New Military Doctrine Shows Russia Not Interested in New Cold War

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It is indisputable that the crisis in Ukraine has dealt a serious setback to Russia’s relations with core members of NATO. It would take years, maybe even decades, for Moscow, Washington and Brussels to mend the fences even if the Ukraine conflict is resolved tomorrow.

But the the damage to Russia’s relations with the West has not become irreparable.

As Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Meshkov has noted recently, the Russia-NATO relations have not reached the "point of no return.” That point would have been reached if Russia's new doctrine would have designated NATO.

As recently as in November Financial Times quoted people familiar with the document as saying Russia's new military doctrine would openly designate U.S. and NATO as adversaries. The Ukrainian authorities’ Tuesday decision to cancel the country’s non-bloc status in hopes of attaining membership in NATO further fueled speculation that Russia's new doctrine would designate the alliance as an adversary.

Fortunately, the new doctrine, which was published on Friday, contains no such language, while also noting that the probability of a large-scale war against Russia has been decreasing. The new document does mention NATO first in the list of external military dangers to Russia, but that's not qualitatively different from the 2010 doctrine, which listed NATO as number 1 source of military threats even though it was adopted at the time the U.S.-Russian reset was in full swing.

The 2014 doctrine describes the first external threat as “the aspiration to build up the force potential of NATO and assign global functions to this organization that are being carried out in violation of the international law; movement of the military infrastructure of the NATO members to the borders of the Russian Federation, including further expansion of the bloc.” The 2010 doctrine describes the first external military danger to Russia in almost identical language: “the aspiration to assign global functions to the force potential of NATO, to move the military infrastructure of the NATO members to the borders of the Russian Federation, including further expansion of the bloc.”

Moreover, the new document calls for a dialogue of equals between NATO and CSTO, which also indicates the Kremlin is reluctant to designate NATO as an adversary even though there should be no doubt that generals on both sides have been updating operational plans to wage a war against each other. The new doctrine also leaves condition for the use of nuclear weapons unchanged compared to the 2010 doctrine, which became the first post-Soviet unclassified strategic document to somewhat constrain first use of nuclear weapons. The 2014 document allows Russian military to use nuclear weapons if Russia is attacked with use of weapons of mass destruction or if a conventional conflict threatens “the very existence of the (Russian state).”

Were Russia to officially designate NATO as an enemy in such a strategic document, as the military doctrine, the Rubicon in NATO-Russian relations would have been crossed. It would have been hard for either Putin – who can remain in power for at least another ten years – or his successor to reverse that designation. As important, it would have strengthened position of those NATO policy-makers who had tried, but failed to have the alliance designate Russia as an adversary at the alliance’s September 2014 summit in Wales.

As we all recall, both NATO's outgoing general secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his deputy Alexander Vershbow had argued prior to the summit that NATO should treaty Russia as adversary because Russia treats the alliance as an adversary and acts accordingly. Also at that time, U.S. reportedly wanted an updated NATO doctrine that would identify Russia as a revitalized and fundamental danger. Rasmussen's successor Jens Stoltenberg appears to have toned that language somewhat. Stoltenberg told Russian reporters in early December that “NATO is not an enemy of Russia. On the contarary.”

Whether responding to Stoltenberg’s statement or not, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has stated earlier this month that NATO is not an enemy for Russia.

Hopefully, the conciliatory statements made by both sides and the Kremlin's decision to avoid references to NATO as adversary in the new military doctrine would help to ensure the sides do not slide toward a new Cold War, which some thoughtful experts both in the West and Russia believe to be unavoidable.

Russia and core founding members of NATO share too many vital interests in such spheres, as countering of international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to return to the adversarial relationship they abandoned more than quarter a century ago even if Russia air force's increased patrolling in Baltics and Northern Europe are reminiscent of the Cold War days.

It is truism that the ideological rivalry, which characterized the original Cold War, is long gone, so both U.S. and Russia would find difficult mobilizing themselves and their allies for a new rivalry, from which neither of the sides stands to gain in this age of globalization.

It is about time that former Cold War foes start collecting the peace dividends, which Russia might find especially handy, given its current economic woes.

The best predictor for the latter is a decline in price of oil, but if Russia and U.S., acting together with European Union, could convince the government in Kiev and separatists in Eastern Ukraine to reach a lasting resolution of their conflict, then many of the most damaging of Western sanctions against Russia would be lifted. That would certainly ease Russia's economic pains.

The first step towards normalizing the relationship would be the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine, as I have argued in a co-piece that I co-authored this fall. Such a solution could incorporate amnesty for the rebels, decentralization of power within Ukraine and robust protection of rights of minorities, along with disarming of all the illegal armed formations, a legally binding affirmation of Ukraine’s military neutrality, and unequivocal guarantees (rather than assurances) of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, perhaps, while deferring final resolution of Crimea’s status. The next step should be, perhaps, rebuilding the collective security architecture in post Cold War Europe, which has failed time and over again, as demonstrated not only by the crisis in Ukraine, but the 2008 war and the conflicts in former Yugoslavia.

The longer the sides remain locked in the conflict, the more likely it will be that the temporary measures, which Russia and Western countries have imposed upon each other to punish each other over the Ukraine conflict, will become permanent and that the sides will slide into a new Cold War. As the saying goes “Nothing is more permanent than the temporary,” be it designation of adversaries or imposition of sanctions. If you have doubts about the lasting nature of 'temporary' punishment, then you should have asked Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson of Washington and Charles Vanik while they were still alive.

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