From Stratfor Geopolitical Diary
Forwarded by BGen Robert Clements USAF (Ret)
Depending on whose statements you believe, Russian forces involved in their most intensive war games in a decade have just failed to launch one to three ICBMs. That failure will radically reshape military doctrines in Moscow, Washington and Beijing.
The first misfires on Feb. 17 were a pair of ICBMs — from the nuclear submarine Novomoskovsk in the country's northern fleet — that did not leave their tubes. On Feb. 18, the third came from the Karelia, another northern fleet nuclear sub, that self-destructed 98 seconds after take-off because its was falling out of its expected trajectory.
While grudgingly admitting that the Karelia launch was indeed a mislaunch, most of the navy's brass, including Navy Chief of Staff Vladimir Kuroyedov, assert that the Novomoskovsk mislaunches were only intended to be “virtual” launches and that everything went according to plan.
Such counterclaims simply do not hold water. Extensive PR leading up to the “failed” Feb. 17 “launches” indicated that they would be live and large. Such assertions came from individuals as high up the chain as Deputy Chief of General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky and Igor Dygalo, one of Kuroyedov's aides. Additionally, Russian President Vladimir Putin was on a submarine next to the Novomoskovsk when the launch was to take place. The event was to be a highlight of Putin's re-election campaign.
What we are seeing appears to be a recurrence of the Russian navy's predilection to deny and shift blame. For months after the 2000 Kursk disaster, senior naval officials continued to charge “Western submarines” for the Kursk's sinking, despite no evidence to support the claim and steadily mounting evidence to the contrary.
But even if, on the outside chance, Kuroyedov is correct and the Feb. 17 mislaunches were just virtual “tests,” it is unavoidable that the one live launch on Feb. 18 failed. And more than just a failure, it was an abject failure.
Russia depends upon biannual launches to test its nuclear deterrent, normally one each of its land-launched and sea-launched missiles. The target site (this time in Kamchatka in the Russian Far East) and the launch site are selected months in advance, allowing ample time to inspect and perfect the process. This time around, Putin's presence gave the launches an additional level of importance.
And yet they still failed.
The consequences for Russia of the failed launches are staggering. The Russian military is only a pale shadow of its former Soviet glory, and with every year, most of its equipment — ICBMs included — age with precious few replacements. This has left Russia's nuclear deterrent at the core of the country's strategic doctrine. In 2000 Russia adopted a first-strike policy that continues to this day, simply because it lacks the conventional capability to repulse a large-scale attack.
In order to extract some additional utility to its deterrent, Russia has prioritized the maintenance of its ballistic missile capable submarine fleet, the thought being that such a fleet can do double duty as a deterrent and as a power-projection tool.
Let that sink in a bit. The Russian ballistic missile submarine fleet has been prioritized. Moscow intends for them to be the best of the lot; the navy had months to prepare; a leader not known for his kindness was in attendance, and all three launch attempts failed.
So that there is no doubt where we are going with this: The integrity of the Russian strategic deterrent is highly questionable.
For Russia this will mean nothing short of the re-evaluation of the country's entire strategic doctrine. Moscow must decide whether to even maintain any meaningful naval presence whatsoever, or instead depend upon land-based systems, which — while easier to maintain — allow neither second-strike capability nor dual-tasking.
Even more far reaching will be the potential changes in Chinese and American doctrine. The U.S. Defense Department is in the nascent stages of developing a national missile defense capability. Even NMD's most ardent supporters have never claimed that the system would be able to block a full Russian nuclear strike, since such an attack was always assumed to consist of hundreds or thousands of warheads.
The Feb. 17 and 18 launch failures have now forced a change in that calculus. If the best of Russia's best missiles — with ample preparation — are unable to launch under ideal circumstances, then during the course of the next 10-20 years U.S. NMD capabilities might find a Russian “strike” a manageable affair. Stratfor expects the Bush administration to take an extremely hard look at its NMD program, which will most likely result in sustained higher funding rates. If the Pentagon believes it might be able to protect against a Russian strike, it will take steps to do so.
Of more direct danger to Russia are potential evolutions in Chinese military thinking. Beijing still smarts from the chunks of territory it lost to Russia in the unequal treaties of the 19th century. Aside from Taiwan, such lands are the only pieces of “China” that Beijing has not yet been able to assert control over. Demographic pressures — there are fewer than 20 million Russians east of the Urals compared to over 100 million Chinese just across the border from the Russian Far East — have led to a steady flow of Chinese north into Russia.
According to the Russian security services, that flow has led to the establishment of Chinese majority regions within Russia proper. From a strictly military point of view, it is the Russian nuclear deterrent that has been the uncompromising barrier to Chinese encroachment. Add in China's hunger for energy and raw materials — with Siberia's bounty of energy and raw materials — and it does not take a genius to see why Moscow will soon be casting an even more wary eye in the direction of its southern neighbor.