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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

The Soviet Master Plan to Defeat NATO

17 September 2007

VIENNA – Memories of past glories still haunt this majestic imperial capitol of the now sadly vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire.

There are also fresher memories of the postwar era when the Soviets shared control of Vienna with Britain, France and the United States. A large, freshly gilded Soviet war memorial still looms over the city.

The old, sinister of days spying, kidnapping and black marketeering were captured here by Carol Reed’s magnificent film, `the Third Man,’ starring Orsen Wells as the charming thug, Harry Lime. My father used to produce plays with Wells, and the actor often regaled us with amusing tales about making this film in the ruins on Vienna under the baleful eyes of the KGB. Half a century later, Well’s presence still haunts Vienna. I half imagine seeing him in the twilight, dressed in a long, black great coat and fedora, slipping around a corner into the dusk.

Vienna also has another fascinating secret. Back in the 1960’s, at the height of the Cold War, I was studying international law at a Swiss University. A group of Swiss Army officers in mufti (civilian dress) were arrested by Austria for spying on its modest fortifications on its Czech border. Many jokes about `chocolate spies’ were made at the time over this seeming trivial incident. But the Swiss, as always, were deadly serious.

The Swiss officers were monitoring Austria’s eastern defenses against the Soviet Warsaw Pact because their intelligence service had uncovered frightfully alarming news. This information still remains a Swiss state secret, but thanks to my contacts with the Swiss military, I can reveal it for the first time.

NATO’s defenses were concentrated on the North German Plain – the hundreds of miles of flat terrain running from the Bavarian Alps up to the North Sea and supplied by the vast Belgian port complex of Antwerp. This region, and the Fulda Gap to the south, were the Warsaw Pact’s expected invasion route into Western Europe. US, German, British, Canadian, Dutch and Belgian troops were massed there, waiting an attack.

However, the Soviet General Staff had developed a brilliant plan to outflank the bulk of NATO forces in north Germany. It was a variant of the pre-World War I German Schlieffen Plan. The Soviet version called for a major deception and pinning attacks in the north, while a mass strike force of at least 60 armored and mechanized divisions would sweep west from Czechoslovakia into neutral Austria, cross it, and then erupt into eastern Switzerland.

The Red Army would have to fight its way through the Swiss fortress zone at Sargans, then drive west on an axis Zurich-Bern-Neuchatel-Lausanne-Geneva. From Geneva, the Soviet blitz would break out into France’s Rhone Valley near Grenoble and Lyon, swing northwest along the Saone River and envelop Paris from the south and west.

This vast enveloping attack, whose northern flank would be in large part protected by the Alps and Vosges, would come up behind NATO forces deployed much further east. A Soviet column would take Antwerp and Rotterdam, thus cutting of the main supply lines of US, British, and Canadian forces, and attacking them from the rear.

Had this plan worked, it would have been more successful than the 1914 Schlieffen Plan and as great a triumph as Germany’s 1940 campaign against France. Like Von Manstein’s and Guderian’s audacious attack through the Ardennes forest in May, 1940, a Soviet offensive through Austria and Switzerland would have struck the least expected spot - NATO’s underbelly.

Austria lay naked, but Switzerland was ready. Its 600,000 tough soldiers prepared to fight the Red Army from their mountain fortress redoubts at Sargans, Gothard and St Maurice in the Valais. The Swiss would have seriously delayed Soviet attacks, perhaps giving NATO time, were it fleet enough, to withdraw its northern forces eastward, and pull back troops to defend the strategic Rhone Valley. But it would have been a very, very close run thing.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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