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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Doctrine Full of Hot Air

After the Security Council released its national security strategy in May 2009, the only useful thing about the document was how the inclusion of this or that outmoded and poorly formulated idea revealed which of the Kremlin bureaucrats had gained the upper hand in writing it. But the new military doctrine, released on Feb. 5, does not even provide that much food for analysis. This document sets a new record for saying absolutely nothing.

The main reason that there was so much hot air in the doctrine is that the top brass are still fighting among themselves over the basic structure of the armed forces — should the army be fundamentally reformed to respond to new, 21st-century threats or should it remain as a mass-mobilization force that is intended to fight NATO tanks in the European theater?

This is precisely why the document does not contain any clear information about how the armed forces will be structured for the next decade. This comes at the very moment when the army has started instituting the most drastic reforms of the last half-century, despite resistance from its more conservative leaders. And yet the doctrine makes no reference to this or to the fact that the officer corps has been slashed by two-thirds and ground force units have been reduced by 91 percent.

The result is a senseless document reflecting the desire of the top brass to cloud the larger issue of how the military will be structured to meet the threats of the 21st century.

There is one large bone that the Kremlin tossed out to the military hawks: a direct reference in the doctrine to the largest threats to Russian security posed by NATO expansion; U.S. plans to develop missile defense systems in Europe “that undermine global stability and violates the existing balance of powers in the nuclear missile sphere”; the U.S. militarization of space; and U.S. plans to turn a portion of its strategic nuclear missiles into high-precision, non-nuclear ones to be used for conventional wars. This is by far not the first time that Russia’s leaders have tried to disguise their inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West by claiming that the West poses the greatest military threat to Russia.

Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev caused a lot of commotion in mid-October when he said the imminent military doctrine would include a new clause about Russia’s right to initiate a pre-emptive nuclear strike and to use nuclear weapons in regional and even local conflicts. The first thought that entered analysts’ minds: Would the new military doctrine take us back to the Cold War era of the 1960s, when the use of nuclear weapons in war was considered acceptable? Thankfully, however, at some point between Patrushev’s October statement and Feb. 5, when the military doctrine was released, Russia’s leaders realized that the hair-trigger days of monthly duck-and-cover drills are not the best model for the 21st century.

In the end, the cooler heads prevailed in the Kremlin, and the 2010 doctrine by and large repeated the more restrained nuclear clause from the 2000 doctrine: “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to attacks using nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction directed against itself or its allies as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation using conventional weapons that constitutes a threat to the continued existence of the state.”

On the other hand, it has also been reported that Medvedev signed a secret document that articulated in detail the government’s policy on nuclear deterrence through 2020. That was probably done so that Patrushev, a protege of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, could save face. At the same time, everyone in the West (and China, too) is left wondering, “Maybe those same nuclear first-strike provisions were included in the secret document on nuclear deterrence?” After all, ambiguity on the country’s nuclear doctrine can also be an effective deterrent against those insidious imperialists in the West who had been preparing so hard all of these years to attack Russia.


Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.