Russia’s 2000 Military Doctrine

Russia’s 2000 Military Doctrine

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Nikolai Sokov

Senior Fellow, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

The Military Doctrine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin approved on 21 April 2000, is the culmination of several years of work and countless revisions. [1] This long-awaited document, which was promised several times since early 1997, replaced the earlier document "Main Provisions of the Military Doctrine," which Boris Yeltsin approved in November 1993. [2]

The new Doctrine elaborates the provisions pertaining to the limited use of nuclear weapons that were set out four months earlier in the National Security Concept and in this regard marks a qualitatively new stage in the development of Russian nuclear doctrine. The first post-Soviet innovation in nuclear policy was introduced in the 1993 Doctrine, which allowed for the first use of nuclear weapons. (Until then, the official Soviet policy, which was set in the 1970s and confirmed in 1982, allowed for the use of nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.) That document, however, assigned only one mission to the nuclear arsenal: deterrence of a large-scale attack that threatened the sovereignty and the very survival of the country. The doctrine remained unchanged despite a flurry of proposals in 1996-97 to increase reliance on nuclear weapons in the face of the first phase of NATO enlargement. The 1997 National Security Concept retained the plank about reserving "the right to use all forces and means at its disposal, including nuclear weapons, in case an armed aggression creates a threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation as an independent sovereign state." [3] In a review of an unpublished early draft of the Military Doctrine, which was produced in 1997, two officers of the General Staff noted that "some 'specialists' … attempted to introduce into the documents language that would toughen nuclear policy," but emphasized that these proposals were rejected by the Interagency Working Group on the new doctrine. It was decided, they said, to retain the 1993 language, "which had passed the test of time and was supported by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs." [4]

At that time the Russian government adopted a series of documents, which confirmed earlier policy and laid out development and deployment plans based on the assumption that the sole mission of nuclear weapons was deterrence of a large-scale attack. Several decrees signed by Boris Yeltsin in 1997 and 1998 [5] provided for deep reductions of the Russian nuclear arsenal, as missiles' planned service lives expired, and limited modernization programs. Yet the debate over NATO enlargement had important consequences as it propelled nuclear weapons into the center of attention and created the perception that they could be usable in a broader array of scenarios.

A meeting of the Security Council in April 1999 (the first chaired by Vladimir Putin as Secretary), which came on the heels of the NATO military operation in Kosovo, apparently directed the military to revisit nuclear doctrine and develop ways to deter a similar use of limited force against Russia. New approaches were developed in a very short time, suggesting that the military had been thinking along these lines for some time, and deterrence of a limited conventional attack was tested for the first time during the Zapad-99 (West-99) maneuvers in May-June 1999. A draft of the new Doctrine was published in the fall of 1999,[6] but the ensuing discussion did not lead to significant changes, including in the parts pertaining to nuclear weapons.

The scale and the direction of the evolution of views with regard to the utility and the methods of employment of nuclear weapons can be gleaned from a comparison of the relevant provisions of the 1993 and 2000 doctrines.

The 1993 document defined the mission of nuclear weapons as "the removal of the danger of a nuclear war by means of deterring [other states] from unleashing an aggression against the Russian Federation and its allies." They were supposed to be used only under conditions of a large-scale (global) war that put the sovereignty and very existence of Russia at risk. The Doctrine, however, contained two important warnings: first, that even a limited conflict could escalate into a global war and, second, that any use of nuclear weapons risked an all-out, unrestrained nuclear exchange. This represented, in essence, deterrence of any (including limited) conflict by threat of world annihilation. However, the credibility of such a threat was limited.

The Doctrine, further, contained important limitations on the use of nuclear weapons, which repeated Russia's obligations under the negative security assurances under the Nonproliferation Treaty. Specifically, the document postulated that Russia

    will not use its nuclear weapons against any member state of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1 July 1968 that does not possess nuclear weapons unless (a) such a state, if it has an alliance agreement with a nuclear-weapons state, engages in an armed attack against the Russian Federation, its territory, Armed Forces and other troops, or its allies; (b) such a state acts jointly with a nuclear-weapons state in carrying out or supporting an invasion or an armed attack against the Russian Federation, its territory, Armed Forces and other troops, or its allies.

The right to use nuclear weapons first was not spelled out, but, rather, was introduced "by default," i.e., by not mentioning the previously traditional no-first-use plank.

Although the 2000 language sounds similar, it contains certain subtle, but important changes:

    The Russian Federation regards nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence of an aggression, of ensuring the military security of the Russian Federation and its allies, and of maintaining international stability and peace.

    The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against itself or its allies and also in response to large-scale aggression involving conventional weapons in situations that are critical for the national security of the Russian Federation and its allies.

    The Russian Federation will not use nuclear weapons against member states of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons that do not possess nuclear weapons except in the case of an invasion or any other attack against the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or a state toward which it has obligations with respect to security, unless that attack is conducted or supported by such a non-nuclear-weapons state together with a nuclear-weapons state or under alliance obligations with a nuclear-weapons state.

First, the mission of deterrence is expanded to include the "military security" of Russia and "international stability and peace." The language is extremely vague, but probably implies a broader political role of nuclear weapons, including in circumstances that do not constitute a direct threat of attack against Russia.

Second, the right to use nuclear weapons first in response to a conventional attack is clearly spelled out.

Third, the 2000 Doctrine allows for the use of nuclear weapons in response to the use of other weapons of mass destruction (the provision is similar to the one adopted by the United States).

Perhaps the most important innovation is the broadening of conflict scenarios under which nuclear weapons could be used. The 2000 Doctrine distinguishes between four types of warfare:

  • armed conflict (primarily ethnic or religious in origin, waged inside the country; other states might be involved indirectly);
  • local war (one or several other states as opponents; the scope and goals of the conflict are limited);
  • regional war (attack by a state or a coalition of states pursuing significant political goals); and
  • global war (attack by a coalition of states; survival and sovereignty of Russia are at stake).

The use of nuclear weapons is associated with the last two types of conflict, whereas in the 1993 Doctrine nuclear weapons are only associated with a global war. This new provision clearly reflects concerns about a large-scale conventional attack, which Russian Armed Forces are unable to defeat without resort to nuclear weapons and, consequently, are unable to deter the Kosovo scenario. A 1999 article in the leading military journal Voyennaya mysl developed the notion that nuclear weapons could be used in order to "de-escalate" a regional war:[7] even a limited use of nuclear weapons should increase the costs to the attacker sufficiently to outweigh expected political and economic benefits, and consequently the attacker would prefer to terminate the conflict on the basis of status quo ante. Accordingly, the threat to use nuclear weapons should be able to deter the attack by changing the cost-benefit calculation in the mind of the potential attacker. In the end of 1999 the chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, Vladimir Yakovlev, coined the term expanded deterrence to denote the mission of de-escalation of limited conflicts.

Like the 1993 document, the 2000 Doctrine warns about escalation of conflicts. According to a publication of the Academy of Strategic Rocket Forces,[8] the most likely escalation path is directly from the first to the third type of conflict. This view signaled that major foreign interference in the antiterrorism operation in Chechnya (the Doctrine was finalized against the background of the second Chechen war) could precipitate the use of nuclear weapons. In late 1999, Boris Yeltsin explicitly referred to nuclear weapons during an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit to prevent external involvement in the second war in Chechnya.

The 2000 Doctrine is rather moot on the guidelines for modernization and the size of the nuclear arsenal. It only says that Russia's nuclear capability "should be able to guarantee the infliction of predetermined damage to any aggressor (a state or a coalition of states) under any circumstances." The use of the notion "predetermined (zadannyy) damage" instead of the more customary "unacceptable damage" appears to be related to the concept of limited nuclear use, that is, damage from the strike should not necessarily be unacceptable to the attacker, but simply sufficient to ensure that the expected costs to the attacker exceed expected benefits. The term "predetermined," however, was also used in earlier documentsthe 1993 Doctrine and the 1997 National Security Concept.

According to the 2000 Doctrine, the strategic nuclear forces will remain the backbone of Russia's nuclear capability (it should be noted that Tu-22M3 medium bombers, which are not classified as strategic under international agreements, are customarily included in the strategic arsenal according to the internal classification system). The doctrine lists among the priority areas of defense acquisition "the qualitative improvement of the strategic weapons complex," but fails to mention other classes of nuclear weapons, such as tactical nuclear weapons. This suggests that limited use missions will probably be entrusted to strategic delivery vehicles.

Since its adoption in 2000, the Military Doctrine has remained the main guidance for Russia's defense policy, including with regard to its nuclear strategy and posture. Thus far there have been no indications of work on a new version. The 2003 "White Paper" published by the Ministry of Defense is limited to an elaboration and limited development of various provisions of the 2000 document.


[1] Voyennaya Doktrina Rossiyskoy Federatsiy. Utverzhdena Ukazom Prezidenta RF ot 21 aprelya 2000 g. No. 706
[2] "Osnovnyye polozheniya voyennoy doktriny Rossiyskoy Federatsii," Rossiyskaya gazeta, 18 November 1993, pp. 1, 4.
[3] Kontseptsiya natsionalnoy bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsiy. Utverzhdena Ukazom Prezidenta RF ot 17 dekabrya 1997 g. No. 1300 .
[4] Anatoliy Klimenko and Aleksandr Koltuykov, "Osnovnoy dokument voyennogo stroitelstva," Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, 13 February 1998, p. 4.
[5] These included the Boris Yeltsin decree "On urgent measures toward reforming the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation," (July 1997), and two Security Council documents, "The Concept of Development of Nuclear Forces until 2010" and "The Foundations (Concept) of State Policy in the Area of Defense Development until 2005" (July-August 1998). These documents are classified, but their general thrust can be gleaned from newspaper publications: "Sovet bezopasnosti RF reshil sokhranit trekhkomponentnyy sostav strategicheskikh yadernykh sil, Interfax daily news bulletin, No. 4, July 3, 1998; "Russia to be Major Nuclear Power in 3d MillenniumOfficial," ITAR-TASS, July 3, 1998; Ivan Safronov and Ilya Bulavinov, "Boris Yeltsin podnyal yadernyy shchit," Kommersant-Daily, July 4, 1998; Yuriy Golotyuk, "Yadernoye razoruzheniye neizbezhno," Russkiy telegraf, July 11, 1998; Yuriy Golotyuk, "Moskva skorrektirovala svoy yadernyye argumenty," Russkiy telegraf, July 4, 1998; Anatoliy Yurkin, "Perspektivy voyennogo stroitelstva," Krasnaya zvezda, August 5, 1998, p. 1, 3; Oleg Falichev, "Vpervyye so vremeni Miluykovskikh reform," Krasnaya zvezda, August 18, 1998, p. 1,2.
[6] "Voyennaya Doktrina Rossiyskoy Federatsii: Proyekt," Krasnaya zvezda, 9 October 1999,
[7] V. Levshin, A. Nedelin, M. Sosnovskiy, "O primenenii yadernogo oruzhiya dlya deeskalatsii voyennykh deystviy," Voyennaya mysl, Vol. 3, May-June 1999, pp. 34-37.
[8] V. Prozorov, Yadernoye sderzhivaniye v teoriy primeneniya RVSN (Moscow: Pyotr Veliki Military Academy, 1999), p. 19.

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