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  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 02-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy outline a U.S. shift from counterterrorism to inter-state competition with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. However, U.S. policymakers need to be prepared for much of this competition to occur at the unconventional level, since the costs of conventional and nuclear war would likely be catastrophic. U.S. strategy is evolving from a post-9/11 focus on counterterrorism against groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State to competition between state adversaries. As the National Defense Strategy notes, “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”1 This shift has significant implications for the U.S. military, since it indicates a need to improve U.S. capabilities to fight—and win—possible wars against China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea if deterrence fails. Though it is prudent to prepare for conventional—and even nuclear—war, the risks of conflict are likely to be staggering. Numerous war games and analyses of U.S. conflicts with Russia in the Baltics, China in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, and North Korea on the Korean peninsula suggest the possibility of at least tens of thousands of dead and billions of dollars in economic damages. In addition, these conflicts could escalate to nuclear war, which might raise the number of dead to hundreds of thousands or even millions. According to one analysis, for example, a U.S. war with China could reduce China’s gross domestic product (GDP) by between 25 and 35 percent and the United States’ GDP by between 5 and 10 percent. The study also assessed that both countries could suffer substantial military losses to bases, air forces, surface naval forces, and submarines; significant political upheaval at home and abroad; and huge numbers of civilian deaths.2 These costs and risks will likely give Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and even Pyongyang pause, raising several questions. Will these high costs deter the possibility of conventional and nuclear war? If so, what are the implications for the United States as it plans for a rise in inter-state competition? The Cold War offers a useful historical lens. NATO planners prepared for a possible Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. The U.S. military, for example, deployed forces to the Fulda Gap, roughly 60 miles outside of Frankfurt, Germany, as one of several possible invasion routes by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact forces. NATO also planned for nuclear war. The United States built up its nuclear arsenal and adopted strategies like mutually assured destruction (MAD). The concept of MAD assumed that a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. The threat of such heavy costs deterred conflict, despite some close calls. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the two superpowers nearly went to war after a U.S. U-2 aircraft took pictures of Soviet medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) under construction in Cuba. But Washington and Moscow ultimately assessed that direct conflict was too costly. Deterrence held. Instead, the United States and Soviet Union engaged in intense security competition at the unconventional level across Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Both countries backed substate groups and states to expand their power and influence. Under the Reagan Doctrine, for example, the United States provided overt and covert assistance to anticommunist governments and resistance movements to roll back communist supporters. The Soviets did the same and supported states and substate actors across the globe. In addition, the Soviets adopted an aggressive, unconventional approach best captured in the phrase “active measures” or aktivnyye meropriatia. As used by the KGB, active measures included a wide range of activities designed to influence populations across the globe. The KGB established front groups, covertly broadcast radio and other programs, orchestrated disinformation campaigns, and conducted targeted assassinations. The Soviets used active measures as an offensive instrument of Soviet foreign policy to extend Moscow’s influence and power throughout the world, including in Europe. Unlike the Cold War, the United States confronts multiple state adversaries today—not one. As the National Defense Strategy argues, the United States is situated in “a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory” where “the central challenges to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers.” But based on the likely costs and risks of conventional and nuclear war with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, much of the competition will likely be unconventional—and include what former U.S. State Department diplomat George Kennan referred to as “political warfare.” The term political warfare refers to the employment of military, intelligence, diplomatic, financial, and other means—short of conventional war—to achieve national objectives. It can include overt operations like public broadcasting and covert operations like psychological warfare and support to underground resistance groups.3 The United States’ adversaries today are already engaged in political warfare. Russia, for instance, utilizes a range of means to pursue its interests, such as technologically sophisticated offensive cyber programs, covert action, and psychological operations. Moscow has conducted overt operations like the use of RT and Sputnik, as well as semitransparent and covert efforts. It has also become increasingly active in supporting state and substate actors in countries like Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya to expand its influence in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and even North Africa. Finally, Russia is attempting to exploit European and transatlantic fissures and support populist movements to undermine European Union and NATO cohesion, thwart economic sanctions, justify or obscure Russian actions, and weaken the attraction of Western institutions for countries on Russia’s periphery. Iran is using political warfare tools like propaganda, cyber attacks, and aid to substate proxies to support its security priorities, influence events and foreign perceptions, and counter threats. Tehran is also assisting state and substate actors in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Afghanistan. Iran supports Shia militia groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. In the South China Sea, China is pouring millions of tons of sand and concrete onto reefs, creating artificial islands. It is also conducting a sophisticated propaganda campaign, utilizing economic coercion, and using fleets of fishing vessels to solidify its assertion of territorial and resource rights throughout the Pacific. Finally, Beijing is targeting the U.S. government, its allies, and U.S. companies as part of a cyber-espionage campaign. With political warfare already alive and well with the United States’ state adversaries, there are several implications for U.S. defense strategy. First, U.S. policymakers need to be prepared for significant inter-state competition to occur at the unconventional level, since the costs and risks of conventional and nuclear war may be prohibitively high. This should involve thinking through trade-offs regarding force posture, procurement, acquisition, and modernization. A U.S. military that predominantly focuses on preparing for conventional or nuclear war with state competitors—by modernizing the nuclear triad, building more resilient space capabilities, acquiring more effective counter-space systems, equipping U.S. forces with high-technology weapons, and emphasizing professional military education (PME) to fight conventional wars—may undermine U.S. unconventional readiness and capabilities. Second, even organizations that already engage in some types of political warfare—such as U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. intelligence community—will need to continue shifting some of their focus from counterterrorism to political warfare against state adversaries. This might include, for example, providing more aid to the Baltic States to conduct an effective resistance campaign against unconventional action by Moscow. Or it might involve aiding proxies in countries like Syria and Yemen to counter Iranian-backed organizations. It could also include improving the border security capabilities and effectiveness of Ukrainian military and police units against Russian-backed rebels. Third, the United States should invest in resources and capabilities that allow the military and other U.S. government agencies to more effectively engage in political warfare—and to provide agencies with sufficient authorities to conduct political warfare. One example is improving capabilities to conduct aggressive, offensive cyber operations. Other examples might include advanced electronic attack capabilities, psychological warfare units, security force assistance brigades, and precision munitions. Recognizing that other powers routinely conduct political warfare, George Kennan encouraged U.S. leaders to disabuse themselves of the “handicap” of the “concept of a basic difference between peace and war” and to wake up to “the realities of international relations—the perpetual rhythm of struggle, in and out of war.” Kennan’s advice may be even more relevant today in such a competitive world.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, Counter-terrorism
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Europe, Asia, North Korea
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: It now seems unlikely that the P5+1 countries of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany can reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran by the end of November. A final agreement remains a possibility, but it seems far more likely that if an agreement is not reached, the negotiations will be extended rather than abandoned all together. The question then arises as to how to judge the outcome of this set of negotiations, be it an actual agreement, an extension, or the collapse of the negotiations.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, International Security, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, United Kingdom, Iran, France, Germany
  • Author: Sarah Weiner
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia is experiencing the most significant level of public dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin since he assumed power a decade ago. While the sizeable street protests in Russia may well signal a political and social watershed moment for the country, a more minor political event a few months ago provided a telling sign regarding one of the regime's most important projects—a massive program for military modernization.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Europe
  • Author: Liviu Horovitz
  • Publication Date: 10-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Washington Quarterly
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: Arms control supporters are impatient with the Obama administration as it completes its third year in office. Neither the strength nor the pace of nuclear policy reform has been to their liking. In retrospect, the credit they gave the administration for the New START treaty with Russia appears somewhat tarnished. Once the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in December 2010, the obvious next step on the agenda was to push for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). But in spite of the promises made by the White House, the prospects for a swift CTBT approval process are grim. The administration traded away all its chips in exchange for New START support, and the political landscape for the rest of President Obama's term appears anything but promising. The road to success requires a new approach.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, India
  • Author: Christopher F. Chyba, J. D. Crouch
  • Publication Date: 07-2009
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Washington Quarterly
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 requires the U.S. secretary of defense to conduct a nuclear posture review (NPR) in consultation with the secretaries of energy and state, and to report the results to Congress before the end of 2009.The NPR, therefore, will be the Obama administration's forum for reviewing U.S. nuclear weapons policy, posture, and related programmatic and technical issues. Navigating and choosing among sharp disagreements in each of these areas, in order to map the wisest path forward for national and international security, is a difficult task. President Barack Obama has already made decisions on a number of important nuclear issues, but the NPR will need to relate these to the overall nuclear weapons posture. How will his desire to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) relate to the size and capabilities of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex? Should the United States arm some Trident submarines with conventionally/-tipped ballistic missiles? Should it pursue new arms control agreements with Russia beyond negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)? What should medium/-term U.S. objectives for strategic and non/-strategic warhead numbers and types be? What about ballistic missile defense? The list of important questions is long and, unless integrated into a broader strategic vision, presents a disparate jumble of choices.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 02-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: Russia retains a significant strategic nuclear force capability, despite the decline in overall force size since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and despite apparent defense budgetary shortfalls and system aging. Russia also inherited sizeable biological and chemical warfare establishments from the FSU, and some components of these programs remain largely intact. Russian entities have exported various nuclear and ballistic missile technologies to states of proliferation concern, and Russia also remains a source for offensive biological and chemical warfare technologies and expertise.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Europe, Middle East, Asia
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 02-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: India continues its nuclear weapons development program, for which its underground nuclear tests in May 1998 were a significant milestone. The acquisition of foreign equipment will benefit New Delhi in its efforts to develop and produce more sophisticated nuclear weapons. During this reporting period, India continued to obtain foreign assistance for its civilian nuclear power program, primarily from Russia.
  • Topic: Security, Nuclear Weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Russia, South Asia, India, Asia, New Delhi
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 01-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: Beijing continues to emerge as an increasingly active player in the region. Therefore, it is focused on becoming a world - class industrialized power through a countrywide modernization effort, which includes economic, technological, and military components of national power. Beijing already wields significant international influence by virtue of its permanent membership on the United Nations (UN) Security Council and its economic influence. China's public support for nonproliferation regimes is motivated by several factors, including a desire to enhance its image as a responsible world power and support for nonproliferation objectives.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, United Nations
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Europe, South Asia, Beijing, Asia
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 01-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The reporting of START accountable warheads has led to serious confusion between START accountable warheads and actual warheads.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Europe, South Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 01-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: India continues its nuclear weapons development program, for which its underground nuclear tests in May 1998 were a significant milestone. The acquisition of foreign equipment will benefit New Delhi in its efforts to develop and produce more sophisticated nuclear weapons. During this reporting period, India continued to obtain foreign assistance for its civilian nuclear power program, primarily from Russia.
  • Topic: Security, Nuclear Weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Russia, South Asia, India, Asia