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Policy brief | 21 April 2017

Beyond the Nuclear Threshold: Russia, NATO, and Nuclear First Use

Image of Alexey Arbatov

Alexey Arbatov |Head of the Center for International Security at Institute of World Economy and International Relations

Deterrence Military Doctrine NATO Nuclear Weapons Russia Russia-West Relations Euro-Atlantic Security

In the first of a new ELN Issue Brief series on arms control, Dr Alexey Arbatov examines the evolving policies of Russia and NATO on the first use of nuclear weapons.

Dr Arbatov’s brief goes beyond specific doctrinal points of concern, such as the concept of ‘escalating to de-escalate’ (the limited first use of nuclear weapons in order to force an opponent to choose between accommodation or escalation to full nuclear conflict), identifying the serious flaws in the political decision-making process that may ultimately lead to the use of nuclear weapons in Europe.

According to the author, in the present state of confrontation, a direct military conflict between Russia and NATO in Eastern Europe, the Baltic or the Black seas would provoke an early use of nuclear arms by any side which consider defeat otherwise unavoidable.

Dr Arbatov concludes with a plea that nuclear escalation in current circumstances is eminently possible, and that this must be addressed immediately by the leadership of all regional actors.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.