Report on “Soviet Intentions” Prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee, American Embassy, Moscow, U.S.S.R., April 1, 1948
i. the problem
Taking into consideration all the factors affecting the present international situation, will the Soviet Union resort to military action in the immediate future in support of its objectives of Communist expansion or will it continue to attempt to secure its objectives by other means?
ii. facts bearing on the problem
(See Appendix A)2
(See Appendix B)
- The Soviet Union will not deliberately resort to military action in the immediate future but will continue to attempt to secure its objectives by other means.
- The decision whether or not to resort to military action is under constant review and will be made at that moment when the Soviet Government is convinced that measures short of war will fail to secure its objectives and that the economic and military strength of the United States and Western Europe is being successfully developed. It is conceivable that conditions impelling this decision might arise this year but they are far more likely to develop between one and two years from now.
- The decision for or against war will be based on the following
- The Soviet Union will resort to military action if convinced that the immediate military strength of the United States and Western Europe, while inferior to that of the Soviet Union in probable areas of operations, is likely to increase in the future to Soviet disadvantage, and that immediate war offers the best chance of successfully advancing toward ultimate Soviet objectives.
- The Soviet Union will defer military action if confronted by such a rapid and positive growth of United States and Western Europe strength, particularly during 1948, as to convince the Soviet Government that the outcome of war would be doubtful. In such case Soviet policy would be directed to the consolidation of Communist control [Page 552] behind the iron curtain and to increased pressure in colonial and dependent areas, Middle and Far East, in the belief that the natural weakening of the capitalist system would produce more favorable conditions in the future for the inevitable world conflict.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Red Army and Soviet air forces are capable of taking continental Europe and key areas of Asia within a few months. It is improbable that the British Isles could be subjected to air attacks to the extent that their use as bases by the United States and British air forces would be impossible. Occupation of Europe would make Mediterranean Sea routes difficult, but it is improbable that the use of air bases in northern Africa would be denied thereby to the United States and its allies.
Soviet forces could hold European territory for at least two years before the United States and her allies could assemble and supply a force sufficiently strong to attempt a continental invasion. At least during the early months of this period, in spite of long ranged Western air attacks, the Soviet Union would be able to improve its air defenses in preparation for the greatly increased air attacks that would be expected later. In the race for air supremacy which would occur during this period, the U.S.S.R. would profit by the acquisition of factories and skilled workmen in Europe, but the resources, experience, ability and capacity of the United States in production of aircraft would be expected to outdistance the accomplishments of the U.S.S.R.
The atomic bomb is a factor which would of course be given due consideration in any decision by the Kremlin to initiate military action. Its effectiveness, however, depends upon the ability of the United States to use the bomb against cities and industrial areas of the Soviet Union to disrupt or paralyze its war effort. At present the United States has only limited means for employing the atomic bomb against the U.S.S.R. and it is possible that in addition to its natural geographic advantages, the Soviet Union may develop defensive measures that would minimize the effect of the atomic bomb. Other weapons of mass destruction are similar to the atomic bomb in that their use is limited by other capabilities. Development of long-ra[n]ge rocket missiles is still in an elementary stage. The Soviet Union may possess the atomic bomb within the next three to four years and can possibly develop and produce currently a means for its delivery, but the United States will retain its initial superiority in this respect for a number of years.[Page 553]
While from a military viewpoint the Soviet Union could immediately secure control of Europe, it would be in a better position to maintain permanently such control given a further period of peacetime development of war potential. Inability of the Soviet Union to defeat the United States within a period of a few years and to prevent widespread devastation of Soviet territory would jeopardize the life of the Communist regime.
The factors affecting the eventual outcome of a war of world scale between the United States and the USSR are not susceptible of exact analysis. The acceptance by the United States of European domination by the Soviet Union would be a victory for the latter and enable the “cold” war of Communism vs. Capitalism to be continued. To defeat the Soviet Union it would undoubtedly be necessary for the United States to launch and support overseas operations of enormous magnitude and would require that American superiority in mobility and production be fully and completely exploited. The overwhelming strength of the United States Navy would enable the United States to seize and exploit the initiative at the most opportune time. Such an effort however would be on a gigantic scale, and would require such an enormous expenditure of men and materiel and would have to be continued for such a long period of time that it might become unpopular in the mind of the United States citizens, who might bring about a change of government policy. In any case, it would appear, at the present time, as though the eventual outcome of a long war would he a gamble and therefore to be undertaken by the Kremlin only as a last resort.
The economy of the Soviet Union has reached a stage where it is capable of supporting a military operation by the Red Army involving the occupation of Europe and key areas of Asia. While its productive capacity may be somewhat below that of 1940, it is certainly greater than in the years of 1942 to 1943, even taking into account Lend-Lease deliveries. A decided advantage is the state control and ownership of all industry which permits the development of a thorough-going war economy even while technically at peace, thus avoiding the difficulties attendant on the conversion from peace to war production in free capitalist systems.
The occupation of Europe would substantially improve the economic potential of the Soviet Union by providing additional productive capacity and force of skilled and semi-skilled labor, as well as indigenous resources. However, even then the economic potential of the United States would be far superior to that of the Soviet Union. This factor would to some extent be offset by the capacity of Soviet [Page 554] forces to operate with less materiel than required by military forces of Western powers and by the extremely low standards of living which would be imposed on occupied territories as well as in the Soviet Union itself, thereby reducing consumer production to an irreducible minimum. In a long war of attrition, the Soviet leaders would undoubtedly feel that mineral resources would play an important part. During World War II, the United States with its tremendous productive capacity, drew on its mineral resources to an alarming extent, reducing its petroleum reserves, for example, to an estimated twenty years reserve at the peacetime rate. In the Soviet Union, the consumption of mineral resources is limited both by production capabilities and lack of exploitation. Military effort would be expended by the Soviet Union in denying to the United States foreign mineral resources, particularly oil.
Naturally, support of a long war by the Soviet economy is contingent upon its ability to operate without effective war damage either to its industries or to its distribution system. The tremendous distances and dispersion of Soviet industry make it relatively invulnerable to war damage. On the other hand, the importance of transportation facilities are correspondingly magnified thus tending to offset its invulnerability. Furthermore, in long-range aerial warfare the technical superiority of the United States should grow progressively greater.
While, in general, considerations indicate that the Soviet Union is prepared economically for war, nevertheless, a few more years of peace would enable the Soviet Union to make additional gains which would be highly desirable. Restoration of industry and transport in western Russia could be completed. Time would provide opportunity for the exploitation of the economics of satellite states as well as those of the former Baltic republics. At the same time, the program for the development of the Urals and Siberian areas, started before World War II, would be carried on under the current five-year plans.
The nature of the Soviet regime is such that it can implement by propaganda any policy which may be decided upon whether aggressive or defensive, and whether calling for peace or war. Therefore the Soviet propaganda machine could effectively support a war whether it occurred now or in the future.
It is believed that the Soviet leaders would give careful attention to the status of morale at any time when military action might be initiated. War now would be unpopular with the Russian people. Not having yet recovered from the gigantic losses of the past war, the people look forward with hope to a generally better life. It is recognized, [Page 555] however, that immediate victories would stimulate the inherent qualities of patriotism and so long as the war progressed successfully it might be expected to receive popular support. However, if hostilities were prolonged and if signs developed that the Soviet Union was losing its favorable position and that prospect of victory was distant, a serious break in morale might occur. At such time those minority nationalist groups in the population which are controlled successfully in normal times by totalitarian methods might become active and threaten the stability of the regime. While morale would not be a decisive factor in timing the risk of war, the Kremlin leaders might expect that a few more years would improve the economic well-being of the population and thereby toughen morale. This would not be true, however, if, because of increased strength and obvious intent of the west to be ready for war, the Soviet authorities have to divert more and more of their economic effort to building up war potential in contrast to consumer goods production.
Communist control of eastern Europe is being consolidated and the economic strength and reliability of the Soviet orbit countries may be expected to improve with time. April elections in Italy may result in sufficient Communist parliamentary strength to guarantee a Communist government within the present year.3 Communist control of Italy would provide impetus to the French Communist party, which might then conceivably win control of the government within a relatively short period. With Communist control of France and Italy established, Communist influence might be expected to increase rapidly in other Western European countries and avenues opened up for extension of Communist activities in the colonial world from Dakar to Saigon. Western Germany would become an untenable island in a Communist sea.
Tactics of organized strikes and disorders carried out by Communist Parties might be expected successfully to sabotage and negate the effect of the Marshall Plan.
In other areas of the world there would be no reason to change present methods of extending Communist influence. Communist control of Manchuria and significant parts of China is practically assured with the Soviet position in North Korea secure enough to permit extension of control to South Korea whenever American forces are withdrawn. Communist influence in Africa, the Near and Middle East can be successfully extended through Palestine, restive minority groups and Italian and French colonies.[Page 556]
The Soviet Union is undoubtedly convinced that the United States will not initiate war so long as present Soviet methods of extending control by “peaceful parliamentary penetration” are employed.
Should the Italian elections result in an unexpected defeat for the Communist Party, the USSR will intensify its campaign to sabotage and destroy the effectiveness of Western Union and the Marshall Plan. Every effort will be exhausted to capture the French and Italian governments by making impossible orderly government by any other political factions or coalitions.
However, should it become clear that Communist Party tactics in western Europe are failing, that the Marshall Plan is successfully developing the economic potential and political stability of non-Communist Europe, and that the United States is prepared to extend military guarantees to Western Union, then the Soviet Government may resort to direct military action. In reaching such a decision, the Kremlin leaders would be convinced that further delay favors the United States and Western Union and that war with the United States offers the Soviet Union a reasonable chance of success.4
The danger point will be reached when the leaders of the Soviet Government become convinced that measures short of war are failings and, if events favor the non-Communist world, such point could be reached as early as within the present year, although it is far more likely that it will develop between one and two years from now.
However, if the Kremlin is not convinced that it can hold and consolidate its initial gains in the event of war with the United States, it still may not take the decision to risk war and with the usual patient historical perspective of Communists, await a more favorable time.
At that time of decision, the Soviet leaders will weigh their military, economic and political resources as well as the morale of the Russian people and their ability to support and withstand a long destructive war. If they then believe that such a war eventually would seriously weaken the “Communist Empire” and would threaten the very existence of the Soviet regime and world Communism, they might temporarily renounce the conquest of Western Europe and turn to consolidating Communist control of the Middle and Far East and to creating [Page 557] an impregnable Communist fortress in Europe. They might then expect the inherent weaknesses in the capitalist world to develop and the relative position of the capitalist and Communist worlds to improve for the latter over a period of years.
The Soviet Union will not risk war in the immediate future; however, there is real danger of war within one or two years. The only deterrent at that time would be solid conviction by the Soviet Government that in fact the United States was preponderant in military strength and potential and that war would eventually result in peril to the Communist regime.
- This 47-page Appendix is not printed. In it, the facts bearing on the problem are treated under these four main headings: 1. Analysis of Military Factors; 2. Analysis of Economic Factors; 3. Analysis of Propaganda and Morale Factors and 4. Analysis of Political Factors.↩
- The elections held in Italy on April 18, 1948, resulted in a notable victory for the Christian Democratic Party in both houses of the Legislature.↩
- In the section on the “Analysis of Political Factors” in Appendix A, these thoughts in relation to the United States were summarized in these words: “The Kremlin has counted on an economic crisis, the cumbersome methods of democratic governmental machinery, and the indifference of American public opinion to foreign affairs, particularly in a presidential election year, to weaken the relative position of the United States. However, such events as the institution of compulsory military training, expeditious implementation of the Marshall Plan and the extension of military guarantees to Western Union might easily cause a revision of such estimates. If the Kremlin should conclude that the relative position of the two countries is changing to the disadvantage of the U.S.S.R., it is conceivable that a decision to risk war might at that time be taken.”↩