War and Peace in the Post-Soviet World

Superpower nuclear deterrence was an offensive but stable system. Now the powers will include Japan and Germany, with potentially destabilizing results.

By Metta Spencer | 1992-11-01 12:00:00

Sergei Rogoff is a scholar at the Institute for United States and Canada in Moscow and now is the Director of the Centre for National Security and International Relations-a new organization established by the Russian parliament to develop a defence policy for the country. Metta Spencer visited him in Moscow in July.

METTA SPENCER: Non-provocative defence was a well established policy of the Soviet Union a couple of years ago, but I understand that the policy is being re-examined.

SERGEI ROGOFF: I think so. The discussion about non-offensive defence originated in a different historical period, the mid- and late '80s, the peak of the arms control and Cold War period. The idea was to stabilize the competition between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This issue is outdated now because there's no longer a NATO vs Warsaw Pact balance of forces to stabilize.

Today there's disarray in this country in the economic, political, cultural, and military spheres. We have the remnants of the Soviet military machine without the Soviet Union. Only a few months ago Russia established its own defence ministry and it's too early to speak about Russia having its own defence policy, or even a defence establishment. The former the Soviet defence establishment is now under Russian jurisdiction but not totally controlled by Russians. There is a debate now about the future Russian defence policy. Attention needs to be paid to the redeployment of the forces stationed outside Russia, and the involvement of Russian military forces in ethnic and interstate conflicts within the former Soviet Union. That means that some issues and conclusions that seemed to be resolved a few years ago seem less relevant today.

SPENCER: It seems that the policy of non-offensive defence is being challenged by the situation in Yugoslavia, which had something close to a non-offensive posture that now turns out to be ideal for an internal war. Since there is an obvious parallel between Yugoslavia and problems around the perimeter of Russia, have you thought about the connection between the policy and the problems of internal war?

ROGOFF: Oh, you want to discuss the developments in Yugoslavia? Then you'll have to look at a larger picture, which reflects the restructuring of the system of international relations. Bi-polarity has collapsed, one of the superpowers has disappeared, and the international system is different from what it had been since the Second World War. Bi-polarity was based on Soviet-American competition, nuclear weapons playing the predominant role. The use of force in this competition was marginal. Violence resulting from the competition between the superpowers victimized hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Africa, and South America, but the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States was pretty stable. It was based on mutual nuclear deterrence, which had nothing to do with defence. Deterrence and defence are two different things. The threat of punishment and the capability to totally eliminate the other side as a civilized nation have nothing to do with defence. Those were offensive weapons.

Conventional weapons played a secondary role, subordinate to this nuclear balance. Conventional conflicts could take place only in the areas where the vital interests of the superpowers were not concerned. That's why the conventional balance in Europe was pretty stable, though there were some disparities. The Warsaw Pact specifically had substantial superiority in ground weapons, ground equipment. Military planners of both sides planned for a worst case scenario based on the fact that both sides had offensive postures and a concentration of forces which historically could have been achieved only during a war, very seldom before a war. So each side was capable of starting a large scale offensive operation.

But how could one remove the possibility of a surprise attack? That question prompted the notions of arms control and confidence building measures, to increase predictability of the behavior of the other side and exclude surprise attacks.

What we have now is a multipolar world with tremendous uncertainties related to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the division and diffusion of the Soviet military power. The conflict in Yugoslavia became possible only because the bi-polarity collapsed. The superpowers would never have permitted anything like that to happen before, simply because of fear on each side that the other might benefit from it.

Today in the former Soviet Union and other East European countries, communist ideology has been replaced by a different kind of collectivist ideology -nationalism that corresponds to the practical task of creating nation-states. Nationalism as an ideology is the force to consolidate new nations. The revival of ugly nationalism and use of force by competing national groups are not new. We have seen this in the nineteenth century Balkan wars and in this century when there were conflicts between nations. This contradicts the conclusion that the military force was useless for the achievement of political goals-a conclusion reached during the Cold War, which was based on a stable balance between the superpowers. Even in marginal conflicts the superpowers could play all kinds of games and let millions of people die, but they would never allow a decisive victory by the other side. With the superpowers out of the picture -

SPENCER: Why do you say "superpowers"-plural-out of the picture? There's one that's certainly not out of the picture. And It's one that is also not interested in any kind of non-intervention regime.

ROGOFF: I disagree with you. I don't think the United States can be a single superpower. It's a multi-polar system, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the diffusion of its military power, is only one of the challenges for this new system. The other challenge is the role of other centres of power -Germany, Japan, China and possibly the Islamic world. Today the United States has an overwhelming military superiority over all those centres of power, but economically it is competing with its allies, Japan and Germany. The gap between the economic and military might of Japan and Germany in comparison to the superpower is unusual, resulting from the conditions of bi-polarity when the United States provided a military and nuclear umbrella for those nations. Without a clear and present danger, without the ideological crusade driving the strategy of containment, the very raison d'etre of the U.S. military presence in Germany and Japan is being questioned.

SPENCER: Sure, but what about the Persian Gulf?

ROGOFF: Due to the specific conditions of the theatre (the proximity to the European theatre) the United States was able in the Persian Gulf to project forces trained to fight a war in Europe without major tactical changes.

might explain the situation if the U.S. showed any sign of being interested in some sort of non-intervention policy.

ROGOFF: Oh, I am not saying that the U.S. is not interested in playing the role of the only superpower. I am just saying that it will not be able to do so. The unique conditions of the Persian Gulf War hardly can be repeated again, especially since the United States has started radical reductions of its presence in Europe. Already this year the United States could hardly accumulate the concentration of forces that they did last year in the Gulf. Three years from now it will be extremely difficult. Moreover, the Gulf War was the first war that the United States fought since its War of Independence that was paid for by others.

SPENCER: That's true.

ROGOFF: And today the United States hardly has the resources or the national will to do anything like that unilaterally-especially with Los Angeles and other domestic problems happening. In this war the United States demonstrated its military muscle while actually fighting to protect the interests of Germany and Japan, who had more interest in Middle Eastern oil than the United States.

SPENCER: Yes, exactly. There was a debate in Washington before the war as to whether to go for conversion and build up the economic infrastructure or to use the resources that they had to exact tribute from the other rich nations. Now we know what was decided.

ROGOFF: The United States was able to force not only the Saudis and Kuwaitis but Japan and Germany to pay. But look what happened after the war. Both Germany and Japan made a national decision to allow use of their military forces outside of their national territory-or in case of Germany, outside of the NATO area responsibilities. So Japan and Germany are thinking about a different military role. The gap between the economic might and the military low status of those nations can hardly last into the twenty-first century. There was always a certain ratio between economic and military power, with some exceptions such as Israel. But Japan and Germany were the two most pacifist nations in the world, for reasons that are gone. And one can envisage two possible scenarios with this difference between the military power/economic power ratios of the United States on the one hand and Germany and Japan on the other. The ratios can be narrowed in two ways. Either Japan and Germany will build up their military might or the United States will reduce its tremendous, and excessive, military might. Probably the process will continue in both directions. But that will mean that the United States, while being the first among equals in this new concept of nations, is not going to be the single superpower, forcing others to follow it. Another challenge is the North-South relationship. These challenges-the collapse of the Soviet Union, the diffusion of its military power, the prospect of a power vacuum on the Euro-Asian continent, the increasing role of the new centres of power, especially Germany and

Japan, and the North-South relationship-all demonstrate the multi-polar world that we are backing.

Multi-polarity is extremely difficult to balance. You can balance it for some time but then you have a military conflict It was the multipolar system that produced the world wars, and the collapse of the Cold War released many dormant conflicts which were suppressed by the discipline of bi-polarity. The security mechanisms that were built during the Cold War are not elements of this new situation because they were meant for the Cold War period and don't quite fit the new situation. Just take one example. NATO today is the only military bloc in Europe. There are four military conflicts going on in Europe:

Yugoslavia, Moldova, Georgia, and Karabakh. And NATO doesn't know how to react

SPENCER: Nobody does. I mean, what would you do?

ROGOFF: Those conflicts could have been prevented if more caution had been taken instead of the euphoria over the collapse of the Cold War. And as far as the conflict in Yugoslavia is concerned, clearly it's the result of Germany's taking a more assertive posture in international affairs. Germany almost single-handedly, against the original opposition of other members of the European Community and the United States, encouraged Slovenia and Croatia to push for complete independence. Without the German support they would probably have been more inclined to compromise and agree to an evolutionary process rather than national revolutions. Germany was able to force other members of the European Community and even the United States to adopt the position that they didn't want That means that there is a certain vacuum of power now in Eastern Europe, while Germany is still busy digesting East Germany.

Back to the question of non-offensive defence: I'll express my personal views concerning the evolving Russian defence policy and defence budget. Nuclear weapons are going to remain the foundation of Russian security and there is nothing defensive about them. For the foreseeable future there's going to be a special relationship between the United States and Russia because, as nuclear nations, they have the capability to destroy each other. This relationship will continue through this decade, as a different type of mutual nuclear deterrence relationship.

The kind of mutual nuclear deterrence which developed in the '70s and '80s was on both sides the so-called "Deterrence Two." Its purpose was not the prevention of nuclear war but the control of escalation and the development of means to fight a nuclear conflict, from a very low level of violence to the exchange of attacks. As a result of the decision on tactical nuclear weapons, and now as a result of the ban on ICBMs and limitations on SLBMs, mutual nuclear deterrence on both sides is going to be "Deterrence One"

- without many means to control nuclear escalation, without many means to a first strike, preemptive counterforce attack. It is still going to remain a mutual nuclear deterrence but the mutual nuclear deterrence which will serve only one purpose-the prevention of nuclear war, not playing all kinds of those stupid scenarios of limited application of nuclear war. It will be a more stable kind of deterrence because it will allow both sides to retreat from launch on warning. For both sides, launch on warning has for decades made a joke of strategic stability. Both sides behaved like cowboys in front of a saloon in a Hollywood movie. But still, it's going to be mutual nuclear deterrence and this is not defensive defence or non-offensive defence. It's offensive defence, or more correctly, offensive deterrence.

It's possible to envisage, in a more distant future, Russia and the United States going beyond the mutual nuclear deterrence to something like what Great Britain and France have. Both have the capability to destroy each other but nevertheless it's qualitatively different from the Soviet-American relationship.

SPENCER: You don't foresee that for a while between Russia and the U.S.?

ROGOFF: Not until the end of this decade because this depends not only on the intentions of these two sides but also on their actual postures. And those actual postures will be transformed into a different form of this mutual nuclear deterrence of the first type by the end of this decade. Only after that will it be realistic to move to a different type of relationship.

In the field of conventional weapons the situation is also pretty mixed. There is no external threat to Russia now in the traditional meaning of the word: invasion or occupation. Russia doesn't have enemies, although a potential future threat exists in the Far East, especially if Russia becomes weak and fragmented. There could be a threat to the underdeveloped peoples of Siberia from their neighbors, China and Japan.

But Russian defences cannot take the form that the Soviet Union had forward defence. Forward defence demonstrated that there's no real difference between a defensive strategy and offensive strategy. But Russia must build its defences on Russian territory, and cannot build a Maginot line along the Russian border. Its economic situation, its international agreements, and geographical location preclude its keeping the necessary concentration of forces at every potential war theatre. That means that Russia has to have some kind of a mobile reserve force which, if necessary, can be used at one of those theatres, especially at the far eastern and southern theatres. And that is power projection. Here comes the question. We have in the United States a power projection strategy which clearly is of offensive nature. We have NATO developing its own power projection capability, which also, at least partially, is offensive, although a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force doesn't seem to me very threatening. And if Russia develops power projection capabilities on its territory, we will have at least three power projection capabilities which may be seen by every side as presenting a threat.

SPENCER: But Russia's system wouldn't have to involve battleships and such things.

ROGOFF: The question is, what kind of power projection would it be? If, say, the Russian rapid deployment force is deployed somewhere near the Urals, so that it's possible to deploy it in case of a conflict in the Far East or the maritime provinces, its power projection capabilities can be seen as a threat by others. That, in my view, would be a legitimate concern. That's why Russia has to configure its power projection capability in such a way that it won't be seen as a threat by others. As you


have just said, what makes the U.S. power projection capability look clearly offensive is first of all the U.S. naval forces. Russia doesn't need a navy that is capable of global reach. The Russian navy's task is to defend the Russian coastline and Russian strategic submarines, but not for power projection to, say, South Africa or Latin America. Russian power projection should be of air-mobile type and sea-based type. But still it's a kind of distinction that has to be managed delicately.

Even if we go successfully through the present turbulent period, the very fact that Russia is going to be a major military power can produce a new arms race, a new power competition if Russia is excluded from the evolving international system, from the European and other regional security regimes. There's a need to coordinate this restructuring which has started in the United States, in NATO, and in Russia. If we don't have such a coordination, the consequences may be dangerous. Although there will be no longer ideological reasons for confrontation, the traditional Great Power reasons, which were normal before

SPENCER: What kind of coordination would you like?

ROGOFF: On the bilateral and multilateral levels there should be both the creation of a new European security system and the return of the United Nations to its original mission, which was paralyzed by the Cold War. The U.N. was built as a global security system. So we have to revive the military staff, we have to assign forces and use the Security Council. That's going to be the best preventive

diplomacy. Any potential aggressor will know that if he conducts an act of aggression, he will face the combined forces of the major military powers.

SPENCER: I've heard people say there's no longer hope for a security system to be coordinated by the CSCE. Is that already really ruled out?

ROGOFF: Russia is suggesting it, but clearly the CSCE cannot be the only mechanism. It has to involve a combination of the CSCE, NATO, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and maybe some subregional umbrella under the United Nations Charter. And I think it quite possible that the CSCE may evolve into a United Nations-regulated subregional security organization. But the CSCE will hardly have its own forces. Such forces can be provided by NATO, by Russia, by some other powers, but it is absolutely necessary to prevent re-nationalization of security policy. It should be collective decision making-to make peace, and keep peace.

SPENCER: On a different topic, do you think that the peace movement here and in the West made a difference in ending the Cold War?

ROGOFF: The peace movement did make a difference and in my view it had a much greater influence than, for instance, Gorbachev's initiative to cut the Soviet forces by 500,000. The peace movement of the '80s demythologized the whole area of security. Just remember, until then the strategic relationship was really a concern of a very narrow group of strategists who developed the whole twisted logic of nuclear deterrence. They were playing with very sophisticated schemes within this imaginary world, trying to find out how to apply force even within the conditions of mutual nuclear deterrence, how to control escalation, how to conduct a counterstrike. And while in the Soviet Union everybody, except for bureaucrats, was totally excluded from any involvement, even in the West the discussion went on in a very narrow group and the public tended uncritically to accept whatever decisions were taken. I remember the debate about the neutron bomb. It was more of a debate between the German and the American governments. But the Euromissile issue brought a much greater public awareness. For the first time, the foundations of the Cold War strategy were scrutinized. And in our country especially it was helpful because it did assist in getting non-governmental, non-bureaucratic analysis of what goes on. At such places as our institute, for the first time an independent analysis was undertaken. This independent analysis, by the way, played a very instrumental role in the formation of Gorbachev's "New Political Thinking."

SPENCER: Good. Please explain.

ROGOFF: Many ideas incorporated in Gorbachev's New Political Thinking were totally foreign to the traditions of Soviet military thinking, which followed Clausewitz's dictums. victory was supposed to be the natural consequence of military engagement. Gorbachev's New Political Thinking brought the essence of alternative thinking to the political posture.

Whether it was successful, that's a different story. But it was a different policy, one which was able to overcome confrontation and opened the way to tremendous changes in every aspect of our life. Some of those changes were unhappy; the present instability and bloodshed in our country are totally beyond our comprehension. Definitely, nobody expected this to happen. If Gorbachev hadn't made some crucial mistakes in delaying more radical reforms and if the West had responded earlier to Gorbachev's initiatives, what is happening now probably could have been prevented. There's an effort now to build a new security regime in Europe, that can provide not only a peacekeeping function but also a peace-making function. If some of this had been done two or three years ago, it could have been prevented. But what matters is that the old security mechanisms, both on the national and international levels, have become insufficient for the new challenges that exist today.

Metta Spencer is the editor of Peace Magazine.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1992

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1992, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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