 1969 and became the centrepiece of President Richard M. Nixon's policy of détente with the Soviet Union. In 1972, with the ABM Treaty, the two sides agreed to ban nationwide antiballistic missile systems, thereby confirming the primacy of the offense. Attempts to consolidate the strategic standoff with a treaty limiting offensive weapons proved more difficult. (In 1972 only an interim freeze had been agreed.) The second round of talks was guided mainly by the concept of parity, by which a broad equality in destructive power would be confirmed. However, the difficulty in comparing the two nuclear arsenals, which differed in important respects, resulted in long and complex negotiations. A treaty called SALT II was agreed on in June 1979, but by this time détente was in decline, and it was dealt a final blow with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan at the end of that year. In addition, the strategic underpinnings of arms control had been undermined by a growing dissatisfaction in the United States with the principles of mutual assured destruction. Alternatives to assured destruction.

Critics found the condition of mutual assured destruction--which had become known by its acronym MAD--alarming. If MAD failed to deter, then any war would soon lead to genocide. In addition, if the threat of retaliating with nuclear weapons was used to deter only nuclear attack, then the value of nuclear threats in deterring conventional aggression would be lost. In principle, this could undermine the commitments made to allies to use nuclear weapons on their behalf if they faced such aggression.

Particularly alarming was evidence that the nuclear strategy of the Soviet Union envisaged using nuclear weapons in a traditional military manner much as if they were conventional weapons--that is, at most to obtain a decisive military advantage in a conflict and at the very least to reduce the damage that an enemy might do to Soviet territory (if necessary, by launching preemptive strikes). During the negotiations that led to SALT II, critics also argued that the momentum behind the Soviet ICBM program, in combination with improved guidance systems that gave unprecedented accuracy to MIRVed missiles, had opened a "window of vulnerability" in the U.S. deterrent force. They expressed concern that the Soviet Union, by deploying the SS-17, SS-18, and SS-19 ICBMs, was building a force of such size and accuracy that just a portion of it could attack and destroy the U.S. Minuteman and Titan ICBM force without killing huge numbers of civilians. Although this would not be a true first strike, since U.S. bombers and submarines could retaliate, these latter delivery systems were not accurate enough to produce an equivalent counterforce attack against Soviet missile silos. Instead, the United States would be forced to escalate the war by retaliating against cities. This repugnant act would be of no strategic value, however, because the rest of the untouched Soviet missile force would then be used to wipe out U.S. cities. The United States, therefore, would have placed itself in a position in which it would have to choose between surrender and slaughter.

The realism of this scenario may be doubted, given that no attack against U.S. ICBMs would be accurate enough to avoid massive civilian destruction; therefore, the Soviet Union could be certain that the United States would feel little repugnance at retaliating against Soviet cities. Nonetheless, it was used to criticize SALT II, a complicated treaty that offered few means of verification and did little to interfere with the Soviet ICBM program. It was also used to argue for the development of U.S. ICBMs comparable to the Soviet systems.

The first formal break with assured destruction came in 1974, when Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger announced that future U.S. nuclear targeting would be geared to selective strikes and not just the sort of massive attacks suggested by the philosophy of mutual assured destruction. Although President Jimmy Carter's secretary of defense, Harold Brown, was skeptical that either side would actually find such sophisticated nuclear strikes possible, he accepted the need to develop a range of targeting options to convince the Soviet Union that it could not gain the upper hand by such methods. This was the main theme of the "countervailing" strategy announced in 1980.

Ronald W. Reagan came to office the next year with a much more radical critique of MAD, and his presidency was devoted to attempts to escape from its constraints. Initially, this took the form of a search for offensive nuclear operations that would enable the United States to "prevail" in a protracted war with the Soviet Union, rather than just countervail. It involved upgrading the old civil-defense systems and deploying the MX, an experimental ICBM originally designed to survive a first strike through some form of mobile deployment. Neither of these ideas was politically popular. In the end, civil defense was rejected as impossible, and the MX (now named Peacekeeper) was deployed in Minuteman silos and in only a fraction of the originally proposed numbers.

In March 1983 Reagan announced the start of a second search for a means to escape from MAD. This time it was for a defensive system that could intercept ballistic missiles. Reagan spoke of his preference for protecting lives rather than avenging them, and of the possibility of rendering nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete," but the vision could not be turned into reality. Although the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI (which critics dubbed Star Wars, after a science fiction movie), was given a high priority and billions of dollars for research, the idea of protecting society as a whole from nuclear attack soon appeared hopelessly impractical, given the diverse means of delivering nuclear weapons. The main question became whether SDI could protect key political and military assets from attack, but even here some of the more futuristic ideas--such as using space-based lasers to destroy ballistic missiles just as they were launched--proved technically demanding and expensive. Political support waned.

Meanwhile, Reagan had replaced talks on arms limitation with the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). At first the Soviet Union argued that no progress on strategic arms control was possible so long as SDI was being pursued. Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the Soviet leader in 1985, offered his own vision of how to escape from assured destruction in a speech of January 1986, in which he set out a radical disarmament agenda leading toward a nuclear-free world by the end of the century. In October 1986, at a summit in Reykjavík, Ice., Reagan came close to embracing this vision, although no agreement was reached because he refused Gorbachev's demand to abandon SDI. Nevertheless, the concept of arms reduction had taken hold, and START proceeded with a new emphasis on deep cuts in nuclear arsenals. (see also  Reykjavík summit)

The switch to arms reduction suggested that Reagan's critique of MAD had concluded with the view that, given the difficulties of designing and deploying both discriminating offensive options and effective ballistic missile defenses, it was better to do away with nuclear weapons altogether. This constituted a formidable challenge to the orthodox view that nuclear weapons exercised a stabilizing deterrence on international misbehaviour and were a reassurance to America's allies, who faced preponderant Soviet conventional forces. Reagan was prevailed upon to moderate his critique, but not before doubts had been created as to the strength of the U.S. commitment to guarantee the security of its allies with nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, the alacrity with which Gorbachev embraced complete nuclear disarmament reflected the greater freedom of maneuver available to any Soviet leader as well as the subordinate role of the Warsaw Pact allies. Whereas NATO's European members were anxious to lock the United States into their security arrangements for fear that they would be unable to stand alone, the Soviet Union had drawn its allies into a pact that met its own security requirements--that is, extending its form of government into eastern Europe and creating a buffer between it and the hostile capitalist forces of the West. Members of the Warsaw Pact might be beneficiaries of a Soviet nuclear guarantee, but there was no question of shared decision-making on nuclear matters. In fact, during the 1970s Soviet doctrine had appeared to have the goal of extracting the maximum regional benefit from its nuclear arsenal--vis-à-vis both western Europe and China--while maintaining Soviet territory as a sanctuary from nuclear devastation. Its priority in any nuclear conflict would have been to confine nuclear exchanges to central Europe, while showing a certain respect for U.S. territory as a sanctuary in the hope of reciprocal treatment by the United States. If escalation had appeared inevitable, however, or if the United States had appeared to be preparing a first strike, then Soviet doctrine would have called for a preemptive blow against the United States' long-range arsenal in an effort to reduce damage to the Soviet Union.

This approach was undermined by evidence that U.S. nuclear doctrine and deployment showed no respect for geographic sanctuary and by the Soviets' own recognition of the sheer difficulty of managing a nuclear exchange in such a way as to reduce the vulnerability of Soviet territory. Even before Gorbachev, there had been a discernible trend in military thinking toward emphasizing the opening conventional stage of a war and toward achieving victory within that stage. Gorbachev accelerated this trend. Because he was not prepared to allow overambitious nuclear doctrines to interfere with his objective of improving relations with the West, he was much more prepared than his predecessors to compromise in arms control negotiations. In addition, he was influenced by the April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which demonstrated that radioactive fallout had little respect for national boundaries. Flexible response.

This gave a new twist to the long-standing debate within NATO over nuclear deterrence. The United States' allies had already learned to live with unavoidable doubts over the quality of the U.S. nuclear guarantee of European security. These began to surface in the 1950s, after the Eisenhower administration had embraced nuclear deterrence and the allies had agreed that it was natural to rely on the most advanced weapons available--especially those in which the United States then enjoyed a clear superiority. The alternative course--relying on conventional forces--would have caused severe economic strains, and there was deep pessimism as to the possibility of ever matching Soviet conventional strength.

The conventional buildup set in motion under the Truman administration had one important requirement: that the Federal Republic of Germany be rearmed. This set in motion a sharp debate in Europe that was coloured by memories of the recent war, but in 1955 a formula was found in which West Germany rearmed but was permitted no chemical or nuclear weapons and was part of NATO's military command. In return, the West German government sought a commitment by its new allies to the concept of forward defense, in which any aggression would be rebuffed at the border between East and West Germany. (With its lack of depth and its concentration of population and industry close to the East, the Federal Republic had no wish for its allies to trade German soil for more time in responding to a Soviet attack.)

Once it was decided that NATO would not attempt to match Soviet conventional forces, then forward defense meant, in effect, that nuclear deterrence was linked to the inter-German border. European members of NATO had no qualms with this arrangement, because it saved them the expense of sustaining large-scale conventional forces, and they did not believe that the Soviet Union had any interest in invading western Europe that would be worth the slightest risk of nuclear war.

In the early 1960s the administration of President John F. Kennedy, which confronted the Soviet Union over the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile crisis, did not take such a relaxed view of Soviet intentions. Given what it saw as the Soviet capacity for retaliation, the United States thought it unlikely that any president would use nuclear weapons first, and it was hard to see how a credible deterrent could be fashioned out of an incredible nuclear threat. At the very least, the United States insisted, NATO should raise the nuclear threshold, that is, the point at which nuclear weapons would be necessary to stave off conventional defeat. This would be accomplished by extra conventional forces. New analyses suggested that it would be easier than hitherto assumed because previous assessments had exaggerated the strength of the Warsaw Pact. In addition, the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who was convinced that nuclear weapons made it unnecessary to maintain vast armies, was imposing major reductions on his generals at that time.

European governments argued in response that conventional forces simply could not provide a sufficient deterrent. Since Soviet territory would not be vulnerable in a conventional war, the Kremlin might judge that the risks of conventional war were acceptable. And even if the Warsaw Pact were defeated, central Europe would still be devastated. Therefore, all war had to be deterred, not just nuclear war.

In 1967 a compromise was found in the doctrine of "flexible response." Under this compromise, the Europeans recognized the U.S. requirement for an extended conventional stage, so that the first shots across the Iron Curtain would not lead automatically to nuclear holocaust, and the United States accepted the need for a clear link between a land war in Europe and its own strategic nuclear arsenal. Limited nuclear war.

Flexible response did not prescribe a particular course of action; rather, it retained for NATO the possibility that it would be the first to use nuclear weapons and suggested that this initially would involve short-range, tactical weapons. (see also  limited warfare)

When tactical nuclear weapons such as the Honest John rocket were introduced into the NATO inventory during the 1950s, the U.S. Army had supposed that these could be considered quite separately from intercontinental strategic missiles. If anything, tactical nuclear weapons were closer to conventional weapons and were to be integrated with general-purpose forces. A number of strategic thinkers in the United States, including Henry Kissinger and Robert Osgood, hoped that, if the West could reinforce its military strength in this way, it would be possible to take on communists in limited nuclear wars without resort to incredible threats of massive retaliation.

However, once the widespread use of battlefield nuclear weapons by NATO was simulated in war games in the 1950s, it became apparent that they would result in such death and destruction that they could in no way be considered conventional. Also, as Warsaw Pact forces obtained comparable capabilities with such weapons as the SS-1 missile, any Western advantage seemed neutralized. Unless a retreating defender used nuclear weapons immediately, any later use could well be over his own territory and against a dispersed enemy. And, if tactical nuclear weapons were used to impose great costs on the enemy, there would be a risk that the conflict could soon escalate to strategic nuclear use. Limited nuclear war, therefore, appeared a contradiction in terms.

European governments were still loath to dispense with the weapons. Although they could not be considered ordinary weapons of war, their close integration with conventional forces meant that they were more likely than U.S. strategic nuclear forces to get entangled in a land war in Europe. The idea was to use the risk of escalating to total nuclear war with the United States as a powerful deterrent effect on the Soviet Union's actions in Europe. According to this strategy, deterrence did not require a certainty that nuclear weapons would be used, but only a risk. The consequences of miscalculation were so horrendous that a government would dare not gamble. However, the United States, whose own security was now being linked to peace in Europe, was still more concerned that miscalculation might nonetheless take place.

Certainly, NATO's procedures for "going nuclear" were designed to reduce the risk of unauthorized use. But this created a tension between theory, which suggested that deterrence was served by the risk that a conflict might get out of control, and practice, which exhibited a determination not to lose control. The tension was reflected in discussions over how to replace the first generation of tactical nuclear weapons as they became obsolete in the 1970s. If the next generation were made smaller and more precise, then this would imply a readiness to use them to fight a nuclear war rather than simply deter. An apparent readiness to wage nuclear war was at the heart of a controversy over the "neutron bomb" (actually a thermonuclear missile warhead or artillery shell of enhanced radiation and reduced blast), which was criticized for blurring the boundary between conventional and nuclear weapons and thereby making it much easier to go nuclear.

Even greater controversy was generated by NATO's decision in 1979 to replace the Pershing IA, a medium-range ballistic missile, with two weapons that would constitute a more powerful intermediate nuclear force (INF): the Pershing II intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and the Tomahawk cruise missile. The origins of the program to modernize the INF lay in two western European concerns over the U.S. nuclear guarantee. The first concern resulted from the tendency of the United States in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to concentrate on achieving symmetry between the nuclear forces of the two superpowers, while paying little attention to the superiority, within the European theatre, of the Warsaw Pact in both nuclear and conventional weapons. Particularly worrisome was the Soviet SS-20, an IRBM that was first tested in 1974 and deployed in 1977. Although the SS-20 did not signal any shift in Soviet policy (U.S. military bases in Europe and the British, French, and Chinese nuclear forces had long been targeted), it was the first new missile designed for this purpose to have appeared in some time. In 1977 Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany argued that NATO should not tolerate Soviet superiority in such weapons. This suggested that the imbalance should be dealt with either through arms control or by an equivalent Western effort to upgrade its own INF.

The second concern placed far less stress on the SS-20 and more on the requirements, within NATO's strategy of flexible response, to be able to strike Soviet territory with systems based in western Europe in the event of full-scale war on the Continent. This requirement existed irrespective of the new Soviet missiles, and it was becoming problematic because of the age of NATO's medium bombers and the lack of any U.S. intermediate-range land-based missile in Europe. A modernized INF made more sense than systems designed for battlefield use, because they posed a direct threat to the Soviet homeland and thus challenged Soviet ideas of confining any nuclear exchanges to NATO and Warsaw Pact countries, with superpower territory accorded sanctuary status.

However, large-scale protests sprang up in Europe and North America after the decision to modernize. Voicing a concern that a new arms race was getting under way in Europe, they took on special urgency following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (two weeks after NATO's decision on the INF), with the decline of arms control, and with the election of Ronald Reagan, who had a hawkish reputation, to the U.S. presidency. The strength of the protests encouraged NATO to moderate its policy. The rationale for modernizing the INF was switched from the requirements of flexible response to the more politically marketable aim of matching the deployment of the SS-20, and in November 1981, at the start of negotiations on this issue, Reagan offered to eliminate NATO's INF if all SS-20s were removed. This "zero option" was rejected by Leonid Brezhnev, and, despite warnings from the Soviet Union that deployment of a modernized INF would mean the end of negotiations, the first Tomahawk and Pershing II missiles were delivered in late 1983. Yury Andropov promptly broke off the INF talks, hoping to force a breach in the unanimity of the NATO allies, but, when the expected crisis failed to arise, Konstantin Chernenko agreed to resume negotiations. Soon afterward Gorbachev was in charge, and he decided that the zero option was in the Soviet interest: eliminating the INF would remove a direct threat to Soviet territory in return for removing a larger number of Soviet missiles that could strike only the allies of the United States. In December 1987, Gorbachev and Reagan signed the INF Treaty.

Although America's allies saw that the treaty had political benefits in improving East-West relations, some strategists worried that it sounded the death knell for nuclear deterrence. One response by NATO was to see whether it would be possible to build up other nuclear systems by way of compensation, but the difficulty here was that the improved political climate undermined public support for such moves. In West Germany the question of modernizing the short-range Lance missile was coloured by the direct and almost unique threat this weapon posed to German territory. There had always been the strongest official support for the traditional concept of nuclear deterrence in that country, but, with the political climate improving, West German politicians such as Chancellor Helmut Kohl came to argue that yet another nuclear modernization program would send the wrong signals to the East. They were also unhappy at the apparent readiness of the United States and Britain to retain Germany as a battlefield for short-range nuclear exchanges while securing the removal of intermediate- and long-range systems that threatened their own territories. The Soviet Union possessed large numbers of short-range missiles and had been modernizing them for a decade with such systems as the SS-21, but Gorbachev indicated a readiness to negotiate their complete elimination. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. president George Bush insisted that this would be imprudent, and, following their lead, NATO agreed in 1989 to postpone modernizing the Lance in the hope that negotiations on conventional force reductions would reach a satisfactory conclusion and thus reduce the importance of nuclear weapons as a means of compensating for the Warsaw Pact's conventional superiority.

The Bush administration was more orthodox on nuclear matters than its predecessor, but Reagan's interest in a nuclear-free world--highlighted by SDI, the Reykjavík summit, and the INF Treaty--had already encouraged discussion among some Europeans of the possibility of a European defense community that would be less dependent upon the United States. In practice this would require the substitution of a French and British strategic nuclear guarantee for an American. Britain had always, officially at least, committed its strategic nuclear forces (which since the late 1960s had been SLBMs) to NATO. Britain's rationale for maintaining a national nuclear force involved a combination of the political influence that could be brought to bear on its allies, especially the United States, and a claim to be contributing to the overall deterrent posture. France, by contrast, had always had a much more nationalistic rationale, but after the 1970s, following the introduction of the Pluton short-range missile, which could only land on German territory, it was obliged to consider the role that its force de frappe might have in the defense of its allies. In any event, neither Britain nor France was eager to take over from the United States the broader deterrent role; nor were those who had previously sheltered under the U.S. umbrella interested in a European alternative. Conventional strategy.

The main consequence of the developing uncertainties surrounding nuclear deterrence was an increased interest in conventional strategy. For the first two decades of the nuclear age, there had been little interest in this area; given the conviction that any war between the great powers would soon go nuclear, there seemed to be little point in preparing for nonnuclear engagements.

Meanwhile, France and Britain fought a number of colonial wars, with France's struggles in Indochina and Algeria particularly protracted and bitter. During the 1960s the United States became steadily involved in Vietnam, in which a weak pro-Western government in the South faced an insurgency backed by a communist government in the North. After 1965 there was a substantial commitment of all elements of U.S. military power, excluding nuclear weapons but including a bombing campaign against the North.

Partly as a result of these conflicts, interest began to revive in the likely character of a conventional war involving the major powers. In the West this was also a result of the adoption of flexible response, which demanded greater attention to conventional warfare. In the East as well, to some extent because of the shift in NATO doctrine, conventional warfare grew in importance. There was some irony in this. Flexible response reflected NATO's concern over Soviet conventional superiority, yet, under Khrushchev, Soviet forces had been cut back dramatically on the assumption that any future war would go nuclear from the start. After Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, the Soviet Union began a major buildup of conventional forces, and in 1967 military exercises were held that indicated the expectation of a substantial conventional stage at the start of a future war. Besides the need to remain strong in relation to NATO, by the early 1970s the Soviet buildup reflected concern over a possible threat from China, which had become extremely hostile and was rapidly improving relations with the West. Again, there was irony in this development. China and the Soviet Union had finally split in 1963 over Khrushchev's readiness to deal with the West, over his unwillingness to back the Chinese nuclear program, and also over a long-standing border dispute between the two countries. Later, the years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) convinced Brezhnev that the Chinese were dangerous and unstable; clashes on the border in 1969 led to hints from Moscow that it might take action against China's fledgling nuclear capability.

In the late 1970s this Warsaw Pact buildup, coupled with Soviet-supported operations in such Third World countries as Vietnam, Angola, and Ethiopia, stimulated NATO to improve its capacity to resist an offensive and mobilize quickly. This was based on the fear that, without sufficient warning to get mobilization under way, the strength of Soviet frontline and follow-on forces could overwhelm NATO's thin peacetime lines of defense. Growing doubts over the credibility and durability of nuclear deterrence also increased the importance of improving conventional forces.

Even with increased allocations to defense, NATO governments remained pessimistic about their ability to match Warsaw Pact forces. Although the total military power of NATO was much greater, geography favoured the Warsaw Pact, since reserves from the East could reach the front much more quickly than reserves from the United States, which would have to make a hazardous journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Against this pessimism it was noted that greater numbers were normally assumed to be required by the attacker (a ratio of three to one was often cited, although the critical factor was not the overall ratio but the strength of the offense at the point of attack). Technological advances were said further to favour the defense, in that extremely precise and comparatively simple guided weapons could be used to take on tanks and high-performance aircraft, the central actors in any offensive.

This optimism was questioned by other strategic analysts. They noted that the natural advantage accruing to the defense would do so only if the attacker had to force a way through well-prepared defensive positions, rather than simply outflanking them. The ability to impose attrition on the enemy would be reduced if the enemy was able to fight a war of maneuver, in which an immobile defense might find itself caught off balance. Moreover, in a war of maneuver, the potential benefits of simple air-defense and antitank systems would soon be qualified by the need to make them mobile, which would put them in need of protection as well. (see also  strategic maneuver)

The proponents of maneuver warfare warned that this was the type favoured by the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet Union preferred the offensive because it would make it possible to defeat the enemy quickly, before the full weight of its power could be brought to bear. Soviet doctrine during the 1970s suggested that a key aspect of this offensive would be the neutralization of NATO's nuclear assets by overrunning key installations, with a possible shift to a regional nuclear offensive when the right moment arrived. By the early 1980s doubts over whether a war would last long enough for the right moment ever to arrive, and whether nuclear exchanges could be limited geographically, encouraged a greater stress by the Soviet military on obtaining a victory in the conventional stage. (see also  strategic offense)

The maneuver school eventually encouraged a shift in NATO thinking toward more mobile operations, as well as a greater willingness to contemplate attacks into Warsaw Pact territory in an effort to reduce the momentum of a Pact offensive. The strategy of follow-on forces attack (FOFA), for example, envisaged the holding of a Pact offensive on the ground while attacking the Pact's follow-on forces in the rear with air strikes. Such aggressive defense was criticized by peace movements as being too provocative. Instead, they proposed non-provocative strategies based on "defensive defense," which would lack any capability to go on the offensive. These ideas proved difficult to turn into practice, as any sort of mobile force could move forward, and few armies would tolerate being deprived of their capacity to counterattack.

Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union concern over the burden of high defense expenditures, combined with an awareness that the arms buildup of the 1970s had triggered a counterresponse from NATO, encouraged "new thinking" that actually picked up on the ideas of defensive defense. These ideas were received by Soviet military commanders with as little enthusiasm as they were received in the West. Nevertheless, they influenced cuts in Soviet forces, announced by Gorbachev in December 1988, that eliminated some military units of a clearly offensive nature without depriving the Warsaw Pact of its offensive options. However modest in themselves, the cuts raised the prospect of an end to the role of these forces in sustaining the Soviet Union's dominance over eastern Europe. When coupled with domestic political reforms in the Soviet Union, Poland, and Hungary, they also signaled the eventual demise of the postwar alliance system. The prospect of a declining Soviet hegemony, however, was clouded by growing disorder within eastern Europe (and even in the Soviet Union itself) and also by the considerable strength that Soviet military forces would retain in spite of the planned cuts. Moreover, there was no reason to presume that a security system in which the two superpowers played a less overbearing role would be free of conflict. This provided an argument for a continuing role for nuclear deterrence: to warn against the dangers of allowing any conflict to get out of hand, if not to deal with a specific military threat. Nevertheless, political changes within the Soviet bloc presented a historic opportunity to heal East-West divisions and, with that, to reduce the need for substantial armed forces of any kind. (L.D.Fr.)



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