Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pavel Podvig on Russia's Military "Resurgence"

Interesting piece by Podvig in the BAS- read it here. His conclusion:

It's hardly surprising that the military-industrial complex is pushing the "resurgence" agenda--generals always fight the last war. There's little doubt that they will convince the government to keep its number of missiles and submarines at a "respectable" level. Or that the military will be able to maintain these missiles at a reasonable degree of readiness. With a strong economy, Russia can certainly afford strategic forces that would be considered impressive by Cold-War standards. But these standards are irrelevant today and the strategic forces designed to fight the Cold War are useless when it comes to the security threats that exist today. Therefore, this "grandiose resurgence" will eventually prove unnecessary, expensive, and dangerous.
I disagree on one of three points. Russia's strategic buildup is inarguably expensive, and almost certainly dangerous. But I feel that it may be far more "necessary" than Podvig gives it credit for. Firstly, the arms race has its own perverted logic. The only reason these systems were ever "needed" was to match the other side, and despite the end of the Cold War this still makes as much "sense" as ever. Secondly, the possession of a credible nuclear deterrent increases the freedom of the Russians in their own "sphere of influence" quite a bit, which could prove important as they move to secure their strategic interests- most importantly, the energy resources of the Central Asian former Soviet republics. While the Russians do not need to conquer these countries, they need to ensure that the region remains under Russian economic and political domination. Losing this domination would weaken the Russians politically and economically to an extent I believe that Putin probably regards as totally unacceptable. So long as the Russians can match the US in nuclear weapons, the United States will have a difficult time doing something like, say, providing military support to prop up an anti-Russian Kazakh government. They can threaten us with nuclear annihilation- and if we impinge on their interests and pride enough, they will.

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