Chernobyl may have been the best thing that ever happened to Soviet foreign policy, for it perpetrated the myth, so common in the West, that the Soviet Union has become plagued by incompetence so serious that it will destroy the regime. This myth has created a sense of complacency among Western leaders that is more dangerous than any new Soviet weapons system. While it would be an overstatement to say that Soviet Strategic Deception is the worst thing that ever happened to Soviet foreign policy, it should certainly go a long way toward restoring wariness among American policymakers.
This brilliant collection of essays represents the most thorough treatment to date of the role of deceptive tactics in Soviet foreign policy. Among its contributors are some of our leading Sovietologists and strategic thinkers: Robert Conquest, Uri Ra’anan, Richard Staar, John Lenczowski, Angelo Codevilla, and William Van Cleave. Among the topics they cover are Soviet strategic disinformation, the role of ideology in Soviet foreign policy, maskirovka and Soviet arms control violations, and chemical and biological warfare.
The book is divided into six distinct sections, each consisting of approximately four chapters. Part 1, entitled “Soviet Organizational Structure for Deception and Active Measures,” explores the legacy of deception in Soviet foreign policy and focuses on the organizational and social conditions which enable the Soviets consistently to dupe Western peoples. John Lenczowski’s essay makes the obvious yet often neglected point that Marxist-Leninist ideology is not dead in the Soviet Union and that it still exerts an important influence on Soviet foreign policy. Most important, Lenczowski argues in eloquent and forceful fashion, is the fact that this ideology justifies any act, however immoral or deceitful, so long as it furthers the aims of the communist regime. Our best defense in light of this boundlessness, Lenczowski counsels, is to be always on guard and prepared to “believe the unbelievable.”
Arnold Beichman’s explanation of the way in which Western democratic culture facilitates the success of Soviet active measures and, particularly, the service rendered to Soviet foreign policy by Western peace groups is informative and disturbing. In the chapters by John Dziak and Richards Heuer on the role of organizations in Soviet deception, discussions of “The Trust” and “WIN,” phoney opposition movements set up by the KGB in the Soviet Union and Poland, respectively, are especially good.
Part II covers “Language, Ideology and Diplomacy.” In “Ideology and Deception,” Robert Conquest minces no words to show that communists, by their nature, are prone to lie and cheat. Also noteworthy is Uri Ra’anan’s chapter on “Deception in the Political-Military Arena.” Its discussion of the way in which Soviet propaganda exploits Western moral relativism and the role of ideology in legitimating the Soviet dictatorship are especially important.
The remaining four sections primarily contain case studies of Soviet deception in the areas of arms control, military planning, and strategic planning. These demonstrate that the Soviets have consistently misled Western policymakers by publishing false statistics regarding their weapons arsenals and articles which present their strategic doctrine as far more benign than it is.
The most disturbing examples of the former are provided by Steven Rosefielde in “Postwar Strategic Economic Deception.” He reveals how seriously the CIA has erred in its estimates of Soviet defense spending due to publication of false statistics by Moscow. A table suggests that the CIA was off by approximately 30 billion rubles a year during the period 1960-1985. One can only shudder to think of the degree to which American defense spending was curtailed as a result.
Chapters by Brian Dailey and Richard Staar show clearly how American arms control policy has been sabotaged by deceptive Soviet military publications. Dailey focuses on the example of the ABM treaty to demonstrate that American negotiators were seriously misled by Soviet professions of desire for arms control. The result, of course, was the now notorious surrender by our government of its right and duty to protect its citizens from nuclear attack.
Staar makes the same point with specific regard to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The former ambassador to the MBFR negotiations narrates how deceptive Soviet military publications caused our “foreign policy elite” to think that the Soviet general staff had completely renounced its belief that nuclear war is winnable. (The extent to which this effort succeeded was shown by the shock and outrage which greeted Richard Pipes’ “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War” in the July 1977 issue of Commentary. More practically significant results of this successful deception included Robert McNamara’s influential acceptance of the doctrine of MAD, the severe curtailment of the American nuclear program, and the widespread belief that it is useless to build civil defenses against nuclear attack. Needless to say, its effects are still being felt in the current debate over SDI.)
This painstakingly detailed volume is unnecessarily repetitious both within and among given sections. Nevertheless, Soviet Strategic Deception is a very important book-and, to repeat, the first of its kind. If it plants some seeds of skepticism among those scholars who base entire volumes on official Soviet publications, it will have been well worth the effort. If it causes policymakers to think twice before buying into any more disastrous arms control agreements, on the basis of what such scholars tell them, it will prove to be one of the most valuable books of the decade.