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What We're Good At

May 17, 1987

Since his Brookings Institution Press deadline, Michael MccGwire says, he has come across two sentences in an annual Soviet report that had never appeared before. "What they said, in effect, was that the most important task of the Soviet military is to solve the problem of preventing war. It used to be their job to fight (wars)."

What should flow from that, he thinks, will be negotiated reductions in Warsaw Pact troops as one step toward standing down from the posture that menaces Western Europe. Thus, something probably will come of talks on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions that have dragged on for more than a decade, now that Party politicians realize that putting so many troops on the Western border has been bad news.

Until the 1980s, he says, the old thinking made a clash anywhere between U.S. and Soviet forces (not proxies) the beginning of an escalated war "and the central strategic concept was 'move west,' " MccGwire said. "Now for the first time you have them thinking, 'Don't move west' " because if the fighting can be contained, going west would be the surest way to guarantee escalation.

Finally, MccGwire said, the Soviets are coming to believe that "war is too complicated and too difficult" in the age of microprocessors and high-tech infantry. Keeping up is no longer a matter of making incremental improvements in technology, at which the Soviets have been so adept, but of making technical breakthroughs.

"Their system isn't good at that," MccGwire said. "Ours is."

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