The development of the SS-20: a case study of Soviet defence decision making during the Brezhnev era

Cant, James Farquhar (1998) The development of the SS-20: a case study of Soviet defence decision making during the Brezhnev era. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The latter part of 1976 witnessed the initial deployment of a new Soviet missile which
was codenamed "SS-20" by the United States. The SS-20 was an intermediate-range
ballistic missile which could deliver each of its three nuclear warheads to within 400
metres of their designated targets throughout Western Europe from launch sites deep
within Soviet territory. In addition the S8-20 was a fully mobile system which
reduced significantly the likelihood of its detection and destruction by enemy forces.
This, in conjunction with its accuracy and reliability, ensured that the SS-20 added a
significant new dimension to Soviet nuclear forces within the European theatre. The
Soviet Union's deployment of this new weapon system presaged a new era of
uncertainty and tensions in East-West relations. Its initial service history coincided
with the beginning of the end of detente and within a few years it had come to hold a
position of pre-eminence as a focal point for superpower competition. Along with its
Western counterparts - Cruise and Pershing II - the SS-20 became a name familiar to
the wider public and served as an effective litmus test of superpower relations.

Throughout the Cold War era a host of analytical models were promulgated with the
stated aim of rationalising, explaining and, ultimately, predicting the nature of state
weaponry procurement policy. Such models displayed a marked diversity of character
and were the cause of conjecture and debate among their various proponents. The
Action-Reaction model sought to explain weaponry procurement as a response to the
activities of a potential adversary. By contrast both the National Leadership and
Interest Group models stressed the importance of studying internal political factors in
the pursuit of an explanation of such activities. A further alternative - the Military
Mission model - contended that weaponry production was predicated upon the
operational demands of specific and predetermined defence requirements. A variant
which was applied with increasing frequency during the period of the SS-20's
deployment was the Military Superiority model. It interpreted the development of the
Soviet nuclear arsenal as evidence of her desire to establish political dominance
through military power. Given both its undoubted military significance and the
political symbolism it came to hold it is surprising that the development and
deployment of the SS-20 was never employed as a case study through which to test
the veracity and applicability of the hypotheses.

New evidence gleaned during the course of this study from interviews with former
high-ranking Soviet officers and officials and from restricted-access sources has
necessitated a significant revision of the history of the SS-20's development and
deployment. Consequently evolving Soviet theatre strategy and the United States'
persistent refusal to include Forward Based Systems - medium-range aircraft and
missiles capable of carrying nuclear ordnance - within the constraints of the SALT
treaties are both reaffirmed as factors which did incline the Soviet Union towards the
pursuit of a new missile system for the European theatre of operations. Significantly
however neither factor seems to have possessed the overt influence upon the
development of the SS-20 that so many past analyses have accorded them. The
accepted course of the SS-20's technical development, its institutional origins and its
links with other ballistic missile systems are now subject to radical re-evaluation in the
light of the evidence which has emerged. Similarly the course and nature of this
weaponry system's development is shown to have been subject to the vagaries and
complexities of inter-elite relations to an extent previously unsuspected by all but a
handful of analysts. The predominance of such bureaucratic interaction was a
recurring theme in Soviet weaponry procurement throughout the period of the SS-20's
developmental cycle. Analysts face considerable challenges when seeking to model a
policy which was so heavily reliant upon the complexities of personal relationships and
bureaucratic rivalries.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Politics
Supervisor's Name: White, Professor Stephen
Date of Award: 1998
Depositing User: Ms Mary Anne Meyering
Unique ID: glathesis:1998-4814
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2014 15:33
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2014 15:36

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