Why in news? Russian administration has signed “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence.”
What is the new Russian nuclear deterrence policy about?
Russia‟s 2020 nuclear doctrine seeks to balance the rhetoric of using nuclear weapons with the document‟s core emphasis on the strategy being „defensive by nature‟.
Russian nuclear weapons are viewed primarily through the prism of maintaining a credible deterrence against potential adversaries.
It calls upon Russia to leave no stone unturned to increase the nuclear threshold before contemplating the deployment of nuclear weapons as a last resort.
In this context, the document‟s focus on „inevitability of retaliation‟ and inflicting „guaranteed unacceptable damage‟ blends in with the widely acknowledged principles of nuclear deterrence.
The strategy identifies six key „risks‟ to Russia and its allies posed by Moscow‟s adversaries which have the potential to translate into „threats‟ that warrant „nuclear deterrence‟.
Some of the notable dangers include the build-up of nuclear forces and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the deployment of missile defence including cruise and ballistic missiles in areas contiguous to Russia.
In recognition of the new frontiers of modern-day warfare, the document also highlights the spectrum of threats emanating from the deployment of “missile defence assets and strike systems in outer space” as well as “non-nuclear high-precision and hypersonic weapons, strike unmanned aerial vehicles, and directional energy weapons.
It reaffirms the view that Russian nuclear deterrence remains anchored in the triad of land, sea and air-based nuclear forces.
What makes the document Significant?
Crucially, the nuclear strategy outlines four scenarios which may result in Russia launching its nuclear weapons.
While maintaining an element of continuity with the 2014 Military Doctrine which justifies their usage in the event of a nuclear and WMD attack on Russia, the three additional premises raise the stakes further by bringing into equation the concept of „first strike‟.
These conditions include the receipt of reliable data on the launch of ballistic missiles targeting Russia and an existential threat to the country emanating from conventional weapons.
Similarly, an attack against critical governmental or military sites that undermines Russia‟s nuclear response can also trigger nuclear retaliation.
This likely brings a massive cyber-attack, designed to cripple the Russian nuclear infrastructure, into the Kremlin‟s „first use‟ matrix.
Today, nuclear weapons are Russia‟s proverbial insurance against Western conventional military superiority.
How it creates deterrence to US policy?
While the document does not single out Russia‟s adversaries yet its tone and tenor clearly points to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as Moscow‟s principal opponent.
The Russian Federation implements its nuclear deterrence with regard to individual states and military coalitions (blocs, alliances) that consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary and that possess nuclear weapons and/or other types of weapons of mass destruction.
The nuclear document states that “In the event of a military conflict, this Policy provides for the prevention of an escalation of military actions and their termination on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation and/or its allies”.
On its face value, this can be interpreted as leaving the door open for Russia‟s limited use of tactical nuclear weapons in a battle fought with conventional arms.
The timing of the release of the nuclear strategy may be attributed to Russia‟s ongoing competition and confrontation with the West.
Their rivalry in the nuclear theatre is particularly borne out by the recent collapse of landmark arms control agreements including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and the Open Skies treaties.
The future outlook of even the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), formally known as „Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms‟, considered a cornerstone of the United States (US)-Russia strategic stability, appears bleak.
The US has already signaled the possibility of walking away from it.
With the New START Treaty due to expire in February 2021, time could be running out for Russia to salvage the Treaty.
The new nuclear strategy could be Russia‟s last roll of the dice to force the US back to the negotiating table.
Russia‟s pressure tactics appear to have had an incipient effect as Washington has invited Moscow for nuclear talks, scheduled to be held in June 2020, after months of dithering.
What is the way forward?
Overall, Russia‟s new nuclear strategy is both a tactical and a strategic document.
There are elements of ambiguity as well as the postulation of clear red lines.
This could be seen as a calculated move that leaves the door open for adversaries to recalibrate their strategies while giving Russia the scope to maneuver the ongoing turbulence in its ties with the US.
It can even open up new avenues of strategic negotiation between the world‟s two most formidable nuclear powers