Russian Nuclear Policy

Brendon Austin
March 4, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Fig. 1: President Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev preparing to sign the New START Treaty (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The development of the nuclear power industry is seen as one of the Russian Federation's top priorities. With the obvious effects it has on the overall economy, with respect to providing jobs and electricity to the nation, Russia has been pushing even harder for the proliferation of nuclear weapons to support its weakened military force. This statement alone creates a great controversy when deliberating over weapons of mass destruction between global super powers. Because the Russian government has been increasingly aggressive over international matters, its thoughts and ideas over nuclear policy is of great concern to the global community.


Nuclear weapons have and will continue to play an important role in Russian military strategy. Even though the role of nuclear weapons and security thinking has been significantly less tense since the days of the Cold War, the strategic thinking and military planning are constantly evolving. High status individuals and bureaucrats consider nuclear weapons and proliferation to be one of Russia's indicators for great global power status. Even though this claim is irrational, the nuclear proliferation of Russia is the main foundation of Russian security, and it also helps to ensure the country's national interests.

One piece of policy that helps the international community see into the minds of the Russian Federation with respect to nuclear power regulations is the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation. The Kremlin published the Military Doctrine on their website on February 5, 2010. [1] Although, there had been great conflict in the Middle East since the last doctrine was released by the Russian Federation, the document advocated for a majority of the same policies, which were instated in 2000. Most notably, the 2010 Military Doctrine affirmed that:

"The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it (or) its allies, as well as in response to large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation." [1]

Given this statement, it is easy to understand why Russian Government representatives openly acknowledge that they take U.S. nuclear capabilities into account when they are assessing their own stockpiles. In fact, Russian Government representatives claim that they intend retain sufficient nuclear capacity to combat and overcome any U.S. attack. [1]

New START Treaty

The most recent form of public policy between the United States and Russian Federation was the signing of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) on April 8, 2010 in Prague. [2] The image of both countries joining in diplomacy is represented in Fig. 1. This treaty recognized the agreement for nuclear weapon reduction by both countries. Specifically, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers would be cut by half and would limit the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1500. [2]

After much deliberation, the United States and the Russian Federation decided to have these obligations met within seven years from the date that the treaty goes into affect. New START entered into force on February 5, 2011 after both countries exchanged instruments of ratification. [2] The treaty itself will last for ten years, with an option to renew it.


The evolution of Russian nuclear policy and strategic thinking include a greater role, which encompasses the use of nuclear weapons, their proliferation, and their use. In general, Russia's use and proliferation of nuclear weapons is fueled by a weakness of conventional forces. In addition, the nuclear weapons play towards another Russian military strategy, which is the orientation toward first and preventive use of nuclear weapons. This strategy is extremely unpredictable and heavily unstable. It substantially increases the risk of a massive nuclear conflict. Hence, the international community must constantly evaluate Russia's nuclear strategy and policy, for there is a great chance that it may become a highly destabilizing factor in the global strategic landscape in the years to come.

© Brendon Austin. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. J. Blank, Ed., "Russian Nuclear Weapons: Past, Present, and Future," U.S. Army War College, November 2011.

[2] A. F. Woolf, "The New START Treaty:Central Limits and Key Provisions," Congressional Research Service, CRS Report to Congress R41219, 5 Feb 16.