The Most Dangerous Years in the History of Human Civilization

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

It’s difficult for Americans to appreciate the fact that the 1980s were probably the most dangerous years in the history of human civilization, NerveAgent says:

In his 1983 book The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union Edward Luttwak correctly diagnosed the terminal illnesses plaguing the communist superpower, and argued that it was highly likely that the Soviet Union would attempt to consolidate its position by invading the remote western provinces of China and setting up client governments in the newly conquered territories.

The Soviets would not consider a direct nuclear attack on the U.S. unless they felt themselves in a dire emergency:

Rather than destroy the guarantor of Western Europe’s independence, a more sensible policy was to gradually undermine the NATO alliance, driving a wedge between the U.S. and the European allies. This was the primary objective of Soviet grand strategy ever since the formation of NATO, but it could have been well-served by a short and sharp military operation on the extreme flanks of the Alliance, namely in northern Norway or northeast Turkey. These poorly defended regions could be seized in one night by a well-planned invasion, after which the USSR could declare a “unilateral armistice” and offer to open immediate negotiations, which of course would be inconclusive. If NATO agreed to such negotiations, confidence in the alliance would be shattered beyond repair. If it decided to take military action to retake the lost territories, political considerations about “demonstrating unity” would no doubt mean that the task force would be a multinational hodgepodge, thus guaranteeing failure and the collapse of the alliance.

However, even though a lighting operation on the fringes of NATO could reap enormous political benefits for the Soviet Union, it also involved a great deal of risk. It was possible that the U.S. might decide to mount its own counteroffensive, unencumbered by NATO politics. It might even launch a retaliatory action against Soviet interests elsewhere in the world. Whatever the case, the risk of escalation was beyond the level acceptable for imperial aggrandizement. Anyway, by the early 1980s Soviet diplomacy was succeeding in pulling Western Europe away from the United States; there was no point to risking that progress in a blitzkrieg on the desolate frontiers of NATO. Thus, Soviet planners were likely to aim elsewhere.

Carving out small client states from Iran’s many disparate nationalities and unstable politics offered some possibilities for consolidating the Soviet hold on the Caucasus, but for the long-term security of the empire, the major threat — aside from the U.S. — was China: “…the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic are both Great Powers in a world that now counts only three, and they are adjacent, while the third is removed from both.” (p.92) In other words, the two communist powers were destined to be enemies.

Read the whole thing. (Hat tip to Joseph Fouché.)

Leave a Reply