Russian Chief of Staff: Risk of Nuclear War Increasing

The following is an excerpt from  Komsomolskaya Pravda, December 28, 2011, page 12: Addressing the Public House not long ago, Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov announced that the probability of a war near the Russian borders, including a nuclear war, had greatly increased over the last several years. … Here is an interview with Mikhail Barabanov, Center for Analysis of Strategies and Techniques Assistant Director and Moscow Defense Brief Editor-in-Chief. …

Question: And what might cause these wars that will involve Russia?

Mikhail Barabanov: Major Western countries and first and foremost the United States might intervene in conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union. It will serve as casus belli. The countries that comprise the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization belong to the zone of Russia’s strategic interests … vital interests. Should the United States or other NATO countries decide to try and get a foothold there, it will create conditions for direct clashes between their armies and the Russian Armed Forces. Things might escalate into a nuclear exchange, you know.

Question: And yet, why would Makarov mention nuclear weapons? Does it mean that the Russian army cannot rely on conventional forces alone?

Mikhail Barabanov: That the Russian military potential is way below those of the United States and NATO … and even China for that matter, is common knowledge. All NATO countries’ military budgets amounted to nearly $1.1 trillion in 2010 i.e. 25 times the Russian military budget. Numerical strength of their regular armies is approximately 3.6 million men or 3.5 times the numerical strength of the Russian Armed Forces. China’s military budget meanwhile amounted to $90 billion and numerical strength of the PLA to about 2.3 million men.

Question: And yet, Russia keeps aspiring to some sort of nuclear parity with the West.

Mikhail Barabanov: Yes, it is Russia’s nuclear weapons that place it on an equal footing with the United States and NATO. It follows that Russia just might resort to nuclear weapons against the vastly superior enemy. Moreover, the Russian military doctrine does stand for the use of nuclear weapons.

Martin Hellman

For more information:
My related web site NuclearRisk.org is dedicated to reducing the risk of an accidental nuclear war, and has many resources, including my paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists “How Risky is Nuclear Optimism?”

My thanks go to the World Security Institute’s Johnson’s Russia List for bringing this article to my attention. If you are interested in hearing what is being said within Russia, it is an invaluable source. While the almost daily list of about 30 items is more than most people can read, I find the Foreign Affairs section at the end of most interest. If you’d like a subscription, contact davidjohnson AT star power DOT net. A donation ($50, $25 for students and others on limited budgets) to WSI is requested, but subscriptions are free of charge.

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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5 Responses to Russian Chief of Staff: Risk of Nuclear War Increasing

  1. Russ Wellen says:

    It’s frightening to hear the chief of the general staff speak in this manner after all these years and treaties. It makes one feel like U.S.-Russia relations are, at best, running in place.

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    Russ: Thanks for that comment.

    I try to understand the Russian perspective not because it is right, but because it is critical for our national security to understand how they are likely to react to our moves. Not understanding the Soviet perspective was a key mistake in producing the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and a similar lack of understanding almost produced a 2008 repeat — and still could. For details, see Handout #6 from my seminar last quarter:
    http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/sts152_02/handout06.pdf
    The 2008 mini-crisis that could have blown up starts on page 8, but the first seven pages provide important background.

    While General Makarov’s warning is chilling, it did not surprise me. Viewed through Russian eyes, American foreign and military policy is very threatening. As just two examples:

    In spite of Secretary of State James Baker promising Gorbachev in 1991 that “NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position,” that military alliance has expanded right up to the Russian border. See
    http://www.atlantic-times.com/archive_detail.php?recordID=802

    While we protest Russian objections to our missile defense program, claiming that it is aimed solely at Iran and other “rogue nations,” the Polish government has sold the system to its reluctant citizenry on the grounds that it will protect them from Russian domination, and we refuse to give any guarantees that Russia is not immune. See two earlier posts here:
    https://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/the-nuclear-cookie-jar/
    https://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/is-our-hand-in-the-nuclear-cookie-jar/

  3. Gaillard Smith says:

    I find your page to be very interesting. I only discovered the story of Petrov Stanislav this week while watching the History channel. I work for a Russian company who purchased my company here in the US a few years ago. I ‘ve had the opportunity to travel in Russia and find a much different country than I expected. Different in terms of the condition of their infrastructure. Though the US infrastructure is in dire need of improvement, Russian infrastructure seems to be in a worse condition. The people in Russia treated me and my companioins very well. We developed very good relationships and I consider each and every one of them our friends. Why it is that humans must have governments to rule and control international affairs is unfortunate. What can we do to promote international brotherhood?

  4. Nuclear Risk says:

    Gaillard,
    Thanks for your comments. It is amazing how different reality — what you experienced in Russia — can be from the picture painted in our minds. For a list of about 20 assumptions that masquerade as axiomatic truths, and therefore warrant critical reexamination, see Handout #3 from my course notes last Fall. it’s at
    http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/sts152_02/handout03.pdf
    and all the handouts are at
    http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/courses.html
    Martin

  5. With the sheer numbers of ICBMs & SLBMs alone, not counting nuclear tactical, gravity, depthcharges, etc. & just counting Russia & the US, with several thousand ICBM/SLMBs always on launcy-ready alear (this is far more dangerous than the number of weapons) with the “launch-on-warning doctrine, to which both states adhere; furthermore, even the best computer-systems interpret satellite, radar & other sensor-data wrong, then thete is the strong probability of human-error, even in peaceful times, makes an accidental nuclear exchange probale in the near-future. Even worse is the US’s encircling Russia with bases, ABM-sites & ships, pulling their regimechangecrap & China & Russia refuse to accept this. If we (Russian leaders have said that even a unilateral nuclear attack on (innocent) Iran or even convential attack that breaches one or more of their online reactors, (Iran borders Russian & China & I believe Pakistan. Reactor-fallout is worse than nuclear-weapons fallout, this would be carried towards the east, irradiating the aforementioned nations. Also, we’d kill 1000′s of Chinese & Russian technicians, destroy their huge investments…I believe the US is provoking a nuclear war.

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