"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Russia Plans Changes to Military Doctrine

Luke Champlin and Volha Charnysh

Russia is planning to revise its military doctrine, last updated in 2000, according to a series of statements from Russia’s National Security Council. The draft, titled “The New Face of the Russian Armed Forces Until 2030,” is expected to be presented to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for approval by the end of the year.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, commented on the pending changes in an Oct. 14 interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia. The 2000 doctrine needs to be adapted to the new security environment, which is likely to feature “local wars” and armed conflicts, he said. The current version allows the use of nuclear weapons “in response to large-scale aggression with conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation and its allies.” It also provides for the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the event of an invasion or any other attack on Russia, its territory, armed forces, or allies. The new military doctrine would distinguish among large-scale, regional, and local wars as well as other armed conflicts and allow the use of nuclear weapons in regional and local wars, Patrushev said. It provides the “flexibility to use nuclear weapons depending on the situation and the enemy’s intentions” and does not exclude pre-emptive nuclear strikes in situations critical to Russia’s national security, Patrushev said.

Patrushev said the changes were intended to preserve Russia’s status as a nuclear-weapon state capable of deterring potential enemies from attacking the country and its allies. He said the changes envisioned in the new doctrine are similar to many aspects of U.S. nuclear doctrine. He appeared to be referring to the U.S. policy of calculated ambiguity, which implies that the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively against non-nuclear targets. Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, indicated in a Moscow Times op-ed that risk of a U.S. first strike has been cited in drafts of the new military doctrine as the most serious external threat to Russia.

Patrushev said the section on the use of Russian military forces would be amended to allow the use of force to “protect the interests of its citizens abroad, if their lives are in danger.” The new doctrine would also allow Russia to engage in armed conflicts on its borders in the event of “aggression against its citizens,” he said.

The draft would not alter the list of threats identified in the current military doctrine. These threats include the United States, the continued expansion of NATO, and international terrorism. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the proposed changes in a statement to RIA Novosti Oct. 23, saying, “There are no innovations here that would create new threats to anyone, except for those who foster insane plans of attacking the Russian Federation.” Lavrov insisted that the doctrine was defensive and that the drafting process for the document was “transparent.”

Despite the proposed changes, Russia is “categorically opposed” to the use of nuclear weapons, Patrushev said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta Nov. 20. Russia is ready to move further with arms cuts, “striving for the idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he said. However, he said the effort could not be limited to just Russia and the United States.

Retired Lt. Gen. Gennady Evstafiev, senior vice president of the RussianCenter for Policy Studies in Moscow, said in a Nov. 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today that Russia’s nuclear capacity, “though dwindling,” allows Russia “for the foreseeable future to rely on it as a major military and foreign policy instrument.” He added that in his view, the role of the “nuclear factor in Russian political thinking will be temporarily strengthened.”

U.S. analysts expressed concern about the impact of the proposed changes. The emerging Russian nuclear doctrine is “contrary to President [Barack] Obama’s well-received intention to devalue the role of nuclear weapons in the 21st century,” Andrew Pierre, a former senior associate at GeorgetownUniversity’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, said in a Nov. 17 interview. James Goodby, a research fellow at StanfordUniversity’s Hoover Institution and a former U.S. arms control negotiator, said in a Nov. 13 interview that the changes “would make it difficult for Obama and Medvedev to carry out the arms reductions they plan to implement.” According to Goodby, the changes outlined by Patrushev are directed at the 19th and 20th century threats and fail to address the 21st century threat of nuclear terrorism.

A number of press sources have indicated that the proposed doctrinal changes have reinforced the concerns of several former Soviet states, who consider the doctrine aggressive. These states cite recent Russian-Belarusian military exercises as proof of Russia’s desire to use its nuclear forces to intimidate its neighbors.

The exercises, which took place in September, were conducted in western Russia and Belarus. The exercises simulated a separatist conflict with ethnic Poles in western Belarus and a conventional conflict between a NATO-like force and a force composed of Russian and Belarusian troops. The exercise featured the simulated use of tactical nuclear weapons.