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Old 03-14-2010, 09:46 PM
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Default TSiG, Ch3: Soviet Reform, Pt. 1


TSiG, Ch3: Soviet Reform, Pt. 1


Though most national governments are historically resistant to reform, the Soviet Union was a special case. State ownership of virtually everything worth owning was not enough for the early Bolsheviks. Neither was central planning of the economy sufficient. The CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) required absolute and unmitigated control over every aspect of the lives of the people of the Soviet Union. Thus, power that in even the worst fascist state is divided between two or more groups was concentrated solely in the hands of the Party. It was for this kind of arrangement, in which the nation’s political, economic, and military power are concentrated into the hands of a single group that the term totalitarian was coined.

Dmitri Danilov and his regime took control of a nation brought to its knees by totalitarianism. They had overthrown and executed a reformist premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, because they felt his programs were going too far. However, at the beginning of the 1990’s, they faced exactly the same problems as Gorbachev had faced a decade earlier. For Danilov, restoring the USSR to good health would mean walking a tightrope between doing too little to reform the country (thus causing a disastrous collapse of the Soviet economy) and doing too much (thus getting himself replaced and killed by the very hard-liners who had brought him to power).

Danilov’s most pressing troubles had started in the late 1960’s. At the time, two of the major power blocs within the Soviet system were at odds with each other. The KGB was the smaller of the two and doubtless more sophisticated. The armed forces were larger and had the ability to put whoever they wanted in the Kremlin. The KGB essentially bought the military off by promising the generals priority on national resources in return for loyalty to a KGB-run state. The military agreed, and the Soviet coffers were opened. There were other factors involved, like the state of relations with the United States. However, the build-up of Soviet conventional forces in the 1970’s was due in large part to the blank check written for the military by the KGB.

Underlying the problem of out-of-control military spending was the very nature of the Soviet economic system, which was itself tied to Soviet social thinking. State control over economic activities had to be absolute. As a result, critical small businesses and artisans—plumbers, cobblers, tinsmiths, and so on—were forced out of operation and replaced, in some instances, by gruesomely inefficient centralized operations. Farms were collectivized with the result that a nation with some of the best agricultural land and farming talent on the planet lost the ability to feed itself. Consumer goods were eschewed in favor of heavy industry whose sole purpose seemed to be to create more heavy industry. Even cottage industries like the crafting of woolen goods in the homes of Soviet peasants during the winter months were attacked and destroyed because they did not lend themselves to state-run planning.

Ever suspicious of malcontents and rivals to their power, the CPSU created a machine for internal security unlike anything seen before. Armed and ruthless security forces were everywhere in Soviet life. They had the power to do anything they wished to whomever they wished. By the 1980’s, tens of millions of Soviet citizens had been sent to prison camps in the distant quarters of the USSR to toil their few remaining years in service to the state that had imprisoned them. The security apparatus existed in multiple echelons and in parallel and competing organizations; if any group within the security apparatus proved disloyal, another Party-controlled group could be deployed against the disaffected. Even without the drain of the military on the Soviet economy, the state security apparatus would have been a tremendous burden.

Since the Party was the only means of advancement in the Soviet Union, the ambitious had to play by certain rules. Verbal adherence to an ideology few believed in by the 1970’s, combined with the ever-present threat of security informants, led to a culture of deceit and cynicism difficult for most Westerners to comprehend. There were very real economic consequences for this.

Production figures set by the central planning committees often were not tied together in any meaningful way. As a result, resources were wasted at every level of production to a degree unthinkable in the West. For example, a timber extraction collective might find that having cut its assigned number of board-feet of forest, it had no funds for shipping those trees to the mill. Moreover, the measure of success was not based on delivery of the product to the mill but on board-feet cut. And so the timber collective would just bury the trees whenever possible.

Without any particular incentive to achieve and with a great stock of anger towards the state that owned everything, Soviet workers took out their frustration on the assembly lines and other spheres of state-run production. Quality control was abysmal. Sabotage and theft were rampant. At any time in the mid-1980’s, fully a third of Soviet production machinery was down for maintenance. The Soviet manufacturing capability literally was idling in the repair shops.

Cynicism and failure to perform led to more deceit regarding production figures. The same was true of agriculture and electricity. Despite its pervasive presence in Soviet life, the state simply could not check every report and statistic enough times to overcome the sheer corruption and deceit that so characterized Soviet industry and agriculture. The senior leadership often did not even know what was really happening in the country, despite the ruinous expenditures on the security apparatus.

On top of this situation was laid the costs of the 1970’s build-up. It was simply too much. The Soviet system was losing its ability to sustain itself. It had to either reform or collapse.

Danilov appreciated this fact as very few did. In the mid-1980’s he used high-level loyalists to gather reliable information on what was happening much further down the economic chain. The results, though far from giving a complete picture, were dismaying.

The irony, as Danilov saw it, was that the very needs of the all-pervasive state were destroying the ability of the state to sustain itself. Somehow, the Soviet system had to evolve so that its ability to produce economic activity came into line with its economic requirements.

Danilov had no illusions about the hard-liners’ attitudes towards reducing the presence of and consequent appetite of the Party security apparatus. He was not very keen on the idea himself. Aside from the visceral distaste he felt for giving up power, there was the ever-present danger of unrest. Malcontents were everywhere. There was no telling what the people of the Soviet Union, so long repressed and denied basic rights, might do if the control of the security apparatus diminished somewhat. This was constantly on the minds of the hard-liners, who tended to see internal threats as an even greater danger than the many external threats facing the Soviet Union.

Drawing down some of the military demands on the economy was a somewhat more palatable idea to certain of the arch-conservatives. However, the military would not favor the idea at all. And unfortunately, the military had the ability to make or unmake the Soviet leadership. It was for this reason that political officers were assigned to all major commands. Nevertheless, a strong enough reaction in the military to a perceived threat to their position of privilege could cause the generals to decide that they needed to re-define the old agreement with the KGB.

The other obvious solution to the economic problem was to offer more incentives to the workers themselves. In short, the Danilov might move the USSR away from totalitarianism and towards fascism. Gorbachev had tried this, and he had been destroyed for it (in part). Nevertheless, this approach offered Danilov his best chance for meaningful reform.

After the conclusion of the Second Gulf War in early 1991, Danilov had a few other tools available. Based on his cooperation with the West, Danilov had been able to obtain grain shipments again. Working through third parties, he was able to sell Soviet oil to the West to pay for the food shipments. In addition, the Soviets suddenly discovered that Western sources for machinery and other industrial goods were open to them. At a price, Danilov could sidestep some of quality problems that were plaguing his efforts to rebuild Soviet industry with Soviet products.
Gorbachev had made efforts to lift the ban on cottage industry in the USSR. Danilov accelerated these efforts, despite the protests of some of the more conservative members of his cabal. Henceforth, the Soviet people would be able to knit woolens and create other basic consumables that were so chronically short in the Soviet system. At the same time, he increased the amount of private land that could be used by the Soviet people to provide for their own subsistence. In effect, Danilov was officializing the existence of two Soviet economies: the state-run industrial and agricultural economy and the private economy of small-scale industry and gardening.

The Soviets were stunned and appalled by the results of Operation Desert Storm (the offensive component of the Coalition’s operation). The implication of American superiority over Soviet systems was an awful prospect for the Soviet planners to contemplate. The hard-liners in the Kremlin, though now grudgingly appreciative of the stance Danilov had taken, now began to wonder whether or not a similar fate awaited Soviet forces in Europe and elsewhere. Senior-level military men immediately undertook to learn the lessons of the war and their application to Soviet forces.

Soviet analysts quickly determined that the American victory was largely the result of several factors which were unique to the Gulf battlefield. US technological superiority over the Iraqi Army was a key factor. Though the Iraqis had been using Soviet-built systems, most of the Iraqi arsenal was a generation behind the equipment being used by the United States and its Western allies. Much of the Soviet arsenal was similarly out-of-date, but the front-line divisions and aviation regiments used equipment that was comparable to Western models in overall technical capability.

The Coalition air power had seized control of the skies over Iraq virtually from the onset of active operations. Dovetailed into the technological disadvantage of the Iraqis vis-*-vis the Coalition was the fact that Iraqi Air Force was badly overmatched before the contest even started, both in quality and in quantity of airframes and personnel. If anything, air operations during Desert Storm indicated the dangers of allowing an enemy air force to operate unchallenged by friendly fighters and interceptors. Fortunately, the USSR possessed a numerical superiority in numbers of airframes versus the Western powers. Though the Western pilots practiced more and were therefore likely to be better in some areas, Soviet numbers could be expected to offset this advantage in any future war.

The relative ineffectiveness of the Soviet-designed ground-based air defenses of Iraq was disturbing. However, here too the Soviet analysts were able to identify the culprit. The lack of fighter aircraft and airborne radar meant that the Coalition had enjoyed the ability to approach its targets at very low altitudes or at high altitudes. The Americans possessed electronic warfare (EW) capabilities much superior to anything the Iraqis had been using. This served to neutralize the SAM defenses while the American fighter-bombers went after the Iraqi radar and command-and-control assets. The best Soviet EW was a generation ahead of what the Iraqis had been using, and the Soviets had more flexibility in its application. Therefore, there was no reason to assume an American attack in Europe would achieve the same results.

American cruise missiles proved to be every bit the problem the Soviets had feared they would be. There was no easy answer to this problem, except to tighten low-level air defenses. However, it was known that the Americans had limited numbers of these missiles. Given the much denser and much more capable Soviet air defenses in Europe, attrition of the American cruise missiles should be much higher. Damage would be done, but the Soviet system should be able to tolerate it. Certain redundancies, already a strong component of the Soviet military system, would help compensate for the losses.

On the ground, the Coalition had given an effective performance. However, it was important to remember that the Coalition had every advantage possible going for it when ground operations started. Coalition air power enjoyed air supremacy. The Iraqi defenders had been heavily invested from the air for a month before the ground offensive started. The Coalition troops were fresh and well-fed at the beginning of the offensive, whereas the defenders were subsisting on short rations and had been under bombardment for weeks. The Coalition had control of the electronic battlefield, badly hampering Iraqi efforts to respond to developments on the battlefield. Navigational technology allowed the Coalition to move in the desert as the defenders could not. Half of the Iraqi defenders were light infantry who were fixed in position once the offensive started. The Coalition forces, on the other hand, were largely mechanized. The best Iraqi units, the Republican Guard, were using T-72 tanks, which admittedly were not quite equal to the M1A1 of the Americans or the Challenger of the British. However, with modern Soviet ammunition there was no reason to believe the T-72 could not kill the best Western tanks. The non-Republican Guard units fielded tanks like the T-55, which were not meant to go head-to-head with an M1A1. However, even here better tank handling would yield kills of Western tanks. Even the weather worked against the Iraqis. In sandstorms, the optics of the Western tanks outperformed the optics of the Iraqi tanks. State-of-the-art Soviet tanks possessed better optics than what the Iraqis had been using. Finally, the terrain played to Western strengths. In the open desert, the long-range guns of the American and British tanks operated at advantage. In the more restricted forest and urban terrain of Europe, the range advantage enjoyed by the Westerners would be nullified.

Having heard this assessment, Danilov proposed to draw down some twenty-five divisions of the Soviet Army, as well as making further reductions in the manpower of the reserve divisions. Similar cuts would be made to the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Rocket Forces. The military chiefs were aghast. In answer to their vehement protests, Danilov explained that he wanted to get rid of some of the dead wood. Mobilization Only divisions, which represented the bottom of the barrel in reserve strength for the Soviet Army, were mostly made up of over-aged reservists who would need six months or more of refresher training before they would be ready to use their antiquated equipment—equipment that was generally in the state of the Iraqi machines so recently dispatched at such a low cost to the Coalition. Maintaining this old equipment was a major burden on the Soviet logistical system that did not seem likely to yield results on the battlefield commensurate with the price the Soviet Army paid in man-hours and spare parts. Getting rid of twenty-five of these divisions would actually increase the effectiveness of the Soviet Army by freeing up large numbers of depot maintenance personnel to work on the equipment of better units. In addition, the equipment of the disbanded Mobilization Only divisions could be sold to Third World clients, the performance of Western tanks in the Gulf notwithstanding.

Danilov went further to outline a scheme to reduce the Army’s active-duty head count by 200,000. Reserve divisions would be manned at lower levels. As a nod to the senior Army leadership, no divisions would actually be disbanded to achieve the other half of the cost-savings scheme. The generals and colonels would keep their jobs and positions of privilege, while 200,000 men would be released to agriculture and industry. As a further incentive, Danilov offered the split the cost savings with the military. The equivalent cost of 100,000 active-duty men would go back into the military coffers, while the state would use the rest for other projects. Similar schemes were drawn up for the other services.

Though here again there were those who protested, the majority of decision-makers within the military found Danilov’s plan acceptable. By the end of 1991, the Soviet military was undergoing a significant reduction.

Western intelligence soon caught wind of the Soviet reduction in force. It was not hard to track the quantities of T-55s, MiG-17s, and other old materiel being sold around the world. East-West tensions eased further, such that additional business was possible.

Overall, 1991 was a highly successful year for the Danilov regime. The damage done to Soviet-Western relations during the Black Winter had been repaired by the Kremlin’s action—or inaction—during the Second Gulf War. Credit drawn on Western banks was more available than it had been under Gorbachev, and critical machinery was on its way to Soviet ports. Imported North American and Western European grain erased the scarcities of the previous year. In fact, food was more available in the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 than it had been for years. Already the military draw down had released tens of thousands of soldiers, while the military remained relatively content and loyal. The Soviet people could look forward to an increased availability of consumer goods. Though enormous problems remained, Danilov had reason for optimism that the next few years would see real progress.

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