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Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Nuclear Arms Reduction: The Process and Problems

Authors | Contents | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Conclusion | Responses (in Russian)

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Chapter 2. The Role of Nuclear Weapons in the Russian Federation's Policy

2.1. Projection of Geopolitical and Geostrategic Developments

Analyzing the current global geostrategic situation one can assume that in the short term (next 5-10 years) Russia will not be facing any major external military threats. During this period, one can hardly expect that any serious military opponents comparable to those of the Cold War era can emerge.

A long-term projection of the development of the military and political situation in Europe, on Russian southern borders and in the Pacific presents a complicated problem. If the efforts to build an effective system of collective security fail, intense competition may arise among new centers of power, and their influence may grow in the regions that are of vital importance for Russia. Russia's huge territory, its enormous borderline, the proximity of internally unstable states, and states aspiring to obtain weapons of mass destruction - all these factors make national security concerns particularly urgent.

Serious concerns are caused by the plans of expanding of NATO, which becomes a dominant force in Europe. The alliance's advance towards the Russian borders is regarded as a direct attempt by the United States and other Western countries to take advantage of Russia's temporary weakness in order to strengthen their own geostrategic standing.

In particular, in conventional weapons NATO's superiority is three-fold as compared to Russia, and it will grow after East European countries join the alliance. NATO will be able to gain a particularly large advantage if the Baltic states, which occupy an important strategic position at Russia's north-western flank, join the alliance. NATO's enlargement policy as well as the unresolved territorial problems between Russia and the Baltic states may provoke the alliance to make political and military pressures on Russia.11

The CFE Treaty plays an important role in maintaining stability in Europe. Now, when NATO is the only military alliance in Europe, certain provisions of the CFE Treaty have become obsolete and have to be adjusted to the new political realities. In Russia, a particular concern is caused by the flank limitations which were established by the CFE Treaty during the existence of two antagonistic alliances and which today discriminate against Russia.

In the future, the most probable threat to Russian security may come from its southern neighbors. Escalation of existing conflicts, like, for instance, the Tajik, the Azerbaijani-Armenian and the Georgian-Abkhazian ones, could involve such countries as Pakistan, Turkey or Iran which strive to enlarge their zones of influence. Similar conflicts could break out almost everywhere along the Russian and CIS southern borders.

One cannot rule out the emergence of hotbeds of tensions in the Far East. Japan has territorial claims to Russia. Today Japan's armed forces do not present a threat to Russia, but one can hardly doubt Japan's economic capability to insure their rapid growth. Important is the developing relationship with China - Russia shares a long border with this country and has a number of territorial disputes around the Baikal area and in the Primorsky Kray. China also has problems in its relations with Russia's CIS allies, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. China's rapidly growing economy and military power will lead to its becoming one of the most influential centers of power in the 21st century. One should also keep in mind the growth of China's nuclear potential - its size, combat characteristics and deployment present a much greater threat for Russia than for the United States.12

2.2. The Defensive Role of Strategic Nuclear Forces

As a result of fundamental political and economic changes, the Russian Armed Forces face considerable difficulties. The country's economic capacity has shrunken dramatically. In the late 1980s, the Soviet GDP was 2,600-2,800 billion USD.13 As a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic crisis (now in its seventh year) Russia's GDP shrunk to 600-630 billion USD. The Russian Federation is unable to keep the Armed Forces in their present form, and, consequently, should carry out a radical transformation of the military, i.e. a military reform.

For the duration of the military reform, the principal responsibility for the country's defense could be entrusted to nuclear weapons. Main provisions of the Russian Federation's military doctrine define the role of strategic nuclear forces and their possible use as follows:

According to the existing conceptions of military planning, strategic nuclear forces can fulfill their role in defense of Russia's national interests and national security when certain conditions are available. First, strategic nuclear forces must be kept at the level of readiness that would permit, under any circumstances, to render unacceptable losses to the adversary in a retaliatory strike. Second, the capabilities of the strategic nuclear forces and the inevitability of retaliatory nuclear strike should be well known to the adversary. It is necessary to point out that the United States has similar demands to its nuclear forces.15

2.3. Nuclear Deterrence Doctrine and Its Transformation in the Process of Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction

During the Cold War, strategic stability was based on the balance of power between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S., and nuclear deterrence was the crucial element of security. Attempts to gain unilateral advantage whipped up the arms race. As a result, each side accumulated tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. Today, in spite of the reductions of strategic arms carried out by Russia and the U.S., deterrence is the foundation of their nuclear policies.

The magnitude of unacceptable damage is one of the most important elements of the concept of deterrence. It is not rigidly fixed and is determined by opponents under conditions of a specific geostrategic situation, depending on the objectives they set in a conflict. During the Cold War, when the United States' goal was the destruction of the Soviet Union as a social and political system, Robert McNamara's criterion was used. According to it, the damage is considered unacceptable if 30 per cent of population and 70 per cent of industrial capacity are destroyed, which requires the delivery to targets of 400 to 500 megaton warheads. Soviet strategic planning used similar approach. Later on it became clear that this criterion is excessive.

Because of the vagueness of the notion of "unacceptable damage," the term "prerequisite damage" is used in the practice of strategic planning. It seems logical that the magnitudes of both unacceptable and prerequisite damage will go down along with strategic weapons reductions, the decline of tension and development of better relations between the countries.

Deterrence-based stability can be maintained only if, under any circumstances of an initiated military conflict, the attacked side will be able to render unacceptable losses to the aggressor in a retaliatory strike. The nature of deterrence is largely determined by the structure, and size of strategic nuclear forces, and by the type of military actions to be used. In addition, for the Russian strategic nuclear forces it can not be considered separately from nuclear planning, the status and development prospects of the U.S. and its allies' nuclear forces and other strategic systems.

During the Cold War, launch on warning was one of the types of use of both the U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear forces in the case of a military conflict. Strategic nuclear forces had to be maintained in a state of high combat readiness, and to have reliable command, control and communications, and early warning systems. For the Soviet strategic nuclear forces (SNF) the choice of launch on warning was determined by their structure, which was based on large number of ground-based ICBMs with relatively low survivability if attacked by nuclear missiles. However, the risk of an accidental nuclear conflict increased because of possible errors of the early warning system and a very limited time available for assessing the situation and making a decision. At the same time, the concept of the launch on warning is also stabilizing in nature because a threat of the launch on warning deters the potential adversary against aggravating the relationship.16

Lately, due to changes in the geostrategic situation and the nascent partnership between Russia and the U.S., there have been repeated calls to put nuclear deterrence aside. It should be noted that the concept of deterrence adequately reflects the relationship between the two countries. While nuclear weapons exist, deterrence cannot be abandoned by a directive. Nevertheless, the concept of nuclear deterrence in the sense shaped during the Cold War should be modified taking into account the reductions of strategic weapons and improved political and economic relations between the two countries, into a nuclear deterrence that corresponds to new reality.

From this point of view it would be expedient to give up the concept of launch on warning and move to a more stabilizing concept of retaliation. However, the orientation of strategic nuclear forces exclusively towards the retaliatory strike requires high levels of their survivability.

Evaluation of strategic nuclear forces' survivability should take into account not only counterforce strategic potential and capabilities of the adversary's anti-ballistic missile defense, but such factors as tactical nuclear and high-precision weapons potential, conventional systems and forces, threat of sabotages, acts of terrorism and other covert operations aimed at strategic nuclear forces' facilities. Similarly, one cannot completely rule out a possibility of war initiated against Russia by means of conventional weapons and assaults on strategic nuclear forces facilities. In the course of such warfare Russia may find itself under pressure to make a first nuclear strike. Consequently, the composition and structure of SNF and their readiness must, depending on circumstances, permit a certain flexibility in the choice and conduct of all forms of combat operations.17

11) According to the CFE Treaty, Russia should not deploy the core of its weapons where they are needed. Out of the total of 6,400 tanks, 11,480 heavy armored vehicles and 6,415 artillery systems of caliber 100 mm and above, Russia is allowed to deploy in the Kaliningrad Oblast (less than 0.5% of the Russian Federation's European territory) 4,200 tanks, 8,760 heavy armored vehicles, and 3,235 artillery systems. At the same time, in the borderline Leningrad and North-Caucasian Military Districts (over 50% of the European territory) Russia may have not more than 700 tanks, 580 heavy armored vehicles and 1,280 artillery systems. This situation is especially intolerable in the Caucasus Region where there are several hotbeds of armed conflicts; Vestnik Voyennoy Informatsii [Bulletin of Military Information], No. 1, January 1995, p. 5.

12) At present, China has some 10 ICBMs, 70-80 intermediate- and short-range missiles, 1 SSBN armed with 12 single-warhead ballistic missiles, and several dozen nuclear-capable tactical missiles on alert. The bomber force includes 120 H-6 aircraft and 350 H-5 mid-range aircraft. It is believed that by 2003, China will have the capability to deploy as many as 300-400 silo-based MIRVed ICBMs within the next 4-5 years. China plans to have 5 SSBNs carrying 12 MIRVed SLBMs each; Zarubezhnoye Voyennoye Obozreniye [Foreign Military Review], No. 11, 1993, pp. 33-36; Zarubezhnoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, No. 1, 1995, pp. 2-8.

13) Sergey Rogov, "Russia's Armed Forces After Presidential Elections," NVO NG, 27 June 1996.

14) Voyennaya Mysl [Military Thought], Special Issue, November, 1993.

15) U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, Joint Pub 3-12, 15 December 1995.

16) Vladimir Dvorkin, "Nuclear Deterrence and START II Treaty," NVO NG, No. 3, 1997.

17) Vladimir Belous, "About Foundations of Russia's Nuclear Strategy," Segodnia, 9 February 1994.

© Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1998.