Dmitry Trenin: Here’s how Russia can prevent WW3

For 80 years, the Atom bomb has prevented a repeat of the horrors of the 1940s – Russia needs to leverage it again to stop American aggression

By Dmitry Trenin, a research professor at the Higher School of Economics and a lead research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. He is also a member of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).

By Dmitry Trenin, a research professor at the Higher School of Economics and a lead research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. He is also a member of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).


©  Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

Nuclear deterrence is not a myth. It kept the world safe during the Cold War. Deterrence is a psychological concept. You have to convince a nuclear-armed adversary that it will not achieve its objectives by attacking you, and that if it goes to war its own annihilation is assured. The mutual nuclear deterrence between the USSR and the US during their confrontation was reinforced by the reality of mutually assured destruction in the event of a massive exchange of nuclear strikes. Incidentally, the abbreviation for Mutually Assured Destruction is MAD. And that’s very apt.

There are several reasons for ‘mythologising’ nuclear deterrence. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a widespread belief that every conceivable reason for nuclear war has disappeared. A new era of globalisation, with its emphasis on economic cooperation, has dawned. For the first time in history, the hegemony of a single power, the US, has been established globally. Nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the great powers – though fewer than at the height of the confrontation – but the fear of their use has faded. More dangerously, a new generation of politicians has come to the fore, unburdened either by the memory of decades of confrontation or by a sense of responsibility.

The American belief in its own exceptionalism and European ‘strategic parasitism’, devoid of any sense of self-preservation, is a dangerous combination. It’s in such an environment that the idea of inflicting a strategic defeat on the nuclear power the is Russia – in a proxy conventional war in Ukraine –has been born. Russia’s atomic capabilities are being ignored. The parallels that Moscow tried to draw with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when Washington considered the possibility of a nuclear war with the USSR in response to the deployment of Soviet missiles in the neighbourhood of the United States, were rejected by the Americans as far-fetched.

In response, Moscow was forced to activate the deterrence factor. Under an agreement with Minsk, Russian nuclear weapons have been deployed in Belarus. Russian non-strategic nuclear forces have recently begun exercises. Nevertheless, Western countries continue to pursue escalation in the Ukrainian conflict, which, if left unchecked, could lead to a frontal military conflict between NATO and Russia and a nuclear war. This scenario can be prevented by further strengthening deterrence – more precisely, by ‘nuclear sobering up’ our adversaries. They must realise that it is impossible to win a conventional war involving the vital interests of a power armed with the bomb, and that any attempt to do so will lead to their own destruction. This is classic nuclear deterrence.

Read more Dmitry Suslov: It’s time for Russia to think about a ‘demonstrative’ nuclear test

The word ‘deterrence’ itself has a defensive connotation, but theoretically the strategy can also be used in an ‘offensive’ sense. This can happen when one party succeeds in dealing the first disarming blow to the enemy, and with its remaining forces threatens the weakened opponent with total destruction if they strike back. More appropriate here is the Anglo-American version of deterrence, which literally means ‘to intimidate’. The French, by the way, use the term ‘dissuasion’ in their concept.

The impact of non-nuclear weapons on nuclear deterrence policy

Non-nuclear weapons certainly influence nuclear deterrence policy. This is a fact.

The US has built up a huge arsenal of non-nuclear methods to achieve its goals. Not only has it not dismantled its military alliances, it has expanded them and created new networks. In the current environment, Washington is demanding more and more real commitments from those allies – in the name of preserving the US-led global system. Fifty states take part in meetings to organise military aid to Kiev under the ‘Ramstein’ format. The result is the idea that it is possible to defeat a nuclear power, but on condition that it does not require resorting to nuclear weapons.

The only thing left to do is to convince a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances and to allow itself to be defeated – in the name of saving the whole of humanity, and so on. This is an extremely dangerous illusion that can and must be dispelled by an active nuclear deterrence strategy, including the lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, which is currently too high. The key condition for use should not be a ‘threat to the existence of the state’ but a ‘threat to the vital interests of the country’!

A new phase in relations between nuclear powers has begun

We can say that a new phase in relations between the world’s nuclear powers has begun. Many of us are still psychologically somewhere in the 1970s and 1980s. That is a kind of comfort zone. Back then, relations between the USSR and the US were based on the two superpowers’ strategic and political parity. In the military-strategic sphere, Washington was forced to deal with Moscow on an equal footing.

Read more Fyodor Lukyanov: Russia needs to explain its ‘red lines’ to the West

After 1991, this parity disappeared. For the US, since the 1990s, Russia has been a declining power; throwing its weight around, always reminding itself of its former greatness, snapping back, even dangerous at times – but on a downward spiral. The difficult opening phase of the Ukraine conflict gave the Americans hope that the fields of that country would be the grave of the Russian superpower. They have since sobered up a bit, but equal status between Moscow and Washington is out of the question for them. 

This is the main difference between the current state of relations and the ‘golden’ period of the Cold War – the 1960s and early 1980s. And Russia has yet to prove the Americans wrong.

As they say, it is always difficult to predict anything, especially the future. But today we have to assume that a long period of confrontation with the West, led by the US, lies ahead of us for about a generation. The future of our country, its position and role in the world, and to a large extent the state of the global system as a whole, will depend on the outcome of this confrontation, the main front of which is not in Ukraine, but within Russia: in the economy, in the social sphere, in science and technology, in culture and art.

Internally, because the enemy realises the impossibility of defeating Moscow on the battlefield, but remembers that the Russian state has collapsed more than once as a result of internal turmoil. This may, as in 1917, be the result of an unsuccessful war. Hence the bet on a protracted conflict in which they know they have more resources.

Nuclear polycentricity reflects the world’s growing multipolarity

During the Cold War there were five nuclear powers, but then the only real poles were the US and the USSR, plus China with its then small nuclear arsenal. Now Beijing is moving towards (at least) parity with America and Russia, while India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel remain independent players (unlike NATO members Britain and France).

Read more Can Iran survive without nuclear weapons?

The classic Cold War notion of strategic stability – i.e. the absence of incentives for the parties to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike – is not only inadequate but sometimes inapplicable when characterising relations between the great powers today.

Look at Ukraine: Washington is increasing arms supplies to Kiev, encouraging and providing for its provocative attacks on Russia’s strategic infrastructure (early warning stations, strategic airfields), while at the same time proposing Moscow resumes dialogue on strategic stability!

In the emerging world order, strategic stability will have to mean the absence of reasons for military conflict (even indirect) between the nuclear powers. This, in turn, will be possible if the powers respect each other’s interests and are ready to solve problems on the basis of equality and the indivisibility of security.

Ensuring strategic stability between all nine powers will require enormous efforts and the formation of a fundamentally new world order model, but it (strategic stability in the broad, i.e. real sense of the word) is quite realistic between pairs of states (Russia-China, the US-India, etc.). For Russia, only three of the other eight nuclear powers – the US, Britain and France – remain problematic.

Arms control is dead and will not be revived! 

As far as arms control in the classical form of the Soviet/Russian-American agreements or multilateral agreements in Europe (CFE Treaty) is concerned, it  is dead and will not be revived. The Americans started to roll back the system two decades ago. First they withdrew from the ABM Treaty, then from the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty. They refused to implement the adapted Treaty on Armed Forces and Armaments in Europe. In the area of strategic nuclear weapons, one treaty remains, START-3, but it expires in 2026, and Moscow has stopped inspections under this treaty in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine.

Read more Dmitry Trenin: Europe will eventually have to choose between the US and BRICS

In the future, we will need not only new treaties, but also a new basis for negotiations and agreements. It will be necessary to co-develop new concepts, set new goals and objectives, and agree on the forms and methods of their implementation. Greater Eurasia’ – conventionally known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – could become a platform for creating a new model of international security on the scale of a huge continent (or at least most of it). The SCO includes four nuclear powers: Russia, China, India and Pakistan. Another SCO member, Iran, has an advanced nuclear programme. SCO members Russia and China have close security ties with North Korea. There is a huge space for work, new ideas and original solutions.

No continuation of nuclear arms reduction talks between Russia and the US in sight

Negotiations on nuclear disarmament are possible and they can even produce results: a treaty banning nuclear weapons was adopted in 2017. But there is one thing to bear in mind. There is not a single nuclear power among the signatories. Moreover, the US, UK, France and Russia have already declared that they will never sign the treaty because it does not correspond with their national interests.

As for the issue of nuclear arms reduction, the long-standing confrontation between Moscow and Washington rules out any continuation of this practice. China, for its part, intends to build up its nuclear arsenal rather than reduce it, probably with a view to achieving parity with the US and Russia in the long term. The Americans, who have officially identified Russia and China as the main threats to their security, are considering how to balance the combined nuclear potential of Moscow and Beijing. So there is no hope here.

The main problem, however, is not the quantity of nuclear weapons or even their presence per se, but the quality of relations between states. The world order is experiencing an acute systemic crisis. In the past, such crises inevitably led to wars. Now nuclear deterrence is working, albeit with some issues. To prevent a world war, it is necessary to strengthen deterrence by activating the nuclear factor in foreign policy, restoring fear and building a ladder of escalation.

However, we don’t want to go all the way to the abyss and then fall into it, but instead prevent a catastrophic development of events. Nuclear weapons have already saved the world once – by threatening to destroy it. That mission continues.

This article was first published by Interfax, and was translated and edited by the RT team.


Добавить комментарий

Ваш адрес email не будет опубликован. Обязательные поля помечены *

семь − 5 =

Кнопка «Наверх»