Materials of the second International Conference
Problems of maintenance of strategic stability

Maj. Gen, Strategic Rocket Forces, ret.

After the end of the cold war, many analysts predicted that the world would not be stable. This is indeed what has happened over the last decade. New challenges and threats have replaced the old ones. Many old concepts and approaches lost their validity.
Thus, for instance, the concept of strategic stability in the past used to deal exclusively with the relationship between the USA and USSR, with their strategic nuclear forces. (SNF) Now, despite the fact that the US and Russian SNF continue to deter one another, this approach to strategic stability is outdated. Since both sides have not agreed yet upon a new definition of strategic stability, we have an opportunity to have a free exchange of ideas on this issue. Before addressing the issue of strategic stability under new international situation, we need to understand the substance of this new situation, the trends of its evolution.

One may, of course, avoid such theorizing, simply assume that the world is unpredictable, and therefore prepare to react to all possible threats. But this is an irrational approach. Its resource requirements would be excessive even for such a powerful nation as the US, while mistakes may result in grave consequences.

The Trends of International Development.

The most important recent trends are:

- Continuing globalization;
- Preservation of a unipolar world;
- Development of the crisis of civilizations.


This process is still an early stage, but there are already some tangible results.

First, there is a huge gap between the levels of development of different nations. Some are still trying to survive, while others are at a postindustrial stage of development. This gap is growing.

The differentiation among the very strong and rich nations and the very poor and weak ones is by itself destabilizing. Reliance on force continues to be one of the main instruments of international politics. When nations are approximately equal in military power, they have to seek carefully thought out solutions to international problems, especially when such solutions may involve use of military force. Without military parity, the party that has an overwhelming military superiority, is not motivated to seek reasonable solutions. Instead, preponderance in military power entices one to seek solutions that appear to be simple. Therefore, the most powerful nation, which can influence other nations with a whole range of non-military instruments, most frequently relies on use or threat of use of force.

When nations are approximately equal in strength, they seek - and find - symmetrical and adequate responses to military pressure. Military conflicts between such states are the least probable.

Weak nations cannot adequately respond to the aggressor and have to rely on asymmetrical responses.

International terrorism is an asymmetrical response by a weak state against pressure by a strong nation. At the same time, open use of terrorism by a state is hardly possible, at least because it will be no longer terrorism, but subversive activity. Subversive activity entitles its target to use force, openly and legitimately, against the country which engages in such activity. Therefore, weak states, even if they are inclined to support terrorist organizations, do so covertly. Frequently terrorist organizations are not territorially connected to the state supporting them. Such support can be organizational, financial, etc., but usually it is covert. Various social, charitable and religious organizations can be used as channels for such covert aid.

When powerful states ignore international law, weak states see international terrorism as the only possible means of counteraction, and nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism - as the most cost effective methods of terror. The events of September 11, 2001, demonstrated that the range of actions by international terrorism is very broad.

Second, new international players - transnational structure - have appeared in the process of globalization.

Transnational structures have their own corporate interests. These interests frequently do not coincide with the interests of states. As the number of international structures grow, the role of the state is reduced - states find it more difficult to control domestic politics, partially lose sovereignty over the national economy, etc. Still, the majority of transnational structures working in the fields of finance, information, etc., need state structures. They cannot function without the legal space provided by state.

Criminal transnational structures are quite different. For them states are the main obstacle. The weaker the state and its law enforcement mechanism, the more unstable its domestic political situation, the better of are the criminal transnational structures. Therefore, wherever the internal conflicts become aggravated and turn into armed conflicts, criminal transnational structures make their appearance. Internal conflict by itself is a sign of a state’s weakness. Moreover, the interests of criminal transnational structures and separatists frequently overlap. The areas of internal armed conflicts are easily penetrated by drug traffic. Separatists make money from drug trafficking, in order to buy weapons, support terrorist groups, etc. Weapons are sold in the areas of armed conflict also by transnational criminal structures.

For the reasons enumerated above, transnational criminal groups are interested in internal conflicts and aggravate them. Since the separatists usually engage in guerrilla warfare and acts of terror, the transnational criminal structures, local separatist groups and international terrorist organizations are closely interconnected. Therefore the organizational forms of international terrorist organizations and transnational criminal structures are similar - they are networked. Various underground sectarian groups, revolutionary organizations, national-liberation movements, guerrilla movements, etc have been organized into networks.

It is noteworthy that modern information systems that have appeared in the period of globalization (Internet, mobile telephone networks) are also networked. This has helped the networks of international criminal and terrorist structures to achieve a qualitatively new level of organization.

Paradoxically, the Western community of nations, as it develops, creates conditions for growth of international terrorism, giving the terrorists all the necessary tools for action. The infrastructure of command and control of terrorist and criminal organizations is not a stand-alone system, and cannot be destroyed by traditional methods, including military force.

Third, the great gap in the standards of living between the postindustrial and other nations, internal conflicts, poverty, etc., produce powerful migration from poor countries to the rich ones.

The post-industrial societies themselves also suffer from increasing social inequality. In the process of globalization a sharp differentiation takes place both at an interstate and intra-state levels. In the post-industrial society inequality is determined, first of all, by the level of an individual’s intellectual and creative abilities, and not by his/her ownership of the means of production. The highest social positions are occupied not by those who produce the means of production, but those involved in the services, science and new technologies.

In the final analysis, in the post-industrial society an individual sells not himself/herself as a unit of workforce, but rather the product of his/her intellectual activity, continuing, to a considerable degree, to still own it. The final product of intellectual activity is impossible to detach from the owner of the intellect. Without the intellect, all the other forms of storage of the technology of reproduction of the final product can turn into a pile of useless documents.

Under such circumstances, the migrants from poor nations who have little education, find themselves among the poorest of the poor in the rich nations. Their disappointment turns them into a fertile ground for recruitment by international criminal structures and international terrorist organizations. Thus, the postindustrial nations are facing an increasing potential for internal conflict and instability.

Four, the processes of globalization result in a growth of nationalism, of separatist sentiment, of internal conflicts. In weak states internal conflicts easily turn into armed conflicts. When internal conflicts turn into the armed ones, they frequently become guerrilla insurgencies. Terrorism often becomes the only way to resist the government. The simultaneous processes of globalization, of disintegration of post-World War II international system, the growth of nationalism, have all resulted in an increasing number of nation states. Before World War II there were 50 sovereign states, while now there are more than 250. According to some estimates, in another quarter of a century this number may rise to 250. Establishment of each new state involves a period of instability, and many of them join the ranks of failing or failed states. Therefore, all of them will provide fertile grounds for transnational criminal structures and international terrorist organizations.

Five, the process of globalization is accompanied by and relies upon the development of information technologies and systems.

For postindustrial societies information technologies are a factor of their development. In these societies, one needs to be knowledgeable in these technologies to be a member of the elites. In the developing countries, information technologies are not so much a factor of their development as a tool for disseminating information. For the last 15 -20 years the inhabitants of the most distant regions of the world can observe a different life, the life of the immeasurably more wealthy western world. This has already caused a wave of protest and hatred among two generations of people, who don’t have even the slightest hope for joining this illusory (for them) reality. Informational transparency makes the gap in the standard of living ever more tangible. The mood of protest is particularly strong in the Muslim world, because this gap is one of the manifestations of the crisis of civilizations.

Modern information technologies not only aggravate conflicts, but also provide the transnational structures, including the terrorist organizations, with great additional capabilities. On the one hand, information technologies enable them to influence people’s minds and form their worldview. On the other hand, information technologies make it easier to control movement of money and to organize actions of various terrorist groups in real time. Using information systems one can find detailed data of potential targets for acts of terrors just about anywhere in the world without leaving one’s desk.

As mentioned earlier, the developed countries have themselves created informational systems whose structure is optimal for use by international terrorists organizations. As if custom made for the networks of international criminal and terrorist organizations, there are freely accessed networked information structures. Since these networked informational structures are increasingly used by government agencies, the terrorists are gaining more and more opportunities for cyber terrorism. The systems of state control are usually hierarchical, but networked informational systems save administrative resources by avoiding the creation of expensive specialized control systems. Many take this path at the expense of their own security.

Preservation of unipolar international system.

The bipolar world of the Cold war was, despite the balancing at the edge of world war, more stable and secure that the current world order, which is in essence unipolar. Only a bi-polar system can be stable. Unipolar and multi-polar systems cannot be stable. Such systems can be stable only temporarily, during a transitional phase.

The structure of the future bi-polar world is not clear yet, but some predictions can be made even now. Today, however, we are in a transitional phase, and much here depends on the USA.

Unilateral American leadership cannot produce global stability and order. But at the same time US unilateral leadership is more conducive to stability and security at the regional and global levels than the chaos of a multipolar world. The US has enough power to provide this degree of order and stability, but only if it uses its power in a smart way.

Unfortunately, the US often disregards advice and interests of others, even its own allies. When there are no effective institutions providing for international security, and the US has both absolute economic and military dominance, it is not inclined to look for complex solutions. Use of military force becomes not the extreme measure, to be taken only when all other measures have failed, but as the simplest, fastest and most effective way to achieve one’s goals. This is why sometime earlier the peacekeeping operations have actually turned, on more or less legal grounds, into an instrument of foreign policy, which allows to use military force to achieve one’s national interests. And this is why today one can observe the desire to use military force in one’s national interests under the flag of anti-terrorist operations, and non-proliferation of WMD.

Because of this, it is very important to work out some mechanisms for preventing the US from embarking on hasty and poorly thought out actions, especially those employing military force. A special role in this should be played by the European nations and Russia - America’s natural partners and future allies.

The US leads the world in post-industrial development, followed by the nations of the European Union. Russia has no other future but post-industrial development as well, unless it wants to fall behind the civilized world. Post-industrial development is, on the one hand, very difficult for Russia, since it has been a very peculiar industrial nation, without market economy mechanisms. On the other hand, Russia has huge intellectual resources, an educational system capable of training large numbers of specialists with excellent knowledge of basic science. Today the West, especially the US, skillfully uses Russia’s intellectual capacity. The Russians must learn to use their main national resource - the intellectual capacity, the creativity, as one of the most desirable products in the post-industrial world.

Russia has good enough chance to join the post-industrial nations. Therefore we can speak about the prospects of partnership and alliance with the US and Europe. These relations of partnership do not mean a complete unity of opinion and unquestioning obedience to the leader. This subsystem will have its own internal contradictions and conflicts of national interests. National interests should be promoted, while conflicts should be resolved in an optimal fashion.

The bi-polar world, where one of the poles will be the community of post-industrial nations, and the other - all other nations - is already emerging. The interaction between and the struggle of these two poles will determine the future development of the world.

But this is only the possible future, while today the world is unipolar, led by the US.

The US is facing a complicated task - the necessity to maintain its military dominance and to exercise restraint in its use.

Strategic Stability in the Contemporary World.

Despite the changed international environment and the outdated nature of the old approaches to strategic stability, it makes sense to preserve the term “strategic stability.” We should find a common understanding of what it means.

Strategic stability could mean several means.

  1. The state of strategic stability as related to the probability of US and Russia not using their strategic nuclear weapons against one another not so much because of the state of the relationship between the two nations, but because of other factors, capable of creating a risk of a nuclear exchange between the two.

  2. The state of strategic stability as related to the probability of non non-use of nuclear weapons by any nuclear power.

  3. The state of strategic stability as related to the probability of preventing wars between nations in general.

  4. The state of strategic stability as related to the probability of preventing armed conflicts, including internal ones.

  5. The state of strategic stability as related to the probability of non-use of means of armed struggle and terrorism for solving political problems at the interstate and supranational levels.

  6. The state of strategic stability as related to the non-confrontational character of the emerging bi-polar international system.

Each of these definitions can be justified. It is difficult now to select only one of them. But it would be useful to compare the path of development that we choose ourselves with the one that is being implemented without our knowledge and will, and the impact this has upon strategic stability across the whole range of its possible definitions.

The Prospects of Development of US Nuclear Forces and Strategic Stability.

One should give its due to the US administration’s effort to clearly justify and explain its views and plans regarding the threat assessment and prospects for the development of its military power, including its nuclear component.

It is difficult to fully evaluate the contents of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is also referred to as the new US nuclear doctrine. Much of the new document has not been published. Nevertheless, the excerpts from NPR that have been released for publication, have been selected quite well, are logically interconnected, and allow one to make some conclusions.

  1. As a document reflecting the interests of the military, the new nuclear doctrine is quite understandable and logical. The plans for further strengthening of the nuclear component of US military power, for increasing the effectiveness of its use under new conditions are expressed quite clearly and persuasively.

  2. As a political document, the new nuclear doctrine corresponds well to the ideology of the Bush administration, it is permeated with the open desire to preserve unilateral military advantage over the whole world, and affirmation of the US right to use its military power as it wishes to advance its national interests.

Military Aspects of the New Nuclear Doctrine.

One of the basic principles of the nuclear doctrine is the further development of the Quadrennial Defense Review in the field of use of nuclear weapons. Planning for employment of military power and nuclear planning, based not on a reaction to concrete threats, but to capabilities, is quite logical. This is an approach that a strong state with a strong military can afford. It’s not new. Otto von Bismarck used to say that he was interested not in the intentions of this or that state, but in its capabilities. Military leadership should approach the prospects for the development of its armed forces precisely in this way - on the basis of capabilities of the other nations, and not on the basis of intentions of their current leaders. Of course, this is possible only if the national economy is strong enough.

A similar approach is demonstrated by the Russian military leadership as well. The Russian military, while estimating the military capabilities of NATO, rather than the intentions of its political leaders, express their concern over the NATO’S enlargement. The difference is that Russia’s economic capacity does not allow it to develop its armed forces on the basis of such an approach.

It is natural to abandon the practice of nuclear planning that existed during the Cold war. The planning for employment of strategic nuclear forces during the Cold war was very simple: it involved massive strikes relying on all available forces. Both sides conducted exercises involving single nuclear strikes to demonstrate resolve, but this did not affect the whole planning system.

The most complicated aspect of planning was the selection of targets. The weapons were excessively numerous, and it was necessary to find targets for all of them and calculate their flight paths.

A good example of excessiveness of weapons is the fact that the target list for the territory of the USSR included even district-level communist party and government bodies.

One should note that even at the peak of the Cold war, the most vague issue was the conditions for employment of nuclear weapons. As soon as it came to the political-military aspect of nuclear war scenarios, all the attempts to produce rational scenarios for irrational actions failed. The logic of such scenarios was highly conditional. As a rule, in such scenarios both sides anticipated a large scale conventional war escalating, under certain circumstances, into nuclear war.

It is noteworthy that politicians, especially in the West, tried to avoid participation in developing such scenarios, leaving this task to the military. Western politicians also tried to avoid taking part in exercises involving the use of nuclear weapons, since they did not want to damage their reputation in the eyes of the public.

It would be completely illogical to leave nuclear planning at the old level in the current situation, especially since the probability of large scale conventional wars escalating into nuclear ones is not infinitely small.

The Nuclear Posture Review states very clearly that “U.S. nuclear forces, alone are unsuited to most of the contingencies for which the United States prepares. The United States and allied interests may not require nuclear strikes.” A “new mix” of nuclear, non-nuclear, and defensive capabilities “is required for the diverse set of potential adversaries and unexpected threats the United States may confront in the coming decades.”

The introduction of the concept of the new triad, which includes the offensive strike systems, defensive systems, and defense infrastructure has been a brilliant idea. It has allowed the US not only to justify the preservation of the whole system of strategic nuclear weapons, but also to justify their further development and improvement along all the main directions already pursued during the Cold war. Moreover, the requirement for strategic defensive systems is viewed as quite logical. The reference to the imperfections of the future defensive systems, and their ability to limit the damage from small scale strikes, demonstrate a sufficiently realistic estimate of the prospective NMD system.

One of the achievements of the NPR is the part explaining the expected contribution of the new triad to the overall military policy. It appears that the contributions of military policy - assure, dissuade, deter, defeat - have been determined by the military themselves. One the one hand, these contributions are to reduce the risks in the area of greatest concern to the US public: proliferation of WMD and the possibility of violent actions against the US. On the other hand, all these contributions are formulated in such a way as to contain the justifications of the programs of weapons development.

The part of NPR dealing directly with nuclear weapons, suggests a path of their development which primarily corresponds to the interests of the military. The whole logic of sizing the nuclear forces is based on this. The list of contingencies for which the US should be prepared, is also subordinated to this logic and therefore doesn’t look convincing.

It is sufficient to note that Iraq was included into the category of nations “that could be involved in immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies.” Special emphasis was put on Iraq’s possession of WMD and its pursuit of military power. It’s a fact now that Iraq did not have WMD, and that its military power during the period of sanctions was reduced, not increased.

As for the reference to Russia, the estimate of its strength, made according to the proclaimed capabilities-based approach, is quite logical. But the attempt to justify the necessity of transitioning to different levels of US nuclear forces because Russia’s political course could not be predicted with enough certainty, is completely illogical. The current levels are so excessive that they allow both sides to destroy one another many times over, perhaps even 50 times, even in the presence of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, according to some estimates. No imagination would be sufficient to justify a logic of seeking a nuclear arsenal that could destroy Russia not 50, but 60 or 80 times over.

Therefore the argumentation for and justification of such concepts as “operationally deployed forces,” “responsive forces,” “additional operational deployment,” “nuclear reserve” are understandable from the military point of view, but are completely illogical from the political standpoint.

It’s excellent if a state is able to deploy armed forces capable of finding and hitting mobile targets, super hardened and deep underground structures anywhere in the world, to have precision guided weapons of global reach. If the economy allows it, why not strive for such capabilities? Certain investment was already made in creation of systems capable of destroying the mobile and deep underground facilities of the strategic nuclear forces of the USSR. Is it reasonable to stop this work only because the main opponent in the Cold war has disappeared? But spending money on such projects in new conditions needs a justification.

The NPR fulfills this mission. It does not convince us, but possibly it convinces the American taxpayers, which is more important. It’s their money.

The sections of NPR dealing with the development of command, control and communication (C3) systems raise few questions. The continuation of development of wideband communications for command and control of the strategic forces, satellite communications, communications for airborne upgraded command posts, continuation of work on the satellite system MILSTAR-3, hardened against the impact of nuclear weapons - improvements in all these areas were planned even during the Cold war. Unlike nuclear weapons, the command and control systems leave everybody pretty unexcited, so the continuation of these projects has required no additional political arguments and therefore there are few questions to ask here.

One should note that the general direction of the prospective development of US nuclear forces presupposes the probability that a number of states will emerge as threats. This direction is quite natural, because it is not new and continues the previous course.

The American experts are not unique in their approach. Their Russian colleagues also want to continue the projects they have already begun. The only difference is the capability to implement these projects.

What is the relationship between the development of nuclear forces of the US and strategic stability?

Unfortunately, there is only one conclusion. The prospective development of the US nuclear forces will have a negative impact on strategic stability, irrespective of which definition of strategic stability (from the ones suggested earlier) we use.

Let’s take, for example, the first definition, related to the probability of non-use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the US against each other. The nuclear arsenals of both nations continue to improve, the command and control and intelligence capabilities are growing in order to facilitate strikes against mobile and hardened targets. The plans envisage mutual destruction of targets. Generally the nuclear forces continue to be in the posture of mutual deterrence, but the gap in the capabilities of mutual destruction is growing. The mutual suspicion of the militaries remains sufficiently significant, because each side understands who is the main target of the other’ side’s arsenal. If the US is strengthening its capability to strike mobile targets, it is evident that so far only Russia has targets of this type. If the US strengthens its capability to strike at super hardened stationary targets, the majority of such targets is in Russia. If the US make the command and control system more hardened against a massive nuclear strike, it is obvious that only Russia can deliver such a strike.

One doesn’t need to prove that in this case, without additional confidence building measure, the risks from provocative actions by the third parties will increase and reduce the level of strategic stability.

The fact itself of readiness to use military force to advance one’s national interests and according to one’s own choice, expressed in an official document, and especially exemplified by a real world demonstration of such use of military force, introduces a confrontational pattern into the future bi=polar international system. As predicted by the US partners and allies - Russia, Germany and France, the military solution of the Iraqi problem will have long term consequences. The asymmetrical response to a military defeat is already there. The acts of terror in Saudi Arabia and Chechnya are only a beginning.

This is not the road to strategic stability.