Roundtable Discussion on Warsaw Pact Exercises SOYUZ-75 and SHCHIT-88

By
Oliver Bange, A. Ross Johnson, Mark Kramer, and Siegfried Lautsch
CWIHP e-Dossier No. 20
 

23 February 2010

Today CWIHP is releasing four expert analyses of newly declassified and translated documents on two Warsaw Pact military exercises—SOYUZ-75 and SHCHIT-88—recently published by CWIHP through an agreement with the Polish Institute for National Remembrance (IPN). These two exercises, our partners conclude, illustrate the two main phases in the evolution of Warsaw Pact doctrine; the offensive phase predominated throughout the history of the pact until the mid 1980s, and the defensive phase which characterized the last years of the Pact's existence. Perhaps more importantly, this new evidence on SHCHIT-88 highlights domestic tensions in Poland as well as intra-Pact tensions which may have contributed to the Warsaw Pact's demise.

"Credible scenarios of war initiation in Europe were the bane of war gamers West and East during the Cold War" according to Wilson Center Senior Scholar A. Ross Johnson "Most scenario writers limited themselves to formulaic assertions of accidental outbreak of conflict… or an unprovoked attack." In this respect SOYUZ-75 resembled most other Warsaw Pact exercises held up until the mid 1980s. As was typical, the exercise plan called for a short defensive phase of the war followed by a rapid Warsaw Pact counter-offensive advance deep into Western Europe, and assumed the liberal use of theater nuclear weapons by both sides. Oliver Bange, a senior researcher at the Military History Research Institute in Potsdam, traced the progress of the Warsaw Pact's simulated advance and found that even the projected route for the advance closely mirrored a variety of other exercises dating back a decade.

The SHCHIT-88 materials shed new light on the important changes to Warsaw Pact doctrine which took place in the mid 1980s, all four commentators agreed. The documents also raise important questions. Most notably, the pre-conflict scenario for this exercise is as developed as SOYUZ-75's is sparse. It includes a detailed description of the politico-military scene which leads to war, as well as—crucially—a discussion of domestic unrest within Poland which have been exacerbated by the heightened international tensions.

For all of this detail on the run-up to the simulated war, information on what supposedly occurred next is conspicuously absent. Based upon his own experience in similar Warsaw Pact exercises, former East German Army Colonel Siegfried Lautsch, suggests that the material presented here is consistent with materials that would have been prepared for the Warsaw Pact's policy-makers and military top brass.

Based upon additional materials from the Warsaw Pact joint command's journal Informatsionnyi sbornik Shtaba Ob Mark Kramer argues that post-exercise analyses revealed a marked contrast between East European military leaders' positive assessment of SHCHIT-88 and their Soviet colleague's strongly negative assessments.

The causes and implications of this sharp cleavage is only one of the many questions raised by these materials. Equally provocative is the question of the origins of the Warsaw Pact's shift from a counter-offensive to a defensive warfighting strategy, which is explored in detail by Oliver Bange, and which will be the subject of future CWIHP publications.

The full-length analyses submitted by CWIHP's four expert panelists, as well as the newly released documents upon which they are based, are available for download below.


These materials were translated thanks to a generous contribution from John A. Adams and the John A. Adams Center for Military History and Strategic Analysis at the Virginia Military Institute.


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  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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  • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
  • Charles Kraus // Program Assistant
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
  • Roy O. Kim // Program Assistant
  • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project