Russia's Nuclear Imperative

Despite all the current difficulties and quarrels among the highest echelons of power, there are signs of consolidation in Russian society. A new era is anticipated for the country after parliamentary elections in December 1999 and presidential elections the following summer.

Nato's air war against Yugoslavia boosted the maturation in Russia of a national concept of security. Terrorist acts in Moscow and other Russian cities have helped revive a feeling of mutual belonging and solidarity. The country survived the initial shock and numbness after counting the dead and braced itself for change. Instead of panicking, it resolved to alter the dismal course of events.

In the northern Caucasus, Russia is in a state of undeclared war with local and international terrorism. Its military doctrine is being put to the test. The blunders of the 1994-96 Chechnya campaign seem to have been avoided. There is an almost unanimous national consensus that the war in Dagestan and Chechnya is just. Contrary to the earlier campaign, the majority of private and state media outlets supports the army. Debates are about means, not ends. 

How is Russian military might, both conventional and nuclear, faring in these circumstances? The nadir of its erosion has been reached. Its restoration to a minimum level of effectiveness has begun. Without a strong army, navy and air force, among other factors, Russia will disintegrate, following in the footsteps of the Soviet Union. External circumstances are equally important for Russia's long-term security.

After the expansion of Nato to the east and its war against Yugoslavia the prospect of international relations being governed by a "New World Order" ceased to be theoretical. The international community faces the challenge of Nato setting itself up as a dominant global command structure. A unipolar world may replace international legitimacy, based on the United Nations Charter, with the militant policy of a new imperialism. If unchecked it will instigate new conflicts and encourage a dangerous mentality that seeks the absolute power of one group of nations over others.

Those who favour a unipolar world insist that it is pragmatic and realistic when in fact it is delusive and self-destructive. Unipolarity does indeed enjoy a certain factual basis. The bipolar world belongs to the past. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Nobody wants a return to the confrontational logic of the Cold War.

But the baby must not be thrown out with the bathwater. If the role of the UN is downgraded and emasculated, the only existing universal structure for peace-not ideal, but viable-will cease to exist. Russia will be irrevocably alienated, China and other nations will be repelled by the dictate of force and the world will move towards isolated regional and military blocs. The spirit of peace can still be revived, but its adherents must be firm. History shows that actions outside the structure of international law are bound to fail

Anyone thinking that some of the prognostications above are of a doomsday variety ought to look back to the beginning of this century when many saw the future through rosy glasses. That optimism did not lead to the creation of a strong universal peace structure. Humanity failed to learn very much from the First World War and the League of Nations collapsed. The bloodbath of the Second World War followed. Do we want history to repeat itself?

A New Cold War?

The neoliberal reforms in Russia have not only led to a catastrophic shrinkage of its GDP, but also undermined the economic basis of its military complex. By 1999, the United States' defence budget was $270 billion. Russia's defence budget was 60 billion roubles. In purchase parity equivalence it was no more than $30 billion. The Pentagon spends about $20 billion annually on its nuclear forces; Russia can barely provide $3 billion. Given that the US federal budget is $1.7 trillion, Washington has plenty of scope to build up its military strength. This opportunity will not be wasted, especially in the light of Washington's intentions to develop the US anti-ballistic missile complex. There is growing fear in the US that its military is over-stretched. A sharp increase in defence spending is what commands bipartisan support in Congress.

"The threat of a nuclear attack today is higher than at the height of the Cold War," said former US Assistant Secretary of Defence Graham Allison in 1998. His worries were echoed the same year by Russian Defence Minister lgor Sergeev, who said: "The role of the nuclear deterrent factor is increasing." In contrast to the US, Russia hardly manages to control its own territory, both in terms of conventional and strategic security. Conventional failings were conspicously demonstrated by the 1994-96 war in Chechnya. Strategic shortcomings were illustrated by the defence ministry's admission in June 1999 that Russia was unable to monitor continuously the potential threat posed by most foreign nuclear powers. Russian military satellites can conduct surveillance of these territories for only six hours a day.

How is it that a decade after the end of the Cold War a new global arms race is looming? The beginning was seamless. A number of arms control agreements were concluded in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in 1989, two Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (Start) in 1991 and 1993. Those agreements symbolised a break with the past.

However, quite soon the situation began to change drastically. Nato enlargement threw down a gauntlet which Russia failed to pick up. The pipe dreams of a new security system for the whole of Europe evaporated, Nato was so arrogant that it even refused to make any binding commitment not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territories of its new members. After the first wave of new Nato members, Russia is being pushed to acknowledge the right of the Baltic states to join the West's military club.

The reality is that Nato expansion and the war against Yugoslavia have undermined the process of disarmament, both nuclear and conventional. Because of the sharp reduction of its conventional military capabilities Russia is reconsidering the role of nuclear weapons. That does not contradict her interest in further reduction of nuclear arsenals. But from now on Russia will carefully balance the need to dispose of obsolete weapons with the preservation of a sufficient nuclear deterrent to repulse any potential adversary both in nuclear and conventional wars.

The Threat of Proliferation

A new geopolitical reality for the 21st century is being shaped not only directly by the war in Yugoslavia and Nato expansion, but also by developments elsewhere, such as the nuclear rivalry of India and Pakistan. A year after conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, the two de facto nuclear powers fought a conflict in Kashmir which had the potential to develop into a second Cuban crisis. These events, together with the break-up of the Soviet Union, may be come to be regarded as a watershed in post-Second World War history. The clash between India and Pakistan was the conflict of a new generation. It marked the claim of both sides to have more freedom of action in the post-non-proliferation world.

The clash was also further proof that the dismantling of the bipolar world has not been followed by the construction of a new system of international security. The UN was slowly but steadily corroded by American arrogance and Russian weakness. Nato deliberately flouted the principles of the UN Charter. Shifts in the economic, military and political strength of different powers, though natural, turned out to be unguided by any meaningful international policy. Efforts to change the global balance of power in favour of the West have not produced a "New World Order" masterminded from Washington, but an international community which is crumbling into pieces and is confronted by new and often self-inflicted global dangers.

The system of control over nuclear weapons created during the Cold War long guaranteed the undoubted dominance of the recognised nuclear powers. The Non-proliferation Treaty, its backbone, secured nonnuclear status for other countries. After the Warsaw Pact was disbanded (but Nato preserved), new centres of world power became increasingly uneasy about their second-class status. Iraq was the first to challenge the system in 1991. Its defeat in the Gulf War demonstrated that reliance upon conventional weapons was not enough to guarantee national security, though that did not become obvious immediately. A number of "threshold" states halted their military nuclear programmes. In 1995 the Non-proliferation Treaty was extended with no time limit. A total moratorium on nuclear tests also became a reality. By 1996 Belorussia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan joined the treaty and sent their nuclear weapons to Russia.

However, nuclear tests in India and Pakistan, implicitly triggered to a large extent by Nato policy and its new doctrine, showed that "threshold" states can reverse their non-nuclear commitments. As if in a chain reaction, North Korea and Iran stepped up their rocket programmes. The arms race accelerated, not only between India and Pakistan, but also between India and China. The US Senate's rejection in October 1999 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty only worsens the situation.

Arms Cuts

It is a paradox but by the end of 1990s the great powers not only failed to enforce the spirit of the Non-proliferation Treaty but appeared themselves to be unable to advance along the road of nuclear disarmament. The most significant step forward would be implementation of Start-II and then Start-III.

By the end of 1980s, the Soviet Union and the US had stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear warheads-enough to blow up the planet several times over. Realisation of the possible consequences of such spiralling accumulation led to the development of new concepts of security. In 1991 Russia and the US signed Start-I, which was ratified three years later. Each side was limited to 6,000 warheads. But obviously the reductions were not enough. In 1993 the two countries signed Start-II, which allowed each side to hold up to 3,500 warheads. In 1996 Moscow offered to discuss Start-III with Washington.

In March 1997 at the Helsinki summit Moscow and Washington agreed to proceed with Start-III negotiations as soon as Start-II was ratified. The time limit for Start-II realisation was extended until December 2007. Start-III would have reduced each side's nuclear arsenal to between 2,000 and 2,500 warheads. Equally important was a decision to consider Start-III the last bilateral treaty. Later, all five nuclear powers were to be involved in further negotiations.

Russia was eager to proceed. As far back as 1990-91, the defence ministry defined nuclear sufficiency as 2,500 warheads. It was estimated that in a counter-attack each side would still be able to retaliate with 500-700 warheads, guaranteeing mutually assured destruction. However, a few years later it became clear that Russia would be unable to sustain a force of 2,500 warheads. Most were nearing their expiry date and Moscow could not finance adequate replacements. New estimates showed that Russia could afford to maintain no more than 1,500 warheads. Were the Start-II and Start-III treaties to be implemented, Russia would keep strategic parity with the US, preserving at the same time an essential lead over other nuclear powers. It seemed that the possibility of a much safer world was at hand.

US Backsliding

In January 1996 the US Senate ratified Start-II. The devil was in the detail. The Senate stipulated that the main element in US strategic forces in the event of sharp Start reductions should be the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. The US reserved the right to nullify the treaty if any state apart from Russia made substantial progress in developing nuclear missiles.

The ABM Treaty was concluded in 1972. Both sides were allowed to create ABM systems for only one district of each country. The treaty for many years became a key element in preserving strategic parity. However, since the 1990s the US has been trying to change the essence of the treaty. 

The hawkish position of some members of the Clinton administration and of the US Congress was revealed with the latter's approval of the Cochran-Inouye Bill on 20 May 1999. Secretary of Defence William Cohen warned that if Moscow refused to amend the treaty the US would simply pull out. The bill entered into force the next month. It declared:

It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorised, or deliberate).

Ninety-seven senators out of 100 voted for the bill. It meant that the US was now ready to jettison any notion of strategic parity with Moscow. New life had been breathed into Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" dream.

The main argument of those backing revision of the ABM Treaty is the military programmes of Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China. Yet most American and Russian experts agree that these countries pose no strategic threat to the US. But revision of the treaty will seriously affect Russia's deterrent potential. Thus, violation of the treaty would jeopardise the prospects of Start-II and Start-III. Even the full realisation of the Start-I agreements is no longer guaranteed. For example, Russia may halt the destruction of its Mirv (multiple independent re-entry vehicle) ICBMs, which were the basis of its strategic rocket forces prior to Start-I.

The reality boils down to the fact that the US is not interested in making further nuclear cuts. Judging by its actions, it can afford and would like to do quite the opposite- strengthen its nuclear deterrent.

Nato's Air War

Another devastating blow to Start prospects and to the whole process of European and global disarmament was inflicted by Nato's war against Yugoslavia. After this began in March 1999, the Russian Duma refused to debate a bill to ratify Start-11 even though it was on the parliament's agenda. The war radically hardened the attitudes of many Russian politicians. "We must definitely include a provision in our doctrine to the effect that Russia reserves the right to deliver a first or a pre-emptive nuclear strike," commented Roman Popkovich, chairman of the Duma's defence committee.

The war in Kosovo had many other consequences. For example, India became deaf to calls to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The double standards of US foreign policy were glaringly exposed. Russia finds it impossible to swallow Washington's urgings that its military operations on its own territory in Chechnya threaten regional security and should be halted. Moreover, the war in Yugoslavia weakened in Russian eyes arguments in favour of further implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. It may also threaten provisions of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which are effective until 2002.

Nato's action against Yugoslavia proved that European security is based on a military balance which has strongly changed in favour of the alliance. Twenty-five thousand bombs dropped, 50 bridges, 5 civil airports, 20 hospitals and 190 schools destroyed, Yugoslavia's whole oil-refining and car-making industries shattered, the railroad infrastructure reduced to rubble and 800,000 people forced to flee their homes in a war whose officially proclaimed purpose was "to prevent a humanitarian disaster". Economists estimate the bomb damage at between $40 and $60 billion. Was it worth the establishment of another Nato protectorate in the Balkans with the tacit aim of changing once and for all the geopolitical situation in the region? The war and its consequences mean nothing less than rearmament in Europe. Defence spending will rise across the continent and beyond. It is not clear how these actions can contribute to international security.

At the summit to celebrate Nato's 50th anniversary in April 1999, President Clinton spoke of a "New World Order". Other Nato leaders proclaimed the "new doctrine" of a "new internationalism". The Western media triumphantly unveiled the new concept of a "progressive war", according to which military interference in the internal affairs of individual states is legitimate on humanitarian grounds. The assessment of the legitimacy is to be made not by the UN but in Nato headquarters. From Russia's point of view the attempt to convert the already expanding Nato from a de jure defensive alliance to an agent of ethical imperialism threatens the existing universal peace structure. It is highly doubtful that other "pivotal states", such as China, India and Iran to name but a few, will accept it.

The Next Century

At the beginning of the XXI century Russia finds itself in a situation in which its conventional forces are extremely weak and outdated in comparison with Nato's. The wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia showed that the West has staked its faith on new "precise" conventional weapons, including nonnuclear cruise missiles and "smart" bombs, to strengthen its world dominance. Russia, however, will be unable to develop and field such armaments for a long time. This obliges her to look for other alternatives.

The end of the Cold War did not uproot the principle of nuclear deterrence from the military doctrines of any nuclear state. It is clear that multipolarity, especially with highly uneven poles, does not automatically provide security. That requires a modernised and refined system of international stability and dialogue. Russia is a prime proponent of such a process. But it is swimming against the current. The dominant pole, the US, is trying to brush aside existing global and regional security structures, primarily the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and to replace them with loyal and manipulable ones. The Yalta system of international relations is in ruins, as is the 1975 Helsinki Act on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

In these circumstances it is essential for Russia to preserve its nuclear power status for the foreseeable future to guarantee its sovereignty and its role as a stabilising influence in global affairs. The uncertain character of evolving international relations and the dominance of Nato in terms of the latest generation of conventional weapons give nuclear weapons new importance as the primary guarantee of security. 

It is obvious that in the coming decades Russia will not aspire to total nuclear disarmament, though it will be in her interests to reduce her nuclear arsenal through modernisation to 1,500-2,000 warheads. Whether this happens by means of Start-II and Start-III with the ABM Treaty intact, which is preferable, or whether Russia will be forced to revert to, for example, Mirv ICBMs (due to be destroyed under Start-II) is not yet clear. But Moscow may have to accept unilateral reductions of its strategic nuclear forces.

The latter outcome would resemble conceptually what is referred to as "asymmetrical approach". The same principle applies to the defence doctrines of Britain, France and China. It holds that mutual deterrence can be safeguarded by asymmetrical nuclear potentials. The imbalance in quantity is compensated for by enhancement of certain quality aspects, such as an increase in the survivability of nuclear forces and in the effectiveness of ballistic missile launchers. It relieves strategic nuclear forces of a grave burden of counter-force and pre-emptive tasks, occupying them solely with a second-strike strategy.

Living with Fear

It is regrettable but unavoidable that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki syndrome-the fear of raw power-will remain with us for some years to come. When atomic bombs fell on both cities in August 1945 only a few people understood the message: "Either we destroy nuclear weapons or they will destroy us." From the middle of the 1950s the lethal power of nuclear energy became common knowledge. The Chernobyl disaster confirmed the worst expectations.

The Hiroshima syndrome is not as simple as it sounds. People are frightened by the bomb but it is still considered an effective defence against foreign military threats. In the West, the Soviet Union was for many years pictured as the main obstacle to nuclear disarmament. Today this superpower no longer exists. Nato holds that a foreign policy based on realistic assessments cannot ignore the importance of morality. But at the same time it judges actions primarily by their political consequences. For "realists", military might, including nuclear weapons, is not a matter of right or wrong. Regardless of morality, such might is appropriate if it maximises geopolitical interests. "Realists" proclaim the "new doctrine" of the "new internationalism" in public, but shrug off ethical considerations in practice.

Such an attitude to military might is insane. It corrodes the concept of "security for all". At the dawn of the 21st century the notion of "security for my country" or for "a group of countries" is again on the rise. Russia has to accommodate herself to the world of "realists", live in it and try to change it. It is not her choice and it is not Moscow, which gives the orders.

Let us remember what those two great thinkers and humanists, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, declared in their manifesto of 1955 warning of the nuclear peril:

The release of atomic energy has so changed everything that our former ways of thinking have been rendered obsolete. We therefore face catastrophe unheard of in former times. If mankind is to survive, then we need a completely new way of thinking.

These words are as true today as they have ever been.

With best regards,
Anatoli and Alexey Gromyko