Russia Adopts New Security Concept; Appears to Lower Nuclear Threshold

By Bleek, Philipp C. | Arms Control Today, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview

Russia Adopts New Security Concept; Appears to Lower Nuclear Threshold


Bleek, Philipp C., Arms Control Today


IN A SWEEPING 21-page document that addresses a range of internal problems and highlights perceived international threats, Russia appeared to lower its threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. The new national security concept, which Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin signed January 10, is intended to "more distinctly outline the definition of a multipolar world and the way Russia will work on safeguarding national interests," according to Sergei Ivanov, secretary of Russia's Security Council. (For excerpts of the concept, see p. 15.)

The document, which replaces the security concept adopted in December 1997, will be complemented by a soon-to-be-finalized military doctrine currently circulating within the Russian government. The new military doctrine will supercede the present one, which was adopted in 1993, and will reportedly elaborate on and clarify Russian defense guidelines, including those concerning the use of nuclear weapons.

Updated Nuclear Posture

While the 1997 national security concept allowed the first use of nuclear arms only "in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation," the new concept states that nuclear weapons may be used to "repulse armed aggression, if all other means of resolving the crisis have been exhausted." This more relaxed condition for the use of nuclear weapons appears to be a response to the decline of Russian conventional forces, which has accelerated in recent years because of Russia's economic troubles.

NATO's effective use of high-precision weapons in Yugoslavia last spring and Russia's recent difficulties in Chechnya have emphasized the weakness of Russia's conventional forces. "Russia, for objective reasons, is forced to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, extend the nuclear deterrent to smaller-scale conflicts and openly warn potential opponents about this," Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, stated recently in an interview with the Russian newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda.

Last summer, in what appears to have been a dress rehearsal for the new nuclear posture, Russia announced that it had conducted strategic "war games" that simulated a conventional NATO attack on an isolated part of Russian territory In the exercise, termed "Zapad-99," Russian conventional troops were unable to repel the NATO attack, prompting Russia to use several nuclear weapons.

Russia's threatened use of nuclear weapons to deter conventional attacks is reminiscent of NATO's use of nuclear threats during the Cold War to deter superior Russian conventional forces from invading Western Europe. NATO's most recent strategic concept, approved last April at its 50th anniversary summit in Washington, acknowledged the alliance's vastly improved conventional position and stated that "the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated... are therefore extremely remote. …

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Russia Adopts New Security Concept; Appears to Lower Nuclear Threshold
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