The end of arms control and Russian, French, British and European nuclear deterrence

The end of arms control and Russian, French, British and European nuclear deterrence

The prospect of mutual annihilation and ever increasing armament costs led to a balance of terror, but also to arms control, sometimes even disarmament. Washington and Moscow, which hold 90 percent of the nuclear weapons, signed important contracts during and after the East-West conflict to limit and reduce their arsenals. Starting with SALT 1 (1972) and SALT 2 (1979) through START 1 (1991) and START 2 (1993) to SORT (2002) and New START (2010). The ABM Treaty (1972), which regulated anti-missile defense systems, the INF Treaty (1987), which banned medium-range nuclear missiles, and the comprehensive ban on nuclear tests (1996) were also extremely relevant.

In the meantime, the United States has passed a number of agreements. President Bush left the ABM Treaty in 2002 and thus undermined strategic stability. Donald Trump overturned the INF agreement last year and more recently the open sky agreement, which allows inspection flights over the territory of the contracting parties, in order to establish trust. Added to this is Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran two years ago.
Cooperation is possible

What remains is the New START contract, which limits the operational nuclear warheads and delivery systems of the United States and Russia to 1,550 and 800, respectively, which will initially apply until February 5, 2021. This week the two protagonists in Vienna spoke about a possible extension after a long time. China, invited to do so, cited the fact that it had only 320 nuclear warheads. While Moscow is ready to get the contract unconditionally, the US government wants a completely new deal.

For Marshall Billingslea, US arms control emissary since the beginning of April, New START is now the wrong format, and its chances of survival are not exactly rosy. Trump also wants to have armed forces for space and have low-threshold nuclear tests resumed. Such behavior sows distrust between the nuclear powers and serves the central cause of the arms race. It consists in asserting each other’s armaments as justification for their own armament. While this “only” serves as a deterrent, that is, it is defensive, the others strive for offensive options so that they can be used as political blackmail potential, according to the mutual perception. This increases the risk of nuclear war by mistake, at the same time creating a confrontation that can lead to nuclear escalation. If Murphy’s law that what goes wrong can go wrong, then it is high time to stop and disarm the nuclear arms race.

Negotiations about the future of New START are perhaps the last chance to steer the Corona-Sputnik shock into a cooperative path. First of all, the US and Russia should agree on a temporary extension. That would be an important prerequisite for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which has been postponed until next year. After that, multilateral explorations including all nuclear powers should begin. The International Space Station shows that cooperation is possible even in times of crisis, also a result of the Sputnik shock. It initially triggered a race to the moon and for nuclear armaments, but then led to cooperation in space and arms control.

Today the bipolar structure of the Cold War has vanished and to reach an arms control agreement you need at least have a trilateral agreement between the USA, Russia and China, but China rejects this at the moment as it first wants to expand its military and nuclear deterrence and all major countries and great powers around the world are just modernising their military arsenals. And there are also many new weapons, at least new, hypersonic weapons, haystack attack weapons, missile defense, global strike weapons, cyberwar and space which should also be controlled. So it is a much more complex task.

In the following we recommend 4 articles. One RIAC article about the hotly debated topic if there could be a non-nuclear deterrence or if not to what extent nuclear deterrence is still needed. Then a RIAC article about the new Russian military doctrine and nuclear deterrence.

As Trump called NATO „obsolete“ and some Europeans fear, that the USA could retreat their security guarantee and their nuclear umbrella, the topic of European sovereignity and an European nuclear deterrence becomes another hotly debated issue. Macron in his speech about European sovereignity proposed to use the force de frappe as a nuclear deterrence for Europe, but not under an integrated, unified European command. Another option would be the British nuclear deterrence or a combination of the French and British nuclear deterrence . Therefore the last two RIAC articles give an evaluation of their hard ware, their structure and their potential for a deterrence against Russia and other states which might become new nuclear powers in the range of Europe.

Is Non-Nuclear Deterrence Possible?

Alexander Yermakov Military analyst, RAC Expert

Dmitry Stefanovich Research Fellow at the Center for International Security, Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, co-founder of the Vatfor project, RIAC Expert

June 30, 2020

In June 2020, the Kremlin published its new Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence. Without going into a deep analysis of the document, we will note that “non-nuclear” weapons are named among the military risks that might evolve into military threats requiring nuclear deterrence. What is more, the term “non-nuclear deterrence” can be found in the current Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation. Let us try to figure out what this is, why it is needed and how it works — if, of course, it works at all.

Foreign Experience

Expert Opinions on Russia’s Basic Nuclear Deterrence Principles

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the United States attempted to build non-nuclear deterrents on the basis of the progress it had made in the development of precision air- and sea-based cruise missiles. The operational deployed Tomahawk and ALCM missiles were successfully used during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The “hi-tech” nature of these weapons at the time can be somewhat proved by the fact that the B-52G bomber airstrikes using ALCM cruise missiles were only declassified on the first anniversary of the war.

Today, the large American arsenals of air- and sea-based cruise missiles (the mass-produced missiles of the JASSM family that are carried by bombers as well as fighter jets are of particular note here), as well as the Chinese medium-range ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, and the naval cruise missiles of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, are the classic means of non-nuclear deterrence that best convey the essence of the phenomenon. Several European countries also develop and manufacture their own air-launched cruise missiles, most notably France, which developed its MdCN sea-launched long-range cruise missile on the basis of the SCALP EG (Storm Shadow) air-launched missile that were used on targets in Syria in 2018, albeit with some difficulties. However, the European armed forces do not have enough long-range missiles to play a serious deterrent role.

That said, the face of non-nuclear deterrence could change dramatically in the next decade. The collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the huge investments in hypersonic weapons over the past few decades promise to alter the military-technical and military-strategic landscape. We can expect the appearance of air-based high-precision hypersonic missiles (initially aeroballistic and then “motorized” hypersonic), the return of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (initially non-nuclear this time), and the arrival of ground-based versions of long-range cruise missile systems as mass workhorses that will be able to launch more missiles per salvo at a more attractive price compared to their analogues in the air force and the navy.

Russian Missiles

The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation defines “non-nuclear deterrence” as a “system of foreign policy, military and military-technical measures aimed at preventing aggression against the Russian Federation through non-nuclear means.”

Both Russian Ministries of Defence and of Foreign Affairs frequently use the phrase “non-nuclear deterrence”, albeit in different contexts. The military seems to be above all focused on demonstrating qualitative and quantitative growth in the field of modern, advanced weapons and military equipment. Meanwhile, for diplomats, the presence of such a concept in the “military lexicon” allows it to be used as an argument against the insinuation that the threshold for using nuclear weapons is lower, and that its role in Russian military thought is not as important as it once was.

Based on the comments made publicly by leading Ministry of Defence officials, and of the General Staff in particular, we can ascertain that “non-nuclear deterrence” groupings primarily include missiles of various types: Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles (both cruise and aeroballistic surface-to-surface missiles), Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles (and Tsirkon hypersonic missiles in the future), and the Kh-555 (AS-15 Kent-C) and Kh-101 (AS-23A Kodiak) long-range air-launched cruise missiles.

It is worth noting that, in Russia’s case, the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, as well as the Bastion mobile coastal defence missile system with Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, are sometimes classified as non-nuclear deterrents. This is likely a consequence of the West’s apparent concern about Russia’s “Anti-Access/Area Denial” capabilities, which consist of effective anti-aircraft and anti-ship defence systems with a range of several hundred kilometres. They are capable of hitting enemy air and sea forces with high efficiency, preventing massive attacks on critical targets in Russia. Konstantin Bogdanov:
Not-so-Nuclear War

But there is one more detail that complicates everything from the diplomatic, as well as from the military-technical point of view, and that is the fact that almost all of the missiles we have listed can be armed with nuclear warheads.

Military Thoughts

A recent article published in the journal Military Thought (No. 8, 2019) offers a very curious approach to determining the role and place of non-nuclear deterrence as an element of strategic deterrence. In the article, the authors, led by Major General Andrei Sterlin, quite reasonably suggest separating local and global tasks of strategic non-nuclear weapons. In the first case, strategic non-nuclear weapons could be used to try and “stop military operations against superior opponents at the non-nuclear stage,” which may make strategic deterrence more flexible. Meanwhile, in the second case, the tasks of strategic non-nuclear weapons could include “creating non-nuclear barrier zones for the deployment of opposing strategic forces,” and the “controlled anti-value escalation of hostilities.” Thus, according to the authors, strategic non-nuclear weapons may be used to complement nuclear deterrence by “strategically blocking” local non-nuclear threats, as well as ensuring that “local wars and armed conflicts” will not escalate into the nuclear realm.

At the same time, the very concept of non-nuclear deterrence allows for a rather broad interpretation depending on the line that the author is trying to push. Fortunately, the word “non-nuclear” presents little difficulty here, meaning the use of “conventional” weapons, rather than weapons of mass destruction (we can eliminate chemical weapons from the discussion here as well, as the leading military powers have agreed to not develop them). It is the word “deterrence” that causes some confusion.

Nuclear deterrence is easy enough to understand — both pop culture and the gloomy forecasts of scientists and military officials paint a more than vivid picture of the “unacceptable damage” that strategic nuclear forces can inflict. It is worth noting that the literal meaning of the word deterrence in Russian is something like “to instill fear”. The strategy of „instilling fear“ has worked for 75 years, mainly because of its psychological underpinnings, playing on people’s fear of a nuclear holocaust and the fact that there is a strong “nuclear taboo” in society. Together, these factors have given nuclear weapons a truly sacred status.

The Russian definition of non-nuclear deterrence is probably more suitable. There is no emotional component here, at least not in relation to the weapons that currently make up the non-nuclear deterrence arsenal — high-precision cruise missiles have already lost their aura as superweapons and have become just another mass weapon. Only those with a keen interest in recent military history will remember 1998’s Operation Desert Fox, when 415 cruise missiles battered Iraq over the course of just two days! And more than 700 sea-based Tomahawks were launched during the first ten days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The West’s attacks on Syrian targets in 2017 and 2018 badly tarnished the reputation of cruise missiles as a reliable weapon. The first incident was the attack on the Shayrat Airbase, with 59 missiles being launched during the operation, while the second involved U.S. and French forces launching 105 missiles. While the immediate aftermath of the attacks is subject to debate, there is no denying the fact that they had little impact on the course of the war in Syria.

Like it or not, the question arises: If hundreds or even thousands of missiles were not enough to force a third-world country to surrender (not to mention the many thousands of airstrikes that were carried out at the same time), then how many are needed to deliver unacceptable damage to a major military power? Or to a bloc of powers that Russia needs to deter first and foremost. You can doubt the decisiveness of the European members of NATO all you like, but if the desire to build up forces to deter the adversary using non-nuclear means is declared, then an unimaginable number of such weapons would be needed.

This view is shared by the authors of the article “The Criteria and Indicators of Non-Nuclear Deterrence: A Military Aspect,” which was also published in Military Thought (No. 11, 2019). Specifically, they note, “In a local war, an unacceptable level of damage may be inflicted upon an aggressor through de-escalation actions on a regional level; in a regional war, this would involve de-escalation actions on a global level. However, while the military potential for such actions can theoretically be built up at the regional level, at the global level, this is impossible. This is why the non-nuclear deterrence of the United States and NATO is only possible on the level of deterring armed conflicts and local wars initiation.”

Deterring a Superior Adversary

Ilya Kramnik:
To Sequestrate, or Not to Sequestrate. The Impact of Covid-19 on Military Budgets

When trying to deter NATO, it is important to keep in mind that targeting its military infrastructure and armed forces only will inevitably lead Russia into a very unpleasant situation in which it will have to use fewer resources to hit a greater number of targets. And, in any case, can we really call inflicting damage exclusively on the enemy’s armed forces “deterrence” in the proper sense of the word?

The only way to deter (or stop) an enemy from carrying out aggressive actions is to have a means of influencing them at the national level. Nuclear weapons are, without a doubt, one of such a means. The question is: Can non-nuclear strategic weapons perform the same function? There is no way of knowing. The only thing we can say with any confidence is that when they used in Iraq and Syria, they most definitely did not. In the event of an all-out confrontation between Russia and NATO, Russia will have to choose its tactics carefully, as it has fewer missiles and fewer airbases than NATO and cannot afford to waste them freely. And a conflict would not lead to a “termination on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation” — there is no reason why this task of nuclear deterrence as described in the Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence should not be a task of non-nuclear deterrence as well (of course, in relation to a smaller conflict).

One way out of this catch-22 situation is to target critical infrastructure as well as military installations. A focused attack using minimal resources on the electric power system, major transport hubs, and communications infrastructure could send shockwaves through the target country with minimum civilian casualties. If done properly, this will, at the very least, bring the adversary down a peg or two, and the absence of serious casualties will allow them to save face without having to escalate the situation.

In addition to “deterrence by punishment,” or, put more simply, the threat of retaliation, there is still one more conceptual approach that we have not touched upon, and that is “deterrence by denial.” This involves creating conditions whereby the adversary cannot perform certain actions in principle, or cannot guarantee their success. And it would seem that Russia is building its non-nuclear deterrence forces with an eye to this substantially narrower task.

* * *

We cannot conclude this review without noting the negative economic consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Non-nuclear deterrence based on primarily forward-based advanced weapons systems and military equipment that are in heightened, if not constant, combat readiness is extremely expensive. At the same time, nuclear weapons have, to some degree, become a „weapon of the poor.“ Given the fact that the Russian nuclear weapons enterprise and nuclear deterrence forces are in good shape, the gradual “phasing out” of non-nuclear deterrence might seem a reasonable economic measure. A different matter, in this case, is how the nuclear threats will evolve and the sheer scale of resources and efforts needed for the relevant nuclear deterrence forces development.

Expert Opinions on Russia’s Basic Nuclear Deterrence Principles

June 23, 2020

June 2020 will go down in the history of Russia’s approaches to nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons in general. This is largely connected with the unprecedented release of the document Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence, approved by Executive Order of the President of the Russian Federation of June 2, 2020 No.355 (hereinafter—“Basic Principles“). RIAC, together with Vatfor project, sought the views of domestic experts on this document.

Andrey Baklitskiy, Consultant of the PIR Center, Research Fellow at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, RIAC Expert.

The Basic Principles have become the most detailed document consolidating Russia’s views on nuclear deterrence and the role of nuclear weapons in ensuring national security. This is a welcome development. Moreover, Russia finally presented a coherent and plausible strategy for the use of nuclear weapons, announcing that any aggression against nuclear forces with the use of conventional weapons could be met with nuclear response. It would be curious to see the reaction of Chinese colleagues who are faced with distrust in their principle of “no-first-use” of nuclear weapons, including for this reason.

At the same time, the Basic Principles leave some „uncertainty“ at the tactical level, in particular with regard to the de-escalating role of nuclear deterrence in cases where the threshold for nuclear use outlined in the document has not been reached. The use of broad and imprecise wording in nuclear doctrines is a common practice. Countries are forced to balance their unwillingness to “authorize” adversary’s actions below the threshold of nuclear use and the fear that the other side will not believe in the deterrence “coverage” if it is too broad. However, there is a concern, that in the case of Basic Principles this „uncertainty“ will not significantly help deterrence but will certainly be used to represent Russian aggressiveness in the nuclear sphere.

Similar wording has already been found in another strategic planning document prepared by a military branch, the Basic Principles of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Naval Operations of 2017. Nonetheless, such wording is missing in what is considered to be the core document—the Military Doctrine, the text of which, as can be assumed, went through a comprehensive and robust interagency review.

The release of the Basic Principles might also imply that, despite numerous rumors, the new version of the Russian Military Doctrine (the existing one dates to 2014) is not going to appear anytime soon. If so, then the reason for publishing the previously classified Basic Principles becomes clearer: the could have been a need to clarify some provisions in the field of nuclear deterrence but no other suitable document was in the works.

Konstantin Bogdanov, Ph.D. in Technical Science, Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Security, IMEMO RAS, RIAC Expert.

The Basic Principles are important, first of all, because they create a clearly defined narrative officially signed by the Russian state. Much of the quite plausible and meaningful discussion about Russia’s nuclear posture has previously been conducted on the basis of indirect “signals” and some outdated semi-official publications (except for the brief provisions on nuclear policy in the Military Doctrine).

Secondly, Russia slightly “dispelled the mist” over such a controversial issue as the first use of nuclear weapons in response to aggressive actions without the use of weapons of mass destruction. We are primarily talking about attacks on the critical infrastructure of nuclear forces (not officially specified as strategic or tactical). It is also pointed out that the launch of ballistic missiles aimed at the Russian territory can lead to a launch-on-warning retaliatory strike regardless of the “filling” of these missiles and their formal range (the latter is a tribute to the INF Treaty).

The document does not close the issue of the “escalate-to-deescalate” strategy, widely discussed in the West, which in this interpretation would rather be named “escalate-to-win.“ This is despite the fact that it does not confirm the latter in any way (and that’s why everyone will find confirmation of their own views in the Basic Principles). Moreover, the document does not indicate the scale of the response, which suggests that Russia is ready to use limited scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons in the name of escalation control. There is nothing terribly uncivilized in this, because, and this is the last thing that draws attention to the document stylistics, the Basic Principles are, to some extent, a conceptual response to the current American Nuclear Posture Review 2018. In the Review, such scenarios are stated openly, and indeed, such forms of combat use have existed for more than a decade in the U.S. nuclear strategy. Another question is that this “mirroring” in itself lowers the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and can trigger a large-scale escalation in a crisis situation.

Alexander Yermakov, RIAC Expert.

The very fact of publishing the Basic Principles is of great importance. Not the preparation of the new version itself (the previous version was approved in 2010, and an updated version was expected right in 2020), but the public release. Such documents are rare in the public domain, and it was obvious that this would attract a lot of attention in certain circles.

The first goal was probably to emphasize once again Russia’s interest in this area in the context of an „unhealthy“ situation in the field of strategic stability, as well as with the extension of the START.

One of the positive aspects of the document itself is a clear classification of both military risks and threats to be neutralized by the implementation of nuclear deterrence: deployment by states „which consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary“ of missile defense systems and means, deployment of nuclear weapons, build-up of the general purpose forces groupings in the territories contiguous with the Russian Federation. Someone might accuse Russia of another threat to the unfortunate neighboring states, but it looks more like an appeal for some countries to think about the following questions: what weapons of their big brother are deployed on their territory for protection, and what weapons by no means increase security, medium-range missiles being clearly the latter?

Personally, I support Paragraph 15, Clause G, since it aligns with the principle some Western powers adhere to, “if the adversaries know where the red line is, they can avoid triggering it.“ Paragraph 19 is also a key one, as it states:

  1. the possibility to transition from the retaliatory strike to counterstrike;
  2. an indication of a nuclear response to a conventional attack by, what is commonly called in the West, NC3 (Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications). In light of the development of hypersonic non-nuclear weapons, these points needed to be voiced.

Another positive aspect is that international arms control treaties are given high priority, which is repeatedly underscored in the document.

Some negative points include, first of all, the final sentence of Paragraph 4. My colleagues will likely explain that it didn’t imply what one could think at first glance. But it works as in design: if you need to explain, then the design is unsuccessful. Especially in such publications, written for audiences that might be highly critical. And these audiences will be happy to read a public statement from the Russians on having an „escalate-to-deescalate“ strategy. It’s a shame to provide food for thought to the ideologists of NPR-2018.

Vitaly Kabernik, Senior Expert, Center for Military and Political Studies, MGIMO MFA, RIAC Expert.

Let me start by highlighting the conceptual novation: Paragraph 9 of the Basic Principles does not appeal to deterrence as such, but to the inevitability of retaliation. Thus, the conceptual area of deterrence now includes not only the familiar launch-on-warning systems, but also systems of deferred retaliation, such as cruise missiles of intercontinental range, underwater vehicles, etc. This leads to the conclusion that there is a certain decrease in confidence in the level of sustainability of the fixed assets of strategic nuclear forces. This entails the need to introduce the concept of retaliation that will be implemented even in case of losing part of the core retaliation capability.

Such an approach also legitimizes the design and development of various kinds of “Dead Hand” systems and other versions of “doomsday weapons.“ This unusual understanding of the concept of deterrence (although systems that automate a retaliatory strike are deployed) in regulatory documents has not been previously reflected so explicitly.

Paragraph 11 introduces wartime nuclear deterrence. This may reflect a vision of potential future conflicts that have gone beyond the previously imperative spiral of escalation: a form of limited armed conflict is implicitly introduced, the intensity of which is limited through the risk of nuclear escalation.

The language about risks and threats was added with the deployment of missile defense systems, which, in essence, are still defensive. At the same time, the dual-use potential is not clearly worded. This, perhaps, reinforces the already mentioned statement that the sustainability and efficiency of classic delivery means are no longer considered guaranteed.

Paragraph 14 at its core defines possible targets of the strike, among which are the infrastructure of the missile warning and missile defense systems. This is a declarative part with a rather diplomatic implication: a statement about the inadmissibility of deploying such infrastructure and legitimization of possibilities to destroy such targets by all means, including on the territory of non-nuclear states. This is no longer a deterrence task, but an element of promoting non-proliferation policy (of the means in the entire spectrum, and not just nuclear weapons).

Everyone, of course, immediately wants to read Part III. However, it is not going to meet their expectations. The launch on warning option and the response to a blow against the allies are worded, although their list is not defined. This provision resonates with the statement on the unpredictability of strategic response, a more diplomatic wording that denotes the inadmissibility of the use of nuclear weapons in small conflicts or, for example, against China.

And finally, the concept of “actions” against critical infrastructure seems new, but, in essence, it only legitimizes the response to possible sabotage operations, including operations in cyberspace. Again, it raises concerns about a decrease in the combat stability of the strategic nuclear forces in the future.

In general, an implicit awareness of the risks that reduce the combat stability of the strategic nuclear forces can be tracked in several provisions. I personally noticed it more than anything else. Some other theses stem from this awareness, including uncertainty, the extension of the conditions of use, the concept of retaliation, the inclusion of missile warning and missile defense systems in the list of threats. This is understandable, as the context of deterrence is changing, new systems are being developed, new threats to strategic nuclear forces are emerging, and the forms of possible armed conflicts are changing.

Natalia Romashkina, Head of the Informational Security Problems Department of the Center for International Security at IMEMO RAS, Professor, RIAC Expert.

Firstly, a document entitled “Basic Principles of State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence” has never been public before. For many decades, such documents have been shrouded in secrecy. This seems appropriate now since it is an open declaration of actions in response to the potential aggression of a potential adversary that fully meets the theory of deterrence when it comes to preventing any action through the threat of using nuclear weapons. In addition, it is important that this information be available to the general public in the face of tough information confrontation and outreach activities from the same potential adversaries. The fact that such documents are open in the United States, Great Britain and France, the official nuclear powers, is a significant aspect.

Secondly, Part I “General Provisions” contains useful definitions, in particular, the concepts of “Basic Principles,“ “State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” and its functions. However, there is no clear definition of the concept of “nuclear deterrence,“ which would be advisable before explaining what it is aimed at, how it is provided, and when and how nuclear deterrence, presented in Part II “Essence of Nuclear Deterrence,“ is being implemented.

Thirdly, Part II of the “Basic Principles” contains an important and totally relevant list of specific actions of a potential adversary, “the main military risks,“ in response to which nuclear deterrence is carried out.

Fourthly, some specific provisions of Part III, “Conditions for the Transition of the Russian Federation to the Use of Nuclear Weapons,” that have not been previously publicly voiced, are also consistent with the deterrence theory:

  • „arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies“;
  • „use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies“;
  • „attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions“;
  • „aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.“

Despite the fact that the second and fourth paragraphs are worded in other Russian doctrinal documents, there was some confusion in their interpretations in public both in Russia and abroad. The unclassified text of the document, therefore, gives concrete and unambiguous answers to both hawks and pacifists. The first paragraph declaring the possibility of using nuclear weapons on the arrival of „reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles“ should be pointed out. Given the term “reliable data,“ it might be a retaliatory strike upon data obtained from the missile warning system.

Thus, the first and third conditions on the actions against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, the failure of which will lead to the disruption of the response of nuclear forces, raises an extremely urgent problem of ensuring global information security. Such wording addresses the possibility of a cyber attack on critical infrastructure, including nuclear military and support facilities. Currently, the strategic planning documents of the Russian Federation do not contain information on specific conditions and actions in response to such attacks. At the same time, the national strategic documents of the USA, Great Britain, and France clearly state the possibility of using nuclear weapons in response to malicious actions in the information space performed by other countries. Moreover, several years ago, NATO made cyber defense a core part of collective defense, declaring that a serious cyberattack could trigger Article 5 of the founding treaty, and designated cyberspace a domain in which NATO will operate and defend itself. Stating concrete actions in a similar situation on the part of Russia could lay the foundation for the concept of deterrence protecting from the use of information and cyber weapons. In this context, there is an increasing need to develop an Information Security Strategy for Russia, to have the legal basis for the development of the information sphere, ensuring organizational, legislative, and economic conditions and guarantees for a safe evolutionary process. It is certainly advisable to align the text of the Strategy with the language of the “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence.“

Alexey Stepanov, Research Fellow, Center for Military and Political Research, RAS Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies.

The new Russian document appears, first of all, to be an answer to possible questions from the world community and an attempt to debunk some of the myths.

The first thing, and markedly visible, is that the authors of the document repeatedly emphasize its defensive nature. Russia will use nuclear weapons only when its territory is being attacked. Paragraph 5 emphasized that nuclear weapons are considered “exclusively as a means of deterrence, their use being an extreme and compelled measure.“

Despite this, Paragraph 4 of the document, in particular the “prevention of an escalation of military actions and their termination on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation and/or its allies,“ has already caused fierce expert debate about whether or not it confirms the existence of an “escalation for de-escalation” strategy, and also whether this paragraph contradicts with Paragraph 17, which reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of non-nuclear weapons, only when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy. A possible explanation, according to which under acceptable conditions, only conflicts threatening the existence of the state will terminate with the help of nuclear weapons, seems to reflect the idea of the authors of the doctrine fully.

Paragraph 12 lists a wide range of military threats, both non-nuclear offensive and partly defensive means (in the case of missile defense systems), that are to be neutralized by the implementation of nuclear deterrence, as well as deployment of missile defense assets and strike systems in outer space and deployment of nuclear weapons in the territories of non-nuclear weapon states. This is a very important clarification in the light of the aggravation of the situation in the field of arms control and possible negotiations on this topic.

However, there are provisions that, in my opinion, do not completely address the objectives of the document or are not generally constructive.

First, the document does not state what role Russia assigns to its tactical nuclear weapons in nuclear deterrence.

In addition, the presence of what is called in the West strategic unpredictability is explicitly stated in Paragraph 15, Clause D: one of the principles of nuclear deterrence is “unpredictability for a potential adversary in terms of scale, time and place for possible employment of forces and means of nuclear deterrence.“ It seems that this Clause contributes to the escalation of tension around Russia’s nuclear doctrine, and together with Paragraph 15, Clause C, “adaptability of nuclear deterrence to military threats” can fuel the debate over non-existent strategies for the use of nuclear weapons.

Paragraph 19, Clause C, that states one of the conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use as the “attack by an adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions,“ on the one hand, is an important addition, and on the other, is worded as vaguely as possible. It is not clear what kind of attack is meant and how its attribution will be carried out. It is also unclear whether only strategic or all nuclear forces are implied.

In conclusion, I would like to note that due to the largely vague wording, the document is unlikely to change the way the Russian nuclear posture is viewed by various state and non-state actors. In addition, in the face of a real military danger that allows serious discussion of the possibility of using nuclear weapons, the decision will be made based on the data available to the military and political leadership, and not on the provisions of doctrinal documents.

Dmitry Stefanovich, Research Fellow, Center for International Security, IMEMO RAS, RIAC Expert.

Firstly, it must be emphasized that the Basic Principles themselves are a standard strategic planning document in accordance with Paragraph 3, Clause C of Article 11 of the Federal Law On Strategic Planning in the Russian Federation as of June 28, 2014, No. 172-FZ (Paragraph 1), and therefore create the foundation for the activities of all agencies and organizations (primarily, the ones listed in Part IV) in the field of nuclear deterrence.

Obviously, this document also has a “signal” function, especially important in the context of the bacchanalia of insane assessments of Russia’s approaches in this area, reflected, among other things, in official documents and public statements in the U.S. Now, there is at least an open source of information which you can (and should) refer to in a discussion on „nuclear“ topics.

In regards to the content of the document, of course, most attention is drawn to Paragraph 12 listing military risks that might evolve into military threats to be neutralized by the implementation of nuclear deterrence, as well as Part III listing the conditions for the transition of the Russian Federation to the use of nuclear weapons. At the same time, Paragraph 11 plays an extremely important role, directly outlining the framework for the „functioning“ of nuclear deterrence: „up until the actual use of nuclear weapons.“ This should be remembered when analyzing the document: certain risks and threats are deterred by the fact of the presence of nuclear weapons, but not by their use.

Arms control and non-proliferation treaties (Paragraphs 6, 12 (Clause E), 12 (Clause F), 15 (Clause A)) appearing in the document should not be taken for granted. Russia takes this seriously, and this very fact clearly illustrates the understanding of the interconnections of these areas with nuclear deterrence.

It should also be noted that the Basic Principles do not categorize nuclear weapons into tactical and strategic, which to some extent, may serve as a sign of official support for the thesis that „any nuclear weapon is strategic.“

In conclusion, I would like to ask a rhetorical question: is it time to think about writing and publishing the Basic Principles of State Policy on Non-Nuclear Deterrence? This wording has already occupied an important place, be it in documents or the speeches of officials, while it doesn’t seem that there is some kind of common understanding of what it is all about.

Petr Topychkanov, Ph.D. in History, Senior Researcher at SIPRI, RIAC Expert.

The most positive aspect of the Basic Principles is the fact of their publication. By this fact, the Russian authorities showed that they are not indifferent to how domestic and foreign audiences perceive the country’s nuclear policy. The release of the Basic Principles can be considered either as a step towards greater transparency of Russia’s nuclear posture or as a willingness to take this step (it depends on how to interpret the document).

If to look at the Basic Principles as a tool for strengthening the strategic stability relations with the United States, its allies and other nuclear-armed states, then the meaning of the document is not so clear.

The publication of the Basic Principles triggered a discussion over Russian nuclear doctrine, and a dispute over the conditions for the nuclear weapons use with the participation of such officials as Marshall Billingsley, the U.S. Presidential Special Representative for Arms Control.

A real-life exchange of views between the representatives of Russia and the United States on nuclear postures could take place at the U.S.-Russian meeting in Vienna on the New START extension. Also it worth mentioning other plausible formats for such a discussion, for example, the meetings of the chiefs of staff of Russia and the U.S. and NATO-Russia Council.

The publication of the document and the ensuing disputes are a strong argument in favour of separating the problems associated with nuclear doctrines as an exclusive track of the U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue.

Also, the recent developments concerning the Basic Principles support the need for further deepening the doctrinal discussions at the P5 summits.

Under certain conditions, the Basic Principles could give a new impetus to the dialogue on nuclear doctrines in various bilateral and multilateral formats.

First, when publishing this document, Moscow should have loudly invited the U.S., NATO and other nuclear-armed states to deepen the doctrinal dialogue. Instead, there was no such signal, as no outreach was explaining the meaning and the role of the Basic Principles.

Second, the United States and other nuclear powers should have shown interest in a detailed discussion of the Basic Principles, Russia’s and their nuclear doctrines. There were no visible signs of such interest. The judgement mentioned above by Ambassador Billingsley indicated that he could probably make his conclusions regarding the newly published document.

Third, Russia, the United States, NATO, and the nuclear-armed states should have regularly held bilateral and multilateral meetings, the agenda of which could include a discussion of the Basic Principles. Although there are meetings often held with the participation of Russia to discuss nuclear issues in various formats, a detailed dialogue on nuclear doctrines with an analysis of each other’s documents is hardly foreseen for political reasons.

The publication of the Basic Principles is unlikely to have a visible effect on strengthening strategic stability between Russia, the United States, their allies and other nuclear-armed states without Russia’s proper outreach and the readiness of the nuclear weapons possessors for substantive and open discussions about doctrines. Clarifying some aspects of Russia’s nuclear policy, the document keeps ambiguity of the nuclear posture, for example, regarding the use of nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack.

In the absence of symmetrical steps to reduce the uncertainty of nuclear policies with the United States, its allies and other nuclear-armed states, it is hard to expect Russia’s unilateral actions in this direction. It explains the ambiguity of the Basic Principles language.

The positive aspect of the new document, namely the fact of its publication, is unlikely to have an immediate impact on strategic stability relations between Russia and other nuclear-armed states. But if this fact helps to engage these countries and their allies in doctrinal dialogues with Russia, this would strengthen strategic stability and reduce nuclear risks.

Is France’s Nuclear Shield Big Enough to Cover All of Europe?

April 8, 2020

Alexander Yermakov Military analyst, RAC Expert

At the end of the third year of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron delivered his long-awaited policy speech on the country’s defence and deterrence strategy. The long-awaited indeed: many have been expecting France to step up its nuclear role in recent years, including heading up the establishment of the EU Nuclear Forcete. Did the President deliver on these expectations? Yes and no.

From the get-go, Macron has been keen to play up the historical significance of his February 7 speech. The eighth president of the Fifth Republic noted that the last head of state to visit the École de Guerre in Paris was Charles de Gaulle himself, who delivered his famous speech on the creation of the Force de frappe, or the French Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF), here on November 3, 1959.

According to conservative estimates, the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world after that of Russia and the U.S., no less, with almost 300 warheads.

The previous resident of the Élysée Palace, François Hollande, delivered his address on the nuclear deterrence at the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base on February 19, 2015, where one of the French Air Force’s two nuclear squadrons was stationed at the time. Macron’s predecessor gave a speech that was rather typical of the French nuclear policy, reminding his fellow countrymen that the world is still full of threats and that, despite the commitment to nuclear disarmament (someday, like other powers), it was vital to “keep the powder dry.” The President reiterated the promise to not use nuclear weapons against those countries that had signed and honoured the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

According to Hollande, the French Strategic Nuclear Forces contribute to the pan-European security, yet remain ‘sovereign:’ Paris will neither, as a matter of principle, be part of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group nor will it participate in the NATO’s Nuclear Sharing [1]. Notwithstanding European solidarity and the special nuclear cooperation that France enjoys with the United Kingdom, Hollande stressed that, “our [France’s] deterrence is our own; it is we who decide, we who evaluate our vital interests.” It was France’s rather unique attitude to defence policy issues, and to the independence of its Strategic Nuclear Forces in particular, that was partly to blame for the falling out between the United States and NATO during de Gaulle’s presidency and that half a century later forced special provisions to be included in the Treaty of Lisbon [2].

It was France’s rather unique attitude to defence policy issues, and to the independence of its Strategic Nuclear Forces in particular, that was partly to blame for the falling out between the United States and NATO during de Gaulle’s presidency.

But the Euro-optimists, who are eager to make the European Union a great nuclear power, have been unhappy with the Treaty of Lisbon for some time now. In 2016, For example, prominent Bundestag member and international politics expert Roderich Kiesewetter of the ruling Christian Democratic Union proposed using the joint European military budget to strengthen nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France and to ensure the continent’s nuclear deterrence potential independent of the United States, a proposal that was supported on the eastern flank of the European Union by Jarosław Kaczyński. These sentiments were further bolstered by the onset of the Ukrainian crisis and even more so by the election of Donald Trump, who has long been sceptical of NATO. The Brexit actually played into the hands of those calling for a more robust nuclear umbrella in Europe, as the United Kingdom always served as a key instrument of U.S. and NATO policies in the European Union, opposing ‘separatist’ attempts to build non-Atlantic security institutions. This is precisely what the French Supreme Commander-in-Chief advocated, albeit somewhat cautiously, in his 2020 address.

Thermonuclear Assets

Alexander Yermakov:
Nuclear Deterrence or Britain and France have Dignity of their Own

What does France have to offer to Europe? According to conservative estimates, the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world after that of Russia and the U.S., no less, with almost 300 warheads (the actual number is not known: Hollande mentioned 300 in 2015, while Macron stated “under 300” five years later). This figure is conservative because numbers given for China vary wildly depending on individual preferences and the degree of Sinophobia of whoever is making estimates. It should be noted that in 2019 the respected Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that the Chinese nuclear arsenal included “about 290 warheads.” There is no need of a pack of tarot cards to reveal that France and China are in the second group of states in terms of the number of nuclear warheads in their possessions, way behind the United States and Russia and far outstripping other countries.

The French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consist of two components: an airborne and a seaborne. There used to be a land component with 18 intermediate-range ballistic missiles holed up in silos in the south of the country; that component existed from 1971 to 1996 [3]. As was the case for most nuclear powers, France initially used bombers to carry its warheads, namely the Dassault Mirage IV, which was introduced in 1964 and could carry a single AN-11/22 nuclear bomb with a charge of approximately 60 kilotons. In January 1972, the French ballistic missile submarine Le Redoutable set out on its maiden patrol.

The French government initially had high hopes for nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), but the program to develop and construct these complex systems ended up falling desperately behind the schedule. Yet the fact that in 1960-1970s France was able to create its own SSBNs and missiles to go with them (SLBMs) is quite a feat in itself, as it was only the third country in the world to do this, not lagging too long behind the two superpowers of the time that possessed far more resources [4]. China only built its first serial SSBNs in the 21st century (the Type 094 submarine set off on its maiden nuclear deterrence patrol in December 2015), while India is still testing its first vessel.

The French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consist of two components: an airborne and a seaborne. There used to be a land component.

The airborne component of the French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consists of Rafale B twin-seat fighter jets, which replaced the Mirage 2000N in 2018 and are equipped with ASMP-A supersonic cruise missiles (54 supersonic thermonuclear warheads with a range of up to 500 kilometres and a charge estimated at approximately 300 kilotons, some of which was spent during testing). Unlike previous generations of fighters, Rafale’s aircrafts were not specially modified for carrying nuclear warheads; instead the Air Force personnel receive a special training to operate them.

Two nuclear squadrons are deployed at the Saint-Dizier-Robinson Air Base: Fighter Squadron 1/4 Gascogne and Fighter Squadron 2/4 La Fayette, with at least 40 fighter jets in service. In addition, the Strategic Air Forces Command (Forces Aériennes Stratégiques, FAS) possesses “privileged rights” to the Air Supply Group 2/91 Bretagne, a combined regiment of 14 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers manufactured in the U.S., which from 2018 are being gradually replaced by the modern European-made Airbus A330 MRTT Phénix. The second A330 MRTT was delivered in late 2019. The initial contract for 12 aircrafts is set to be fulfilled by 2023; three more tankers may be ordered. Tanker aircrafts are vital for delivering strikes at considerable distances, as the Rafale are still fighters and not long-range bombers.

The French government initially had high hopes for nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

What sets France apart is that the country has had the naval nuclear aviation force (Force aéronavale nucléaire, FANu) in addition to its land-based nuclear aviation component since the late 1970s. Currently, the FANu consists of carrier-based aircrafts, specifically Rafale M single-seat fighters that can also be equipped with ASMP-A cruise missiles. Unlike the immediately ready specialized land units, the FANu are set up on an as-needed basis, and all naval squadrons undergo a basic nuclear weapons training. France’s sole aircraft carrier R91 Charles de Gaulle does not carry ASMP-A on a permanent basis and missiles are stored in the Air Force’s arsenals during peacetime; however, positioning the aircraft carrier as part of the country’s Strategic Nuclear Forces is a somewhat strange move itself. Nuclear weapons were offloaded from all U.S. aircraft carriers by the middle of 1992 and modern carrier-based F/A-18E/F and F-35C fighters are not intended for such purposes [5].

The employment of an aircraft carrier as a platform for fighters armed with nuclear cruise missiles is consistent with the French approach to the air component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces. It is seen as a visible part of its deterrence forces that can be used to deal with explicit threats and manage escalations. In addition, high-precision ASMP-A missiles are well-suited for surgical strikes and a warhead that has more power than SLBM may be useful for destroying specially fortified underground objects. ASN4G air-launched missiles are currently under development that looks very promising. The plan is to start phasing out ASMP-A missiles in the mid-2030s and replace them with ASN4Gs. All specifications have not been publicly disclosed, but given current trends, a fair guess is that it will be hypersonic (a glider or a cruise missile with a hypersonic ramjet engine).

Unlike the immediately ready specialized land units, the FANu are set up on an as-needed basis, and all naval squadrons undergo a basic nuclear weapons training.

Nevertheless, much of France’s nuclear potential is concentrated on a hidden yet permanently combat-ready component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces, namely its fleet of Triomphant-class nuclear-powered missile submarines. Four of these vessels were put into operation between 1997 and 2010, replacing Le Redoutable-class boats. Triomphant-class submarines are armed with 16 SLBMs. By 2020, all these boats should be equipped with the newest M51.2 missiles carrying new TNO nuclear warheads, which, according to unconfirmed reports, boast a charge of approximately150 kilotons. The payload range depends on its size, with conflicting reports suggesting upwards of 9000 km for minimal payloads and significantly less when carrying six or more individual guidance units [6]. Each submarine obviously has missiles with various combinations of warheads. According to official statements, the French Navy possesses 48 missiles and three weapons systems, one for each submarine, while the fourth is undergoing a major overhaul. According to various estimates, 80–90% of the almost 300 warheads are intended for the marine component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces [7], even though its surpluses are probably very small compared to those of other nuclear powers [8].

The design work on promising SNLE-3G nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines has already begun, with the construction set to start in 2023 and commissioning projected for the first half of 2030s. Meanwhile, the development of M51 SLBMs continues: a modified M51.3 is expected to appear in the middle of this decade. The new missile will have an additional third stage, which will increase its range and throw-weight in terms of a more advanced equipment for defeating missile defence. New SSBNs will be equipped with promising M51.4s, which are in early stages of development.

The EU Nuclear Sharing

Ivan Timofeev:
Onslaught of French Diplomacy

France’s Strategic Nuclear Forces are small compared to those of the United States and Russia, but they are cutting edge and updated constantly. Unlike the United Kingdom, which continues to reduce its nuclear arsenal unilaterally and where the public sentiment is largely anti-nuclear, France enjoys a greater popular support for nuclear deterrence. Arguably, this is explained by historical reasons. France has always viewed nuclear weapons as a vital instrument for gaining more independence from the United States and as a guarantee that catastrophes the country faced during the First World War and in 1940 will not repeat themselves.

In the past, France always took a stand-off position in matters pertaining to strategic nuclear forces. Even after it was accepted back into the NATO Military Command Structure in the beginning of the 21st century, Paris stressed that it will not be part of the Nuclear Planning Group and refused to align its nuclear strategy with that of its allies. Now, Emmanuel Macron is ready to turn this symbol of country’s independence into the embodiment of France’s role as the leader of united Europe.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Macron’s speech was largely directed at all citizens of Europe and that he was referring to pan-European threats and objectives. One popular yet unsophisticated way of analysing political speeches that sometimes yields interesting results is to count how many times an important word is used. In his speech, Macron said ‘Europe’ almost twice as many times as ‘France.’ To compare, François Hollande mentioned ‘France’ almost ten times more frequently than ‘Europe’ in his 2015 address.

Nevertheless, much of France’s nuclear potential is concentrated on a hidden yet permanently combat-ready component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces, namely its fleet of Triomphant-class nuclear-powered missile submarines.

In his address, Macron pointed to a number of developing trends that may pose a serious challenge to European security in the future: first, the growing confrontation between the United States and China; second, Europe’s need for greater autonomy from the United States with regard to security in Eastern and Southern parts of the continent; and third, blurring the line between competition and confrontation. In addition, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the “unprecedented situation” in which regional powers already are or soon will be capable of striking the European territory directly were also singled out as threats.

Another potential threat, according to Macron, is the gradual erosion of the arms control regime. The legal framework needs to be restored in this area and Europe must make efforts. A failure to do so may once again make Europe a field of confrontation for “non-European nuclear powers,” which is completely unacceptable, as far as the President of France is concerned. These calls to rebuild the arms control regimes can be seen as a tacit support for the Russian proposal to impose a moratorium on the deployment of medium-range missiles (the French President is the only Western leader who has responded positively to the idea). Macron also paid a special attention to the subject of restoring relations with Russia without which “there can be no defence and security project of European citizens.” Moreover, he has tasked himself with building bridges with Russia [9].

France has always viewed nuclear weapons as a vital instrument for gaining more independence from the United States.

At the centre of Macron’s speech was the call for Europe to pursue a more independent defence and security policy. Beyond purely political, Macron drew focus to the fact that Europeans (and European states, by extension) need to control the continent’s key infrastructure themselves. This appears to be a vital element of the French President’s thinking, as he later reiterated the point during a speech on the coronavirus pandemic. By gaining a greater sovereignty for whole Europe, France will be able to obtain a “true” sovereignty for itself.

Turning to military issues, Macron noted that while European countries have continued disarmaments in the spirit of the 1990s, other players have moved in the other direction. Europe can only achieve a full political sovereignty with modern armed forces, and modernization costs money. France’s nuclear forces can be the core of this European military sovereignty—autonomous from the United States and less entrenched in NATO than the nuclear arsenal of the United Kingdom, which left the EU this year.

Now, Emmanuel Macron is ready to turn this symbol of country’s independence into the embodiment of France’s role as the leader of united Europe.

Of course, Macron did not utter these exact words, but he did make an extremely important message that most commentators have missed: “France’s vital interests now have a European dimension.” This is not a throw-away sentence, because according to France’s military doctrine, a perceived threat to the country’s “vital interests” is an enough reason to resort to the nuclear force [10]. Macron could not have made a more explicit offer to extend his country’s nuclear umbrella to cover the rest of the European Union as he suggested opening a strategic dialogue on this issue.

Commentators have paid more attention to the concrete proposal for willing European partners to start partaking in exercises of the French Strategic Nuclear Forces. This means, foremost, the air component, considering that the submarine one is far too sensitive. Besides, in light of the departure of the United Kingdom, the European Union no longer has a fleet that could help France out in the Atlantic. A strengthened cooperation in the air component, though, can significantly expand capabilities of France’s strategic aviation, of course, on jet fighters, but it is what it is. Andrey Kortunov:
Four Pieces of Advice to Emmanuel Macron about the INF Treaty

It may be tempting to disperse to multiple airfields across Europe during a heightened threat, but this would require the ground personnel of allied countries to undergo necessary trainings, including in the use of ASMP-A missiles, which is a politically sensitive issue the European authorities may return to later in time. It is far more likely that the joint European fleet of Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft that the French Air Force also uses will be involved in exercises alongside French nuclear squadrons. Six countries have already chipped in to buy eight tankers: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. The program is constantly expanding and at least three aerial refuelling tankers are expected to be ordered. Tankers deployed at airfields in dangerous regions will make it easier for French Rafale fighter jets to carry out long-distance missions. At the same time, clearly, the issue of providing cover for strike groups must be settled. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of potential military exercises suggested by Macron.

The joint French, German, and Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program to develop a sixth-generation jet fighter that is set to replace the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in the late 2030s is worth of mention. The relevant contract was signed on February 20, 2020. Given requirements of the French side, the new jet will probably be initially designed as a nuclear delivery vehicle [11]. This will expand capabilities of the allied air forces, which may then be able to handle promising ASN4G missiles.

Obviously, France’s proposal cannot get off the ground if other EU member states, especially Germany, are not on board with it. One week after Macron delivered his speech in Paris, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke at the opening of the Munich Security Conference, where he supported opening a dialogue with Germany’s “closest ally,” France, in order to develop a “joint strategic culture.” Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas made similar comments during his speech at the conference. In an interview given a few days before the beginning of the conference, its chairperson Wolfgang Ischinger said he did not believe that France would relinquish its nuclear weapons to the general command, but spoke positively about starting a dialogue on the common strategy and discussing “European deterrence.” The consensus was that the United States could no longer be considered a reliable partner for defending Europe.

These calls to rebuild the arms control regimes can be seen as a tacit support for the Russian proposal to impose a moratorium on the deployment of medium-range missiles.

It is important to know that the subject of nuclear weapons is extremely sensitive for European politicians. Thus, any steps in this direction will only be taken with the utmost caution and the hope that at every stage their “big brother” will step in to help. And who knows? Maybe the United States will indeed come back to its senses once a new president comes to power. The negative attitude of the European population to nuclear weapons cannot be overlooked either; however, if the European project manages to survive its current woes and if its leaders are determined to play an independent role in world politics years down the line, then they very well may decide to create an allied nuclear shield.

If that is truly the case, decades from now Macron’s 2020 speech will be referenced in the same way he alluded to Charles de Gaulle’s. Or, at least, that is the way he would like it.

1. The practice of the United States storing its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe under its own formal control and training local forces, including those of non-nuclear powers, in their use. B61 nuclear bombs are currently deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. For more, see:

1. Many believe that France’s position on the matter was the reason why Article 49(c).7. of the Treaty, which proclaims the principle of the collective defence of the European Union, includes the provision that, “This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.”

1. In this case, we are talking about strategic weapons only. France’s nuclear arsenal also included tactical nuclear weapons, namely, the Pluton and Hadès short-range road-mobile missile systems, from 1974 to 1997.

5. The United Kingdom had a lot of help from the United States in building its SSBNs, and to this day they are equipped with U.S. missiles.

1. Norris, Robert S. and Kristensen, Hans M. “Declassified: U.S. Nuclear Weapons at Sea During the Cold War.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2016

6. The exact numbers for the French missile are not known, but we can use the U.S. Trident II for reference. According to expert estimates, Trident II has a range of approximately 7500km when carrying eight warheads, and over 11,500km when the number of warheads is reduced to three or four. See Harvey, John R. & Stefan Michalowsk, Science & Global Security, 1994

7. Tertrais, Bruno. “French Nuclear Deterrence Policy, Forces and Future.” Fondation pour la recherche stratégique, 2019

8. Kristensen, Hans M. & Matt Korda. “French Nuclear Forces.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2019.

9. “As I’m carrying out this project, I am demanding […] The main objective – I have mentioned it numerous times – of my engagement with Russia is an improvement in collective security and stability conditions in Europe. This process will last several years. It will require patience, and high demands, and it will be conducted with our European partners. But we have no interest in delegating such a dialogue to others, nor lock ourselves in the present situation.”

10. Given the fact that France’s nuclear arsenal was considerably smaller than the Soviet Union’s, the country traditionally adhered to the strategy of “the weak containing the strong,” meaning not a retaliatory, but rather a preventive strike in the event of a non-nuclear attack or nuclear threat. Euphemisms helped smooth this out somewhat. This explains why, even now, when the official documents of the United States and Russia cite “in response to an attack using weapons of mass destruction” as the main reason for using strategic nuclear forces, France’s talk about “protecting the country’s vital interests.”

11. For example, the Eurofighter Typhoon is not capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This creates certain difficulties for Germany when it comes to replacing its Tornado bombers, which continue to be used as potential carriers for U.S. B61 bombs.

The British Nuclear Trident

April 27, 2020

Dmitry Stefanovich Research Fellow at the Center for International Security, Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, co-founder of the Vatfor project, RIAC Expert

Of all the “official” nuclear powers (Russia, the US, France, the UK, China), the UK arguably displays the most peculiar approach to nuclear deterrence. Here, we will outline the most salient details, assess the prospects, and suggest possible confidence-building measures.

The Hardware

Let us start with the “hardware” before addressing various conceptual features. As of today, the UK’s nuclear deterrence appears highly optimized, resting on the following three pillars:

  • Four UK-manufactured Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) providing “Continuous At-Sea Deterrence,” that is, permanent at-sea presence of at least one ballistic missile submarine (presumably in the North-East Atlantic) ready to deliver a nuclear strike at any time (while another submarine is being readied for patrol at the base and two more are undergoing maintenance)
  • Trident-II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) “leased” from the US (unused Tridents are stockpiled at the US naval base appropriately named Kings Bay)
  • UK-designed nuclear warheads (presumably with certain specific features making them very similar to US-made W76-family warheads) with a payload of about 100 kt (other variants are also possible) most likely “packaged” in reentry bodies similar to the US-made Mk4/Mk4A.

Alexander Yermakov:
Nuclear Deterrence or Britain and France have Dignity of their Own

The total number of warheads is steadily declining, with the goal of reducing the amount from 200 currently to only 180 by the mid-2020s. The latest 2015 stage legally enshrined the following figures: not more than operationally available 120 warheads with a maximum of 40 warheads per SSBN on combat patrol.

As regards nuclear payloads for British SSBNs, it is a curious (though not officially confirmed) fact that, while the US creating the low-yield W76-2 warheads prompted rather passionate debates worldwide, the Royal Navy has never caused anyone any particular concern even though it has roughly the same weapons.

Currently, work is underway to develop a new generation of aptly-named Dreadnought-class strategic missile submarines that will replace the Vanguard-class SSBNs in early 2030s and ensure that the UK has a “convincing, independent, and battle-worthy” deterrent until 2060. The new Dreadnoughts will be equipped with 12-SLBM “common missile compartments” (CMC) (three four-tube launchers), while actually carrying eight SLBMs, which is Columbia-SSBN-826-Class-Ballistic-Missile.pdf“ rel=“noreferrer noopener“>similar to the new Columbia-class American SSBN developed with a significant financial contribution from London. Incidentally, American partners are working with their British allies on developing the nuclear power unit for the Dreadnoughts.

Work has already started on the lead Dreadnought SSBN (2016), on the first follow-up Valiant (2019); the second and third follow-ups will be called, no less aptly, Warspite and King George VI.

An interesting development in recent months is that American officials have announced a programme for developing new W93/Mk7 SLBM warheads (in terms of START treaties, we may say that W refers to warheads, while Mk refers to reentry bodies) and directly mentioned cooperation with the UK. This came as news to the British expert community, especially since the UK’s Ministry of Defence is mandated to notify the Parliament about any plans to develop new nuclear weapons. Giving credit where it is due, a relevant public statement was made very promptly. Alexander Yermakov:
Is France’s Nuclear Shield Big Enough to Cover All of Europe?

Certainly, debates around the term “new” when it comes to nuclear warheads (especially since one would like to believe there are no opportunities or plans for nuclear test explosions) are extremely interesting in and of themselves, and each party may gain nothing. Yet, this situation serves as a vivid illustration of possible “glitches” in coordinating “para-nuclear” communications, even between the closest allies. Currently, though, there are more questions than answers related to W93.

The UK’s SSBNs are based at the Clyde naval base in Scotland. Certainly, despite Brexit, the prospects for an independent (and non-nuclear) Scotland remain rather slim, yet, if London’s worst-case scenario comes true, a new site will have to be found and new infrastructure built in a very short order.

The Concept

The UK’s nuclear doctrine guarantees unacceptable damage to any aggressor and there is no doubt that the UK has the requisite capabilities. Nuclear weapons can be used independently or as part of NATO’s nuclear forces. Since 1994, it has been assumed that Tridents are de-targeted. Yet, retention of a certain ambiguity regarding, for instance, the first nuclear strike is considered rather useful in order to bolster deterrence.

The order to use nuclear weapons can only be given by the Prime Minister, although experts believe the decision would be collegial. The order would travel from a special room in a bunker beneath Whitehall, down the chain of command to a SSBN and, at each stage, two people would participate in “passing the signal.” The order could, it is believed, be issued from the Prime Minister’s airplane, as well, but it would still travel via the Pindar. RIAC and RUSI Report „UK–Russia Security Relations: Talking To Understand“

Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s coming down with coronavirus once again brought to the fore the issue of delegating responsibility for the “nuclear button.” The Prime Minister may supposedly personally appoint up to three “nuclear deputies” in the government, whose identity is kept secret and who are vested with the authority to commit nuclear forces in a predetermined order. During the Cold War, “nuclear deputies” (two, as a rule) were selected from among the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary, and the Home Secretary. The procedure was suspended after the end of the Cold War but resumed in 2001. Supposedly, while Boris Johnson was in the hospital, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acted as such a “deputy”, in the same way that he shouldered other duties of the Prime Minister.

A curious feature of the British nuclear forces combat control is the tradition of written letters whereby the Prime Minister describes procedures and lists targets for a nuclear conflict; subsequently, such a “letter” is sealed in an envelope and placed in a safe box onboard each SSBN. When a prime minister leaves office, the letters are destroyed unopened and new letters are delivered (sealed as well). Remarkably, even though the world has been afflicted by a real epidemic of leaked official and sensitive information, the contents of such “envelopes” remain inaccessible to researchers even today. Nonetheless, the possible “options” given to an SSBN’s captain include: “retaliate,” “do not retaliate,” “use your own judgement,” “place the submarine under an allied country’s command.”

The People

The Royal Navy is staffed by flesh-and-blood people, the result being sex and drugs scandals and possible danger to maintaining CASD amid the COVID-2019 pandemic. Confined spaces often without access to outside air are, in general, good breeding grounds for infections, so reasonable concerns have been voiced about breaking CASD for the first time in the 50 years it has been in place. It should be stressed, however, that should this happen, even a sick crew would launch a missile if such a need arose, and a second submarine would be ready to go on combat patrol immediately.

It is not certain whether human error led to the failed submarine test launch of a Trident missile in the summer of 2016 (the British crew reportedly did everything by the book but the American-made missile failed), but the “political dimension” of the situation was very personal. According to media reports, Barack Obama personally asked then Prime Minister David Cameron to keep the details of the incident a secret. Theresa May, who became Prime Minister shortly afterwards, also kept mum. One of the first “victories” of the new cabinet was a successful vote on renewing the British deterrence programme (this ultimately became the above-mentioned Dreadnought). It is hard to say whether things would have gone differently if the information had been made public in a timely manner but, on the whole, the picture is not entirely seemly (even if not entirely new).

The UK’s powerful anti-nuclear movement is another important “human” factor and sometimes a source of remarkable documents. The starkest example is probably a report on the consequences of an SSBN nuclear attack on Moscow. We will not go into every detail of this valuable material but do note that, based on the calculations therein, up to half of Moscow’s population would die. Certainly, Moscow’s missile defence can handle some threats but the hypothetical British attack could involve several submarines. Of course, this is a purely hypothetical scenario, yet it serves best to show the destructive power even such a modest (compared to Russia and the US) nuclear potential has.

The International Dimension

Unlike France, with its emphatic “nuclear independence,” the UK has always maintained a significant “international element” in its nuclear development, primarily through close cooperation with the US. In the late 1970s, for instance, the UK had nearly 400 American warheads, including such exotic ones as artillery shells and nuclear landmines. At the same time, when it comes to arms control, the nuclear stockpiles of the US’ allies have traditionally been discounted.

Russian scholars note that continuously discounting the UK, with its added US-made SLBMs, from Russia-US nuclear arms control treaties is a way of executing Trident launches that do not count towards the treaties’ telemetry exchange limits. The problem may not be particularly relevant with respect to this venerable missile itself. When, however, a new generation of “Anglo-Saxon” SLBMs appears (approximately by the late 2030s), it might already be too late to discuss new approaches. It is, therefore, unacceptable to reduce the problem of multilateral nuclear control to the Russia-US-China triangle.

When it comes to the UK, traditionally proposed transparency measures appear too timid, given the “material” aspect of the UK’s nuclear deterrence architecture, as described above. Still, searching for uniform approaches to the declarative information on deployed and non-deployed nuclear forces, to notifications of test launches, etc. could promote further advances toward multilateral arms control.

The topic of the Russia-UK “para-nuclear” interaction conducted both bilaterally and within the “P5” (which was originally London’s idea) has been researched very thoroughly, and proposed cooperation options deserve the closest attention.

In conclusion, let us note that the British authorities are experts at providing information to the public at large. Certainly, the publicly accessible data are not exhaustive, but any attempt to clarify Russian nuclear deterrence approaches (which are significantly more multi-level and involve qualitatively different elements) in a similar manner would be a useful exercise at the very least

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