Putin Signs New Military Doctrine, Fleshing Out Security Concept

May 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

The Russian Security Council approved and President Vladimir Putin signed a new military doctrine April 21 that replaces the doctrine adopted in 1993 and "fleshes out" the military policy elaborated in Russia's 2000 national security concept, formally adopted in January. (See ACT, January/February 2000.) Like the security concept, the new doctrine appears to lower Russia's threshold for using nuclear weapons when attacked with conventional weapons. It also explicitly states that Russia's nuclear deterrent can be used to respond to all "weapons of mass destruction" attacks and reaffirms Russia's negative security assurances to non-nuclear- weapon states. (See document.)

The military doctrine, an 8,000-word document addressing a wide range of military issues, reaffirms the 1993 doctrine's call for a substantial Russian nuclear deterrent and authorizes the use of nuclear weapons to respond to "large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation. " Like the nuclear policy elaborated in the 2000 security concept, this statement appears to permit the use of nuclear weapons in a broader range of circumstances than the previous version of the security concept, which was issued in 1997 and allowed nuclear weapons use only "in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation."

The doctrine also says Russia "reserves the right to use nuclear weapons" when responding "to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against [Russia] and (or) its allies." This statement, which appears to mirror the implied U.S policy for using nuclear weapons, marks the first time Russia has explicitly permitted the use of nuclear weapons to respond to "weapons of mass destruction" attacks. In 1993, Russia abandoned its declared policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict under any circumstances.

In addition to addressing the use of nuclear weapons, the doctrine also includes a statement on negative security assurances, which delineate situations in which nuclear weapons will not be used. The doctrine states that Russia will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) except in the event of an attack on Russia, its armed forces, or a Russian ally that is "carried out or supported" by a non-nuclear-weapon state "jointly or in the context of allied commitments" with a nuclear-weapon state. This statement closely parallels assurances given by the United States in 1995 and reaffirmed in 1997.

Earlier drafts of the doctrine did not contain negative security assurances, which Russia included in its 1993 military doctrine and reaffirmed at the 1995 NPT review and extension conference. A senior Russian official confirmed that the assurances had been intentionally removed from initial drafts of the new doctrine. They appear to have been reinserted into the doctrine following circulation of an earlier draft.

The new military doctrine, like the 1993 doctrine, also extends Russia's nuclear umbrella to Russia's allies. In an April 25 news conference, Colonel General Valery Manilov, senior deputy chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, stated that allies referred to in the doctrine include Belarus and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States that have entered into alliance agreements with Russia.

Russian officials have emphasized that the new doctrine is fundamentally defensive. Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov stated in a recent Russian television interview, "If there is no aggression against Russia and its allies, there will be no use of nuclear weapons." However, in an April 24 interview with the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, Chairman of the Duma Committee for International Affairs Dmitry Rogozin stated that under the new doctrine, "Russia will not be waiting for the aggressor to seize a part of its territory or to destroy its nuclear potential. It will deal the necessary strike itself."

U.S. response has been limited, but in an April 21 press conference, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the administration did not believe the new doctrine indicated a shift in Russia's nuclear weapons policy. "So far we've not seen anything that indicates a dramatic new departure," he said.