What is Russia’s position on the use of tactical nuclear weapons? Would Russia perceive a cyber-attack as the beginning of a nuclear conflict? NTI board member Alexey Arbatov joined James Acton at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last week for a discussion about these and other questions related to the increased risk of nuclear war. Arbatov leads the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Acton is co-director of Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program.
The discussion sought the Russian perspectiveon the risk of nuclear war and how it is affected by tensions related to non-nuclear weapons. For example, Acton asked Arbatov if Russia’s placement of nuclear and conventional forces in the same military locations—known as “entanglement”—is a deliberate strategy to deter an attack by the United States. Arbatov said no – that unlike China, which may have deliberately co-mingled its forces, Russia has “entangled” its forces to save resources. He added that to separate them would be a good idea in theory but would be too expensive for Russia in practice.
Acton also asked Arbatov to comment on Russia’s position on the use of tactical (smaller) nuclear weapons, referencing a Russian nuclear policy document published in 2010 that appeared to consider such weapons a viable option for use in a military conflict. Arbatov acknowledged the international unrest that the release of this document caused at the time, noting that tactical nuclear weapon use has not appeared in any official military doctrine since. “The Russian military doesn’t repeat it, but they also do not deny it,” Arbatov said.