Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine

What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means

What are Russia’s plans for its nuclear weapons? As tensions between Russia and the West have grown over the last two years, Kremlin officials have appeared to emphasize Russia’s nuclear capacity and perhaps even threaten its use. This has led some Western analysts to argue that Russia now has a low threshold for nuclear war: a terrifying proposition. But is this really Russia’s strategy, or is something else going on? And either way, what might be the most effective U.S. and NATO response? In this report, the author argues that the evidence Russia has lowered its threshold for nuclear use is far from convincing. Rather, Russia’s statements and behavior indicate more a desire to leverage its status as a nuclear power—less a lowering of the threshold than a reminder that escalation is possible and that Russia must therefore be taken seriously.

Olga Oliker