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Why the Soviets Can’t Win Quickly i n Central Europe John1.Mearsheimer I I n light of the emergence of strategic parity and NATO’s manifest lack of enthusiasm for tactical nuclear weapons, the importance of the balance of conventional forces in Central Europe has increased significantly in the past decade.’ Regarding that balance, the conventional wisdom is clearly that the Warsaw Pact enjoys an overwhelming advantage. In the event of a conventional war, the Soviets are expected to launch a blitzkrieg that will lead to a quick and decisive victory. The implications of this specter of a hopelessly outgunned NATO are significant. Certainly, NATO’s behavior in a major crisis would be influenced by its view of the conventional balance. Furthermore, one’s perception of the conventional balance directly affects his or her view of the importance of both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons for deterrence in Europe. The New York Times, for example, endorsed the controversial neutron bomb as a means to counter NATO’s perceived inferiority at the conventional level.2 The fact of the matter is that the balance of conventional forces is nowhere near as unfavorable as it is so often portrayed to be. In fact, NATO’s prospects for thwarting a Soviet offensive are actually quite good.3 Certainly, NATO The author wishes to thank the following people for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay: Robert Art, Mary Mearsheimer, Stephen Meyer, Barry Posen, and Jack Snyder. John1.Mearsheimer is a Research Associate at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. This article is based on a chapter in his forthcoming book, The Theory and Practice of Conventional Deterrence. 1. Recognition of this is clearly reflected in the annual Posture Statements of the Secretaries of Defense for the past ten years. Also see: Helmut Schmidt’s October 1977 speech before the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a copy of which can be found in Survival, Vol. 20, No. 1(January/February 1978),pp. 2-10; and White Paper 1979: The Security of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Development of the Federal Armed Forces (Bonn: Federal Minister of Defence, September 4,1979),p. 112, hereinafter cited as 1979 German White Paper. Very importantly, the Soviets have also shown increased interest in the possibility of a conventional war in Europe. See Colonel Graham D. Vernon, Soviet Options For War In Europe: Nuclear or Conventional? National Security Affairs Monograph 79-1 (Washington D.C.: National Defense University, January 1979). 2. “The Virtues of the Neutron Bomb,” Editorial, The New York Times, March 30, 1978, p. 32. 3. It should be noted that since the early 1960s there have been a handful of studies which have concluded that NATO has the capability to defend itself against a conventional attack by the International Security, Summer 1982 (Vol. 7, No. 1)0162-2889/82/010003-37$02.5010 0 1982by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 3 International Security I 4 does not have the capability to win a conventional war on the continent against the Soviets. NATO does have, however, the wherewithal to deny the Soviets a quick victory and then to turn the conflict into a lengthy war of attrition, where NATO’s advantage in population and GNP would not bode well for the soviet^.^ The aim of this article is to examine closely the Soviets’ prospects for effecting a blitzkrieg against NATO. In analyzing this matter, two closely related issues must be addressed. First, one must determine whether the Soviets have the force structure, the doctrine, and the raw ability to implement this strategy. In other words, do the Soviets, when viewed in isolation, have the capacity to effect a blitzkrieg? Secondly, when NATO’s defense capabilities and the theater’s terrain are considered, what then are the prospects for Soviet success? It may very well be that the Soviet military is wellprimed to launch a blitzkrieg, but that NATO in turn has the capability to thwart it.5 Any assessment of the NATO-Pact balance is dependent on certain asWarsaw Pact. See, for example, Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, How Much...


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