Military Strategy

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Military Strategy


a component of the art of war and the highest level thereof. Military strategy deals with problems in the theory and practice of preparing armed forces for war and with the planning and conduct of war. It is closely linked with state policy, upon which it directly depends, and corresponds to the requirements of military doctrine. State policy formulates the tasks for military strategy, and strategy provides for the fulfillment of the tasks.

Bourgeois military strategy supports the class interests of imperialism and serves the reactionary goals of wars prepared and conducted for the sake of strengthening and preserving the moribund capitalist system. Soviet military strategy, like the strategy of other socialist states, aims at defending the socialist achievements of the workers and peace throughout the world.

Under modern conditions, the links between state policy and military strategy have become more complex. Military strategy is closely tied to the economy and depends on the economic system of a society, the level of production, and the moral capabilities of the people. Political leadership determines the overall political and strategic goals of war and the tasks of preparing the state, the armed forces, and the means necessary for waging war.

The theory of military strategy examines the laws governing the conduct of war, and it develops methods and forms for the use of armed forces and for the preparation and conduct of strategic operations. On the basis of given policy goals, the strategic leadership directing practical affairs develops plans conforming to the requirements of state policy and the capabilities of the armed forces. It also determines the goals and tasks for the fronts, fleets, and armies and allocates forces to theaters of operation and strategic axes. Military strategy endeavors to take full account of the capabilities of the nation and its armed forces as well as the objective character of all conditions that obtain. The failure of military strategy to conform to the military-economic capabilities of a state or coalition of states and to the conditions of the military-political situation leads to the defeat of the armed forces of the given state or coalition.

Soviet military strategy derives from the policy of the Communist Party and the Soviet state. Its precepts and conclusions are worked out on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. In a general sense, Soviet military strategy may be viewed as an expression of the policy of the CPSU concerning the defense of the USSR, which is embodied in the plans for readying the nation and the armed forces to repel an attack by an aggressor and to defeat the aggressor. Distinctions are made between the strategy for waging a war as a whole, the key line of the strategy, the principal strategic goal, and the strategy of waging a war along axes in order to carry out individual strategic tasks and achieve particular strategic aims. Military strategy is uniform in its application to the armed forces, and its recommendations are compulsory for all branches of the armed forces. With respect to operational art and tactics, strategy plays the determining role, while at the same time taking into account the other two components.

Military strategy arose in antiquity. Its gradual development depended on the level production had reached, the character of the social order, the appearance of new weapons and military equipment, and the conventional practices of war. Changes in socioeconomic structures led to changes in the characteristic traits and content of military strategy.

The military strategies of the ancient Eastern states, India, China, Greece, and Rome were initially restricted to the conduct of brief campaigns over comparatively short distances, but they later assumed significant scope, as in the campaigns of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and the Roman Army during the Empire. Gradually, military theory was created. Even at that time, many military leaders examined the questions related to the preparation of war in the context of military strategy. They included Sun-tzu (late sixth through the early fifth century B.C.), Julius Caesar (first century B.C.), Frontinus and Onosander (first century A.D.,) and Polyaenus and Vegetius (late fourth through the early fifth century A.D.). Frontinus and Onosander introduced the terms strategikon and strategology, by which they meant the methods of waging war, that is, the questions of strategy within the framework of the times.

During the age of feudalism, the theory of military strategy experienced a definite stagnation. The feudal states of Western Europe waged internecine wars that were limited in aims and scale (tenth to the 15th century), and their troops consisted basically of guards of heavily armed, relatively unmaneuverable knights. Their military strategy was usually characterized by indecisive-ness and the absence of a centralized strategic leadership. The siege of a castle would continue for years, and major engagements were rarely conducted.

The military strategy of the Russian princes, for example, Oleg and Sviatoslav (ninth to the tenth century), who undertook campaigns against Byzantium and the nomadic peoples of the Volga and Don regions, made it possible to achieve major political results in the struggle for trade routes in the East and South. The Mongol-Tatars under Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, and others (13th—14th centuries) possessed a large cavalry, and their military strategy was marked by strategic offensives mounted to a great depth. The decisive military strategy of the Grand Principality of Moscow made it possible to achieve victories over the Mongol-Tatars at the end of the 14th century (seeKULIKOVO, BATTLE OF [1380]) and overthrow the Mongol-Tatar yoke.

Russian military strategy in the second half of the 16th century under Ivan the Terrible was characterized by the conduct of consecutive strikes against the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates and, later, by a concentration of efforts in the struggle for the Baltic and access to the Baltic Sea (seeLIVONIAN WAR OF 1558–83). In continuing the struggle for the Baltic during the Northern War of 1700–21, Peter I artfully combined the offensive and defensive. In using all means available for waging war on land and at sea in order to achieve decisive superiority over the enemy and freedom of maneuver, he successfully carried out the strategic task of gaining access to the Baltic Sea.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the cordon strategy was used in all European armies. Whenever possible, the feudal absolutist states endeavored to win a war by skillfully maneuvering on the enemy’s lines of communications, as well as by blockade and the capturing of enemy fortresses.

Russian military strategy in the second half of the 18th century found expression in the practice of the military leaders P. A. Ru-miantsev-Zadunaiskii and A. V. Suvorov and the naval leader F. F. Ushakov, who all rejected the principles of cordon strategy. Rumiantsev recognized the primacy of policy over strategy. His methods provided not only for the occupation of enemy territory but also for the defeat of enemy personnel. Suvorov built on the military strategy of Rumiantsev and established the foundations of a new system for the conduct of combat operations. In this system, strategic goals were to be achieved by a decisive offensive, by a struggle for the initiative, by the concentration of forces on the crucial axes, and by bold maneuver. Ushakov achieved strategic goals at sea by skillful employment of the main forces, by combining maneuver and fire, and by the prompt use of reserves.

Profound changes in attitudes concerning the character and methods of waging war occurred as a result of the French Revolution and the wars of national liberation at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. V. I. Lenin pointed out that in the French Revolution, the populace displayed great creativity “when it remodelled its whole system of strategy, broke with all the old rules and traditions of warfare, replaced the old troops with a new revolutionary people’s army, and created new methods of warfare” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 32, p. 80). The strategic goals of war were now achieved by defeating enemy personnel. Greater attention was given to strategic defenses designed to hold territory and create conditions for going over to the offensive.

French military strategy was personified by Napoleon I, who sought to achieve victory over the enemy in a single decisive battle. Napoleon discovered the correct strategic use of massive armed forces for defeating enemy forces, but his military strategy, expressed in a desire to conquer the world, was on the whole adventuristic.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Russian military strategy underwent great development at the hands of M. I. Kutuzov. His strategy was noted for a wealth of combat ploys united by a single strategic plan (the wearing down of the enemy in the course of a retreat, stubborn defense, and counteroffensive and pursuit), the art of maintaining command of several armies fighting on an enormous front, the creation and prompt use of strategic reserves, and the combined use of regular troops and partisans. The military strategy implemented by Kutuzov conformed fully to the interests of the people defending their motherland and achieved outstanding political and military results. The experience of the Patriotic War of 1812 and several other wars in the 19th century served as the basis for the further improvement of military strategy in France, Germany, Russia, and other nations.

At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, K. von Clausewitz, A.-H. Jomini, and other military theoreticians enunciated to a certain degree the principles of military strategy of the massive bourgeois armies of Western Europe. In his principal work, On War, Clausewitz formulated the notion of the link between war and state policy as follows: “war is an implement of policy. It inevitably should have the character of the latter; it must be measured by the measure of policy. For this reason the conduct of war in its main outlines is policy itself, replacing the pen with the sword” (O voine, vol. 2, Moscow, 1937, p. 383). However, Clausewitz did not understand the class nature of policy. He defined certain principles of military strategy as essential for achieving victory. At the same time, he reduced the tasks of military strategy to the organization of a decisive battle and considered that the talent and genius of the military leader played the principal role in strategic leadership.

In his Treatise on Large Military Operations and Essay on the Art of War, Jomini (first half of the 19th century) put in opposition to cordon strategy the necessity of breaking up and destroying the enemy army in a decisive battle. At the same time, he endeavored to prove the existence of eternal and immutable principles in military strategy. In his works and in the way he conducted a war, the head of the Prussian General Staff, H. von Moltke (the elder), stressed the importance of surprise in attack and the early concentration of armies along the frontiers of the enemy state. In his Introduction to the Positive Component of Strategy (1892), Strategy of the March (1893), and Strategy of the Battle (parts 1–2, 1895–96), the French military theorist J.-L. Le-wal criticized the concept of “eternal principles” in military theory, claiming that strategy did not depend on policy.

In Russia, N. V. Medem, in his Survey of the Best-Known Rules and Systems of Strategy (1836), advanced the concepts of links between war, policy, strategy, and tactics and emphasized the dependence of strategic operations on numerous, constantly changing conditions. P. A. Iazykov, in his Experience of the Theory of Strategy (1842), used the experience of the Patriotic War of 1812 as a basis for noting the increased influence of the masses on the outcome of war. In the second half of the 19th century, the Russian military theorist G. A. Leer, in his Essay on a Critical and Historical Investigation of the Laws of the Art of Warfare (Positive Strategy) (1869), recognized the unity of policy and strategy and the primacy of the former. Leer tried to formulate the concept of the strategic operation as a part of a campaign or war. Despite his being an idealist in the solving of practical problems in military strategy, Leer drew many valuable conclusions.

In the US Civil War, the Seven Weeks’ War, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, the use of railroads made it possible to accelerate the movement of large armies and to supply and concentrate such armies in designated areas. Rapid-fire weapons increased the firepower and combat capabilities of troops, and the telephone and telegraph made it possible to exercise command over forces fighting along several axes. All of this made it necessary to develop a military strategy that would meet the new conditions. In Germany, military strategy was delineated by the chief of the German General Staff, A. von Schlieffen, who had a great influence on the strategic views of the German generals. Schlieffen developed the idea of crushing the enemy with the first strike by using forces in a powerful strategic echelon. He worked out plans for Germany to conduct a war on two fronts—in the West and the East.

French strategic thought was expounded by F. Foch. In his Principles of War (1903) and Precepts and Judgments (1904), Foch formulated “eternal” and “immutable” principles for the conduct of war. He recognized the offensive as the basic form of strategic action, and insisted on the necessity of concentrating forces on the internal operational lines in order to defeat the major enemy grouping.

N. P. Mikhnevich’s History of the Art of War From Antiquity to the Beginning of the 19th Century (2nd ed., 1896) and Strategy (vols. 1–2,1899–1901) were a step forward in the development of the theory of military strategy. Mikhnevich correctly viewed the relationship between military strategy and policy. He asserted that wars are waged by nations in arms, and he endeavored to demonstrate the dependence of wars on the degree to which a state’s economic and political structures had developed. He also noted the influence of new combat means on the solutions to many strategic problems, stressed that theory and practice should balance each other, and worked out recommendations on the conduct of strategic breakthroughs and strategic defense.

At the end of the 19th century, Great Britain and the USA were endeavoring to preserve and enlarge their colonies, and their military strategy consisted chiefly in achieving superiority at sea. An expression of the character of British and American policy and military strategy was the development of the navy, which held the primary position in the armed forces. The theorists of independent naval strategy were the British naval commander P. Colomb, the American A. Mahan, and their disciple, the British naval historian J. Corbett.

The strategic concepts of a majority of European nations prior to World War I proceeded from the necessity of waging short wars. However, these concepts proved invalid, and the plan for a swift victory collapsed. With the formation of dense positional fronts, the military strategies of both coalitions were long unable to escape from the “positional dead end” thus formed. The active offensive military strategy of Russia at the outset of the war did not provide any tangible results, since it often did not correspond to the condition or material capabilities of the Russian Army. Only in 1918 did the strategic leadership of the Entente use its superiority over Germany in manpower and material resources to achieve victory.

In the course of the war, the importance of political leadership grew, and a greater role was played by policy, particularly the policy of the coalition states on the coordination of armed combat. As before, military strategy was aimed at the destruction of enemy manpower and the seizure or holding of territory. With the appearance of new combat means, such as aircraft, tanks, and submarines, and the improvement of artillery, there were greater possibilities for strategy. Strategic goals were achieved through operations and battles. With the formation of the new, large strategic units, such as fronts and army groups, the strategic control of troops became more complicated, and the importance of strategic reserves grew. The problems of coalition strategy were solved slowly and uncertainly. They included the development of a joint plan of action, the creation of a single command, the unity of political and strategic leadership, and the organization of strategic cooperation.

F. Engels was the first Marxist to attempt to create a truly scientific military theory. The ideas he advanced constitute a firm foundation for a profound understanding of the essence of war. They formed the basis of Soviet military science, including military strategy.

Under the new historical conditions, the fundamental concepts of military strategy were elaborated by Lenin in his works devoted to the political struggle of the working class, armed insurrection, and the proletarian revolution. During the Civil War and Military Intervention of 1918–20, Lenin set forth the most important principles of Soviet military strategy. These principles were based on the political strategy and tactics of the Communist Party and are found in Lenin’s works devoted to war and military-political questions. As head of the party and the state and chairman of the Council for Defense, Lenin exercised strategic leadership of the Red Army against the interventionist troops and the White Guards. Under his leadership, the party Central Committee and the Soviet government carried out a flexible military strategy with a primary view toward offensive operations, but they also recognized the possibility of defensive and, when necessary, retreat operations. The characteristic features of this military strategy were total consideration of the economic, moral, and military capabilities of the Soviet state and its enemies, a correct definition of the principal danger and the mobilization of the main forces to eliminate this danger, the well-reasoned choice of directions for the main thrusts, particularly under the conditions of waging war in several theaters, and the creation and preparation of strategic reserves.

After the Civil War, the Soviet state found itself in a hostile capitalist encirclement, and this influenced military strategy. The Central Committee of the ACP(B) directed the efforts of military leaders toward studying the theoretical problems of modern warfare and the organizational structure and strategic leadership of the armed forces.

In the 1920’s, M. V. Frunze, in his Uniform Military Doctrine and the Red Army (1921), The Front and the Rear in the War of the Future (1925), and Results and Prospects of Military Organizational Development (1925), examined the nature of modern warfare, the relationship of strategy to the preparation of the armed forces under specific historical conditions, the significance of technology and man in war, the preparation of the national economy for war, and the role of the rear and supply. In his National and Class Strategy (1920), War of the Classes (1921), and Problems in Modern Strategy (1926), M. N. Tykhachevskii outlined the principles of military strategy in future wars. In The Brain of the Army (vols. 1–3, 1927–29), B. M. Shaposhnikov examined the problem of the state’s comprehensive preparation for war, the role of the General Staff, and the principles of coalition strategy. V. K. Triandafillov, in his The Nature of the Operations of Modern Armies (1929), endeavored to establish new fundamental concepts of the nature of the preparations for and the conduct of a future war or operation and demonstrated the particular features of the initial period of such a war. The general and particular problems of military strategy were worked out by R. P. Eideman in On the Question of the Nature of the Initial Period of a War (1931), and by V. A. Melikov in Strategic Deployment (1939).

Prior to the beginning of World War II, Soviet military strategy proceeded from the belief that defense against attack would be ensured by a decisive offensive and the coordinated efforts of all branches of the armed forces. The theory of defensive operations was worked out primarily for army operations, and surprise was judged an important factor for victory in modern warfare. However, the problem of repelling an enemy surprise attack was not sufficiently examined.

The development of the military strategy of the imperialist states in the 1930’s was greatly influenced by the further exacerbation of the general crisis of capitalism and by the revolutionizing impact of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia on the masses of the entire world. The striving for world domination impelled the imperialist states to create huge armies. At the same time, military theorists were against the broad participation of the masses in a war. The experience of World War I led to an overestimation of the role of aviation and armor in combat and operations. This engendered military theories on the winning of victory by “an air war” (G. Douhet in Italy) or “a tank war” (J. Fuller in Great Britain and H. Guderian in Germany). However, the prevailing, or official, military strategies were those of “total and lightning warfare” (E. Ludendorff, Germany), of “seapower” (Great Britain and the USA), and “positional warfare” (France).

With the establishment of a fascist dictatorship, the imperialist circles of Germany openly prepared for a war for world dominance. The military strategy of fascist Germany envisioned a surprise attack without a declaration of war, followed by the rapid defeat of several states of Western and Eastern Europe through the large-scale use of the air force, large tank units, and airborne landings. Underlying the preparations for war was the idea of achieving victory in a short period of time, as expressed in the theory of the blitzkrieg.

The military strategy of Great Britain focused primary attention on maintaining the might of the navy and creating an air force, without giving sufficient attention to the preparation and waging of war on land. The war on the European continent was expected to be waged by a small expeditionary corps and chiefly by ground forces of the Allied armies. Here, the British strategic leadership, in proceeding from a policy of encouraging the fascist aggressors, counted on starting a war between fascist Germany and the USSR.

American military strategy, like British, focused on the development of the navy and the air force. At that time, the navy provided for the security of the sea frontiers and, together with the marines, was able to carry out aggression. The land forces were comparatively few, and they were given a secondary role.

French military strategy proceeded from the incorrectly understood experience of World War I and an underestimation of the increased power of modern combat means. It placed its hopes on the waging of positional warfare and on defensive works, as at the Maginot Line and the Belgian fortified areas, and overestimated the possibilities of defenses reinforced by tanks and aviation. The French General Staff planned to exhaust the enemy in a defensive engagment and then to go over to a counteroffensive. These calculations proved unrealistic.

Japanese military strategy considered it essential to wage a war simultaneously on the sea and land with the goal of establishing dominance in Asia (including the Soviet Far East and China) and weakening US and British positions in the Pacific. For this reason, there were plans to have both a powerful land army and a strong navy.

At the beginning of World War II, the aggressive military strategy of fascist Germany was opposed by the military strategies of Great Britain and France, which were marked by a passive, waiting character. This led to the defeat not only of the militarily weak states, such as Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece, but also of the Anglo-French troops and to the capitulation of France. The last was largely the result of the betrayal by the bourgeois French government. Having seized rich sources of strategic raw materials and food in the conquered nations, fascist Germany increased its military-economic might, secured the rear in the West, and prepared aggression against the USSR.

In planning the attack on the USSR, the Hitlerite leadership based its miltary strategy on the concept of the blitzkrieg and counted on defeating the USSR in a single military campaign. The strategic plan (seeOPERATION BARBAROSSA) envisioned the defeat of the Soviet armed forces by means of surprise attacks with large troop groupings and the large-scale use of tanks and aircraft simultaneously on the Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev strategic axes and the destruction of the main forces of the Red Army in the Baltic, Byelorussia, and the Right-bank Ukraine. The plan was then to advance rapidly into the Soviet interior, capture Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev, reach the Arkhangel’sk-Volga line, and force the USSR to surrender. The strategic attack was considered the decisive form of action. The possibilities of strategic defense and counteroffensive by the Soviet troops were underestimated.

During the first period of the war, the Soviet armed forces had to fight under extremely unfavorable conditions (seeGREAT PATRIOTIC WAR OF 1941–45). Soviet strategic leadership opposed the fascist offensive with a strategy of stubborn defenses combined with counterattacks by the fronts and armies, by individual offensive operations, and by partisan warfare in the enemy rear. In 1941, the General Headquarters of the Supreme Command was established to exercise command of the armed forces. It used the principle of rigid centralization of control of the armed forces combined with collective decision-making and personal responsibility in carrying out decisions. The most important strategic decisions were made with the participation of the commanders in chief of the branches of the armed forces, the commanders of the arms or services, the commanders of the fronts, and the members of the military councils of the fronts.

At the outset of the war, the fascist German command possessed the initiative in combat. Soviet military strategy had to solve a complex set of crucial questions within a short period of time. They included the strategic deployment of the armed forces with the simultaneous organization of an active strategic defense along the entire front and on the most important axes, the correct determination of the directions of the main thrusts by the fascist German troops, the deep echelonment of available forces and means and the maneuvering of these forces, and the creation of strategic reserves and their use on a large scale on the decisive axes. The basic method of conducting the strategic defense consisted in wearing the enemy down by stubborn resistance on organized and natural lines and the thwarting of enemy plans by means of counterstrikes and counterattacks.

In the fierce battles during the summer and autumn of 1941 and, particularly, in the battle of Moscow (1941^12), the fascist German troops were worn down and drained of their aggressive power. The Red Army seized the strategic initiative from the enemy, and the fascist German strategy of a blitzkrieg failed. When the Soviet troops went over to the counteroffensive at Moscow, the fascist German strategy collapsed completely.

In the battles of 1942, the fascist German command was forced to switch to the strategy of attaining its goals by degrees. It could no longer organize a strategic offensive along the entire Soviet-German Front and was forced to deliver strikes only on individual strategic axes. When Soviet troops were unsuccessful in the battles in the vicinity of Kharkov and on the Kerch’ Peninsula, the enemy again was able to seize the strategic initiative. On the Stalingrad and Caucasus axes, the Soviet troops fought fierce defensive battles, as a result of which the enemy was drained and stopped. By this time, conditions had been created for going over to a counteroffensive. Despite the seizure of considerable Soviet territory, by the end of 1942, the strategic position of the fascist German troops had deteriorated, the front was overextended, and the fascist German command had no major reserves.

As a result of the counteroffensive at Stalingrad of 1942^13, the enemy’s attack forces were defeated. The attainment of the goals of the war by degrees and the entire fascist German offensive strategy had collapsed. The Soviet command had finally seized the strategic initiative, which it held until the end of the war.

After the defeat of the fascist German troops in the winter campaign of 1942–43, fascist Germany and its allies were confronted with the real threat of losing the war. The fascist German command carried out a total mobilization and prepared a major strategic offensive operation on the Kursk salient with the goal of recapturing the strategic initiative. As a result of the battle of Kursk (1943), the Soviet troops attained a major victory. The fascist German army switched to a strategy of stubborn defense along the entire Soviet-German Front.

By the beginning of 1944, the strategic situation on the Soviet-German Front had changed fundamentally in favor of the Soviet armed forces. In the summer of 1944, the Soviet armed forces attacked on the principal strategic axis in Byelorussia (seeBYELORUSSIAN OPERATION OF 1944) and created conditions for carrying out other offensive operations—the Baltic Operation of 1944 and the Iasi-Kishinev Operation of 1944.

All the offensive operations by the groups of fronts started in sequence on the various axes and later merged into a simultaneous strategic offensive along an enormous front. In 1944 the allies of Germany (Rumania, Bulgaria, Finland, and Hungary) had been removed from the war. The enemy had been driven out of eastern Yugoslavia, a significant portion of the territory of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and northern Norway. In the summer, American and British troops landed on the northern coast of France (seeNORMANDY LANDING OPERATION OF 1944). However, this did not lead to a significant change in the strategic situation on the Soviet-German front.

By the beginning of 1945, the fascist German command was still fighting on two fronts, but the principal front remained the Soviet-German Front. The strategic goal of the Soviet armed forces for 1945 consisted in defeating the Hitlerite army and foreing Germany into an unconditional surrender. With the increased strategic capabilities of the Soviet armed forces, the offensive was developed simultaneously along the entire Soviet-German Front. The main strike was made on the Warsaw-Berlin strategic axis. Particularly large in scale were the East Prussian Operation of 1945, the Vistula-Oder Operation of 1945, and the Berlin Operation of 1945.

As a result of the struggle of the two strategic viewpoints during all the periods of the Great Patriotic War, Soviet military strategy showed its complete superiority over the military strategy of the fascist German command and guaranteed a victory over the enemy army. Soviet military strategy was based on an objective consideration of the military-political situation and of the true balance between the belligerent forces during each stage of hostilities. The actions of the Soviet strategic leadership were characterized by several features: (1) decisive goals, (2) a constant struggle to seize and keep the strategic initiative, (3) the well-reasoned choice of the directions of the main thrusts, (4) the bold massing of forces and means on selected axes, (5) the artful choice of diverse forms of conducting operations, (6) the planning and execution of the strategic operations of groups of fronts and of the methods of piercing the enemy strategic front and the organization and execution of constant coordination of fronts and all branches of the armed forces, (7) the proper use of reserves, and (8) the combining of the operations of troops on the front with the partisan movement in the enemy rear.

The strategic offensive operations were conducted along an enormous front and to a great depth. Maneuvering was boldly used to encircle and destroy major enemy groupings. Soviet military strategy was the first to find an effective solution to the problem of planning military operations that were extended over a significant period of time and that had to be coordinated according to particular objectives. The major strategic results achieved sharply altered the military-political situation. The strategic defensive was further developed. Counteroffensives repeatedly led to the destruction of the enemy’s basic strategic groupings. In the course of the war, large combined operations of ground, naval, and air forces were widely used. In order to undermine the military-economic might of the enemy, air operations were conducted by long-range aviation within the framework of a unified strategic plan.

The successes of Soviet military strategy were made possible by the able leadership of the Communist Party, the superiority of the state and social structure, the strength of the Soviet strategic rear, and the high morale, self-sacrifice, and heroism of the Soviet people and the men of the armed forces.

Soviet military strategy during the war years was enriched by experience gained in the strategic command of large-scale armed forces in combat along enormously long fronts. The rigid centralization of the strategic leadership of the armed forces and the flexibility of the methods used as the military-political situation changed were necessary for victory. All the strategic operations of the Great Patriotic War were worked out under the leadership of the General Headquarters of the Supreme Command, headed by J. V. Stalin. The General Headquarters also included the deputy supreme commander in chief G. K. Zhukov, B. M. Shaposhnikov, A. M. Vasilevskii, A. I. Antonov, and others. The experience acquired in military strategy during the war years is still valuable under today’s conditions.

After the attack of fascist Germany on the USSR and the Japanese attack on the United States, US and British military strategy amounted to the gradual building up of forces and means and the incomplete use of the ever increasing military capabilities in the Western European and Pacific theaters of war. Both countries counted on the mutual exhaustion of Germany and the USSR. With the increasing success of Soviet troops on the Soviet-German Front, US and British strategic leadership conducted a number of offensive operations in North Africa, Southern Italy, and the Pacific. In 1944, when the defeat of Germany by the Soviet armed forces was clearly feasible, major offensive operations were undertaken in France. Strategic offensives by Anglo-American troops were ordinarily conducted by mounting a main thrust on one strategic axis, such as North Africa, Italy, or France, and by carrying out several sequential operations.

The Japanese armed forces conducted several air-naval and naval landing operations in the Pacific. They won superiority in the air and at sea (from the end of 1941 until August 1942), captured much territory, and created a direct threat to Australia and India. The successes of Japanese military strategy during this period were largely the result of the insufficient war readiness of the USA, Great Britain, and the Netherlands in the Pacific. On the whole, Japanese military strategy was marked by the lack of correspondence between strategic goals and real economic and military capabilities. For this reason, Japan subsequently endeavored to draw out the war and secure more advantageous surrender terms for itself. However, the Japanese hope of extending the war was unrealized. Soviet troops in the Manchurian Operation of 1945 defeated the Kwantung Army, and Japan suffered total defeat. Soviet military strategy demonstrated its indisputable superiority over its Japanese counterpart.

After World War II, all states worked out their military strategies on the basis of experience acquired in conducting military operations. The imperialist countries, headed by the reactionary US circles, created a system of aggressive military blocs directed chiefly against the socialist countries and the countries and peoples fighting for freedom and national independence. The largest bloc is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, established in 1949). Under such conditions, the socialist countries were forced to establish a defensive alliance—the Warsaw Pact of 1955.

The appearance of nuclear weapons and missiles in the 1950’s caused a revision of views on the nature of war, and fundamental changes were made in military strategy. The imperialist circles placed great hopes on nuclear weapons. Strategic command now had the opportunity of directly conducting major strategic missions by using nuclear missiles against enemy objectives at a great depth. In order to achieve their aims, the US imperialist circles, together with their allies in the military blocs, have been developing strategic concepts for the struggle to achieve world domination under these new conditions. The USA and the NATO countries, relying on a monopoly of nuclear weapons and a military doctrine based on the strategy of massive retaliation, proceeded from the possibility of waging war against the USSR using only nuclear weapons.

The 1960’s saw changes in the balance of powers and in the world political situation in favor of socialism and an increase in the nuclear capabilities of the USSR. In response to this, the military strategy of a “flexible response” was adopted by the USA and the other NATO countries. This military strategy envisioned the possibility of waging an all-out nuclear war against the socialist countries as well as a limited nuclear war, a conventional war, a war that would begin with the use of conventional weapons and later switch to nuclear weapons, and local wars.

In 1971 the military political leadership of the USA proclaimed a strategy of a “realistic deterrence”—a variation of the flexible response strategy. The strategy was based on superiority in strategic forces, partnership with and a significant increase in the military contribution of allies in the aggressive blocs, and negotiations conducted from a position of strength. While retaining the previous political goal of world domination and the views on the nature of a future war, this new strategy places chief emphasis on a qualitative improvement in strategic offensive forces, particularly nuclear forces, and special-purpose forces, which would guarantee destruction of an enemy. On the whole, the military strategies of the imperialist states are directed by aggressive policies. They endeavor to subordinate the economies and the non-material life of the countries to the interests of the arms race and to the preparation of new military adventures.

Soviet military strategy seeks to defend the socialist achievements and the peace and security of peoples. It defines the possible character of future wars. Primary attention is given to solving the problems of preparing the nation and the armed forces to repel possible aggression by world imperialism. Modern military strategy proceeds from the following concept: should aggressors succeed in unleashing a new world war, that war will be the decisive clash of the two opposing world socioeconomic systems. For the USSR and the other socialist countries, such a war will be a just one aimed at defending their liberty and independence. Strategic nuclear forces may become the main means for waging the war if an agreement has not been reached on the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. In conducting a nuclear war, there may be strikes by strategic nuclear forces, strategic operations on the continents and oceans, operations to defeat enemy air groupings, and operations to repel enemy air and space attacks. The means and methods of electronic warfare will be widely used in modern wars. The final defeat of enemy troops and the capture of vitally important regions may be achieved by means of joint actions on the part of ground forces and other branches of the armed forces.

The most important tasks of Soviet military strategy include (1) research on the character of war and the laws governing the conduct of war, (2) the working out of the requirements for preparing the nation and possible theaters of war for defense, (3) determination of the methods for waging a war, of the strategic use of the armed forces, of the directions of organizational development, of the comprehensive preparation of the armed forces for war, and of the organizational structure and technical supply of the armed forces, (4) the working out of problems in the strategic deployment of the armed forces and in providing the organized entry of the armed forces into war, (5) the command of the armed forces, (6) research on the strategic views and economic, moral, and military capabilities of probable enemies, (7) development and implementation of measures to provide constant combat readiness of the armed forces, and (8) development of methods for preparing and conducting military operations in a coalition war and methods of commanding joint armed forces and coordinating the efforts of such forces.

The aggressive policy of the imperialist states, the unrestrained arms race, and the necessity of defending the peace and security of peoples require from Soviet military strategy a further development of effective ways to bring about permanent, high combat readiness of the Soviet armed forces to defeat any aggressor.


See references under MILITARY SCIENCE, ART OF WAR, WAR, and NAVAL ART.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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