Saturday, January 19, 2008

Russia could use nuclear weapons

Russia’s military chief of staff announced on Saturday that his nation could use nuclear weapons in preemptive strikes to protect themselves or their allies.

Analysts pointed out that this has been Russian military policy since 2000, and also suggested that it showed the overall weakness of the Russian military. Because of the financial instability of the 1990’s, the Russian military suffered a steep decline, though the nuclear forces were maintained at a high level of operation and supplied with modern equipment.

Russia does possess some very advanced conventional weapons systems and, thanks to increased oil revenues, has pledged to drastically increase spending on their conventional military forces. But there are still problems in producing new weapons in large numbers, meaning that Russia will continue to rely on its nuclear forces as the mainstay of their military power for some time to come.

In the past year Russia has conducted some high-profile military exercises including patrols by long-range bombers to the edge of US and European airspace, and a Mediterranean cruise by a flotilla of navy ships – both commonplace events for the Soviet Union, but ones largely suspended by Russia in the 1990s.

So why all of the military activity now? Because Russia knows that to be considered a world power you need to have certain things: the ability to project military force, a stable of nations within your circle of influence, and to perform some world class cultural or scientific events. In this context, Russia’s military actions seem like more than just idle saber rattling. They also have been trying to rebuild a network of client states like the one the Soviet Union once possessed. Russia has been trying to assert its influence in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia largely through business deals related to oil and gas industries. They are also looking to build relationships with Arab states in the Persian Gulf, particularly Iran who they have supported despite Western pressure to isolate them. Russia’s strong support of Serbia over Kosovo can also been seen as part of this attempt to rebuild a stable of friendly nations. As for the cultural/scientific part, Russia is still one of the few space-faring nations in the world, and will host the 2014 Winter Olympics (at the Black Sea city of Sochi).

Compare that to China’s actions in the past few years that have seen them also drastically increase their military spending, provide foreign aid to many nations in South America and Africa (and provide the aid without strings attached, unlike that from Western nations, which is usually tied into human rights improvements or economic reforms), launch a man into space and host the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a signature event of their economic boom.
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