The Gathering Storm

Russia is shifting the Balance of Terror

William Lowther May 29 1978

The Gathering Storm

Russia is shifting the Balance of Terror

William Lowther May 29 1978

The Gathering Storm


Russia is shifting the Balance of Terror

William Lowther

It depends, of course, on which way the wind is blowing. But even looking on the bright side, there will be nearly two million Canadian casualties should the Soviet Union ever make a direct nuclear strike against the United States. Only about 1,400 will be killed outright by blasts along the border. The first wave of fallout will kill another 788,700 as it rolls north and there will be 1,208,100 badly injured. Many of them will die later.

These figures are optimistic estimates produced for an Analysis of Effects of Limited Nuclear Warfare by the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. Think about it for a minute: In a limited war, with the wind blowing south, one in every 11 Canadians could be killed or injured. In a worst-case scenario with a stiff breeze driving the fallout on to Canada instead of away, half the population could be

lost in a day. It’s the price we pay as neighbor to a superpower.

There would be 15 minutes’ notice in Vancouver. Eighteen minutes in Toronto. Perhaps 20 in Halifax. That’s if the missiles were taking the polar route. If, as seems more likely, they were fired from submarines in the Pacific and North Atlantic there would be no more than five to 10 minutes’ warning for anyone.

Some expert students of the buildup of armaments during the 1970s think it a 5050 chance that there will be a nuclear war before the end of this century. This is what Colonel Gerald Patterson, one of the 40 Canadian Forces officers attached to NORAD Headquarters, has to say: “The Soviets are getting bigger and better everyday. They are building the biggest military machine in history. There are two things that bother the hell out of me. The first is that the Soviets have never abided by any treaty that didn’t satisfy them, and the second is that there has never been a military machine built that was not used . . . not ever. Is this the sudden exception?”

The colonel’s question is as frightening as it is loaded. Although the world scene can and should be cast in a more optimistic light, it would be no better than playing ostrich to dismiss the warning. Now, as Canada’s leaders gather in Washington for a month-end NATO summit that may set the trends of war and peace for years to come, the time for balanced assessment and decision has arrived.

“To carry on war, three things are necessary,” said an adviser to Louis XII of France. “Money, money, and yet more money.” The advice of 1499 is now truer than ever. The world is spending more than $1 billion a day on armaments. Within four hours of the time the reader passes this sentence, more money will have been spent on arms around the globe than the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, gets to spend in a whole year. Within the next three to four days, more will have been spent on methods of destruction than the entire United Nations and all of its agencies—for food, health, environment, trade, employment, development and so on—get annually.

And the real reason for the NATO summit on May 30 and 31 is to try to persuade the Western world to spend even more. All of the allies, Canada included, have already agreed to increase their military budgets by three per cent. But that isn’t enough to keep up with the Russians. In a conflict using nothing but conventional arms—that is to say, non-nuclear—the Warsaw Pact forces are now strong enough to walk over the NATO troops meant to keep them out of Western Europe. Should the Kremlin suddenly order a blitzkrieg

there would be no way to stop it for days. At least half of West Germany would be lost.

The Washington summit will be dominated by the Americans. President Jimmy Carter is being guided by a supposedly secret 10-page memo from Defence Secretary Harold Brown which reads in part: “The current balance of forces on the ground in Central Europe gives no cause for complacency. Our first task is to improve it.”

Historical parallels might be drawn to the late ’40s when the Cold War began. Prior to 1947, there was a wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet

Union. The word was not then used, but it was a period of détente. By January, 1947, Moscow had fastened its grip on the whole of Eastern Europe. In Churchill’s phrase, an Iron Curtain was rung down “from Stettin to Trieste.” Communism was on the rise in Italy and France and the Kremlin was reaching for the Arabian Peninsula. Dean Acheson, then undersecretary of state, saw the possibility of a “Soviet breakthrough (that) could open three continents to Soviet penetration.” He drafted the speech which became known as the Truman Doctrine, marking the beginning of the Soviet-American power contest, the Cold War.

Today, as in 1947, Moscow has Eastern Europe in an iron grip. Communism is strong in Italy and France. Turkey, resentful of Washington’s pro-Greek slant, is on the verge of pulling out of NATO. Moscow’s Cuban proxies are dug into Ethiopia, the Russians themselves have a military position at the mouth of the Red Sea in South Yemen and there are cries in Washington for a second “Truman Doctrine” to halt the spread of Soviet power.

For the last 10 years the Soviet Union has been modernizing and steadily increasing the size of its own forces and those of the Warsaw Pact nations. Over the next six years, U.S. analysts predict, the Soviet air force will grow from its present 4,200 planes to 10.000. For the last six the U.S.S.R. has built an average of three new fighter aircraft a day, 365 days a year. That’s double the U.S. production. And most significantly they have changed their emphasis recently from defence-type craft to attack planes. They are making increased numbers of MiG-23s (NATO code named Flogger B); MiG-21s (Fishbed); SU-19s (Fencer); SU-17s (Fitter); and MiG-27s (Flogger D). The Flogger and Fitter are capable of striking targets throughout European NATO countries from bases in the western U.S.S.R. The SU-19 Fencer could make a nuclear weapons strike anywhere in Europe. At the same time whole new families of air-tosurface missiles and bombs have been developed. Soviet aircraft designed to attack ground targets have increased from 800 in 1965 to more than 1.700 today. “The Soviet buildup is not a dramatic increase, but rather a steady climb since 1968,” says a senior U.S. air force officer. “It is one that has been made not only in quantity but also in quality.”

At the same time the U.S.S.R. has substantially improved the combat capabilities of its ground forces. In recent years it has invested at least $100 billion in equipment. According to a senior defence department official in Washington, Russia and its Eastern Bloc allies now have in their arsenals:

Tanks—45.000. While the U.S. produced an average of 469 tanks a year from 1972 to 1976, the Soviets averaged 2,770 a year.

Armored personnel carriers and fighting vehicles—55,000. As the U.S. has been making 1,556 a year the Soviets have produced an annual 4,990.

Artillery—19,000 pieces. New 122mm and self-propelled howitzers are rolling out of Soviet factories at the rate of 1,000 a year. Since 1965 there has been a 90 per cent increase in artillery production. The U.S. makes 162 pieces a year, the Soviets average 1,310.

Nor has the Kremlin left its navy behind. The Soviet fleet now numbers 2,410 ships including 260 attack submarines. There has been an extraordinary buildup at sea. Just consider this: In 1964 the U.S. had 23 nuclear subs and the Soviets had 22.

Now the U.S. has 68 and the Soviets 88. In 1964 the U.S. had 29 cruisers and the Soviets had 20. Now the U.S. has 27 and the Soviets have 37. In 1964 the U.S. had 218 destroyers/frigates and the Soviets 216. Today the U.S. has 129 and the Soviets 195. Only when it comes to aircraft carriers can the U.S. still boast supremacy, with 13 to the Soviets' one.

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David C. Jones told the Senate armed services committee earlier this year: “The critical issue is not whether the U.S.S.R. spent X or Y billion rubles in absolute terms during this or that year, but rather the protracted pattern of a large share of national

wealth directed to armaments. The way a nation distributes its wealth over time must certainly stand as a reflection of its priorities and one of the Soviet Union’s principal priorities for more than a decade has clearly been to amass the greatest destructive arsenal the world has ever seen.”

Pentagon sources insist that the Soviets do not fear an attack from NATO. The only explanation for the military buildup, some of them say, is that Moscow believes it can launch and win a conventional war in Europe—a tank assault in the North German Plain—without resorting to tactical nuclear weapons or to all-out nuclear war.

To take one of the nightmare scripts that

worry military futurologists: Suppose on the death of Marshal Tito, the Kremlin decides to bring Yugoslavia firmly into its sphere. Saying, as they did in Czechoslovakia, that they have been “invited,” the Soviets fly troops and tanks to take over Belgrade. There is a Hungarian-type rising, soon crushed. NATO does nothing. It leaves the Soviet army firmly placed on the borders of Greece and Italy, two NATO partners with domestic problems. The Communists start to ferment even greater troubles in Athens and Rome. A crisis develops. The Warsaw Pact mobilizes, says it has been provoked, attacks. There is a twoday tank and air battle, NATO falls back to the Weser River, abandoning nearly a quarter of West Germany’s territory before a new uneasy ceasefire is reached. And the Iron Curtain has been expanded a little further, settling down again until the next time.

This type of possibility is on the Washington summit agenda. What would NATO do? The issues involve the organization’s relevance. Its dependence on the United States for finance, military know-how and psychological backing mean that all the major decisions would have to be made from the White House. “Look, NATO is a defensive alliance,” said one presidential aide. “It’s not an alliance that’s planning a war. It has to sit in a responsive mode. Guys who stay in a fortress for 30 years don’t develop many initiatives. How can we keep a vigorous alliance going when all we’re doing is waiting for something to happen?

"Some of NATO'S troops aren't really

that good,” he added. “The Germans know what they’re doing. You can depend on the Brits in a crunch. The Canadians are OK but there aren’t enough of them to matter. The Dutch are sort of hopeless—never want to spend money.”

In February this year, Britain’s Labor government produced a report saying the Russians are spending between 11 and 13 per cent of their resources on the military. In comparison the U.S. spends 5.5 per cent of its gross national product on defence, NATO European members spend 3.5 per cent and Canada spends 1.8 per cent.

Says the British report: “Soviet forces have, in many areas, been strengthened in size and quality on a scale which goes well beyond the need of any purely defensive posture.” It outlines the balance of forces, Warsaw Pact versus NATO in the Eastern Atlantic and in Central Europe. In surface ships the Communists have 1.2 vessels for every single NATO warship; in submarines the ratio is 1.4; there are 1.2 Communist troops to every NATO soldier; and 2.7 main battle tanks against each NATO tank.

Of the Soviet Union’s 168 army divisions, 27 are in Eastern Europe along with 31 East German, Polish and Czechoslovak divisions. They could attack northern Germany from a “standing start” with less than 48 hours'preparation, NATO has about 25 divisions in West Germany, the most powerful being the 11 West German and five American divisions in the south. France, which has not participated in NATO formally since 1966, has two divisions in West Germany and another eight in France.

The bulk of Russian forces in East Germany are stationed on the North German

Plain, a 100-mile-wide beltof rollingcountryside stretching south from the North Sea. The terrain would allow rapid movement by a westbound tank force while providing ample cover to interfere with the anti-tank missiles on which NATO relies. NATO’s vital air support could be severely hampered by the low cloud cover and heavy morning fogs that are common there in late fall and winter.

NATO’s supreme commander, U.S. Army General Alexander Haig, insists that the alliance could be ready to fight on two days’ notice. But he maintains that innumerable intelligence clues would give NATO eight to 15 days’ warning of any ma-

jor pact move, more than enough time to fly in supporting forces from the States and bring NATO nations to peak readiness. The question is, would NATO governments make the politically awesome decision to mobilize on the basis of intelligence that would be fragmented and ambiguous? Or would several of the European members shrink from supporting any mobilization for fear of reprisals by Moscow or by leftwing parties in their own countries?

Central Europe is only one potential battleground. The Middle East and the entire African continent are two of the others. Using Cubans as their stooges, the Soviets have penetrated no fewer than 16 African

countries. In Angola alone there are believed to be 20,000 Cuban troops.

In the north the Soviets have worked to scuttle Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s peace initiatives toward Israel. Through the use of Cubans in Ethiopia and their own “technical advisers” in South Yemen, the Soviets are poised beside the sea lanes along which Saudi Arabia and Iran export oil. Carter has ordered a powerful “Mideast emergency squad” on stand-by at all times to fly out should the oil fields— essential to the U.S. economy—ever come under attack.

Meanwhile, the Chinese-Soviet border remains troubled and dangerous as demonstrated by events in mid-May. PekingMoscow relations are again bad. Both sides fear a major incident at any time. Washington is beginning to play one off the other. Carter’s advisers feel it’s a good thing to keep the Chinese-Soviet situation simmering for it means that Moscow must keep its armies split, prepared to fight on two fronts.

Canada’s role in all of this is necessarily and perhaps desirably limited. We are perceived as “peacekeepers” and in the Third

World Canadians are generally well respected as honest brokers with no sinister ulterior motives. In Washington, U.S. military planners are increasingly pleased with the Ottawa decision to buy new fighter planes and the recent modest—in U.S. terms—purchase of tanks. As ever, they would like to see more. They also want Prime Minister Trudeau to commit many millions of dollars to modernizing the early warning system in the North. That’s under consideration now.

These are turbulent times. The flash points are all interconnected. And should push ever come to shove anywhere in the world, the bottom line inevitably pits the Soviet Union against the United States. Though Moscow outstrips Washington in weight of arms, this has not overly worried the Pentagon because, as Defence Secretary Brown said: “We are both heavyweights, but the U.S. is more agile.” The analogy is interesting if flippant. He meant that American technology was so far in advance of the Soviets, so superior, that the U.S. would be able easily to block the mass of blows fired off by the Russians and then step in with a few well chosen winning shots. Rather like an old Muhammad AliGeorge Chuvalo fight.

But all that’s changed. Soviet technology is no longer a great way behind the U.S. Soviet fighting forces are much faster on their feet than they were 10 years ago. Not only are they capable of delivering blows that are certain to get through, but they have also learned how to block many of the U.S. punches that were once thought to be unstoppable.

The Israeli-Arab wars have been the major testing ground for non-nuclear U.S.-Soviet weapons. Their history provides dramatic illustration of Soviet improvement. In 1967 the Israelis had no trouble demolishing the Egyptian air force and scoring victory in six days. But by 1973, in the Yom Kippur conflict, things had changed. Using Soviet surface-to-air missiles, the Egyptians were able to keep back Israeli planes while on the ground antitank missiles were enormously effective.

Indeed, any major confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that escalated into a nuclear war would now largely be fought with missiles. The U.S. has about 50 different types. The bulk of Washington’s nuclear deterrent is made up of big, 7,000-mile-range missiles that can be fired from land or submarines. There are 1,000 Minuteman missiles plus 54 Titans based in the U.S. and 656 Polaris and Poseidon missiles aboard nuclear submarines. Many are armed with “multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles” or MIRVs, each carrying as many as 10 separate nuclear warheads or bombs.

On the books, for deployment at the end of this decade, is the sophisticated, ultraaccurate cruise missile. Like a giant cigar tube, it can be launched from bombers or submarines to fly, radar-guided, at treetop height over all types of terrain. Difficult to

detect, guaranteed with a huge nuclear warhead to hit its target head-on.

Carter is anxious to limit the growth of such so-called “strategic nuclear arms” with a new SALT agreement. But it is doubtful that such a treaty will be signed this year. In his efforts to get agreement, the president has shelved plans for another horror weapon, the neutron bomb. The Soviets had campaigned strongly against this one and the idea frightened some NATO partners, too. The bomb, a small nuclear device, is designed as a tank stopper. It explodes causing little structural damage but killing everyone in the area. There is no large-scale fallout, however.

The United States believes that an allout war with the Soviets would be so destructive as to leave no winner. It reasons, as a result, that war has ceased to represent a rational policy option. With a huge nuclear deterrent, it says, we are all safe. Unfortunately, the Soviets do not seem to agree. They say that the best prepared country, in possession of superior strategy, could win a nuclear war and emerge as a viable society.

Writing in Commentary magazine last year. Harvard history professor Richard Pipes, former director of the university’s Russian Research Center, said; “The predisposition of the American strategic community is to shrug off this fundamental doctrinal discrepancy. American doctrine has been and continues to be formulated and implemented by and large without ref-

erence to its Soviet counterpart. It is assumed here that there exists one and only one ‘rational’ strategy appropriate to the age of the thermonuclear weapons, and that this strategy rests on the principle of ‘mutual deterrence’ developed in the United States some two decades ago. Evidence that the Russians do not share this doctrine which, as its name indicates, postulates reciprocal attitudes, is usually dismissed with the explanation that they are clearly lagging behind us: Given time and patient ‘education,’ they will surely come around.”

He added: “It is my contention that this attitude rests on a combination of arrogance and ignorance; that it is dangerous; and that it is high time to start paying heed to Soviet strategic doctrine, lest we end up deterring no one but ourselves.”

The NATO summit will not provide an answer to the major dilemma of arms control or expansion. It will serve, however, to reopen the global debate on defence. The mass of statistics, complex comparisons and opposing ideologies involved can make military politics rather more tiresome than most people care to cope with until the shooting starts. And then it will be too late.Cp