Jeffrey LewisRussian Defense Minister Ivanov and the Ideology of the Nuclear Posture Review

“If NATO remains a military alliance with an offensive military doctrine, Russia will have to adequately revise its military planning and principles regarding the development of its armed forces, including its nuclear forces,” warned Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently. Although the press coverage links the statement to US plans to develop low yield nuclear weapons, the really scary fact is (another) article of faith on Planet Bush: The Bush Administration doesn/’t believe in arms races or instability.

For example, Keith Payne, the principle architect of the Nuclear Posture Review, started making this argument with Colin Gray in the 1980s, suggesting that “Western understanding of what determines Soviet defense procurement is less than perfect, but it is now obvious that Soviet weapon decisions cannot be explained with reference to any simple action-reaction model of arms-race dynamics.” Payne rejected the notion of arms races because the prospect of an unending arms sprial (see Cold War, the) was a major objection to his proposals for a nuclear warfighting posture.

Payne reprised the sophistry in a recent article entitled, “Action/Reaction Metaphysics and Negligence” to answer objections that U.S. ABM deployments will be destabilizing, while Powell, Rumsfeld and Dick Myers all repeated the “we have no impact on the Russians” mantra during the debate over the Nuclear Posture Review and the Moscow Treaty. Powell claims he told the Russians:

So you can do whatever you think you have to do for your security. You can MIRV your missiles, you can keep more, you can go lower. Do what you think you need. This is what we know we need and we are going to this level.

Rumsfeld and Myers took a similar tack:

Today we do not believe the risk of an accident is determined by how many warheads are deployed on ICBMs. Nor do we believe that MIRVed ICBMs are inherently “destabilizing.” Therefore, the United States no longer feels threatened by how Russia structures its strategic nuclear forces.

This is an entirely novel and unnerving extension of the laissez faire ideological outlook. It is also wildly inconsistent with the “we spent the Soviets into the ground” trope, but that is for another day.

“Action/Reaction Metaphysics …” devotes all of three pages to “the historical record” that purportedly demonstrates our actions have no significant impact on Russian deployments – about the same length as the Moscow Treaty “Action/Reaction Metaphysics …” does not cite any primary sources (e.g. a document from the Soviet archives); authoritative contemporary accounts of Soviet decision-making (e.g. the Office of the Secretary of Defense/’s History of the Strategic Arms Competition 1945-1972); or recent scholarship based on evidence from the Soviet archives.

I will tell you why: Scholarly works, like History of the Strategic Arms Competition 1945-1972, tend to reach sophisticated, nuanced conclusions that affirm the risk of reaction cycles without resmebling the strawperson that Payne pillories. And that would be awkward.