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David Holloway on: How Soviet Military Adjusted to Nuclear Weapons
David Holloway Q: How does the Soviet military deal with these new weapons? What is the thinking in the Soviet military about what the next war would look like?

DH: Well, I think there is some delay in really adjusting to the reality of nuclear weapons. Initially, in the late '40s, the view...in the Soviet Union was that a new world war would be something like World War II, except that it would start with an atomic air offense against the Soviet Union. But that would not be enough to knock the Soviet Union out and so then you would get huge land campaigns in Europe, in the Middle East, and in Asia.

At some point in the early 1950s, that view of the future world war begins to change because the United States is acquiring more nuclear weapons, and then when the U.S. begins to get thermonuclear weapons, the kind of view that, oh, well, this initial atomic air attack wouldn't have such a great effect, that loses plausibility. So, what you begin to see is a change in the view of what a future war would be like. And what happens, actually, both on the American and on the Soviet side, is an increasing interest in the problem of...surprise attack and preemption.

On the American side with the buildup of nuclear forces you see an increasing belief in the possibility of a knockout blow against the Soviet Union, and on the Soviet side you see the increasing fear that the Americans might try a knockout blow. And so the Soviet interest then becomes to try to preempt an American attack. So if the United States is going to attack, it's very important for the Soviet Union to get in first, to you know, destroy the bomber bases in Europe, in North Africa, in the Middle East, so that the American capacity to drop bombs in the Soviet Union will be reduced. And there is a great fear of going late, because the fear is that if they -- the Soviet Union goes late, the United States will be able to destroy all Soviet nuclear forces before they are used. So there is a very unstable period in the mid -- in the 1950s, when each side has an incentive to get the first blow in first, if they think that a war is likely.

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