The Defense Council, which included the highest party and military officials in the Soviet Union, was the supreme decision-making body on national security issues. The Main Military Council, the Ministry of Defense, and the General Staff were strictly military organizations. The Defense Council, which in the 1980s was chaired by the general secretary of the CPSU, was in overall control of the defense industry.
The Soviet Constitution states that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet forms the Defense Council. First mentioned by the Soviet press in 1976, the Defense Council has been the organ through which the CPSU Central Committee, the Supreme Soviet, and the Council of Ministers supposedly exercised supreme leadership of the armed forces and national defense. In reality, these bodies carried out the Defense Council's decisions on issues concerning the armed forces and national defense.
The general secretary of the CPSU was normally the chairman of the Defense Council and the only member of the Defense Council identified in the Soviet media. As chairman of the Defense Council, the general secretary has also been the supreme commander in chief of the Soviet armed forces. The chairman of the Council of Ministers, the chairman of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB), the minister of internal affairs, the minister of foreign affairs, and the minister of defense also probably served as members of the Defense Council. Their official duties enabled them to implement decisions reached in the Defense Council. The Defense Council has been described as a working group of the Politburo, and its decisions have probably been subject to ratification by a vote in a full meeting of the Politburo.
The Defense Council made decisions on political-military and military-economic issues, using analyses and recommendations it receives from the Main Military Council, the Ministry of Defense, and the General Staff. The Defense Council, according to some Western authorities, would approve changes in military doctrine and strategy, large operations, the commitment of troops abroad, and the use of nuclear weapons. It has decided on major changes in the organizational structure of the armed services and the appointment or dismissal of high-ranking officers. In addition, the Defense Council has been the highest link between the economy and the military, which were also intertwined at lower levels. The Defense Council has determined the size of the military budget. It has approved new weapons systems and coordinated the activities of the Ministry of Defense with those of ministries and state committees engaged in military research, development, and production.
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