Entanglement: Russian and Chinese Perspectives on Non-Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Risks

By Arbatov, Alexey; Dvorkin, Vladimir et al. | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Reports, November 8, 2017 | Go to article overview

Entanglement: Russian and Chinese Perspectives on Non-Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Risks


Arbatov, Alexey, Dvorkin, Vladimir, Topychkanov, Petr, Zhao, Tong, Bin, Li, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Reports


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

SUMMARY

The entanglement of non-nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons and their enabling capabilities is exacerbating the risk of inadvertent escalation. Yet so far, the debate about the severity of this risk has been almost exclusively limited to American participants. So Carnegie teams from Russia and China set out to examine the issue and answer two questions: How serious are the escalation risks arising from entanglement? And, how do the authors' views compare to those of their countries' strategic communities?

DEFINING ENTANGLEMENT

Entanglement has various dimensions: dual-use delivery systems that can be armed with nuclear and non-nuclear warheads; the commingling of nuclear and non-nuclear forces and their support structures; and non-nuclear threats to nuclear weapons and their associated command, control, communication, and information (C3I) systems. Technological developments are currently increasing the entanglement of non-nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons and their enabling capabilities.

A RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE FROM ALEXEY ARBATOV, VLADIMIR DVORKIN, AND PETR TOPYCHKANOV

Entanglement, driven by technological and doctrinal developments in both Russia and the United States, is giving rise to the risk that a non-nuclear conflict-even a local one-might escalate rapidly and unintentionally into a global nuclear war. This danger is underestimated by politicians and military experts-including in Russia-because of a deeply rooted belief that escalation would be deliberate and not inadvertent.

RUSSIAN DOCTRINE AND ENTANGLEMENT

The concept of an "air-space war," which is at the center of contemporary Russian strategic thought, is ill-defined. Russian strategists appear to imagine a relatively prolonged conflict in which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launches non-nuclear air and missile strikes against Russia. Because of the inevitable limitations in Russia's ability to defend against these attacks, it might have to resort to the limited use of nuclear weapons in order to compel the United States and its allies into backing down. Such a conflict, involving nuclear and non-nuclear operations, defensive and offensive capabilities, and ballistic and aerodynamic weapons, would create a breeding ground for entanglement.

THE IMPLICATIONS OF NON-NUCLEAR STRATEGIC ARMS

An enduring concern among Russia's leadership is the threat of a massive disarming strike using non-nuclear high-precision weapons. In a non-nuclear conflict, U.S. strikes might inadvertently spark concern that such a counterforce attack was under way. For example, because strategic submarines and bombers are kept at the same bases as generalpurpose naval vessels and aircraft, strikes designed to target the latter might unintentionally destroy the former.

That said, the effectiveness of an attempted disarming strike by the United States using conventional cruise missiles-and, in the future, hypersonic boost-glide weapons- backed up by missile defenses would be highly questionable. Indeed, Russia is already investing in the capabilities needed to ensure the survivability of its nuclear forces.

While this reality may cast doubt on the validity of the concerns held by Russia's leadership, these concerns may actually be motivated by doubts about whether it is possible to deter a conventional first strike by the threat of a massive nuclear response. In practice, however, Moscow might retaliate early with a limited strategic nuclear strike. Alternatively, it might even preempt the United States with selective strategic nuclear strikes to thwart U.S. naval and air forces that were perceived to be deploying for the purpose of initiating, or actually initiating a massive air-space attack.

The co-location of nuclear and general-purpose forces in the Soviet Union and now in Russia was and is prompted by economic and administrative considerations, not by the strategic goal of trying to deter U. …

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