Strike first and strike hard?

Maren Garberg Bredesen, Junior Research Fellow at NUPI and Karsten Friis, Senior Research Fellow and head of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs’ (NUPI)

On 2 March 2019, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, gave a speech where he launched what he called a “strategy of active
defence”. It summarises Russian security thinking and the
modernization of the Russian Armed Forces – and indicates the flavour of the next Russian doctrine, expected in 2020. In this brief we will interpret this speech in view of the evolution of Russian military capabilities over the last decade, with emphasis on the role of precision-guided missiles and the role of the Russian Navy. We will argue that Russia is still likely – if not even more likely – to continue to use military force as a foreign- and security policy tool. […]

In his speech, Gerasimov displayed a particular appreciation for precision-strike capabilities, which proliferation in Russia is profoundly changing its ability to deter, threaten or destroy an adversary. The most accessible examples to mention would be the Kalibr cruise missiles, which can mounted on both submarines and other vessels, and the ground launched Iskander. The 9M729 Novator cruise missile, which triggered the break-up of the INF Treaty due to its long range, is another.
The evolution of thought surrounding the use and strategic effect of precision strike is reportedly subject to experimentation in Russian doctrinal thinking and seems to be characterised by an innate tension between the defensive and offensive. […]

Russia’s limited resources has forced it to think outside the box – both in means and ways. What could be uncomfortable about this situation is that, from a tactical military point of view, it promulgates a first-strike approach from the Russian side. In case of an escalating political conflict, the calculus may be that it will achieve more by striking early than by waiting for a broader Western mobilization. If, in a future Russian constellation of power, the military leaders are hawkish and the political leaders weak, this would be a concerning scenario. Läs artikel