Russia Releases New Rules for Using Nuclear Weapons in War

Russia laid out its rules for resorting to nuclear weapons in the event of war as part of its new military doctrine, widening its scope of strategy as it struggles to get the United States to renew longstanding limits on arsenals.

The document, approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, outlines four scenarios in which Moscow would order the use of nuclear weapons, two of them new and involving potential instances of nuclear first-use.

The established protocol permits use when an enemy uses nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction on Russia or its allies, and in situations when conventional weapons "threaten the very existence of the country."

The two new provisions include cases in which the government receives "reliable information" that a ballistic missile attack is imminent or enemies damage the nation's critical and military facilities to the degree that the ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons is disrupted.

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A Russian soldier waves on transporters equipped with nuclear-capable RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles February 26 as they make their way from Teykovo, Ivanovo region toward Alabino, Moscow ahead of the 75th Victory Day Parade originally scheduled for May 9 but rescheduled for June 24 as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Russian Ministry of Defense

The document describes containing and deterring aggressions against Russia as being "among the highest national priorities." Ultimately, Moscow's nuclear weapons policy is described as being "defensive in nature" and designed to safeguard the country's sovereignty against potential adversaries.

The United States has remained ambiguous about the tenets of its own threshold for using nuclear weapons. The latest Nuclear Posture Review, published in 2018, stated the country considers using nuclear weapons "only in extreme cases when it is forced to defend the U.S. or its allies or partners."

A quickly-deleted document shared last year by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, indicated a potentially broader application for such weapons of mass destruction. "Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability," one passage said. "Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict."

Both the Soviet Union and the United States amassed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons during their decades-long Cold War and although both countries have taken significant steps toward non-proliferation, they remain in possession of the world's largest stockpiles. Since coming to office in 2017, President Donald Trump has threatened to let a historic treaty limiting and allowing information-sharing mechanisms of the U.S. and Russia's arsenals expire.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) limits Russian and U.S. deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers to 700 each. Deployed warheads on either side may not exceed 1,550 and deployed and non-deployed launchers were capped at 800.

The deal, signed in 2010 as the successor to the original START, is set to expire next February and the Trump administration has so yet to negotiate an extension. Instead, the White House has sought a new deal involving new, more advanced weapons platforms including highly-maneuverable, hypersonic missiles, as well as other countries, such as China, which has declined to subject its much smaller arsenal to such restrictions.

"The next arms control agreement must be multilateral," Marshall Billingslea, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing and nominee for Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs told reporters last week. "We do absolutely expect that whatever arrangements are reached, the Chinese will be part of a trilateral framework going forward."

Billingslea linked, in principle, the adoption of a more hardline strategy with the White House's recent decision to exit the Open Skies Treaty that allows for the mutual passage of spy planes over U.S. and Russian territory. Trump in August also exited the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banning land-launched missiles between 310 and 3,420 miles, and has since tested such weapons.