Russia Redesigns Nuclear Deterrent Policy

June 4, 2020 Updated: June 4, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 2 approved Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy, which allows the country to use atomic weapons in response to a nuclear attack or a conventional strike targeting the nation’s critical government and military infrastructure.

There are two new situations in which Russia can use nuclear weapons to respond, according to the new document.

The first is when nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction are used against Russia or its allies; the second scenario is an enemy attack with conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence of the state.”

In addition, the document states that Russia could use its nuclear arsenals if it gets “reliable information” about a launch of ballistic missiles targeting its territory or allies and also in the case of “enemy impact on critically important government or military facilities of the Russian Federation, the incapacitating of which could result in the failure of retaliatory action of nuclear forces.”

The document considers the buildup of conventional forces near Russia’s borders a threat that can require nuclear deterrence.

Among other potential threats that can trigger nuclear retaliation are “the deployment of missile shield systems and capabilities, intermediate- and shorter-range cruise and ballistic missiles, precision non-nuclear and hypersonic weapons, strike drones and directed-energy weapons by the states that view the Russian Federation as a potential enemy,” the document states, according to Russian state-owned news agency TASS.

Epoch Times Photo
An intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off from a truck-mounted launcher in Russia in a file photo. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Arms Control Treaties

In August 2019, the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia because it failed to comply with the treaty, including failing to comply with requests to destroy its 9M729 ballistic missiles.

U.S. officials started to raise concerns about Russia’s noncompliance with the treaty in 2013.

Both the United States and Russia suspended their obligations under the INF Treaty in February after months of failed talks and years of attempts by Washington to bring Moscow into compliance with the landmark arms pact.

After the formal withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the United States started testing a medium-range ground-launched cruise missile that would have been banned under the treaty.

The only U.S.–Russia nuclear arms control agreement still standing and binding the two countries is the New START Treaty, which was signed in 2010 and is set to expire in February 2021.

Trump administration officials have suggested that China should be brought into any future renegotiation of the New START.

Moscow has described that idea as unfeasible, pointing to Beijing’s refusal to negotiate any deal that would reduce its much smaller nuclear arsenal.

“China doesn’t seem interested in negotiating,” Patty-Jane Geller, a policy analyst in nuclear deterrence and missile defense at the Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times.

Geller believes that if the United States puts missiles in the Pacific, especially hypersonic ones, it could bring China to the negotiating table.

The United States recently submitted a notice to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, citing Russia’s violations of the treaty, according to a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The treaty permits its participants to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over the other’s territories.

“Should Russia return to full compliance with the treaty,” the United States will reconsider its participation in the Open Skies, the statement said.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced on June 2 two new bills aimed to constrain both Russia and China in their efforts to develop and modernize their strategic nuclear arsenals.

“Without a firm foundation that constrains our adversaries’ nuclear arsenals, the United States may once again find itself in a costly arms race with little opportunity to reduce nuclear risks with both Russia and China,” Menendez said.

The first bill, Future of Arms Control Act calls for the immediate extension of New START and prevents the president from taking any action against the treaty if no decision is made on its extension, Menendez said in the statement.

The second bill, the Arms Control with China Policy Act, mandates secretaries of state and defense to present to Congress a report on methods to engage China on arms control.

Ivan Pentchoukov, Zachary Stieber, Simon Veazey, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.