Soviet leadership politics and leadership views on the use of military force

by William M. Jones

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Soviet military doctrinal writings emphasize the value of preemptive attacks carried through to the complete defeat of the enemy. An examination of histories of various Soviet leaders reveals a recurrent pattern. A dominant leader is replaced by a group of successors which, in turn, devolves into competition ending only when one competitor has established dominance. In the dominant leader phase, and early days of competition phase, aspirants to the top position enhance their power by building a coterie of proteges. Once the competition flares into direct conflict, the ultimate winner has preemptively attacked his opponents and their coterie, and carried through until eliminated as a future threat. Assuming that Soviet leaders would view the prospect of major superpower war as being analogous to top level political power struggle, their history and experience would tend them toward preemption in force with intention of carrying through until the enemy is eliminated as a threat.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Note series. The note was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

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