24 June 2020

Russia – a new independent nuclear policy and unenthusiastic negotiations with the US for a New START

Cristian Eremia

After a break caused by the COVID-19, the American-Russian political consultations resumed on 22 of June, in Vienna, behind closed doors, on issues related to the strategic stability and the extension perspective of the Treaty on the reduction of nuclear strategic arms, New START.

Image source: Mediafax

Shortly before this event, president Putin signed the Decree on “The Foundations of Russian Federation State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence”, a strategic planning document which elaborates the political assessments criteria of military confrontation threats and risks with an enemy that uses nuclear arms and which established the military principles of nuclear deterrence and the conditions by which Russia unilaterally starts using its nuclear arms.

The adaptation of a new independent nuclear policy came just before restarting the negotiations for the New START. Thus, Moscow has likely aimed at consolidating its stances for negotiations, eliminating possibly wrong perceptions of the West, especially the US, on the political determinations Kremlin currently has on the unilateral use of its nuclear arms.

Bear in mind that it is for the first time a document on the nuclear policy of Russia related to state’s defence and security went public, the last doctrinaire document on the use of nuclear arms being classified and elaborated back in 2010, along with Russia’s Military Doctrine.

The new military nuclear policy of Russia

The new Russian state policy in nuclear deterrence field of aggressions of a third party against Russia or against one of its allies will be done through all of Moscow’s power tools, obviously including through the Russian nuclear arsenal as well. This policy will be developed through unique state plans, with concrete political, military, technical-military, diplomatic, economic, informational measures or by other means based on the military force of nuclear deterrence. The measures are applied by all the Russian sate’s force structured through a unique national coordination, to prevent any nuclear or distinct aggression against Russia and/or its allies.

Moscow “ensures” that the nuclear deterrence policy is defensive, but will preserve the potential of its nuclear forces to an “effective level” to achieve nuclear deterrence and provide the defence of territorial integrity and sovereignty. And in case of a military conflict, to prevent the escalation of hostilities or stopping them in “acceptable conditions” (favourable) to Russia. When applying this nuclear deterrence policy, Moscow considers also the development, by an enemy, of other offensive strategic weapons than the military ones – ballistic missiles, aircrafts and hypersonic missiles, unmanned air vehicles, directed-energy weapons, anti-missile defence systems, early warning systems against nuclear missiles or the existence, on the territory of other states, of other types of mass destruction arms, which could be used against Russia.

This means that the Russian nuclear arms can be used as a coercive force tool to impose conditions dictated by Moscow. The new nuclear policy will be used in relation to any state or military bloc, a union or a military coalition with a certain military potential, regardless if that entity has or not nuclear arms, but sees Russia as an enemy. Theoretically and with no additional details, the document asserts that they will consider the international law norms related to the nuclear arms control.

The Russian military planners thins that the nuclear deterrence essence is the direct warning of a possible enemy that by simply attempting to attack Russia with different strategic arms, it will have to realize that will “inevitably get equal responses”.

Moscow is practically warning any possible enemy that it is determined to use the Russian nuclear arms as a retaliation tool, at a scale which will produce “unacceptable loses”. This new Russian military policy will be functional during peace times, the threat with war phase and up until any of Russia’s enemies start to use nuclear arms.  Essentially, the main military challenges which can be treated as an aggression against Russia are:

-  a possible enemy obtains, on territories and maritime area adjacent to the Russian ones, units of groups of military forces that have nuclear cargos;

-an enemy creates and launches in space strike or missile defence methods;

-other states have nuclear arms or mass destruction weapons which could be used against Russia or the deployment, by an enemy, of nuclear arms on the territories of non-nuclear states;

-the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear arms, as well as of their production technologies and equipment.

Therefore, now it is no longer necessary to fabricate political or military excuses, because according to the new military nuclear policy, in order to become a target in Russia’s eyes it is enough for another state to develop missile defence systems or ballistic and cruise missiles, hypersonic non-nuclear arms, high-precision or high-tech weapons on its territory

Moscow’s unilateral use of nuclear arms

It is important to bear in mind that the decision on the use of nuclear arms is taken by Russia’s president, who has all the legal authority to do it. However, they pre-establish some framework-conditions, enough to pass push Russia to using its nuclear arms.

First of all, Moscow has the right to use its nuclear arms as a retaliation measure to the use, against it, of nuclear or other mass destruction arms, but also in case of an armed aggression against Russia, by using conventional arms, when the threat itself “targets the survival of the Russian state”.

Secondly, the criteria or conditions determining Russia’s possible use of nuclear arms are:

- having clear intelligence data on the launch of ballistic missiles targeting Russia’s territories or its enemies;

- an enemy’s use of nuclear arms, other types of mass destruction arms of conventional weapons on Russia’s territory, then the existence of the Russian state is targeted;

-the detection of enemy’s actions over the critical infrastructure of Russian military objective, which could affect the retaliation capacity of the Russian nuclear forces.

There are no details on decisions being made after consulting or informing international courts or foreign partners. These are only decisions unilaterally made, therefore an independent military nuclear policy. Let’s not forget that, in 2018, president Putin was stating that Russia will use nuclear weapons exclusively in defensive purposes, and only after it makes sure someone else is attacking it. Now, Moscow revealed its new nuclear deterrence policy to the entire world in order to show that it has an independent policy also in terms of national security.

Restarting the American-Russian consultations to extend the New START

Therefore, the American-Russian political consultations on strategic stability and for the extension of the last major undissolved treaty on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons, New START, were resumed. The consultations took place without enthusiasm, behind “closed doors ", and lasted about ten hours. The officials of the two states diplomatically noted that it was a complex but "positive" dialogue, practically resulting in the decision to set up technical working groups on the given issue.

The negotiations were conducted by delegations led by special representatives of the presidents of the two states, Ambassador Marshall Billingslea and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Bear in mind that the current treaty dates from 2010 and limits each party to 1550 deployed nuclear warheads, and is to be dissolved in February 2021 if the US and Russia do not reach an extension agreement.

Other assessments of the results of the consultations show that there is little chance of a new agreement, as the negotiations are marked by sufficiently large differences in approaches and tensions generated by China's refusal to enter into negotiations as part of a "New START +", which to cover the nuclear weapons of the three states.

However, China's refusal is by no means a surprise, because Beijing has made full use of the situation of lack of international obligations, thus having a "free hand" to develop nuclear weapons in a mysterious atmosphere and totally lacking of transparency, which in fact, it maintains it in many other fields.

Moscow is not very enthusiastic about the negotiation either. It also refused President Trump's suggestion to ask China to get involved, for several political reasons. According to some Russian parliamentarians, including because Russia could not assume responsibilities for China, just as Washington does not call on France or Great Britain and does not take responsibilities in behalf of these states.

At the same time, President Putin has accused the United States for several years of destroying, one by one, the main treaties governing the international system of strategic arms control. However, Russia has "contributed" to the development of American decisions by generating strong arguments for Washington to pursue these steps. To recap, we are talking about the US withdrawal in 2002 from the ABM Treaty, the mutual withdrawal in 2019 from the INF Treaty and the dissolution of the Open Skies Treaty, this spring.

Moscow’s politicians – and even Trump’s opponents, think that president Trump’s political manoeuvre to condition China’s participation to trilateral negotiations – as well as the ostentatious disinterest of the Chinese part, could be only excuses for Washington to ignore the New START Treaty’s “expiration”. In order words, if we consider the difficulty of including China in these negotiations in the few months left until the current treaty expires, the New START Treaty’s extension or the negotiation of a new complex treaty, to include the Chinese part as well, would basically be impossible in the following period. Therefore, the idea for the current international relations systems to be left without serious security architecture is as real as it can be and it opens a dark future for a new era of nuclear arms.

Translated by Andreea Soare