Reflections on Russia’s nuclear strategy

Authored by: Stephen Blank

Routledge Handbook of Russian Security

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815396710
eBook ISBN: 9781351181242
Adobe ISBN:


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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, continuing military buildup, and ongoing information attacks on Western governments have forced Western experts to awake from their dogmatic slumbers and take Russian defense policy and thinking seriously. Therefore, one of the most critical questions we must answer concerns the role of nuclear weapons in Russian strategy. Nuclear weapons remain the priority in Russian procurement for the new defense plan through 2025, as in the previous plan through 2020 (Gorenburg, 2017). And this occurs even though doctrinally and in practice the government and military proclaim their emphasis on non-nuclear deterrence in current and future military planning. 1 Neither can we hide behind the old cliché that Russia values nuclear weapons because they endow it with great power status and because it cannot compete with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) superior conventional technologies. While both these points are true, Moscow actually retains a comfortable margin of superiority along all of its borders vis-à-vis NATO. Moreover, NATO clearly is reluctant to rearm and certainly cannot mount anti-Russian offensives, as Moscow knows. Nowhere does Russia predict that combat operations are in sight or imminent (Voyennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii, 2014). Moreover, its strictures against U.S. missile defenses in Europe that supposedly are the greatest military issue dividing East and West and a threat to strategic stability are a canard, as Russian writers freely admit (Arbatov and Dvorkin, 2013, p. 8).

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