Russia reheats Cold War stance

Policy: Vladimir Putin announces a new national security doctrine that includes reversing his nation's pledge never to strike first with nuclear weapons.

March 26, 2000|By Bruce B. G. Clarke

THE RECENT announcement of a new Russian strategic doctrine has changed the world's military landscape. But the announcement and the factors that led to it have gone largely ignored in the West. Is this the beginning of a Cold War in reverse? Does Russia intend to contain the United States? What should our strategy be?

Apparently, Russia's acting president, Vladimir Putin, reversed his country's vow never to strike first with nuclear weapons because of weaknesses in his nation's strategic early warning systems.

According to one report, "Russia's early warning system is so decayed that Moscow is unable to detect United States intercontinental ballistic missile launches for at least seven hours a day [and] Russia could no longer spot missiles fired from U.S. submarines at all --"

Russia's new national security doctrine also accuses the United States of bypassing international law by using military power to unilaterally decide international problems. Putin is doing more than rattling sabers. Until a few months ago, Russia had no clear-cut national security policy. Putin's announcement should be considered along with the recent announcement of increased Sino-Russian cooperation to resist American hegemony.

The nuclear component of the Russian version of massive retaliation is designed to drive home the price and risks of U.S. economic and strategic policy.

The move to embrace China illustrates the Russian search for allies to resist American power -- precisely the same thing that the United States did 46 years ago when its strategic doctrine of massive retaliation was announced by John Foster Dulles. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union supported a number of weak states -- from Angola to North Korea -- to offset the West.

Now Russia is reactivating some of its old relationships. Putin is managing to reassert its interests politically throughout much of the former Soviet Union. At the recent summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Putin demonstrated his ability to lure and cajole the other CIS members to cooperate.

Putin's tough line in Chechnya, too, has earned him fear and grudging respect in much of the former Soviet Union. The Putin government is attempting to increase Russia's leverage by re-activating Soviet-era relationships. The Feb. 9 announcement of a so-called Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbor Relations and Cooperation with North Korea is being trumpeted as an important event.

On another front, there are indications that another old relationship is being revived: the one between Moscow and Baghdad. It was announced Feb. 7 that Russia had reached an agreement with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on stationing of Russian warships at Iraqi naval bases. A high-level visit to Vietnam is scheduled for coming weeks. Vietnam's population, mineral resources and proximity to trading routes make it a promising trading partner for Russia.

Politically, Vietnam serves as the coordinator of relations between Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

It is quite possible that China's recent saber-rattling over Taiwan is a direct result of its strong support from Russia. The Chinese also may be emboldened by the lack of a U.S. strategic policy that deals with the threats posed by these new alliances.

The Putin doctrine seeks to remind the United States that Russia is the only nation in the world with enough nuclear weapons of sufficient range to conduct a massive strike on the United States.

Moscow's new stance poses a practical problem for the United States, which must now at least consider Russian responses, no matter how unlikely a Russian first strike is. This makes Russia a major player again on the world stage.

During the Cold War, the threat of escalation to nuclear weapons was in the back of every policy-maker's mind when dealing with issues that were important to the two powers. Many have argued that this created stability and reduced the inclination of one side to meddle in issues in which the interests of the other were high and predominant. That threat disappeared with glasnost. Putin intends to resurrect it. This also serves the Russian goal of regaining pre-eminence in the former Soviet Union.

In the 1950s, the United States adopted massive retaliation as a strategic doctrine to create the fear that a massive Soviet attack on Western Europe would trigger the use of tactical nuclear weapons and, if necessary, higher levels of nuclear response. The goal was to deter such an attack. This doctrine was adopted because the West perceived that it could not afford the conventional forces to resist a Soviet attack. The Soviet Union, at that time, called for a no-first-strike commitment by the West. The USSR, with a conventional weapons advantage, was always more interested in exploiting that advantage and saw the use of nuclear weapons as undermining it.

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