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Russian / Soviet Doctrine

After the explosions of the first Soviet atomic device in l949 and the Soviet hydrogen bomb in l953, the Soviet armed forces acquired nuclear weapons. Also introduced in the 1950s were ballistic- and cruise-missile technologies, jet engines, and artificial earth satellites, as well as computers and automated control systems. These important events were known in the Soviet Union as the "revolution in military affairs." Of all the new developments, nuclear weapons most affected Soviet strategy. Nuclear weapons altered the nature and methods of armed struggle on the strategic level because they could accomplish the military's strategic tasks without operational art and tactics. Not until Stalin's death in l953, however, could the Soviet military begin exploring the full strategic potential of the new weapons. Although he had pushed for the development of the "bomb," Stalin played down its importance and did not encourage the military to formulate a new strategy incorporating nuclear weapons.

Transition to a nuclear strategy began in the mid-1950s, when Soviet military thinkers began recognizing the importance of surprise, of the initial period of war, and of using nuclear strikes to determine the course and outcome of a war. In February l955, Marshal Pavel A. Rotmistrov published in the Soviet journal Voennaia mysl' (Military Thought) a ground-breaking article on "surprise." He stressed the importance of landing the first, "preemptive" nuclear blow to destroy the enemy's weapons when the latter was preparing a surprise attack. Since the mid-l950s, the concept of preempting an enemy's nuclear weapons has become firmly entrenched in Soviet military thought.

In the l950s, the increased mobility of armor and the striking power of nuclear weapons bolstered the concept of the deep offensive operation. Nuclear weapons produced fundamental operational changes. The scope and depth of an operational offensive grew, and its violence intensified. Soviet military thinkers believed that they could achieve a decisive victory by delivering preemptive nuclear strikes on objectives deep in the enemy's rear and, subsequently, by encircling, cutting off, and destroying the enemy's troops with nuclear and conventional munitions. Soviet military writers soon began to point out, however, that radioactive contamination, fires, and floods caused by massive nuclear strikes could interfere with the success of operations.

As the Soviet military came to view nuclear weapons as particularly suitable for general war, it needed a strategy for their use. In l957 a series of military seminars at the highest level helped leaders develop the elements of a new nuclear strategy. A group of Soviet military strategists under the direction of Marshal Sokolovskii continued the work of the seminars. In l962 they published Military Strategy, the first Soviet treatise on strategy since l927.

In January 1960, Khrushchev unveiled the new nuclear strategy in a speech to the Supreme Soviet. According to Khrushchev, this strategy's aim was deterring war rather than fighting it. Despite Khrushchev's emphasis on deterrence and reductions in military manpower, Sokolovskii's Military Strategy focused on apocalyptic scenarios for fighting a world war with nuclear weapons and stressed the need for mass armies. The idea of preemption resurfaced, this time on an intercontinental basis, because the Soviet Union had acquired nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and could threaten the territory of the United States. Sokolovskii maintained that the Soviet side had to "frustrate" an enemy coalition's attack by delivering massive nuclear strikes on the enemy's territories. These strikes would destroy not only the enemy's weapons but also the enemy's will to continue the war, thus limiting the damage from a retaliatory strike.

This view of nuclear strategy prevailed during most of the l960s. Soon after the publication of the third edition of his Military Strategy in l968, however, Sokolovskii wrote with an eye on the future: "Military affairs are entering or have already entered the next stage of their development, and apparently it is necessary to introduce essential changes into military art." Such changes began to occur in the 1960s and continued through the 1970s and 1980s.

In the early l960s, nuclear weapons became the "basic means of destruction on the field of battle." Soviet tacticians believed that nuclear strikes during an engagement would help the Soviet armed forces to seize and retain the initiative on a tactical level and achieve victory in battle. The new emphasis on nuclear weapons led to changes in tactical concepts. Instead of massive concentration of forces on the main direction of attack, theorists advocated concentration of nuclear strikes and maneuver by troops and by nuclear missiles.

Soviet military theorists came to realize that use of nuclear weapons by both belligerents could complicate offensive tactical combat by slowing down the Soviet advance while strengthening the enemy's defense. Because increased mobility and high rates of advance formed the most important Soviet operational and tactical principles, the Soviet military began to perceive nuclear weapons as problematic. Thus, in the late 1960s and the 1970s, Soviet military planners began to reorient tactics away from reliance on nuclear weapons toward reliance on new conventional weapons. Concepts such as the concentration of forces on the main axis, partial victory, and economy of force again assumed their prenuclear importance.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Soviet military leadership tried to add new, less destructive, strategic options, not only as a response to NATO's "flexible response" concept but also because the leaders began to doubt the possibility of a true victory in an all-out nuclear war. Although most military writings upheld the obligatory belief in socialism's victory, doubters hinted that not only imperialism but also socialism could perish in a nuclear holocaust.

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union built up its conventional forces in Europe and adopted new operational concepts for the conduct of a deep offensive operation using both conventional and nuclear weapons. A conventional phase was to precede the nuclear phase. The search for options intensified in the l970s, after the Soviet Union had achieved rough nuclear parity with the United States, thereby making a nuclear war with the West less likely. If escalation had been imminent, the Soviet Union had the capability-- accurate and reliable ICBMs with multiple warheads--to limit its strikes to the adversary's weapons, thus reducing the level of violence. Other options examined in the 1970s and 1980s included a nuclear war limited to Europe, a combined arms offensive with both nuclear and conventional weapons, and a completely conventional strategic operation in Europe, where Soviet nuclear weapons would deter Western use of nuclear weapons.

The addition of new strategic options did not alter the basic nuclear war scenario of the l960s. Two monographs published in 1985 and 1986 by Gareev and Lieutenant General Pavel A. Zhilin, respectively, reaffirmed the increased importance of surprise during the initial period of a nuclear war. According to these specialists, such a "surprise nuclear strike," if successful, could determine both the course and the outcome of a war. Soviet belief that the United States was acquiring nuclear missiles capable of delivering a surprise strike and was developing an antimissile shield to protect United States territory from Soviet retaliation contributed to the Soviet military's perception of the growing role of strategic surprise.

Russian Policy and Doctrine

Since the breakup of the USSR, the Russians have discussed rebuilding a viable, cohesive fighting force out of the remaining parts of the former Soviet armed forces. These policies are articulated in three inter-related documents. According to the Russian Security Council's plan, "Concept of National Security" is the fundamental document, and the "Concept of Foreign Policy" and the "Military Doctrine" develop the corresponding parts for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense.

A new Russian Military Doctrine, promulgated in November 1993, implicitly acknowledges the contraction of the old Soviet military into a regional military power without global imperial ambitions. In keeping with its emphasis on the threat of regional conflicts, the doctrine calls for a Russian military that is smaller, lighter, and more mobile, with a higher degree of professionalism and with greater rapid deployment capability. Such a transformation has proven difficult.

In December 1997 President Yeltsin signed a decree approving a "National Security Concept of the Russian Federation " based on the concept of comprehensive security. While acknowledging the existence of threats from various sources, this concept says that the causes of all the threats Russia is currently faced with lie in the critical conditions of its own economy. It lists political, economic, and military tasks to be tackled in order to eliminate all sorts of threats and secure national security of Russia.

Russia attaches great importance to defending its national interests and is seeking to strengthen its presence as a world power. In line with this policy, Russia has been actively pursuing diplomatic activity aimed at neutralizing unipolar dominance and at creating a multipolar world. This has led to the development of heightened tension with the United States.

The new "National Security Concept" decreed by acting President Vladimir Putin in early January 2000 marked a shift in Russia's view of the world, pledging to resist western attempts to dominate the globe. The policy lowered the threshold at which Russia may resort to nuclear weapons. The previous strategy, decreed in December 1997, declared that nuclear weapons could only be used "in the case of a threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state". The new document states that the use of nuclear weapons is necessary "to repel armed aggression if all other means of resolving a crisis situation have been exhausted or turn out to be ineffective". The 1997 strategy spoke of "partnership" with the west and decreed that there was no threat of military aggression to Russia. The new doctrine states that two "mutually exclusive tendencies" have emerged, with the "multi-polar world" promoted by Russia in conflict with "the west led by the US" which aims to use its military might to dominate world affairs.

The draft of a new "Military Doctrine" was released in October 1999, and the Russian government approved this document in early February 2000. The new "Military Doctrine" did not address the issue of Russia's hypothetical enemy.

In mid-2000 the new "Concept of Foreign Policy" was released, replacing the version that was approved by Boris Yeltsin in 1993. The new "Concept of Foreign Policy" is unambiguous about the identity of Russia's hypothetical enemy: "new challenges and threats to the national interests of Russia are emerging in the international sphere. There is a growing trend towards the establishment of a unipolar structure of the world with the economic and power domination of the United States."

Arms Control Issues

In the 1990s, Russia's status as a nuclear power raised two major issues. First, the deactivation of nuclear weapons in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union caused a series of problems that affected primarily the civilian population. Second, the rate and conditions for reduction of Russia's nuclear arsenal were matters of heated debate among military and civilian policy makers in the mid-1990s.

During five decades of the Cold War, the Soviet Union stockpiled an estimated 40,000 nuclear warheads, which were located from the Far East to the Ukrainian Republic on the western border. Besides the Russian Republic, three other Soviet republics--Belorussia, Kazakstan, and Ukraine--had nuclear weapons on their soil. In the early 1990s, Russia and the United States agreed that, to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, the three other republics should relinquish their entire stockpiles to Russia or destroy them. Although the final cleanup of nuclear materials promises to last into the next century, by the end of 1994 the three former Soviet republics had signed START I and the NPT as nonnuclear states. (Ukraine required additional security assurances and financial aid from the United States as a condition of its participation.)

Experts estimated that disposal of all deactivated nuclear warheads would require at least ten years because Russian facilities can only dismantle 2,000 warheads per year. Another complication is the disposition of an estimated 100,000 now-superfluous employees of nuclear weapons installations who had access to nuclear technology; failure to find suitable employment for such individuals might cause them to sell their highly valuable knowledge abroad. And the total number of displaced employees of nuclear installations is estimated to be much larger.

The presence of nuclear material in Russia has caused other problems. Between 1990 and 1994, the number of documented cases of smuggling of nuclear materials out of Russia went from zero to 124, mainly because of lax security at nuclear sites (see Crime, ch. 10). Although most cases of nuclear smuggling have involved civilians, in 1994 naval officers stole three uranium fuel rods from a submarine in Murmansk--and in the mid-1990s the fast-deteriorating living standards of Russia's military made such incidents more likely (see Troop Support Elements, this ch.). The Ministry of Defense has voiced concern that terrorists might take advantage of security lapses to seize a nuclear weapon; in 1995 a Chechen guerrilla leader threatened to use nuclear terrorism against Russia's civilian population. In a deal signed in 1992, the United States agreed to buy 500 tons of weapons-grade uranium, mainly to ensure that such material did not move into unscrupulous hands. In December 1994, Russia and the United States agreed to inform each other of dangerous incidents involving nuclear materials, and the United States has provided assistance in upgrading Russia's nuclear security procedures.

A second problem related to Russia's nuclear arms is the radiation pollution that has resulted from the discarding of nuclear materials into the ground and the sea. The naval forces have continued the Soviet-era practice of dumping nuclear materials overboard in the Sea of Japan and the Kara Sea, provoking strong reactions from neighboring countries. In mid-1996 at least fifty of Russia's decommissioned nuclear submarines were standing with fuel rods intact along the Arctic coast, awaiting dismantlement (see Environmental Conditions, ch. 3).

The geopolitical and diplomatic aspects of the nuclear situation are equally problematic. Russia ratified START I in November 1992. That treaty limited the United States and Russia to 1,600 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles--ICBMs) and 6,000 nuclear warheads each. (The actual number was between 7,000 and 9,000 because of the treaty's counting rules.) The treaty also set a limit of 4,900 ballistic missile warheads and 1,100 warheads mounted on mobile ICBMs. The number and configuration of bombers also was prescribed.

In January 1993, United States president George H.W. Bush and President Yeltsin signed START II. That treaty, which is based on the limitations of START I, would eliminate heavy ICBMs and ICBMs with multiple warheads, and the total number of warheads would be reduced from the nominal START I level of 6,000 to an actual figure between 3,000 and 3,500. START II calls for two phases of reduction, the first of which would begin in 2000. At the end of the second phase, new reductions would be complete in all three delivery modes: land-based ICBM, submarine, and bomber.

In March 1993, the Supreme Soviet (later in 1993 renamed the State Duma) began discussion of START II. The debate over ratification of the treaty continued sporadically for three years and showed no signs of reaching a resolution as of mid-1996. Opponents of the treaty described it as another Western effort to penetrate Russia's national security; treaty backers, including Yeltsin, argued that maintaining the nuclear force at START I levels was financially impossible for Russia, so the much lower START II level matches Russia's capabilities while holding the United States far below its potential. In any case, most of the 2,500 warheads that START II would eliminate were outmoded and scheduled for retirement by the mid-1990s. According to Western experts, in 1996 Russia had the financial resources to deploy only about 500 single-warhead ICBMs, although more than 900 were permitted under START I at that point. Also, Russia's failure to ratify START II encouraged the United States to deploy an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that would negate much of Russia's nuclear potential. The matchup of potential United States ABM capabilities with existing Russian nuclear strike capabilities became a key consideration in the START II ratification debate.

Nevertheless, beginning in 1995 the question of NATO expansion overshadowed other aspects of the START II debate; the more anti-Western State Duma that was seated in January 1996 made the impending expansion of NATO a primary argument against START II ratification. Some Russian treaty supporters concurred that the treaty should not be ratified unless NATO expansion plans were shelved. Ultimately, Russia ratified START II in early 2000.

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