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New Wars and the Fallacies of Traditional Deterrence Approaches

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1945 – the year when the whole world witnessed the catastrophe of nuclear weapon use, their indiscriminate effect and their immense destructive power, has altogether altered the course of warfare. Old warfare strategies became almost obsolete and new trends soon emerged at the limelight of global security structure. Traditionally, where the victory lied in winning a war suddenly transformed into avoiding it. As it became unthinkable to instigate an all out war in the presence of a devastating nuclear arsenal, states resorted to small scale wars and limited conflicts. Consequently prompted states to pursue there goals through means other than a total war. This changing nature of warfare led to a paradigm shift in international security domain where traditional Westphalian model of nation-state system has been seriously compromised. The shift from a state centered approach, brought to the centrestage the role of non-state actors. State’s sovereignty and it’s writ has been challenged as result of the emergence of new forms of conflicts following the cold war and the post cold war era. State vs non-state conflicts seemed to have dominated the battlefield.

Such a deviation from conventional approach has not only undermined the Westphalian notion of state system but has also incorporated new agents and structures, that paved a way for new forms of conflicts and warfare. Drifting from traditional notion of war and warfare, the battlefield in the post 1945 is dominated by cold wars, proxy wars, trade wars, psychological wars, cyber wars, informations wars and hybrid warfare. It implies that mostly such forms of warfare are characterised by an ever growing role and influence of non-state actors.

The paper is a critical analysis of deterrence theory and its marginalisation in terms of relevance in new wars. It provides a thorough understanding of evolving non-nuclear threats largely dominated by state vs. non-state conflicts, non-nuclear and hybrid warfare; and the diminishing utility of traditional deterrence approaches. Furthermore, it offers a new framework for advocating Modern Deterrence and Tailored Deterrence so as to establish a corelation between the emerging hybrid threats and deterrence. 

Theoretical Framework

The pioneer of nuclear deterrence strategy Bernard Brodie suggests traditionally the sole purpose of military establishment was winning a war, from mow on its chief purpose must be to avert them.This deterrent approach is likely to work in nuclear conflicts as the famous axiom states ‘Nuclear deters nuclear’. The said notion is quiet acceptable in nuclear context as no two-sided nuclear war has taken place and are successfully being averted. But in the context of non-nuclear threats, the said approach seemed to be irrelevant. Deterrence has failed to avert non-nuclear wars that have posed devastating challenges to the international security and stability.

The stability instability paradox substantiate this idea of limited, small scale, non-nuclear  conflicts in the presence of nuclear weapons. While analysing nuclear deterrent capabilities it infers:

nuclear weapons confer large scale stability between nuclear weapon states, as in over 60 years none have engaged in large direct warfare due primarily to nuclear weapons deterrence capabilities, but instead are forced into pursuing political aims by military means in the form of comparatively smaller scale acts of instability, such as proxy wars and minor conflicts.

Drawing upon this theoretical understanding, the omnipresence of non-nuclear conflicts seem to be inevitable. The mere presence of nuclear weapons and their immense destructive capability have prompted state as well as non-state actors to explore new avenues for the pursuit of their desired ends. But such deterrence failure at lower levels can exacerbate tensions at strategic level as even minor conflicts can spiral up into a major nuclear flashpoint given the ambiguity of intentions and rationality when non-state actors get involved.

Threshold theory also contributes to address the issues of deterrence failure in case of new wars. The major cause of such failure lies with not properly defining the red lines of non-nuclear threshold. Whilst the non-nuclear wars are waged without explicitly crossing the nuclear threshold, thereby easily bypassing the the notion of nuclear response. Even though if the states intend to lower their threshold to accommodate various  non-nuclear strategic attacks, as some have already done; it becomes highly controversial. Besides, it become a subject to rational judgment that whether or not a non-nuclear (cyber) attack should be met with a nuclear retaliation.

Existing literature on deterrence has failed to comprehend the changing nature of warfare and as a result failed to adapt with the changing trends. Thus offering a fragile base on which to construct a complex hunch of the relevance of deterrence theory in the realm of new wars.

Emergence  of New Wars and Deterrence Calculus

The nuclear revolution of 1945 has not only transformed the nature of war but has also revolutionised the international security construct. It has divided the world into the pre and post nuclear world thereby challenging the conventional security architecture largely dominated by states in international system. The post nuclear era has witnessed the grey zones of peace and war largely due to the encroachment of myriad non-state entities in global politics and security environment.  The said developments heralded new wars and warfare domains:

State vs Non-State Conflicts

The ever growing role of non-state actors in warfare following the cold war and the post-cold war era, has fanned the flames of unpredictability and uncertainty in war. While the states are regarded as legitimate actors to wage a war, the non-state actors does not enjoy such perks of legitimacy under international law. Having said that it implies that states have an obligation to abide by the rules of international system while non-state actors are set free to do anything they desire.

The surfacing of state vs. non-state conflicts also reflect the drawbacks of deterrence theory. One of the core assumptions of nuclear deterrence theory i.e. “Deterrence works among rational actors, also seems futile in this context. Since non-state actors are regarded as irrational, hence the probable patterns of deterrence become hard to calculate. Modern wars being overwhelmed by asymmetry, ethnic conflicts, irregularity, insurgencies and terrorism; are some of the domains where traditional notion of deterrence appears trivial. 

Psychological Operations, Information and Cyber Warfare

Use of propaganda to psychologically manipulate the perceptions of adversary dates back to the ancient era. It has been successfully employed by Cyrus-The Great, Genghez Khan and German and Allied forces in WW2, to name but a few. In modern warfare psy-ops is usually executed using a more subtle and sophisticated medium i.e. information domain, either to ‘win hearts and minds’ of the population or to ‘demoralise the enemy’. Psy-ops when accompanied with information warfare not only has the potential to manipulate the information in oder to gain information superiority but rather makes a complex web of misinformation aimed at generating desired response from the targeted audience and mobilizing support for the perpetrator’s agenda.

Likewise, cyber warfare is also evolving and poses a great challenge to the national and global security. Cyber attacks are becoming more and more threatening to the critical infrastructure and the information and operational technology with high levels of sophistication. In todays information age, a fierce cyber attack can be easily mounted on an adversary with the aim of manipulating data so as to incur massive disruption and destruction to the recipient’s critical infrastructure. The most severe form of cyber attack can have a decapitating effect on the adversary; whereby its ability to respond to a threat is hampered and paralysed. The spillover effect of digital attacks can also cause physical damage as well.

In nuclear domain where threshold of nuclear use has been defined adequately, no serious effort has been made in defining the same in case of these emerging threats. There are no clear red lines and norms in cyber and information domain on which to devise a deterrence strategy in order to prevent a cyber attack. Furthermore, deterring such an adversary whom one cannot see, neither can one identify, nor can one communicate the credibility of the threat; makes a case where the very essence of deterrence strategy is expected to be challenged. 

Hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare refers to the integration of different forms of warfare commonly referred as ‘multi-domain warfighting approach’ intended to inflict massive damage upon the opponent.

‘Hybrid warfare capabilities include the movement of conventional forces equipped with smarter technologies; nuclear force intimidation, trade wars, economic manipulation, energy coercion; propaganda and disinformation, use of proxies and insurgencies, diplomatic pressure and cyber disruption that are being employed through direct or covert means.’

The pervasiveness of hybrid threats and associated risks cannot be ignored. The notion of ‘existential deterrence’ that states ‘the mere presence of nuclear weapons capability can deter an adversary from taking aggressive actions that could possibly lead towards escalation’, also appears irrelevant since the mere presence of nuclear weapons did not prevent terrorists from attacking world trade centre on september 11, 2001. Likewise, strategic deterrence has lost its credibility in deterring hybrid attacks because the dynamics of these threats vary considerably from that of the cold war era.

Strategic Deterrence Failures

Legacies of the cold war ‘strategic nuclear deterrence’ still remain. But when viewed in line with the changing nature of new wars, it seems less flexible and hardly relevant. As a courtesy of  strategic deterrence, a nuclear war has been successfully averted but that does not seem to have a case as far as new wars are concerned. The success of deterrence in the cold war era does not imply that the same would also work in the post cold war era. That is to say ‘there is no one size fits all in deterrence. Unlike the deterrence patterns of cold war whereby primary focus was on deterring nuclear aggression from states, the current deterrence strategies are assessed with regard to the changing trends of new wars.

Thus the foundation of deterrence theory based on cold war security construct is deemed to fail when applied to the new forms of warfare that are non-nuclear in nature. The deterrence 3C’s approach i.e. Capability, Credibility and communication shall be utilized to assess its relevance in current era.

 Capability

New wars have witnessed the enhanced role of non-state actors inflicting major damage to the state’s security and infrastructure by the employment of various non-conventional methodologies. These actors have so little to loose as compared to the benefits they reap from such adventures. The relative power of these actors is less than that of a state but their behavior is not constrained by the international system, whereby they can threaten even the superpowers. Thus the capability to deter such an aggression remains questionable as the states have not yet been able to deny such acts of aggression by these actors. The primary reason might be the states’s reluctance to carry out punitive actions against an adversary who is irrational and also due to the threat of escalation. Thus the capability of even a nuclear state is essentially been compromised in the face of new threats. Deterrence cannot work unless the opponent is psychologically motivated that his actions would be met with dire consequences and in case where the adversary is not a rational actor and is ready to risk everything, the notion of deterring such an adversary seems futile. Likewise, the unbeatable nuclear and conventional deterrent capabilities that state’s now a days possess had done no good in averting these challenges.

  Credibility

State’s credibility of deterrence has also been challenged. The inability of state to respond effectively to the emerging threats merely due to the difficulty in locating a non-state adversary, or due to the threat of escalation or as a rational choice, undermines the deterrence in the eyes of the perpetrator. It further conforms to the opponents belief that the state is unwilling to take retaliatory actions thereby prompting them to take risks and undermine the state’s credibility. Furthermore, the state’s failure in following up on the threats also attract these actors to continuously inflict damage and challenge deterrence credibility. Perception of the adversary regarding the credibility of threat of retaliation is a dominant factor in determining the deterrence success or failure.

Communication

The communication of the threat to the adversary forms the basis of deterrence. The capability and the credibility of any state become effective only when they are being conveyed to the opponent. In the context of new wars the inability of states to effectively communicate their deterrence capabilities and credibility to the opponents, constitutes the major part of the problem. The traditional notion of threat communication became almost obsolete as the world today has numerous entities other than states that can act as potential aggressor. Thus, explicitly communicating deterrent threat among those entities presents a grave challenge for the states. 

Rethinking the Traditional Deterrence Approaches

As the famous proverb goes ‘modern problems requires modern solutions’, the emergence of hybrid threats and new wars also requires modern deterrence approaches. The referent object of traditional deterrent approaches must be replaced i.e. a shift from state-centric nuclear deterrence to non-state centric non-nuclear deterrence.

Punishment vs denial deterrence

The two fundamental approaches of deterrence theory can provide a framework for understanding the contours of non-nuclear conflicts. Although their utility so far in deterring such conflicts has been questionable, they still can serve as the basis for the modern deterrence theory.

Deterrence by denial strategies seek to deter an action by making it infeasible or unlikely to succeed, thus denying a potential aggressor confidence in attaining its objectives. Deterrence by punishment, on the other hand, threatens severe penalties, such as nuclear escalation or severe economic sanctions, if an attack occurs.  The focus of deterrence by punishment is not the direct defense of the contested commitment but rather threats of wider punishment that would raise the cost of an attack.’

The aforementioned approaches need to be customized according to the requirement of the emerging threats. The primary focus of these deterrence approaches was to avert a nuclear conflict, but in the current era of non-nuclear conflicts these approaches can be moulded so as to ensure the same in non-nuclear domain as well.

Modern deterrence

Modern deterrence theory just like that of nuclear deterrence aims at ‘dissuading the adversary from taking aggressive actions by persuading that actor that the costs would outweigh potential gains.’ As nuclear deterrence failed to deter non-nuclear or hybrid wars, in order to prevent the aggressor from initiating a non-nuclear attack, several deterrence strategies have been proposed by Centre for Strategic and International Studies which specify:

  1. Establishing norms of behavior
  2. Tailoring deterrence threats to individual actors
  3. Adopting an all of government and society response
  4. Building credibility with adversaries, such as by always following through on threats

The modern deterrence project has been initiated by RUSI focusing on ‘blending of traditional deterrence and societal resilience against emerging forms of warfare.’ The project is aimed at integrating military, government, the civil society and the business community so as to build a resilient deterrence against the hybrid threats. The initiatives like these can contribute a lot in framing effective  modern deterrence theories.

Tailored deterrence

The concept been proposed by Dr. Barry Schnieder suggests that new threats requires tailored deterrence and that the traditional concepts of cold war deterrence might not work for modern challenges. According to his theory,

         ‘Deterrence must be tailored to

  1.  specific adversary leaders,
  2.  in specific scenarios,
  3.  utilizing a range of verbal and non-verbal communications, and
  4. cognizant of the balance of military, economic and political power between the parties.

Fundamentally, it proposes the investigation into opponents decision making process, leadership profiles, willingness to take risks and the susceptibility towards the deterrent threats. Although this theoretical approach is state-centric, it is flexible enough to accommodate non-state threats of twenty-first century.

Conclusion

The post-nuclear era has witnessed the dawn of non-nuclear conflicts largely dominated by hybrid and non-state threats which has added uncertainty and unpredictability to an already complex nature of warfare. The asymmetric nature of new wars and the hybrid tactics they employ has raised serious concerns about the relevance of the existing discourse of deterrence. The credibility of deterrent capabilities has been vaining since the rise of new actors in the arena of global politics. Unlike nuclear deterrence which was aimed at few nuclear weapons states with known capabilities and intentions, the contemporary enemy is the one that is not visible with hidden capabilities and intentions. Thus making it even more difficult to exercise deterrence.  

The traditional model of strategic deterrence needs reevaluation and adaptation to cope up with the emerging non-traditional challenges of the twenty-first century. The expansion of the narrow conception of deterrence is required so as to broaden the realm in order to integrate non-nuclear factors. 

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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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