Further to the discussion of use of nuclear-armed cruise missiles (SLCMs) carried by Russian submarines at this March 2020 post,
Russia has just published its first, public document on policies for the use of strategic nuclear weapons. The document does not rule our first use of those weapons in certain circumstances, nor does it seem to preclude first use of tactical nuclear weapons (which may well be how those carried by the navy’s SLCMs are classified even if some targets are in North America) as part of what may be a non-public “escalate to de-escalate” doctrine (more at the first quote below).
First, at Defense One:
Moscow’s new strategic-arms decree appears to be an attempt to win advantage whether New START lives on or not.
Russia’s new strategic-arms decree adds a bit of ambiguity and defensive flavor, but its main task is positioning Moscow for a critical round of arms-control talks, experts said.
On its face, the document reiterates key points in Russia’s doctrine on the use of strategic nuclear weapons, as opposed to its smaller nukes. Strategic nukes, it says, may be maintained to ensure “sovereignty, territorial integrity, deter direct aggression against Russia or allies, and in the event of aggression preclude escalation,” according to Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Arlington, Virginia [originally Center for Naval Analyses, website here].
However, Kofman notes some ambiguity in the language, particularly around the idea of using nuclear weapons during a war to bring about a resolution.
“Notably, the standard formulation of ‘cease hostilities on terms favorable to Russia’ (or Russian interests), was changed to ‘conditions acceptable’ to Russia & allies, which is a more fair reading of the escalation management strategy,” Kofman wrote Thursday on his blog.
“Paragraph 5 states that Russia sees nuclear weapons exclusively as a means of deterrence, that they are to be used in extreme circumstances and as a forced measure. I think that’s not a very honest portrayal of how nuclear weapons are viewed by the Russian military,” he wrote. “But the purpose of this document is to position Russian views as defensive only…and to counter the claims of those who say Russia has an escalate-to-de-escalate strategy.”
A country with such a strategy would consider using nuclear weapons — likely tactical ones — at the beginning of a conflict, aiming to press its adversary into quick negotiations [emphasis added].
The document also adds drones to its list of threats, mirroring recent changes to Russian military doctrine generally, says Kofman…
The document is significant mostly because of its timing. The United States has indicated indirectly that it will abandon the New START Treaty, which limits the number of nuclear warheads and strategic launch platforms each country can deploy, and pursue instead a new agreement that covers new drones, missiles, and other submarines in development or production by Russia and China. The man that President Trump has selected to lead that negotiation is Marshall Billingslea, the current nominee to be undersecretary of state for arms control. But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, has put the nomination on hold as he waits for an explanation from the White House for the firing of two inspectors general. That suggests that Billingslea, once confirmed, will have precious little time to negotiate an incredibly ambitious trilateral arms deal [and seems most unlikely China will go along, see: “China could lose 95% of ballistic, cruise missiles under strategic arms control pact, says new analysis”]…
Earlier at Defense News:
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday [June 2] endorsed Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy, which allows him to use atomic weapons in response to a conventional strike targeting the nation’s critical government and military infrastructure.
By including a non-nuclear attack as a possible trigger for Russian nuclear retaliation, the document appears to send a warning signal to the U.S. The new expanded wording reflects Russian concerns about the development of prospective weapons that could give Washington the capability to knock out key military assets and government facilities without resorting to atomic weapons [emphasis added].
In line with Russian military doctrine, the new document reaffirms that the country could use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or an aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence of the state.”
But the policy document now also offers a detailed description of situations that could trigger the use of nuclear weapons. They include the use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against Russia or its allies and an enemy attack with conventional weapons that threatens the country’s existence.
In addition to that, the document now states that Russia could use its nuclear arsenals if it gets “reliable information” about the launch of ballistic missiles targeting its territory or its allies and also in the case of ”enemy impact [including non-nuclear, see start of this article] on critically important government or military facilities of the Russian Federation, the incapacitation of which could result in the failure of retaliatory action of nuclear forces.”..
Russia has offered to extend the New START, which expires in February 2021, while the Trump administration has pushed for a new arms control pact that would also include China. Moscow has described that idea as unfeasible, pointing at Beijing’s refusal to negotiate any deal that would reduce its much smaller nuclear arsenal.
Finally, a more detailed examination of the public doctrine is here:
No doubt NORAD, amongst many others, is paying very close attention to it. On the other hand, with Trump as president one almost wonders if the US now has a coherent nuclear weapons use doctrine that he a) understands and, b) is committed to.