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Special Issue No. 26. November 2004. The Girshfeld file

1. Introducing the issue
2. Working together for peace: a personal account of my cooperation with Viktor Girshfeld


3. Autobiographical statement
4. Stephen Shenfield. The USSR: Viktor Girshfeld and the Concept of "Sufficient Defense"
5. The first Colonel X interview
6. The second Colonel X interview
7. Viktor Olenev. The Threat From Above: The USSR and the Militarization of Space

8. Tomila Lankina. Beslan and the Osset-Ingush conflict


This special issue is a further contribution to the historical literature on the emergence in the 1980s of the Soviet "new thinking" on international security and disarmament. [1] At the same time, it is a tribute to a respected colleague and good friend.

A crucial role in the emergence of "new thinking" was played by the "mezhdunarodniki," the international affairs specialists based at a number of institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Moreover, as Matthew Evangelista demonstrates in his book, the mezhdunarodniki developed their ideas in close interaction with West European peace researchers and peace activists. I was personally involved in this interaction, above all through my cooperation with the late Colonel Viktor Girshfeld, a former army officer and senior adviser at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (usually known by its Russian acronym, IMEMO).

In documenting the changes in Soviet thinking, Western researchers have -- understandably enough -- relied primarily, and in some cases exclusively, on openly published Soviet sources. However, there were influential mezhdunarodniki who never wrote for open publication but communicated their ideas only through classified papers for restricted circulation and orally at closed meetings. Girshfeld was one of these. [2] From what I know of his work, his contribution to the new thinking was no smaller than that of such individuals as Georgi Arbatov and Andrei Kokoshin, whose names are much better known.

In the first part of this issue, I give a personal account of my cooperation with Girshfeld. I would like people to know a little more about this remarkable personality. In the second part, I reproduce the most important documents relating to Girshfeld that I have at my disposal, documents that will convey a little of the content and flavor of his thinking. These have been published before, but mainly in a not very well known magazine called "Detente" that a group of friends and colleagues produced in the period 1984-91. By republishing them in the RAS I hope to preserve them for the historical record.

A little personal background may help the reader understand how Girshfeld and I were brought together. In 1979 I abandoned my career as a statistician working for the British government and took up Soviet Studies at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham. My research there initially concerned Soviet statistical methods and the Soviet statistical system.

In the early 1980s I was caught up in the rising wave of the nuclear disarmament movement. I helped to set up a new local branch of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in the area of Birmingham where I was living. Academic research and peace activism were at first quite separate parts of my life. Gradually that changed. I became involved in efforts by some peace organizations, notably European Nuclear Disarmament (END), to establish unofficial contacts in the USSR -- part of the trend that went by the name of "people's diplomacy." The center of gravity of my research also shifted toward the study of Soviet security thinking, and especially of the activity of intra-system reformers in this sphere. The impetus that first propelled me in this direction was my encounter with one such reformer, the prominent journalist and (at certain periods) high-level adviser Fyodor Burlatsky, whose unofficial interpreter, guide, and assistant I was when he visited our university in 1982, shortly after Andropov came to power. But that is a story in itself.

Girshfeld too felt a strong desire to engage in people's diplomacy, but felt constrained by his official position. He contemplated giving up his position at IMEMO to set himself up as an unofficial diplomat. He wanted especially to meet West German Greens, for whom he had a tremendous admiration. [3] These dreams never materialized, but the work we did together compensated for that to some degree. After he retired, he did engage in people's diplomacy, though in a completely new international context, by creating the organization "Grazhdanin" [Citizen], the mission of which was to facilitate the resolution of conflicts within the post-Soviet region. [4]


[1] My main previous contribution to this literature was the monograph "The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology. Chatham House Papers 37" (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987). The most important work, in my opinion, is Matthew Evangelista, "Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War" (Cornell University Press, 1999). See also: Robert D. English, "Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War" (Columbia University Press, 2000) and Gerard Snel, "'A (More) Defensive Strategy': The Reconceptualisation of Soviet Conventional Strategy in the 1980s," Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 50, No. 2, March 1998, pp. 205-240.

Though my direct concern here is with the 1980s, the roots of the "new thinking" can in certain respects be traced much further back.

[2] In the notes to his book (p. 301), Robert English gives a reference to one of Girshfeld's classified papers. The title (in English translation) was: "Normalization of Relations and Rapprochement Between the Korean People's Democratic Republic [North Korea] and South Korea in the System of International Relations in Asia." It was printed by IMEMO in 1973 and marked "secret." It is unusual for a Western researcher to gain access to such a document. Undoubtedly, Girshfeld wrote many documents of this type on a wide variety of issues of foreign and defense policy.

[3] "Greens" here refers not to spinach but to members of the Green Party. There is no harm now in quoting from the confidential report of my trip to Moscow in December 1984--January 1985 that I circulated to a few friends:

"[Viktor] is wondering whether to resign from IMEMO. On the one hand, he likes working with his colleagues and access to foreign publications. On the other hand, leaving would give him a free hand to write for abroad under his real name. He does not want to use his name while at IMEMO, as his colleagues may suffer also as a result of any scandal. In the meantime we did a second 'Colonel X' interview, and I also asked him to send a more coherent outline of his views, for the time being for our background information only. [His wife] Tanya thinks he should leave IMEMO...

He is very keen on meeting representatives of various political forces in his flat: British Labour Party, West German Greens and SDP, Italian and Spanish Communists, etc. In other words, he wants to play unofficially the role he always wanted to play officially and they wouldn't let him... He is fed up with working officially -- "waiting for this one to leave and for that one to die" before there is any hope of getting somewhere..."

[4] For a little more on "Grazhdanin" see RAS No. 22, item 8.

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I first met Viktor Girshfeld in late 1983. A mutual friend, let's call him Mikhail, had decided that he and I should get together. When I called the number Mikhail had given me, the telephone was answered by Viktor's wife Tanya. I asked for Viktor and she told me that he was in the hospital.

"Oh, I didn't realize." (Why on earth had Mikhail not told me that?) "I'm sorry to disturb you."

I was about to hang up, but Tanya forestalled me.

"Hold on, are you Stephen? Viktor very much wants to meet you. Why don't you visit him at the hospital?"

Although Tanya's instructions were clear, I wandered for some time in the back streets near the monument to Yuri Gagarin. Finally, a passerby pointed me to the unmarked entrance path leading to the sprawling low-set building that housed the hospital of the Academy of Sciences. (This was a moderately privileged facility for people working at institutes belonging to the USSR Academy of Sciences -- not as well provided for as the Kremlin Hospital for the top political elite, but a cut above the hospitals for ordinary people.)

I told the receptionist whom I had come to see and sat down to wait with a few others. She looked up and informed me that I was not allowed to leave my shoulder bag on the floor. I shrugged slightly and place it on the bench beside me. To my surprise, a woman who was also waiting in the reception area took issue on my behalf. What was the point, she wanted to know, of a silly rule like that? After all, everyone was allowed to go around in outdoor shoes that were much less clean than my bag. The same thought had occurred to me too. The receptionist did not deign to reply.

After five or ten minutes, the receptionist told me I could go and see Girshfeld. She pointed me in the right direction and let me find my own way. I was surprised not to be escorted. I had assumed that I was waiting for someone to become available to escort me. Why else?

So I set off into the labyrinth of corridors, trying to stick to the direction indicated to me. Every so often I passed a medic or a patient wearing a dressing gown. When I caught someone's eye, I'd ask: "Girshfeld?" Eventually I ran into a man who responded: "You're looking for Girshfeld? He's in the courtyard."

It was a pleasant little garden in the midst of the hospital. By a little fountain there stood a squat gray-haired man of about 60, evidently deep in thought. He looked up and acknowledged my presence with a satisfied "Ah!" He knew who I was.

We exchanged greetings and I asked about his health. He irritably waved the inquiry aside. Doctors! He was just in for a checkup. There was nothing wrong with him.


Then he asked me what I thought of the state of relations between India and Pakistan. The possibility of another Indo-Pakistani war worried him very, very much. He was hoping I would use my influence with the British Foreign Office to prevail upon them to do everything in their power to avert the danger.

That threw me. First of all, the topic was completely unexpected. I had not been following events on the Indian subcontinent. Why was he so preoccupied with this particular issue? Second, I was astonished to learn that he thought I had influence on the Foreign Office. I suspected that Mikhail had exaggerated my importance when he told Viktor about me.

"Well, I'm sure that preventing hostilities between India and Pakistan is a goal of British foreign policy. I expect the Foreign Office are doing what they can, though Britain doesn't have the influence over events that it used to, you know."

I rambled on in this vein for a bit, but suddenly thought it best to admit that I had not been following Indo-Pakistani relations closely. Why did he think a war was especially likely at this moment in time? Did it have something to do with the situation in Kashmir?

No, he replied, the likelihood of a war was not especially great, but if one DID break out the likelihood that the great powers would be drawn in WAS especially great at this conjuncture. Why? He waffled. I could not get a clear explanation out of him. But he did make the point that there were strong links between the security situation in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. He also made ominous references to "mistakes that we may make on our southern border." I was to incorporate these statements into the "Colonel X" interviews.

When I thought back on the matter later, it seemed to me that Girshfeld was hinting at something of great importance that he did not feel free to tell me outright. So he was trying to turn my mind in a certain direction and give me a few clues. In refreshing contrast to the vague abstractions typical of Soviet academic discourse, he usually expressed himself very directly and pungently. If he was vague and evasive, there was a good reason for it.

On my return home, I made a closer study of what was going on in Indo-Pakistani relations and in Afghanistan and came up with what seemed to me a plausible hypothesis. Girshfeld was surely hinting at some connection between the possible outbreak of an Indo-Pakistani war and the war in Afghanistan. There had recently been Soviet air raids against the refugee camps in northern Pakistan from which the mojaheddin infiltrated back into Afghanistan. The Soviet foreign affairs weekly "Novoe vremya" (New Times) was issuing thinly veiled threats that it might become necessary to take more drastic military action against the mojaheddin bases.

It seemed reasonable to infer that the Soviet leadership might be considering the option of a lightning cross-border operation by ground forces with air support to "take out" the camps. Moreover, the outbreak of war between Pakistan and India would have created optimal conditions for undertaking such an operation, forcing Pakistan to fight on two fronts. Therefore a decision to go ahead with such an operation was most likely in the event of a new Indo-Pakistani war. A senior adviser like Girshfeld would surely have known what was being considered and may indeed have been consulted about the possible international consequences. It certainly sounded like a scenario for World War III.

With the help of my University of Birmingham colleague Phil Hanson, I did in fact get the chance to present this analysis to a largish group of officials at the Foreign Office. They appeared skeptical but encouraged me to speak at length and asked me many questions. Most of them I was unable to answer. The crucial question was: "What do you want us to do about it?" I suggested that they try to make Pakistan's political and military leaders aware of their country's vulnerable situation and of the consequent need to avoid war with India at any cost. I do not know whether the meeting led to any practical result.


Returning to that first conversation in the hospital garden, Girshfeld asked me to help him implement a scheme aimed at improving the image of the Soviet army in the West. His argument was that the Soviet army was really much smaller than it appeared from figures on total personnel because many soldiers were engaged in civilian tasks. (I incorporated what he said on this theme into the first "interview with Colonel X" for Detente: see below.) He would send me photos of friendly Soviet soldiers engaged in such peaceful pursuits and I would place them in the Western press and/or publish them in a special magazine for wide distribution.

I replied that while I was willing to do whatever I could in the cause of peace, I did not, unfortunately, have either the time or the considerable resources that such a scheme would require. What I did not say was that I did not believe crude propaganda of this kind would be effective and that I did not want to be associated with it.

Those in thrall to a stereotyped conception of Soviet society will find it hard to reconcile Girshfeld's attempt to thwart a dangerous Soviet "mistake" (if my interpretation of the "Indo-Pakistani conundrum" is accepted) with his propaganda scheme. In Girshfeld's own mind there was no contradiction. He saw himself neither as a dissident nor as a functionary, but as a loyal and responsible Soviet citizen with initiative and a mind of his own. No doubt he maintained cooperative relations with Soviet intelligence agencies -- in his position that would have been expected of him and he would have seen nothing shameful in it -- but he was not their puppet.


Round about the time I first happened to meet Girshfeld, I was trying to bring together a group of friends and colleagues in the Soviet Studies field in England to start up a new magazine. The magazine was finally launched in the fall of 1984 under the name "Detente: A journal devoted to understanding the Soviet Union." The editorial board consisted initially of Ann Helgeson, Philip Hanson, Nick Lampert, and myself at CREES, Mammo Muchie at the University of Sussex Institute of Development Studies, and Jeff Gleisner of the University of Leeds, who became editor. Later we were joined by Jean McCollister, a young American scholar studying at the University of Oxford.

Through "Detente" we hoped to promote peace and cooperation between the USSR and the West, to provide a public outlet for intra-system reformers in the USSR, and to raise awareness of positive changes maturing below the frozen surface of Soviet society. These tendencies were already clearly visible to many Soviet Studies specialists in 1983-84, before Gorbachev came to power. [1]

Girshfeld was exactly the kind of reformer with whom we wished to cooperate. [2] I explained to him the aims of our new journal and proposed that we have a series of conversations and go through all the key issues of East-West security. I would then organize my notes of our conversations into the form of one or more "interviews" for publication in "Detente." I would set out his main ideas systematically, preserving to the best of my ability his style of expression in the English-language text.

He responded with enthusiasm and we carried out our plan. In October 1984, the first issue of "Detente" featured the first "exclusive interview with Colonel X," based on our first conversation in the hospital courtyard. Over the new year I was in Moscow again. Viktor was out of the hospital by this time and we held further conversations in his apartment and walking together in the nearby Fili Woods. These were the basis of the second "interview" which appeared in the second issue of "Detente" in January 1985.

Speaking of the Fili Woods, I can't resist recounting a curious incident from one of our walks there that sticks in my memory. As I was talking -- with insufficient caution, I suppose, being out of doors -- he suddenly interrupted to warn me to take care, pointing up into the branches above our heads and whispering that there were listening devices concealed even there. Inside knowledge or paranoia? I'm still unsure.

Later Girshfeld wrote two pieces especially for publication in our journal. I translated them from the Russian typescripts that he provided and they were published (with editorial commentary) in the fifth issue of "Detente" in the winter of 1986. For this purpose he chose a new pseudonym for himself -- Viktor Olenev. ("Olen'" is Russian for "deer.") The first piece was an autobiographical sketch that he had written at our request to convince our readers that he really existed, as some of our readers believed that we had made him up. [3] The second piece was an article on the likely strategic and political consequences of the militarization of space -- the only article of Girshfeld's, to the best of my knowledge, ever to be published openly. In it he says interesting things not only about his main topic but also about such matters as the war in Afghanistan, the Soviet economy, the psychology of Soviet people, and the contradictory character of the Soviet state. All these documents are reproduced below.


In agreeing to my proposals for publicizing his ideas in the West, Girshfeld asked me to refer to him by means of a pseudonym. He suggested that his name simply be replaced by its English equivalent. As he did not speak English, he did not know what that would be. That, I said, would make him "Cherryfield" (Hirsh means "cherry" in German and must have been Russified as Girsh), which didn't sound right to me. How about calling him "Colonel X"? He agreed.

However, I had another objection to "Cherryfield" that for some reason I did not express. Had I done so, a misunderstanding might have been avoided. I thought that "Cherryfield" was too transparent and would not conceal his true identity from the Soviet authorities. In fact, there was no way of concealing his identity. For those in the know, it would be obvious who he was from the content and style of the interviews, for there was no other senior Soviet adviser and former army officer who would have expressed the same ideas in the same way. Concealing his identity was not the purpose of using a pseudonym. It was a purely formal requirement, a rule of the game. Breaking the rule would get him into trouble with "our formalists" -- and, for better or worse, that is what happened.

Misunderstanding as I did the reason why he wanted me not to make public his real name, I did not grasp the importance of the matter. At the same time, I was very concerned with the evident lack of credibility of anonymous material, because I very much wanted it to have a political effect and advance the cause of peace and disarmament. So I cheated a bit. While in "Detente" Viktor appeared as "Colonel X" and later as "Olenev," I also sent a short article about him using his real name (reproduced below) to the "ADIU Report," a low-circulation bulletin on peace research produced by the Armament and Disarmament Information Unit at the University of Sussex. This way, I thought, at least a few specialists would believe me. I did not want or expect the article to receive any wider publicity. However, the article was picked up by Andrew Wilson, a journalist at The Observer, a Sunday newspaper in London. Wilson published a brief report based on my article in ADIU Report.

Matthew Evangelista tells in his book what happened next: "Back in Moscow, the Observer piece caught the attention of Kim Philby, the famous British spy, who kept an office at IMEMO and followed developments in the British press on behalf of the Institute. Philby translated and circulated the article, ... creating a scandal for Girshfeld, who had expected ... to be given a pseudonym... At that point Girshfeld's views on 'sufficient defense' received some attention from the higher-ups, and he justified his actions on the grounds that the Western media were the only source of new ideas that Soviet military and political officials took seriously." [4]

The next time I saw Girshfeld, he chided me for disregarding his request not to use his real name. But he wasn't really angry. He was actually very pleased at how things had turned out. More important than the scandal itself was the fact that it had attracted attention to him and enabled him to present his ideas at a higher level than ever before, helping to prepare the ground for "new thinking" to emerge as official ideology under Gorbachev.


"Detente" went through some twenty issues before fizzling out about the same time as the Soviet Union, the object of its analysis. [5] Like all ventures that lack solid institutional and financial backing and rely on the free labor of a handful of enthusiasts, it collapsed when the editor and members of the editorial board had got fed up or exhausted or moved on to new interests. But in a modest way it had already served its purpose.

I kept up occasional contact with Viktor through the early 1990s. Tanya was no longer around. He grew more and more eccentric. He insisted that when I called him I should not identify myself by name but instead meow like a cat as a secret signal. He managed to make a living through trading ventures with the Caucasus and Central Asia. [6] He also had links with certain "red-brown" organizations, notably Stanislav Terekhov's Officers' Union. This seemed odd, considering that his name points unmistakably to a Jewish family background, but he was totally assimilated as a Russian.

As he aged his health and memory deteriorated and he found it increasingly hard to cope even with everyday domestic tasks. For a time a very kind woman friend used to visit him, keep an eye on him and help him in various ways. Then I was no longer able to establish contact with him when I came to Moscow. His telephone line was cut off and his apartment looked deserted. Conceivably he had moved, but there was a more plausible explanation.

Looking back on what I have written, I fear I may have conveyed the impression that Girshfeld was always a very serious person. In fact, he liked nothing better than to fool around. On one visit to his apartment, he persuaded me to try on a soldier's greatcoat and cap and then urged me to take them with me as souvenirs. I managed to escape without the greatcoat but I did take the cap with the red star. Back in Birmingham I went around in it for some time, showing it off to all and sundry, until I made the fatal mistake of washing it and it fell to pieces. It wasn't supposed to be washed. It was the dirt that held it together.


[1] One dramatic sign was the leaking of the "Zaslavskaya Report," a paper on economic reform delivered by Academician Tatyana Zaslavskaya at a seminar of the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk attended by Gorbachev (already a member of the top leadership). See also, for instance: Archie Brown, "Political Science in the Soviet Union: A New Stage of Development," Soviet Studies, Vol. XXXVI, July 1984, No. 3, pp. 317-44.

[2] "Detente" publicized the ideas and activities of many other Soviet reformers working in various fields. Thus the first two issues featured, besides "Colonel X," the writer Chingiz Aitmatov, the literary critic Vadim Sokolov, the journalist Fyodor Burlatsky (see above), the film maker Yuli Raizman, the Moscow Trust Group (an unofficial peace group), and a group of science educators in Leningrad ("Earth and Universe").

[3] According to Harry Gelman, "Colonel X" did exist but he was not a former army officer as he "alleged." He was "presumably in fact a representative of a Soviet intelligence service" whose mission was to plant "rumors and private suggestions" about possible unilateral Soviet reductions in order "to increase domestic popular pressures on Western governments to adopt a more forthcoming negotiating posture regarding Western reductions, and more generally to inhibit Western defense expenditures" (The Soviet Military Leadership and the Question of Soviet Deployment Retreats, RAND Report R-3664-AF, 1988). I cannot disprove this hypothesis, but it is surely implausible in the extreme. Gelman and many others with the same mentality were able to perceive Soviet people only as programmed robots rather than as thinking and feeling individuals pursuing their own goals within the constraints of a specific political environment. They were able to sustain this perception because their real contact with Soviet people was very limited.

[4] Evangelista, Unarmed Forces, p. 190. This account, based on a letter from me to the author dated 18 January 1991, is inaccurate, partly because my memory was playing tricks on me and partly because I was lying when I claimed not to have understood Girshfeld's request not to use his real name. I am now trying to reconstruct events more accurately and put the record straight.

[5] The last few issues came out under a new name -- "Russia and the World."

[6] Viktor had an abiding fascination with the Caucasus and Central Asia; perhaps I picked up the bug from him. He often traveled in the region and frequently had friends from Dagestan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc. staying as guests in his apartment.

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SOURCE. Detente, No. 5, Winter 1986, p. 2

I represent the third generation of Bolsheviks. We are, so to speak, a Marxist aristocracy. My grandfather was in the Party from its creation and my father from 1918. My uncle, a diplomat at the Soviet embassy in Paris, was shot by Stalin. I do not suffer from any inferiority complex, either personally or politically. And that implies a feeling of responsibility. I am proud that I live in the USSR. We are such a mighty country that nothing, apart from our own fools, can any longer shake us.

All three generations of my family fought. My grandfather fought in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and in World War One. [1] My father fought in the Civil War with Chapayev and in World War Two. He worked with Lenin personally during the Civil War, reporting to him on the situation on the fronts. After a brilliant military career, he joined the Soviet embassy in Berlin in 1931. [2]

I grew up in the West. I spent part of my childhood with my uncle in Paris, part of it with my father in Germany. I saw with my own eyes both the democratic West and fascism. Could it be said that I love the West? I love people. That is the most important thing.

In 1941, at the age of 16, I went to the front as a volunteer. At that time they were forming the Home Guard for the defense of Moscow, and my age worried no one. Later, it is true, when the situation stabilized, they released me from active service and sent me to study in a military school.

I served in the army until 1959. [3] Postwar service in the army helped me to get to know the country better. It gave me the opportunity to understand much in life. It is not that I fear war. Simply, I know war.

After leaving the army, I enrolled in the History Faculty of Moscow University. Soon after graduation, I was accepted by the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

So I have had luck in life. I grew up in the West, fought, stayed alive, studied military affairs, then history and political science. All that has made me a globalist. The world is one in its changing variety. I have grown accustomed to seeing my country as part of the world, and to feeling myself to be a scholar and at the same time a citizen of a great power. That is a heavy cross to bear. And I myself am part of this world.

Our country is a special one, it has many problems specific to itself, but we are still part of the industrialized world and of humanity as a whole. All general problems concern us too. Russia contains within itself the North and the South, the East and the West. We have all peoples and all religions, from Catholicism to Buddhism and even Shamanism. [4] Therefore I consider my service to my country as service to humanity. And my only compass needle is love for people.

I am an optimist. The experience of my work as an expert has shown that I have often been too much of an optimist, and that what I expected in one year has taken five years to happen. But all the same, it did happen! Humanity and my own country have acquired such wealth and might that only their own failings prevent them from living in prosperity and peace, without war and hunger. Fifty years ago this was still impossible.

The changes now taking place in our country confirm that we shall be able to make our contribution to the transformation of the world. The time is coming when the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom, of which Marx spoke, will be a present-day task.


[1] This is pertinent to Viktor's ethnic identification. A Jewish officer was a rarity in the tsarist army. The only Jews who might become officers were "kantonisty" -- those who were removed from their families and communities while still young boys for 25 years of army service, after which they were permitted to settle outside the Pale. Thus not only Viktor but even his grandfather must have been totally Russified.

[2] I did a little historical research and was able to confirm the basic facts that Viktor gives about his grandfather, father, and uncle. I am not sure about certain details. Thus his father was indeed a political commissar in the Red Army during the Civil War -- Trotsky mentions him in one of his dispatches -- but I would not exclude the possibility that he was not quite as close to Lenin as Viktor here claims.

[3] At this time many officers were discharged in connection with Khrushchev's large-scale reductions in land and sea forces.

[4] Among Soviet ethnic groups, Poles and Lithuanians were traditionally Catholic. Kalmyks and Buryats were traditionally Buddhist, while various small peoples in Siberia used to practice shamanism.

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SOURCE. ADIU Report, Vol. 6, No. 1, January/February 1984, p. 10

[Editorial introduction] At a time when a variety of conceptions of "alternative defense policy" are being discussed in Western Europe, it is interesting to find that similar ideas are not entirely unknown in the East.

Stephen Shenfield, a researcher in the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham, recently returned from a visit to Moscow, where he met one academic who has been advocating a form of alternative defense for the USSR. He provides here an account of Viktor Girshfeld's ideas.

[Start of article] Interest has been growing in the West in alternative strategies of non-nuclear non-provocative defense. The organization "Just Defense" in Britain, [1] and similar groups in other NATO countries, [2] have been elaborating proposals for moving towards unambiguously defensive armed forces with limited offensive capability. They envisage a forward defensive zone in which the most advanced modern technology -- electronic sensors, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, etc. -- would be used to detect and disable any invading forces. Such an arrangement would provide an effective and relatively cheap defense, and at the same time would defuse East-West tension by demonstrating to the USSR that NATO had no aggressive intentions.

As these ideas do not seem compatible with what is generally known of Soviet military thinking, it was an encouraging surprise to discover on a recent visit to Moscow an expert on military affairs whose recommendations are in many respects similar to those of "Just Defense." This is Viktor Girshfeld, a staff member of the influential Institute of World Economy and International Relations, who for years has been advocating behind the scenes a concept he calls "sufficient defense" (dostatochnaya oborona).

There is a deep-set assumption among Soviet policy makers that the only real guarantee of security is an exact parity of scale and structure between NATO and Warsaw Pact weapons systems. Girshfeld argues for a more sophisticated approach. The USSR should take as its aim, he believes, the creation at minimum cost of forces sufficient to deter attack. This does not necessarily mean matching every weapon on the other side. A tank need not be opposed by a tank: it is much cheaper and no less effective to oppose a tank with anti-tank weapons. According to Girshfeld, the USSR is "over-tanked." Resources should be switched from tanks to anti-tank weapons.

"Sufficient defense" has military, economic, and political rationales. The difficult economic situation of the USSR makes it urgently necessary to raise the cost-effectiveness of national defense. And Girshfeld is convinced that the more clearly the purely defensive nature of Soviet military policy is demonstrated to world opinion, the greater will be the confidence placed in Soviet peace proposals and the stronger [will be] the position of those forces in the West working to revive detente and to achieve disarmament.

Girshfeld believes that it would be unrealistic to aspire to eliminate all offensive capability. The generals are bound to insist that a certain capacity for counterattack be retained, so that if the defense line is broken through at one or more points, lost territory can be regained. The USSR must also reckon with its relative backwardness in the field of advanced electronics.

The changes Girshfeld wishes to see are, he warns, bound to take time. The generals are not always receptive to imaginative new ideas, and lack a full understanding of economic and political problems and of the potential of advanced technology. He recalls that in October 1979 Brezhnev announced a unilateral withdrawal of Soviet troops and tanks from East Germany. [3] Girshfeld's father, formerly a prominent diplomat, had argued for many years in favor of just such a step to demonstrate Soviet commitment to disarmament. Unfortunately, by the time the withdrawal was carried out, it was already too late to have an appreciable political impact on the West. Two months later NATO made the fateful decision to ratify its plans for the installation of Cruise and Pershing II missiles and Soviet troops intervened in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Girshfeld is cautiously optimistic regarding the prospects of his ideas being implemented. He used to be regarded as rather a strange person to have such heretical ideas, but his standing is now stronger and understanding of his point of view is now more widespread among those who advise the leadership on military problems.


[1] This organization was established by the well-known peace researcher Frank Barnaby and Stan Windass. "Just Defense" had two meanings: "just defense" in the sense of "only defense" and "just defense" in contrast to "unjust defense." Unfortunately, the organization collapsed when the two founders fell out with one another.

[2] The idea of non-provocative defense probably won the widest support in West Germany and Denmark.

[3] This was a small-scale withdrawal. It had little strategic significance and no detectable political impact.

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SOURCE. "Colonel X's Warning: Our Mistakes Plus Your Hysteria," Detente, No. 1, October 1984, pp. 2--3

Editorial introduction

The following interview about the war danger was conducted by one of Detente's correspondents (D) on a recent visit to Moscow. Colonel X is a former army officer who now works as an adviser on international and defense affairs. The views expressed by Colonel X are personal ones, and should not be assumed representative of the mainstream of official Soviet thinking in all respects.

D: Colonel X, can there really be a risk of war between the Soviet Union and the West? Is the conflict of interest between the two sides so very sharp?

Col. X: No, the conflict of interest is not so sharp. There are no significant territorial disputes. Neither side threatens the vital economic interests of the other. And yet, strange as it may seem, there really is a risk of war. For us in this country, war no longer appears just an abstract possibility, as it did even a year ago. There is a feeling that things really might come to that.

The main danger lies in the escalation of some regional conflict. For example: the US invades Nicaragua, Cuba comes to Nicaragua's assistance, the US invades Cuba, and then we intervene in defense of Cuba.

D: Conflict is not likely to arise in Europe?

Col. X: Europe is stable, but what starts elsewhere will finish in Europe.

One very unstable region, to which in my opinion public opinion pays too little attention, is the Indian Subcontinent. I fear there will be a sixth Indo-Pakistani war, with the USA and China drawn in on the side of Pakistan and the USSR on the side of India. What a horrible porridge that will make!

D: But the great powers did not intervene in the first five wars between India and Pakistan. Why should they in the sixth?

Col. X: It depends on the restraint shown by political leaders. Even with Carter it would have been much easier to control such situations. With Reagan the dangers of escalation are much greater.

D: And Soviet leaders?

Col. X: Our leaders, of course, vary in their personal qualities. Some are capable of greater initiative than others in the search for peace. But the main line of our policy is firm.

D: But occasionally, do you not think, there may be mistakes?

Col. X: Yes, but mistakes in themselves need not be so dangerous. If they are understood for what they are, as mistakes, and not as elements in some vast aggressive plan. It is the combination of our mistakes and your hysteria that is so very dangerous.

D: Perhaps you could be a little more specific?

Col. X: For example, the misinterpretation of mistakes we may make on our southern border in terms of a supposed drive towards the Persian Gulf.

D: But how can Western governments be absolutely sure you do not have designs on the Gulf?

Col. X: The USSR is more than self-sufficient in energy. What need do we have of Gulf oil?

D: But your aim, some argue, is to create difficulties for the West.

Col. X: Our own plans of economic development have presupposed Western prosperity!

D: The Soviet Union does at least seek to expand its influence in the Third World.

Col. X: We still feel alone in a hostile world, and naturally we look for allies. But these allies, or clients, are extremely expensive for us to maintain. If detente is made secure, I do not think we shall be so keen to collect new clients.

D: You mentioned hysteria. Is hysteria a Western monopoly?

Col. X: I don't say that. In the past we have been able to keep a cool head. But we too are human and hysteria is an infectious disease. If international tension is not relaxed soon, I fear it may not be long before we too fall victim to hysteria. There are already worrying signs. Spy mania is starting to appear.

D: Do you find the obsession with the last war in Soviet literature a worrying sign?

Col. X: You must look closely at war literature to see what it signifies. Facile heroics -- Forward! Hooray! Hooray! -- that is one kind. But those authors like Vasil Bykov, who reveal how hard and terrible war really is -- isn't what they write ANTI-war literature?

D: Has such realistic writing about the war become more common?

Col. X: Undoubtedly. Before it was just individual authors. Now we have a rising trend.

D: A new world war would be something quite different from the last one. The end of life on Earth.

Col. X: Yes, the point would quickly be reached at which the smoke from the cities blanketed the Earth in cold and darkness.

D: The Nuclear Winter. But the Soviet position on the consequences of nuclear war rather confuses me. On the one hand, Soviet authors often state that nuclear war cannot be limited and would destroy civilization. On the other hand, Soviet military literature does seem to suppose that survival is possible. And then there is Soviet civil defense.

Col. X: All of us. more or less, know that nuclear war would be the end. All our theoreticians say that there is no way of preventing nuclear war from escalating to the global level, that you cannot win a nuclear war. That is our GENERAL THEORETICAL position.

But from a PROFESSIONAL MILITARY point of view, such a position is impossible. Can a professional military man say that nuclear war is inconceivable? No, because some fool of an American president may really start a nuclear war. A professional military man must consider what to do in that event.

D: What difference does it make what you do in that event?

Col. X: Ah, YOU can say that. Mr. General cannot say that.

D: I am still confused.

Col. X: Consider the point of view of another professional, the doctor who knows that his patient is suffering from an incurable disease. He cannot for that reason abandon further efforts.

D: The doctor might see as his first task preventing incurable diseases from arising. Could the military man not see as his first task preventing war from arising by means of effective defense?

Col. X: That IS his first task.

D: And as his second task -- preventing a conventional war, should it break out, from escalating to the nuclear level?

Col. X: That IS his second task. That is why the Soviet Union has undertaken, in all seriousness, never to use nuclear weapons first. [1] But what if NATO uses nuclear weapons first? Making no plans for such a contingency, abandoning civil defense, would mean openly proclaiming our helplessness. It would be wrong PSYCHOLOGICALLY.

D: How extensive are Soviet civil defense preparations?

Col. X: They are not very significant. Even our newest housing projects make no provision for shelters of any kind. I was talking with an expert on surviving nuclear war. He was describing the design of a special concrete bunker. I asked him how many people had built such bunkers. Twelve or thirteen, he replied -- in the whole country!

D: It is known that Soviet civil defense is based on evacuating people rather than sheltering them.

Col. X: Evacuation plans that have never even been tested. These are paper plans. [2]

D: Colonel X, can we turn to the question of Soviet conventional forces? The extremely large size of the Soviet Army is a theme much exploited by cold war propagandists in the West. How is it to be explained?

Col. X: The apparent size of our army is deceptive. Many soldiers are engaged in civilian tasks such as building BAM [the Baikal-Amur mainline, a new railway in eastern Siberia], building nurseries, helping to bring in the harvest, all sorts of things. My son puts his motorcycle in for repair -- and who is it that does the job? A soldier! This pseudo-army is at least half a million strong. In my opinion, it should be hived off and formed into a separate corps. [3] And Soviet soldiers carry out many auxiliary technical and service functions that in the West are performed by civilian employees.

D: Very well, but the effective size of the army must still be very large.

Col. X: Yes, and we have very extended borders to defend, not only in the West but also in the South and East. All the same, we do have a tendency to over-insure our defense -- an understandable tendency, but a mistaken one nonetheless. In the interest of building confidence and easing international tension, we could afford to reduce our forces somewhat, on both the European and the Chinese fronts.

D: What scale of reduction are you thinking of?

Col. X: A gradual unilateral reduction, spread over five or ten years, of the order of 50 percent. At the same time, resources should be switched from tanks to anti-tank weaponry, which is cheaper and more effective. [4] So that the quantitative reduction in our forces would not undermine, but on the contrary enhance their defensive capacity.

D: And your military-industrial complex -- would they ever permit this to happen?

Col. X: There are two common ideas about our society. Some think the USSR is a country like any other. Others think it is a country completely unlike any other. Both ideas are wrong. Is it true that we too have a military-industrial complex? In a manner of speaking, one could refer to our military institutions as such a complex. But our military-industrial complex does not have the same sort of entrenched power as yours does in the West. The military may ask for more -- who would expect them to ask for less? But they do not have to be given all they ask for. We are all sharply aware that every ruble diverted to the military is a ruble taken from the people's welfare.

D: Another theme exploited by cold war propagandists in the West is the internal problems of Soviet society.

Col. X: Yes, and this is really tragic -- because we do have internal problems. We need economic reform, we need to expand human rights in our country and further develop Soviet democracy. And we can only make headway in tackling our problems under conditions of prolonged detente. We need detente, lots and lots of detente. And not only detente with the West, but detente with China and detente in the Third World -- global detente. [5]

D: What message would you be most concerned to convey to Western readers?

Col. X: I would like them to think -- what benefit has the West derived from the arms race that it has led all these years? At every stage the USA has become less secure than before, starting from total security in 1945 and ending up with total insecurity. If only they could finally understand this!

D: Do you think there will be a war?

Col. X: We shall do everything to prevent it.


[1] The same issue of Detente that featured this interview also contained an article by me entitled "The Soviet Undertaking Not to Use Nuclear Weapons First and its Significance."

[2] This section of the dialogue was connected with research I was doing at the time into Soviet thinking on nuclear war. See my monograph "The Nuclear Predicament" and also my articles: Divided Counsels, Detente, No. 2, January--March 1985; Soviet Thinking About the Unthinkable, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1985; and Nuclear Winter and the USSR, Millenium: Journal of International Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1986, pp. 197--208 and Vol. 15, No. 3, Winter 1986, pp. 415--6.

[3] This was one of numerous schemes that Girshfeld thought up for the reorganization of the armed forces. He promoted ideas for military reform through an informal circle of friends in the officer corps, some of general rank.

[4] This was in accordance with -- indeed, a response to -- the ideas of "non-offensive" or "defensive" or "non-provocative" defense that at that time were attracting a great deal of attention among peace researchers and peace activists in Western Europe, especially in West Germany.

[5] In extending the concept of detente to the Third World, Girshfeld departed from the concept of detente that was dominant in Soviet ideology, according to which detente did not exclude militarized confrontation by proxy in the Third World. The idea of global detente is developed further in the second interview.

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SOURCE. "Colonel X's Peace Proposals," Detente, No. 2, January--March 1985, pp. 2--4

D: The unilateral disarmament initiative is one of the most characteristic policy proposals put forward by the Western peace movement. What most people have in mind is not, of course, complete unilateral disarmament, but specific unilateral steps that do not undermine the vital security interests of the side undertaking them. They think that faster progress towards mutual disarmament is likely to be achieved in this way than by relying on formal negotiations alone. It is very encouraging to learn that you on the Soviet side are putting forward similar proposals, especially considering how little precedent for unilateral initiatives there is in Soviet policy. That is why we would like to hear more about your proposals.

Col. X: It is hardly true to say that unilateral steps would be unprecedented for the USSR. Let us not forget the massive reduction in the size of the Army carried out by Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. [1] More recently, there was the unilateral withdrawal of troops and tanks from East Germany in 1979 and the unilateral undertaking in 1982 not to use nuclear weapons first.

Nevertheless, there is certainly an enormous unused potential for taking unilateral steps that would not undermine our security, and I would like to see our country continually taking such steps as an integral part of our peace policy -- an uninterrupted peace offensive in deeds as well as in words.

As for the specific steps that we might take, this must naturally depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time. The steps that we can afford to take in Europe, given the policy of the present West German government, are relatively modest ones. If, on the other hand, we find ourselves facing a red-green coalition government [of the Social Democratic and Green Parties] in West Germany -- as I expect we shall in due course, provided that we can avoid making utter fools of ourselves -- then we can take much more substantial unilateral initiatives.

Even in the existing situation, we can again withdraw some troops and tanks from the European front. I also suggest that we take unilateral steps towards the implementation of our proposals for nuclear-free zones in Europe -- proposals that we have put forward so many times without yet eliciting any official Western response. So let us create on our side of the border in the North our half of the Nordic Nuclear-Free Zone. In the South we can declare a nuclear-free zone in the Balkans. This would not require any practical changes, as we have no nuclear weapons in the Balkans anyway. Along the East-West border in Central Europe, let us create a nuclear-free zone unilaterally on our side, to a depth of 50 kilometers in the first instance.

D: The Soviet Army has about a million men along the border with China. China is now oriented towards internal reform and Soviet-Chinese relations have significantly improved. Does this not argue for similar, or even bolder, unilateral steps on the Chinese front?

Col. X: Certainly. I have always, by the way, regarded the "Chinese threat" as something of a myth. There has not, is not, and will not be a Chinese threat. Our forces along the Chinese border would be quite adequate at half their present size. Why are they there? You must understand that although there is no Chinese threat to the USSR there IS a Chinese threat to our allies on China's southern flank -- to Vietnam, in particular, and in lesser degree to India, both of which have actually had their territory invaded by China. Our troop concentration on China's northern border serves as a counterweight to China's troop concentration on its southern border.

My proposal for the Chinese front is this. Let us make a modest troop withdrawal right away as a sign of goodwill. At the same time, let us make an offer to China that we shall withdraw half of the forces presently on the Chinese border, on the sole condition that China will provide effective guarantees of non-aggression against the countries on its southern border.

D: Such an offer would surely look attractive to a Chinese leadership anxious to channel more resources into economic development.

Col. X: We have in fact already taken a very important unilateral initiative vis-a-vis China. That is our undertaking not to use nuclear weapons first, which applies to China no less than to the West. It is especially significant in relation to a possible war with China, because some of our strategists have feared that we might face such a massive Chinese attack that we would have to use nuclear weapons to halt it. We have therefore made a real sacrifice in renouncing that option.

D: The parallels between the Western myth of the "Soviet threat" and the Soviet myth of the "Chinese threat" are quite striking.

You have explained some of your ideas for desirable unilateral initiatives on the part of the USSR. But are there not obstacles in Soviet thinking that have to be overcome before there is any hope of implementing your ideas?

Col. X: There are such obstacles, but I believe that over time they can gradually be overcome. Things do not change fast in this country, but they do change.

First, our strategic doctrine, which in reaction to the traumatic experience of the last war stresses counter-offensive capability, is now becoming outdated and needs to be reassessed. Current changes in conventional weapons technology make it expedient once again to put the main stress on the defensive. [2] If we did this, we could adopt a more unambiguously defensive military stance. The number of tanks, for example, could be considerably reduced, and more effort devoted to anti-tank weaponry.

This does not mean that we could ever contemplate the more extreme ideas of "non-provocative defense" that circulate in the Western peace movement, such as the complete elimination of tanks. Tanks, by the way, should not be regarded as purely offensive weapons. They can be used very effectively in static formation as defensive weapons.

The second obstacle lies in Soviet psychology. This is still basically a peasant country, and its people still have a basically peasant mentality, which is changing only gradually with the Scientific-Technological Revolution. [3] The peasant who has an old broken-down black-and-white TV set and buys a brand new color set can't bring himself to throw out the old set. No, he puts the old set on top of the cupboard and keeps both sets in the same room! Well, what is the difference between that and our military men, who keep many thousands of useless old tanks in service? Nor could they bring themselves to give up the old SS-4 and SS-5 missiles that the SS-20s were supposed to replace.

D: This magpie psychology contributes directly to the "Soviet threat" with which we are frightened in the West -- the ratios of "the Soviet superiority in tanks," the "SS-20 buildup," and so on.

Col. X: The underlying problem is a failure to understand correctly the real source of our enormous strength as a country. Our strength does not lie in our armaments. If, through some unlikely miscalculation, we were to underestimate the level of armaments we need for our defense, we could make up the shortfall very quickly as soon as necessary. Our capacity for rapid rearmament was demonstrated in World War II. The crucial factor is the productive potential of our economy, which is vast. And unlike the West, which has the headache of relying on the Third World for many of its resources, we have all the resources we need on our own territory.

D: This is obvious enough, especially from a Marxist point of view. Many Western commentators argue that the status of the USSR as a world power derives from its armaments. It is unfortunate that Soviet people should make the same mistake.

Col. X: Another source of our strength is our people. The cultural and intellectual level of our people, their technical abilities, bear no comparison with what they were a generation ago, and they are continually rising.

D: You don't think there is any problem with their loyalty -- in Central Asia, for example?

Col. X: Sitting in my office in Moscow and reading in the Western press that Central Asia is our "soft underbelly," I started to get worried, so I decided to go there and take a look for myself. Well, I discovered that the Western press is wrong. Progress in Central Asia is very rapid; people there do not live at all badly. They have more problems in Central Russia than they do in Central Asia. Of course, their progress is as nothing compared to what it could be if the resources tied up in the military could be freed.

The status of the local ethnic groups has risen greatly. They generally occupy the top positions now, though not always very competently. As for religious observance, it's a matter of national custom, as it is in Russia. No, we don't have a soft underbelly.

D: In our first interview, you drew attention to the many regional conflicts in the world that might ignite a world war. You called for "global detente." How, in your view, can these regional conflicts be settled and a system of global detente established? We cannot address all the conflicts in the world in this interview, but perhaps you could outline your approach in general terms and then apply it to some specific issue?

Col. X: Very well. The basic tool that I propose for the establishment of global detente in the Non-Alignment Pact. This is a treaty that would guarantee the non-alignment of any Third World country currently or potentially the focus of dangerous conflict. The signatories of the Pact would be all those world and regional powers with an interest in the country concerned. However, each Pact would be implemented and supervised by an "outside power" whose impartiality could be equally trusted by all the parties involved.

The signatory powers would form a consortium to guarantee the non-alignment of the country and also jointly to provide a guaranteed level of aid income to assist in its development. This economic aspect is very important, because it is often for the sake of economic benefits that Third World governments sell their military services as clients of the great powers, acting in effect as mercenaries. Instead of paying these hooligans to make war, let us pay them to keep the peace. That will in fact turn out cheaper, in directly financial terms as well as in terms of our own security.

D: Third World conflicts often involve civil wars between an incumbent government supported by one great power and insurgents supported by another great power. How would a non-alignment pact be implemented in these situations?

Col. X: A coalition government must be formed, comprising those elements of both government and insurgent forces which are prepared to come to a compromise and work together in the context of non-alignment. The great powers are in a position to exert the pressure on their clients necessary to induce them to accept such arrangements. As for any local forces that refuse to come to terms, the necessary action must be taken to prevent them from sabotaging the pact. For example, all outside assistance must be denied to those insurgents who wish to continue fighting against the new coalition government.

D: This would be quite a new kind of international treaty?

Col. X: To a considerable degree, yes. A historical precedent is set to some extent by the treaty that has successfully guaranteed the neutrality of Austria.

D: To which countries could a non-alignment pact be applied?

Col. X: There are many potential candidates. Each country presents different problems requiring special solution, and the problems of one country are of course linked to those of other countries in the same region. So this really needs a very careful and detailed analysis.

I would say that there should be pacts covering: Central America; the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Somalia); Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; Cambodia; Korea; and the Middle East (Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon) -- in short, all the areas beset by conflicts that endanger world peace.

D: How would you apply your ideas to the war in Afghanistan? No doubt this is the most sensitive issue for you, but our magazine can hardly ignore it.

Col. X: No, you certainly cannot ignore it.

D: Virtually the whole of Western public opinion, including progressive public opinion, opposes the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and views the war there as an obstacle to detente. Is the situation in Afghanistan really in the best interests of the Soviet Union?

Col. X: No. The war in Afghanistan serves the interests of the Reagan Administration to a much greater extent than it serves our interests. It provides them with a readymade excuse for everything.

D: Would the USSR not then do best to admit its error and withdraw its forces from Afghanistan?

Col. X: We can't do that. If we withdrew, the Americans would be in Afghanistan within three weeks. That is something we cannot tolerate. Whether it was sensible for us to go in and whether we should just pull out now -- these are two different questions.

Nevertheless, I propose a non-alignment pact for Afghanistan that would both guarantee the West against our continued presence there and guarantee us against a Western presence. We should open negotiations with those insurgent forces who are willing to negotiate with us, with a view to the formation of a coalition government and the subsequent withdrawal of our forces under the provisions of the pact.

D: Would the insurgents be prepared to enter a coalition government with Babrak Karmal, and on what basis? And would Karmal himself agree?

Col. X: I believe that at least 60 percent of the insurgents would be prepared to come to an agreement. Many of them realize that they can't go on fighting the Soviet Union forever. An agreement between the Karmal government and the majority of the insurgents on social and economic policy is quite feasible. Those who want the land restored to the big landowners cannot be satisfied, but many insurgents are also social reformers. Many of their programs differ little from that of the Karmal government.

As for whether Karmal would be cooperative, it depends on the situation in which he finds himself. If we want him to accept the arrangement, he will accept it.

The real problem is whether all the insurgents can be made to stop fighting. Pakistan must cut off its aid to them. The problems of Pakistan and of Afghanistan are closely interconnected. In fact, first it is necessary to implement a non-alignment pact for Pakistan, and this will create the preconditions for a pact for Afghanistan.


[1] Here Girshfeld expressed special respect for Khrushchev by giving his name in full. In fact, Khrushchev justified his reductions in terms very similar to those used by Girshfeld, e.g. "reasonable sufficiency" (razumnaya dostatochnost'). It may well be that Girshfeld did not so much think up the concept of "sufficient defense" by himself as keep it alive through the twenty-year-long hiatus that separated Khrushchev from Gorbachev.

[2] A few years later I demonstrated that during the 1980s there had been a shift in the relative attention devoted to the study of offensive and defensive operations by means of a content analysis of the Soviet journal of military history Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal. See my article "Soviet Historiography and the Operational Art: Historical Coverage of the Great Patriotic War by Period as an Indicator of the Orientation of Soviet Military Art 1959-88," The Journal of Soviet Military Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, September 1989, pp. 346-360.

[3] The Scientific-Technological Revolution was a standard term in the Soviet scholarly discourse of the 1970s and 1980s. It referred above all to the rise of automation, computers, and information technology.

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SOURCE. Detente, No. 5, Winter 1986, pp. 2--7

[The original] editorial introduction

In this article, "Viktor Olenev" (the same person as "Colonel X") explores the strategic and political implications of the militarization of space for the USSR and for the world. We hope that by presenting the viewpoint of a Soviet analyst of "progressive" orientation we may enhance Western understanding of Soviet perspectives on this vital issue.

However, we would be misleading our readers were we to give the impression that this is the objective analysis of an independent expert. Personal idiosyncrasies apart, the author is clearly making a political appeal under the constraints of the political environment in which he operates. Such an appeal should be approached in a critical spirit. Stephen Shenfield's brief commentary may help the reader make his or her own assessment.

Our interviews with the author have aroused some speculation concerning his identity, and indeed some doubt as to whether "Colonel X" is a real person. The power of imagination of the editors of "Detente" should not be overestimated. The use of pseudonyms is an unfortunate formality imposed on the publication abroad of personal views by the ground rules of Soviet political life. It need not imply any expectation that the author's identity will be effectively concealed from the well informed. The short autobiographical sketch [see first document above] may improve "Viktor Olenev"'s credibility.

My translation of Girshfeld's typescript


The meeting in Geneva between General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan has improved the international climate and weakened psychological preparation for war.

The goals of the Great World Powers are well defined: to prevent nuclear war and therefore not to strive for military superiority, and to reduce their nuclear missile forces by 50 percent, with the subsequent general reduction of armaments and armed forces down -- so the Soviet Union would like -- to a much lower, "sufficient" level.

But after Geneva the defense ministers of Great Britain and the USA signed an agreement to cooperate on the SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative, "Star Wars"]. West Germany is apparently preparing to take a similar step.

The world is at a crossroads. The question that holds undivided sway today is being decided: Is space to be militarized? It is not just the next round in the arms race that is approaching, but a transformation in the very character of armed force, a new ordering of states on the world arena, a new shift in the strategic correlation of forces. The danger of local wars, and of the outbreak of World War III, is growing. It is terrible that this is all being trivialized by politicians, the military, and the mass media.


If the process of the militarization of space is not cut short by a political act, to the three "classical" types of armed forces -- land, sea, and air forces -- will be added a fourth, space forces. Moreover, the introduction of Space Forces will proceed very rapidly. Space Forces have already begun with the systems of intelligence satellites, and are capable of turning into fully combat-ready complexes by the year 2000. The American "Shuttles" and the permanent space stations of the USSR will eventually multiply into space and land-based military armadas. Near-Earth space and the launch sites will start to fill up with automatic and manned space destroyers, nuclear bombers and dive-bombers, laser-armed attack aircraft, etc., in ever increasing numbers and varieties, interacting with thousands of strategic nuclear missiles and ABM systems.


Space Forces at the stage of the SDI do not play a genuinely defensive role in relation to the strategic nuclear-missile complex of the USSR and the USA, but rather impede the reduction of the nuclear-missile arsenals and force the deployment of a complex of space strike forces.

The SDI is counteracted by a simple increase in the number of missiles fired, by roving missiles, low-flying missiles, dummy missiles, rapid-boost missiles, and so on. If the SDI has to be neutralized by a large number and variety of missiles, then it becomes simply irrational to limit the means of attack. Furthermore, the vulnerability of intelligence satellites and other space objects to the SDI weapons will logically compel the improvement and protection of these objects -- that is, will lead to the creation of a whole complex of Space Forces. We see that the SDI will provoke both a nuclear-missile and a space arms race. If this process is not nipped in the bud, the law of the "chain reaction" will inevitably come into operation.


The Soviet people, the Soviet government, and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have declared that they do not wish to create Space Forces, because the militarization of space goes against the striving of the USSR to build a "sufficient defense" at ever lower levels of troops and armaments.


First of all, simply because we are afraid of war. We are afraid of war and do not want war, although, like the Americans, we believe in the invincibility of our own country. The peoples of [Russia and] the Soviet Union have fought seriously four times this century -- in 1904-1905, in 1914-18, in 1918-21, and in 1941-45, and moreover almost always on their own territory, losing tens of millions of people. Our cities and industry were destroyed, our agriculture ruined. We starved.

Although confidence in victory is characteristic of both nations, we and the Americans have different perceptions, different "psychologies of war." For the Soviet people, victory came at the price of incredible losses and suffering, followed by hunger and the toil of reconstruction. For the Americans, victory in two world wars came as a result of military feats across the ocean, with wartime and postwar prosperity. So, for all their unshakable confidence in victory, war evokes terror and loathing in all Soviet people.

Yet we "slipped" into the civil war in Afghanistan.

The introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan was an act of unforgivable shortsightedness on the part of the then conservative leadership of the USSR. It could and should have been avoided by timely attention to the expert advice that was available, which was based on all-sided analysis of the character of the revolution that had taken place in Afghanistan. [1] The advice was twofold:

* On the one hand, the revolutionary transformation should have been held back at the national-democratic stage, so that state power in the country could be built on the basis of the union of all left-of-center forces.

* On the other hand, gradual change should have been brought about by means of economic and other [non-military] aid.

Relative tranquility could thereby have been maintained on our southern border. An attempt is apparently now being made to implement these ideas, and that gives grounds for hope.

The "Gorbachev team" would not have made the "Afghan mistake." But there can be no question of "capitulation." That is permitted neither by the strategic frontier position of Afghanistan nor by the historical traditions of Russia and the ideological and military traditions and experience of the USSR. Nor can the military situation compel our capitulation. The army can fight for ten or fifteen years. Fewer than 120,000 troops are deployed there, out of an army numbering over four million men -- that is, less than 3 percent. The patience of the country will hold if no other way out, acceptable to Soviet Russia, is found. The Soviet army entered Afghanistan with the end of detente, and only worldwide and regional detente can hasten from without its exit from Afghanistan.

The Afghan war is by no means popular in the USSR, although it is perceived as part of the sharp East-West confrontation and therefore as an unavoidable evil. (When detente is reestablished this war will become intolerable.) The impact on the nation and army of the war in Afghanistan is not of course unambiguous. The combat readiness of the army is heightened, and in particular the quality of the officer corps is very much improved, but at the same time the loathing of war as such is intensified.

And what about you? Are you not afraid of war?

The second reason that we are against the militarization of space is that we regret, to the point of tears, spending money on Space Forces.

We have achieved a modest sufficiency. No one is starving, everyone is clothed and shod, has obtained a family apartment or is "standing in line" for one or is building his own house. Everyone has obtained a garden plot for a dacha or will obtain one. Industry is promising cheap cars. The USA and some of the countries of Western Europe have already reaped the fruits of the Scientific-Technological Revolution in their harvests, apartments, goods and services. We are only moving toward this. Even now we regret spending money, brains, and labor power on a large and expensive army. How much more would we regret spending yet more on Space Forces!

The third reason we do not want the militarization of space is that we are not psychologically prepared for Star Wars.

The American, and the West European and the Japanese too, has since childhood read comics, watched cartoons, and then read science fiction and watched movies about "Star Wars." But the Soviet person has not had this experience. Together with the Soviet science fiction writer [Ivan] Yefremov, we have believed firmly in the establishment of a friendly "cosmic ring" of planetary civilizations. [2] As a result we apparently forgot the problem of unfriendly Earthlings on other continents of our own planet.

But not all is yet lost. After all, we were able to carry out a joint American-Soviet space flight, "Soyuz-Apollo"! And in Geneva the sides agreed again to expand their cultural and economic ties. A promising start.


Every stick has two ends and truth is many-sided. The USSR is not only a national state with a sum total of the "egoistic" interests of its citizens, who do not want the militarization of space. The USSR is also, alongside the USA, a great world power -- in colloquial speech a "superpower" -- and a great military power. In its capacity as a great world power and a great military power, the construction and development of Space Forces is undoubtedly if no more, then at least no less, advantageous to the USSR than to the USA.

In the 1960s and 1970s much was written about the transition of the world from a "bipolar" to a "multipolar" structure. The two superpowers, the USSR and the USA, would be joined as equal partners in world politics by the great powers of Western Europe, above all by Britain and France, by the West European Community, and by China and Japan. The great regional powers of the Third World. such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Brazil, was increasing in weight.

But the world economic crisis, and in the USA also the fall of Iran, brought conservatives to power in the leading Western countries. The Cold War, renewed by their efforts and our mistakes, allowed the USA to "bridle" Western Europe and Japan once more, almost restoring the former control of the USA over its bloc. The USA also increased its pressure on the Third World and the neutral countries.

At the same time, the socialist countries learned from experience how dangerous it was to build their plans for economic development on partnership with the USA or with the West as a whole. The West inflicted a shock -- economic, political, and military -- on us all, but this did us good as well as harm. At last we are waking up, rallying round, beginning to paw the ground faster. The devil knows, would we not otherwise, under the old conservative leadership, have dozed on for another ten years?!

Under these conditions, the USA clearly intends to consolidate its unstable supremacy over its allies and increase its influence on the Third World by soaring up over them all into space. Yet this development will raise the USSR as well as the USA high above the other countries of the world.

Today, for example, France and China possess all the military attributes of a contemporary great power. But to the degree that the Space Forces of the superpowers are activated, the military-political significance and freedom of action of the remaining great powers will be radically curtailed.


At the global political level, space forces are even more advantageous to the USSR than they are to the USA. That is because the USA is superior to us in several respects -- in its global economic, financial, and trading influence, in the influence of its mass media, in the "personal" influence of businessmen living and traveling abroad, in the influence of its intelligence services. To a significant extent, Soviet space forces will be able to compensate for these deficiencies, because they will give the USSR a permanent global military-political presence. They will allow it to be present at all times and places, on an equal basis with the USA, even where we are now practically absent!

If the "allies" of a superpower pour their money and brains into its military space programs, the hegemony of the superpowers will merely be reinforced. For even now nuclear-missile submarines of France [and Britain], their sea and air forces are combat-capable to only a limited extent without the American space complex for intelligence, communications, and control (as the Falklands showed). And the ally -- Britain, for instance -- will only lose the brains it needs for its own scientific-technological progress and market competitiveness.

In the speeches of its politicians and military men, and even more in its actions and proposals, the American superpower is manifesting an attempt to reach some kind of pact with the Soviet superpower. Hence the proposals for an "exchange of observers" at nuclear test explosions (instead of banning them), for direct permanent contacts between the commands of the armed forces of the two sides (instead of reducing them). Hence the talk about "the value of the SDI for defense against third countries." Hence the proposals for reciprocal laboratory visits and even the transfer of research results concerning the SDI (instead of banning its development) and, above all, for "a direct Soviet-American agreement" on the militarization of space under various names (instead of halting it). First deputy minister of defense Marshal Petrov confirmed on December 28 that the USA is inviting the USSR to take part in the development of space weapons, in parallel with the American program. [3]


The military aspects of space forces are even more advantageous to the USSR. There is an inescapable link between the progress of military technology and the shift in the correlation of military forces to the advantage of the USSR and the disadvantage of the USA.

Each step in strategic military technology makes the globe smaller, more accessible, and more vulnerable, so that the USA, and those of its allies that are distant from us, simply lose the advantage they have derived from their insulated and distant position.

Before the appearance of the nuclear bomb, the USA with its bases surrounding the USSR had sufficient freedom to keep us under surveillance or to bomb us. In the event of war, the mass of Western bombers could have gained mastery over the rear of the Soviet army, over Soviet factories and cities.

The nuclear bomb changed this situation. Even a few planes of our bomber force, which was far inferior to its American counterpart, were now, with the nuclear bomb, able to destroy the rears, the cities and industry of the West European countries:

* Anti-aircraft missiles limited the freedom of action of NATO bombers, and stopped air reconnaissance over the USSR.

* Nuclear missiles placed under threat the USA itself, which until then had been absolutely invulnerable.

* Multiple-warhead nuclear missiles increased by many times the number of targets that we could strike.

* Atomic-fuelled submarines with nuclear missiles moved the Soviet nuclear forces close to the shores of the USA and of its allies.

* Satellite reconnaissance opened up the whole world to the USSR, a world to which it had previously had little access because of the limited range of Soviet aircraft.

* Nuclear weapons made the Soviet navy a weighty factor on the seas, and undermined the surface fleets of the USA and its allies within the range of Soviet offshore aircraft and land-to-sea missiles.

Space forces are bound to deprive the USA and NATO of a number of other advantages that they still possess.

In the event of war, the Soviet surface fleet will be destroyed on the open seas by the combined forces of the NATO fleets. The Soviet navy can never even hope to compare in numbers and might with the surface fleet of its rivals, with the number and power of their aircraft carriers, cruisers, and frigates. Today the USA and the NATO countries together with Japan have mastery over the seas.

In the event of war, space forces would deprive the West of this advantage, putting its submarine fleet under direct threat from space or from combined action with missile-carrying submarines. Space forces would prevent the supplying and transfer of troops, and the supply of oil by sea -- that is, everything that is difficult for the USSR to achieve today because of the supremacy of Western sea and air forces beyond the range of Soviet aviation.

Space forces, hanging or flying in ever greater numbers over the NATO countries and Japan, will have in their direct sights any and every factory, port, airport, road, and mobile target. (The likelihood of just such a development of space forces was confirmed by prominent experts and highly placed military men at a press conference in Moscow on 18 December 1985.) In the event of global or local war, the superpowers will at last be fully comparable in their ability to reach and strike at any target around the world. Thus the remaining global advantages of the West will come to an end -- to the benefit of the Soviet space superpower and its allies.

These Soviet space forces will not enhance the sense of security of the Americans, any more than they will enhance the feelings of comfort and calm of the Italians, West Germans, and other NATO peoples. Space Forces will bring just the opposite of what Washington promises: they will bring neither advantage nor security.

If the combined forces of the USSR and other countries cannot, despite all this, stop the USA, then the USSR will be obliged to participate in the "hegemonization of space." The Soviet space forces and the American space forces will then share hegemony over the Earth from space.


Without entering into details and possible variants, one can speak of three future stages in the development of Soviet space forces.

The first stage, say the first four or five years, will be a period of waiting, consolidation, reaction, and preparation -- in the expectation of a Soviet-American agreement to halt the militarization of space. It will mean the preservation of strategic nuclear missile forces, the large-scale diversification of missiles (mainly prototypes in readiness for mass production) to overcome the SDI anti-missile system, and a gradual shift in the center of gravity of nuclear forces from land to sea (the construction of submarines at the expense of surface ships). It will also involve the creation of models for a whole system for disorienting the SDI, and preparing to introduce elements of an anti-missile defense and of systems directed against satellites and space forces.

During the second stage, there will appear combat space force objects based in space and on Earth, although a certain restraint will be shown in expectation of an end to the militarization of space and a reduction in nuclear armaments on Earth. This will mean:

* simple space forces like the "flying platform" and the "multiple-use spaceship" with the simplest kind of defense and conventional means of attack

* the introduction of elements of an anti-missile system and anti-space defense

* the development of diversified nuclear-missile forces to overcome anti-missile defenses and of systems for disorienting the latter

* the beginning of the introduction on a global scale of nuclear-missile carrying submarines with new tasks.

At the third stage, a complex of space forces will be developed, including a system of anti-space defense, an anti-missile system, a complex of nuclear weapon forces, and a system for overcoming and disorienting anti-missile defenses. By the year 2000 there will appear, in essence, a new war strategy and a new structure of armed forces and weapons in space, in the air, on the sea, and on land.


In the USSR "the tail does not wag the dog": the army is subordinated to the interests of the nation and to political directives -- all the more so now under our young energetic leadership. Being consumers and citizens as well, military people want not only "guns" but also, for example, better schools with fewer students per teacher, and much else besides. Yet in their capacity as professional military people, the young and highly educated generals and officers are perfectly well aware of all the advantages that the Soviet armed forces will derive from the development of space forces. They are clear about the increase in the might of the Soviet army that would result. True, the military and the managers of the defense industry have a sober appreciation of the defects of the Soviet economy compared to the West. They know that the combat "objects" of the Soviet space forces will be somewhat heavier than their American counterparts. But they will also be more numerous.

At the same time, in the event of a Soviet-American ban on SDI, the young generals and officers will be prepared, given a reduction in international tension, for a gradual but radical reduction of Soviet armed forces in accordance with the formula of "sufficient defense." Of course, they contemplate such a reduction in the context of a simultaneous increase in tactical and strategic defense capability. All this is quite compatible with the general long-term program of modernization and reforms being carried out by the Communist Party and the Soviet government. It is conceivable, however, only with a great improvement in East-West relations.


Today the Soviet economy, for all its defects, is ready for more rapid economic and scientific-technological development, including the military conquest of space. Soviet people are now on the whole highly educated. The Soviet economy is diversified and relatively independent and has rich deposits of fuel and raw materials. It has historically been oriented towards the extreme conditions of industrialization, war, postwar reconstruction, and the arms race, and is, therefore, suitable above all for the extreme concentration of resources on given goals. Furthermore, now for the first time the new Soviet leaders belong to "our" contemporary intelligentsia, who by their age, education, outlook, and energy are capable of carrying through the long-"ripened" economic reforms.

The space weapons race will, of course, very seriously slow down the rise in the living standards of the Soviet people, but it will not halt it. To a certain extent, the space race, like the partial Western embargo, will have a positive effect on our economic and scientific-technological advance. It will speed up and reinforce the computerization of the entire Soviet economy. Russia -- the USSR -- "takes long to harness but runs fast!"


The militarization of space, the general arms race, and the heightened confrontation caused by it will have negative political consequences in the USSR, fraught with the possibility of a neo-conservative reversal.

The USSR is sufficiently strong, stable, developed, educated, and cultured. All this makes possible a democratization of society and government, indeed demands it, because without such democratization it is difficult to achieve rapid rates of economic growth or to improve the standard and quality of life of the people. The history of all previous social formations suggests a regular tendency for a transition from an early stage of dictatorship, which belongs to a time of weakness, to a later stage of democratization. But the movement towards democratization does not by any means occur in a linear and regular fashion. It will be a difficult, complex, slow process, and will not take place without struggle.

The rate of democratization will depend, of course, on the growth of "pressure from below" and on "necessity from above," and to an enormous extent on the international factor, the degree of threat from the outside -- that is, under today's conditions, the threat from space.

External tension and the arms race, not to mention wars, have always and everywhere served as impediments to progress and democracy. Naturally, within "socialism," as elsewhere in the world, there is a broad political spectrum of "left--center--right" or, more crudely, "progressives" and "conservatives." Today in the USSR the old conservatives are every day losing their positions, as are the neo-conservatives like Grigory Romanov, but the danger of a neo-conservative reaction has by no means disappeared. Opposition to the new movement, even sabotage, especially from the "middle layers," is very noticeable. One should on no account forget that our ranking bureaucrat -- as always and everywhere in the world -- will under the appropriate conditions attempt to freeze Gorbachev's reforms. The conservative technocrat and bureaucrat-manager are always and everywhere tempted by the devil of "calling the people to order" under the flag of "struggle against the external and internal enemy."

Space weapons, which are being imposed by the Western neo-conservatives, naturally help only the neo-conservative reactionary tendencies in the USSR and other socialist countries. The suspicion arises that some groups in the West are aiming at just such a result. Do not the ultra-conservatives over there hope to bring to power the neo-conservatives over here, and with their help heighten East-West confrontation and extend and strengthen their own power in the West?


In the USSR there is at present neither war psychosis nor spy mania, nor is there any preaching of hatred towards the Americans or other NATO peoples. It is true that towards the end of the leadership of General Secretary Andropov there were signs of a "psychological mobilization," in the speeches of the late defense minister Ustinov and of military men on television on the theme "Remember 1941" -- that is, the catastrophe at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War that resulted from the lack of preparedness of the army and country for the attack by fascist Germany. However, General Secretary Chernenko publicly denied the need to keep workers at their lathes and drawing boards on Saturdays "for the sake of strengthening defense," and General Secretary Gorbachev has already, in his speech marking Victory Day in May, hinted at rejection of claims by the military for an increase in the army budget.

The American SDI and West European participation in the development of "Star Wars" will seriously undermine this trend and strengthen Communist ideology in the USSR. The strongest indignation is aroused among many strata of the population, even among those usually not very interested in politics, by the greed of the armaments firms of the USA, Britain, and West Germany, and by the bourgeois governments ready to throw these hundreds of billions into space. Soviet people are angered especially at the threat that the American-NATO space games will steal from them the billions of rubles needed to improve their lives. From their point of view, all this shows more clearly than ever before the moral superiority of socialism over capitalism.

If the East-West confrontation escalates into a cold war, the anger of the Soviet people at the extra work, the unnecessary deprivations, and the obstacles to reform presented by the confrontation will all pour out into hatred of the West. Then it is likely that we too shall have a "neo-conservative wave," with a good dose of war hysteria and spy mania.

The overwhelmingly important question of the present day is to stop the slide towards the abyss of nuclear conflict. Mikhail Gorbachev has proposed some simple and clear things:

* to cut by half the nuclear armaments of the Soviet Union and the United States

* to shut tight the door leading to the deployment of armaments in space

* to halt and reverse the accumulation of nuclear missiles in Europe

The formula of military detente is easy to grasp: ban what does not yet exist; freeze what already exists; and cut armaments and armed forces down to the lowest possible level of reasonable sufficiency. Let us explore these proposals and make this the year that saw the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.


[1] There is no doubt in my mind that here Girshfeld speaks of his own advice and of the advice of other experts who shared his views.

[2] In fact, Yefremov's cosmos also contains life forms that threaten humanity. See RAS No. 14 item 7.

[3] Here Girshfeld is referring to the article by Marshal Petrov in Pravda, 12/28/1985, p. 4.

My original commentary on Girshfeld's article

On whose behalf does Olenev speak? At different points he appears to speak in his own name, in Gorbachev's name, in the name of the Soviet state or the Soviet people, and as a representative of "the Soviet experts" (whose recommendations the leadership may or may not follow) or "the younger and better educated generals" or the reformist tendency in Soviet politics. We should perhaps be more skeptical when he speaks for the USSR as a whole or for the leadership than when he expresses the viewpoint of some limited group to which he is directly connected. Thus, his view that Gorbachev would not have intervened in Afghanistan must be regarded as speculation. It is highly doubtful whether the anger at the SDI that he attributes to "the Soviet people" is felt by the substantial minority of Soviet people who automatically distrust official sources of information.

Above all, there is a contradiction between those passages in which Olenev analyses conflicting tendencies within the Soviet state and those in which he appeals in the name of a Soviet state allegedly united in the quest for disarmament. In Olenev's interesting model, the Soviet state has three main aspects, to which correspond different interests and policy tendencies -- at least to some extent expressed, we may suppose, by different power groupings, though this he does not make explicit:

* The USSR is a "national state" motivated by the aggregate security and economic interests of its citizens.

* The USSR is a "socialist state" belonging to an ideologically motivated communist community.

* The USSR is a "great world and military power" interested in enhancing its relative power position in the world.

As a national and as a socialist state the USSR is against the arms race, but as a world power it perceives the arms race as working to its own relative advantage. Logically one would then expect the Soviet state as a whole to exhibit a mixture of these tendencies, which it surely does. [1] So appeals for disarmament in the name of the Soviet state convey a one-sided propaganda image of the USSR, whether they reflect wishful thinking or the calculation that it is politically advisable to play down internal differences somewhat and present a more or less united front to the outside world.

Similarly, Olenev's total identification of Gorbachev with the most progressive and peace-loving tendencies in the Soviet state invites skepticism. Whatever Gorbachev's personal inclinations, he is obliged as General Secretary to take at least some account of the interests of the USSR in all its three aspects, including its great power interests. It seems to be a self-protective game of Soviet politics to claim that one's own views are shared by the General Secretary and that one's own opponents are his enemies.

Conflicting tendencies can of course coexist in a single mind, and Olenev himself exemplifies this phenomenon. Thus he wants the benefits of expanded economic interchange between East and West, but calls Soviet economic dependence on the West "naive and dangerous." Apparent contradictions may nevertheless be resolved by distinguishing alternative perspectives: "We want to live in peace and cooperation with you, but if you reject our overtures we can manage on our own and make plenty of trouble for you." [2]

It would be interesting to receive comments from Western specialists on the plausibility of Olenev's analysis of the strategic consequences of the militarization of space. [3] It may be that Olenev, taking the long view as he sees it, is wrong to assume that the technical obstacles can be overcome. We would like to draw special attention to three contributions that Olenev makes to the "Star Wars" debate:

(a) Olenev's outline of three stages in the likely Soviet response to SDI suggests a new answer to the question: Does the USSR intend to create its own SDI system, or will it confine itself to countermeasures [to the American SDI]? According to Olenev, the USSR would concentrate on countermeasures in the early stages, while still hoping that the militarization of space might be curbed, but at a later stage would also create its own system.

(b) Olenev reminds us that the militarization of space encompasses much more than SDI and countermeasures to it. At his press conference in Geneva on 11/21/1985, Gorbachev called space weapons "a new type of weapon that can be used against missiles, against satellites, and against targets on Earth." The capacity of space-based lasers to inflict direct strikes on targets in space and on Earth figures in Soviet commentary as perhaps a more urgent threat than the eventual prospect of their coordinated use against ballistic missiles. Olenev too places his main emphasis on the threat to Earth targets from space. [4] This is not a purely Soviet preoccupation: it is also the subject of a recent study in the USA by R & D Associates (The Guardian, 1/13/1986, p. 8).

(c) Olenev's view that the American goal is a Soviet-American condominium in space diverges from the public Soviet view of the American goal as strategic superiority through the American domination of space. That the USA is "inviting" the USSR to join it in space is a perception expressed not only in the article by Marshal Petrov to which Olenev refers but also by Gorbachev at the Geneva press conference:

"There has been a kind of invitation from the American side: let us see, let us make it out, let us talk not of how to prevent space being militarized but of what kind of weapons to take into space" (Soviet News, 11/27/1985).

Notwithstanding our criticism, we welcome Viktor Olenev's article as a useful contribution to East-West dialogue on the search for peace and disarmament.


[1] We have since learned that a Soviet version of "Star Wars" was proposed by Academician Chelomei, director of a leading military research institute, in 1979 or 1980, well before President Reagan adopted the idea. However, an expert commission set up by Brezhnev rejected the proposal (Evangelista, Unarmed Forces, pp. 235-6).

[2] As Alexander Blok wrote in his poem "Scythians":

Come to us! Leave the horrors of war, And come to our peaceful embrace! Before it's too late -- sheathe your old sword, Comrades! We shall be brothers!

But if not -- we have nothing to lose, And we are not above treachery!

Or as in the lyric of Heinrich Heine: "Be my brother or I'll knock your head in!"

[3] We received no such comments.

[4] I developed this point further in my article "The Militarisation of Space Through Soviet Eyes," pp. 129--50 in Stephen Kirby and Gordon Robson, eds., The Militarisation of Space (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1987).

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Dear Stephen

In the last issue of RAS (No. 25) you rightly draw attention to one crucial aspect of the Beslan hostage taking that has been neglected in most commentaries, namely its impact on local politics and ethnic relations.

In particular, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting Special Report on the Beslan Tragedy (9/8) that you mention is correct in identifying the historical peculiarities of Ossetian-Ingush relations, which, against the backdrop of the Beslan tragedy, may have far-reaching consequences for ethnic peace in the Caucasus. Another factor that has hitherto been underestimated in the commentaries is that North Ossetia is the one republic in Russia's North Caucasus region with a largely Orthodox Christian titular majority.

My book on ethnic movements in Russia, "Governing the Locals: Local Self-Government and Ethnic Mobilization in Russia" (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield 2004), contains an in depth discussion of Ossetian-Ingush relations. The study illustrates the complexity of the issue by looking at it through the prism of the Ingush movement, its moderate and extremist wings, the way its activists framed Ingush demands vis-à-vis the Ossetian authorities, and the way they used local government bodies to advance their nationalist cause.

The historical background of the study covers the establishment of the Cossack settlements and their impact on relations between native groups in the area in the 18th century, the various administrative changes in the North Caucasus during the Soviet period, Stalin‚s deportations of the Ingush and other groups, and the violent Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992 and its aftermath.

Although over a decade has passed since the conflict, which displaced virtually the whole Ingush population of the disputed Prigorodny rayon (district), the issue of the forced migration remains unresolved. Many families were blacklisted for their alleged involvement in the massacre and have been prohibited from resettling by the multilateral community commissions, which scrutinize the families. Those that did return often found their homes destroyed or occupied. Prigorodny continues to be an unstable area with frequent acts of terror and arson and other expressions of Ossetian-Ingush hostility. Until recently, the local governing bodies in the republic were notorious for limiting the return of the Ingush to the republic and refusing to issue residence permits to them.

The record of the violent Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, the displacement of a large percentage of the Ingush population from the disputed area, the religious differences between the Ossetians and the Ingush -- these are some of the many facets of the complex Ossetian-Ingush relations which can be and are exploited by political entrepreneurs and extremists against the background of Beslan.

I thought that my book may be of relevance to your work and that of your readers interested in the North Caucasus region and in Russia's ethnic, regional, and local politics in general. Orders for the book can be placed at:


Tomila Lankina, Ph.D.
Woodrow Wilson Fellow
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004-3027
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel.: (202) 691-4054
Fax: (202) 691-4001

NOTE. Another useful source on the Ingush-Osset conflict is a booklet published by Human Rights Watch in May 1996 entitled "The Ingush-Ossetian Conflict in the Prigorodnyi Region." SDS

Special Issue No. 26. November 2004. The Girshfeld File

You are here: Home Archives Research & Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List Special Issue No. 26. November 2004. The Girshfeld file


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