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Research Report

THE UNSETTLING VIEW FROM MOSCOW: Russia’s Strategic Debate on a Doctrine of Pre-emption

Alexander Velez-Green
Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2017
Pages: 42

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
  2. (pp. 1-1)
  3. (pp. 2-3)
  4. (pp. 4-8)

    Russian policymakers believe their nation is under siege. The eastward march of liberalism in post–Cold War Europe is seen by the Kremlin to pose an existential threat to the Russian state. Meanwhile, rapid shifts in the military-technological environment are simultaneously exposing Russia to U.S. or NATO military coercion. These trends inform arguments by Russia’s top military strategists in favor of what they perceive to be a defensive doctrine of pre-emption.

    Moscow has identified the United States and its NATO allies as the Russian Federation’s greatest threats today and for the foreseeable future.1 This pronouncement is rooted in Russian policymakers’...

  5. (pp. 8-13)

    This study tracks and analyzes Russian advocacy for a doctrine of pre-emption starting in 2007. Many of these calls appear in Military Thought. Others were identified using Russian media sources. These are the best open sources available by which to track the Russian military- strategic discourse on pre-emptive attacks but clearly present only a partial picture of a debate that is undoubtedly also taking place in closed venues in Russia.

    Of note, not all of the analyses discussed explicitly name the United States or NATO as the reason for or potential target of Russian pre-emptive attacks. However, Russian policymakers’ designation...

  6. (pp. 13-17)

    Rising calls for Russia’s adoption of a doctrine of pre-emption are not without precedent. (See Appendix A.)Yet, the military-technological environment in which these calls are being made differs substantially from that which existed when past Russian and U.S. pre-emptive attack doctrines were developed. This change in context has meaningful implications for the risks posed by Russia’s potential shift to pre-emption.

    The emerging military-technological environment will be unprecedented in many aspects of its technological scope, geographic breadth, and strategic complexity. The combined newness and interconnectedness of this environment will engender a high risk of miscalculation. That risk, in turn, promises to...

  7. (pp. 18-19)

    Russian skeptics of a doctrine of pre-emption may hold the upper hand today. But there is reason to expect that this may not remain the case. Trends in the threat environment may ultimately force Moscow’s hand. If this happens, U.S. policymakers may have little warning prior to Russia’s shift to pre-emption. That is because Moscow already deploys – or is developing – many of the capabilities that would be used for pre-emptive attacks on the United States or NATO.

    The Kremlin has thus far opted against officially adopting a doctrine of pre-emption. This is evidenced in part by the strategy’s...

  8. (pp. 20-22)

    In view of Russia’s existing pre-emptive attack capabilities, U.S. policymakers should adopt a proactive approach to dissuading Moscow from shifting to a pre-emptive footing. As a starting point, U.S. policymakers should take steps to reduce both the expected value of a doctrine of pre-emption, as seen by Moscow, and also the perceived need for pre-emption. These steps would seek to reduce the prospects of misperception, miscommunication, and miscalculation that could lead to war.

    It is beyond the scope of this study to offer exhaustive or highly developed recommendations to this effect. Rather, the policy options outlined in this report seek...

  9. (pp. 22-22)

    The 21st century opened with relative quiet in the U.S.- Russian strategic relationship. But that quietude has fallen away sharply in recent years. The Trump administration may find room for cooperation with Russia on certain issues. Yet, this path will be fraught with risk. So too will the decades that follow.

    New military technologies are transforming the battlespace in unprecedented ways. High-speed communications and prompt strike weapons leave less time for nations to identify and react to threats. Likewise, growing interconnectedness and long-range strike options allow states to attack farther than before, especially through the air, cyberspace, and outer space...

  10. (pp. 23-27)
  11. (pp. 28-38)
  12. (pp. 39-40)