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How the Internet made nuclear war thinkable (again)

Rafal Rohozinski

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Nuclear weapons formed the basis of strategic stability between the nuclear superpowers for the past seventy years. The threat of instantaneous and mutual annihilation helped concentrate minds, including the establishment of clear and unambiguous “rules of the game” among the nuclear superpowers. States continued to compete, but competition was never allowed to compromise overall strategic stability.

Nuclear deterrence was based on a simple calculus. Once launched, nuclear weapons were nearly impossible to stop and even limited use would result in civilization ending consequences. In former US President Reagan’s words, nuclear war was “unthinkable”. The knowledge that entire nations could be obliterated was a sufficient guarantor of strategic stability based on Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

The shared confidence in MAD that underpinned the nuclear regime started changing during the 1990s. New research and development into anti-ballistic missile systems improved raised concerns over the durability of nuclear deterrence. Specifically, the Russian government interpreted the placement of radars and ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe as an existential threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrence capability, and not a bulwark against supposed rogue states as alleged by the US and its allies.

Even so, MAD survived into the early twenty first century, keeping the nuclear threat on the back-burner. Cooperation between the major nuclear powers to disarm also reached an all-time high. Both the US and Russia focused on reducing their nuclear stockpiles with admirable results. Working with the United Nations, the focus was on the threat of loose nukes, rather than a confrontation between nuclear-armed foes. Tensions, which persisted, were treated by all sides as manageable and negotiable.

All of this changed with the Internet. The Internet shares a coincidental heritage with the nuclear age. Indeed, it was conceived as a decentralized and distributed communications network that could survive a nuclear war and preserve a command and control. In the post Cold War era, its principal significance is not so much military as the news backbone of the global digital economy. These two worlds  –  the nuclear and the digital –  are now converging. They are also giving rise new risks, three of which stand out.

The first risk relates to bringing nuclear command-and-control systems into the digital age. The existing nuclear weapons infrastructure is for the most part analog and predates the Internet era. As Russian and US nuclear command and control systems are modernized over the next few years their dependence on digital technologies will increase. Modernization necessarily increases complexity – and complexity creates new possibilities for error.

The planet came perilously close to a nuclear exchange on several occasions over the past half century. A nuclear calamity was only averted by the courageous actions of men such as Lt Col. Stanislav Petrov, who in September 1983 deliberately ignored sensor data that falsely reported the Soviet Union under a massive nuclear attack from America. With nuclear command and control systems increasingly dependent on artificial intelligence, there are less opportunities for human intervention.

There are also the risks of hacking and digital manipulation. The Stuxnet case is a reminder that this possibility is more science than fiction. The implanting of malware designed to destroy Iran’s capacity to separate uranium demonstrated emphatically the utility and feasibility of strategic cyber attacks. Interventions designed to disrupt and destroy the command and control systems of nuclear weapons are the Internet equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative. They dangerously entangle cyber warfare and nuclear stability. There are just 9 nuclear armed states, but over 140 countries are actively developing cyber warfare capabilities.

The second risk is that the world´s dependence on cyber actually increases the deterrence value of acquiring even a few nuclear weapons. Due to their blast, radioactive and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects, nuclear weaponry is especially effective against states that are hyper-connected and reliant on digital technologies. They can disable and destroy electrical grids, data farms and computer and communication systems – wreaking havoc on everything from financial systems to water and food supplies.

A new suite of hydrogen bombs are being developed with the EMP impacts in mind. The weapons tested by North Korea are reportedly based on Russian design and intended to have an enhanced electromagnetic effects, a fact publicized by North Korea´s leadership. New research from Accenture strategy and Oxford Economics suggests that roughly 25% of all global GDP will be tied to the digital economy by 2020. The detonation of just one EMP in the upper atmosphere above North America or Western Europe could cripple their digital infrastructures for years. Even outgunned, North Korea is potentially holding world´s digital economy hostage.

The third risk is perhaps most unsettling risk is that nuclear first strikes are becoming thinkable as a viable option to stop the use of similar weapons by states like North Korea. Recall that nuclear deployment systems are based on electronics. These electronic systems may be resistant to offensive cyber attacks. It is not inconceivable that in a moment of crisis, EMP-enhanced nuclear weapons could be deployed to prevent a rogue nuclear state from launching its ballistic missiles. Such an action may even appear rational, or the lesser of two evils.

All of the risks outlined above are still hypothetical. But as the digital and nuclear worlds become increasingly entangled, reality is catching-up. The strategy of deterrence is being redefined and the implications are deeply worrying. The launch of cyber-attacks and precision nuclear strikes using EMP against the weapons systems of adversaries no longer seems as far-fetched as it once was. With nuclear war becoming thinkable again, we are clearly entering uncharted waters.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Rafal Rohozinski is the CEO of the SecDev Group, and a senior fellow for cyber security and emerging conflict at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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Defense

European army: An apple of discord

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The initiative of creating a European Army actually is in the air of the European Union.

Both French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel declared this month that they support the need to create a joint European army. By the way these two countries are the strongest EU member states from economic and political points of view. Their words are not just “air shaking” but the subject to think it over.

France is the only remaining nuclear power in the EU once Britain leaves the organization – and Germany – its major economic power. Both countries make up about 40 % of the industrial and technological base in Western and Central Europe, as well as 40 % of the EU overall capabilities and of combined defence budgets.

The main reason why European leaders voiced the initiative now can be considered from two different points of view. From one hand this can be the indicator of European fears of Russia, China and even the US military activities. According to Macron, “an EU army is needed to “protect ourselves” with respect to these states.”

On the other hand such initiative can be used by France and Germany to stop the US from weakening Europe and promoting its interests in the region. Donald Trump reacted to the statement by tweeting: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!” Thus, he tied closely the idea of a European Army to his demand to increase defence spending to NATO.

At the same time the initiative of strengthening the European collective defence capabilities not only irritates the US but scares many EU countries as well.

As for the Baltic States, they have not formed their official opinion yet. The matter is the Baltics are “between two fires.” The EU membership gives them good political positions in Europe where they try to gain respect and influence. But the US remains their main financial donor and security guarantee at the moment. They can’t sacrifice relationships with Washington for the sake of ephemeral European Army. It means that there is a greater likelihood that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will softly reject the idea. It is not necessary to expect strong opposition to Germany and France. But they surely will do their best to postpone decision making.

After all the initiative could become an “apple of discord” in the EU and split the organization in two sides making the organization even weaker than now.

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Global arms industry: US companies dominate the Top 100, Russian arms industry moves to second place

MD Staff

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Sales of arms and military services by the world’s largest arms-producing and military services companies—the SIPRI Top 100—totalled $398.2 billion in 2017, according to new international arms industry data released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The total for the SIPRI Top 100 in 2017 is 2.5 per cent higher than in 2016 and represents an increase of 44 per cent since 2002 (the first year for which comparable data is available; figures exclude China). This is the third consecutive year of growth in Top 100 arms sales.

US companies increase their share of total Top 100 arms sales 

With 42 companies listed in 2017, companies based in the United States continued to dominate the Top 100 in 2017. Taken together, the arms sales of US companies grew by 2.0 per cent in 2017, to $226.6 billion, which accounted for 57 per cent of total Top 100 arms sales. Five US companies were listed in the top 10 in 2017. ‘US companies directly benefit from the US Department of Defense’s ongoing demand for weapons,’ says Aude Fleurant, Director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

Lockheed Martin remained the world’s largest arms producer in 2017, with arms sales of $44.9 billion. ‘The gap between Lockheed Martin and Boeing—the two largest arms producers in the world—increased from $11 billion in 2016 to $18 billion in 2017,’ says Fleurant.

Russia becomes the second largest arms producer in the Top 100

The combined arms sales of Russian companies accounted for 9.5 per cent of the Top 100 total, making Russia the second largest arms producer in the Top 100 in 2017—a position that had been occupied by the United Kingdom since 2002. Taken together, the arms sales of the 10 Russian companies listed in the Top 100 increased by 8.5 per cent in 2017, to $37.7 billion. ‘Russian companies have experienced significant growth in their arms sales since 2011,’ says Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘This is in line with Russia’s increased spending on arms procurement to modernize its armed forces.’

In 2017 a Russian company appeared in the top 10 for the first time since SIPRI started publishing its annual Top 100 list. ‘Almaz-Antey, which was already Russia’s largest arms-producing company, increased its arms sales by 17 per cent in 2017, to $8.6 billion,’ says Alexandra Kuimova, Research Assistant with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

Along with Almaz-Antey, three other Russian companies in the Top 100 increased their arms sales by more than 15 per cent: United Engine Corporation (25 per cent), High Precision Systems (22 per cent) and Tactical Missiles Corporation (19 per cent).

The UK remains the largest arms producer in Western Europe

The combined arms sales of the 24 companies in Western Europe listed in the Top 100 increased by 3.8 per cent in 2017, to $94.9 billion, which accounted for 23.8 per cent of the Top 100 total. The UK remained the largest arms producer in the region in 2017, with total arms sales of $35.7 billion and seven companies listed in the Top 100. ‘The combined arms sales of British companies were 2.3 per cent higher than in 2016,’ says Fleurant. ‘This was largely due to increases in the arms sales of BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and GKN.’

BAE Systems, which is ranked fourth in the Top 100, is the UK’s biggest arms producer. Its arms sales rose by 3.3 per cent in 2017, to $22.9 billion.

Other notable developments

  • The arms sales of Turkish companies rose by 24 per cent in 2017. ‘This significant increase reflects Turkey’s ambitions to develop its arms industry to fulfil its growing demand for weapons and become less dependent on foreign suppliers,’ says Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
  • Taken together, the arms sales of the four Indian companies ranked in the Top 100 totalled $7.5 billion in 2017, representing a 1.9 per cent share of Top 100 arms sales.
  • Sales of the top 15 manufacturing companies listed in the Fortune Global 500 totalled $2311 billion in 2017. This is almost 10 times greater than the total arms sales of the top 15 arms producers ($231.6 billion) in 2017, and almost six times greater than the total combined arms sales of the Top 100 ($398.2 billion).
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Modern Russian Defense Doctrine

Sajad Abedi

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On December 26, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new military doctrine for the Russian armed forces. The document identifies the expansion of NATO and efforts to destabilize Russia and neighboring countries as the biggest security threats. This doctrine somehow is Continuation Russia’s military doctrine previous in the years 1993 – 2000- 2010.

In the Tsarist, Soviet, and Russian military tradition, doctrine plays a particularly important role. The state’s defense or military doctrine possesses a normative and even, often a juridical quality that should be binding on relevant state agencies, or at least so its adherents would like to claim. Doctrine is supposed to represent an official view or views about the character of contemporary war, the threats to Russia, and what policies the government and armed forces will initiate and implement to meet those challenges. Thus beyond being a normative or at least guiding policy document, defense doctrine should also represent an elite consensus about threats, the character of contemporary war and the policies needed to confront those threats and challenges.

Since 2002 President Vladimir Putin has regularly called for and stated that a new doctrine, to meet the challenges of the post September 11 strategic environment will soon appear. However, no such doctrine has yet appeared or is in sight. In 2003 the Defense Ministry published a kind of white paper that foreign observers then called an Ivanov doctrine after Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. But no Russian authority has followed suit. This document argued that the Russian forces must be ready for every sort of contingency from counterterrorism to large-scale conventional theater war and even nuclear war. Ivanov and the General Staff also argue that the forces can and must be able to handle two simultaneous regional or local wars. This guidance also evidently follows Putin’s direction that the armed forces must be able to wage any kind of contingency across this spectrum of conflict even though he apparently had ordered a shift in priorities from war against NATO to counter-terrorist and localized actions in 2002-03.

Within this spectrum of conflict, most published official and unofficial writing about the nature of threats to Russia repeatedly states that terrorism is the most immediate and urgent threat to Russia, that Russia has no plans to wage a war with NATO, i.e. a large-scale conventional or even nuclear war, and that Russia sees no visible threat from NATO or of this kind of war on the horizon. Indeed, Russian officials like Putin and Chief of Staff, Colonel-General Yuri N. Baluyevsky have recently renounced the quest for nuclear and conventional parity with NATO and America, a quest whose abandonment was signified in the Moscow Treaty on Nuclear Weapons in 2002. Yet the absence of doctrine suggests an ongoing lack of consensus on these issues. And this discord is particularly dangerous at a time when Russian leaders perceive that “there has been a steady trend toward broadening the use of armed forces” and that “conflicts are spreading to larger areas, including the sphere of Russia’s vital interests,” because they may be tempted to follow suit or react forcefully to real or imaginary challenges.”

Indeed, if one looks carefully at Russian procurement policies and exercises, both of which have increased in quantity and intensified in quality under Putin due to economic recovery, we still find that large-scale operations, including first-strike nuclear operations using either ICBM’s or tactical (or so called non-strategic) nuclear weapons (TNW) predominate, even when counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist exercises are included. In other words, the military-political establishment, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, still believes that large-scale war, even with NATO or China is a real possibility. Ivanov’s speech to the Academy of Military Sciences on January 24, 2004 excoriated the General Staff for insufficient study of contemporary wars and for fixating on Chechnya. Blaming it for this fixation, he said that,

“We must admit that as of the present time military science has not defined a clear generalized type of modern war and armed conflict. Therefore the RF Armed Forces and supreme command and control entities must be prepared to participate in any kind of military conflict. Based on this, we have to answer the question of how to make the military command and control system most flexible and most capable of reacting to any threats to Russia’s military security that may arise in the modern world.”

Ivanov had earlier observed that Military preparedness, operational planning, and maintenance need to be as flexible as possible because in recent years no single type of armed conflict has dominated. The Russian armed forces will be prepared for regular and anti-guerrilla warfare, the struggle against different types of terrorism, and peacekeeping operations.

Baluevsky has also since argued that any war, even a localized armed conflict, could lead the world to the brink of global nuclear war, therefore Russian forces must train and be ready for everything. These remarks reflect the continuing preference for major theater and even intercontinental nuclear wars against America and NATO over anti-terrorist missions.

Neither are they alone. In 2003, former Deputy Chief of Staff, General (RET.) V.L. Manilov, then First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, told an interviewer that,

Let’s take, for example, the possible development of the geopolitical and military-strategic situation around Russia. We don’t even have precisely specified definitions of national interests and national security, and there isn’t even the methodology itself of coming up with decisions concerning Russia’s fate. But without this it’s impossible to ensure the country’s progressive development. … It also should be noted that a systems analysis and the monitoring of the geostrategic situation around Russia requires the consolidation of all national resources and the involvement of state and public structures and organizations. At the same time, one has a clear sense of the shortage of intellectual potential in the centers where this problem should be handled in a qualified manner.

Since Russian planners cannot develop a truly credible hierarchy of threats or adequately define them or Russia’s national interests they inevitably see threats everywhere while lacking the conceptual means for categorizing them coherently. Lacking a priority form of war or threat for which they must train, the troops must perform traditional tasks and priority missions like defending Russia’s territorial boundaries, i.e. Soviet territorial boundaries, preventing and deterring attacks on Russia, and maintaining strategic stability. They also must participate directly in achieving Russia’s economic and political interests and conduct peacetime operations, including UN or CIS sanctioned peace operations. Consequently coherent planning and policy-making are still bedeviled by multiple threats that haunt senior military leaders. In 2003, Baluevsky said that,

In order to conduct joint maneuvers (with NATO-author), you have to determine who your enemy actually is. We still do not know. After the Warsaw pact disappeared; there was confusion in the general staffs of the world’s armies. But who was the enemy? Well, no enemy emerged. Therefore the first question is: Against whom will we fight?

But the campaign against terrorism does not require massive armies. And NATO’s massive armies have not disappeared at all. No one says “We do not need divisions, we do not need ships, and we do not need hundreds of thousands of aircraft and tanks …” The Russian military are accused of still thinking in World War II categories. Although we, incidentally realized long before the Americans that the mad race to produce thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads should be stopped!

Thus the General Staff and for that matter the Ministry have abdicated their critical task of forecasting the nature or character of today’s wars.

Today, if anything, we see a continuing inclination to turn back the strategic clock towards quasi-Cold war postures and strategies. Much evidence suggests that various political forces in Russia, particularly in the military community, are urging withdrawal from arms control treaties, not least because of NATO enlargement towards the CIS and U.S. foreign and military policy in those areas. In March, 2005 Ivanov raised the question of withdrawal from the INF Treaty with the Pentagon. Since then Russian general Vladimir Vasilenko has raised it again more recently though it is difficult to see what Russia gains from withdrawal from that treaty. Indeed, withdrawal from the INF treaty makes no sense unless one believes that Russia is threatened by NATO and especially the U.S.’ superior conventional military power and cannot meet that threat except by returning to the classical Cold War strategy of holding Europe hostage to nuclear attack to deter Washington and NATO. Apparently at least some of the interest in withdrawing from the INF treaty also stems from the fact that Vasilenko also stated that western missile defenses would determine the nature and number of future Russian missile defense systems even though admittedly it could only defend against a few missiles at a time. Thus he argued that,

Russia should give priority to high-survivable mobile ground and naval missile systems when planning the development of the force in the near and far future. … The quality of the Strategic nuclear forces of Russia will have to be significantly improved in terms of adding to their capability of penetrating [missile defense] barriers and increasing the survivability of combat elements and enhancing the properties of surveillance and control systems.

But then, Russia’s government and military are thereby postulating an inherent East-West enmity buttressed by mutual deterrence that makes no sense in today’s strategic climate, especially when virtually every Russian military leader proclaims that no plan for war with NATO is under consideration and that the main threat to Russia is terrorism, not NATO and not America. Nonetheless Russian generals do not raise the issue of withdrawal from the INF treaty unless directed to do so. As of 2003 the General Staff made clear its opposition to joint Russian-NATO exercises allegedly on the grounds of NATO enlargement and the improvement of missiles. In fact, the military’s enmity to NATO is due to the fact of its existence. As the so called Ivanov doctrine of October, 2003, stated,

Russia … expects NATO member states to put a complete end to direct and indirect elements of its anti-Russian policy, both form of the military planning and the political declarations of NATO member states. … Should NATO remain a military alliance with its current offensive military doctrine, a fundamental reassessment of Russia’s military planning and arms procurement is needed, including a change in Russia’s nuclear strategy.

Alexander Golts, one of Russia’s most prominent defense commentators, observes that the military must continue to have NATO as a ‘primordial enemy’. Otherwise their ability to mobilize millions of men and huge amounts of Russian material resources would be exposed as unjustified. Similarly Western observers have noted the resistance of the military to a genuine military reform, even though the forces are being reorganized. The problem here is well known to the Russian military. Genuine reform is a precondition for effective partnership with NATO. Therefore resistance to reform, in particular, democratization of defense policy, inhibits cooperation with NATO and is therefore deliberately created from within the military and political system. Evidently Russian leaders no longer perceive democratization as a mere ritual for the White House, as in the past, but as a threat to the foundations of Russian statehood, including a threat to the structure of the armed forces and its top command organizations.

This hostility to NATO as such also appears in the growing opposition to continuing to observe the CFE treaty. Since the bilateral partnership with NATO began, Russian officials openly stated that if the Baltic States remained outside the treaty then its future would be at issue along with Europe’s overall security of which it is a key part. Ivanov frequently says that Russia has fundamental differences with NATO over the CFE Treaty and that NATO’s insistence upon Russia withdrawing from Moldovan and Georgian bases as promised in 1999 at the OSCE’s Istanbul summit is a “farfetched” pretext for not ratifying the treaty or forcing the Baltic States to sign it. Thus the Baltic States form “a gray zone” with regard to arms control agreements that could in the future serve as a basis for first-strikes, mainly by air, upon nearby Russian targets. This sums up many of Moscow’s military arguments against the CFE treaty.

Ivanov and other officials, like former Deputy Foreign Minister, linked the CFE to the realignment of U.S. forces and bases in Europe. Likewise, speaking of the connection between the CFE treaty and enlargement, Lt. General Alexander Voronin wrote in the General Staff’s journal VoyennayaMysl©(Military Thought) that,“Russia’s opposition to CIS members’ joining NATO is immutable and that NATO’s failure to take Russia’s interests into account here is very troubling. Russia should fully take into account the alliance’s strategy of spreading its influence to countries neighboring Russia in the west, south, and southeast, uphold its interests, show strong will, make no concessions, and pursue a pragmatic and effective foreign policy. This raises a number of questions: First, why do we have to cooperate with NATO at all? Second, what could be the practical payoff from this interaction? And finally in what areas is it expedient to develop military cooperation with the alliance?”

Voronin’s answer to these rhetorical questions is that it all depends on how soon NATO overcomes Cold War inertia to meet new challenges and threats. In this respect his approach merely confirms earlier military arguments against the CFE treaty.

In 2004 Baluevsky raised the issue that the Baltic States’ membership in NATO would doom the CFE treaty. In 2005 Colonel-General Anatoly Mazurkevich, Chief of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation in the Russian Ministry of Defense complained that the CFE treaty has been ignored since it was revised in 1999 and that it is slowly ‘expiring’. Allegedly the CFE treaty can no longer uphold the interests of the parties or stability in Europe and now in a strategic region adjacent to Russia and under NATO’s full responsibility — the Baltic — the region is absolutely free of all treaty restrictions.

Yet since they are critical elements of any democratic reform, the failure to reach a coherent defense doctrine is a critical sign of the failure of Russia’s democratic project. This failure to devise a coherent doctrine that realistically assesses Russia’s capabilities and prospects, is not just a failure to achieve democracy, it also represents an enduring threat to Russia itself, its neighbors and interlocutors.

Author’s note: This article first published in Iran Review

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