Sergei N. Khrushchev

"War and Peace: 1953-1964"

January 29, 1999

by Andy McIntire


The Cold War Science & Technology Studies Group at Carnegie Mellon was delighted to present Sergei N. Khrushchev, son of the late Soviet Premier, Nikita S. Khrushchev, as the lead off speaker in the 1999 Colloquium. Some 375 people packed into Greg Hall to hear Khrushchev speak on his father's relations with the Soviet military-industrial complex in a talk entitled, "War and Peace: 1953-1964."

Khrushchev spoke to several related issues. First, he outlined what he called "the craziness" of the period when the Soviets (especially under Stalin) expected an invasion from the US at almost any minute. He recalled anti-aircraft guns in Moscow that stood ready around the clock with open boxes of ammunition to combat American bombers. Stalin kept 100,000 troops in Chukotka, in another example, to ward off an imagined American invasion from Alaska, which would then presumably leave Moscow open for the taking. He recalled the feeling of his fellow students at the Electric Power Institute in Moscow in 1952, who were all convinced that Americans had elected Dwight Eisenhower because they wanted an experienced commander-in-chief for the upcoming war.

In this situation Nikita Khrushchev came to power and started to make changes in the military posture of the Soviet Union. Convinced that the centralized economy of the Soviet Union was superior to the west's decentralized competitive model, Khrushchev was a true believer in the eventual worldwide victory of Communism. Believing that, however, left him with the question, "Why should we carry it to other countries on bayonets? Sooner or later they will understand and voluntarily follow us."

His faith in the Communist ideal was only part of his motive for change. When he became privy to reports on the devestation made possible with nuclear weapons he became convinced that such weapons could never be used. His personal memories of the devestation of World War II -- particularly the tank battle near Prokhorovka in Kursk in July 1943, had left him with a profound aversion to war and a soldier's view of its costs. He believed, still, that the Soviet Union must develop a nuclear arsenal in order to deter an attack from the west, but could not see himself starting a nuclear war.

Khrushchev's faith in Communism and his dread of nuclear weapons combined to lead him to the conclusion that the Soviet Union's massive force committment was unnecessary, and that the resources spent on it could better be used elsewhere to make the socialist ideal come to fruition. This led him to scrap the massive Stalin-era naval buildup. It led him to reduce the Army. It led him to concentrate on building a nuclear deterent force (including missiles and cruise missiles) as more cost effective.

It also led him to implement his famous bluff and bluster tactics. While Sergei Khrushchev assured the crowd that the shoe his father banged on the podium at the United Nations was an American shoe, and that the famous quote -- "we will bury you" -- was taken out of context from an obscure interview, still the American reaction was one of fear. Nikita Khrushchev counted on this fear because he knew the Soviet Union lagged far behind the west militarily and with regard to nuclear weapons development.

But the military and Communist Party officials were never happy with this turn. Eventually this feeling coalesced around Leonoid Brezhnev, who helped engineer Khrushchev's outser. His reforms were thus undone.

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