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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia May Increase Nuclear Reliance

WASHINGTON -- Russia's military and civilian leaders are debating whether to increase reliance on nuclear weapons to deter attacks from neighboring nations, enabling Russia to make further cuts in its large and costly standing army, navy and air force, according to the CIA.

"At present, a number of Russian observers advocate placing greater reliance on nuclear weapons to compensate for the deficiencies of [Moscow's] conventional forces," the CIA told Congress in material released last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Some Russian officials, the agency added, even "have called for developing first-use and limited-use nuclear options to prevent a regional conflict from expanding into a broader war."

The new Russian military doctrine had been expected to be approved last May by President Boris Yeltsin, but a senior U.S. official said last week that it is "still under active debate."

A senior administration foreign-policy official this weekend described the potential movement within the Russian government toward greater reliance on nuclear weapons as "a serious downside of NATO enlargement" that is not getting a hearing before U.S. policy-makers and the public.

With little publicity, Moscow in 1993 adopted what was described as a transitional military doctrine that eliminated a "no first use" pledge on nuclear weapons and restructured the military into a mobile force with a strategic reserve capable of handling "local and regional wars along Russia's periphery," according to the agency.

The State Department, in describing its view of Moscow's 1993 doctrine to the Senate panel, said the Russian government described any future conventional attack against its nuclear forces or early-warning systems "as tantamount to a crossing of the nuclear threshold," according to the committee materials.

And in a reference to the former Warsaw Pact countries now in line to join NATO, State Department analysts said, "The 1993 doctrine also stated that Russia reserved the right to initiate the use of nuclear weapons if it is attacked by a non-nuclear weapons state allied with or supported by a nuclear-weapons state." This change brought Russian policy in line with long-standing U.S. nuclear policy.

Russian military and strategic thinkers "have discussed the use of nuclear weapons both as political tools and on the battlefield to compensate for Russian military weakness," according to State Department analysts. "Though it is not official policy," the analysts say, "various Russian officials have asserted that the expansion of NATO might mean an increased reliance on tactical nuclear weapons in defense planning."

Most Russian tactical weapons are in storage but could be redeployed to front-line forces within a matter of months, the department said.

The Russian 1993 doctrine envisioned wars along the country's borders as the most likely, but also foresaw the possibility these could escalate into large-scale conflicts.

The Russian Defense Ministry plan to reform the 1993 doctrine calls for an "unrealistically large [and thus expensive] force structure, one sufficient to fight a large-scale war against an enemy such as NATO or China," State Department analysts reported.

At the same time, the Russian Defense Council staff, somewhat similar to the White House National Security Council, says "strategic nuclear weapons could be used to de-escalate regional wars before they became large scale thus obviating the need for a vast conventional-force structure," according to the State Department analysis.

U.S. officials said last week that the Defense Council position reflects primarily the view of reformers "who are worried about the country's economy and at the same time believe the military threat is almost nonexistent, so that they can turn to nuclear weapons to deter aggressive actions against them."