There is a stark discrepancy between the nuclear doctrines of the United States and Russia, according to a recent discussion hosted by the George C. Marshall Institute.
Mark Schneider, senior analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy, emphasized that Russia’s nuclear doctrine “permits the use of nuclear weapons in conventional warfare and local and regional conflicts.” He then contrasted it with the Obama Administration’s “nuclear zero” policy.
In 2009, President Obama expressed his desire to see a world without nuclear weapons—a nuclear zero. That same year, Russia’s head of strategic missile forces stated, “In a conventional war, [strategic nuclear missiles] ensure that the opponent is forced to cease hostilities, on advantageous conditions for Russia, by means of single or multiple preventive strikes against the aggressors’ most important facilities.”
The vast disparity between the two countries’ outlook on nuclear weapons can also be seen in their implementation of arms control treaties. Reports have shown that Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Additionally, experts now suspect that Russia is in violation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Nonetheless, the U.S. has continued to comply with these treaties, resulting in a significant American strategic disadvantage.
Paula DeSutter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, noted:
In arms control, the U.S. trades away its freedom of action to secure its national security based on the premise that the other party or parties will comply. If the premise that America’s treaty partners are complying is false, two options exist. Option 1: ignore or tolerate the violation; Option 2: respond to reverse the violation or deny the violator all benefits from his violation.
In light of Russia’s repeated violations, some U.S. arms treaties are not currently serving their fundamental purpose.
DeSutter stressed the necessity of examining historical successes in order to formulate sound arms policy in the future. DeSutter advocated for policies that reprimand Russia for its treaty violations, such as informing the public and U.S. allies of Russian treaty violations, forcing the executive branch to punish infractions, and using direct and indirect congressional action to draw the White House’s attention to the gravity of this ongoing issue.
The development of U.S. missile defense is another way to address Russian treaty violations and protect America and its interests abroad. Development of missile defense systems would demonstrate to Moscow that the U.S. does not take Russia’s treaty violations or its recent aggression against Ukraine lightly. Ignoring Russia’s treaty violations will only increase American vulnerability and embolden Russia.
A unilateral U.S. nuclear zero policy overlooks the reality of Russia’s aggressive nuclear doctrine and puts the American people at greater risk of a nuclear attack.
Rebecca Robison is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.