Sergei Rogov (national security issues), 1992

Interview with Sergei Rogov, Moscow, June 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
He became Arbatov’s successor as director of the USA/Canada Institute.

Metta Spencer (MS): I’m doing research for a book on the political changes of the ’80s up to the end of the Soviet Union. And you obviously are the man to talk to about military doctrines. Why don’t we start though, this isn’t part of my research, but I would like to know about what your new project is, you are Director of the Centre For Strategic Studies…

Rogov: National Security and International Relations.

MS: OK. And that’s part of an official government…

Rogov: That’s at the Russian Parliament – the Foreign Affairs and Defense and Security Committee.

MS: I’ve just been talking … about the questions of non-provocative defense and I guess defensive defense policy which I thought was pretty well established a couple years ago. But Lev told me that this is not necessarily a closed matter, that it seemed reexamined (?). Is that true?

Rogov: Well, I think so. And besides, the whole discussion about non-offensive defense originated in a completely different historical period. It was the mid- and late ’80s, which was the highest point of arms control and the Cold War period. And the idea at the time was to establish a kind of an ideal equilibrium, something which would stabilize the competition between the East and the West, between the United States and the Soviet Union, the NATO and the Warsaw Pact. And in this respect this issue is outdated now because there’s no Cold War any longer and there’s not the NATO vs Warsaw Pact balance of forces to reorganize and stabilize [NATO vs Warsaw Pact standoff?]. The second point is that there’s total disarray(?) and confusion in this country, in the economic, political, cultural, and military sphere. Now in my opinion we have the remnants of the Soviet military machine without the Soviet Union. Only a few months ago Russia established its own defense ministry and I think it’s too early now to speak about Russia having its own defense policy, its own defence [military?] doctrine or even defense establishment(?). This is just the form of the Soviet defense establishment which is now under Russian jurisdiction but which is not really fully controlled by Russians. There is a debate going on right now about what the future Russian defense policy should be like, what kind of strategy, doctrine and defense establishment Russia should have.

This debate is going on at the time when a lot of attention needs to be paid to such pressing issues as redeployment of the forces stationed outside of Russia, and involvement of Russian military forces in ethnic and interstate conflicts which are developing on the territory of the former Soviet Union. That means that some ideas [issues?] and conclusions that seemed to be settled (?) or resolved (?) a few years ago today seem a lot less relevant. So we can talk either about the present actual situation or about the debate about the ideal future Russian defense policy. Whatever you prefer.

MS: It seems to me that the whole structure of nonoffensive capability is being challenged by the situation in Yugoslavia, where they had something close to a non-offensive posture, which seems to be ideal for an internal war. Since there is an obvious parallel between the possibility in Russia and around the perimeter of Russia, have you thought about the connection between the policy and the problems of internal war?

Rogov: Oh, probably you want to discuss the developments in Yugoslavia? [Then] you’ll have to look at a larger picture which [reflects?] the restructuring of the system of international relations. The bi-polarity collapsed, one of the superpowers has disappeared, and that means that the international system today is very much different from what it used to be. [I mean the whole period] since the Second World War. The bi-polarity was based on the Soviet-American competition, nuclear weapons playing the predominant role in the Soviet-American central (?) relationship. That resulted in the fact that use of force in this competition was marginal (?). By that I mean that violence resulting from the competition between the superpowers victimized hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Africa, South America. But the central balance, the central relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States was pretty much stable. And it was based on mutual nuclear deterrence which by definition had nothing to do with defense.

Deterrence and defense are two different things. The threat of punishment, the capability to totally eliminate the other side as a civilized nation have nothing to do with defense. Those were offensive weapons [nuclear weapons?]. Whereas conventional weapons played a secondary role, subordinate to this nuclear balance. And the role of conventional forces was limited to the areas where vital interests of the superpowers didn’t clash. That’s why the conventional balance in Europe was pretty much stable though there were some substantial disparities. The Warsaw Pact specifically had substantial superiority in ground weapons, ground equipment. And the worst case scenario … , which military planners of both sides planned, was based on the fact that both sides had pretty offense-oriented postures, and actually (?) [the?] concentration of forces which historically was possible to achieve only during the war, … … before the war. So each side was capable of starting a large scale offensive … … .

In this situation one could envisage not only a conceptual but a practical problem of how to remove the prospects [exclude the possibility?] of a surprise attack. So that brought forward not only the notion of arms control but also the notion of confidence building measures and creating some predictability of the behavior of the other side and excluding the possibility of a surprise attack without generation of forces (?).
And what we have now is a multipolar world with remaining uncertainties (?). And the most important uncertainty is related to the collapse of the Soviet Union and division and diffusion of the Soviet military power.

In that sense the conflict in Yugoslavia is a consequence of … … because of what goes on. The whole conflict in Yugoslavia became possible only because the bi-polarity collapsed because the superpowers should never [would have never permitted?] permit something like that to happen before simply out of the fears that the other side could benefit from such a division of a nation.

What we have today in the former Soviet Union and other East European countries is that the communist ideology has been replaced by a different kind of collectivist ideology – nationalism. And that corresponds to the practical task(?) of creation of a nation-state. And nationalism as an ideology is the force(?) to consolidate the nation. What we see is the revival of ugly nationalism and use of force by competing national [ethnic?] groups and national authorities, which is nothing new, we have seen it in Europe – in the 19th century in the Balkan wars, or in this century when there were conflicts between nations(?). This to some extent contradicts the conclusion that the military force was useless … … … . This conclusion which was made during the Cold War was based on a very stable balance between the superpowers when even in marginal conflicts while the superpowers could play all kinds of games and let thousands and millions of people die they would never allow a decisive victory by the other side. With the superpowers out of the picture…

MS: Why do you say “superpowers” – plural – out of the picture. There’s one that’s certainly not out of the picture. And it’s one that is also not showing any inclination to be interested in any kind of non-intervention regime.

Rogov: I disagree with you.

MS: Really?

Rogov: I don’t think that the United States can be the single superpower. There may be a notion of being a single superpower, but it’s a multi-polar system when the United States is more powerful in a military sense than most other centres of power(?) but is not the single superpower. And the collapse of the Soviet Union, the diffusion of the Soviet military power is only one of the challenges for this new system. And the other challenge is that there are other centres of power, like Germany, Japan, China and possibly [(it) is??] one of the … … centre of power. Today the United States has an overwhelming military superiority over all those centres of power. But this superiority is not … from economic superiority. Economically the United States is competing with … … Japan and Germany. And the gap between the economic might of Japan and Germany and their military second- and third-rate status(?) relative to [compared to?] the superpower is something very unusual, something which is a result of special(?) conditions of bi-polarity when the United States provided protection, provided a military and nuclear umbrella for those nations and for all those reasons … … present danger. And without such clear (?) present danger, without the ideological crusade as a driving force of … the strategy of containment (?) the very … … of the US military presence in Germany and Japan is being questioned.

MS: Sure, but what about the Persian Gulf?

Rogov: In the Persian Gulf the United States was able to utilize due to the specific conditions of the theatre – proximity of the theatre to the European … , was able to project the forces trained to … … fight a war in Europe, basically to fight a kind of war without major tactical…

MS: I mean your theory would explain it if the US showed any sign of being interested in some sort of non-intervention policy.

Rogov: Oh, I am not saying that. I am not saying that the US is not interested. I am [just] saying that the US is not going to be able to play the role of a single [the only?] superpower. And the unique conditions of the Persian Gulf War hardly can be repeated again especially at the time when the United States started very radical reductions of its presence in Europe and already this year the United States would hardly be able to accumulate the kind of concentration of forces as they did last year in the Gulf. And in three year from now it will be extremely difficult. Another factor, the one which is much more important is that that was the first war when the United States fought in support of independence which was … … .

MS: That’s true.

Rogov: And hardly the United States today has the resources, or the national will, to do something like that unilaterally. Especially with Los Angeles and other things which are happening in the United States domestically. It seems to me that this was the war (I think it’s possible to some extent to make this conclusion) when the United States was able to demonstrate its military muscles while actually fighting to protect the interests of Germany and Japan which had a lot greater interest in Middle Eastern oil than the United States.

MS: Yes, exactly. Another thing is that there was something like a six month debate in Washington before(?) … … about whether to go or not for conversion and build up the economic infrastructure or to use the resources that they had … … which by the way … … an enormous amount in the Middle East. They don’t have those resources any place else in the world. And on whether to try to use that tribute from all the other rich nations. Now we know what was decided. I hope you’re right that it won’t happen again.

Rogov: That time the United States was able to force not only the Saudis and Kuwaitis but Japan and Germany to pay. But this happened after the war. Both Germany and Japan made a national decision to allow, conditionally, but nevertheless, to allow use of their military forces outside of their national territory or in case of Germany outside of the NATO area of responsibilities. And this is the first symptom of Japan and Germany starting to think about some kind of a different military role. It seems to me that if we look at a decade or two decades from now clearly (?) the gap between the economic might and the military low status of those nations can hardly survive {far enough in the twenty-first century}. There was also a certain ratio between economic and military power. There are of course exceptions like, say, Israel. But the specific conditions that made Japan and Germany the two most pacific nations in the world are gone. And one can envisage two possible scenarios with this difference in the military power/economic power ratios of the United States on the one hand and Germany and Japan on the other. There are two ways in which the gap between the ratios can be narrowed. Either Japan and Germany would build up their military might, which economically and technologically they are capable of doing, let alone the fact that they took the political decision [to do so?]. Or the United States would reduce its tremendous, and excessive, military might. And is seems to me that the process will continue in both directions. But that also would mean that the United States while being the first among the equals in this new concept of nations is not going to be the single superpower in terms of providing the leadership and forcing the discipline and having others to follow [it?].

And another challenge is the North-South relationship. These challenges that I’ve mentioned – the collapse of the Soviet Union and the diffusion of the Soviet military power with the prospect of creation of a kind of vacuum of power on the Euro-Asian continent, the increasing role of the new centres of power, especially Germany and Japan, and the North-South relationship, all that demonstrates that the multi-polar world we are back in is not … … . It was multi-polarity which was a norm of the international system and multipolarity is extremely difficult to balance. You can balance it for some time but then you have a military conflict because the relationship of power (?) might be different. And it was the multipolar system that produced the world war.

And the collapse of the Cold War released many of the dormant conflicts which were suppressed by the discipline of bi-polarity. And it comes out that the security mechanisms which were built during the Cold War are not very much elements of this new situation. Because they were meant for the Cold War [period] and they don’t quite fit the new situation. NATO today is the only military bloc in Europe. This is the only international organization, truly international organization, which has … … . There are four military conflicts going on in Europe. It’s not only Yugoslavia but also Moldova, Georgia, and Karabakh. And NATO doesn’t know how to react.

MS: Nobody does. I mean what would you do?

Rogov: First of all, those conflicts, like in Yugoslavia, Moldova and others, could have been prevented if more caution had been taken instead of the euphoria over the collapse of the Cold War. And as far as the conflict in Yugoslavia is concerned clearly it’s … … of Germany taking a more … posture in international affairs. It was Germany that almost single-handedly … the opposition, original opposition, of other members of the European Community and the American state(?). Germany encouraged Slovenia and Croatia to push for complete independence. Without the German support they would probably have been more inclined to compromise or agreed to an evolutionary process rather than national revolutions. And Germany was able to force other members of the European Community and even the United States to adopt the position which originally they didn’t want … … . And that means that there is a certain vacuum of power now in Eastern Europe and while Germany is still busy digesting East Germans it’s a free field of German influence.

MS: I’m not actually working on the future, I’m working on the past. And there are some questions that are not totally clear to me. One has to deal with the stages that were developed for making arms control changes. … seems to have been done unilaterally. A whole lot of the initiatives were unilateral. And I wonder if you know whether that was decided as a matter of policy to do it that way early on in the Gorbachev period, whether it was decided that things would be done through unilateral initiatives rather some other way. And if so what was the debate … … before that time? And there were the debates that went afterward. The military people didn’t like it.

Rogov: My impression is different. I may be wrong but my opinion is that the decisions taken during the perestroika period by people like Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were not meant to be unilateral concessions. Those decisions really reflected their vision of the new relationship between the East and the West and this kind almost ideal stability of the relationship. But they failed to foresee the consequences of what they were doing. They failed to foresee that the domestic changes in the Soviet Union would certainly undermine East European communist regimes. And being sincere in their desire to prevent the military conflict between the East and the West and have a major reform in the Soviet Union without changing the economic, political, and ideological system of the country they couldn’t foresee the consequences of their decision not to use military force to support in Eastern Europe the kind of a regime that they wanted to change in the Soviet Union. And that’s why it was a complete surprise for them that communist regimes in Eastern Europe instead of being reformed along the lines they envisaged for the Soviet Union totally collapsed. And because of that what they were arranging, like the CESE Treaty(?), which did envisage the Soviet troops staying in…, actually legitimized the Soviet troops staying in Europe forever, now when it was ratified by the Supreme Soviet of Russia (just two days ago), it’s totally out. The arrangements that were made there have nothing to do with the present reality.

MS: But I don’t quite understand what you mean when you say they just agreed with what has happened (?). I mean when Gorbachev decided to take out half a million troops, he didn’t ask anybody; he just did it. He didn’t offer, he didn’t negotiate, he just announced that that was what was going to happen. So it looks to me like a unilateral initiative. I don’t know why you objected to the word.

Rogov: Well, it was a unilateral initiative but of a very limited magnitude. Because that was done when the Soviet military forces exceeded 4.3 million. And that was a result of a tremendous build-up in the ’80s which the Soviet economy simply couldn’t … . So in terms of changing the Soviet military posture this would have a marginal effect. For instance the decision to withdraw 5,000 tanks from Eastern Europe while the Soviet Union still had almost 70,000 tanks was in no way a significant step aimed to produce a qualitative change in the relationship [between the East and the West?].

MS: It produced a qualitative change in the mind(?)… … … . Maybe it didn’t make any difference [militarily???]

Rogov: Maybe it was a very impressive political move but if you compare it with the consequences, the whole change of the decisions made by Gorbachev at the time, … … … .

MS: Can I ask you something different? I wonder(?) to what extent, do you think, …

Rogov: The people did make announcements and to my view it had a much greater influence than, for instance, Gorbachev’s initiative to cut the Soviet forces by 500, 000. The peace movement of the ’80s demythologized the whole area of security. Let’s remember, until … the strategic relationship was really a concern of a very narrow group of cabinet [arm-chair?] strategists who developed the whole … of logic of the nuclear detente and were playing with very sophisticated schemes within this imaginary world and trying to find the way out while one can apply force even within the conditions of mutual nuclear deterrence, how one can control escalation, how one can conduct a counter strike or something like that. And while in the Soviet Union everybody, except for bureaucrats who were totally excluded from any involvement or any knowledge, even … … that was a very narrow group and the public tended to uncritically accept whatever decisions were taken. I remember the debate about the neutron bomb. It was … a debate between the German and the American … . But the Euro missile issue … brought a much greater public awareness. For the first time the foundations of the Cold War strategy were scrutinized. And in our country especially … … … because it did assist in getting non-governmental, non-bureaucratic analysis … . At such places like our institute, at some other places for the first time an independent analysis was taken. And this independent analysis by the way played an instrumental role in the formation of Gorbachev’s new political thinking.

MS: Good. Please, explain.

Rogov: Because many ideas incorporated in Gorbachev’s new political thinking were totally foreign to the traditional Soviet military thinking. Victory was supposed to be a natural consequence of military engagement. The very essence of the nuclear revolution in military technology until that period was actually denying … . If you don’t count some propagandistic slogans. And Gorbachev’s new political thinking to some extent brought the essence of alternative thinking … political posture. Whether it was successful that’s a different story. But it was a different policy, the policy which allowed to overcome confrontation and opened the way to tremendous changes in every aspect of our life. To some extent those changes were unhappy and the present instability and uncertainty and bloodshed in some places of our country where people are killing each other are totally beyond our comprehension and definitely nobody expected this to happen. If Gorbachev hadn’t made some serious mistakes delaying more radical reforms and if the West had responded earlier to Gorbachev’s initiatives, probably, what is happening now and (doesn’t allow us – ???) to really build a new security regime in Europe, the security regime which would be capable of providing not only a peace-keeping function but also a peace-making function, so if some of this had been done two or three years ago it could have been prevented. But what matters is that the old security mechanisms, both on the national and international levels, have become ineffective and insufficient for the new kinds of challenges which exist today.
Unfortunately we have to finish our discussion in five minutes, but let me come back to the question of non-offensive defense. I’m expressing my personal views related to the evolving Russian defense policy and defense budget. Nuclear weapons are going to remain the foundation of Russian security, [the guarantee?] that Russia survives, that Russia doesn’t disintegrate, that Russia remains, though not a superpower, but one of the major powers in the multi-polar world. So nuclear weapons are going to be the foundation of Russian security in my view and there is nothing defensive about nuclear weapons.

That means that in the foreseeable future there’s going to be a special relationship between the United States and Russia … … because they are the nuclear nations which have the capability to destroy each other, and this relationship is going to continue through this decade… . But it is going to be a different type of mutual nuclear deterrence relationship. The kind of mutual nuclear deterrence which developed in the ’70s and ’80s was on both sides the so- called deterrence “two”, or the second deterrence. And it’s purpose was not prevention of nuclear war but control [monitoring?] of installations, development of the whole array of means to fight in a nuclear conflict, from a very low level of violence to the exchange of attacks. What is going to happen is a result of the decision on tactical nuclear weapons, somehow a result of the ban on … … , and limitations on … … . Mutual nuclear deterrence on both sides is going to be deterrence “one”. [The kind of deterrence?] without too many means to control nuclear installations, without too many means to … a first strike oriented counter force effect(??????). It is still going to remain a mutual nuclear deterrence but the mutual nuclear deterrence which will serve mostly the purpose of prevention of nuclear war instead playing all kinds of those stupid scenarios of limited application of nuclear war. And it is going to be a much more stable kind of deterrence because it would allow both sides to retreat (?) from launch on warning, the launch on warning which for both sides has for decades been a source of jokes about the meaning of strategic stability in which each side looked like a cowboy in front of a saloon in a Hollywood movie… But still it’s going to be mutual nuclear deterrence and still it is not defensive defense or non-offensive defense. It’s offensive defense.

MS: I’ve heard that you were advocating Russian participation in SDI work.

Rogov: Me?!

MS: Yeah.

Rogov: Who told you so?

MS: A guy where I stay.

Rogov: No, it’s totally untrue. You should have a look at some of my publications and you’ll see that I’m very critical of Yeltsin’s proposal about global protection. Because that is something that would make this new mutual nuclear deterrence less reliable … . But coming back to non-offensive defense I would say that it’s an offensive defense at best or offensive deterrence, which is more correct to say. It’s possible to envisage in a more distant future, by the beginning of the next century, Russia and the United States going beyond the mutual nuclear deterrence stage toward something like what Great Britain and France have which both have the capability to destroy each other but nevertheless it’s a different type of relationship, qualitatively different from the Soviet-American relationship.

MS: You don’t foresee that for a while between Russia and the US?

Rogov: Not until the end of this decade. Because this depends not only on the intentions of these two sides but also on [their?] actual posture. And those actual postures will be a different form of this mutual nuclear deterrence of the first type by the end of this decade. Only after that it will be possible, in realistic and not propagandistic terms, to move to a different type of relationship.

In the field of conventional weapons the situation is also pretty mixed. There is no external threat to Russia nowadays in the traditional meaning of the word “threat”, like invasion or occupation, etc. Russia doesn’t have enemies. Although the threat exists potentially in the Far East. There is a threat to the underdeveloped peoples of Siberia from their neighbors – China and Japan. One can envisage a certain scenario developing in the future, especially in case of a weak, unstable and fragmented Russia. But Russian defenses cannot take the form of the defenses which the Soviet Union had which were the forward defenses. And the forward defenses demonstrated that there’s no real difference between a defensive strategy and offensive strategy because … … … … . But Russia should build these defenses on the Russian territory. And Russia cannot build a new Maginot line along the Russian border. That means that Russian defensive strategy in the conventional field would require some kind of mobile reserves. Russia’s economic situation, its international agreements, and geographical location make it impossible for it to permanently have the necessary concentration of forces at every potential war theatre. That means that Russia has to have some kind of a mobile reserve force which, if necessary, can be used at one of those theatres, especially at the Far Eastern and Southern theatres where one can envisage some problems developing in the future. And that is power projection. And here comes … … . We have a United States … in power projection strategy which is of clearly offensive nature. We have NATO developing its own power projection capabilities and I think there are reasons to think that it also, at least partially, is offensive. Although a 5,000 strong rapid reaction force doesn’t seem to me to be very threatening. And if Russia develops power projection capabilities on its territory, we will have at least three power projection capabilities which may be seen by every side as presenting a threat.

MS: No. I mean you’d have quite a different set of … , … wouldn’t be at all like NATO to the US. It wouldn’t be all battleships and all the things that… .

Rogov: The question is what kind of power projection it would be and what capacity. If, say, the Russian rapid deployment force is deployed somewhere near the Urals, it’s possible to deploy it in case of a conflict in the Far East or the maritime provinces, one can be concerned about if not a global reach kind but the kind of power projection capabilities that can be seen as a threat by others. And that in my view would be a legitimate concern. But Russia has to configurate its power projection capability in such a way that it won’t be seen as a threat by others. What makes the US power projection capability look clearly offensive is first of all the US naval forces. And Russia doesn’t need such a navy, that is the one capable of global reach. The Russian navy’s task is to defend the Russian coastline and Russian strategic submarines, but Russia doesn’t need power projection to, say, South Africa or Latin America. That means that Russian power projection should be of air-mobile type and sea-based type. But still it’s a kind of distinction which needs to be handled rather delicately. Because my concern is that even if we go successfully through the present turbulent period and the very fact that Russia is going to be a major military power can produce a new arms race, a new power competition if Russia excluded from the involvement international system, in the European and other regional security regimes. All that leads to the conclusion that there’s a need to coordinate this restructuring which has started in the United States, in the NATO, and in Russia. If we don’t have such a coordination, the consequences may be very negative and very dangerous. Although there will be no longer ideological reasons for confrontation but traditionally … … … .

MS: What kind of coordination would you like?

Rogov: On the bilateral and multilateral levels it should be both the creation of a new European security system and the revival of the United Nations … , the United Nations regional mission which worked parallel to the Cold War, and the United Nations would build the global security network. So we have to revive the military … , we have to assign forces, reassign forces by the use of the military … , the Security Council, and in my view it’s going to be the best preventive diplomacy because then the job can be done by … , and any potential aggressor, any potential Saddam Hussain will know that if he conducts [an act of?] aggression, he will face the combined forces of the major military powers.

MS: Is it out of the question now? I mean, I’ve heard people say there’s no hope any more for some kind of security system to be coordinated by the CSCE. Is that already really ruled out or could you … … … ?

Rogov: It reminds me of accusations against detente of the ’70s. Detente of the ’70s was never really given a chance, because it was regulated in the Kremlin.

MS: Yeah, I guess, that’s what I mean. But could you see Russia putting some energy in making that happen?

Rogov: No. Russia is suggesting it but clearly the CSCE cannot be the only mechanism … … . It should be the combination of the CSCE, the NATO, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and maybe some regional umbrella under the United Nations Charter. And I think it quite possible that CSCE may evolve into a United Nations regulated subregional security organization. But the CSCE doesn’t have and hardly will have its own forces and such forces can be provided by the NATO, by Russia, by some other powers. But what is absolutely necessary in my view is to prevent re-nationalization of the security policy. It should be collective decision making, and collective decisions without use of force, to make peace, and keep peace.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books