Russia's Nuclear Strategy
military planners in Moscow, the Cold War may be history, but a revitalized and
intensified nuclear weapons program holds the key to its superpower status. The
last two years have seen a systematic increase in Russia's commitment to maintaining
a smaller, but much more high-tech nuclear force to counter perceived threats
from the United States and an enlarged NATO.
planners as early as 1993 rejected the Soviet-era pledge against the first use
of nuclear weapons in a conflict, instead, as was reiterated in the official 2000
National Security Concept, "The Russian Federation must have nuclear forces capable
of delivering specified damage to any aggressor state or a coalition of states
in any situation."
Despite this belief it needed a robust nuclear arsenal
to combat potential American, European or even Chinese threats, Russian investment
in a renewed program was an almost direct response to the decision by U.S. officials
to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and pursue development
of a missile defense system.
During the 2000 American presidential campaign,
then-Gov. George Bush pledged to develop a missile defense system, he said, to
defend the nation against attack from a rogue state.
But in Russia, newly
appointed President Vladimir Putin warned such a decision would prompt an "asymmetric
response," that is, Russia would not allow the United States to develop such a
program without a Russian counter-program aimed at defeating it.
"Russia shall seek preservation and observance of the 1972
Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems
-- the cornerstone of strategic stability," Russia said
in an outline of official foreign policy approved by Putin
in June 2000. "The implementation of the plans of the United
States to create a national missile defense system will
inevitably compel the Russian Federation to adopt adequate
measures for maintaining its national security at a proper
consultations between the United States and Russia, President Bush went ahead
in December 2001 and withdrew the United States from the ABM treaty, saying, "I
have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways
to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks."
the time, Putin said he viewed the American decision as "a mistake," but added,
"with full certainty, I can say that the decision made by the president of the
United States does not threaten Russia's national security."
The two nations appeared to heal any breach
in May of 2002 when Presidents Bush and Putin signed the Strategic
Offensive Reduction Treaty in Moscow. The treaty would further
reduce the nuclear stockpiles to only 1,700 to 2,000 warheads,
a much smaller level than during the Cold War, but still enough
to destroy the Earth several times over.
It would appear that the threat of a large-scale nuclear
war was abating, but at the same time Russia publicly endorsed
a new role for its limited nuclear arsenal. According to
analysts, Russia's military, ravaged by economic chaos and
leadership changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union,
would rely on a nuclear deterrent to prevent a convention
"From the perspective of the Russian military,
reliance on nuclear weapons was a logical response to the glaring inadequacy of
conventional forces premised on the idea that nuclear weapons had greater utility
than simply to deter a large-scale nuclear attack," Dr. Nikolai Sokov, a senior
researcher at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, wrote in August 2004.
"Official documents suggest, however, that reliance on nuclear weapons is seen
as a temporary 'fix' intended to provide for security until conventional forces
are sufficiently modernized and strengthened."
And Russia has set out on
a policy of renewing and reinvesting in a large-scale military. According to the
first publicly released defense budget in Russian history, the country has more
than quadrupled its defense budget since 1999.
In addition to bolstering
its conventional forces, much of the $10.9 billion has focused on the development
and purchase of new weapons, including the modernization of much of its nuclear
weapons program. Russia has spent money to revamp its long-range bombers, and
plans on launching a new nuclear submarine in 2005. The country has also decided
to maintain the ability to launch nuclear missiles from mobile trains, a key to
its Cold War-era defenses.
Additionally, both the United States and Russia
plan to put the 4,000 to 4,300 warheads covered by the 2002 SORT treaty into storage,
rather than dismantle them.
Putin himself said in November of 2004 that
Russia would not only maintain its nuclear program, but was now focused on thoroughly
modernizing the force.
"We are not only conducting research and successfully
testing new nuclear missile systems, I'm sure that they will be put into service
within the next few years. And what's more, there will be developments. There
will be systems of the kind that other nuclear powers do not have and will not
have in the near future," Putin said.
In February 2004, Putin told reporters
gathered to witness a war games test that Russia was focused on developing intercontinental
nuclear weapons capable of maneuvering in flight to evade antimissile defenses.
means that Russia has been and will remain one of the biggest nuclear missile
powers in the world. Some people may like it and some may not, but everyone will
have to reckon with it," he said.
For Russia, the planned modernization
of a smaller nuclear arsenal is now not a theoretical exercise, but a well-funded
effort that will keep the federation a nuclear superpower for the foreseeable