Abstract. The authors survey the results of nonnuclear threat assessment and show where nonnuclear deterrence stands in the strategic deterrence system, and also identify approaches to assessing the effectiveness of the nonnuclear deterrence subsystem. They offer comments on key terms and concepts used in the nonnuclear deterrence context, and draw conclusions for our time.

Results of Nonnuclear Threats Assessment

The local wars fought in recent years must be taken as evidence that the world has stepped into an age of new military concepts, such as high-precision battle, network-centric warfare, global information strike platform, and Joint Vision 2020, among others. The theoretical principles of the Joint Vision 2020 concept already put into practice have led to the development of rational options for military operations to be launched with high-precision weapons, forms of armed forces employment, and targets for the spearhead of attack.

An analysis of the local wars and trends established in contemporary military conflicts has confirmed that:

  • a surprise heavy missile and air strike as part of the first air offensive operation is the most radical and rational option of military operations to be launched by the U.S. against Russia;
  • the principal threat of an aerial attack will come from the sea or offshore areas;
  • the start of the operation will be preceded by combined space, aerial, and seaborne reconnaissance and employment of information warfare and psychological operations forces; and
  • there is little probability that any NATO countries bordering Russia and its allies will be involved, at least in the initial phase of the operation.

Aggression may be preceded by internal differences in Russia coming to a head (right up to an internal armed conflict) and local armed conflicts to counter Russian Air Force and naval reconnaissance patrols in remote ocean (sea) theaters of operations.

An analysis of the content of contemporary concepts and a forecast for a probable armed conflict have led these authors to several key conclusions:

  • an adversary will not pursue radical military objectives in a nonnuclear conflict with Russia;
  • the conflict will have a limited time frame, and it is unlikely that the adversary will deliver strikes at the civil population and hazardous industrial facilities;
  • the adversary will be making vigorous efforts to provoke Russia into an armed conflict with its passive allies; and
  • destruction (disablement) of the adversary’s seaborne and airborne cruise missile carriers, his tactical aviation, and key elements of his C2 system will be an unacceptable option to him as it can result in his political and military defeat. The President of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences is absolutely right saying that it is important, “from the opening minutes of the operations to hit his (the aggressor’s – Authors) missile, air force, and long-range seaborne weapons with simultaneous anticipatory strikes.”1

The risks of the Russian Armed Forces being involved in armed conflicts of “managed” consequences ruling out the need for exercising the nuclear deterrence option in the 21st century are, therefore, rising, while Russia’s capabilities to counter force employment threats keep on declining. Urgent measures are needed to maintain the country’s security against external threats with nonnuclear weapons. Building up an effective nonnuclear deterrence potential will, therefore, fulfill Russia’s national military interests, and its role and significance will go on rising.

Nonnuclear Deterrence in the Strategic Deterrence System

It is commonly held that any adversary can be deterred by combat-ready regional groups of general-purpose forces using nonnuclear weapons by demonstrating their military strength and maintaining their readiness to use their weapons in combat. These groups of forces, though, pose no threat to an adversary capable of fighting a “remote” war. Moreover, steady trends have emerged toward a decrease of their role and growth in the role of rapid response forces in nonnuclear deterrence, particularly, in restraining the adversary from attempts to use force to achieve his local military and political goals. General-purpose forces cannot avert a global (world) war by the threat of retaliation with conventional weapons.

All rhetoric about nonnuclear “strategic containment of wars” is empty talk, to say the least. What’s more, it is dangerous because it suggests transformation of nuclear deterrence to its nonnuclear variety, which is ruinous to Russia. An illustration of nuclear to nonnuclear transformation is the abandonment of preemptive nuclear strike against the aggressor written into the 2000 and 2010 editions of the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.

At this writing, strategic deterrence is interpreted as “a combination of coordinated political, economic, ideological, scientific, engineering, military, and other measures taken consecutively or simultaneously to stabilize the military and political situation by persuading the military and political leaders and the general public in a country (a coalition of countries) viewed as a potential adversary (aggressor) that they have no chance of achieving their military and political objectives by force.2 Overall, this definition raises no objections. It is the way persuasion is to be put through. The ways of persuading the adversary that it does not pay to use force trying to achieve his military and political objectives are different in a nuclear and conventional wars and in a local armed conflict. In a nuclear war, it is the catastrophic consequences of nuclear retaliation; in a full-scale and regional conventional war, it is the catastrophic consequences of an enforced anticipatory use of nuclear weapons by the side facing imminent defeat; and unacceptable damage in a local armed conflict.

Significantly, the latest edition of the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation released on December 25, 2014, has retained, similarly to the 2010 Military Doctrine, the ambiguous principle of nuclear weapons being used in retaliation only, “and also in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”3 The practical application of this principle allows right from the start for the loss of strategic initiative and the possibility of a major defeat for Russia. For this reason, nuclear weapons, effective in containing nuclear wars and the adversary’s military ambitions in a full-scale or regional war are useless as a deterrent restraining the adversary from beginning a local war involving conventional weapons and utterly useless in containing and de-escalating an internal armed conflict. Now, with the abandonment of preemptive employment, they have ceased to be a guarantor of Russia’s nonnuclear immunity. Probably, this circumstance and the banal desire to slice the budget are behind the dangerous trend toward transformation of strategic nuclear deterrence to its nonnuclear variety.

The danger lies in unjustified exaggeration of the combat capabilities of non-nuclear forces and weapons (still unproven even experimentally) and in the non-systemic approach to nonnuclear deterrence challenges.

With reference to the Military Doctrine, strategic nuclear deterrence is restraint imposed on another country or a group of countries to deter them from attacking Russia with nuclear weapons and from attempts to threaten Russia’s existence in a conventional war. This definition brings out clearly and unambiguously the strategic purpose of deterrence which is preventing Russia’s destruction. It also leaves in no doubt the sole persuasion to be exercised to convince the military and political leaders and the population of the country (coalition of countries) identified as the potential adversary (aggressor) that a retaliatory or anticipatory nuclear strike would have catastrophic consequences for them.

It is different with nonnuclear deterrence. Where the potential adversary (aggressor) has a huge superiority in strength and weapons to conduct a conventional war, nonnuclear deterrence is exercised to restrain another country or group of countries from an armed conflict with Russia by persuading it of the real threat of unacceptable damage as a tit for tat. Unacceptable damage is damage of a magnitude that throws doubt on the goals of the armed conflict being attained, but does not rob the adversary of the alternative to de-escalate it. These definitions spotlight the purpose of nonnuclear deterrence – avoiding Russia’s humiliation and escalation of the armed conflict. In contrast to the general character of the strategic goal of nuclear deterrence, nonnuclear deterrence has a partial, tactical goal.

Assessment of a Nonnuclear Deterrence System Efficiency

Strangely, Russia still does not have weapons or capabilities to inflict unacceptable damage to an adversary well equipped to fight a remote war. Both have to be developed simultaneously with the deployment of a nonnuclear deterrence system. When it is ultimately on place, its quality must preferably be assessed by efficiency criteria giving a measure of its goal attainment to have an idea of whether or not rewarding goals are achievable at all. The efficiency criterion only registers the fact that the goal has or has not been achieved. In mathematical terms, it takes the form of:

  1, if the goal is achieved,
  0, if the goal is not achieved.

Any measures that do not achieve their goals in this operation are considered ineffective. According to the studies completed, the deterrence system as a whole is ineffective where at least one measure fails to achieve its goal.

In terms of quality, for example, the likely principal objectives of the non-nuclear deterrence forces’ operations are:

  • inflicting assured damage (or part of it in joint actions) on a sufficient scale by an operationally safe method (for Russia) without significant losses of carrier vehicles, efficiently from the economic angle, without depriving the adversary of the alternative to withdraw from the military operations or antagonizing the world public opinion against Russia; and
  • repelling a strike delivered by the adversary using modern offensive weapons.

The efficiency of deterring actions is further amplified by maintaining standby capabilities to increase the scale of damage, guaranteeing the security of the aggressor’s passive allies in the conflict, and denying the adversary an opportunity to provide military and technological support to the anti-Russian forces in an internal armed conflict.

Nonnuclear deterrence can achieve its objectives essentially by three military methods:

  • establishing a task force capable of using part of its weapons, without a significant loss of their carrier vehicles, to defeat a superior adversary in a remote area in the absence of complete certainty;
  • establishing a highly effective system of defense against the adversary’s heavy missile and air strikes to prevent surprise unacceptable damage being caused to the infrastructure and Armed Forces of the Russian Federation; and
  • planning asymmetric actions of possible consequences unacceptable to the adversary, but leaving him an alternative to terminate aggression.

An assessment of opportunities to achieve rewarding objectives shows that the basic goal of nonnuclear deterrence can only be achieved by establishing an interagency rapid nonnuclear response task force and equipping it with combined weapons to hit a mobile and quasi-stationary adversary in a remote area, followed by nontraditional weapons.

Comments on Key Nonnuclear Deterrence Terms and Concepts

No commonly accepted understanding exists today on the kind of weapons that can be put in the strategic arms category. Under one approach, intercontinental weapons are ranked among strategic arms. This is a wrong approach, in our view, because it can lead to a misguided focus of efforts on developing intercontinental nonnuclear arms at the expense of long-range high-precision weapons to fulfill more urgent tasks in a theater of operations (strategic area).

The Encyclopedia defines strategic arms as a class that takes in various types of weapons and military equipment, and also control and support facilities designed to perform strategic missions in war.4 A strategic mission is defined as a major (core) mission fulfilled during the war (campaign) to effect a radical (rapid) turnabout in the situation in a theater of operations (strategic area).

Nonnuclear strategic weapons (NNSW) are, therefore, any nonnuclear weapons designed to fulfill strategic missions in a theater of operations (strategic area), in fact, missions that, if fulfilled, turn the situation around radically (abruptly).

In their turn, the main mission of de-escalating actions is inflicting damage to the adversary on a scale that he cannot expect with an uptrend that puts in doubt the possibility of aggression achieving its goals. In other words, nonnuclear deterrence forces do not use nonnuclear weapons for defensive purposes; rather, nonnuclear weapons are an effective offensive class of arms designed to perform strategic missions in a remote war in the operational and operational-strategic depth of a theater of operations and in remote continental areas. Where a nonnuclear deterrence task group cannot fulfill a strategic mission, it is wring to put its weapons (including intercontinental weapons) in the strategic class, as it is defined in encyclopedias.

Nonnuclear deterrence forces are actually nonnuclear rapid response forces used to prevent emergence of a military threat and its escalation into a military conflict, and to perform strategic missions with the breakout of an armed conflict to de-escalate it. Today, for example, general-purpose forces can only be involved in a strategic operation to ward off an adversary aerospace attack. In the remote war age, these forces are not involved in destroying the adversary’s vital targets or forcing the adversary to sue for peace. Accordingly, general-purpose forces can only be put in the category of nonnuclear deterrence forces conditionally or with strong reservations.

Performance of nonnuclear deterrence missions requires a display of strength, weapons, capabilities, and resolve to use the available nonnuclear weapons to prevent aggression and de-escalate the conflict.

By analogy with the encyclopedic definitions of military actions, various forms of deterring actions are used depending on how strongly the military and political leaders and the public of the country (coalition of countries) of the potential adversary (aggressor) have been persuaded that they have no chance of achieving their military and political objectives by force.5 Deterring actions imply display of force (including tests of next-generation weapons) and actions to keep own forces and weapons on alert for use.

An armed conflict can reasonably be de-escalated in its initial phase by military actions such as an operation to force the adversary to sue for peace, an operation, and a strike {including a preemptive nuclear strike).

An operation to force the adversary to sue for peace is a combination of coordinated strikes and other de-escalating actions interdependent in timing,

location, missions, and objectives by interagency rapid nonnuclear response simultaneously and consecutively under a single concept and plan to de-escalate combat actions in a theater (theaters) of operations or a strategic area (designated region or zone) during a designated time period. In terms of scale and forces and weapons involved, it is a strategic, joint and independent operation. It is an offensive operation in type, and a first-priority operation timed with a strategic operation to repel the adversary’s aerospace attack.

Deterrence is exercised with the strategic aim of accomplishing the projected result of deterring actions on a strategic scale to eventually stabilize the military, political, and strategic situation and to contribute to the maintenance of the country’s military and economic security.

Strategic deterrence (mil.) is the result of operations undertaken by the Armed Forces’ groups to attain the general strategic goal of keeping the peace. No military threats exist in consequence of these operations.

Strategic nuclear deterrence (mil.) is the result of the strategic nuclear forces’ operations to eventually achieve the general strategic aim of the country’s security maintenance. No threat of nuclear war or threat to the survival of the state itself exist.

Nonnuclear deterrence (mil.) is the result of an interagency rapid nonnuclear response task force’s operations to achieve a partial strategic goal of the country’s security maintenance. No threats of military conflicts or provocations exist.

The term “partial strategic goals” can apply to:

  • restraint of the adversary from starting an armed conflict or a local war in peacetime or at the time when the threat of direct aggression is the highest; and
  • de-escalation of the conflict and assured delivery of single and limited nuclear strikes by nuclear deterrence forces in wartime in the event of continued conflict escalation.

Conclusions and Lessons for Today

■ First – Predicting the type of warfare that will be used in the future has always been the most important and hardest task confronting military science and military art. As modern weapons were developed and improved, the outlook for the opening phase of war has changed radically. Army General M.A. Gareyev, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, said on this point: “We are today, in principle, right on track giving first priority to readiness for local wars and conflicts.”6 If, however, the Armed Forces are not prepared to give a rapid nonnuclear response to aggression, they can find themselves in a very tight spot. Encouraged

by the sense of immunity, a remote adversary can achieve his military goals and then political goals as well within days. A historical lesson to remember were the political consequences of the disaster a Russian naval squadron suffered in the Tsushima Strait in late May 1905.

■ Second – The significance of the Army and Navy being ready in time to face an attack is immeasurably higher today than ever before. A country coming under attack needs time to get its armed forces ready to repel aggression. This country is yet to develop a system of special measures to have its rapid nonnuclear response forces in a high state of alert around the clock, and also an appropriate task force capable of responding to aggression rapidly and effectively.

■ Third – It is highly unlikely that strategic deterrence can be exercised against a country (coalition of countries) identified as a potential adversary (aggressor) to restrain it from starting a full-scale or regional war with conventional weapons. It only can under the threat of preemptive nuclear attack. It is futile, then, to talk about “strategic nonnuclear deterrence” as an independent set of military measures.

It is long time for the decisive significance of the initial phase of war to be given its due, along with the operations of the nonnuclear deterrence forces in the peak period of the threat of aggression. The decisive importance in military conflict de-escalation is still conferred upon the Armed Forces’ capabilities to deliver a preemptive (direct or indirect) nuclear strike at the aggressor and a rapid nonnuclear response to the attack.

The experience of local wars shows that it is useless to counter the first heavy strike from a retaliatory defensive stance only. Accordingly, the Defense Law and other basic national documents must clearly designate conditions to be put in place for de-escalating aggression by a preemptive direct or indirect nuclear strike.

A country (a coalition of countries) regarded as a potential adversary (aggressor) can only be deterred by conventional weapons from attempts to achieve its limited military and political goals in a local armed conflict by force. This kind of deterrence can be exercised by an appropriate potential of forces and weapons that is still beyond this country’s reach.

■ Fourth – An assessment of opportunities to achieve the fulfilling goals of nonnuclear deterrence shows that the main goal of deterrence – preventing or significantly lowering the probability of military conflicts arising – can be attained by establishing an interagency nonnuclear rapid response task group and taking into service a set of weapons to strike at the mobile and quasi-stationary adversary in a remote zone in a situation of incomplete certainty.

A point to make here is that development of next-generation high-precision long-range weapons will not ensure attainment of highly rewarding goals of nonnuclear deterrence without commensurate reconnaissance information support if used against the adversary’s mobile and quasi-stationary targets.

Even though there is an understanding of the growing role of the nonnuclear deterrence system as it is stated in the latest edition of the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,7 very little attention is given to its development. Our own research and other measures undertaken to this end will be of little use unless the decisions made, including formulation of a national arms program, are based on a systematic approach and an analysis of their consequences and on the findings of critical examination of academic and practical engineering projects to institute and develop nonnuclear deterrent forces and weapons.


1. Vestnik Akademiyi voyennykh nauk, # 4 (33), 2010.

2. Kontseptsiya natsional’noy bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsiyi [Concept of National Security of the Russian Federation], Rossiyskaya gazeta, January 18, 2000, Article 58.

3. Voyennaya doktrina Rossiyskoy Federatsiyi [Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation], Rossiyskaya gazeta, February 10, 2010, Article 22; Voyennaya doktrina Rossiyskoy Federatsiyi, Rossiyskaya gazeta, December 30, 2014, Article 27.

4. Voyenniy entsiklopedicheskiy slovar’ [Encyclopedic Military Dictionary], Voyenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1983; Voyenno-morskoy slovar’ [Glossary of Naval Terms], Voyenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1989.

5. Voyenniy entsiklopedicheskiy slovar’.

6. Vestnik Akademiyi voyennykh nauk, # 4 (33), 2010.

7. Voyennaya doktrina Rossiyskoy Federatsiyi, Rossiyskaya gazeta, December 30, 2014, Article 8.

Translated by Gennady Khmelev