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The Prospects of Nuclear Disarmament in the New Nuclear Architecture

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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the foundation for the nuclear arms control and disarmament initiatives. Since coming into effect in 1970, the P5 have failed to act upon Article-VI of the NPT which states:

“… Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race… and complete disarmament …..”[1]

Thus, the failure of implementation by major powers have impacted the credibility of the non-proliferation initiatives. Moreover, the non-compliance have instilled discord and mistrust among the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). The latter states considers that the NWS have not fulfilled their commitments to various arms control initiatives from the Cold War era to Post Global Zero which are enlisted in the table below.[2]During 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) which was held at UN headquarters in New York from 29 April to May 10, United States (US) proposed a new initiative for nuclear disarmament termed as “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND)aiming to implement NPT Article (VI) modify security environment to achieve cooperation and trust and enhance confidence in nuclear disarmament. Sweden put forward its working paper “Stockholm Initiatives or Stepping Stone Approach” exploring paths to rebuild ‘habits of cooperation, reducing uncertainty and identifying measures to reduce the risk of nuclear use. Further, US proposed trilateral arms control initiative calling upon Russia and China to participate. This issue brief tries to implore the causes, international impact and prospects behind proposition of new non-proliferation frameworks and whether are these in line with the existing norms based upon NPT or do they form new nuclear architecture.

Exploring The Age of Uncertainty

The emerging multipolarity between US, China and Russia has resulted into deteriorating international security environment. The contestation among major powers in political, economic and technological arena has ensued a new Cold War instigating arms race which are destabilizing norms for arms control and disarmament. The withdrawal of US and Russia from various initiatives including Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) along with the uncertain and fading future of New START by February 2021 has placed the future of arms control initiatives in a disarray. The US in its recent policy papers including National Security Strategy 2017 and Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) 2018[3] has categorically stated the rise of China and re-emergence of Russia as a threat to its national security, marking a major shift from its previous policy narratives. Thus, the withdrawal from arms control commitments, shift in policy statements of US and deployment of missile defense systems and intermediate range missiles in Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific have consequently raised the security concerns for Russia and China respectively.[4]

The Shaking of Nuclear Disarmament Architecture

The nuclear architecture is facing a shakedown in the contemporary era as major arms control initiatives are being abandoned. US announced withdrawal from INF in February 2019 based upon the pretext of treaty violation by Russia citing development of non-complaint 9M729 ballistic missile, allegations which are denied by Moscow.[5] The cessation of the INF came into effect on August 2, 2019. The future of New START has been jeopardized as Trump administration considers not to further extend the treaty after it expires in February 2021. US considers it to be flawed as it did not covered the modern Russian weapon systems including nuclear powered cruise missiles, and torpedoes.

During the 2019 NPTPrepCom the major powers including US, Russia, China and Sweden pitched for initiating new nuclear non-proliferation initiatives in their working papers. CEND, the working paper proposed by US aimed to address the emerging security challenges which cause further increase in arms race and uncertainty. The paper further pressed upon employing institutional processes, creating incentives for states to reduce their dependence on nuclear weapons and abrogation them as a tool of national security policy. Thus, creating a conducive environment for disarmament based on Article-VI of NPT.[6]The Sweden similarly proposed the working paper titled as “Stepping Stones Approach” or “Stockholm Initiative” aiming to resolve outstanding arms control processes by breaking them into small manageable steps. The paper aimed to increase cooperation and trust among NWS and NNWS, checks on fissile material and emphasize upon negative security assurances.[7] China produced the joint statement of the P5 states which pledged on working together for observing complete disarmament while delivering upon the existing commitments including NPT, CD, CTBT and International Partnership For Nuclear Disarmament Verification(IPNDV) in good faith. While, Russia raised concerns on the non-ratification of CTBT by the US as indicated during NPR 2018, thus, highlighting US intentions for carrying nuclear tests in future.[8]

The Trump administration has displayed contradictory stance on the future of New START. On July 17, 2019 between US and Russian delegation headed by US Under Secretary of State and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister in Geneva. During the strategic talks the two sides reportedly thoroughly talked about the extension of the New START.[9] While, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Osaka the US hinted to initiate a three-way treaty that will include US, Russia and also bring China in the ambit of arms control treaties. While, Beijing has categorically stated that it will not become a party to any such initiative as it is not involved in numerical dominance. The major purpose for this measure is to restrict the Chinese intermediated range strategic forces which threaten the US interests in the region, have thrived due to the absence of any arms control agreements.

A New Cycle of Arms Race

In contemporary era the phenomenon of new arms race is being observed between major powers US, Russia and China at conventional, strategic and tactical level, space and cyber domain. The trend is being established by doctrinal shifts and massive force modernizations. The extent of increase in defense spending can be analyzed from the SIPRI estimates for 2018 which mount up to USD 1.8 trillion showcasing 2.6% rise from 2017. The US being the largest military spender has embarked upon a major force modernization with China tailing behind with USD 250 billion and Russia with USD 61.4 billion.[10]The withdrawal from INF also indicates the development of a new range of medium and intermediate range tactical, hypersonic and ballistic missiles, further lowering the nuclear threshold. Moreover, US have devised the budget of USD 1.2 trillion for 2017-2046 nuclear force modernization.[11]

The cyber domain in this context is also crucial with rapid dependency of critical infrastructure related to national security based upon cyber technology, while US is also initiating space forces. Russia on the other hand has surpassed US in the field of hypersonic and glide vehicles including ICBMs, nuclear powered cruise missiles and torpedoes showcased during Putin’s State of Union speech in March 2018 which can out-smart existing western missile defense systems along with robust cyber and space commands.[12] China, an emerging power and second largest military spender is also undergoing force modernization, developing ambitious cyber and space programs, which areduly emphasized in 2019 Defense White Paper.[13]This emerging cycle of arms race will have deteriorating impact on international security environment and further ensuing arms race at regional levels.

The Prospects of New Nuclear Disarmament  and Nonproliferation initiatives

US, being on the helm of international affairs is wielding the arms control norms for its own interests, disregarding the international and regional repercussions of its decisions.. US proposals for trilateral initiatives including Russia and China are solely for putting caps on the strategic forces capabilities of these states, especially that of China. The international community would be cautious of any future initiatives as they lack credibility after withdrawal of US from JCPOA and INF. The inception of new framework for non-proliferation while capitalizing upon NPT holds bleak prospects for implementation. Russia has withdrawn itself from the observer status at IPNDV while China is not willing to be part of the new trilateral initiatives for arms control. These initiatives outcast non NPT nuclear weapon states and are aimed to curtail threats imminent to US and West rather than to international community at large. Subsequently, the emergence of new arms race have impact on international and regional balance of power as aspiring states will compete for dominance. The hegemonic ambitions of India in South Asian region is an evident example of this destabilizing phenomenon. India is gearing to compete China and has undergone massive conventional and nuclear force modernization including developments in cyber and space domain. Thus, compelling Pakistan to follow suite catering for its security needs to maintain balance of power in the wake of destabilizing security environment.

Conclusion

The debate for arms control and nuclear disarmament has been unfortunately for long has been played as self-serving and hollow pledges by the major NWS which have failed to deliver upon them. The withdrawal from the INF would lead to further lowering of the nuclear threshold as the US would actively develop and deploy tactical nuclear weapons in regions of interest including Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe. The new nuclear architecture developed by the actions of major powers further weaken and deteriorate the efficacy of institutional norms. The efficacy and credibility of new initiatives such as CEND among other remains questionable as the P5 have failed to deliver measurable progress upon the existing arms control and disarmament initiatives. The emerging nuclear architecture blur the legitimacy of the arms control initiatives and further encourage NNWS to pursue for alternative measures including nuclear weapons program to secure their interests. Thus, resulting in proliferation of nuclear weapons which threaten world peace and security. The major powers should for once initiate a robust implementation upon their aforementioned commitments in good faith rather than devising frameworks for achieving their limited interests.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiatives Post Global Zero[14]

Name of  InitiativeObjectives/ MandateMember StatesOriginFocal MemberStatus
Global ZeroComplete dismantlement of Nuclear Warheads by 2030 under 4 Phase plan.Over 300 world leaders, academicians, diplomats.Paris December 09, 2008Initiated on the pretext of Obama’s Prague Speech on Nuclear Free World in April 1, 2009.Phase 1 (2010-13) reduce warheads to 1000 Phase 2(2014-18) Multilateral framework for reduce war heads to 500. Phase 3 (2019-23) Negotiate Global Zero Accord Phase 4 (2024-30) Reduction of all Warheads to Zero and continue Verification and enforcement system.
International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND)To reinvigorate international NPD efforts and develop consensus for 2010 NPT RevCon.Japan/ Australia2008Japan/ Australia 
Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)Aimed to facilitate the implementation of the measures of the 2010 NPT Review ConferenceAustralia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Turkey, UAE.September 2010Japan/ AustraliaHiroshima Declaration (2014) proposals for both disarmament and nonproliferation, including calls to negotiate the FMCT, increase nuclear safety and safeguards, encourage the entry into force of the CTBT, and transparency in disarmament reporting.
Austrian Pledge/ Humanitarian InitiativeHumanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and negotiating a prohibition against nuclear weapons under the framework of the NPT.159 states8-9 December 2014Austrian Deputy Foreign Minister Michael LinhartThe nuclear weapon states did not participate in the first two conferences, but the United States and United Kingdom sent representatives to attend the third conference in Vienna.
P-5 StepContinue to seek progress on the step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament5 NPT recognized NWS P5 StatesP-5 states have held seven conferences to increase dialogue and transparency in disarmament progress. At the 2015/19 Review Conference each of the P5 states submitted its national report
Nuclear Weapons Ban TreatyNNWS recommended UNGA to Negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination.Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) of NNWS2016UNGAOn 27 October 2016, UNGA adopted voted to adopt the resolution to convene the nuclear ban conference, followed suit on 23 December 2016 by UNGA.
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear WeaponsStrengthen norms against nuclear weapons.25 party, 70 signatory states.7 July 2017UNGANWS have been sharply critical of the treaty process  asserting that the treaty deepens the division between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states
International Partnership For Nuclear Disarmament VerificationEngage diverse group of countries to develop innovative monitoring and verification solutions for disarmament.33 participatory statesDecember 2017U.S. State Department and Nuclear Threat InitiativeA major new international initiative, co-led by NTI and the U.S. Department of State and involving over 25 countries, focused on nuclear disarmament verification
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)Working to promote adherence to and full implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons468 partner organizations in 101 countries2007Melbourne, AustraliaAwarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of nuclear weapons.”
Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament,To  rebuild trust among NWS and NNWS having differing approaches towards a NWFZ May 2017JapanSubmitted its recommendations to the second session of the Prep-Com for the 2020 NPT Review Conference
Stepping Stone Approach to Nuclear Disarmament/ Stockholm Initiative.Explore paths to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in state doctrines, rebuild ‘habits of cooperation,’ increase the transparency of fissile material stocks, and identify measures to reduce the risk of use. May 7, 2019SwedenProposed during 2019 NOT PrepCom.
Creating Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Aims toimplement article VI of NPT and modify security environment to achieve cooperation and trust and enhance confidence in nuclear disarmament.Approximately 100 delegates representing 42 states attendedJuly 2, 2019US Department of StateFirst Session was held on June 11.

[1] “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),” IAEA, https://www.iaea.org/publications/documents/treaties/npt.

[2] “Nuclear Disarmament Resource Collection,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, August 7, 2018,  https://www.nti.org/analysis/reports/nuclear-disarmament/.

[3] US Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington D.C: 2018.  https://dod.defense.gov/News/SpecialReports/2018NuclearPostureReview.aspx.

[4]Liu Xuan, Wang Qingyun, “Possible missile deployment raising concerns in Asia-Pacific, Beijing says,” ,China Daily, August 7, 2019, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201908/07/WS5d4a1794a310cf3e355643f1.html.

[5] Julian Borger, “Donald Trump confirms US withdrawal from INF nuclear treaty,” The Guardian, February 1, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/01/inf-donald-trump-confirms-us-withdrawal-nuclear-treaty.

[6]Paul Meyer, “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament: Striding Forward or Stepping Back?,” Arms Control Association, April 2019,  https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2019-04/features/creating-environment-nuclear-disarmament-striding-forward-stepping-back.

[7]Sebastian Brixey Williams, “Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström, launches ‘Stepping Stones’ Approach to Nuclear Disarmament,” Basicint, May 7, 2019, https://www.basicint.org/foreign-minister-of-sweden-margot-wallstrom-launches-stepping-stones-approach-to-nuclear-disarmament/.

[8]Alicia Sanders-Zakre, “Reporting on the 2019 NPT PrepCom,” Arms Control Association, May 10, 2019,   https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2019-05-10/reporting-2019-npt-prepcom.

[9]“ Trump Expects to Reach Arms Control Agreement with Russia,” Sputnik, July 31, 2019, https://sputniknews.com/us/201907311076414361-trump-expects-to-reach-arms-control-agreement-with-russia—report/.

[10] “World military expenditure grows to $1.8 trillion in 2018,” SIPRI, April 29, 2019,   https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2019/world-military-expenditure-grows-18-trillion-2018.

[11] “US Nuclear Modernization Programs,” Arms Control Association, August 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/USNuclearModernization.

[12] Joseph Trevithick, “Here’s The Six Super Weapons Putin Unveiled During Fiery Address,” The Warzone,  March 1, 2018, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/18906/heres-the-six-super-weapons-putin-unveiled-during-fiery-address.

[13]“China’s New 2019 Defense White Paper,” Center For Strategic and International Studies, July 24, 2019, https://www.csis.org/analysis/chinas-new-2019-defense-white-paper.

[14] “Nuclear Disarmament Resource Collection,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, https://www.nti.org/analysis/reports/nuclear-disarmament/

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Test of Agni Prime Missile and India’s Counterforce Temptations

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South Asia is widely regarded as one of the most hostile regions of the world primarily because of the troubled relations between the two nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. The complex security dynamics have compelled both the countries to maintain nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis each other. India is pursuing an extensive and all-encompassing military modernization at the strategic and operational level. In this regard, India has been involved in the development of advanced missiles as delivery systems and improvement in the existing delivery systems as well. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are solely aimed at India; however, India aspires to fight a ‘two-front war’ against Pakistan and China. Therefore, the size and capability of its nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are aimed at countering both threats. However, most of the recent missile delivery systems made by India appear to be more Pakistan-centric. One recent example in this regard is the recently tested nuclear-capable cannisterized ballistic missile Agni Prime, which is insinuated as Pakistan-centric. These developments would likely further provoke an action-reaction spiral and would increase the pace of conflict in South Asia, which ultimately could result in the intensification of the missile arms race.

Just quite recently, on 28th June 2021, India has successfully tested an advanced variant of its Agni missile series, namely Agni Prime or Agni (P). The missile has a range between 1000-2000 kilometers. Agni Prime is a new missile in the Agni missiles series, with improved accuracy and less weight than Agni 1, 2, and 3 missiles. It has been said that the Agni-P weighs 50 % less than the Agni-3 missile. As per the various media reports, this missile would take the place of Agni 1 and 2 and Prithvi missiles, however officially no such information is available. This new missile and whole Agni series is developed as part of the missile modernization program under the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) integrated guided missile development program. 

Agni-P is a short missile with less weight and ballistic trajectory, the missile has a rocket-propelled, self-guided strategic weapons system capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Moreover, the missile is cannisterized with the ability to be launched from road and rail. The DRDO claimed that the test flight of the missile was monitored by the telemetry radar stations and its trajectory met all the objectives of the mission successfully with high level of accuracy. Agni-P missile because of its range of 1000 to 2000 km is considered a weapon against Pakistan because within this range it cannot target China. Although, India already has different missiles in its inventory with the same range as the newly developed and tested Agni-P missile, so the question arises what this missile would achieve. 

Since the last few years, it has been deliberated within the international security discourse that India’s force posture is actually more geared towards counterforce options rather than counter-value options. Although, India’s nuclear doctrine after its operationalization in 2003, claims  “massive retaliation” and “nfu” but in reality with developing cannisterized weapons like Agni-P, Agni 5, and testing of hypersonic demonstrative vehicles, India actually is building its capability of “counterforce targeting” or “splendid first strike”. This reflects that India’s nuclear doctrine is just a façade and has no real implication on India’s force modernization.

These developments by India where it is rapidly developing offensive technologies put the regional deterrence equation under stress by increasing ambiguity. In a region like South Asia, where both nuclear rivals are neighbors and distance between both capitals are few thousand kilometers and missile launch from one side would take only a few minutes in reaching its target, ambiguity would increase the fog of war and put other actors, in this case, Pakistan in “use it or lose it” situation, as its nuclear deterrent would be under threat.

In such a situation, where Pakistan maintains that nuclear weapons are its weapons of last resort and to counter threats emerging from India, its nuclear deterrence has to hold the burden of covering all spectrums of threat. It might be left with no choice but to go for the development of a new kind of missile delivery system, probably the cannisterized missile systems as an appropriate response option. However, as Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is based on principle of “CMD” which allow Pakistan to seek deterrence in a cost-effective manner and also by not indulging in an arms race. Therefore, other than the threat of action-reaction dynamic developments like Agni P by India, would make weapons more accurate and lethal, subsequently conflict would be faster, ambiguous, and with less time to think. In such a scenario, as chances of miscalculation increase, the escalation dynamics would become more complex; thus, further undermining the deterrence stability in South Asia.

India’s counter-force temptations and development of offensive weapons are affecting the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia. The deterrence equation is not getting affected just because India is going ahead with the development of offensive technologies but because of its continuous attempts of negating the presence of mutual vulnerability between both countries. Acknowledgement of existence of mutual vulnerability would strengthen the deterrence equation in the region and help both countries to move forward from the action-reaction spiral and arms race. The notions such as the development of offensive or counterforce technology or exploiting the levels below the nuclear threshold to fight a war would not be fruitful in presence of nuclear weapons. As nuclear weapons are weapons to avert the war and not to fight the war.

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Unmanned Aircraft Systems & The Annihilistic Future

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The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones were introduced as a useful means to military, commercial, civilian and humanitarian activities but yet it ends up in news for none of its original purposes. Drones have rather resulted as a means of mass destruction.

The recent attacks on the technical area of the Jammu Air Force Station highlights the same. This was a first-of-its-kind terror attack on IAF station rather the Indian defence forces that shook the National Investigation Agency to National Security Guard. The initial probe into the attacks directs to involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based out of Pakistan, in the drone attacks as the aerial distance from the point of attack was just 14 kilometers. The attacks took place via an Electric multi-rotor type drone between 11:30 P.M to 1:30 A.M on 27th June, 2021.

The above incident clearly points out the security issues that lie ahead of India in face to the asymmetrical warfare as a result of drones. The Indian Government after looking at the misuse of drones during the first wave of the pandemic realised that its drone regulations were nowhere sufficient and accountable and hence passed the Unmmaned Aircraft Rules, 2021. These rules imposed stricter requirement for obtaining license and authorisations by remote pilots, operators, manufacturers or importers, training organisations and R&D organisations, thereby placing a significantly high burden on the applicants but at the same time they also permit UAS operations beyond visual sight of line and allowing student remote pilots to operate UAS.

But these rules still don’t have any control on the deadly use of drones because multi-rotor drones are very cheap and readily available and what makes them lethal is their ability to be easily detected, additionally the night time makes it even worse. Their small size grants them weak radar, thermal, and aural signatures, albeit varying based on the materials used in their construction.

The pertinent issue to be understood here is that these rules can never ensure safety and security as they cannot control the purpose for which these drones maybe used. There are certain factors that are to be accounted to actually be receptive to such imminent and dangerous threats. Firstly, significantly increasing urban encroachments  in areas around defence establishments, particularly air bases, has proved to be fatal. If frontline bases like Jammu or be it any other base when surrounded by unbuffered civilization poses two pronged problems, first it acts as high chances of being a vantage point for possible attackers and second, it also hampering the defence mechanism to come to an action. It is not limited to drone concerns but there have been cases of increased bird activity that has once resulted in engine failure of an IAF Jaguar and has caused similar problems all along.

Another important factor is that of intelligence. The Anti-drone systems will take their time to be in place and it is still a distant call to ascertain how effective will these systems be, so in the time being it is pertinent to focus on intelligence which may include sales and transfers of commercial drone, or the hardware that is required to build a basic multi-rotor drone. These are not something extraordinary because it is even in news when Pakistani drones were being used to supply weapons and ammunition to terror networks on Indian soil. Also, the past experience in handling ISIS have shown the weightage of intelligence over defensive nets.

Intelligence is no doubt a crucial factor in anticipation of drone attacks but what cannot be done away with is the defense mechanism. Efficient counter-drone technology is the need of the hour. DRDO has developed such technology that could provide the armed forces with the capability to swiftly detect, intercept and destroy small drones that pose a security threat. It is claimed that solution consists of a radar system that offers 360-degree coverage with detection of micro drones when they are 4km away, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors for detection of micro drones up to 2 km and a radio frequency (RF) detector to detect RF communication up to 3 km and is equipped for both soft kills as well as hard kills.

Hence, the above analysis brings out the need of the application of an international instrument because the technology used in such drone attacks is at an evolving stage and the natural barriers still have an upper hand over be it either flying a pre-programmed path aided by satellite navigation and inertial measurement units (IMUs), or hand controlled to the point of release or impact, both methods have significant limitations as satellite and IMU navigation is prone to errors even when it comes to moderate flight ranges while manual control is subject to the human limitations such as line of sight, visibility as well as technical limitations such as distance estimation of the target, and weak radio links. An example of this could be the Turkish-made Kargu-2 model of killer drone can allegedly autonomously track and kill specific targets on the basis of facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As the AI becomes better and better, these drone attacks become more and more terminal.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an eye opener for India as well as the world as none of the countries considered the possibility of bio-defenses or made a heavy investment in it even when there was awareness about lethal effects of genetic engineering. Hence, it should be the priority of the government to invest heavily in research and make the development of defensive technologies a national priority else the result of artificially intelligent killer drones would be much more catastrophic.

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Russia’s National Security Strategy: A Manifesto for a New Era

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The central feature of the new strategy is its focus on Russia itself. The Russian leadership has every reason right now to turn homeward to address the glaring weaknesses, imbalances, and inequalities of the country’s internal situation.

Russia’s new, forty-four-page National Security Strategy signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 2 is a remarkable document. It is much more than an update of the previous paper, adopted in 2015. Back then, relations with the West had already sharply deteriorated as a result of the Ukraine crisis, but were still considered salvageable; much of the liberal phraseology inherited from the 1990s was still in use; and the world still looked more or less unified. The current version of arguably the most important Kremlin strategy statement—covering not only national security issues, but a whole range of others, from the economy to the environment, and values to defense—is a manifesto for a different era: one defined by the increasingly intense confrontation with the United States and its allies; a return to traditional Russian values; and the critical importance for Russia’s future of such issues as technology and climate.

The strategy lays out a view of a world undergoing transformation and turmoil. The hegemony of the West, it concludes, is on the way out, but that is leading to more conflicts, and more serious ones at that. This combination of historical optimism (the imminent end of Western hegemony) and deep concern (as it is losing, the West will fight back with even more ferocity) is vaguely reminiscent of Stalin’s famous dictum of the sharpening of the class struggle along the road to socialism. Economically, Russia faces unfair competition in the form of various restrictions designed to damage it and hold it back; in terms of security, the use of force is a growing threat; in the realm of ethics, Russia’s traditional values and historical legacy are under attack; in domestic politics, Russia has to deal with foreign machinations aimed at provoking long-term instability in the country. This external environment fraught with mounting threats and insecurities is regarded as an epoch, rather than an episode.

Against this sobering background, the central feature of the strategy is its focus on Russia itself: its demographics, its political stability and sovereignty, national accord and harmony, economic development on the basis of new technologies, protection of the environment and adaptation to climate change, and—last but not least—the nation’s spiritual and moral climate. This inward focus is informed by history. Exactly thirty years ago, the Soviet Union collapsed just as its military power was at its peak, and not as a result of a foreign invasion. Having recently regained the country’s great power status and successfully reformed and rearmed its military, the Russian leadership has every reason now to turn homeward to address the glaring weaknesses, imbalances, and inequalities of the country’s internal situation.

The paper outlines a lengthy series of measures for dealing with a host of domestic issues, from rising poverty and continued critical dependence on imported technology to the advent of green energy and the loss of the Soviet-era technological and educational edge. This certainly makes sense. Indeed, the recent Kremlin discovery of climate change as a top-tier issue is a hopeful sign that Russia is overcoming its former denial of the problem, along with inordinately exuberant expectations of the promise of global warming for a predominantly cold country. After all, the Kremlin’s earlier embrace of digitalization has given a major push to the spread of digital services across Russia.

The strategy does not ignore the moral and ethical aspects of national security. It provides a list of traditional Russian values and discusses them at length. It sees these values as being under attack through Westernization, which threatens to rob the Russians of their cultural sovereignty, and through attempts to vilify Russia by rewriting history. In sum, the paper marks an important milestone in Russia’s official abandonment of the liberal phraseology of the 1990s and its replacement with a moral code rooted in the country’s own traditions. Yet here, the strategy misses a key point at the root of Russia’s many economic and social problems: the widespread absence of any values, other than purely materialistic ones, among much of the country’s ruling elite. The paper mentions in passing the need to root out corruption, but the real issue is bigger by an order of magnitude. As each of President Putin’s annual phone-in sessions with the Russian people demonstrates—including the most recent one on June 30—Russia is governed by a class of people who are, for the most part, self-serving, and do not care at all for ordinary people or the country, instead focusing single-mindedly on making themselves rich on the job. Money—or rather Big Money—has become that group’s top value, and the most corrosive element in today’s Russia. Therein lies perhaps the biggest vulnerability of modern Russia.

On foreign policy, the strategy is fairly elliptic, but it gives a hint of what the upcoming Foreign Policy Concept might include. The United States and some of its NATO allies are now officially branded unfriendly states. Relations with the West are de-prioritized and those countries ranked last in terms of closeness, behind former Soviet countries; the strategic partners China and India; non-Western institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and the Russia-India-China trio; and other Asian, Latin American, and African countries. In addition to U.S. military deployments and its system of alliances, U.S.-based internet giants with their virtual monopoly in the information sphere, and the U.S. dollar that dominates global finances are also seen as instruments of containing Russia.

Overall, the 2021 Russian National Security Strategy seeks to adapt the country to a still interconnected world of fragmentation and sharpening divisions, in which the main battle lines are drawn not only—and not even mostly—between countries, but within them. Victories will be won and defeats suffered largely on domestic turf. Accordingly, it is the Home Front that presents the greatest challenges, and it is there that the main thrust of government policies must be directed.

From our partner RIAC

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