Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 11

Two features of Russia’s new national security concept have received the most attention in the Western press. The first involves the fact that the new document adopts a tone far more aggressively anti-Western than in the 1997 version. The earlier document continued to speak of “partnership” with the West. More strikingly (from today’s perspective), it described an essentially benign international environment, one which permitted Russia to direct resources away from the defense sector in order to concentrate on the rebuilding of its domestic economy and on resolving other internal tensions (see Monitor, January 5, 1998). The new concept, by contrast, describes an international environment in which “the level and scale of threats in the military sphere is increasing,” and identifies the West as a potential threat to Russian security. All mentions of “partnership” with the West have reportedly been dropped in favor of the more neutral term “cooperation.”

The new document also broadens the circumstances under which Moscow would employ nuclear weapons. The 1997 concept spoke vaguely of using nuclear weapons “in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state.” The new guidelines, however, say that nuclear weapons can be used “in the case of the need to repulse an armed aggression, if all other methods of resolving the crisis situation are exhausted or have been ineffective.” While this policy shift will undoubtedly attract some attention in the West, other consequences of Russia’s increasing reliance on its nuclear deterrent are probably of greater consequence. Bruce Blair, a nuclear weapons expert at the Brookings Institute in Washington, has warned, for example, that this increased reliance will require Russia to keep its nuclear arms on high alert. And that, he says, invites mistakes in a system where missing radars and balky satellites already provide only spotty warning of incoming missiles. The situation could also increase the chance of false alarms (Washington Post, New York Times, January 15; AP, Reuters, January 14).

Finally, it remains unclear whether the new security concept (or the new military doctrine which is expected to follow) will actually serve in practical terms to shape Russian defense and procurement decisions. The document clearly has political value right now insofar as it both underscores Putin’s hardline stance on national security issues and placates those Russian generals who have long sought a more assertive stance toward the West. But Russia’s conventional forces remain in a disastrous state, the country’s aging strategic arsenal is shrinking fast, and the army is hemorrhaging men, money and–most likely–morale in Chechnya. Under such circumstances, and in the face of the government’s more general budgetary problems, it is difficult to see how a document which fails to prioritize carefully among a myriad of perceived security threats can serve as an effective guide for the army’s real spending and development policies.