269. Memorandum Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency0

OCI No. 3606/62


  • Soviet Policy in the Aftermath of the Cuban Crisis
The USSRʼs venture in Cuba has made a whole range of problems in both internal and foreign policy more difficult for the Soviet leaders to manage. Khrushchev gambled that he could score a dramatic victory over the US which he apparently believed would give him an important advantage in strategic confrontation with the US, probably including an early diplomatic showdown on Berlin and Germany. Soviet leaders must now be wrestling with the internal and foreign policy implications of their defeat.
Khrushchevʼs position as the leader of the CPSU and the Soviet government is not likely to be seriously weakened. However, Khrushchevʼs failure in Cuba, and the inevitable post-mortems that will follow it, will further diminish his ability unilaterally to shape future Soviet policies. The pattern of Soviet government as it has evolved since Stalinʼs death has made it increasingly necessary for its leader to cope with pressures generated by different political, social, and economic groups. The Cuban failure will tend to spur these groups to press their viewpoints more vigorously.
The Cuban venture will almost certainly cause the Soviet leaders to re-assess the perennially difficult problem of how to allocate the countryʼs resources to further Moscowʼs aims in its competition with the West. Cuba demonstrated that Soviet strategic power is not sufficient to deter the US from responding forcefully to protect its vital interests. This realization will sharpen the debate between proponents of a speed-up in the growth of Soviet military power and those who will argue that more resources must be allocated to the non-military components of the economy.
Soviet leaders will also be concerned with the serious effects of the Cuban affair on Moscowʼs leadership of the world Communist movement. Khrushchev moved quickly to forestall any adverse repercussions in Eastern Europe by calling Satellite leaders to Moscow during the crisis. Even so, their confidence in his judgment must have been shaken. Many Communist leaders in other parts of the world also look upon the Cuban affair as an ill-conceived Soviet adventure.
Finally, Moscow must deal with the intensification of its dispute with China which has accompanied the Cuban affair. The Soviet back [Page 583]down on Cuba has increased Khrushchevʼs vulnerability to charges by China and his other opponents in the Communist movement that his basic strategy of coexistence has failed again. Soviet leaders are no doubt debating this increased threat to Soviet hegemony over the Communist movement.

Basic Policy Considerations

We have no reason to believe that any foreseeable turn in Soviet policy will result in a decisive change in the nature of the contest between theUSSR and the US. The basic, long-range goals of the USSR have not changed; the self-interests of the USSR are the same after Cuba as they were before. For example, the USSR will be no more inclined now than it was before Cuba to give up its hegemony in Eastern Europe—and hence its control over East Germany.
In the years ahead, Soviet policy will continue to be shaped by the tensions and contradiction between two sets of interests and consideration:
Impelling them towards establishing a more normal relationship with the West will be their image of themselves as the rulers of a great world power, their desire to gain US recognition of the USSRʼs claim to be accepted as an equal in world councils, their awareness of the consequences of nuclear war, and the needs of Soviet industry and science for greater access to Western technology.
Impelling them in the opposite direction will be Moscowʼs need to maintain leadership of a revolutionary movement with universal aspirations, and the fundamental problem of preserving, perpetuating, and justifying the exclusive role of a party machine whose claim to legitimacy rests on Marxism-Leninism—a creed which dictates a public posture of antagonism toward the “imperialist camp” and precludes any genuine or lasting accommodation of conflicting views and interests with the West.
These conflicting pressures and goals will continue to be manifested in wide fluctuations in Soviet relations with the free world. East-West competition on a global scale will inevitably produce further clashes and crisis situations, particularly in the Afro-Asian areas, and permit no more than temporary and shifting truces and accommodations on specific issues. Aside from these collisions inherent in the global contest, the pressures on Soviet policy stemming from Chinaʼs challenge and the growing instability in the whole structure of the world Communist movement would appear to rule out any possibility of a real détente with the West based on traditional Western conceptions of the proper rules of international relations.

Alternative Courses

We do not expect Moscow to resolve its problems quickly. While they are being debated over the next month or so, the USSR will pursue a [Page 584]temporizing and cautious course in international affairs. Their immediate concern will be to minimize the effects of the Cuban backdown and to avoid further setbacks, while at the same time seeking limited gains which can be represented as vindication for Moscowʼs current foreign policy. Clear signs of a major turn in Soviet foreign policy may not appear for some time.
The discussion we believe is now going on within the Soviet leadership, therefore, is over alternative means of achieving Moscowʼs basic goals. In theory, Khrushchev can opt either for (a) a hard militant line which would rest on the assumption that further major Soviet advances are not possible until Soviet military power catches or surpasses that of the US; or (b) a policy of limited agreements with the West designed to reduce international tensions and permit the USSR to devote more of its resources to competing with the West in the economic and political arenas.
An accelerated effort by the USSR to achieve a preponderance of military power over the US would have a number of far-reaching implications for Soviet domestic and foreign policy. It would require a sharp increase in allocations to heavy industry and in defense expenditures and an indefinite postponement in fulfilling promises to improve the lot of Soviet consumers. It probably would also mean at least a temporary suppression of certain “liberal” tendencies in some phases of Soviet cultural and political life which have been given cautious encouragement in recent years.
In embarking on such a policy, the Soviet leaders would presumably have decided that there was no point—until their relative power position had improved—in trying to get a favorable resolution of such long standing issues as Berlin, a nuclear test ban, and disarmament. On these issues, as well as on other points at issue with the West, their primary interest would be to maintain the status quo until they felt strong enough to adopt a more forward strategy.
In the field of intra-bloc relations, Moscow probably would hope that a policy of rapid development of advanced military capabilities would ease the problem of dealing with Peipingʼs challenge to Soviet leadership of the Communist movement and that a military stance toward the West would help disarm some of the most telling Chinese criticisms of Soviet policy.
Adoption of the alternative course would mean that the USSR had decided that it had a better chance of winning the contest with the West if it could allocate more of its resources to non-military ends. A paramount objective of this course, therefore, would be to reduce the pace and scope of the arms race. To do this, Moscow would attempt to create an international atmosphere which would make it more difficult for the West to maintain its present defense efforts.
This course would thus increase the incentive of the Soviet leaders to reach some agreement with the West which could be represented as demonstrating the success and validity of their policies. It would encourage Khrushchev to scale down his demands on certain key issues and increase his desire to reach at least a temporary understanding on Berlin. In the field of disarmament, this policy would lead the Soviets to give serious consideration to working out an early agreement on the cessation of nuclear tests because this would, in their view, carry an important symbolic significance to the world that a major advance had been made in bringing the arms race under control. The USSR, moreover, probably would be willing to seek agreement on other partial disarmament measures, such as an arrangement preventing the further diffusion of nuclear weapons, a NATO-Warsaw Pact non-aggression treaty, and possibly measures to reduce the danger of surprise attack.
On balance, and depending to a large extent on Western attitudes, we believe the USSR will lean toward the second alternative.
If the US should elect to pursue an assertive course directed at extracting further Soviet concessions on key issues, Khrushchev unquestionably would react strongly. He will be particularly sensitive to any signs that the US is trying to take advantage of his humiliation. He publicly warned last year that if the USSR should retreat from its commitments (in this case, a separate peace treaty with the GDR) the Western powers “would regard this as a strategic breakthrough and would widen the range of their demands at once.” He would interpret an increase in US pressure as an attempt to complicate his problems with the Chinese and would seek to reduce his vulnerability to Peiping by taking up a more defiant and militant stance toward the US. The general effect of an assertive and demanding US posture, in our view, would be to increase the likelihood that Khrushchev would decide that he had no alternative but to opt for the first course of action outlined above.
If the United States were to offer considerable concessions in hopes of inducing a Soviet turn toward reasonableness in international affairs, this would probably be misunderstood in Moscow. Rather than providing ready arguments for a hoped-for liberal element in the Soviet leadership, such an attitude would support those who believe that liberal democracies are essentially soft societies. They would probably then interpret our determination over Cuba as an aberration, as an essentially emotional response triggered perhaps by internal political considerations. The result of this misinterpretation of our motives would probably be a return of Soviet policy to a harder line in hopes of regrasping the initiative they have lost in international affairs.
If the US, however, should indicate readiness to proceed with negotiations on Berlin, a nuclear test ban, and disarmament on roughly the same terms that prevailed before the Cuban crisis, we believe Khrushchev [Page 586]would be encouraged to follow up his initial postcrisis feelers and move toward a resumption of Berlin negotiations. He realizes that the Cuban backdown has weakened his bargaining position and he probably would feel he must have a period of several months for rebuilding the USSRʼs position before undertaking serious negotiations. This requirement of a pause, however, would not preclude serious explorations on a nuclear test ban in the Geneva talks or informal discussions on Berlin.

Consequences for Sino-Soviet Relations

A movement of Soviet policy in the direction noted above could not help but exacerbate the already deeply serious Sino-Soviet dispute. The Chinese, in their attempts to prevent a Soviet accommodation with the West that would be at their expense, have now broken all but the most formal ties which previously united them and the USSR. Their efforts to exploit the failure of Khrushchevʼs Cuban policy, and what they have termed a “Soviet Munich,” have now driven the two parties so far apart that a further exacerbation, possibly in connection with the Sino-Indian border conflict, might lead to an open break.
The increasing virulence of the dispute has shattered the myth of monolithic unity which once provided a psychological boost to Communist claims of superiority, has stimulated the already sharp Soviet and Chinese competition for influence in the Communist movement, and has encouraged the growth of factionalism in many Communist parties. If the Soviet Union and China grow further apart ideologically and continue to pursue disparate foreign policies, the present trend toward diversity and polycentrism in the international Communist movement will become impossible to reverse. The atmosphere that will develop within the Communist world will be more and more conducive to the development of national Communist parties which will find it easier to sacrifice their international Communist aims for nationalist ones.
The deepest roots of the conflict lie in the contest for authority within the Communist world. For this reason, we believe that, except perhaps in some crisis which endangers vital interests, external pressures are unlikely to drive the USSR and China back together. In this situation Western policy can be a significant factor in determining the intensity of the division.
In the first place, the general success or failure encountered by Bloc foreign policies will influence the course of the dispute. If neither the Chinese nor the Soviets score notable gains, basic disagreements on how to advance the Communist cause will become more acute and the level of polemics will rise. These circumstances would assist the trend toward diversity throughout the movement.
In the second place, the Chinese are deeply suspicious that Soviet talk of “peaceful coexistence” in fact masks a desire to reach a real accommodation with the capitalist world, and probably at Peipingʼs expense. Thus the very fact of Soviet-American negotiations, especially if they are conducted in a spirit of compromise rather than maximum hostility, provoke Chinese calls for “all-out revolutionary struggle” and serve to exacerbate the dispute. In this connection, the Chinese are particularly sensitive to negotiations on nuclear topics—a test ban and a non-diffusion agreement—in which they perceive a Soviet effort to hamper their own nuclear program.
We believe that the continuation and, if possible, the exacerbation of the Sino-Soviet dispute is in the interests of the United States. It tends to diminish the prestige and fragment the power structure of the Communist world and—if the USSR adopts a moderate tactical line as we anticipate—increasingly drives Communist China into a strategic isolation damaging to its image as the revolutionary model for the underdeveloped nations of the world.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency. Secret.