MOSCOW — In an apparent reversal of a Soviet pledge never to be the first to use nuclear weapons, a senior Russian military official said Wednesday that Russia may use nuclear arms to repulse a non-nuclear attack.
Russia considers no country its enemy, believes that local conflicts and nuclear proliferation now pose the greatest security threats and will not use force except to defend itself or its allies, said Valery L. Manilov, deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, in announcing Russia's first post-Cold War military doctrine.
"Russia reconfirms its principle of non-use of nuclear weapons against any state except in cases when nuclear or non-nuclear allied forces would lead an aggression against Russia," Manilov said. He added that the new doctrine is "in complete accord with the world practices" of the United States, Britain and France.
Former Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev made the no-first-use pledge at the United Nations in June, 1982, at a time when the Soviet Union was believed to have an overwhelming advantage over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in conventional forces and could easily repel any non-nuclear attack.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 5, 1993 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Russian nuclear policy: A report in Wednesday's editions wrongly stated that when the Soviet Union pledged in 1982 that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev announced the policy at the United Nations. It was Andrei A. Gromyko, then foreign minister, who delivered the pledge on Brezhnev's behalf.
The United States, with a vastly smaller army, then and since has refused to make a similar promise. This gave the Soviets a leg up in the propaganda war, but most Western analysts considered the pledge a public relations gimmick and never believed that the Soviets would refrain from using nuclear weapons in case of attack.
With the Russian army demoralized, impoverished and in disarray, the no-first-use principle may now be seen as a luxury Russia can no longer afford, said nuclear weapons expert Bruce G. Blair of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Russian military officials have hinted that they are concerned about their ability to repulse a possible Chinese invasion without nuclear arms--even though relations between Russia and China have grown so warm of late that Russia has sold arms to China, Blair said.
"You're seeing a sense of vulnerability on the part of the Russian military because of the vulnerability of the Red Army," Blair said. "They're falling back on nuclear weapons as a security blanket."
Precise details of Russia's nuclear stance are not known; the 24-page military doctrine signed by President Boris N. Yeltsin on Tuesday night has not been made public. Manilov, an army lieutenant general, said that although public officials will discuss the outlines of the doctrine, the full text will never be published.
However, comments by other senior Russian officials Wednesday reinforced Manilov's remarks.
Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev told a press conference that Russia would not use nuclear arms against the signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed July 1, 1968--leaving open the question of under what conditions Russia might consider the use of nuclear weapons against countries that do not sign.
Manilov's boss, Security Council Secretary Oleg I. Lobov, in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia, said that nuclear war is "senseless" and that Russia advocates working out a system of collective security to prevent both nuclear and conventional war.
"But if such a war is unleashed against Russia and its allies, we will have a right to use all available means for defense of our vital interests," Lobov said.
The Clinton Administration reacted cautiously to the new Russian doctrine, saying it did not yet have enough specifics to comment. State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said Secretary of State Warren Christopher was told during his visit to Moscow last month that a change in doctrine was in the works but was not briefed on details.
Defense Secretary Les Aspin has ordered a complete review of U.S. strategic nuclear doctrine, and the first-use issue will almost certainly be addressed in that review, McCurry said.
Alexander A. Konovalov, a military expert at Moscow's U.S.A. and Canada Institute, said Wednesday's announcement "is the first official withdrawal of the doctrine of no first use" but that the move has long been discussed and should come as no surprise to the West.
From the outset, the no-first-use pledge was "an unrealizable concept" that never had credibility, Konovalov said. In fact, the lack of any guidelines governing the use of nuclear weapons increased the risk that they would be used without authorization or irrationally, he argued.
Konovalov called the policy change "a clear-cut signal that we are trying to be realists."
The military doctrine was slated to be discussed this fall in Russia's Parliament, where it was expected to come under attack by conservatives.
Some have speculated that by bringing the document before his Security Council, where it was approved unanimously, then signing it, Yeltsin avoided the potentially painful process of persuading the new legislature that is to be elected in December to approve it.