“The Greatest Caution and Prudence”

22 september 2015

Resume: The crisis in relations between Russia and the West brings to mind the methods of risk management devised during the previous confrontation. The participants in a roundtable discussion held by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy believe that a majority of problems can be resolved using a rational approach – through consultations.

In July 2015, the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy held a roundtable discussion, Strategic Security and Military Risk Management in the Post-Crimea Era. Following are excerpts from the participants’ speeches.

Alexander Savelyev, senior research fellow at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences:

Active arms control negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States began in 1969. It was not an easy time in relations between the two countries. Therefore, although both parties agreed that the arms race needed to be limited, they tried to condition the talks on the fulfillment of additional requirements: for example, a withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia or termination of U.S. bombings in Vietnam. This bargaining could continue indefinitely. But, thank God, the then Soviet and U.S. leaders – Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon – realized that there were issues that were crucial for the very survival of their countries. So the disarmament issue sidelined even the issue of the Vietnam War. We should not forget that even in the worst of times we were able to launch the long process of dialogue, which per se helped to improve bilateral relations.

Can we start such a dialogue today? This is debatable. In those times, the parties deemed it important to improve their relations; now there is no sign they have such a desire. On the contrary, it seems that we are provoking Americans. Look at what experts and even some officials say. This is happening amid the rearmament of the Russian army and the modernization of its strategic nuclear forces. Huge sums of money are allocated for these programs. And what if the Americans launch a similar program? Is this what we are seeking? I do not mean to say that this will increase the probability of war, but I know for sure that this does not bode well for Russia.

Some time ago, the Americans offered to us a concept of strategic stability. Initially it played a positive role, as it allowed both parties to reduce their arsenals, without compromising security. But now this concept has turned into its opposite. Now, instead of cutting arms, they propose building them up to maintain strategic stability. And when they talk of stability, they lump together missile defense, precision-guided weapons, and nuclear and non-nuclear arms.

No one seriously thinks of a nuclear war with the Americans. But, in fact, people saying that strategic stability should be strengthened believe that such a war is possible. Strategic stability implies assessing security in terms of inflicting unacceptable damage in a retaliatory strike. It appears that we are confident that there will be no nuclear strike against us but, at the same time, we plan things on the assumption that a nuclear strike is possible.

Another concept is the idea of asymmetric response. We respond to U.S. non-nuclear programs by building up nuclear weapons. But because of this, we are lagging behind in conventional arms. We channel money, brains and technologies into upgrading our nuclear weapons – without any payoff for the civilian sector. If we want the military industrial complex to become the locomotive of technological progress, we should develop conventional weapons. Look at what the Americans do. Here’s a simple example: an automatic vacuum cleaner was developed by a company producing antimine robots. Very many things, ranging from vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens to fishing rods, come into civilian use from the defense sector, namely from industries producing conventional arms, rather than nuclear missiles.

Victor Yesin, leading research fellow at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, advisor to the Commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, Colonel General (Ret.):
I do not think the concept of strategic stability is bad or outdated. As in the Cold War years, it helps avoid a Third World War – a global clash between Russia and the U.S. and NATO. In order to maintain strategic stability, Russia must have a certain nuclear potential. There is much talk now that we are overstrengthening our nuclear arsenal. But this is not so. Russia missed the time when it needed to upgrade its nuclear-missile systems, and now it has to fast-track this process because many weapon systems are outdated to a point where maintaining their operational status poses a threat to Russia itself. Hence the state Armament Program for 2011-2020, which puts the emphasis on nuclear rearmament. This is an objective and normal process which is not related to the current crisis in Russian-U.S. relations. It was caused by the technical condition of the three components of the strategic nuclear forces and facilities that ensure their use. I mean, above all, missile warning and space tracking systems. Today, we do not have a space-based echelon of the missile warning system. We do not have a single spacecraft in this echelon to monitor missile-threat areas.

I agree that the U.S. is not going to attack Russia – just as we do not plan to deliver a pre-emptive strike against America. But this does not mean that the principles on which strategic stability rests have lost their importance. In fact, this is not a purely military but also a political issue. We need a balance in order not to allow the United States to put pressure on Russia in various areas. But to deter such attempts, we do not need a full parity in nuclear armaments. We need a balance of capabilities, which can be maintained with less effort.

Under the New START Treaty, we are upgrading our strike systems to make them capable of overcoming the U.S. missile defense system. This is our asymmetric response. We are not building a missile defense system of our own that would be similar to the U.S. one. Instead, we are creating regional missile defense systems to defend strategic facilities. Today, it is impossible to defend the entire territory of the country from a massive nuclear strike. But it is quite possible to defend individual strategic facilities, including those that can help deliver a retaliatory nuclear strike.

Don’t forget about outer space and the idea to ban the deployment of any strike weapons there. At present, there is only a ban on the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in outer space. It is time to rethink the Russian-Chinese initiative on this issue.

Today, all local conflicts involve conventional weapons. So Russia must first of all eliminate gaps in its conventional arsenal. I do not agree with Russia’s Military Doctrine which gives priority only to nuclear weapons and their upgrading. There must be a balance in the nuclear sphere, but the emphasis should be put on building up conventional weapons. In developing advanced conventional armaments, special attention should be given to breakthrough technologies.

There is much talk now about incidents with aircraft, their close encounters in the air, and switched-off transponders. Unfortunately, transponders are switched off by both Russian and foreign pilots. Meanwhile, there is the NATO-Russia Council’s Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) which provides for joint monitoring of airspace in Europe through two coordination centers located in Moscow and Warsaw and information exchanges. Now, however, it seems that the CAI program is not being implemented. Hence the aircraft incidents. In addition, the parties have never fulfilled their accords to extend the functions of the Moscow and Warsaw centers, as was proposed in 2009-2010. This is why the increased intensity of flights of Russian and NATO military aircraft along the borders of OSCE countries has led to incidents that might have had grave consequences. However, the international community has focused its attention only on the flights of Russian aircraft. These are double standards which aggravate the already tense situation in Europe. The parties to the CAI program should return to full and accurate compliance with its provisions and requirements.

Vladimir Dvorkin, chief researcher at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, Major General (Ret.):

I certainly do not share the view that the concept of strategic stability now plays a negative role. It is another matter that the situation and the perception of strategic stability have changed dramatically over the last few years. There have emerged new destabilizing factors. There is now the threat of nuclear terrorism – a phenomenon that did not exist at the time when the concept of strategic stability was formed.

The number of nuclear states has increased, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a destabilizing factor. New nuclear states are not as responsible as the United States and the Soviet Union. There is no guarantee, for example, that there will be no nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, today we are witnessing what may be called “nuclear psychosis.” There is even talk about a new nuclear arms race. In fact, there is no race. Russia and the United States strictly comply with the provisions of the New START Treaty. In the meantime, Russia seeks to meet the limits set by the Treaty by “moving from below,” while the U.S. is really reducing its strategic nuclear forces.

By 2014, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces had 1,400 deployed warheads and only 473 deployed launchers. It was only recently (mainly by commissioning two new Project 955 submarines carrying Bulava and Yars missiles) that Russia has achieved balance with the United States in the number of deployed warheads (Russia has 1,643 warheads, and the U.S. has 1,642 warheads). At the same time, the number of deployed launchers in Russia’s strategic nuclear forces is still below the Treaty limits by about 170 units. Is it what you call an arms race?

Commenting on Vladimir Putin’s statement, made at the Army 2015 international military-technical forum, about plans to put 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles into service this year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “This nuclear saber-rattling of Russia is unjustified.” But these missiles are needed only to maintain the Russian nuclear forces at the level provided for by the New START Treaty.

The myth about the existence of an “arms race” could be caused by the large variety of ground-based missile systems. At the time the New START Treaty was signed in 2010, the Strategic Missile Forces had five types of missile systems in service. At present, the sixth type, Rubezh, is undergoing flight tests. Another missile system, Sarmat, with a super-heavy missile, is in development, just as a rail-based missile system. Yet, this situation does not testify to an arms race. The existence of so many types of weapons only creates internal problems, requiring significant additional spending on development, testing, the creation of various deployment infrastructures, and limited deployment and operation of various types of strategic weapons.

At the same time, some politicians in the United States and Russia propose denouncing the INF Treaty. But seriously speaking, a denunciation of the INF Treaty runs counter to the security interests of Russia, the U.S. and Europe. A deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe can lead to a situation similar to the one that existed in the 1980s, before the elimination of intermediate and shorter-range missiles. Central command centers and some facilities of the Soviet Union’s strategic nuclear forces found themselves within reach of Pershing II missiles which had high-accuracy reentry vehicles, earth-penetrators, and a short flight time. This situation forced Moscow to sign the INF Treaty with Washington, under which the Soviet Union had to reduce three times as many warheads as the United States. If such a scenario is repeated in any form, threats to Russia will be much more dangerous because U.S. missiles will be even closer to Russian borders and will have higher accuracy. Therefore a withdrawal from the INF Treaty is completely unacceptable for Russia, not to mention the unacceptably high cost of creating an intermediate-range missile force of its own.

For the United States, the deployment of Russian intermediate-range missiles in the European part of Russia would pose a threat to U.S. allies in Europe, which may have catastrophic consequences and which may lead to an unpredictable transformation of Atlantic relations.

So we can draw the conclusion that all statements by Washington on a possible deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe and Moscow’s  replies about countermeasures should be viewed only as a warning against a denunciation the INF Treaty. In a normal situation, without nuclear psychosis, all mutual complaints about violations of the INF Treaty are resolved peacefully within the framework of advisory commissions.

The endless talk about threats posed by the U.S. missile defense system is another manifestation of nuclear psychosis. This talk continues despite the fact that President Putin explicitly said at the Army 2015 military-technical forum that the Russian nuclear forces would have missiles “capable of overcoming any, even the most sophisticated, missile defense system.” But specialists know that even those missiles that are in service now can easily overcome any missile defense. In addition, there are studies proving that it is impossible to create a missile defense system that would be effective against a massive nuclear attack – only against single and group strikes. Therefore, it is time to stop describing the U.S. missile defense system as a destabilizing factor.

Now a few words about outer space. Not only is it important to prevent deployment of weapons in outer space that are capable of destroying space, land, sea and air-based facilities, but it is also important that there should be no weapons on the ground, in the air or at sea that can destroy space-based targets. When we discussed the Russian-Chinese initiative with the Americans, they said that it was limited only to weapons in outer space. And what about the destruction of space-based targets? Already now there is a weapon that can destroy spacecraft. This is the SM-3 missile capable of intercepting satellites in low orbits.

Such weapons cannot be banned, but we can reach an agreement that they will be used only to destroy targets that pose a danger to all: those that have gone out of control (there are spacecraft with radioisotope power sources), those that can fall to Earth over any point of land or sea, etc.

All these problems can be solved. But to this end we should bring down the mutual militarist psychosis as the first step.

Sergei Oznobishchev, head of a department at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, professor at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations:

The concept of strategic security implies, especially now, ensuring security in a broad context, which only partially includes strategic nuclear weapons. The present head-on approach of the military machines in Russia and the West as a result of the crisis in Ukraine is a very strong factor undermining strategic security.

The looming clash of the two military infrastructures and weapons – for example, combat patrol aircraft or surface warships and submarines – evokes most serious concern. And absolutely unacceptable is thoughtless imitation of air attacks against ships.

Such incidents were common during the Cold War. There were even more dangerous incidents, such as the imitation of mass raids by U.S. aircraft against the Soviet Union across the Arctic. Unfortunately, today when relations between the two countries are strained, acts of dangerous bravado by the military have become more frequent. Take, for example, the incident with a Russian Su-24 bomber which made several low passes over the U.S. destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea. After that, part of the U.S. crew left ship – the stress proved to be too strong for the sailors. Or take another incident with the same USS Donald Cook: a Russian documentary, “Crimea: The Way Back Home,” says that when the Bastion missile system, deployed by Russia on the peninsula, switched on its infrared guidance system, the U.S. ship turned around at full speed. Such incidents may have very serious consequences and they certainly do not help to build confidence or strengthen security we are talking about.

There is a noticeable and regrettable taste of déjà vu in the present developments. In the past, Moscow and Washington agreed to prevent similar situations. One can recall a document of over forty years ago – the 1972 Soviet-U.S. Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas. At that time, at the height of the Cold War, the parties realized that they could not afford to approach the dangerous point of direct military conflict and especially provoke one another by testing each other’s guts, like teenagers.

It is amazing that back in 1972 the two countries already assumed unambiguous obligations to prevent actions and incidents which we are witnessing today. The document clearly states that the parties to the agreement “shall not permit simulated attacks by the simulated use of weapons against aircraft and ships, or performance of various aerobatics over ships.” Surprisingly, the agreement contains behavioral or even philosophical concepts, which, however, are easy to put into practice – for example, the provision requiring the parties “to use the greatest caution and prudence.”

Another document is the 1989 Soviet-U.S. Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities. It also says that the parties “shall exercise great caution and prudence.” Let me remind you that these agreements are still in effect and that Russia proclaimed itself the legal successor of the Soviet Union.

In today’s world a classical Cold War – with an ideologized and long-term confrontation and other immanent characteristics – is impossible. But the situation in the security sphere may deteriorate still further. The lack of direct dialogue may lead to a prolonged confrontation and a limited but tangible arms race. To avoid this scenario, the present relations between Russia and the West in the field of security require urgent normalization so as to avoid armed incidents and a direct military conflict.

Now that Russia’s relations with the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, with Western European countries are strained, the parties could take some steps to return to normal relations, “rational rapprochement” and broader constructive cooperation.

Moscow and Washington should make a political decision to return to rational cooperation. Russian political circles seem to realize this, as Russian officials repeatedly emphasize that Russia should cooperate with other countries in combating common challenges and threats. They even say that “we (Russia) insist on continuing negotiations to reduce nuclear arsenals.”

For positive changes to take place, the parties should first tone down their mutual rhetoric and stop accusing each other of all mortal sins. Given the present relationships between the Kremlin and the mass media, this will be easy to do for Russia. The Americans will have more difficulties, but I believe that they will gradually cope with this task, too.

In more general terms, Russia’s policy should overcome some elements of “reactiveness” in its dialogue with the West. Moscow should declare its goals and long-term program of action – a vision of the peace process in Ukraine and the future world in general. In this regard, it would be advisable for Russia to make an urgent statement about the goals of its policy vis-à-vis Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. Russia should explicitly state its vision of the future of the neighboring fraternal country, which may include a non-bloc and non-nuclear status for Ukraine, guarantees for the status of the Russian language, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia should also think of how to formulate security guarantees for Kiev. Such a document would, among others, help to allay accusations that Russia has imperial ambitions. The situation is such that only the stabilization of the peace process in Ukraine will open up the possibility of reviving the dialogue on security.

It would be advisable to begin consultations with the U.S. and NATO to achieve a common understanding of “dangerous military activities” and, preferably, to conclude agreements like those mentioned above.

It is required to urgently specify provisions of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 (which NATO leaders say is still being observed). The Act says: “NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.” The last few words of this paragraph need to be urgently clarified in order to have a common understanding of quantitative terms literally for every word. We must have a clear understanding of how many foreign troops and how much military equipment can be deployed – and for how long – on the territory of NATO member countries neighboring Russia.

A resumption of at least consultations on conventional armed forces in Europe (negotiations on this issue stalled and were interrupted) would be a notable step towards defusing the situation. Progress in improving the Vienna Document on confidence and security building measures (for example, negotiating lower limits) would help to resume dialogue on European security.

Certainly, we should continue dialogue on the entire range of security issues of concern to Russia. These include a European missile defense, the development of U.S. conventional prompt global strike program, and some others.

The slowdown in reducing and limiting armaments is absolutely not in the interests of Russia which is balancing on the brink of financial and economic crisis. The present situation (and the Ukrainian crisis in general) is provoking an arms race in a form that is especially disadvantageous to Russia at present – namely, a qualitative improvement of the entire spectrum of armaments by Western powers. But to return to dialogue, Moscow, too, should display readiness to discuss security issues of concern to the West.

It is important to give a new impetus to the strengthening of security and arms control. To this end, in the medium term Russia could declare principles (a set of principles) in the field of international security and offer a program of specific actions to strengthen it. In particular, it could think of more content for the draft European security treaty proposed by Moscow back in 2008.

As a long-term objective, Russia could offer a draft program to ensure durable peace and security for Europe and the world and propose convening a summit, Security for All without Dividing Lines, to discuss it. It is also important to return to the idea, proposed by Russia in the 1990s, of strengthening and extending the capabilities and powers of the OSCE, thus turning it into a kind of “United Nations for Europe.”

At this critical and particularly difficult stage in the evolution of security relations between Russia and the West, the opinion of independent experts is particularly important. It would be easier to find new approaches to solving security problems of today and tomorrow within the framework of a free international expert dialogue.

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