New Military Doctrine to Allow Preemptive Nuclear Strike

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Source: RIA Novosti/Sergei GuneevRussia may carry out a preemptive nuclear strike in a situation critical to its national security, according to a revamped version of Russia’s military doctrine that will be published by the end of the year.

In an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta on November 20, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said that the doctrine will now provide for a possible preemptive nuclear strike depending on situational considerations and the intentions of a potential adversary.

The secretary cited the desire to retain the status of Russia as a nuclear power in order to act as a deterrent, especially from other nuclear powers, as a main reason for the change in doctrine. “A potential adversary should comprehend the futility of unleashing aggression with the use of not only nuclear, but of conventional means of destruction,” said Patrushev. “The inevitability of retribution is a sobering factor for any potential aggressor.”

That said, Patrushev stressed that the military doctrine was defensive and that Russia categorically opposes the use of military force – let alone a nuclear strike – to settle any conflict.

However, the secretary cited NATO expansion, international terrorism, and conflict in the North Caucasus as evidence that Russia continues to face potential military threats, apparently justifying the nuclear policy. He singled out last year’s war in Georgia as an example of the “senseless policy and unmeasured ambitions of [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili” that “directly affected the life and security of our citizens.”

Military analysts were divided in response to the doctrine. An article in the Christian Science Monitor reported that experts were divided into two groups: those who saw the policy as increasingly menacing towards Russia’s post-Soviet neighbors, and those who saw it as an expression of vulnerability in a time of radical military reorganization.

“Naturally, the army is weakened, temporarily weakened, by these very radical changes,” said Vitaly Shlykov, an adviser to the Russian Defense Ministry. “It’s natural that we would rely more on our nuclear deterrent during this transition, though it’s debatable whether that should be done in the loud fashion that Patrushev did.”

The new military doctrine, which will be the third version introduced since 1993, comes at a time of heightened military hostility from the Kremlin. A recent bill passed by the State Duma expands the potential role of troops deployed abroad, and NATO has expressed concern that war games in September between Russia and Belarus were “the largest since the end of the Cold War.”