For almost eight years we have been witnessing a decline (or even absence) of Russian and U.S. efforts in the sphere of nuclear arms control, which can be seen at both the official and expert levels. The last achievement in this field was the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New Start Treaty) which was signed by Russia and the United States in 2010 and entered into force in February 2011. Since then, issues pertaining to further steps in nuclear disarmament have disappeared from the agenda of Russian-American relations.
In the past, such pauses were filled with active consultations and were used to rethink one’s own policy in this area and comprehensively assess the other party’s position. Preparatory work continued even in the period between the fall of 1983 (when the Soviet Union withdrew from all nuclear arms negotiations with the United States) and the spring of 1985 (when the negotiations were resumed), while informal contacts between the parties (primarily through scientific communities) became much stronger.
Over a period of fifty years, the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia achieved significant progress in curbing the nuclear arms race and gradually and steadily lowering the level of nuclear confrontation between the two major nuclear powers. In the Soviet Union/Russia, the greatest achievements in nuclear arms control were made during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev. Vladimir Putin played an important role in the ratification of the START II Treaty (2000) during his first term as president, as he convinced legislators of its effectiveness and usefulness for Russia’s security interests, and in the conclusion of the Russian-American Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (2002). Dmitry Medvedev earned a place for himself in the history of nuclear disarmament by signing the aforementioned 2010 Treaty. It was only during the brief rule of Yuri Andropov (from November 1982 to February 1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (from February 1984 to March 1985) that there was no tangible progress in nuclear arms control.
In the United States, all the eight presidents that preceded Donald Trump—from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama—had achievements in this field. It is still an open question whether Trump will want to break with this tradition. In any case, there are several arguments both in favor of and against such a possibility. It should be emphasized that not everything depends on the desire or unwillingness of the U.S. administration to conclude new agreements in this area. Russia’s position has an equal role to play, and this position does not inspire much optimism at the present time.
Politicians and experts name many reasons for the breach of Russia-U.S. relations in the field of nuclear arms control. One of them is believed to be the deterioration of Russia-West relations over the Ukraine crisis. But facts show that the problem arose much earlier. In March 2013 (that is, one year before the events in Ukraine), former chief of the presidential administration of Russia Sergei Ivanov openly said that Russia was not interested in further reductions in armaments and named the reason for that: the completion of the modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces and its unwillingness to eliminate new strategic weapons that had only recently entered service.
Another argument, named by President Putin in February 2012, is the need to involve third nuclear powers in the nuclear disarmament process after the 2010 treaty. Further explanations provided by some other officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, claimed that deeper reductions (outside the treaty’s framework) would make the strategic offensive weapons of Russia and the U.S. “comparable” with those of third nuclear powers.
Moscow puts the main blame for the failure to achieve new nuclear arms control agreements with the U.S. on the missile defense problem. This problem arose now and then in Soviet times and came to a head in 1983 when President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The SDI slowed down START I negotiations and nearly blocked the conclusion of this and other nuclear disarmament agreements. The United States’ withdrawal from the open-ended ABM Treaty in 2002 and its subsequent efforts to create and deploy missile defense in its own territory and territories of its allies, coupled with unsuccessful attempts to reach agreement with Russia on joint missile defense programs, exacerbated the situation still further.
Moscow also explains the lack of progress in strategic nuclear arms reductions by the possession of nuclear weapons by Washington’s NATO allies. Anatoly Antonov, who at that time was Russian deputy defense minister, said this factor “cannot be ignored.” Other factors that Moscow says should be “taken into account” include the “Global Strike” concept, the deployment of strategic precision-guided conventional weapons, plans to deploy weapons in outer space, the presence of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, and some other disproportions, many of which are mentioned in Russia’s present National Security Strategy, approved by Putin in late 2015.
Russia’s position on further steps towards nuclear disarmament resembles that of the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. It is based on the principle of “equal security,” which means that all factors determining the balance of power between the opposing sides should be taken into account. This explains why in negotiations with Washington on strategic nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union considered it justified to demand compensation for imbalances in other categories of arms.
Naturally, fifty years ago, the categories of weapons subject to “compensation” were different from those of today. They did not include conventional weapons of any kind. Moscow was concerned about nuclear weapons possessed by the U.S.’s NATO allies, and U.S. forward-deployed nuclear weapons in Europe. Now Russia has taken a broader approach, focusing more on non-nuclear armaments, which creates additional difficulties in the search for mutual understanding with the United States and which calls into question the possibility of concluding new agreements.
If we recognize that Russia’s concern over the effect of missile defense and precision-guided and other conventional weapons on the strategic balance is of a fundamental nature, a natural question arises: How to accommodate this concern if a political decision is made to continue the nuclear disarmament process? And should Russia agree to deeper reductions in nuclear weapons if its concern is ignored?
Needless to say, no agreement on strategic offensive arms can set unequal ceilings on the number of warheads and their strategic delivery vehicles remaining after reductions. That would be at variance with the very meaning of an international treaty, which should be based on the principle of equality of the parties and which should conform to its subject matter. Nevertheless, there are other ways to accommodate the aforementioned concerns. For example, in the second half of the 1980s, the Soviet Union was very concerned about the SDI program and American nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. This is why a package solution was proposed—simultaneous negotiations on three issues: medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe, strategic offensive arms, and defense and outer space. Moscow put forward a condition that the three planned agreements should be signed simultaneously. Washington did not object. However, the Soviet Union did not adhere to this position for long. At first, the term ‘nuclear delivery vehicles’ was used to designate only land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, while aviation was excluded from the negotiations. Later, Moscow removed this category of weapons from the initial package, after which, in December 1987, the parties signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), which is of unlimited duration.
For a much longer time, almost until all provisions of the START I Treaty were agreed, the Soviet Union insisted on a linkage between strategic offensive and defensive weapons, which was reflected in official statements and the structure of the Soviet delegation to the talks. Moscow sent one delegation to the talks on these two types of weapons. Negotiations on defense and outer space were conducted by a separate group within the delegation. The United States was represented by two separate delegations. One worked on START I, and the other held consultations on defense and outer space. When it became clear that the defense and space negotiations would fail and that the START I Treaty was almost ready, the Soviet Union signed the treaty but made a unilateral statement on the need to observe the ABM Treaty as a condition for implementing START I.
This experience proves that one real way to accommodate concerns is to conclude separate agreements on the most pressing security problems, including missile defense, precision-guided long-range weapons, and space weapons. The authors of World 2035. Global Forecast, published by the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations in 2017, admit of this possibility but consider it the least likely of the proposed four scenarios for the development of the military-political situation in the world in the period until 2035.
Speaking of concrete ways to accommodate concerns, one should assess, at least approximately, the effect of missile defense, precision-guided weapons and space weapons on the Russian-U.S. strategic balance. First of all, let us note an interesting circumstance. When it comes to the effect of various factors on the strategic balance, Russian officials insisting that this effect should be taken into account somehow fail to mention air defense. If we follow this logic, then any weapons capable of combating strategic offensive weapons should be included in the overall balance of power, especially if they are intended to combat retaliatory systems. These weapons definitely include the aviation component of the strategic triad. Without going into further discussion, let us note that this omission of air defense issues seems to be due to some other considerations than a desire to strengthen strategic stability.
Of the remaining three categories of weapons, which, in the opinion of the Russian leadership, have an effect on the strategic balance, space weapons are the most interesting from the point of view of concluding a possible agreement. The fact is, there are no such weapons yet, as far as we know. Therefore, they have no effect on the strategic balance. It is worth recalling the Soviet Union’s struggle against the SDI program in the second half of the 1980s. Many experts said then that “space strike weapons” would be created in the foreseeable future. The most skeptical participants in discussions said that such systems would appear in 20 to 25 years at the earliest. 30 years have passed since then, but this type of weapons (space-based lasers, railguns and other exotic weapons) has not come into existence so far. There are no serious reasons, either, to suggest that space weapons will be in the strategic arsenal of the United States or other countries within the next two to three decades, even if new technologies make this possible. In this case, the following factors will come into play: cost, combat effectiveness of weapon systems, their vulnerability, and possible reaction from the domestic opposition, individual countries and the international community as a whole. These factors may not only slow down but prevent the militarization of space.
In addition, there are no commonly agreed definitions for such terms as ‘weapons’, which can be the subject of an agreement on space issues. Unfortunately, such an agreement can hardly be based on the draft international Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects, submitted by China and Russia to the Conference on Disarmament in 2008 (and its updated version, submitted in 2014). The draft only proposed preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space and made no mention of prohibiting their development or testing in space. Nor did it mention weapons deployed on Earth but capable of destroying outer space objects.
Criticisms of this document can be continued, but the main problem is whether it is possible to reach a verifiable agreement on limiting or banning space weapons, whatever this term might mean, even if all parties show real interest in it. There are more doubts than optimism regarding this possibility. Answering this question requires more than just efforts by diplomats, the military and developers of space weapons. More experts should be involved in these efforts, including scientists from countries that may be parties to future agreements.
Another interesting question concerns long-range precision-guided conventional weapons and their effect on the strategic balance. According to the majority of specialists, this type of weapons includes cruise missiles, non-nuclear ICBMs, and some weapon systems (for example, hypersonic gliders). As a rule, the degree of effect such weapons may have on the strategic balance is not assessed. Nevertheless, it is asserted that they can not only weaken but also undermine strategic stability. This is a doubtful statement.
If we view these systems from the point of view of strengthening the offensive capability, they are absolutely incommensurable with nuclear weapons in terms of power. Precision-guided weapons are absolutely unsuitable for preemptive strikes for many reasons. Speaking of non-nuclear ICBMs, their accuracy should by far exceed that of nuclear ICBMs. Otherwise, they won’t be able to destroy hard targets (such as missile silos or command centers). According to open source data, modern ICBMs have accuracy (circular error probable – CEP) of several dozen meters, at best. Destroying a hard target with a conventional warhead requires this accuracy of not more than several meters, which is impossible to achieve at the present technological level of these systems.
But this is not the main concern. If an aggressor decides to use precision-guided weapons (conventional ICBMs) in a surprise attack to destroy a significant part of the opponent’s nuclear arsenal, it will have to plan a massive attack. Such an attack cannot go unnoticed due to a missile warning system. There is no guarantee that the attacked party will not use nuclear warning systems when it receives information confirming the attack. So, it does not really matter to the victim of such aggression whether the approaching ICBMs carry nuclear or conventional warheads. The response will almost certainly be nuclear, with all the ensuing consequences.
Finally, one more important argument is that if Russia or the United States decides to deploy a great number of non-nuclear ICBMs, they will most likely have to do this at the expense of their own strategic nuclear weapons. If the 2010 treaty remains in effect (until 2021) and if it is extended (until 2026), all ICBMs will be counted under the treaty’s limits for strategic delivery vehicles (700 deployed delivery vehicles for each party). In order for non-nuclear ICBMs not to be counted under the treaty, one needs to create a new strategic delivery vehicle and prove that this weapon system is not covered by this treaty. This will be very hard to do, given the strained Russian-American relations. Unilateral actions will most likely lead to the collapse of this international agreement.
As regards cruise missiles as an element of precision-guided weapons, one important issue should be clarified above all. Under the New START Treaty of 2010, long-range (over 600 km) nuclear cruise missiles are not counted as strategic offensive arms. In other words, in the opinion of Russia and the United States, they are not strategic weapons. Each heavy bomber carrying nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missiles is counted as one delivery vehicle and one warhead, no matter how many missiles it may carry. Sea-launched cruise missiles are not covered by this treaty at all. It does not even mention the term ‘long-range nuclear cruise missile.’ Simply put, the parties do not think that these nuclear weapons can undermine the strategic balance; therefore, they see no reason to limit them in the START Treaty. In this case, however, it is completely unclear why long-range nuclear cruise missiles do not affect the strategic balance between the parties, as Moscow and Washington stated in the above-mentioned agreement, whereas similar conventional weapons should undermine strategic stability, especially since some studies show that conventional cruise missiles are not capable of destroying highly protected strategic offensive weapons.
It is believed in Russia that the most serious threat to strategic stability comes from missile defense. However, there is much more ambiguity in this issue than evidence confirmed by practice. First of all, many experts and politicians follow a strange logic when talking about missile defense issues, and their logic differs significantly from the normal perception of the security problem. For example, it is claimed that the U.S. missile defense system “threatens” Russia’s strategic potential. But such a threat can be translated into action only after Russia strikes with ballistic missiles. For as long as these missiles are not used, missile defense does not threaten them. Saying that missile defense poses a threat to someone’s nuclear potential is the same as saying that a hard hat worn by a construction worker is a threat to a brick that may fall on his head.
Opponents of missile defense argue that it will be used after the enemy delivers a first strike against its opponent’s strategic forces, thus greatly weakening the latter’s retaliatory strike. It is this retaliatory strike that will have to be intercepted by missile defense. This abstract and senseless reasoning underlies the logic of missile defense opponents who denounce any programs for creating and deploying missile defense. They view such efforts as an attempt to achieve military superiority and create conditions for victory in a nuclear war. In fact, the entire concept of strategic stability is based on the assessment of the consequences of a first strike and the aggressor’s ability to repulse a retaliatory strike.
Debates over the effect of missile defense on strategic stability have been going on for sixty years, so there is no need to cite here all arguments for and against, set forth in numerous publications. Let us only note that these debates were largely held in the U.S. In the Soviet Union and Russia, an overwhelming majority of experts shared the view that the development of missile defense systems undermines strategic stability, increasing the probability of a first strike in crisis situations and spurring a race in strategic arms in all areas. As a rule, the debates focused on the assessment of effectiveness of missile defense systems and time required for the deployment of new weapon systems.
Now let’s see how the United States can repulse Russia’s “retaliatory strike” after its own “large-scale nuclear attack,” if such plans really exist. First of all, let’s take a look at the geography of U.S. missile defense systems. If the main task of the U.S. were to defend against a Russian retaliatory strike, it would deploy its missile defense system primarily along its borders and deep in its heartland. A thin defense of the country would require at least 10 to 12 deployment areas with several dozen interceptor missiles in each. As far as is known, nothing like this is happening. Such a program does not exist, and such proposals have never been submitted. By the end of 2017, 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) are to be deployed in U.S. territory (40 in Alaska and 4 in California). By 2025, the number of GBIs is planned to be increased to 56.
It should be recalled here that the most important provision of the 1972 ABM Treaty (from which the U.S. withdrew in 2002) was the limitation of interceptor missiles capable of shooting down incoming ICBM warheads. Each party was permitted to have up to 200 ABM systems in two ABM deployment areas. The Protocol of 1974 to the Treaty limited the number of ABM systems to 100 at each ABM site. In other words, the U.S. has not yet exceeded the limit set by the ABM Treaty and will not do so in the foreseeable future, which means that strategic stability, as understood by missile defense opponents, is not undermined.
Russia is greatly concerned over the proposed missile defense system for Europe and keeps an eye on programs for deploying similar systems in the Middle East and some Asian countries. But all these systems are not strategic in terms of location and performance. Of course, some modifications of the U.S. Standard interceptor missiles, THAAD and some other systems have a certain potential to combat strategic ballistic missiles. But they are not intended to perform such tasks and can shoot down ICBM warheads only accidentally. It is also important that the above BMD systems have never been tested against strategic missiles (warheads); so they cannot be relied on for intercepting retaliatory strikes with strategic ballistic missiles.
In addition, these systems pose no threat to Russia’s strategic potential due to the geography of their deployment. This will be clear if we move from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional vision of this geography. Simply put, we should be looking not at the flat map of the world, but at the globe. Then many things will look differently. For example, we will see that the shortest way from Russia to America is not via Amsterdam or Paris, but across the North Pole.
To my view, there are no serious military-strategic obstacles to further dialogue between Russia and the United States on more reductions in strategic offensive arms. The effect of precision-guided and space weapons on the strategic balance between the parties is clearly exaggerated. In the foreseeable future, their effect will continue to be minimal, if at all.
U.S. missile defense programs are limited in terms of their impact on Russia’s ability to deliver a crushing retaliatory strike, even if weakened by a U.S. first strategic strike. The latter, too, is a very dubious strategic concept, which, nevertheless, underlies many discussions about ways to strengthen security and so-called strategic stability. No sane leader of a country would rely on an unreliable missile defense system, which has failed many tests and which can be bypassed by changing the direction of attack.
As for political obstacles to new negotiations, they have piled up both in Russian-American and Russia-West relations. They are difficult to overcome, and this will most certainly take much time and effort. There is a view that negotiations on deeper reductions in strategic offensive arms are possible only after relations between the two countries more or less improve or, at least, show a clear tendency towards improvement.
But this problem can be approached from a different perspective by setting the goal of concluding a new agreement on deeper reductions in strategic offensive arms and limiting the number of strategic warheads to 1,000 for each party. If concluded, the new agreement could serve as a positive example of cooperation and give a chance to reach mutual understanding in other areas. This will be facilitated by the beginning of broad consultations on the whole range of security problems, including those that evoke Russia’s concern.
In July 2018 in Helsinki Putin and Trump agreed to pay special attention to the problem of extension of a New START Treaty for the following 5 years (until the year of 2016), as well as to preserving the INF Treaty which became a subject of serious criticism during the last 3-4 years. It is obviously a positive step into a right direction. But it is not enough. Both states have quite a big potential for further reductions of their nuclear arsenals – strategic and tactical as well even without the participation of the third nuclear states in this process. This possible participation needs serious investigation and special attention of all the interested parties.
Global arms industry: US companies dominate the Top 100, Russian arms industry moves to second place
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).
Modern Russian Defense Doctrine
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
The prospect of the military and security potential of Syrian Kurds and Democratic Alliance
Although it is still difficult to imagine a future for Syria in general, the existence of an autonomous Kurdish region on the northern border of this country, which is increasing its autonomy every day, has become a reality. The borders of the Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) have remained vague so far and may be different from what was officially announced by the PYD of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria. So far, the group’s growing efforts to expand its cantons have made it a firm and lasting commitment to mobilize Syrian Kurds in a small, economically sustainable state that extends its borders to the Mediterranean Sea, annoyingly, it can also develop the goals of its Paternal Organization in Kyrgyzstan, the PKK-Kurdistan Workers Party. Thus, the only possible alternative exists to establish a western connection with Aleppo and the Syrian government-controlled area, in which PYD needs to accelerate its timetable to, create a link to the territory with Afrin and Kobani.
It is important to remember that PKK is the origin and source of the Democratic Alliance Party and shares its objectives with the region. The expansion of the territory of the Syrian Kurds to the Mediterranean Sea can both serve to create a facility for the independence of the Turkish Kurdistan and a greater convergence with the KRG. Washington could eventually push the KRG to reopen its borders to Syrian Kurdistan. PYD has not mentioned any ambitions for reaching the Mediterranean Sea in order to build trust. Establishing a link between the 70km gap between the western borders claimed by Syria and the Kurds is a huge obstacle. Not only will the whole region be formed as a non-cohabite population, but Turkey and everyone who controls the land of Alawites will be resolutely opposed. Now, it is no doubt at least some Kurds dream of establishing a Kurdish sector, although they are far from that perspective.
After their victory in Kobani in January 2015, PYD continued to expand its territory. A large part of this expansion was achieved at the expense of ISIL, but the Kurds seized other areas from other insurgent groups in the Azaz corridor and from the Syrian army in Al-Hasaka. Even though these areas are limited to only a few square miles, they are, nonetheless, strategically important, for example, Al-Hasaka is a provincial center. So getting other neighborhoods is significant and important.
In terms of the homogeneity of the Kurdish regions of Afrin, Kobani and Qamishli, PYD is trying to conquer the territories that Arabs and Kurds together in those areas and even some non-Kurdish regions. The ultimate goal of the group is to create a proximity of land between the territories; the goal that led to the withdrawal of the Tell Abyad in the spring of 2015 and the Manbij in recent days technically, the invasion of Manbij was led by the Kurdish-Syrian Arab-Democratic forces, but The Kurds themselves alone make up 90% of the coalition’s members. The victory of February in Al-Shaddadah in the southern province of Al-Hasakah Governorate, a non-Kurdish territory, was based on the control of nearby oil supplies and the shutting down of the ISIL road between Mosul and Raqqa.
Today, the PYD controls an area of nearly two million people, but only 60% of the population is Kurdish. In the eastern canton of Aqa Cizire and the central Canton of Kobani, the Kurds constitute the majority of the 55% of the population. In the Afrin area of the West (part of the official Syrian division), the population is roughly 100 percent, but PYD maps of Syria’s Kurdistan (Rojava) indicate that Canton Afrin eventually ended up with Azaz, Tripoli, the northern part of the North, and the Manbij in the north. The result will be to reduce the Kurdish population and bring it to about 30%. PYD will probably not have an attempt to conquer the Arab and Turkmen territories of Azaz and Tripoli in the next few months, as they have a poor strategic advantage and status.
Whatever the PYD adds to its territory, the non-Kurdish population is integrated in its territory. This is particularly true of the Manbij area between the Euphrates and Afrin, where the Kurds make up less than a quarter of the population. But PYD seems to be moving in the direction of connecting its cantons, and group leaders believe that various kangaroo efforts can help bring a large part of the population under their belt. The names of villages and maps published by the French law office indicate that a significant proportion of the locals’ population, classified formally as Arabs, actually have Kurdish origins. In the case of PYD superiority, these Arabic Kurdish languages can easily select the option of connecting again with their Kurdish origins. In addition, if the Arab refugees who used to live there would no longer return to that area or would like Kurdish asylum seekers to return there on the basis of a PYD invitation, the demographic situation of the region could be fundamentally reformed. This is particularly true in the area of the Tel Aviv region, which is not acceptable to the ISIL-backed Arabs.
Unfortunately, the Kurds may want to overcome their demographic fragility in some parts of northern Syria through ethnic cleansing or unification with Arab tribes who want to take revenge alongside the strongest border actors. For example, many tribes do not want more than eliminate their rivals, the rivals who worked with ISIL and were beside them. This is the same strategy of the Shammar tribe led by Sheikh Hamidi, the tenth al-Hadi in the southeast of Al-Hasaka Governorate. PYD also hopes to capture part of the Kurdish population currently living in Damascus and Aleppo. To meet this, they need to improve the bad economic situation.
The Kurdish community is highly reactionary and can accept Spartan life conditions, but many people leave PYD-controlled areas. In order to stop the decline of the population, PYD needs to improve its economy, which requires free flow of goods both into the region and to other countries. The possibility of improving relations with Turkey and KDP will not be forthcoming, and the timeline for eradicating ISIL and the deterioration of the Euphrates is unclear.
Therefore, the only possible alternative exists to establish a western link with Aleppo and the region under the regime’s control, in which case PYD needs to expedite its timetable to create a real link with Afrin and Kobani. It is important to remember that PKK is the origin and source of the Democratic Alliance Party and shares its objectives with the region. The expansion of the territory of the Syrian Kurds to the Mediterranean Sea can both serve to create a facility for the independence of the Turkish Kurdistan and a greater convergence with the KRG. Washington, pretending to end up, could push the KRG to reopen its borders to Syrian Kurdistan. PYD has not mentioned any ambition to reach the Mediterranean Sea in order to build confidence. Establishing a link between the 70km gap between the western borders claimed by Syria and the Kurds is a huge obstacle. Not only will the whole region be formed as a non-cohabite population, but Turkey and everyone who controls the land of Alawite will be resolutely opposed. Now, it is no doubt, at least some Kurds dream of establishing a Kurdish sector, although they are far from that perspective.
Eventually, the conflict could have spread in other territories, and would advance PKK and PYD regional projects, such as an Alawite government on the coast or an outlying Sunni Arab state in the Far East. The official Kurdish map of Syria now has a western border running its way to the edge of the Alawite land, so the creation of economic relations and the benefits of coastal access to such institutions have not been questioned in the long run.
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