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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

Russia's Controversial New National Security Concept

Russia has adopted a new National Security Concept and Military Doctrine. The National Security Concept, replacing a 1997 text, was approved by Presidential Decree on December 17 and issued on January 10. The intimately related Military Doctrine, replacing a 1993 text, was approved by the Presidential Security Council on February 4. Both the Concept and Doctrine have been widely characterised as having relaxed the criteria for the threat or use of nuclear weapons. In the 1997 Concept, such action was only considered conscionable in extremis, in the event of a threat to Russian national survival. The new Concept contains the following formulation: "the use of all available means and forces, including nuclear weapons, [will be justified] in case of the need to repel an armed aggression when all other means of settling the crisis situation have been exhausted or proved ineffective." This formula does not, however, appear to have alarmed the US. According to State Department spokesperson James Rubin (January 19): "We…do not believe that it represents a significant, major departure from Russia's Concept issued in 1997 or that it makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely… [B] oth the 1997 and 2000 National Security Concepts assert the right to use available forces and assets, including nuclear, if all other measures of resolving the crisis situation have been exhausted and have proven ineffective. … Russian doctrine has rejected no-first-use of nuclear weapons since the mid-1990s, so the fact that they are contemplating the first use of nuclear weapons - there's nothing new there…" And, quoted by Itar-Tass on January 14, Valery Manilov, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, claimed that preventing national annihilation or disintegration remained the only conceivable context of nuclear use: "Russia has the right to use nuclear armaments exclusively in case of an aggression against itself or its allies and only when it is impossible to prevent by conventional means the liquidation of Russia as a subject of international relations, a sovereign entity in these relations. Only in that case Russia will have to use nuclear armaments…" Manilov was speaking specifically about the new Military Doctrine, rather than the National Security Concept, which does not appear to spell out the matter so unambiguously.

On February 15, Sergei Ivanov, the Secretary of the Security Council, held a special briefing for heads of diplomatic missions in Moscow intended to reassure them that Russia has not in fact relaxed its criterion for nuclear threat or use. Ivanov stated, as quoted in a February 16 Russian Foreign Ministry press release:

"Russia considers the use of nuclear weapons to be a political means of deterring aggression. Russia has never declared and does not declare that it may be the first to use nuclear weapons. At the same time, Russia does not commit itself to not being the first to use nuclear weapons. Herein lies the dialectics of deterrence.

A close examination of the conditions and sequence of the use of the totality of the means and methods of preventing and stopping aggression shows that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia is prompted by the onset of a situation that is critical for the existence of the state when the use of conventional forces and means in combination with non-military means proves ineffective and aggression cannot be stopped. So, the claims that Russia has allegedly lowered the ceiling of the use of nuclear weapons are incorrect. Russia does not claim broader rights than those of other members of the 'nuclear club'. It is important to understand that Russia commits everything to the goal of deterrence and will use the whole power of the state administer a resolute and firm rebuff to the aggressor. But Russia itself will never become an aggressor, which is ensured by its legislation and the Concept of National Security."

An important theme running through both revisions is the growth of Russian distrust of NATO since 1993 and 1997 respectively. Addressing the Security Council on February 4, Acting President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia "cannot help noticing changes in the strategy of NATO" and that it needed to "react appropriately" to avoid "running into surprises." In mid-February, Lord Robertson, NATO's Secretary-General, visited Moscow and held talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev. A February 16 Joint Statement was both encouragingly warm in tone and weighted with references of past and ongoing tension:

"NATO and Russia are fully determined to contribute to building a stable and undivided Europe… In this context, they affirm that they will observe in good faith their obligations under international law, including the UN Charter, provisions and principles contained in the Helsinki Final Act, and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Charter for European Security. They will promote the strengthening of security in the Euro-Atlantic area on the basis of the Founding Act and through cooperation with the Permanent Joint Council.

NATO and Russia welcome the Agreement on the Adaptation of the CFE [Conventional Forces in Europe] Treaty that will, together with the commitments undertaken in the CFE Final Act, ensure the continuing viability of the CFE Treaty.

While continuing their cooperation in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina (SFOR), NATO and Russian forces in Kosovo are working together in KFOR toward the full implementation of UNSCR 1244…

NATO and Russia will work to intensify their dialogue in the Permanent Joint Council. They agreed that Russia and NATO would pursue a vigorous dialogue on a wide range of security issues that will enable NATO and Russia to address the challenges that lie ahead…"

The damage done to NATO-Russia relations by the war over Kosovo, and the impact of that conflict both on the new Concept and Doctrine and on Russia's conflict in Chechnya, were eloquently referred to by Alexei Arbatov, a leading arms control advocate in the Russian Duma, in a February 2 telephone interview with journalists organized by the Center for War, Peace and the News Media and the National Press Institute of Russia. Arbatov argued:

"[T] he initial hopes and plans of the early '90s are dead. Relations have been severely damaged during recent years. And while Russia is not completely innocent in this…the major fault lies with the West, and the United States in particular… Before [the 2000 National Security Concept], Russia had no enemies. Now, it is clearly stated that one of the primary threats to Russian security is the policies of the United States, which is keen on establishing its position as the world's sole superpower and expanding its interests around the world … For three years after

the first war in Chechnya, which ended in 1996, there was a psychological taboo against the use of military forces in cases of ethnic conflict. But NATO aggression in Yugoslavia removed that barrier and changed the…climate… Russia learned its lessons well from the conflict in Kosovo. You can use force and disregard international legal frameworks. You can disregard the impact of collateral damage on civilians. You can use a massive amount of force against a foe. And you can control the mass media." Because of the perceived threat from NATO, Arbatov concluded, the sad fact was that "nuclear deterrence is now much more important" than in the early years of the post-Cold War era. On December 17, the Commander-in-Chief of Russia's Strategic Missile forces, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, stated this official view of the degree to which the prospect of a nuclear-weapon-free world has receded when he observed: "For Russia, at least for the next several decades, there will be no alternative to nuclear deterrence."

Notes: on January 1, Itar-Tass reported that Russia was planning to conduct a further series of sub-critical nuclear tests at its Novaya Zemyla site this year; according to the agency, Russia conducts has conducted an average of 5 sub-critical tests each year, and expected to carry out a similar number in 2000. The tests, which arte also being conducted by the US, do not contravene the terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) but are seen by many as a gross violation of the spirit of the accord.

The Acronym Institute runs a regularly updated special feature, The US-Russia Arms Control Relationship, which is available from its website (http://www.acronym.org.uk/usrussia.htm) and includes the full text or substantial extracts of many of the statements and documents referred to in Disarmament Diplomacy.

Reports: Russia's military-political trump card, Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, December 17; Report - Russia to conduct nuke tests, Associated Press (AP), January 1; Pakistan hints considering to sign nuclear treaty, Reuters, January 4; Pakistan - no hurry to sign nuke ban, AP, January 4; Russia doctrine eases nuclear use, AP, January 14; Russian defense plan lowers atomic threshold, Reuters, January 14; Russia can use nuke arms only in case of aggression, Itar-Tass, January 14; US says Russian defense plan not a major shift, Reuters, January 19; US plays down revised Russian nuclear war plan, Reuters, January 19; US-Russia relations - a new chill, Global Beat Issue Brief No. 55, February (http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat); Russia Oks draft military doctrine, AP, February 4; New Russian doctrine includes West, AP, February 5; Seven subcritical tests reported this year, Bellona Web (quoting Itar-Tass), February 8; Joint statement on the occasion of the visit of the Secretary General of NATO, Lord Robertson, in Moscow on 16 February 2000, NATO Press Release, February 16.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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