- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2000

In reaction to the decline of its global influence, a bankrupt Kremlin has recently released a new, poorly conceived, highly flawed national security strategy. Ostensibly, the new doctrine responds to what Russia considers the expansionist policies of the United States and Europe. In reality, the Kremlin will probably use its new doctrine to justify a wrongheaded decision to allocate increasingly scarce resources to remilitarizing Russia, as if that were the solution to Russia's grave problems. In fact, such a move would make a bad situation much worse.

In a profound misreading of the intentions of the United States and its NATO allies, the new policy declares that "the level and scale of threat [to Russia] in the military sphere is increasing." This perspective is absurd, considering that the West in recent years has given Russia tens of billions of dollars in economic aid, hardly an act of war. In fact, part of that aid has been stolen by a corrupt oligarchy, and, ironically, part of it has indirectly financed Russia's murderous war against Chechnya.

Russia has misinterpreted the decline of its influence, which unavoidably accompanied defeat in the Cold War and the economic and political collapse of the Soviet communist empire, as a threat to its survival. Paradoxically, the primary threats today do not come from the overwhelmingly superior armed forces of NATO. In fact, the real danger to Russia is internal, not external. Those threats derive from Russia's chaotic and corrupt economy, its political paralysis, its accelerating social decay and its catastrophic environment, none of which will be solved by militarization.

The new document also unveiled a worrisome change in Russia's nuclear weapons doctrine. Previously, official policy permitted the use of nuclear weapons only when there was "a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation." The new policy, whose development was overseen last year when now-acting President Vladimir Putin headed the Kremlin Security Council, provides for the use of nuclear weapons in war "if all other means of resolving the crisis have been exhausted." The increasing reliance on nuclear weapons follows the continued deterioration of Russia's military forces, a problem that Russia's latest offensive against Chechnya has confirmed.

After the humiliation of its armed forces by Chechen separatists during the 1994-1996 war, Russia embarked upon a different strategy in 1999, emphasizing the utterly indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Chechen cities and civilians. Even this bloody campaign, which has elicited accusations of genocide, has, so far, failed to achieve its objective.

Russia's new national security strategy invites several questions. Under the Kremlin's new policy, does Mr. Putin reserve the right in the Chechen conflict to use weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear bombs, if he believes that "all other means of resolving the crisis have been exhausted"? Under what circumstances does a non-belligerent Russia contemplate an invasion of its homeland by the Western democratic alliance? With Russia increasing its reliance on nuclear weapons, the control of which is highly problematic in Russia compared to the much tighter control exercised in the United States, what additional precautions has Russia taken to prevent catastrophic accidents that are more likely to occur when weapons are kept under a higher state of alert? Perhaps Vice President Al Gore, who has spearheaded U.S.-Russia policy as co-chairman of a joint cooperation committee, can answer these questions.

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