Study Prepared by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze)1


Recent Soviet Moves


I. In seeking to interpret Soviet tactics, it is always useful to remind ourselves that during the course of the war, the Kremlin concluded that the US would emerge as the citadel of the non-Soviet world and therefore the primary enemy against which the USSR would of necessity have to wage a life-and-death struggle. Stalin’s election speech of 19462 was an open declaration of hostility and since that time the USSR has given every sign that it neither intends to abandon the struggle, other than on its own terms, nor pause in its prosecution. In the choice of tactics, the USSR has shown a willingness to employ at any given moment any maneuver or weapon which holds promise of success. For this reason there appears no reason to assume that the USSR will in the future necessarily make a sharp distinction between “military aggression” and measures short of military aggression. In its decisions, it is guided only by considerations of expediency. As the USSR has already committed itself to the defeat of the US, Soviet policy is guided by the simple consideration of weakening the world power position of the US. This approach, on the one hand, holds out for the USSR the possibility that it can achieve success over the US without ever resorting to an all-out military assault. On the other hand, it leaves open the possibility of a quick Soviet decision to resort to military action, locally or generally.

II. In the aggregate, recent Soviet moves reflect not only a mounting militancy but suggest a boldness that is essentially new—and borders on recklessness, particularly since in the present international situation great stakes are involved in any USSR move, and any move directly or indirectly affects the US and risks US counter action. Nothing about the moves indicates that Moscow is preparing to launch in the near future an all-out military attack on the West. They do, [Page 146] however, suggest a greater willingness than in the past to undertake a course of action, including a possible use of force in local areas, which might lead to an accidental outbreak of general military conflict. Thus the chance of war through miscalculation is increased.

III. The several recent Moscow moves should be interpreted as arising both from Soviet eagerness to exploit the opportunities presented by the expansion of the Soviet empire, particularly in the Far East, and from Soviet anxieties over the problem of imperial control, especially over Communist China. This problem, already pressing, is intensified by the very successes which have been recently achieved. The national deviation of Tito, we know, was a severe reverse for the Kremlin. Nationalist deviation on the part of Communist China would threaten the structure of the Soviet imperialist system. Similarly, national deviation elsewhere would reverse Soviet gains in Eastern Europe, jeopardize Soviet opportunities in Southeast Asia and Moscow’s use of foreign Communist Parties as instruments of Soviet foreign policy.

Also involved, though less directly and urgently, is Moscow’s continuing concern over Western counter actions in Europe. The immediate effect of these Western actions has been to bar Communist expansion in Western Europe and to commit American power to the defense of Western Europe. Moscow may well discount in part the lasting nature of these effects, but this would not alter Moscow’s over-all concern, particularly in view of its phobia for magnifying dangers. The Kremlin consequently is under constant pressure to counter US moves, real or imagined, as part of the basic maneuvers required in its political warfare with the US.

IV. In assuming the risks involved in exploiting its present opportunities and in dealing with its imperial problems, Moscow appears to be animated by a general sense of confidence. The Kremlin has good reason for somewhat increased confidence. It has developed an A-bomb; it has achieved the prewar level of production and other solid economic successes; it has made progress in consolidating its control over the European satellites; and it has apparently effected an increase in the prestige of the Communist Party among the Russian people. Also contributing is an apparent Moscow belief that an economic crisis is actually in the incipient stage in the West and that this and succeeding crises will contribute to an eventual Soviet triumph. It should be stressed, however, that Soviet actions make clear that Moscow’s faith in the inevitable disintegration of capitalism is not a passive faith in automatic historical evolution. Instead [Page 147] it is a messianic faith that not only spurs the USSR to assist the transformation of the Marxist blueprint into a reality, but also gives the Soviet leaders a sense of confidence that in whatever particular course they follow they are riding the wave of the future.

V. With respect to particular objectives, the present pattern of Soviet moves is characterized, on the one hand, by constant attention to consolidation of previous gains and, particularly, the establishment of safeguards against dangers—real or imagined, external or internal—to these gains; and on the other hand, by concentration on soft spots, seizure of every opportunity to move into vacuum areas or to exploit completely the momentum of a successful development. Since the present pattern allows the USSR the same flexibility in the choice of particular tactics that has characterized its postwar strategy generally, it offers no dependable indication as to particular future moves. Thus, for example, the USSR may, without breaking the pattern, either remain in or withdraw from the UN, revive the issue of the occupation of Berlin or maintain the status quo, force a break in relations between the satellites and Western states or continue the present precarious arrangements. It can be assumed, however, that in any given situation a course will be adopted in consequence of a careful Kremlin weighing of the opportunities offered as against the deterrents involved. This offers a fairly dependable means of estimating particular steps which may be taken during coming weeks in regard to such areas as Indochina, Berlin, Austria, the UN, Korea, etc. Such estimates are in process of being prepared.

Beyond this the current pattern already seems to indicate with reasonable certainty that:

The USSR considers this a favorable and necessary moment for increased political pressure, and, when feasible, taking aggressive political action against all or most soft spots in its periphery;
Every effort will be made to establish and maintain effective Soviet control in China;
Southeast Asia will be a primary area of Soviet-Communist action;
Moscow’s insistence on unquestioning subservience by all Communist Parties will be intensified, regardless of unfavorable local repercussions;
The UN and other media for regular diplomatic contact will be treated with increasing cynicism;
The insulation of the satellites from the West will be further intensified.
  1. In accordance with the instructions delivered by Under Secretary Webb at the Secretary of State’s meeting of February 9, this paper was distributed to the principal officers of the Department (Secretary’s Daily Meetings: Lot 58D609).
  2. Stalin’s election speech of February 9, 1946, is analyzed in telegram 408 from Moscow, February 12, 1946, in Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vi, pp. 694696.