Сайт ведет группа учеников и помощников А.А. Кокошина

A.A. Kokoshin. Strategic Stability in a Deteriorating International Situation


KOKOSHIN, Andrei Afanasevich, Doctor of History, Professor, Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Member of the Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences [RARAN], Former Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Moscow.


Polis. Political Studies. 2018. No. 4. pp. 7-21. Published: May 21, 2018.


Synopsis. The article calls attention to problems of maintaining strategic stability under conditions of a serious deterioration of the international situation, particularly regarding relations between Russia and the United States in recent years. The policy path pursued by official Washington has led to the intensification of the threat of a direct clash between the United States and Russia comparable to the dangers that existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The author highlights the severity of the problem of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is influencing the problem of the strategic nuclear balance between Russia and the United States. Maintaining strategic stability to a large degree depends on the development of various technologies and weapons systems including cyber weapons and potential means for armed conflict in space. All of this compels a discussion of the serious erosion of strategic stability. Such erosion is occurring in the midst of a transition from a “unipolar” global political system to one that is relatively “multipolar,” a process that has hardly been smooth. In order to effectively analyze the multi-faceted problems of strategic stability and the possibilities for improving it the author focuses attention on Russia-U.S. relations in the strategic nuclear domain, taking into consideration strategic missile defense, strategic non-nuclear weapons, and non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons.



A consistent characteristic of the modern condition of the global political system over the course of the past few years is the growing tensions, instability, and unpredictability on a whole host of important issues. The source of this pressure is found most of all in the policies of the United States, which became the sole superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union and on more than one occasion employed, and is currently employing, force in violation of international law and in circumvention of the UN Security Council. The growth in unpredictability is undermining the foundations of strategic stability. Before considering the question of interpretation of strategic stability in the broad and narrow sense of this term in the context of a rapidly changing international situation, we first look at how escalation of tensions has changed the surrounding environment and what new trends have developed.


Reasons For and Characteristics of Growth in Tension


The tendency toward increasing international tensions has been underway with certain deviations since the 1990s. However, in the past few years this tendency has significantly increased. The primary source of destabilization was the expansion of NATO to the east, stretching to the former Soviet republics – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The United States and its allies ignored Russian interests, both political and military-strategic.


The unilateral exit by the George W. Bush administration from the unlimited Soviet-American ABM Treaty on 13 June 2002 also seriously destabilized the situation, despite the fact that the withdrawal did not violate the provisions of the document.[1] The consequences of this step will negatively impact relations between Russia and the United States for some time to come.


The “Ukraine crisis,” which was caused by the western-supported violent overthrow of the lawful president of Ukraine, V. Yanukovich, in February 2014, served to exacerbate the international situation. Following this were important events such as the return of Crimea to Russia and the confrontation in Donbass, the latter of which led to the formation of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Kiev launched large-scale military actions against them, which officially became known as the “anti-terror operation.”


LPR and DPR separatists actively (and quite effectively) resisted with the participation of Russian volunteers. As a result, NATO accused Russia of launching a “hybrid war” in Ukraine. The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army V.V. Gerasimov, stated that Russia must be prepared to “defend the interests of the state in a military conflict of any scale in which the enemy broadly employs both traditional and hybrid methods of warfare.”[2] The policy of the United States and its allies gave rise to a critical imbalance in strategic stability in the world.


In considering the possibilities for escalation to conflict between Russia and the United States and its allies, artificial and concocted scenarios have become popular in a number of studies in which Moscow is first to use – on a limited scale, to be sure – tactical nuclear weapons in a war with NATO. The West launched various military activities along its eastern axis, first and foremost in the Baltic states and Poland but also in the Black Sea region. Russia was forced to respond in a sufficient manner in both the political-diplomatic as well as military sphere, to include the conduct of military exercises and the development of its force groupings. Both sides tested the capabilities of their strategic nuclear weapons several times.


The United States and its NATO allies are conducting a massive information and economic war against Russia. The Trump administration twice in violation of the UN Charter decided to launch missile strikes against Syria. With this Washington risked lurching into a direct military confrontation with Russia, which would be fraught with risks of unpredictable escalation comparable to the situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis.


One of the most important lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis was that a crisis should not be taken to such a level of intensity. The well-known Russian diplomat G.M. Kornienko who has a deep understanding of the essence of the problem, wrote, “The first and most important lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis…is to not allow such a crisis to form that carries with it even a small probability of evolving into a big war and not to assume that it can be stopped each time just before the red line” (Kornienko, 2001: 47). This leads to the conclusion that it is critical to prevent crisis situations and to maintain reliable control in such conditions.


The strikes by the U.S. and its allies against Syria on April 14, 2018, led to the assessment that a continuation of such actions would lead to chaos in international relations.[3] Any chance for intensive dialogue between Moscow and Washington for limiting and reducing arms was practically wiped out. The 1987 Soviet-American Treaty on the elimination of intermediate and short-range missiles (INF) is under threat. Prospects on the continuation after 2021 of the Russian-American Treaty on the reduction of strategic offensive arms from 2010 (New Start) are not clear.


In 2018 in the Nuclear Policy Review of the Trump administration there are provisions that strengthen the role of nuclear weapons in the political-military strategy of the United States, including in direct confrontation with Russia and China. Doctrinal provisions of this policy speak to the fact that Washington is moving toward lowering the threshold for employing nuclear weapons.[4] In this sense the nuclear policy of the Trump administration has a more destabilizing character than the policy of the previous Obama administration. In the 2018 document there are more than a few unsubstantiated accusations directed at the military, including nuclear, policy of Russia. This relates to the role of non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons in Russian military policy. In response, S.V. Lavrov announced that Russia does not have deployed tactical nuclear weapons and that Russia is not developing a plan to employ them. The minister [of foreign affairs] thus pushed the blame to the United States and its allies for the “destabilizing practice” of their joint nuclear missions and noted that the “presence of combat-ready tactical nuclear weapons of the United States in Europe is not simply a holdover of the Cold War, but rather an aggressive posture.”[5]


The plans of the Trump administration assume the development of a U.S. global missile defense system that consists of components of national missile defense and theater-based missile defense. After several years of lobbying, advocates of reviving plans for the creation of missile defense with space-based elements[6] managed to include in the text of the military budget that assigns the Secretary of Defense and the Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to investigate this capability and to present a report to the U.S. Congress.[7] The lobbyists of this course of action in the development of U.S. missile defense have been just as active in the Trump administration.


The law on national defense spending passed at the end of 2016 for the 2017 fiscal year [NDAA] contained provisions on a radical reassessment of U.S. policy in the area of missile defense.[8] If the 1999 law on national missile defense defined the mission as defense of the country against a “limited ballistic missile strike,” in the new law U.S. policy was the maintenance and improvement of effective and reliable multi-layered missile defense capable of providing defense of U.S. territory and its allies from evolving and various threats connected with ballistic missiles (see Yesin, 2016: 147).


Circles close to Donald Trump fault the Obama administration in that it ceased funding for the development of missile defense missiles of the SM-3 Block IIB “Aegis” system, which was to be the primary means of intercept in the next phase of “global missile defense” development, and refused to consider the issue of space-based missile defense combat stations on the basis of “available technologies.” Correspondingly, the issue is once again being raised on allocating funds for research and development of space-based interceptors (Dodge 2017: 6). As a counterweight to these recommendations, in one of the most serious American studies there is a proposal to reach an agreement between the United States and Russia and China on a ban of space-based interceptors and directed energy weapons (Miller, Fontaine 2018: 24).


The Creeping Sources of Escalation of Tensions


The sharp destabilization of the situation around problems of proliferation of nuclear weapons has come in connection with the zigzags of policy in the effort of Pyongyang to create its own deliverable nuclear weapon (including the capability to reach the territory of the United States). The political atmosphere was further degraded due to the danger of a potential return of Iran to the development of its military nuclear program as a result of Trump’s announced exit of the United States from the international agreement on the nuclear program of Iran.[9] It is worth noting the announcement by the Saudi leadership that it would absolutely acquire its own nuclear weapon in response to Iran’s acquisition of the capability. Thus, in the unstable Middle East, taking into account the existence of an Israeli nuclear weapon, there is a high degree of probability that there could be a “nuclear triangle.”


The realization of North Korea’s deliverable nuclear weapon program, against which there have been multiple UNSC resolutions (with the active participation of Russia and China), is being used by the United States to accelerate efforts to develop both strategic (national) missile defense as well as (together with allies such as Japan and South Korea) theater missile defense. These actions cannot but alarm Russia and China due to the fact that the build-up of capabilities of U.S. national missile defense is viewed as a factor in the reduction of strategic stability in Russia-U.S. relations and China-U.S. relations. Moscow and Beijing have plenty of incentive to resolve the North Korean nuclear weapon problem through negotiations taking into account the security interests of all sides.


The missile program of Iran, which Tehran has not abandoned following its decision not to pursue a nuclear weapon, has served as an official justification for the deployment of American missile defense infrastructure (the multi-purpose system, “Aegis Ashore”) in Romania and Poland. Moscow viewed this negatively, as a step toward undermining strategic stability and as a violation of the INF Treaty due to the fact that that the system has the capability to launch long-range land-based cruise missiles, which are banned by the Treaty.


Assessing the medium-term prospects for the international political-military situation, it is worth remembering India and Pakistan, nuclear powers since 1998 with a long-standing territorial dispute involving regular flareups. Despite this, the simultaneous accession of India and Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization gives hope to the fact that this will decrease the probability of a political-military and military-strategic standoff with a nuclear dimension.


In this new context of growing tension, the strategic nuclear weapons of France and Great Britain, which are an “addition” to the strategic nuclear forces of the U.S., will continue to play a certain role. One can also safely forecast the growing significance of the strategic nuclear weapons of China. The scale of activity of international terrorist groups remain considerable despite the destruction of the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia) in Syria and Iraq. As before there is the threat that terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon. In conditions of escalating tensions in Russia-U.S. and Russia-NATO relations, the nature and scale of cooperation in the fight against terrorism clearly does not meet the needs of the international community.

In addition to the negative trends in the international situation there is the rapid development of technologies and weapons systems, which are having a direct impact on strategic stability (Veselov, 2015: 23-56). This relates to innovations that increase the accuracy of warheads of American strategic nuclear forces. In American sources there is information on the sharp increase of “counterforce potential” of the sea-based element of American strategic nuclear forces on account of the increase in the accuracy of the overwhelming fraction [podavlyayuschaya chast’] of the warheads on the SLBM “Trident-II” (W76-1/MK4A and W88/MK5), which has negative consequences for strategic stability, as noted by authoritative American researchers (Kristensen, McKinzey, Postal, 2017).


Together with the comparatively traditional technologies and systems, innovative changes in the cyberspace domain and the forms and methods of conducting “combat cyberoperations” are also having a noticeable impact on strategic stability. U.S. development of potential means of warfare in space, including “swarm groups,” both for anti-satellite and for missile defense, is also [having an effect on strategic stability].


All of this is occurring in conditions of a vigorous transformation of the structure of global politics; the reduction of the role of the United States, its NATO allies, and the European Union in world affairs; the growing weight of countries in the Indo-Pacific region, most of all China. The latter, which in 2014 surpassed the United States in GDP (based on PPP), will in the foreseeable future make a claim for the role of “second superpower” as it acquires not only economic and political capabilities but also considerable military power [voennaya moshch’].


It is obvious that a “smooth transition” from “unipolarity” to a more decentralized system of global politics with an accompanying adaptation of the United States to those realities has not happened. The evolving relatively “multipolar” system of global politics remains quite unstable. Serious efforts are required to ensure the manageability of the emerging system and to break out from the condition of growing chaos that V. Putin has referred to. Negotiations and measures to ensure strategic stability should play an important role.


Washington is attempting to preserve its “leadership” in the world and to limit the capabilities in order to “deter” those states that, it the opinion of Washington, are disrupting this process. Those states, in the opinion of a majority of the U.S. political class are first of all Russia and China, whose specific capabilities are distinct. The Russian Federation, which lags far behind the United States and China in GDP and economic capabilities, remains a superpower based on the nuclear missile parameter of military power and in recent years has consolidated its position. One demonstration of this were the new weapons systems that the president of Russia spoke about in his Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018.[10] Accordingly, the “central nuclear balance” between Russia and the United States continues to play a very important role from the perspective of global strategic stability.


Russia and China are far from alone among those that are not satisfied with the world order that the United States attempted to create after the fall of the Soviet Union. Many states have demonstrated and are demonstrating the desire for a more just global political system. But those countries do not possess the capabilities that Russia and China have.


Relations between Moscow and Beijing are defined by “a complete, equal, trustworthy partnership, strategic interaction, mutual support, joint prosperity, and friendship that is passed from one generation to the next.”[11] In a number of areas relations with China resemble a quasi-alliance: intense contacts at high levels, including at the leadership level of military agencies and a whole series of MOD structures of the Russian Federation and the Chinese Central Military Committee; large-scale joint military exercises of the Russian Armed Forces and the Chinese PLA in various parts of the world (including sensitive areas from the perspective of assuring strategic stability in possible theaters of military operations).


On June 25th, 2016, the leaders of Russia and China signed an important political document on the basis of which it is possible to work on issues related to military planning and to the resolution of operational-strategic questions.[12] On several occasions the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia and the Joint Staff of the PLA considered questions of missile defense (connected to the actions of the United States in this area) and conducted joint computer modeling of relevant processes. China supports Russia in joint exercises in the Euro-Atlantic region, and Russia supports China in the situation in the area of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.


At the same time it is important not to ignore the presence of non-aligned and even conflicting interests of Russia and China. In addition, the economic element of Russia-China relations lag well behind the political and political-military. The Trump administration accuses Russia and China of attempting to alter the world order and “are challenging American power, influence, and interests.”[13]


The Concept of “Strategic Stability”: The Broad and Narrow Interpretation of the Term


Strategic stability is a multifaceted, multi-disciplinary topic that requires attention from political-diplomatic, political-psychological, military-strategic, military-technical specialists, among others. As A.G. Arbatov and V.Z. Dvorkin fairly point out, mathematical models of strategic stability “can hardly be called a universal tool,” since “there are too many factors that are not input into the mathematical formulas that influence these processes” (Arbatov and Dvorkin, 2011, 3-11).


Given the new political-military situation and the development of technologies and weapons systems, it is important to focus on the relatively narrow conception of “strategic stability” that first of all presumes a certain condition of interaction between Russia and the United States in the strategic nuclear domain that, of course, includes strategic missile defense (PRO), strategic conventional weapons, and non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons (NSYaO). The concept of “strategic stability” is also applicable to the interaction of each side in general purpose forces and means (conventional weapons).


Before the collapse of the Soviet Union problems in strategic stability were for the most part considered to be related to relations between the Warsaw Pact and NATO in Europe. Claiming a mandate from the negotiations on conventional arms and armed forces in Europe, representatives of 23 member-states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact decided that their objective was to “strengthen stability and security in Europe through the establishment of stable and secure balance of conventional armed forces, which include conventional arms and equipment, at minimal levels; the elimination of imbalances that disrupt stability and security; and to eliminate, in order of priority, the potential for a surprise attack and the outbreak of large-scale offensive actions.”[14]


In the USSR there was intense work on a defensive military doctrine that, as Marshal S.F. Akhromeev pointed out, asserted “in the case of aggression against us” (U.S.-led NATO) an attack on the Warsaw Pact would be repelled for a certain amount of time “only with defensive operations” in combination with political efforts to end the conflict (Akhromeev and Kornienko, 1992; 126).


In the West (especially in Germany and the Netherlands) in regard to military-doctrinal policies of NATO and to operational-strategic and military-technical support concepts were being developed such as “non-offensive defense” and “defensive defense.” To a large degree such concepts were intended for the regulations for use of the tactical nuclear weapons of the U.S. and NATO at the early stages of military actions in the case of a successful attack by Warsaw Pact forces along the central portion of the NATO-Warsaw Pact standoff (in Germany) – especially in the area of the so-called Fulda Gap.[15] The Soviet side was working on concepts of counter-offensive defense, which in part was based on the “model of the Battle of Kursk” in 1943 (Kokoshin and Larionov, 1987; 15-21).


In the 1980s the focus was exclusively on the Atlantic region, on the interaction between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Now, and in the next five to ten or more years, the focus is again on this region as well as some parts of the enormous Indo-Pacific region – particularly on areas touching the territory of China. The issue of strategic stability in regard to such areas within this mega-region should be considered by domain [predmetno]. Clearly, in both China and the United States there is much attention on the issue, which includes missile defense in the TVD and potential American “conventional prompt global strike” assets for the destruction of Chinese non-nuclear ballistic missile sites, airfields, naval bases in the TVD; the buildup of the capabilities of the PLA in support of “victory in a local information war,”; and others.[16]


It should also be kept in mind that there is a broader interpretation of strategic stability that supposes the consideration of issues related to the state of affairs in the system of global politics and within various segments of this system. Such an interpretation obviously has a place. However, in today’s complex conditions the consideration by Russia and the United States of a broad agenda (which is actuality is connected with the dynamics of change in the world order) would be quite difficult. This is tied not only to concrete differences between Russia and the United States on problems of international security and on situational assessments in regions of the world, but also to the fact that the world order that was set up by the United States at the end of the Cold War and after the collapse of the Soviet Union is not acceptable to Russia.


Strategic stability can be defined as the assurance of political-military, operational-strategic, and military-technical conditions that minimize the danger of the outbreak of conflicts and crisis situations that could raise the issue of military actions involving the use of nuclear weapons.


The foundation of strategic stability in its strategic nuclear measurement is the inability of either side to launch a preventative strike (or strike at a set time) that can disable if not all then a large majority of the nuclear forces and means of the other that could be used in a second strike. The situation is considered stable when the aggressor country cannot protect itself with its own missile defense assets from a second strike (that causes “unacceptable” damage) by the side that was attacked.


For Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF) this is a combination of invulnerability – a high degree of survivability of all three components of the forces and means of deterrence – with the ability to overcome enemy missile defense. In other words, it is the impossibility of assuring a decapitating “first” strike by American nuclear and non-nuclear means against Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces and the precluding of a second strike by Russian SNF with national (strategic) missile defense assets of the U.S.


Strategic stability for Moscow supposes an assurance of strategic nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence with the necessary political-psychological impact on the “opponent.” At the heart of convincing nuclear deterrence was and remains the demonstration of the capability in the most unfavorable conditions to carry out a second strike with catastrophic consequences for the aggressor. The capabilities of Russia to realize nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence have grown considerably in recent years in contrast to the difficult years of the 1990s. This relates to the introduction of components of land, sea, and air-based SNF using the scientific-technical base of the 1980s, 1990s, and subsequent period. The combat reliability (invulnerability) of the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Naval Strategic Nuclear Forces is increasing, as is the ability of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles to overcome future missile defense systems of a probable enemy. Significant results have been achieved in the development of the missile attack warning system (SPRN), the space monitoring system (SKKP), and the command and control system (SBU) of the SNF. Important results have also been achieved in the development of the components of strategic missile defense and air defense assets that have certain missile defense capabilities.


Russia has successfully demonstrated many achievements, and they have been noticed by the other side. This relates to test launches of the “Topol’,” “Topol’-M,” and “Yars” ICBMs, and the “Sineva” and “Bulava” SLBMs; the exercises of the SRF; strategic aviation flights; test launches of the “Sarmat” heavy ICBM; among others. Such actions also ensure the political-psychological effect of nuclear deterrence.


Strategic stability presumes the complete control over all destructive means by the senior state leadership and military command in the interest of preventing the accidental or unsanctioned use of nuclear weapons (starting with tactical nuclear weapons). This includes reliable protection of the combat command and control systems against enemy cyber-attacks (or some third party), the preservation of all authority in the hands of the senior leadership to make a decision on retaliatory actions on the basis of objective, reliable information from the missile attack warning system, which consists of two echelons – space-based and ground-based. The former echelon is a grouping of space instruments in high-elliptical and geo-stationary orbits for the discovery of ballistic missile launches. The main component of the ground-based echelon of the missile attack warning system are long-distance detection radar stations. The “contribution of the first (space) and second (ground) echelons are equally important” (Nesterchuk and Aksenov, 2017; 45). Based on the signals received from the first echelon, preliminary decisions on retaliatory actions by strategic nuclear forces must be made. The space-based echelon of the missile attack warning system provides the possibility to significantly increase the warning time of a missile attack and reduce the level of false alarms. Based on the information of the ground-based echelon final decisions are made on the scale and methods for employing strategic nuclear forces (Nesterchuk and Aksenov, 2017: 49).



What the Research of American Specialists Has Found


The research of American specialists, in particular from Rutgers University, testifies to the potentially catastrophic consequences for the climate and agriculture production across the world in the form of mass hunger after the employment of just 1% of the accumulated nuclear arsenals (Mills, Toon, Lee-Taylor, Robock, 2014: 161-176; Robock, Oman, Stenchikov, 2007: 1-14).


In a report from the RAND research center, which is closely tied to the U.S. military establishment, it was noted that “strategic nuclear relations” between the United States and Russia remain highly important; the two nuclear superpowers “possess the ability to carry out large-scale, coordinated nuclear strikes that can destroy entire continents” (Chivvis et al., 2017: 1). “The probability of a strategic nuclear exchange” has grown due to worsening relations and “escalating risks” (Chivvis et al., 2017: 1-2). It was highlighted that the “United States and Russia as before have ‘deeply shared interests’ in avoiding nuclear war. But ‘meaningful progress’ in assuring strategic stability ‘requires courage and sacrifice from both sides” (Chivvis et al., 2017: 11).


The political scientists G. Miller and R. Fontaine have written that “over the course of decades stability in the American-Russian balance was based on a firm understanding that both sides had guaranteed capabilities for a second (retaliatory) strike,” since “neither side could realistically carry out a decapitating first strike against the nuclear forces of the other.” But the development of a number of military technologies integrated into military policy can “put this assurance in doubt” (Miller and Fontaine, 2017: 6).


Over the last 10-12 years there has appeared the scenario of a surprise “disarming” strike by the United States against the strategic nuclear forces of Russia (and China) using nuclear and non-nuclear destructive means. Such a “disarming” strike reflects the hypothetical capabilities of surveillance and targeting, which did not exist 15-20 years ago, as well as combat cyber operations, particularly those tied to missile attack warning systems and combat command and control systems of the Strategic Nuclear Forces of Russia.


Cair Lieber, a dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and Darrell Press, a faculty dean of management at Dartmouth College, point to the capabilities of collecting information from various sources, which increase the probability of determining the precise location of mobile ICBM launchers and strategic submarines located underwater, as well as the processing of large amounts of information in a timely manner.[17] Austin Long and Brandon Green from RAND also highlight the appearance of additional capabilities for intercepting radio transmissions between the road mobile missile system (PGRK) and command and control centers of the Strategic Nuclear Forces on the location of many sensors (seismic, acoustic, infrared, etc.) along the path of the PGRK that could be delivered to a given area with the help of a UAV and transfer information through satellites (and use GPS for the determination of coordinates and other information) (Long and Green, 2015: 64). Lieber and Press suggest that the appearance in the United States of capabilities to carry out a first “disarming strike” is a threat to America itself: “If America could achieve a decisive victory in a conventional war,” then the enemy could even “see a preventative strike as a method for de-escalating the conflict” (Lieber and Press, 2013: 5-6).


Other American specialists – H. Christensen, M. McKenzey, and T. Postal – cannot imagine a “situation in which a competent and properly informed U.S. president could give the order to launch a surprise nuclear strike against Russia or China.”[18] However, there is another question on the level of competence and information of the head of the executive branch in the United States (as well as his close circle).


The issue of the United States using a large number of long-range precision conventional munitions to carry out a “disarming” strike is not new. This relates to the potential means of destruction that could appear as a result of the realization of the American concept of “conventional prompt global strike.” Hypersonic weapons can also be added to this.[19]


The authors of the aforementioned RAND report recommend that the United States take steps to limit conventional prompt global strike assets so that Russia did not see this as threatening its potential for a retaliatory strike. The experts conclude: “…The decision of the United States to limit or to not develop means that are viewed in Russia as being capable of targeting Russian strategic systems will likely reduce the degree of concern in Russia related to the capability to ensure a second strike and thus will ensure strategic stability” (Chivvis, et al., 2017: 13).


Some specialists call attention to the fact that K. Lieber, D. Press, A. Long, B. Green, and several others are ignoring factors that would cause a high degree of uncertainty in a massed, synchronized strike carried out with nuclear and non-nuclear destructive means against all three components of the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (a missile “gulp” of several hundred or so targets simultaneously). Many experts note that in employing precision munitions the capabilities for countering such actions by the side being attacked are not considered.[20] Moreover, “individual” missile defense assets could be used in order to increase the survivability of ground-based Strategic Nuclear Forces.


A full-blown test at such a scale is not possible, and computer simulation modeling is not able to reduce the degree of uncertainty to a convincing level. Further, an ICBM and SLBM nuclear strike will not be launched along typical trajectories seen in testing, which do not include the final target on the territory of the other side. Rather, the combat trajectories are considerably different from testing which increases the uncertainty related to the accuracy of the combat employment of an ICBM, SLBM, and other missiles and to the damage inflicted on the enemy.


The actions of “neutralizing” submarine strategic missile carriers as well as strategic aviation with long-range cruise missiles with nuclear warheads are characterized by a high degree of uncertainty.


A number of American authors discuss the issue of possible escalation of a crisis situation in Russian-American relations (or in some cases Chinese-American relations) that could lead to a nuclear exchange. For example, in Miller and Fontaine there is discussion of a possible exchange of “strikes” in cyberspace and the destruction of military space devices, the result of which could lead to a serious escalation of the conflict that would put the sides in a condition of direct nuclear confrontation (Miller, Fontaine 2017).


Several Conclusions


In sum, one can talk about the erosion of strategic stability that occurred at the end of the 1960s, having gone through a number of “robustness tests.” All of the aforementioned transformations have created a certain negative context for resolving problems of ensuring strategic stability as one of the most important conditions for preventing nuclear war with the most catastrophic consequences.


The reliable maintenance of strategic stability is a two-sided, mutual system of actions, a dynamic process (often a cycle of “action – counteraction”). One of the issues is to not allow for a transition of a confrontation to a more threatening situation, to the loss of control over the situation, or to a nuclear conflict in which the question of the employment of nuclear weapons would arise. (“Nuclear conflict” is a crisis situation with the participation of one or several nuclear powers in the course of which tension in relations reach the level at which one or more of the sides begins to unambiguously use nuclear weapons as an instrument of political pressure. A higher phase of nuclear conflict is the employment of nuclear weapons at various scales – from single and group strikes to the massive employment of nuclear weapons.)


It is necessary to maximize efforts for reducing the probability of the outbreak of nuclear war at comparatively early phases by not permitting or limiting wars of lesser scale or armed conflicts that could in various ways draw the participation of states possessing nuclear weapons. To ensure strategic stability political-legal measures are important as is the limitation of developing a number of technologies and weapons systems – for example, as occurred in the Soviet-American Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.


The task of supporting military-strategic parity taking with consideration of the potential of nuclear weapons does not presuppose an exact symmetry of the forces of each side based on the number of warhead platforms and bombs (total “megatonnage”) or the total throw (output) weight. The destructive force of nuclear weapons up to certain limits levels the variance in the size of arsenals of each side and in the technical characteristics of separate components of strategic forces.


Now it is an extremely important and urgent task to establish dialogue between Russia and the United States on problems of strategic stability. This dialogue – even given the overall unfriendly international-political context – could, through a number of concrete joint measures, reduce the probability of nuclear war. It is important to focus on a wide spectrum of political-military, operational-strategic, and military-technical issue with an emphasis on the problems related to ensuring the durability of the strategic nuclear balance between Russia and the United States. A subject of particular importance should be issues related to the minimization of the chance of escalation of this or that conflict and measures to prevent unplanned, unapproved actions. 


DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2018.04.02


A.A. Kokoshin1

1Lomonosov Moscow State University. Moscow, Russia


KOKOSHIN Andrei Afanasyevich, Dr. Sci. (Hist.), Professor, Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, member of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences, Dean of the School of World Politics, Lomonosov Moscow State University. Email: Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

Kokoshin A.A. Strategic Stability in a Deteriorating International Environment. – Polis. Political Studies. 2018. No. 4. P. 7-21. (In Russ.)

Received: 24.04.2018. Accepted: 21.05.2018


Abstract. The paper examines the challenges of ensuring strategic stability in a deteriorating international environment characterized by the increasingly conflictual relations between the United States and Russia. The U.S. recent policies increased the likelihood of a direct military confrontation between the two powers and of highly dangerous and rapidly escalating events comparable with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The paper emphasizes the significance of nuclear proliferation challenges and their negative impact on the U.S.-Russia strategic balance. Global strategic stability has been also undermined by a rapid development of various disruptive technologies and weapon systems including cyberwarfare and space warfare capabilities. The erosion of strategic stability takes place against the background of an ongoing complex transition from a unipolar world order to multipolarity. In order to effectively address multidimensional challenges of ensuring and strengthening strategic stability scholars and policymakers alike should focus on the U.S.-Russia strategic nuclear balance while taking into account the impact of the strategic ballistic missile defense systems, strategic non-nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapons.


Keywords: strategic stability; escalation; crisis situations; strategic nuclear deterrence; strategic nonnuclear deterrence; arms control; arms reductions.




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[1] Recall that during the preceding administration of Bill Clinton the ABM Treaty was recognized by Russia and the United States as “the cornerstone of strategic stability.” (On the initiative of the Russian side at the Moscow Summit from 9-11 May, 1995, this was mentioned in a joint statement by the presidents of Russia and the United States Yeltsin and Clinton. An agreement was also reached at that time that missile defense systems could be deployed in theater that did not violate the Treaty and that did not create a real threat to the strategic nuclear forces of each side.)

[2] Gerasimov, V. “Based on the Syria Experience.” Military-Industrial Courier. March 9, 2016. No. 9 (624).

[3] Telephone conversation with the President of Iran Khasan Rouhani – Present of Russia, official site. April 15, 2018.

[4] Nuclear Policy Review. Department of Defense of the United States. Official site. February 2018.

[5] “Lavrov Accused the United States of Readying the Countries of Europe for a Tactical Nuclear Strike Against Russia.” o. February 28, 2018.

[6] Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the Twenty-First Century. 2009 Report. Cambridge, MA: The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. 2009. IWG2009.pdf

[7] National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. 114th Congress. 970 p. URL: https://www.congress. gov/114/plaws/publ328/PLAW-114publ328.pdf (accessed 26.03.2018).

[8] Ibid.

[9] JCPOA, July 15, 2016, Iran and the big “6” (US, France, Great Britain, Germany, China, Russia)

[10] Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly – President of Russia. Official Site. 01.03.2018. Accessed on 24.04.2018.

[11] Joint Declaration of the Russian Federation and the Chinese People’s Republic. President of Russia. Official Site. 25.06.2016. Accessed on 24.04.2018.

[12] Joint Declaration of the Russian Federation and the Chinese People’s Republic. President of Russia. Official Site. 25.06.2016. Accessed on 24.04.2018.

[13] National Security Strategy of United States of America. 2017. p. 2.  https://www.hsdl.

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[15] From the border of the German Democratic Republic to Frankfurt am Main through the Fulda Gap (Hesse) Soviet forces had to traverse only 100km. Fulda Gap: Thermopylae of the Cold War. Part 1. Only War.

vojny-chast-1.html. Accessed on 28.03.2018.

[16] TASS. “Military Attaché: China Has an Active Defense Strategy.” December 8, 2017. Accessed 02.06.2018.

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[19] The Russian Academy of Sciences scientist, designer, and academic, Yu. S. Solomonov has sharply criticized the possibility of conducting a “disarming strike” with conventional prompt global strike assets against Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces: Solomonov argues that such a global strike will not happen; but fragments of the relevant technology have value for other initiatives. In his view, conventional prompt global strike is not the first unexecuted military concept that has been developed in the United States. “The Americans could not do anything with the Strategic Defense Initiative besides deception that was shown by the U.S. Congress in 1989. But the USSR responded and accepted this as a real thing,” Solomonov emphasized. See “Developer of the ‘Bulava’: The Concept of U.S. Global Strike is not Possible.” RIA Novosti. 02.12.2015. Accessed 8.10.2017.

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