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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Resurgent Russia - The New US-Russia Relationship


Image 1: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev shortly after the annexation of Crimea 

“...we in the West, and in the United States in particular, dramatically underestimated the degree of humiliation on the part of the Russians with the collapse, not just of the Soviet Union which is a relatively recent phenomenon historically, but the collapse of the Russian Empire, a thousand years in the building…the humiliation of the collapse of the Russian empire, he and others like him, I think, have been determined from the beginning to restore Russia as a world power, as a force to be reckoned with, as a thousand year old empire.” – Former Director of the CIA & Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates 2014

Since the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has struggled to adjust toward a new more assertive Russia. In a recent event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Robert Vickers explained that monitoring “Russian Revanchism” is now the third highest priority among US intelligence services behind thwarting terrorism and monitoring the Syrian Civil War. 1 Vickers explained that Russian Revanchism is a term not limited to the current crisis in Ukraine as the intelligence community (IC) is also expanding its surveillance against Russian activities in a broader strategic context.

Although many Western policy makers are becoming increasingly aware Russia cannot be counted on as a “responsible stakeholder” or partner nation within the international community, few comprehend the extent in which Russian and Western interests are incompatible in Ukraine. In order to formulate an effective foreign policy response toward Russia, Western leaders must understand Russian objectives in both in Ukraine and within a broader global context in conjunction with associated developments in Russian strategic thinking and methodology. Part I will outline Russia's objective of maintaining nuclear deterrence against the United States and Part II will discuss Russia's attempts to establish hegemony in the near abroad; the two aforementioned objectives debatably constitute the most important Russian foreign policy objectives. An understanding of Russian foreign policy objectives will be instrumental toward the formation of an effective Western response highlighted in Part III. 

Nuclear Deterrence



Image 2: Russian Borei-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Vladimir Monomakh

"The first great achievement - greatest achievement, of the Soviet Union was the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The second greatest achievement was achieving nuclear parity with the United States in the early 1970s. It is this achievement that is the most important legacy, from the standpoint of military security - clearly, that was bequeathed to the Russian Federation. And it has assumed greater significance as a result of greater conventional deterioration over the last twenty years...maintaining strategic stability, i.e. parity, or more to the point preventing the United States, or anyone else for that matter, from attaining first strike capability is at the crux, at the core [of Russian national security policy]." - Andrew C. Kuchins, 2014

Russia's role as the only nuclear power on near equal footing with the United States dictates how Russian leaders perceive themselves and has had profound impacts on Russia's national security policy in the post-Cold War era. The Russian Federation continues to deploy and modernize its nuclear arsenal in a manner consistent with of the Cold War principles. The fear of a "bolt out of the blue" nuclear first strike by the United States continues to drive Russia's prioritization of its nuclear modernization programs over its conventional arsenal in order to maintain a credible second strike capability against the United States (Murdock, 2014). The more than 60% increase in defense spending under Vladimir Putin has enabled Russia to field and develop the: Borei-class SSBNs, RSM-56 Bulava submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), R-29RMU2 Layner SLBM, and RS-24 Yars road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In contrast, the United States has largely been content with minimal service life extension programs to its two to three decade old nuclear arsenal.

Current US strategic planners do not devote a great deal of time generating first and second nuclear strike scenarios with offensive and defensive exchange rates against Russia. Conversely, the Russian Federation devotes considerable resources toward mapping out nuclear deployment strategies and structuring with respect to US nuclear exchanges. As Clark Murdock from CSIS explained, "The Russian's still believe the nuclear balance matters in a way that we Americans do not; They do these calculations". Murdock cited a recent study done by Dean Wilkening of RAND which illustrates the type of analysis routinely conducted by the Russian defense establishment. Wilkening's analysis, Strategic Stability Between the United States and Russia, examined the probable current offensive and defensive nuclear exchange rates between the US and Russia in a manner consistent with Cold War studies conducted by both the US and Soviet Union.



Image 3: US nuclear exchange rates against Russia in a first strike scenario. Image Credit: RAND

Wilkening concluded that a US nuclear first strike against the Russian Federation would leave 170 operable Russian nuclear weapons capable of reaching the contiguous United States (CONUS), the 48 connected states, while a Russian first strike against the US would leave 550 operable US nuclear weapons capable of reaching Russia. Russia is comparatively more vulnerable than the United States in a first strike scenario as less survivable land based missiles occupy a comparatively larger percentage of its nuclear arsenal when compared to the US which primary relies upon its more survivable but expensive SSBNs. Furthermore, the US deploys more nuclear weapons on a day to day alert status than Russia which mitigates US first strike vulnerability (Murdock, 2014).

When US anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems are added to the scenario, Russia's number of nuclear weapons capable of hitting CONUS is reduced by 80 warheads to a total of 90 warheads and the number of survivable US nuclear weapons after a Russian first strike rises to 665.

"Nationwide ballistic missile defense, even one of relatively limited size, has two different effects on strategic stability between the United States and Russia. First, such a defense can strengthen deterrence by complicating Russia’s counterforce first strikes and denying Russian limited attack options (to the extent they are part of Russian war plans). Second, they can weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent by reducing the size of
its secure second strike. This second effect is the principal concern that Russian officials have cited repeatedly regarding a limited U.S. homeland ballistic missile defense." - Wilkening, 2014


Image 4: By 2019 the US will field 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) pictured above which have a demonstrated 53% intercept rate during tests. The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is the only US ABM designed to fully defeat ICBMS in the mid-course phase of their flight path, the SM-III to some extent has mid-course capability, rather than the lower altitude systems which attempt to intercept in the terminal phase e.g. the Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD.

The current disparity between the number of survivable US and Russian warheads, 550 and 170 respectively, which is further pronounced - to a debatable degree - after US ABM, is significantly greater than the relative survivable warhead inventories between the US and USSR during the Cold War (Wilkening, 2014). Given its comparatively more limited second strike capability, Russia believes it is vital that it reach parity with the US (Murdock, 2014). Wilkening is fully cognizant of the shortcomings of US ABM technology in his analysis but as both Wilkening and Murdock emphasize, the distinction between Russian perceptions and reality is crucial. Ultimately, if the Russian leadership fervently believes US ABM technology is capable, they will continue to plan accordingly despite the stark reality that the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GBD) system and other US ABM systems were never designed to thwart a full scale nuclear exchange with Russia (Missile Defense Agency, 2014).

Similarly, 90 nuclear warheads would constitute a mortal blow against the United States and its nuclear armed allies but the distinction between Russian perceptions, that its nuclear arsenal would be sufficiently compromised after a US first strike and ABM defense, and reality is worth emphasizing. The United States Government cannot assume Russian leaders will behave in a manner consistent with actual US capabilities given that Russian leaders have consistently acted on different set of assumptions regarding US capabilities. Therefore, the US Government must take into account Russian perceptions and the perceptions of its allies when it decides to alter the nuclear arsenal, an objective assessment of required capabilities alone is insufficient to determining if further nuclear reductions are prudent.

Author's Note: Part II, which will detail Russia's attempts to establish hegemony in post-Soviet states, will be published week of September 1st.

Sources


  1. Russian and Chinese Assertiveness Poses New Foreign Policy Challenges, Robert Gates & Council on Foreign Relations, 2014.                                                                               http://www.cfr.org/defense-and-security/russian-chinese-assertiveness-poses-new-foreign-policy-challenges/p33005
  2. An Assessment of Russian Defense Capabilities and Security Strategy, Paul N. Schwartz, Clark A Murdock, Andrew C. Kuchins, and Jeffrey A. Mankoff, 2014.                     http://csis.org/multimedia/video-assessment-russian-defense-capabilities-and-security-strategy
  3. Strategic Stability Between the United States and Russia, Dean Wilkening, 2014. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/corporate_pubs/CP700/CP765/RAND_CP765.pdf
  4. Missile Defense: Next Steps for the USA’s GMD, Defense Industry Daily, 2014. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/3979m-next-step-or-last-step-for-gmd-05229/
  5. Backgrounder - Missile Defense, Jonathan Masters, 2014.                               http://www.cfr.org/missile-defense/ballistic-missile-defense/p30607
  6. USDI Vickers’ Top Threats: Terrorists, Syria, Russian ‘Revanchism’, Colin Clark, 2014.  http://breakingdefense.com/2014/06/usdi-vickers-top-threats-terrorists-syria-russian-revanchism/


1 Remarks made by Vickers at CSIS predate the capture of Mosul by ISIL and US air strikes in Iraq.

5 comments:

  1. Nice article Matt, but there is something you are missing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yfXgu37iyI

    either way, when the nukes go off, it was nice knowing you :-)

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    Replies
    1. Haha, yeah I love Dr. Strangelove. Well if it weren't for the radioactive clouds, if you lived in the Outback I'd imagine you'd be okay. My town would have been a target for Russian nukes during the Cold War because we had P-3s based there. Luckily that is no longer the case :D

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    2. Hay Matt, have so good news.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/russia-military-exercise_n_5762292.html

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2eqNB6zy9k

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iesXUFOlWC0

      10 girls for you, 10 girls for me :-)





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    3. Speaking of nuclear armed countries, I thought you might find this amusing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZIgda01k6o

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