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Russia's New Doctrine: Two Views

Authored by Colonel James F. Holcomb Jr., Dr. Michael M. Boll. | July 1994

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In the past decade, Soviet/Russian military doctrine has experienced startling changes both in content and in the role such doctrine will play in protecting the vital interests of the state. This report focuses upon efforts during and after the Gorbachev era to establish clear national security priorities and to enumerate the ways in which military doctrine might ensure protection of the Russian national interest.

Since 1987, when the Soviet Union switched to an ostensibly defensive military doctrine, the nature of this doctrine has been a contentious issue in both Soviet/Russian policies and Western perceptions of these policies. This controversy has persisted. The most recent iteration of Russia's defense doctrine was published, with President Yeltsin's signature, in November 1993. It immediately aroused controversy in the West as being a restatement of old Soviet themes, a document for an imperial conception of defense policy, an enshrinement of military superiority over civilians in defense policy, and so forth. On the other hand, a rival current of opinion argued for its novelty and recognition of new, more realistic positions on a broad range of policy issues. As this debate continues, the Strategic Studies Institute presents two independent and differing assessments of the published doctrine.

LTC Holcomb's assessment sees in this document a conservative, even traditional approach that does not, in many cases, offer radical departures from previous policies and perspectives. The concept of doctrine is, he claims, no different than what preceded it, and the habit of worst case planning that characterized Soviet policy is also displayed here. Thus the overall perspective is shaped by an outlook that is skeptical of the West and on guard for military dangers, if not threats.

Dr. Boll, on the other hand, argues that while disagreements may flourish among Russian analysts in the West as to the relative offensive and defensive aspects of both the new doctrine and its 1992 draft predecessor that was not formally approved, there is no question that both documents are firmly integrated with the overall Russian notion of identified national interests and preferred means for their protection. Accordingly, he contends that, for the first time, modern Russian military doctrine responds to a purely national concept of self-interest and threat assessment that is not ideological in nature. Therefore, Russia now has a truly national doctrine that is set out before the world for consideration. The changes in the content of Russian military doctrine are historic in nature. But the alteration in the form of doctrine is truly revolutionary!


On November 2, 1993, the Russian Security Council and President Yeltsin finally approved the draft "Provisions of the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation."1 This long-awaited development deserves examination to determine the implications of its adoption for Russia, its neighbors and the West. Several characteristics make this document unique. First, the need for a military doctrine can be found embedded deep in the Soviet military-scientific psyche. The definition of Military Doctrine itself derives directly from the Soviet era. In the accepted draft, Military Doctrine is defined as:

A system of views officially adopted by the state on the prevention of wars and armed conflicts, on military organizational development, on the country's defense preparation, on the organization of countermeasures to threats to the state's military security, and on the utilization of the Russian Federation Armed Forces and other troops for the defense of the RussianFederation's vitally important interests.

Virtually nothing distinguishes this definition from its Soviet predecessors with one exception; that is the addition of "other troops" in the defense of Russian interests. This is a reference to internal and border troops and serves to satisfy a practical detail.

Second, the timing of the release of the doctrine lends credence to suspicions that this was one of Yeltsin's "payoffs" to the military for their "support" during the crisis in October. Indeed, a first draft Military Doctrine was published in May 1992 and was "under discussion" since that time. General Staff officers repeatedly expressed their frustration that they could not get the doctrine approved by the government due to the political turmoil in Moscow. It is interesting, then, that the first agenda item at the first Security Council meeting on October 6, after the crushing of the Parliamentary rebellion was the Military Doctrine. It also was apparently hastily done. The approved doctrine is substantially different from the May 1992 draft and there was probably little input from ministries or agencies outside of the Ministry of Defense.

Third, as the Minister of Defense, General Grachev, and others point out, it is the first time that an approved Military Doctrine has been laid down in written form. The impetus for this began in the late 1980s with the announcement of the "defensive" Warsaw Pact Military Doctrine. Originally ideologically motivated with important propaganda objectives, this impetus led to the publication in November 1990 of a draft Soviet Military Doctrine. Although never officially accepted, the precedent was set. However, the publication of the current "provisions" has different objectives and target audiences. First, it is intended to provide a compass bearing for the Russian Armed Forces, currently undergoing tremendous disruption. It is also intended to make clear to the West and the former Soviet republics what Russia considers in its interests in the "near abroad" (former republics) and the prerogatives it feels it enjoys in that regard; in short a prescription for military activities in its own sphere of influence. Finally, it serves as a warning to groups within Russia hostile to the Yeltsin regime or the Federation that the military is now prepared and capable of performing an internal role.

A final point concerning the document is that it makes clear that the Military Doctrine is an inherent part of an overall Russian Security Concept and is applicable for the "transitional period." This provides some built-in flexibility in dealing with internal and external security challenges as they arise. It is important to note that the "transitional period" is not described either in character or duration. According to General Manilov, deputy secretary of the Security Council, this was done intentionally so that "the `theses' can be adjusted to possible changes in the political, military and economic situation as well as the international situation."

There has been substantial analysis already of the content of the provisions of the Military Doctrine itself. My intention is to concentrate on the implications of some of the most important tenets as they apply to internal and external Russian policy.


1.Pravda, May 30, 1987, as translated and reprinted in Harriet Fast and William F. Scott, Soviet Military Doctrine: Continuity, Formulation, and Dissemination, Boulder: Westview, 1988, p. 286.