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The U.S. Government Reports on "Soviet Intentions and Capabilities"

This U.S. government intelligence report from 1950 attempts to assess the U.S.S.R.'s military and economic capabilities, while warning that the Soviet Union's avowed intentions include the destruction and/or capitulation of the United States. The report concludes paradoxically that while the U.S.S.R. lags far behind the United States in military and economic strength, nonetheless, its "actual capabilities far exceed its apparent capabilities."

I. The avowed basic intention of the USSR is to engage in ‘competition’ with the US until the US is destroyed, or forced to capitulate. The Soviet concept of ‘competition’ with the US is—demonstrably—to wage a relentless, unceasing struggle in which any weapon or tactic which promises success is admissable [sic]. Appreciation of the fundamental nature of this struggle is often confused by preoccupation with the question of whether the USSR plans at a given moment to launch an all-out military attack on the US. The fact that the USSR has not resorted to a Pearl Harbor-type of military move, or to a formal ‘declaration of war,’ or does not necessarily intend to, should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the struggle does not differ in its potential effect on the US (the enemy) from what is usually considered ‘war.’ While the struggle is limited for the moment in that military weapons are eschewed, it is not limited from the standpoint of finality or all-inclusiveness of the ultimate objective. It consequently cannot be described as merely a ‘political struggle,’ or a ‘cold war,’ or a ‘limited war.’ In the eyes of the Kremlin, it is war in the broadest sense of the term, a war to the death . . .

III. The over-all capabilities of the Soviet Union to achieve its ultimate aim of bringing about the defeat or capitulation of the US and its allies appear on the basis of a surface examination shockingly inadequate. Even granting optimistic Soviet reports of production, the total economic strength of the USSR compares with that of the US as roughly one to four.

Even if there were added to Soviet and orbit capacities those of all Continental Europe, the balance would still strongly favor the US—without taking account of the resources which the US could certainly command in various other parts of the world.

The discrepancy between over-all Soviet economic strength and over-all US economic strength is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. Although Soviet leaders can be expected to continue their forced drive for expanding production and although their specific goal will still be to equal US levels, neither Soviet resources nor past performance justify an assumption that the USSR can substantially reduce present US superiority. It is even inconceivable that the repercussions of a major depression in the US would drastically narrow the gap.

In the event of a full-scale military contest between the USSR and the US, the discrepancy in over-all economic strength would precipitously widen. The USSR today is on a near maximum production basis. No matter what stringent efforts Moscow might make, only a relatively slight change in the rate of increase in over-all production could be brought about. In the US, on the other hand, a very rapid absolute expansion could be realized.

In other fields—scientific development, general technological competence, skilled labor resources, productivity of labor force, etc.—the gap between the USSR and the US roughly corresponds to the gap in production.

IV. The ability of the USSR to achieve success in life-and-death struggle with the US cannot, however, be determined on the basis of a comparison of over-all strength in economic and related fields. Its actual capabilities far exceed its apparent capabilities.

a. The Soviet Government can bring to bear on a particular effort a very large share of its total strength. Since the Soviet economy has not been developed to serve consumers’ needs, and has not brought about a basically complex economic and social structure, an unusually large proportion of its industrial production is not above the conventional requirements of the people and can be devoted to extraordinary purposes without appreciable adverse effects. Consequently, the USSR with even its existing economic strength can sustain a mammoth war effort for a prolonged period. It prosecuted the last war with an annual steel availability of less than 10 million tons. It is estimated that in a future all-out military conflict it could successfully equip and supply the maximum number of men it could put in the field with a total steel production appreciably less than the present rate. The same is true of other commodities, except fissionable materials about which the situation is not known.

b. For the type of struggle now under way, and even more for the initial stages of an armed conflict, the USSR enjoys an advantage in that it is already in a state of virtual mobilization for war, both organizationally and in the allocation of labor and materials. Organizationally, the Soviet planned economy makes possible quick production shifts as the changing situation demands. The government not only has retained a large number of men under arms, but has kept its entire labor force, comparatively free before the Second World War, in a state of mobilization by retaining almost intact the strict labor laws of 1940.

c. Many social, political, historical, and geographical factors increase the capabilities of the USSR. The population is large (200 million) and youthful—as of 1939 more than half had been born since 1917. The population is hardy, habituated to deprivation, and able to live off the land. Soviet women can and do perform heavy labor reserved for men in other countries; they have, in fact, shown themselves able to participate directly in military operations. Psychologically, the Soviet citizen is accustomed to discipline. He is conditioned to accept the idea of war as inevitable and is provided with an elaborate rationale for fighting. Russian fatalism and callousness toward suffering has military value.


Source | "Soviet Intentions and Capabilities," 20 February 1950, PSF, Truman Papers, The Truman Museum and Presidential Library, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb Documents,
Creator | U.S. Government
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | U.S. Government, “The U.S. Government Reports on "Soviet Intentions and Capabilities",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed August 2, 2021,

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