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Russian National Security Concept and Nuclear Policy

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Updated July 21, 2000

Presidential decree N 24, signed on 10-th January 2000, approved the new Concept on National Security. The new concept broadens the possible scenarios in which Russia would use nuclear weapons. A 1997 national security document (in Russian) had used a vague formulation that called for the use of nuclear weapons "in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state". The new document says nuclear weapons can be used "in the case of the need to repulse an armed aggression, if all other methods of resolving the crisis situation are exhausted or have been ineffective".

Appearence of the new document caused a broad discussion. In particular, Alexander Pikayev, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here, said in an interview to The Washington Post, that "The scenarios of the possible use of nuclear weapons are considerably broadened...It (National Security Concept - E.M.)was vague in 1997, and even more vague in 1993...During the Kosovo crisis, some Russian officials were arguing for language allowing for "early first use" of nuclear weapons in a crisis...Fortunately, this was not included...It's not the worst case..."

Bruce G. Blair, an expert on Russian and American nuclear forces at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the change was "a codification of something that's really already been pretty well cemented in the Russian psyche, at least among their security planners." In Mr. Blair's view, the new security policy may increase the chances of potentially catastrophic lapses in a Russian military hobbled by financial problems and lapsed military discipline.

However, the United States played down a new national security concept published by Russia, saying it did not represent a significant shift that would make it more likely Moscow would use nuclear weapons. "We ... do not believe that it represents a significant, major departure from Russia's concept issued in 1997 or that it makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely," State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "...both the 1997 and 2000 national security concepts assert the right to use available forces and assets, including nuclear if all other measures of resolving the crisis situation have been exhausted and have proven ineffective..."

Discussion continues, thus this page will be likely updated soon.

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