Primary Sources

Assessing the Future of the Soviet Military


Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms followed two paths: perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost' (openness). In order to reform the Soviet economy, Gorbachev believed it was necessary to cut spending on the Soviet military, both inside Soviet borders and throughout Eastern Europe. By the end of 1989, 500,000 men had been decommissioned from the Soviet army, greatly reducing its military presence throughout Eastern Europe. In this intelligence assessment from 1990, the real impact of Soviet disarmament for the U.S. and its NATO allies is evaluated. Though some fears remain about Soviet military power, the Soviet unilateral disarmament had fundamentally degraded its military strength, which created new opportunities for the U.S. and NATO in planning for the future of Eastern Europe.


National Intelligence Council, "The Direction of Change in the Warsaw Pact Soviet Union," April 1990, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Soviet Cutbacks

In December 1988, Gorbachev announced at the United Nations that significant unilateral reductions of Soviet forces would take place in 1989 and 1990. His statement was followed by various explanations of Soviet reduction plans and additional announcements concerning cuts in defense spending and production (see inset). Soon after Gorbachev's announcement, each of the USSR's Warsaw Pact Allies except Romania announced force and defense spending cuts. These cuts—to be completed by the end of 1990—roughly parallel the Soviet cuts in types and proportional amounts of equipment, manpower, and expenditures.


Effects of the Changes

Reductions and restructuring will significantly degrade the ability of Soviet forces to concentrate combat power, particularly for offensive operations. Armored striking power, in particular, is reduced and fragmented. The new motorized rifle divisions are well suited for defensive operations but are not organized specifically to conduct large-scale attacks or counterattacks. The new tank divisions are "balanced"—thus, better suited for holding ground than the previous standard tank divisions-but they retain substantial offensive punch.

Combat Potential

To gauge the probability of mission success, Soviet staff officers often compare the relative strength of opposing forces in terms of their calculated "combat potential." How the Soviets come up with combat [section blacked out] it is useful to essay a Soviet-style combat-potential analysis to see how the Soviets might view the correlation of forces in Europe following their unilateral reductions and restructuring.

How to Cite this Source

National Intelligence Council, "Assessing the Future of the Soviet Military," Making the History of 1989, Item #190, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).