Just better in the imponderables

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Techniques of Systems Analysis considers some of the potential asymmetries between the US and USSR:

Technological Skill
We can try to have better equipment than he has. On the whole, we think we are from one to five years ahead of the Russians. It is clear, however, that we cannot rely on this kind of superiority in all fields. Furthermore, we must really hop to keep ahead, if we are ahead. It cannot be done passively. However, where there is good evidence of a lead, it is probably a mistake not to exploit it. The thing works in reverse, too. We have to allow for it when there is a chance that he is ahead.

Military Skill
This is one of the things which, on the whole, Systems Analysts are forced to ignore, but on which police makers often (and sometimes correctly) place much reliance. For an example of how important it can be, consider the Germans and the French in World War II. It seems to be true that the French had more and better tanks than the Germans, about as many planes, and, given their fortification systems, seemingly at least as good an army. The Germans were just better in the imponderables. Probably nobody could have predicted the German break-through and the completeness of their victory, unless he had given the Germans a great deal of credit for being better militarily. Of necessity, the analyst who is working for a High Confidence system should refuse to rely on the enemy’s being incompetent militarily, unless there is very strong evidence to support such an assumption. Not only is it just too easy to indulge in wishful thinking but the Systems Analyst is looking to the future.

There is an important difference here between the current-policy maker and the planner. Conceivably the former, looking at the current situation, may wish to base his defense on the belief that the enemy is unskilled. The latter, making plans for systems with long lead times, simply cannot rely on the enemy remaining unskilled or stupid.

One of the important assets which we have is that, on the whole, the technically competent part of the non-Russian world is very closely associated with us. The Russian, of course, have the satellite nations on their side. Exactly what degree of dependence should be placed on allies is always a very touchy question. Presumably one tends not to rely on them for the High Confidence measures except in certain special cases; e.g., Canadian defense lines. One should, however, design his system to get advantages from their existence and conversely to contribute to their objectives.

One of the major asymmetries between us and the Russians is geography. The Russians have many millions of square miles more land than we have. This gives them certain advantages of depth. Against this must be balanced the fact that we have reasonable control of the sea, militarily valuable allies, overseas bases, distant early warning lines, etc.

We have a very much larger gross national product than the Russians, but they have a greater willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a modern military mechanism in existence. They have not hesitated at any time to make huge expenditures when they felt it desirable. While we also have made large expenditures we seem to be much less willing to allocate money or manpower to military purposes. We are also much more swayed by the pressure of outside events. For example, in the postwar period our military budgets have been as low as 13 billion a year and as high as 50 billion. Most of the fluctuation came as a reaction to Russian moves.

It is plainly easier for the Russians to get good intelligence about us than for us about them. This is probably true in all phases of intelligence activity. However, from the view point of the High Confidence systems, it might easily be true that even the Russians could not rely on keeping things secure from us.

They might not, for example, go to large expenses to move their air bases around continually because the money would be wasted if they had only one properly placed defector.

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