Russia surprised NATO in July by flying a pair of nuclear bombers down the Norwegian coastline during a military exercise in which Russian forces simulated a response to an attack from the West. (Unable to repel the invaders with conventional forces, the exercise involved Russian forces "firing" nuclear missiles.) And Boris Yeltsin, in a visit to China in November to urge support for Moscow's Chechnya campaign, muttered darkly about the West's forgetting that Russia is a nuclear power. Underlying the new doctrine on the use of force is an evolving strategic concept that prioritizes the need to challenge U.S. geopolitical dominance through alliances with other power centers such as China and India. Moscow's new posture coincides with a new hawkishness in Washington on nuclear matters, symbolized by the Senate's failure to ratify the Test Ban Treaty, a revival of enthusiasm across partisan lines for missile defense, and U.S. attempts to renegotiate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. All of which opens the new century with a geopolitical cold front.
Now the Kosovo fallout is turning nuclear. Russia on Friday published a new military doctrine, which lowers the threshold for the deployment of nuclear arms. The new doctrine, according to reports by the British Broadcasting Corporation, holds that Moscow will use "all forces and equipment at its disposal, including nuclear weapons, if it has to repel armed aggression, if all other means of resolving the crisis have been exhausted or proved ineffective." Moscow had previously held that using nukes was permissible only if Russia's very existence was threatened. The toughening of Russia's nuclear posture can be traced back to NATO's war in Kosovo, which for Moscow was the defining strategic event of the post-Cold War world. Russia had grudgingly accepted NATO's expansion into the Eastern European countries on its doorstep, with the assurance that the Western alliance was purely defensive and would come into operation only when one of its members was attacked. Instead, in Kosovo NATO used force to project its own will, and Russian politicians of all ideological stripe interpreted that as an imminent threat.