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Okay, so this is old bits — FOUR years old, in fact… but it got me thinking.

If the decline in the conventional capability of the Russian Military forces them to rely more heavily on their nuclear capability, how does that affect how an adversary would size them up in a political or military dispute?

How does this impact the Americans? Does the fact that they have such a strong conventional force and the ability to wage war without using nasty weapons make them a lot less scary? Does the fact that US Voters (even if you scared them a LOT) might revolt against their government if they used weapons of mass destruction make them totally useless?


—— military.html

July 10, 1999

Maneuvers Show Russian Reliance on Nuclear Arms; Atomic Attack Simulated By MICHAEL R. GORDON

MOSCOW — Reflecting its growing dependence on nuclear weapons for defense, Russia’s military carried out mock nuclear strikes in a major exercise last month, the Defense Minister said Friday.

The exercise was the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It involved 50,000 troops, bombers, tanks and warships from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea.

One of the scenarios for the exercise underscored the expanding role nuclear weapons have been playing in the Russian military’s strategy and plans in recent years.

According to the script for the military exercise, disclosed Friday at a news conference by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Russia came under attack by an unspecified Western foe, which used non-nuclear forces.

At first, Russia also tried to limit its attacks to conventional forces. But its cash-starved non-nuclear forces failed to stop the enemy onslaught, forcing the leadership to turn to its still formidable nuclear arsenal.

“The exercise tested one of the provisions of Russia’s military doctrine concerning a possible use of nuclear weapons when all other measures are exhausted,” Marshal Sergeyev said. “We did pursue such an option. All measures were exhausted. Our defenses proved to be ineffective. An enemy continued to push into Russia. And that’s when the decision to use nuclear weapons was made.”

During Soviet times, Moscow and Washington piled up huge nuclear arsenals as they sought to best each other in the arms race.

Still, Russia’s conventional forces were enormous. In those years it was NATO, fearing that it was outnumbered, that openly threatened to initiate the use of nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack.

Now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, however, the tables have turned. The West has become less dependent on nuclear weapons. As the conflict with Yugoslavia showed, NATO fights its wars with with laser-guided and satellite-guided non-nuclear bombs and missiles.

But with Russia’s military spending projected this year at about $4 billion (compared with about $260 billion for the Pentagon), the once-mighty conventional forces have deteriorated.

Russia’s forces failed to defeat Chechnya’s rebels, and Russian generals are no longer confident that they can prevail over more serious threats. And with a faltering economy, nuclear forces are virtually the only way Russia can lay claim to being a world power.

“Russia’s military believes that it must rely more than ever on the first use of nuclear weapons,” said Bruce Blair, a specialist on Russian nuclear capabilities at the Brookings Institution. “It is part psychological and partly a planning assumption.”

The first sign of Russia’s increasing dependence on nuclear weapons came in 1993 when the Defense Ministry abandoned the Soviet-era pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Then, as NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia reinforced the sense here that the West has a huge lead in conventional military technology, President Boris N. Yeltsin met with his top national security advisers to discuss plans to compensate for Russia’s faltering conventional capabilities by developing short-range, tactical nuclear weapons.

The projects and plans that were approved remain secret. But Vladim Putin, the secretary of the Security Council, said Yeltsin had approved a “blueprint for the development and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

None of this means that NATO and Russia are necessarily on a collision course. The Yeltsin Government has pledged to cooperate on arms control, including seeking Parliament’s approval of the Start-2 treaty reducing strategic nuclear arms.

And on Thursday, Yeltsin enjoined a group of Russian generals to cooperate with NATO in enforcing the peace in Kosovo.

“The problem of our relations with NATO and the U.S.A. is very subtle, delicate and difficult,” Yeltsin said. “Every one of you must pursue the same line — the President’s line. We shall certainly not quarrel with NATO outright, but nor do we intend to flirt with it.”

Russia’s recent exercise, however, demonstrated the competitive nature of the relationship. The weeklong exercise, which was held in late June, was planned last year but adapted to take account of the Yugoslav conflict, including NATO’s ability to attack at long range with precision-guided bombs, Marshal Sergeyev said.

The military aim of the exercise was to test command procedures for defending western Russia and Belarus from an attack from the West.

“To verify the authenticity of the decisions and test procedures for troop control, more than 50 military units participated in the exercise,” Marshal Sergeyev said. “There have been extensive structural changes to the forces in recent years, and we have to practice their management and regain units’ operational skills.”

The political aim appeared to be to demonstrate to the world as well as to the Russian public that the military is still a credible fighting force.

During the exercise, two old turbo-prop Bear bombers approached Iceland while a couple of new Blackjack bombers approached Norway. Russian ships maneuvered under the watchful eyes of Western reconnaissance ships and aircraft.

Officially, the Defense Ministry declined to specify who the imaginary enemy was. The aim, Marshal Sergeyev told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, was to rehearse the defeat of the enemy and the recapture of lost territory.

Some Russian observers were less diplomatic. The Defense Ministry, the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted, refuses to say who the adversary is. “But few doubt that the enemy is NATO’s armed forces in Europe,” it added.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company