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Threats to Russian Security: The View from Moscow

Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank. | July 2000

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The strategy of limited nuclear war and first-strike use of nuclear weapons, as a backup to a deterrence policy and the singling out of the United States and NATO are the most prominently reported negative aspects of these documents. But the deeper trends that undergird those strategies and policies are equally, if not more disturbing. The draft doctrine, security concept, and Russian military policy as shown in Pristina, Chechnya, highlight forces and factors that are much more troubling and structurally threatening than the temporary absence of usable conventional forces.

First of all, these documents and policies reinforce the bitter truth that there has been no military reform and little or no democratization of the entire edifice of defense policy including its cognitive structures. A government that could start internal wars three times in 6 years and do so, as in the most recent case, mainly to win elections and give the General Staff a larger share of control over defense policy is a permanent threat to its own people, even more than to its neighbors and interlocutors.117 The absence of democratization and reform is evident in the following aspects of the documents analyzed above.

They conflate political and military threats. While doing this, they support use of the army for purposes of domestic repression. They postpone true military reform and professionalization to some unknown date while maintaining, if not increasing, the already high economic burden of militarization. They continue to conceal that burden?s dimensions from elected officials, while insisting that the army must be ready for deterrence and defense on all azimuths and against all-encompassing threats across the entire spectrum of conflict.118

These documents also demonstrate the ascendancy of the trend that sees threats everywhere and postulates military approaches over all other aspects of national security policy. It offers primarily military solutions to political challenges. These documents also demonstrate a military-political elite that cannot deal with the realities of Russia?s shrunken estate, and who therefore constantly act in ways that unsettle their neighbors and interlocutors. The self-centered mystique of Derzhavnost? and the deeply entrenched Leninist axiom that international security is a question of who does what to whom (kto-kogo) rather than a mutual opportunity for gain for all players remain among the greatest impediments to Russia?s internal and external security and to its ultimate democratization and prosperity.

The greater danger here is not necessarily that a nuclear provocation will occur, it is rather that the military institutions and government have yet to devise a strategy and policy based on reality. Instead they continue to chase after fantasies of recovering a lost status and of being a military-political global superpower. The deeply embedded notions of international security as a zero-sum game, of the militarization of politics, and the pervasiveness of threats from all sides, are axioms that are deployed, first of all, for domestic advantage and to obstruct reform. When juxtaposed to the absence of coherent controls and institutions to formulate and direct defense policy, these axioms are an invitation to disaster.

These documents and the security consensus that lies behind them represent only the latest manifestation of Russia?s continuing failure to become a true democracy at peace with itself and the world. As long as this unrealism and pre-modern structure of politics govern the discourse and practice of Russian security policy, continuous internal unrest is the best scenario we can predict for Russia. But experience shows that this unrest does not remain bottled up in Russia. The war in Chechnya is now accompanied by threats against Tbilisi and Baku as well as attempts at military-political union in the CIS.

Thus Russia?s refusal or inability to adapt to reality presages a continuing struggle in the CIS and other unsettled areas like the Balkans. Every preceding time when state power in Russia fragmented, the whole region within which it acted was engulfed in instability, if not conflict, and foreign armies were either tempted to invade or dragged into the quagmire. Thus these documents are ultimately a confession of political, economic, social and moral bankruptcy and an admission of despair. If Russia perceives everything around it as a threat whose origins lay beyond its borders, then the temptation to avert domestic reform will continue to strengthen and breed still more internal unrest and instability. Nor will any outside attempts to help be appreciated or accepted. Absent a reliable defense policy and defense forces and following an elite that seems determined on racing to the brink of a precipice, Russia?s elites remain fixated on military threats that exist mainly in their fantasies. Thus they show themselves utterly unable to come to grips with the new but very real threats to Russia?s security and stability. 119 If this situation continues, then the Russian people, if not their neighbors and partners, will be thrown over the edge as Russia falls into an economic, ecological, demographic, and possibly even nuclear abyss.


117. Stephen Blank, ?Vladimir Putin and Russia?s Armed Forces; A Faustian Bargain?,? Forthcoming, Brown Journal of World Affairs.

118. Interestingly enough, a great deal of the threat environment depicted in these documents corresponds to some analyses of China?s ?threat environment.? Roy, pp. 437-448; and, for example, Major General A.F. Klimenko, ?International Security and the Character of Future Military Conflicts," Voyennaya Mysl?, No. 1, January-February, 1997, p. 6.

119. Sergei Medvedev, ?Former Soviet Union,? in Paul B. Stares, ed., The New Security Agenda: A Global Survey, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 1998, pp. 75-116.