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"Denuclearization" of Russias Defense Policy?
Debate in the Russian MOD Hints at Policy Reversal
By Nikolai Sokov
In the first two weeks of July, a long-simmering conflict within the Russian Ministry of Defense over the future of the countrys nuclear forces became public. At a meeting of the Collegium of the Ministry of Defense on July 12 (the Collegium is an assembly of the top figures of the ministry), Chief of the General Staff Anatoli Kvashnin unveiled his plan to reorganize the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF). If his proposals are accepted by Vladimir Putin, a steady trend toward increased reliance on nuclear weapons in Russias security policy might be reversed almost overnight.
Reportedly, Kvashnin wants to reduce the number of ICBM divisions from the current 19 to two, the number of IBCMs to 150 by 2003 (other sources indicate that a revised version of his plan foresees a more drawn-out reduction), and the overall strategic force to 1,500 or even less. Savings generated by these reductions are to be channeled into the modernization of conventional forces, so that by 2016 Russia can create the foundation for a future conventional deterrent capability. In the meantime, the SRF would be eliminated as an independent component of the Armed Forces (vid, according to Russian military terminology) and transformed into a command (rod), either independent or within the Air Force. 
The Collegium was unable to reach a decision. Proposals presented by Kvashnin were sent back for additional discussion, although the balance seemed to be tilting toward the outcome unfavorable for the SRF. Thus, it is too early to make definitive predictions about the debate which has been going on since Kvashnin first presented his proposals to Putin last April. 
Prior to the Collegium, subtle but telling signs indicated that the odds were in favor of Kvashnin. In June, he was appointed a permanent member of the Security Council (traditionally, the Ministry of Defense was represented only by the minister). SRF Chief Vladimir Yakovlev did not receive a promotion at the same time as other service chiefs (he was promoted to Army General only in June, months later than the others). Yakovlev seemed resigned to his defeat within the militarys own ranks: as early as a week before the Collegium he publicly pinned all his hopes on Putins wisdom and statesmanship; in the immediate aftermath of the meeting, Minister of Defense Igor Sergeev threatened to resign. 
Once Kvashnins plan became publicly known, a wave of harsh public criticism ensued. Russian media and experts uniformly rejected the proposed denuclearization. Putin called both Sergeev and Kvashnin to Sochi to discuss the conflict (initially, however, only Sergeev was supposed to come, but later Putin added Kvashnin and the secretary of the Security Council Sergei Ivanov ). The meeting ended inconclusively, however. The conflict will next be discussed at a meeting of the Security Council in the end of July.
Regardless of the outcome, it seems truly remarkable that the proposal to denuclearize Russian defense policy has been made at all and that it has remained unchallenged (seemingly, even generating a positive attitude from Putin) for such a long time.
Kvashnins initiative presupposes a substantial revision of earlier plans and policies. Both the National Security Concept (adopted in January 2000)  and the Military Doctrine (adopted in April 2000)  accorded a significant role to nuclear weapons in Russian security policy. Although the Concept implicitly indicated that reliance on nuclear weapons was temporary and that eventually emphasis will be shifted to conventional capabilities to deter conflicts, the transition was supposed to be much slower than the one proposed by Kvashnin. Similarly, Russian officials (including Sergeev and Yakovlev) have been expressing preference for a 1,500-warhead strong strategic force for a long time, but this was supposed to be conditional on U.S. decisions on NMD, achieved within the context of arms control agreements, and implemented by 2010-2012.
If Kvashnins plan is adopted, its consequences are likely to be the following:
In the United States, the proposals by Kvashnin and the General Staff should be seen as a welcome development by both the proponents of disarmament, many of whom have been seriously concerned about the increased reliance of Russia on nuclear weapons and about the potentially destructive consequences of NMD, and by the proponents of NMD who will be able to interpret the plan as an implicit endorsement of U.S. reorientation toward defense. Of course, it is too early to celebrate yet.
The scale of the proposed reorientation should not be overestimated, either. Key modernization programs will not be affected, first of all continued production of the Topol-M ICBM, development of a new SLBM, and production of new air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) for heavy bombers.
With all these caveats, it seems enormously significant that the number two man in the Russian military establishment has proposed such a substantial policy change and that his initiatives have survived several months of intense struggle. That they were not vetoed by Putin is an important clue to the ongoing debates inside Russia which have heretofore remained unknown in the West. Many established assumptions about the future of the countrys nuclear policy warrant a second look, it seems.
On the other hand, the manner in which such major revisions have been launched creates serious doubts about the predictability of Russian defense policy. An opinion prevalent in the Russian media is that Kvashnins plan is motivated almost solely by his attempt to become the minister of defense. In broader terms, the proposal might reflect a conflict between the increasingly influential group of Chechen generals (who led Russian troops during the first and especially the current, second, Chechen wars and who acutely feel the deficiencies in the conventional forces) and the entrenched missile mafia headed by Sergeev and Yakovlev.
Regardless of whether Putin accepts Kvashnins plan, the mere fact that such radical revisions can be contemplated simply as a tool of bureaucratic infighting seems troubling. If earlier policy can be revised with such ease, nothing can guarantee that an equally easy revision of the new, proposed denuclearization policy will occur in the future. Political-military considerations aside, Kvashnins plan is highly questionable even on economic grounds: contrary to his claims, the accelerated reductions will generate an enormous additional drain on resources and will only reduce funding for conventional forces modernization. The plan is also vulnerable to a charge that it will create a 10-15 years long deterrence gap when nuclear deterrence will be already dismantled and conventional deterrence not yet created. A combination of strategic and financial challenges might result in a new policy revision in the not-so-distant future even if Kvashnin succeeds in toppling Sergeev.
 Petr Romashkin, Nuzhny li Rossii raketnye voiska, commentary published on http://www.armscontrol.ru; Alexander Golz, General-terminator, Itogi, July 5, 2000 (electronic version at http://www.itogi.ru); Alexander Shaburkin, V vooruzhennykh silakh gryadet bolshoi peredel, Vremya MN, July 12, 2000 (electronic version at http://www.vrenyamn.ru); Vladimir Temnyi, Ministr oborony proigral, Vesti.Ru, July 12, 2000 (electronic newspaper at http://www.vesti.ru); Vladimir Yermolin, Zvezdnye voiny, Izvestiya, July 15, 2000 (electronic version); Sergei Sokut, Igra bez kozyrei, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 15, 2000, p. 6.
 Rossiiskii Genshtab planiruet usilit gruppirovki voisk na Yugo-Zapadnom i Tsentralno-Asiatskom strategicheskikh napravleniyakh, Interfax, July 12, 2000; Minoborony Rossii dorabotaet kompleks predlozhenii po razvitiyu vooruzhennykh sil strany, Interfax, July 12, 2000.
 Ministerstvo oborony dorabotaet kompleks predlozhenii po razvitiyu vooruzhennykh sil strany, Interfax, July 12, 2000; Mikhail Timofeev, Sopernichauyshchie klany v Minoborony ne vyrabotali edinogo mneniya o putyakh voennogo stroitelstva. Predmet razdora raketnye voiska, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 13, 2000, p. 1; Vladimir Yermolin, Mech nad yadernym shchitom, Izvestiya, July 13, 2000, p. 2; Ilya Bulavinov and Ivan Safronov, Poka otkladyvaetsya... Kommersant-Daily, July 13, 2000 (electronic version).
 Vladimir Temnyi, Yadernoe raskulachivanie, Vesti.Ru, July 4, 2000 (electronic newspaper at http://www.vesti.ru).
 Vladimir Yermolin, Vladimir Yakovlev: sudbu raketnykh voisk opredelit politicheskoe reshenie, Izvestiya, July 5, 2000; Vladimir Yermolin, Zvezdnye voiny, Izvestiya, July 15, 2000.
 V Sochi President RF vstretitsya s ministrom oborony, RBK News, July 16, 2000; I. Sergeev i nachalnik Genshaba Anatoli Kvashnin v srochnom poryadke vyleteli v Sochi, RBK News, July 16, 2000.
 I. Sergeev: vozmozhnye varianty reformy RVSN svedeny k minimumu, RBK News, July 17, 2000; Yevgeni Krutikov, Termoyadernaya voina, Izvestiya, July 18, 2000; Vadim Solovyov, Skandal otlozhen: glavnye bitvy po voennomy reformiromaniyu vperedi, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 18, 2000, p. 1.
 Kontseptsiya natsionalnoi bezopasnosti Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Utverzhdena Ukazom Prezidenta RF ot 17 dekabrya 1997 g. No. 1300 (v redaktsii Ukaza Prezidenta RF on 10 yanvarya 2000 g. No. 24).
 Voennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Feeeratsii. Utverzhdena Ukazom Prezidenta RF ot 21 aprelya 2000 g. No. 706.
 Excerpts From Bushs Remarks on National Security and Arms Policy, The New York Times, May 24, 2000 (electronic version).
 Petr Romashkin, Nuzhny li Rossii raketnye voiska, commentary published on http://www.armscontrol.ru.
Nikolai Sokov is a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
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