The Dynamics of the Soviet Threat

Dec. 1, 1962

In nine years of dealing with the Soviet threat as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency General Cabell became intimately fa­miliar with the scope and nature of that threat. Two considerations stand out:

1. That the Soviet Union, from its very begi­nning, has attached overriding importance to all the apparatus of naked, physical power.

2. That, in addition, it has utilized the many techniques of subversion abroad in pursuit of its avowed aim of world domination.

Nothing has happened since General Cabell left the government to change his mind regard­ing these twin building blocks of Communist tactics.

In addition to maintaining a reasonable balan­ce between military power and subversive activity, the Soviets likewise have achieved a working balance between their ideological sources of energy and their attachment to the material apparatus of power. They are dynamic, not only because they are able to pursue a single, all-embracing objective, but because they are sophisticated and ingenious enough to bring all their resources to bear on their target.

In a world where technology constantly affects the balance of power the terms “technological breakthrough” and “technological surprise” take on new and more sinister meanings. Knowing that the Soviets are hostile, that they are out to do us in, and that they are highly sophisticated in the achievement and application of power, we in the United States have no alternative. We must out-imagine the Soviets and we must out-follow-up on the products of our imagination. In short, we are in a “race of imagination” and we must win it.

During the nine years when I had the privilege of serving as Deputy to Mr. Allen Dulles, as Di­rector of Central Intelligence, and as Air Force Director of Intelligence beginning in 1948, 1 had fre­quent and intimate contact with the nature of the Soviet threat. As a matter of fact, during all that time, it was my principal preoccupation. During the period we witnessed vast changes, in at least the outward as­pects of Soviet domestic and foreign policies.

In the intelligence community we undertook many painful and searching analyses of these changes, al­ways trying to look ahead to see what we had to face in the foreseeable future.

We saw the signs of their early recognition of the importance of strategic airpower and aerospace power, in their copies of our B-29s, and later developments in the atomic missile and space fields.

Stalin died in 1953. That marked the end of a defi­nite era in Soviet communism. We watched Khrush­chev claw his way to power. We saw him consolidate his position, and we watched the instruments of inter­national communism as they moved into the era of so-called peaceful coexistence.

In 1957 came Sputnik, the most dramatic manifesta­tion of growing Soviet capabilities in the fields of rocketry and missiles. We were treated to the spectacle of Khrushchev’s travels around the world; his frequent pronouncements spiced with threats, proverbs, and promises; we followed the steady growth of Soviet economic power at home and we watched, and I am sure are still watching, the so-called liberalization in Soviet domestic affairs.

Throughout this whole period of tactical twisting and turning, at no time were we able to come to firm conclusions either that (A) the Soviet threat h so increased in strength that we were in danger immediate annihilation or (B) that the Soviet threat was so diluted and diminished that communism was about to collapse under its own weight. We based o analyses on two points in dealing with the Soviet threat. One, that the Soviet Union, as it has from the very beginning, continued to attach overriding importance to all the apparatus of naked, physical power. This includes a large modern military establishment, both offensive and defensive; an economy geared to produce the sinews of war at the expense of consumer goods; a tight political control aimed at the complete domination and subjugation of all people under Soviet political and social systems.

The other principal Soviet lever is that of subversion abroad, based on carrying out the implications of Khrushchev’s statements that he will bury us. Communist officials, influence, money, arms, and other materiel have moved abroad in keeping with an objective frequently stated by the Soviets, and earnestly believed by them, namely, to destroy the free world structure, and to convert the world to communism. We could not escape the conclusion that the Soviet Union and its partners in international communism presented a genuine and growing threat to the security the United States and the entire free world. It is clear too that this threat is dynamic. If by dynamic we understand moving, and a source of power to provide the motion, then surely the threat of international communism is just that—dynamic.

We intelligence officers have long been accused of always going around scaring people and calling attention to awesome dangers. Now that I am an ex-intelligence officer, I’m still not about to change my tune. I have seen or heard nothing since leaving government service that would permit me to change the basic conclu­sions as I’ve outlined them briefly above.

Rather, those conclusions seem even more valid. We always considered Berlin as a touchstone of Soviet sovereign policy, and they have chosen to heat up that crisis again. I need not remind you of their real, physical, and growing presence in Cuba, and of the threat that this poses to American interests throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Communists continue to engage in bitter, bloody fighting to overthrow the regime in South Vietnam. The papers are full of these and other instances of Communist subversion, particula­rly throughout the underdeveloped areas of the world. I have every reason to believe that intelligence ports received by government officials today vary little from those which I read for many years. Clearly, communism is on the move.

As the Communists themselves maintain, theirs is a dynamic movement. I do not for one moment accept the idea that this form of government by totalitarianism is the wave of the future. Nevertheless, the accom­plishments of the system, if not the system itself, have tremendous appeal to people who are economically underdeveloped and have never known the benefits of being in a free society and under a democratic form of government.

The Communists make much of their accomplishmen­ts since 1917 and their progress from a defeated disorganized country to the second greatest power the world. If you listen to the Communists, it is all due to the ideological superiority of the tenets of Marx, in, and the rest. They choose to ignore the very real accomplishments of the Soviet citizens themselves, and people are not allowed to debate what the accomplis­hments might have been under another system of government. Thus, in the tremendous Soviet propagan­da output, it is the system which is given full credit for the accomplishments.

To be dynamic carries with it the connotation of being a steady and powerful source of energy. Marx is no longer in much favor with Communists or other economists anywhere in the world; Lenin’s accomplishmen­ts now are those accorded to a prophet. What then is the source of drive and energy which lends dynamism the Soviet machinery

In addition to the considerable energy and industry of the Russian people themselves, the dynamism de­rives to a large extent, I believe, from their ability to concentrate on what they regard as a few objectives. Here the concept of power is most important. As far as the Soviet citizen is concerned, control of this citizen, his use as a productive mechanism, and a massive effort to shield him from the realities of the outside world, enable the Soviet leaders to concentrate on what they, themselves, in their infinite wisdom, have decided is best for this said Soviet citizen.

Let us consider their foreign-aid program. The small band of elite which runs every facet of Soviet life de­cides there shall be a foreign-aid program, and there is. These leaders say to themselves, “Are we trying to help this country?” And they answer, “Yes—to help this country to become a part of the Communist sys­tem.” It’s really just about that simple.

Let’s take the example of scientific research, devel­opment, and application. Far down the Soviet totem pole of priorities lies medicine. At the top lie missiles, nuclear weapons, and space, and the very considerable resources of the Soviet Union are concentrated on these activities in order to enhance Soviet power.

There is a superficial attraction in this ability to or­ganize in an efficient manner. You can be extremely dynamic when you are organized to pursue just one or two major objectives. There is little use debating whether the Soviet leaders, or the great bulk of the Soviet people themselves, still adhere to the tenets of Marxism and Leninism. The point is, I believe, that they are completely dedicated to the principle of world revolution and to the rapid and steady increase of Soviet power, as a means to achieving the aim of world domination under the Communist system. This is a repelling idea and, we think, an old-fashioned idea, doomed to failure; but it must be recognized as a primary motivating source—the fuel that feeds the Soviet engine.

The Communists could be dynamic, without being a threat. This is an argument which many times is ad­vanced most skillfully; but the point is—and the real refutation is—that then they would no longer be Com­munists. Also, I have heard it argued that they are a threat, but that they are not dynamic. This argument runs along the lines that because they have chosen to concentrate on a few key objectives, they have neg­lected living standards, housing, agriculture, consumer goods, and the like; and also by the so-called liberali­zation programs since the death of Stalin, they have exposed themselves to domestic pressures so that their external thrust is, in effect, a foreign adventure to distract attention from troubles at home. This thesis presents communism as a threat out of their despera­tion. It warns only against the threat of an attack by a dying animal or a cornered rat. Now, desperation is, in itself, a certain dynamic source of motivation, but I do not believe that this fits the Communist situation today.

Even as the Soviets are able to maintain a reasonable balance between the twin tactics of military power and subversive activity, so I think they have achieved, at least for the time being, a working balance between their spiritual or ideological sources of energy and their attachment to the material apparatus of power in this world. They are dynamic, not only because they want one single, all-embracing objective, but because they are sophisticated and ingenious enough to bring all their resources to bear on this target.

Ever since 1917 there has been a sizable body of thought outside the Soviet Union which has predicted the dilution of the revolutionary zeal and the eventual dissipation of the single-minded passion which has motivated the Communist leaders for world domina­tion.

One of the great attractions of the so-called policy of peaceful coexistence is, that if the Soviet citizens are allowed to travel abroad and at the same time Wes­terners are allowed to visit the Soviet Union, a cross-fertilization of ideas will take place which can only redound to the advantage of the free world. The So­viet citizen will see what he is missing and lie will clamor for it, not only in terms of material goods, but also in the intellectual advantages of freedom.

Certainly there has been some thawing in Soviet domestic affairs since the death of Stalin. But don’t forget the depth of permafrost. Thus, 1 think there is a flaw, and a dangerous one, in expecting the Soviet Union naturally to gravitate in the direction of signifi­cantly greater freedom.

The most dangerous part of this thinking is the fact that it leads US to rationalize a do-nothing attitude on the grounds the passage of time alone will solve the Soviet problem, as it has other historical problems in the past. This same line of reasoning, incidentally, was pursued by many of those who said the Soviets could never match us in technological, scientific, and general industrial achievements. We know now that this much, at least, was a specious line of reasoning, and one which it is no longer profitable to follow.

To me, there never has been any sincerity in the expressions of the Soviet leaders regarding so-called peaceful coexistence. It always has been a policy of expediency designed for their benefit, although it has presented certain opportunities to Western ideas too, from which we have profited.

If the Soviets wish to coexist peacefully, they could lift the Iron Curtain. They could allow inspection teams in order to permit a meaningful agreement on disarmament; they could demolish the Berlin Wall; they could permit free exchange of peoples across the present barriers. If they do not—and I do not believe for a moment that they have any intentions of relax­ing these inhibitions—then we can only reasonably conclude that they are afraid, suspicious, and trying to hide and protect something. There are millions of square miles in the Soviet Union where no foreign visitor is ever allowed to enter. Even to Soviet citizens, travel and ordinary social intercourse are not free and uninhibited, nor do I think they are likely to be so in the foreseeable future. This attitude is, in itself, a sur­face manifestation of the nature of the Soviet threat.

The presence of this veil of secrecy has made it necessary for the United States to take extraordinary, even heroic, measures to try to obtain basic informa­tion about this powerful country which says it wants to coexist with us. The Soviet attitude is characterized by a dynamic attitude of suspicion and a lack of trust.

A new element of dynamism has been introduced under Khrushchev in the pushing outward of influence among the underdeveloped countries world. They permit no free or innocent activities their own home ground, but they regard the world outside the borders of the Communist bloc an open game preserve for Communist subversion. Again, they could be considered to be dynamic and not a threat.

The thought goes that, if they were interested in promoting their ideas, their way of life, in an open and free debate and an honest contest for influence, they should be accorded that right. But Communist officials and travelers abroad do not go innocently or freely; they are engaged in subversion and espionage because they travel abroad as missionaries of a regime which was conceived, born, and sustained in conspiracy and espionage. It is possible to conclude Communist influence is not a threat, say, in Western Europe where the remarkable recovery since World War II has met and blunted Communist dynamism. Don’t forget, though, that US political, military, economic power has stood behind that recovery.

I think we are no longer so blind as we once were to the dynamics of the Soviet threat. Cuba, I believe has opened our eyes as widely as any example I can think of, with perhaps the exception of the Berlin Wall.

In my opinion, certain aspects of the threat facing this country, and the free world, have never been subject to change. It is the very dynamism of threat, and in particular, the rapidity of possible change, which makes the threat so great. In previous eras, or in previous years, both the direction and broad limits of the threat have been reasonably predictable. But how does one go about predicting specifics of the next hostile development under present technological circumstances? The world now has opened wide doors to the wonders, and to the uses of, for example: electromagnetic forces, chemistry, the atom, and space. To this list of four examples of fields of development, or any other list, there should added a fifth category. It is the category of completely unknown, or almost completely unknown, phenomena which yet defy definition, or even understanding, but which eventually might be harnessed by somebody.

Under such conditions, the terms: “technological breakthrough” and “technological surprise,” take on newer and more sinister meanings. For the first time in history, the only real limit to development is man’s own imagination. Man now has essentially the capability to develop anything that his imagination conceives. Technological breakthroughs thus may well occur.

We have had ample opportunity over the last few years to see clear proof of the position of the Soviet Union in this dynamic situation.

In the first place, they are out to do us in; they are hostile. In the second place, they have proved by visible performance that they, too, are sophisticated in the four fields I mentioned: electromagnetic forces, chemistry, the atom, and space.

This leaves no alternative to the United States. We must out-imagine the Soviets, and we must out-follow-­up on the products of our imagination. In short, we must win this “race of imagination.”

Both sides in the contest have deterrence as their objective—but the way in which deterrence is effected is vitally important to us. For example: One Soviet characteristic that we know so well is his habit of attempting to manipulate threats. I could give many examples. They warned us away from Cuba, on pain of “plunging the world into the disaster of a universal world war with the use of thermonuclear weapons.” This threat was coupled in the Soviet announcement with their threat which came at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. The Soviet government then highly pub­licized a threat to use its “rockets” if the operation were not called off. When it was called off, principally as a result of US pressures to do so, the Soviet govern­ment then claimed full credit for the cancellation. Now I am quite sure that the Soviet threat has nothing to do with the cancellation, but nevertheless, they suc­ceeded in convincing many people in the world of the success of their threat. Those people and others like them would be susceptible to crumbling in the face of some future Soviet threat.

It is conceivable to me that, unless our nerves and stomachs are strong, we too might succumb to such threats.

It is difficult to picture what the Soviets would do if they effected a technological breakthrough that would give them an important military advantage, however temporary. Would they adopt the properly moral and responsible position that the US adopted in the late 1940s, while we held the monopoly of the atomic bomb

These days we hear much use of the doctrine of flexibility in our defense preparations. I subscribe to that doctrine wholeheartedly.

However, I hear the doctrine spoken of more often than not in the context of retaining the flexibility to do the smaller, more limited things. This is good as far as it goes, but to me, it must primarily mean retain­ing the flexibility to do the big and imaginative things.

When I was in the intelligence business, we made a great point of concentrating on the nature of the Communist threat because it was a full-time job to analyze and appraise the information which we gained through painstaking methods about the Soviet Union. But to concentrate on the Soviet threat exclusively may lead to one of two erroneous conclusions: One, they are somehow operating in a vacuum without op­position; two, that the single-minded devotion of the Communist leaders to their single objectives, the vari­ety of tactics which they employ to pursue these ob­jectives, creates the impression of a well oiled machine with all the Soviet leaders, with a single mind, thinking twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, of nothing but their aim, world domination.

My point is that they are dynamic, and that they are moving in a single direction, but that where they are resisted, and where they encounter the kind of power which they themselves recognize, because they revere it so much, they have not always been totally successful. Indeed, if one reads the flood of Soviet literature, so dreary and so boring and so self-serving that it annoys even thoughtful Soviet citizens, one cannot escape asking how in the world the corrupt capitalists have survived as long as they have. In short, if the Communists were one-tenth as good as they say they are, we should all have been gone a long time ago. I believe they have, wittingly or unwittingly, given us a tremendous advantage by forewarning us, because communism, even within the Soviet Union, not to men­tion the entire world, is still a thing of the future.

This is part of the dynamic nature of the threat—that it all lies over the horizon. This is one of the ap­pealing arguments of the French Communist Party for instance who, having held power only very briefly since the war, can maintain to all their followers that if only they were in power, then everything would be all right. This is what the Communists can argue to the peoples of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Without permitting ready access to the “paradise” of the Soviet Union, they can still argue to these people, that the Soviet Union has accomplished so much in just over forty years, that these underdeveloped countries should follow the Soviet example and thus achieve that re­markable economic progress which the Soviet Union has made.

Maybe the Communists recognize that they are lying to themselves, to each other, to the world. Maybe they are sustaining themselves with a fiction; maybe they are, like any number of great religious leaders of the past, holding up a goal unattainable in this life. Theoretically then, we can denounce their arguments, reject their theories, and choose another method.

I prefer to let the debaters debate. In the meantime, let us not ignore their powerful military establishment, their actual material presence overseas, including Latin America, and their announced intention to conquer the world. In these things they are dynamic and they are threatening.

Our country must assure itself that it is both physi­cally, and psychologically, prepared to withstand any threat coming our way.

General Cabell retired from the Air Force last January 31, after nearly thirty-seven years of military service. At the time of his retirement he was Deputy Director of the Cen­tral intelligence Agency. Since then he has joined the Bissett-Berman Corp., Santa Monica, Calif., as a consultant in long-range development planning for the company which is engaged in information electronics R&D for military and space applications. General Cabell, who was graduated from West Point in 1925, was the wartime leader of a heavy bomb wing in combat. He was a close adviser to General “Hap” Arnold and attended both the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences during World War II. He served as Director of the Joint Staff before his assignment to the post of Deputy Director of CIA, a position he held for nine years before his retirement. The foregoing article is from General Cabell’s speech at the AFA Convention in Las Vegas in September, during the Symposium “Deterring General War.”