The Politics of Global War: Vulnerable Deterrent Part I


*Author’s Note: Very sorry I had to divide this post into a pair. Life sort of got in the way over the weekend and today. I’ll post the conclusion at midweek, and by the weekend will begin Central Front D+8.*

In the late afternoon hours of D+8 Soviet leadership was forced to face a harsh reality concerning the sea-based arm of its nuclear triad.  During the last days of peace in early July the White House and Kremlin reluctantly accepted the growing probability of a conventional conflict breaking out in the near future. Separately, both sides were resolved to avoid a potential clash from going nuclear. Through backchannels, Soviet and US diplomats met, and discussed the matter. An unofficial agreement to avoid a nuclear exchange was put together and agreed on by President Reagan and General Secretary Romanov. In effect, both superpowers pledged to keep the alert levels of their respective strategic forces low. As part of the agreement, the Soviet Union agreed to keep its ballistic missile submarines in port for the duration of the conflict. In exchange, the United States promised not to disperse the bulk of its land-based bomber force to alternate airfields. If either side moved to disrupt this delicate compromise, it would be viewed as escalation, and a hostile act. The compromise was agreeable to both US and Soviet military and political leaders at the time.

Yet now, eight and a half days into the Third World War,  with American carrier groups approaching the point where Soviet soil was within range of their aircraft, the situation was changing. Whether the strategic alert compromise should continue to be observed or not was now up for debate. At the Northern Fleet’s submarine bases on the Kola Peninsula, a large number of the nation’s ballistic missile submarines sat at the dockside. In spite of the best efforts of the Northern Fleet, and Long Range Aviation to prevent it, US Navy fighters and attack planes were likely going to be dropping bombs on those docks in the coming days.

A choice had to be made soon. The Soviet Union had to either leave its SSBNs tied to the quay and risk having many damaged or destroyed, or sortie the subs while still possible and hope the United States did not view it as an act of strategic escalation. Even in wartime, bureaucracy, and favoritism strangled the Soviet military, and government. Warnings from the Northern Fleet, and Northwestern TVD about the situation had either been ignored, or judged to not be of great significance. In the late afternoon of D+8, as the picture from northern waters started to become clear, an emergency session of the Politburo was convened at the Kremlin.

General Secretary Grigory Vasilyevich Romanov would have to make a momentous decision that could very well determine the future of the Soviet Union, and perhaps also the future of the entire planet.


7 Replies to “The Politics of Global War: Vulnerable Deterrent Part I”

      1. Reading this reminds me of the book, “Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks” by Barry R. Posen. It was published in 1991 and looks back on the 80s and how a conventional war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact could have inadvertently escalated to a nuclear war. Some very good chapters on the Air War, Ground War, and Northern Flank, among others. There is a chapter that talks about this very situation on how the Soviet SSBNs were vulnerable in port and how American aircraft carriers and SSNs with cruise missiles striking legitimate conventional targets in the area of these bases would have created an interesting dilemma…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know this book and used it as a source. 🙂 I actually have met and spoken to Barry Posen too, but not on the subject of inadvertent escalation. He’s very well known in the field and was good enough to help me out a bit with my dissertation.

          Liked by 2 people

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