Russia, new guidelines for the use of thermonuclear weapons

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The President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has signed the new reference doctrine for the use of thermonuclear assets. “The use of nuclear weapons is authorized as an extremely necessary measure. Nuclear deterrence is designed to ensure that the potential opponent understands the inevitable retaliation for aggression against Russia and its allies. “

Mutual Assured Destruction

The ultimate goal of thermonuclear weapons is the same developed in the late 1940s: to discourage a strategic escalation between the United States and Russia and against their respective allies. It is not conceived in theory to be used to prevent or during a conventional attack or in the presence of the use of chemical and biological weapons in the field. The concept of Mutual Assured Destruction is based on the principle that the United States and Russia would have no reasonable opportunity to eliminate the entire opponent’s thermonuclear arsenal and escape an apocalyptic retaliatory attack. It is the existence of the strategic arsenal itself, therefore, that prevents any use in the real world. Thermonuclear weapons are by nature indiscriminate and any use of them carries the risk of uncontrolled escalation.

Preserving the stability of deterrence

The reference doctrines for the use of strategic assets are constantly revised based on the perception of gaps potentially exploitable by an opponent. Correcting this erroneous perception is a strategic imperative. It is external (perception) and internal (certainty) factors that shape the strategic response. Deterrence is essentially a psychological weapon active on the perceptions of the potential opponent, but would lose its effectiveness without a credible ability. The recalibration of the strategic reference doctrines, therefore, attempts to fill an imagined void of credibility. The doctrines of reference for the use of strategic assets cannot be determined by fashion: the only positive utility of thermonuclear weapons is their non-use.

Russia, decree 355

The decree “Fundamentals of state policy of the Russian Federation in the field of nuclear deterrence” was signed a few hours ago by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. The document, the American equivalent of the Nuclear Posture Review, consists of seven pages divided into four sections in its unclassified part. Unlike the NPR, there is no distinction in the Russian decree between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.

Russia, the strategic posture behind the thermonuclear options

“Russia’s state policy in the field of thermonuclear deterrence is defensive in nature. The potential of strategic forces is maintained at a level sufficient to guarantee nuclear deterrence. The entire strategic range guarantees the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state and avoids any potential adversary aggression against the Russian Federation and (or) its allies “.

The factors that transform a state into a strategic target

In the decree signed by Putin (article 12, section II, page 3), the main elements and factors that transform a state into a high priority strategic target are listed:
“The accumulation of thermonuclear forces or strategic launchers in the territories adjacent to the Russian Federation and its allies by a potential opponent” – “Deployment of anti-missile defense systems” – “Deployment of SMD systems” – “Deployment of hypersonic systems to high precision with conventional payload “-” Deployment of heavy UAVs “-” Deployment of direct energy systems “-” Deployment in space of missile defense and attack systems “-” The presence in non-nuclear countries of strategic assets and other types of weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the Russian Federation or its allies “-” Uncontrolled proliferation of thermonuclear assets and their delivery vehicles “-” Deployment of thermonuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles in the territories of the States non-nuclear “.

“The state policy of the Russian Federation guarantees the prevention of escalation of hostilities and their cessation on conditions acceptable to the country and its allies. Thermonuclear weapons are considered exclusively as a means of deterrence: their use is recognized as an extremely necessary measure. Thermonuclear deterrence is designed to ensure that the potential opponent understands the inevitable retaliation for aggression against the Russian Federation and its allies. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use thermonuclear weapons in response to the use of strategic assets against it or its allies. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use thermonuclear assets in response to an attack carried out with weapons of mass destruction against it and its allies. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use thermonuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack on government structures, the nation’s military infrastructure or when the very existence of the state is threatened. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use thermonuclear weapons in response to the reliable detection of opposing ballistic missiles against the Nation or one of its allies. “
“Nuclear deterrence is designed to ensure that the potential opponent understands the inevitable retaliation for aggression against the Russian Federation and its allies. Russia considers it impermissible to interrupt international relations in the field of nuclear deterrence “.

To the President of the Russian Federation the final decision to transform a conventional conflict into thermonuclear.

The concept of extended deterrence: the nuclear umbrella

The concept of extended deterrence simply means that a state will provide security to a second country by fearful of retaliation against a third party who may wish to attack it. It is a logical extrapolation of the deterrence theory. Extended deterrence pledges Russia to go to war with another great power to protect a more vulnerable state. When Russia chooses to ensure deterrence extended to another state, this commitment includes all planned measures, including strategic ones.

Translating Decree 355: from targets to Moscow’s perceptions

Under the new Russian directives, almost all NATO countries are considered potential high priority strategic targets. While not mentioning any country, unlike the US NPR, the references are obvious. By including a conventional attack as a possible trigger for Russian thermonuclear retaliation, Decree 355 sends a clear warning signal to the United States. The new strategic posture reflects Moscow’s concerns over the United States for the development of assets, with a conventional payload, which could give Washington the option of canceling the Russian command line or disabling retaliatory structures. It is the existential threat, to be understood as the ability to cause unacceptable damage to the opponent, which enables the launch of thermonuclear assets.

Moscow avoids the ambiguity of tactical nuclear weapons

The tactical term is ambiguous and dangerous since every thermonuclear weapon used in the real world will have a strategic yield. If someone attacked the United States or Russia with tactical nuclear weapons by definition, the answer would certainly be strategic and not tactical.

In decree 355, referring to the strategic range, Moscow does not refer to tactical nuclear weapons. This is because the surrender of each tactical weapon will always be strategic. The definition that groups “non-strategic nuclear weapons” is a relic of the Cold War. Based on the scalar concept of a tactical asset, its use is theoretically considered isolated, limited and proportional. However, every thermonuclear weapon used is strategic. This is due to the growing recognition that any use of nuclear power would have strategic consequences. And it is under the strategic lens that their real goal must be assessed, that is, convincing the opponent that they cannot achieve their goals under penalty of devastating retaliation. This is deterrence, the primary purpose of the nuclear arsenals of the nation states that own them.