The Russian General Staff has never forgotten that they almost lost World War II — and won World War II — because of strategic surprise. Lessons from what Russia calls the Great Fatherland War are today applied to its preparations for nuclear war.
Adolph Hitler’s 1941 invasion of the USSR, Operation Barbarossa, took Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin completely by surprise. Under the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, and their joint conquest of Poland, Nazi Germany and the USSR were strategic partners.
Hitler’s betrayal so shocked Stalin, he was paralyzed with indecision for days.
Surprising too was Germany’s seemingly invincible revolutionary new war machine and Blitzkrieg strategy that quickly defeated larger Russian armies, advancing rapidly toward Moscow — to the verge of victory.
But at the gates of Moscow, Russia unleashed its own surprise.
Unknown to Hitler, Stalin had more than the 150 divisions visible to German intelligence. Russia mobilized another 200 fresh divisions, launching a surprise counterattack. And unlike Germany, Russians were trained and equipped to fight a winter war.
Germany’s colossal intelligence failure — underestimating Russia’s military strength and winter warfighting capabilities — won World War II for Stalin and set the USSR on the path to becoming a Cold War superpower.
Lessons learned from World War II by Moscow for the nuclear missile age:
First, sign treaties with your enemy, lulling him into complacency, constraining his strength, while preparing to betray the “strategic partnership” when the time is right.
Second, cheat on treaties, secretly build-up a war-winning advantage, hiding your real strength from the enemy.
Third, develop new technologies and new ways of warfare to maximize strategic, operational and tactical surprise.
“Maskirovka” encompasses all of the above in a word, a long-standing doctrine of the Russian General Staff during the Cold War and today. Yet Washington elites and their obliging strategic optimists in the national security community have spent professional lifetimes ignoring and rationalizing, for example, Soviet and Russian cheating on arms control treaties.
Even today, the State Department continues to conceal, under layers of classification, President Reagan’s 1984 report “A Quarter Century Of Soviet Compliance Practices Under Arms Control Commitments: 1958-1983”— which details Moscow’s violation of every major arms control agreement in its relentless quest for superiority in nuclear, chemical, biological and other weapons.
The Obama administration concealed Russian treaty violations for years.
Psychiatrists might call the willingness of Washington elites to ignore treaty violations and underestimate nuclear threats “denial behavior.” Main Street USA would call it stupidity.
Another recent example of the proclivity of Washington elites and the national security community to bury their heads in the sand is described in Mark Schneider’s excellent article “Russian Tactical Nukes Are Real” (Proceedings, April 2018). The title is significant because many in Washington and the West act as if Russia’s enormous advantage in tactical nuclear weapons does not exist.
Mr. Schneider, a former Department of Defense official, warns DOD may be underestimating Russia’s tactical nuclear threat:
“[Russia] claims it has reduced its tactical nuclear weapons inventory by 75 percent from late Cold War levels. This is probably true, but the Soviet tactical nuclear weapons arsenal was so large that this could leave 5,000 or more tactical warheads available today, as Pravda reported in 2014. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) reports that Russia has 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons, and is increasing and modernizing them.”
“If Russian press reports are correct,” Mr. Schneider writes, “the NPR number is a considerable underestimate.”
NPR’s estimate that Russia has reduced 20,000 tactical nuclear weapons to 2,000 is almost certainly based on the kind of wishful thinking and “politically correct” analysis that estimated North Korea would not have an H-Bomb for another decade.
Even if the NPR number is correct, Russia’s 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons outnumber the 200 U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons by 10-to-1. Combined with Russia’s 1,800 strategic nuclear weapons, Moscow’s overall nuclear arsenal is 3,800 weapons versus 1,500 U.S. weapons (200 tactical plus 1,300 strategic), a balance favoring Russia by more than 2-to-1.
Russia never enjoyed such preponderance in nuclear firepower during the Cold War.
But are Moscow and the Russian press to be trusted that they dismantled most of Russia’s 20,000 tactical nuclear weapons? What would Maskirovka dictate the Russian General Staff do?
There are no verification or inspection provisions to confirm that Moscow dismantled most of its non-strategic nuclear weapons under the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiative.
If Russia retains 20,000 tactical nuclear weapons, the overall nuclear balance is 21,800 versus 1,500 U.S. nuclear weapons, a balance favoring Russia by more than 13-to-1.
Most of Russia’s 20,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons comprised nuclear artillery shells, anti-aircraft warheads, torpedo warheads, and other small warheads easy to hide, even deployed with operational forces, as Schneider notes is the case with Russia’s nuclear-armed Navy.
Other Russian surprises include: a new way of warfare that would blackout and paralyze the U.S. and NATO with EMP and cyber-attacks; advanced nuclear warheads having no U.S. counterparts; nation-wide missile defense; critical infrastructures hardened against EMP and cyber; advanced chemical and biological weapons, and much else.
A dangerous world is made more dangerous by our intelligence community Pollyannas.
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