Russian and U.S. Defense Policies in the Era of Globalization

13 may 2007

Pavel Zolotarev is Deputy Director of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Resume: The West does not want to see Russia strong; it fears it. However, it seems that it is not the West but Russia itself that is driving the country onto a self-destructive path. The executive power has become hostage to forces whose well-being depends on defense orders. Moreover, under the influence of these forces a new defense policy of Russia has begun to take shape.

The defense policies of Russia and the United States differ essentially, and this difference is deeply rooted. Along the same lines, the positions and roles of the two countries in the globalization processes are incommensurable: the U.S. largely initiates these processes, whereas Russia must adapt to them.

The internationalization of the American economy has not only stimulated the globalization processes; indeed, it has made the U.S. directly dependent on the success of these processes. Washington needs to create a favorable environment for globalization and, at the same time, mitigate its negative effects. The solution of these two tasks is impossible without reliance on military force, which inevitably necessitates the globalization of U.S. defense policy.

The ability to project force globally has become a major condition for ensuring national security and serves as the foundation, on which the logic of this policy is formed.

In contrast, Russia’s defense policy in the Soviet era required the global projection of force for purely ideological reasons that naturally stemmed from the bipolar confrontation. It was not in the interests of the economy to exert military power, thus, the prevalence of politics was one of the causes of the Soviet economy’s collapse.

Contemporary Russia has some economic prerequisites for seeking a global projection of force (in regard to the raw-material sector of the economy). However, the country’s military potential, besides the nuclear component, is not conducive to such a policy. After the end of the Cold War, Russia ceased to be a superpower; moreover, it lacks the political, economic and military potentials of a regional power. At the same time, its nuclear might (Russia is the only country capable of “overkilling” the United States) agitates the nostalgic claims of its superpower status.


Former U.S. president Bill Clinton spent his entire presidency working out a new defense policy under new conditions. But his administration usually showed restraint and avoided any impulsive moves. The Clinton administration’s defense policy was gradually adapting itself to the changes of the time. There were only two major problems it faced: the destiny of the Soviet Union’s nuclear potential, and the settlement of the military conflict in the Balkans.

The first problem required the solution of several specific tasks in the field of nuclear security. The solution was found and implemented within the guidelines of the Nunn-Lugar program.
The Balkan crisis promoted the peacemaking aspect of U.S. defense policy, and boosted efforts to make NATO a major instrument of U.S. policy in the Euro-Atlantic space. The United States obtained more opportunities for peacemaking operations, including those involving coalition groups and NATO command and control bodies. NATO’s transformation and enlargement became a component of U.S. defense policy. Peacemaking turned into a foreign-policy instrument, allowing Washington to use military force in a more or less legitimate form.

Simultaneously, the United States reduced the troop strength of its National Guard and Armed Forces (approximately by 40 percent), as well as Army divisions, naval ships and Air Force wings (by about 45 percent). Also, it cut the number of troops and military bases stationed abroad and lowered the alert status of elements of the backup control system, which ensured the reliability of command and control in the event of a nuclear war.

The defense budget structure was changed as well. The purchase of arms and military equipment was markedly reduced, while spending on research and development did not change much, although some projects were actually frozen. This approach was explained by the desire to skip a generation of technology in equipping the Armed Forces.

There were prospects at that time for building a National Missile Defense system, which would be largely linked to nonproliferation activities and the creation of a Global Defense System, possibly with the participation of Russia. Therefore, the destiny of the 1972 ABM Treaty did not cause much worry.

By the time the administration of George W. Bush came to power, there had accumulated many internal problems pertaining to military questions. The great budget surplus, inherited from the Clinton administration, let Bush solve these problems, but he needed solid substantiations for such a decision.

The Bush government did not intend to be bound by international commitments on security matters; the only superpower could afford to ignore any possible negative reaction from other countries with regard to its policy. The new administration would “proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community” (Condoleezza Rice. Campaign 2000: Promoting the National Interest, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000).

Such an approach is nothing new; it has been characteristic of the U.S. since the 19th century, just as it has been with its main Messianic goal: the promotion of democracy and freedom. As regards defense policy, I would like to again cite Ms Rice from the same article, now on the need to transform the Armed Forces: “U.S. technological advantages should be leveraged to build forces that are lighter and more lethal, more mobile and agile, and capable of firing accurately from long distances.”

As it so happened, the completion of the new conceptual documents in defense policy practically coincided in time with the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001.


The new defense policy is best condensed in the Nuclear Posture Review [submitted to the U.S. Congress on December 31, 2001 – Ed.], viewed as the new nuclear doctrine of the United States. At the same time, the NPR contains a strategy for comprehensive employment of all Armed Forces assets (both nuclear and conventional).

The NPR establishes a New Triad, in which offensive strike systems (both nuclear and non-nuclear) are only one of three components. The other two include defenses and a revitalized defense infrastructure that will provide “new capabilities in a timely fashion to meet emerging threats.” All the components of the New Triad are bound together by enhanced command and control, intelligence and analysis systems within the framework of a new Strategic Command (STRATCOM).

For historical reasons, it was only by the end of the Cold War that the U.S. military-political leadership established a unified strategic command. The command was in charge of planning and controlling U.S. strategic nuclear forces that remained in the traditionally rival services of the Air Force and the Navy. At the same time, command and control of general-purpose forces was outside the Command’s authority. It took about ten more years before a command and control body (STRATCOM) was established in the U.S. This body, which is similar to the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, was given command authority over diverse services in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The U.S. Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, adopted in 2005, defined very precisely the essence of strategic deterrence and the goals guiding the employment of the U.S. Armed Forces, including nuclear weapons.

Strategic deterrence is defined as “the prevention of adversary aggression or coercion that threatens vital interests of the United States and/or our national survival.”
Goals that guide the development of U.S. force capabilities, their development and use:

– assuring allies and friends of the U.S. steadfastness of purpose and its capability to fulfill its security commitments;
– dissuading adversaries from undertaking programs or operations that could threaten U.S. interests or those of its allies and friends;
– deterring aggression and coercion by deploying forward the capacity to swiftly defeat attacks and imposing severe penalties for aggression on an adversary’s military capability and supporting infrastructure;
– decisively defeating an adversary if deterrence fails.

So, the prevention of enemy attack must be achieved not by being the first to initiate combat actions, but through military-political and diplomatic actions that are meant to dissuade potential adversaries from using military force against the United States. Therefore, only one of the four goals of Armed Forces employment involves combat actions.

The comprehensive use by one command (STRATCOM) of all Armed Forces assets is intended to achieve two goals – minimizing the need to employ nuclear weapons for fulfilling the tasks set, and preserving nuclear weapons’ deterrence function under the new conditions.

The Nuclear Posture Review reveals the obvious U.S. desire to reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons for deterring adversary attack. This can be done in two ways:
First, implement the simultaneous development of non-nuclear strike forces and information systems (intelligence and command and control) to a level that will allow for the delivery of strikes against targets; the effectiveness of such systems would make unnecessary the employment of nuclear weapons, or reduce the need for them to the minimum.

Second, develop defense systems capable of countering single and group ballistic missile strikes, while avoiding the need for an immediate launch-on-warning retaliatory strike.

The new security environment has made redundant the former employment of strategic nuclear forces (massive nuclear strikes). The basic plans for employing nuclear weapons have remained unchanged both in the U.S. and Russia. There is no political sense in mutual nuclear deterrence, yet we have to maintain it for organizational and technical reasons; there are no signs of universal nuclear disarmament in the near future. Moreover, the threat of further nuclear proliferation is increasingly growing, while the nature of future threats remains unknown. This calls for finding spheres where nuclear weapons could be effectively employed against a wider spectrum of threats. Deterrence may now involve single or group nuclear strikes, while classifying nuclear weapons into strategic and tactical ones begins to lose sense.

As before, deterrence is possible only if nuclear weapons are viewed in a broader perspective rather than as a political instrument only, and if everything is done to assure adversaries of the possibility of nuclear weapon employment. This calls for meeting the following basic requirements:

1. Maintaining the required nuclear readiness.
2. Holding to the position that nuclear weapon employment is a probable event, while demonstrating the political leadership’s resolve to use nuclear weapons in a critical situation.
3. Preserving the balance between the transparency and ambiguousness of conditions for employing nuclear weapons.

As follows from the Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. will meet all these requirements. The alert status of the larger part of America’s nuclear forces may be downgraded, while, at the same time, preserving its launch-under-attack capability that involves a certain number of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Planning the employment of nuclear weapons under the new conditions is rather complicated. One must ensure operational detection of new targets and work out plans for their destruction in real time. The destruction plan must be integrated, embracing the entire spectrum of possible means of destruction, including nuclear weapons as a last resort. These considerations must be behind plans to turn to adaptive planning.

The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review makes no mention of deterring Russia. It only says that Russia “maintains the most formidable nuclear forces, aside from the United States,” adding, however, that “there now are no ideological sources of conflict with Moscow.” The employment by Russia and the U.S. of nuclear weapons against each other is viewed possible only as the result of unforeseen circumstances (an accidental or unauthorized missile launch, etc.).

This conclusion is of fundamental importance and underlies one of the goals of the new nuclear policy: “Adjusting U.S. immediate nuclear force requirements in recognition of the changed relationship with Russia is a critical step away from the Cold War policy of mutual vulnerability and toward more cooperative relations.”

The U.S. declared nuclear policy does not pose direct threats to Russia’s security, nor does it strengthen it. Whatever the political intentions of the United States are, its military capabilities, including in the nuclear field, steadily increase.

The U.S. 2002 National Security Strategy says: “Russia’s uneven commitment to the basic values of free-market democracy and dubious record in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remain matters of great concern. Russia’s very weakness limits the opportunities for cooperation. Nevertheless, those opportunities are vastly greater now than in recent years – or even decades.”

The latest Quadrennial Defense Review of February 6, 2006, also expresses concern over “the erosion of democracy in Russia, the curtailment of non-governmental organizations and freedom of the press, the centralization of political power and limits on economic freedom.”

Meanwhile, there remain complications in Russian-U.S. relations, and these are most probable at the regional level – where their interests coincide geographically, and as a consequence of their mutual nuclear deterrence. When these two factors coincide, the situation may become particularly critical. Thus, Russia’s reaction to the planned deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.


Presently, the substantive part of Russia’s defense policy is more determined by internal factors than outside threats.

Since 1992, the main factor that predetermines the essence of this policy is the systemic crisis of Russia’s statehood, which has hit all branches of government. The executive branch acts without strategy, proceeding from short-term priorities of political groups struggling for power and access to property and financial flows. The legislative and judicial branches are amorphous and absolutely dependent on the executive.

The actions of the executive branch are at variance with legislatively established procedures for defining strategic priorities of domestic and foreign policies.

It is worth mentioning that the law On Security of the Russian Federation was adopted back in 1992. In keeping with the principles embraced by all modern states and fixed in UN documents, this law gives priority to the development of the human potential. The law defines security as the protection of vital interests of the individual, society and the state. To ensure such a state, the Statute on Russia’s Security Council entrusted the Council with analyzing and balancing out these interests, uncovering factors impeding their realization, and finding ways to ensure the country’s security. This was how the Concept of the Russian Federation’s Security and its component part – the Military Doctrine – were to be formed. The law also provided for procedures for implementing the security policy, namely, through federal budget programs. In practice, however, this way of shaping home and foreign policies of the state did not materialize.

At the same time, the situation that evolved in Russia by the mid-90s hardly inspired hope for something else. Even if the interests of various sections of society had been analyzed and considered in the course of privatization, the situation would not have drastically changed. The means of production would have ended up in the hands of the former Soviet nomenklatura and ‘chevaliers’ of fortune of every stripe from the inner circle all the same.

Subsequent political developments left fewer opportunities for implementing a strategically correct policy, as the interests of an absolute majority of the population were beyond the scope of state policy. Moreover, the state security structures, including the Armed Forces, also found themselves beyond the interests of the state, which did not prevent them, however, from being used at a critical stage of confrontation between the executive and legislature branches in October 1993.

Russia’s security forces were left to the mercy of those who – at a time when the state institutions of Soviet Russia were being destroyed – were ready to undermine and destroy the defense and security potential of the new Russia.

While the top echelons were busy dividing former public property among them, control over small businesses was handed over to criminal organizations. As a result, by the late 1990s there emerged a criminal-oligarchic state in Russia. The struggle for the division of property gave way to the struggle for power. Oligarchs sought to take power from above, while criminal groups did the same from below. The state’s power vertical was placed under jeopardy, thus the time was again not right for working on a strategy.

At the same time, the country’s military organization hit a critical point, beyond which were irreversible processes of decay. The military-industrial complex in some aspects even passed this point. Nevertheless, due credit must be given to the country’s military leaders. Despite the challenges they faced, they successfully handled myriad difficult theoretical and practical tasks. They correctly assessed the international situation and adequately chose the main areas for the country’s defense policy. These were included in the Concept of Forming the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and in the Basic Provisions of the Military Doctrine (October 1993). The doctrine said, in particular, that Russia no longer had enemies or military threats, but there were sources of military threats. The country’s nuclear forces were assigned the task of deterring and preventing large conflicts, for which the Armed Forces were not yet ready because of the weakness of the general-purpose forces.

During the military reconstruction, the following tasks were laid down to meet the requirements of the time:

– transition to a mixed volunteer- and conscription-based recruiting system in the Armed Forces;
– transition from the army/division structure in the Ground Forces to a corps/brigade structure;
– formation of mobile forces capable of rapid deployment that may accomplish restricted tasks in any region of the country.

The outlined tasks that were set for completion by 1995 remain unfulfilled to this day – not through the fault of the military leadership.

As regards practical actions of the Armed Forces, in those conditions they can be described as successful. Suffice it to recall the colossal operation to withdraw Russian troops stationed in East European countries and deploy them back home, and the successful peacekeeping operations in South Ossetia, Transdnestria, Abkhazia, Tajikistan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It will also be fair to recognize the successful military part of the operation to restore the constitutional order in Chechnya. Despite the treacherous position of state officials, not to mention hostile actions by the mass media against their own Army, the military professionally handled their mission. The rest must be on the conscience of the political leadership.

Russia’s relations with its Western partners, and the U.S. in particular, despite differences on NATO’s enlargement and the Kosovo crisis, experienced a period of steadily positive dynamics. Although Russia lacked enough funds at the time, it made no attempts to solve its financial problems by hyping the military threats factor.

At the beginning of the new millennium, as a team of statists came to power in Russia, domestic policy drastically changed. The new government removed the threat of the country’s disintegration and thwarted an oligarchic coup that intended to create a parliamentary republic in Russia with the help of a corrupt State Duma. Security services achieved some success in combating crime and corruption. A favorable external economic environment created the prerequisites for overcoming an internal economic crisis. Eventually, the government set its sights on the country’s social problems. Rudiments of a civil society began to be formed in Russia, albeit from above, rather than from the grassroots level.

However much one may criticize Russia, it was only authoritarian-style methods of government that were capable of liquidating the consequences of the chaotic transformations of the early 1990s, stopping organized crime, which sought to take over power in the country, and reducing the level of corruption that permeated all branches of government.

Over time, high energy prices helped to improve funding of the Armed Forces. Although the share of the GDP allocated for defense (less than 3 percent) remained unchanged, the amount of defense spending in absolute terms increased. Military construction plans were consistently implemented; the structure of the state’s military organization was noticeably optimized; and the system of interaction between the military and defense industries improved. Obviously, it was impossible to overcome, in a short period of time, the consequences of the protracted underfinancing of the Armed Forces. But the external situation allowed this to become a reality only gradually, without detriment to the country’s development.

However, alarming tendencies, which showed once again the gravity of a situation when decisions are not based on profound analysis and goals set down by law, have marked the recent years.
There is an impression that the executive branch again chooses priorities from the positions of its struggle for power within the present alignment of forces and influences of specific political groups, rather than in security interests as they are interpreted in the law On Security of the Russian Federation. An obvious priority of state interests has been established over the interests of the individual and society.

The arrangement of state priorities is fully reflected in the country’s budgetary policy.

Ever since Russia became an independent state, the correlation in the national budget between traditional functions of the state (administration, defense and security) and modern ones (education, public health, and other social tasks) has been at a level uncharacteristic of developed nations. In developed countries, the ratio between traditional and modern functions of the state stands at 1:6, while in developing countries it is 1:3. The law On Security of the Russian Federation, as well as UN documents that Russia, together with other states, has pledged to observe, established a different arrangement of priorities. They give top priority to the individual and the development of the human potential. Giving priority to state interests over the interests of the individual and society ruins the state in the long run, as the history of the Soviet Union proves.

Naturally, tanks, aircraft, ships and submarines do not run, fly or sail by themselves; they are set in motion by individuals who must be healthy and technically educated. The persisting imbalance of priorities obstructs plans to introduce a mixed recruitment system in the Armed Forces and create a corps of contract sergeants, and has a negative impact on the entire defense policy. Moreover, the Defense Ministry assigns more importance to arms purchases than the human potential.

In 2006, defense spending exceeded allocations for education and public health by about 200 percent each. By comparison, Germany spends three times more money on education and seven times more money on public health than on defense. This ratio is typical of all developed countries. Even the warring United States, which spends exorbitant amounts on defense, nevertheless allocates more funds for education and public health, taken separately, than it does for defense.

A document on the main areas of budgetary policy over the next three years sets priority on raising the standard of living in the country. Social problems are to be solved through high economic growth rates. Adequate defense and security are named in the document as necessary conditions for achieving the goal. In real figures, however, things are just the opposite. The gap between spending on defense and spending on public health and education, far from decreasing, is only growing. In 2006, defense spending stood at 659 billion rubles, while in 2009 it is to reach 1,037 billion rubles. The respective figures for public health and sports are 156 billion and 214 billion rubles, and for education – 208 billion and 297 billion rubles.

Simultaneously, the government is pushing for increasing the share of defense spending to a level that was set but never backed by it in the mid-1990s – 3.6 percent of the GDP. The question is: How can this be achieved? It is doubtful that the government will cut general state expenditures. It is no coincidence that emotions are now fueled over the growth of military threats. The population must be convinced that enemies are everywhere; they must resign themselves to this fact and tighten their belts.

To all appearances, the executive power has become hostage to forces whose well-being depends on defense orders. Moreover, under the influence of these forces a new defense policy of Russia has begun to take shape.

It goes without saying that the U.S. and NATO occasionally are the cause for changes in Russia’s defense policy on the international scene. However, we must not forget what can result from an inaccurate arrangement of priorities. Actions by Western powers cannot pose a real military threat; suffice it to look at the results of the war in Iraq. Despite superiority in military might, neither the U.S. nor any of its allies are able to conduct a protracted war, even on a local scale. The age of globalization has introduced a new system for limiting military capabilities.

Meanwhile, the executive power, which is increasingly guided by short-term interests, has lost the faculty for strategic planning in both domestic and foreign policies.

The West does not want to see Russia strong; it fears it. However, it seems that it is not the West but Russia itself that is driving the country onto a self-destructive path.

The main legislative problem facing Russia is that the State Duma has turned into an expensive kind of Legislation Ministry under the government. The legislature is still unable to form a defense budget structure that would allow establishing civilian control over the defense sphere. This was the reason for numerous inconsistent decisions, such as the abolition and then reinstatement of the Ground Forces Command, and the inclusion of the Space Forces into the Strategic Missile Forces, and their subsequent exclusion. There are still plans to unite different arms and services of the Armed Forces according to “warfare spheres” – water, land and air – as well as to merge the Air Force and the Strategic Missile Forces. At the same time, even from the text of the existing Military Doctrine it follows that modern warfare will not be waged separately according to spheres. On the contrary, the Doctrine calls for unifying command and control, irrespective of the environment but depending on a mission. There is no sense in destroying administrative control – such a step would be expensive and not efficient. However, command and control must be united according to mission level – strategic and regional – especially since Russia has some real achievements in this field. At the strategic level, Russia’s military leaders realized and solved this task earlier than their American counterparts. The new structure of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which meets modern requirements, appeared on the scene earlier than STRATCOM in the U.S. Armed Forces. Russia has also launched an experimental program at the regional level, but this experiment has too many opponents who advocate traditional approaches and desire a mixture of administrative and operational control in the Armed Forces.

The judicial system in the military sphere has undergone major positive changes. Efforts to combat crime in the Armed Forces have achieved a scale incommensurable with that in the early 1990s. But the main problem – actual independence of the military branch of the judicial power – remains unsolved. The judiciary has also become a kind of judicial ministry within the executive, hence, the inevitable rendition of “expedient” court decisions. Moreover, an undermined belief in fair justice does not add to the government’s popularity. Unfortunately, it is the military that often must pay for the poor work of legislators who have not yet created a clear legal field for the military’s actions to ensure the nation’s internal security.

All of the aforementioned factors show that Russia’s defense policy largely depends on internal political processes. In an age of globalization, real threats to security (proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, etc.) require the joint efforts of Russia and the United States. But to this end, Russia must make its defense policy independent of subjective factors of its internal development, while the United States should show respect for Russia and treat it as an equal partner, as opposed to a loser in the Cold War.

Last updated 13 may 2007, 12:59

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