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