Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nuclear Strategy in Russia’s Defense Schema

The following is a guest blog post by Anthony Rinna. Anthony is a graduate student at La Salle University and a research intern on the Security Affairs team with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program based in Philadelphia, PA.

Yale University management professor Paul Bracken warned of an impending “second nuclear age” in an eponymously named book published in late 2012. At the forefront of this age is the apparent drive by rogue states to obtain a nuclear weapon, though we shouldn't overlook the nuclear moves made by other countries, most notably Russia. Indeed, Russia is once again placing a strong emphasis on its nuclear capabilities, despite efforts by the U.S. to see a reduction in Russia’s nuclear stockpile (as well as its own). While media attention toward Russia in the West largely tends to focus on energy geopolitics, corporate espionage, and laws on the foreign funding of NGO’s and the adoption of Russian children by American parents (some even speak of a New Cold War with Russia), there has been a considerable lack of attention in the media and policy circles to Russia’s overall nuclear strategy.

It’s no secret in the policy community, and particularly among Russia watchers, that Russia’s primary foreign policy goal is to gain the respect of the international community and to be seen as a major player on the global stage. Russia’s conventional military forces have faced many challenges, such as a decline in available conscript-aged males, which is part of an overall trend of population decline across the country. While militaries in the West are moving away from conventional infantry to lighter, more mobile forces capable of conducting surgical operations in hostile environments, and much of the global defense realm continues to develop cyber warfare and security, Russia’s calling card seems to be its nuclear arsenal.

It’s logical that the Russians would place so much emphasis on its nuclear capabilities, seeing as this is what given it respect in the world arena since the fall of the USSR. (Sure, Russia has been included in the BRICS group of emerging powers, but this, as with its inclusion in the G8, is somewhat misleading, as Russia’s economic viability rests largely on its vast reserves of oil and natural gas.) Rather, it has been Russia’s possession of a large nuclear arsenal that has accorded it respect in the international community, and as such, there is no sense in pumping money into conventional forces lacking in warm bodies. While the effectiveness of its nuclear arsenal has long been in doubt, it seems that Russia is sparing no expense at updating and maintaining this powerful tool.

Despite Russia’s participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START for short, according to Voennoe Obozreniye, (English: Military Review), Russia’s military news service, Russia’s defense budget spending on the “nuclear-armaments complex” (Russian: «ядерно-оружейный комплекс») has been allotted to increase by 11.5 billion rubles between 2010 and 2013, which, at the time of writing, converts to about USD 378 million. When compared with the lower spending increases and even spending cuts in other areas of Russia’s national defense budget, this is a rather significant indicator of where Russia’s defense priorities lie. Russia’s defense budget in general has been projected to increase by 25.8%, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, between 2013 and 2015. And given that, for the previous three fiscal years, no other area of Russia’s defense spending has seen anywhere near as significant an increase, it stands to reason that a large portion of this increase in the defense budget will continue to service the “nuclear-armaments complex”.

It should of course be remembered that the “nuclear-armaments complex” implies much more than simply an increase in warheads, as the money allotted to this “complex” must cover logistics, maintenance, asset protection and wage garnishment, among other things. Thus, while not implying an illegal increase in warheads, it does show a more decisive shift toward emphasizing nuclear capabilities.

With this caveat, it is important to understand the specific stipulations of the New START, namely, that the number of strategic nuclear launchers will be reduced by half, and that the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed should not exceed 1,550, with the understanding that this number could be legitimately exceeded, as only one warhead per bomber is counted regardless of how many it actually carries (Russia has, according to The Economist, already reduced its stockpiles below the requisite amount). Inspections by both sides will be made annually to ensure that both parties are in compliance with the treaty.

The point here is that Russia seems intent on, above all, making the most of its nuclear prowess, and making these capabilities the primary guarantor of its security. Observers need not automatically assume that Russia will somehow, of necessity, try to clandestinely sidestep the treaty, but it is nonetheless a good indication of the thought patterns of the people in charge of Russia’s defense.

The hard financial numbers are supported by recent actions being taken by the Russian military. According to the Barents Observer, this year, Russia is due to outfit two Borei-class nuclear submarine cruisers for service in the Caspian Sea, which is an area of critical importance for Russia, the United States, and the four other Caspian littoral countries (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) due to the implications for energy access and control.

Likewise, Russia is currently outfitting eight Borei-class submarines at Gadzhiyevo naval base (less than 100 kilometers from the border with Norway), which will be divided between Russia’s Atlantic and Arctic Fleets. Gadzhiyevo’s strategic location (in Murmansk) means that Russia will be able to easily project its nuclear submarines into the Arctic, which, due to environmental changes, is set to become a new geopolitical flashpoint among states competing for resources, as well as into not only the North Atlantic, but even as a supplement to the Baltic Fleet. Of more direct concern for the U.S. are incidents such as the interception of Russian Tupolev-95 aircraft by the U.S. Air Force over Guam, which occurred in mid-February.

Russia’s nuclear strategy is not directed unilaterally toward the United States, but takes into account the nuclear potential of other states possessing such armaments, stated Lieutenant General Aleksandr Burutin, First Deputy Director of the Russian General Staff, in 2010. And Igor Sergeev, formerly Russia’s Defense Minister, acknowledges threats to Russia’s security emanating from neighboring nuclear powers such as Iran and North Korea. While Russian policy has traditionally stipulated not only that Russia will refrain from first use of nuclear capabilities, but that it would generally not carry out an asymmetrical attack against a non-nuclear state, there have been policy revisions in Russia to this end, indicating a greater Russian willingness to make wider use of its capabilities.

At bottom, then, Russia's emphasis on nuclear power and capabilities is driven by multiple factors. First, it's one of the ways in which Russia will seek to secure and elevate its position of respect among the community of nations. Perhaps part of this is a reaction to the perceived “second nuclear age," with emerging rogue nuclear countries on Russia's doorstep. Furthermore, the controversy over the positioning of a NATO missile defense shield in Eastern Europe cannot but be part of the impetus for this strengthening of Russia’s strategic capabilities.

All this should be taken as a realistic assertion that nuclear arms will likely play a decisive role in Russia’s security policy vis-à-vis the rest of the world in the 21st century. This is definitely a setback for global disarmament efforts, and poses a threat to global security, but should still be understood within its proper context. With projection capabilities in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East, it is imperative and in the best interests of global security that the outside world, specifically the defense and policy communities, understand that it is once again dealing with a more nuclear-enabled Russia. Given the destructive power of nuclear armaments, this is not something we can afford to take lightly.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

America's Role in the North Korea Standoff

As expected, on February 12, North Korea went ahead with a nuclear test, one that experts believe was higher powered and more explosive than the two previous ones. And now, word is surfacing that North Korea might be prepping for a fourth nuclear test. At this point, it seems fairly clear that North Korea's nuclear capabilities are growing, becoming more advanced and sophisticated, and that young Kim Jong Un embraces the same type of provocative foreign policies as his father. Here, in the States, there is considerable concern that North Korea poses a looming direct threat against America.

To head off this threat, the U.S. has largely relied on regional six-party talks, though these have have occurred only sporadically and led nowhere. Indeed, getting a nuclear deal done--one that's verifiable and enforceable--with North Korea has been a perplexing and elusive goal for Washington, dating back to the Clinton administration. If Team Obama wants to break this trend and achieve a diplomatic triumph, it must recognize certain obstacles and limitations it faces. Below are three to consider.
1. The U.S. doesn't have leverage over North Korea. There's no relationship, which means America doesn't have political influence over North Korea, can't cut anything off (like aid, arms, etc.), or credibly make promises to sway Pyongyang. The U.S. has to go through international means to punish North Korea, and those mechanisms are often circumvented or watered down by third parties.
2. The U.S. can try to relaunch the six-party talks or, even better, pursue a joint Sino-American approach, as I previously suggested and still believe could, eventually, lead to a durable solution, but must be aware of the following. China has leverage over North Korea, but is very wary about putting too much pressure on Pyongyang. Beijing doesn't want to risk destabilizing the North Korean government.
3. Additionally, China tends to look the other way when North Korea lashes out at the world (missile tests, nuke tests, 2010 aggression.) Oh sure, from time to time, China verbally protests against various North Korea actions, but rarely, if ever, follows up on these complaints. Put simply, Beijing doesn't punish North Korea for flagrant actions. China merely offers empty words. To America's chagrin, this is another sign that China is more focused and concerned about its own self-interests than acting as a "responsible stakeholder" in the international community.

So right now, this is what we're left with: sticks, led by the U.S., aren't working, as they only escalate tensions on the peninsula and embolden North Korea to carry out further provocative acts. Carrots, when offered, work only marginally better than sticks. Just ask the Clinton administration how successful the 1994 Agreed Framework, which was based on American concessions, turned out to be. Unfortunately, China is not going to be a reliable partner on this issue, at least not anytime soon. As a result, there's no reason for Washington to pin its hopes on China "getting the message" on North Korea and saving the day. Furthermore, the six-party talks, much-hyped by the Bush administration, have gone nowhere for years.

The U.S. should not be content to let the status quo remain in effect for years to come. It's an unstable situation. Inter-Korea tensions are high and show no sign of abating. Countries in region, including South Korea and Japan, feel threatened and are more insecure, leading them to begin thinking about ways to fortify and enhance their national defenses. And North Korea, with its young, unelected leader, is fixated on showing toughness and resolve. In this combustible environment, brinksmanship is a risky game.
It's high time for the U.S. to try a different track. It's not enough to primarily rely on the Swedes (America's conduit in North Korea; the U.S. doesn't have an embassy there) or South Korea or Japan or other regional actors, or on satellite imagery, for information about North Korea. The U.S. should take matters into its own hands. In short, it's a good time to move to higher level, more intense diplomacy to get a better handle on North Korean goals, interests, redlines, domestic constraints, and more.

To be sure, it's awfully difficult to formulate an effective North Korea policy without knowing what exactly the U.S. is dealing with. Knowing primarily North Korea's policy outputs, that it's irritating and aggressive, isn't enough. It's behavior could be driven by lots of different sources; it could want lots of different things. America can't continue to treat the observable symptoms; it must look at the underlying causes and motives of North Korean actions and formulate policies in response to those things.

On the plus side, news leaked last week that senior American officials met in private at least three times over the last two years with North Korean officials. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of diplomatic move I have in mind. Such meetings, no doubt, provided the U.S. useful information. However, a handful of meetings only go so far, and there's much more that still needs to be gleaned and internalized.

As such, the U.S. shouldn't pursue only occasional, stand-alone meetings with North Korea. As should be obvious, limited, infrequent interactions with North Korea sharply reduce the chances for any kind of diplomatic breakthrough. Instead, Washington ought to push for periodic meetings, especially ones that connect to and build upon prior meetings, involving a variety of officials working in a host of issue-areas up and down the politico-security hierarchy in both countries. Regular, face-to-face meetings can be a nice way to reduce some of the mistrust and bad blood between North Korea and the U.S. Moreover, routine, structured talks, over time, can allow enough momentum to build to get a deal done, or at least some mutual understanding on important issues.

Furthermore, there's no need to keep these meetings private, as the U.S. has seemingly done. By telling the world of such talks--whether via press briefings or news leaks--Team Obama keeps its partners in the region in the loop and communicates its seriousness of solving, once and for all, the outstanding problems between Washington (and its allies) and Pyongyang.

Of course, all of this begs the question of whether enhanced engagement is applicable to Iran, another country that's involved in a nuclear standoff with the America and its allies. Or is my recommendation only relevant to North Korea? A forthcoming blog post will address this very topic. Please stay tuned.

**A version of this post has been published by Strategic Review. You can find the article here.**

Friday, February 1, 2013

North Korea, Again

If you recall, on December 12, North Korea launched a long-range rocket. The international community largely saw the launch as a ballistic missile test, something banned by the UN, while Pyongyang claimed it put a satellite in orbit for purely peaceful purposes. Fast forward to last week, for we have new developments.

On January 22, the UN Security Council, including, yes, Russia and China, agreed to Resolution 2087, which, among other things, condemned North Korea for the rocket launch and imposed new sanctions. As expected, North Korea hasn't taken the news very well. Pyongyang has lashed out, issuing strongly worded statements and threats in response to the resolution.

In particular, North Korea has lobbed verbal assaults against the U.S. and South Korea. It has called America its "sworn enemy" and a "hostile power." And regarding South Korea, in a statement, North Korea’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea said: “There will be no more discussion on denuclearization between the North and South in the future....If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the UN 'sanctions...the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] will take strong physical counter-measures against it....'Sanctions' mean a war and a declaration of war against us."

This is bellicose and worrisome language, to be sure. And now, satellite images show that North Korea looks to be gearing up for a third nuclear test. Even more concerning, analysts such as Tony Namkung and Jeffrey Lewis worry that a third nuclear test will be more advanced and sophisticated than its previous two (in 2006 and 2009), "in that the latest device could use highly enriched uranium, not the plutonium at the core of previous devices."

Against this backdrop, on Wednesday, South Korea launched its own rocket, the first successful launch in the country's history. Of course, North Korea is angered by the South's actions. Not only does Pyongyang see the launch as provocative, serving to escalate tensions on the peninsula, but it also thinks that it's unfair that South Korea can launch a rocket without the scrutiny and condemnation it receives when performing the same activities.

All of this probably sounds familiar, even if you haven't followed the latest news out of North Korea. First, there's flagrant behavior by the North, followed by international criticism and sanctions, then militant rhetoric from Kim Jong Un and his associates, resulting in raised tensions on the peninsula. You've heard that story before, right? So far, North Norea is following its usual pattern of mischief and producing the same tired outcomes.

Compared to 2006 and 2009, though, there are a few new wrinkles, changing the dynamics of the situation just a bit.

First, South Korea has a new president, Park Geun-hye, the country's first woman president. It's likely that Kim and his gang are testing her, gauging her resolve and approach in dealing with inter-Korean tensions. For now, there are mixed signals coming out of Seoul. On the one hand, Park is seen as a more hardline leader than her predecessor, President Lee Kyung-bak, which triggers worries that the South might aggressively respond to provocative acts from the North. At the same time, though, Park is thought to be a conservative, deliberate and cautious leader; and she's has stated that she wants to engage the North in an effort to deescalate tensions.

Second, given his young age, political inexperience, and short time on the job, Kim likely wants to portray strength and toughness in foreign policy toughness so as to buttress his legitimacy domestically and enhance his and country's image and standing internationally. As stated by Charles Armstrong:

For the past year, the North Korean regime has been focused on internal power consolidation under the leadership of Kim Jong Un. Part of Kim’s legitimacy rests on claims of a robust national defense, including nuclear weapons. North Korea seems determined to be recognized as a nuclear power, something the United States and other countries have said repeatedly is unacceptable.

So where are we at?

Kim Jong Un and his advisers probably won't act too rashly or too aggressively. After all, they have an incentive to rein in their bellicosity before they hit the brink, because any counter-measures from South Korea or America could lead to the downfall of the regime. It's the simple logic of political survival. But still, as the events of 2010 attest, keep in mind that Pyongyang likes to test international redlines, and that kind of behavior will ensure that politics and security on the peninsula and in Asia more generally remain rather rocky.

So in the end, we're left with an unstable and tumultuous stalemate, with the world at loggerheads with Pyongyang. I do agree with Armstrong's assessment: sanctions haven't worked; inducements have only worked slightly better; China is reluctant to enforce sanctions, because it wants to keep North Korea economically alive and functioning and the entire country intact; and North Korea is defiant and highly motivated.

At this point, the best hope is that the world's powers finally begin to understand that not much has really changed in North Korean policymaking--despite a new leader in Pyongyang--and the standoff on the peninsula can go south very, very quickly. Specifically, I hope the latest confrontation provides a kick in the pants to China, that Beijing will wake up to the fact that it can't continue to coddle North Korea and ignore the problems it makes. I also hope this situation prompts Washington to exert its leadership. For while the U.S. has devoted much time, effort, and resources to Asia during Obama's tenure--a part of America's so-called Pivot--the North Korea issue has been almost completely neglected. It's time for Team Obama to get involved and play a productive role here.

One good, concrete step China and the U.S. can take is to take joint leadership in jump-starting the dormant six-party talks. By bringing North Korea to the table, perhaps this would allow Pyongyang to take a step back, reflect, and deescalate its war of words. It could allow for Beijing and Washington to begin the process in earnest of coordinating their approaches to North Korea. If both countries can better align their goals and interests, their preferred stick and carrots, they will be able to put more effective pressure on North Korea. And importantly, this step could also pave the way for a future deal, one that's enforceable and verifiable. Remember, a deal is only going to get done--and that's the goal for the West, a negotiated settlement--once all the heavy diplomatic leg work is done and talks start to gain some momentum. It far past time to for all involved parties to start to lay the foundation for an agreement that tackles all of the thorny issues on the peninsula.