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Nuclear Weapons

The Second World War demonstrated to Stalin the backwardness of Soviet science and technology. After the war, he ordered the continued expansion of the research and development base, particularly in defense and heavy industries. Allocations for science increased, new research facilities opened, and salaries and perquisites for scientists were improved dramatically. All available personnel, including captured German scientists and imprisoned Soviet scientists, were employed. This effort led to some important technological successes, such as the explosion of the atomic bomb in August 1949.

Soviet intelligence went to considerable lengths to to learn about US nuclear programs, and detailed information was provided to Igor Kurchatov, scientific director of the Soviet atomic project, in 1944 and early 1945. Klaus Fuchs confessed to British authorities in 1950 that he had passed significant information to the Soviet Union, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for espionage. Although Soviet weapons designers benefited from the American plutonium bomb design, they had to independently validate the material they were given in preparing their first bomb. The Soviet Union also had be invest substantial resources in developing the engineering and industrial infrastructure to translate a theoretical design into an actual weapon.

After the explosions of the first Soviet atomic device in l949 and the Soviet hydrogen bomb in August l953, the Soviet armed forces acquired nuclear weapons. Also introduced in the 1950s were ballistic- and cruise-missile technologies, jet engines, and artificial earth satellites, as well as computers and automated control systems. These important events were known in the Soviet Union as the "revolution in military affairs." Of all the new developments, nuclear weapons most affected Soviet strategy. Nuclear weapons altered the nature and methods of armed struggle on the strategic level because they could accomplish the military's strategic tasks without operational art and tactics.

Not until Stalin's death in l953, however, could the Soviet military begin exploring the full strategic potential of the new weapons. Although he had pushed for the development of the "bomb," Stalin played down its importance and did not encourage the military to formulate a new strategy incorporating nuclear weapons.

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union launched R&D to miniaturize and improve reliability of nuclear weapons. Air Force tactical units began receiving new, smaller nuclear bombs, which could be carried by supersonic fighters and attack aircraft. Nuclear depth charges were also developed for use against submarines, including those operating under the ice cap. Development activities included strategic systems for the Navy; cruise missiles, aviation bombs and artillery projectiles [the smallest nuclear charge was developed for a 152mm artillery projectile].

In the 1960s, before development of the concept of limited nuclear war, Soviet strategists debated whether or not nuclear war could be a rational tool of policy because the widespread destruction it would cause could prevent it from promoting socialism's final victory. Some Soviet leaders, notably Nikita S. Khrushchev and the Soviet military theorists who shared his views, maintained that, considering the extremes of nuclear violence, nuclear war could not be a continuation of politics by means of armed force. In the 1970s, Leonid I. Brezhnev claimed that whoever started a nuclear war would be committing suicide, and he asserted that the Soviet Union would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

In the 1980s, Soviet civilian and military leaders adopted a similar stance, repeatedly declaring that no victor could emerge in a general nuclear war and that it would lead to the destruction of humanity. These statements seemed to modify Lenin's dictum that war is the continuation of politics.

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