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This presentation was given at “The Enemy is Still Below” conference sponsored by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. California on May 31, 2002. It is reprinted with permission of LLNL.

Partnership with Russia in preventing the diffusion of submarine technology and the sale of submarines will be difficult to achieve. This proposition may sound extreme, because, since the end of the ~old War, the United States and Russia have forged a number of partnerships to stabilize what appear to be similar problems.

For example, the United States and Russia work together in partnership to establish controls on the leakage of weapons of mass destruction and their associated technologies from Russia. Just to mention the activities of some of the people in this room, Ron Lehman has been involved with the nuclear cities initiative, aimed at keeping Russian weapons scientists working on peaceful projects at home; and Jay Davis worked with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which helps fund dismantlement of those portions of the old Soviet arsenal now restricted by treaty or other international agreement. Since September 11th last year, Russia and the United States have also worked in partnership to combat terrorism.

This is not to say that the United States and Russia do not have differences and difficulties. Each nation has characteristics and ways of doing business that the other finds irritating and even provocative. Nonetheless, the record shows that the two countries can work together to solve international security problems.

Yet, building partnership with Russia to reduce the diffusion of submarine technology or even to scale back its sale of modem conventional submarines will be vastly more difficult, despite this established record of cooperation in other areas. In this presentation, I will be exploring four elements that would disincline any Russian government from responding to U.S. initiatives in this area:

  • Popular Russian resentment at U.S. global preeminence
  • Differing Russian and U.S. worldview on what constitutes an international threat
  • The Russian need for weapons export revenues; and
  • The Russian Navy’s fear of the U.S. Submarine Force.

Before launching into these four elements, I want to give my personal assessment or bias of Russia as a political system. I see Russia as a shaky democracy. It is not a temporarily weakened geopolitical foe that is licking its wounds and waiting for an opportunity again to mount a global challenge to U.S. interests, nor is it the other, pathetic extreme, a Haiti with nuclear weapons. The implications of this are profound, and the most important of them is the fact that the Russian government today must be responsive to popular feeling in some degree and popular feeling in Russia today is very anti-American.

Popular Russian Resentment at U.S. Global Preeminence

One consequence of U.S. global preeminence is a suspicion by other nations and peoples that the United States is using or abusing its overweening power to impose its own views, values, and interests onto the rest of the world. Hegemony is the word most often used to express this suspicion. Everybody in the world feels this to be the case to one degree or another-even our friends.

Many in Russia are not our friends. I am not referring just to Communist or radical nationalist political figures-Russian public opinion polling routinely shows sizeable majorities of the population to be distrustful of and antipathetic to the United States. For example, a May 11-12 Public Opinion Foundation poll, surveying 1500 respondents, revealed that only 25 percent agreed with the statement, “The United States is a friendly state.” Over 54 percent found the NATO alliance to be “aggressive,” in contrast with 38 percent in 1997 and 50 percent in 2000.1 In sum, anti-American feeling in Russia is rising. This adds to the difficulties President Putin and other Russian leaders face in continuing and expanding the various Russian and U.S. partnership initiatives.

There is a factor in Russia that goes beyond the usual reasons found in other countries for suspicion of U.S. hegemony-many Russians believe that the United States has deliberately exploited Russian weakness since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This exploitation, in their view, can be overt and direct. Russians frequently cite the expansion of NATO, despite strong and repeated objections from their country, as an example of this. Another instance in which many Russians feel the United States acted in blatant disregard of Russia’s interests is the U.S./NATO war in Kosovo, undertaken despite similarly voiced Russian objections. Although President Putin has chosen not to make an issue of them, the recent U.S. abrogation of the ABM Treaty and its stationing troops in Central Asia and the Caucasus as part of the war on terrorism are seen by many Russians as more evidence of malicious U.S. disregard of Russian interests, and exploitation of Russian weakness.

In addition to these overt examples of what they regard as U.S. exploitation, many Russians assert that the United States is subtly manipulating Russian politics and the Russian economy. The mismanaged privatization of Soviet industrial and commercial enterprises-bitterly punned on as the ” prikhvatizatsiya” or expropriation by the new Russian financial oligarchy-is laid at the feet of the United States. The current clash with America over chicken exports-Russia is the world’s largest importer of frozen U.S. chicken-is widely cheered by Russians. They see it as a long-overdue standing up against an America that callously dumps inferior product on a weak Russian market.

Perhaps nothing raises Russian ire more than memories of the blatant U.S. interference in the Russian presidential election of 1996, when we gave funding and expertise to the Yeltsin campaign in order to keep Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov from victory. Many Russians believe our real motive for backing Yeltsin was that his poor health and alleged dipsomania made him more open to U.S. pressure than any other potential candidate. Just yesterday a leading Russian political website ran an article with a title that says it all: “How a Drunken Yeltsin was Manipulated by the U.S. ”

I want to emphasize that this Russian suspicion of U.S. motives in itself does not rule out cooperation with the United States over limiting the diffusion of submarine technology and its sale of submarines to states we regard as dangerous. However, it does make any cooperation-even in areas vital to the security of the two nations-much more difficult. It also adds strength to the other elements that would inhibit a Russian government from responding to such a U.S. initiative.

Differing Perceptions of Threat

A second element militating against any Russian partnership with the United States to limit diffusion on submarine technology is that Russia has cordial relations with many, probably all, of the countries of concern that the United States currently regards as threats to global stability. As Rear Admiral Ellison put it this morning, the United States sees a threat in “rogue nations operating submarines.” Russia does not.

In fact, Russia by-and-large rejects the U.S. concept of “rogue nations” and has close relations, including weapons export contracts-with many of those states the United States regards as the most serious threats. In its diplomacy, Russia follows the traditional view that internationally recognized governments are legitimate governments. In the Russian view, unless a government is violating an existing international treaty regime or engaged in open aggression against its neighbors, its affairs are its own business.

Russia has no intention of allowing the United States to dictate with which states it may have close ties. In January 2001 Russia gave a direct notice to this effect to the new Bush administration. In the case of Iran and Nonh Korea, especially, Russia openly opposes U.S. efforts to isolate these two members of what we now term the axis of evil and is disregarding earlier pledges not to supply them with conventional weaponry and other materiel that Washington regards as destabilizing.

Russia is not greatly concerned that the weapons it exports are often targeted against U.S. military forces. Russian spokesmen have exulted, for example, in the fact that Chinese purchase of Sovremenniy class cruisers and Kilo submarines with their Moskit and Yakhont weapons systems will prevent the United States from intervening in a future Taiwan Straits crisis. So there is an important strategic justification for Russian submarine sales: they serve the helpful purpose of keeping the U.S. Navy from intimidating legitimate governments friendly to Russia while at the same time blunting the U.S. Navy’s effectiveness as an instrument of intimidation.

U.S. efforts to lasso Russia into its system of suppliers groups arms control initiatives got off to a bad start. The Russian Federation, in its first flush of enthusiasm following its establishment as a democratic government in 1992, agreed to participate in the Missile Technology Control Regime. Almost immediately, it found itself in a confrontation with the United States over a proposal to sell cryogenic rocket engines to India-a democracy with which Russia has close ties. Russia has itself been the target of U.S. export restrictions, and many Russian commentators have noted that the justifications used by the United States and NATO for intervening in the 1999 Kosovo crisis could be used against Russia for the way it prosecutes its war in Chechnya.

Put bluntly, Russia is not likely to view initiatives aimed at limiting acquisition of non-strategic submarines as a global issue. Instead, it is more likely to interpret such moves as U.S. efforts to use diplomacy to reinforce its military hegemony.

Russian Export Revenues

A third element we must take into account, in trying to involve Russia in initiatives to restrict its diffusion of submarines and submarine technology, is the desperate condition of the Russian anns industry, and the relation of this industry to the Russian economy as a whole.

Russia needs export revenues to keep its arms industry afloat, since the Russian military itself is not buying arnaments in any significant quantity whatsoever. Having no internal market for arms, Russia depends on its export market. In this market, the United States is the dominant player and Russia’s biggest competitor. Russia unsurprisingly suspects that the United States is not above using arms control restrictions to hurt its rivals in this area.

Beyond this, weapons exports are a source of rich profits for the unscrupulous. Currently a great public scandal is occurring as Baltiyskiy zavod and the Sevemodvinsk Northern Machine-Building Enterprise (Severomash) attempt to take production of export Sovremenniy class cruisers away from Sevemaya verf of St. Petersburg. China itself is satisfied with the relationship it has with Sevemaya verf and is resisting the switch in contractors. However, the two new arrivals have been able to demolish their rival through state intrigue. Severnaya verf had a head start on producing the two Sovremenniy’s it has build for China because it was able to use two uncompleted hulls left over from the Soviet period. It purchased them at nominal cost from the Russian government, but now is facing civil and criminal prosecution for fraud as the state has ballooned its evaluation of their worth and is demanding back payment of nearly a billion dollars.

In an effort to curb such scandals, President Putin has abolished the former weapons holding company ROSVOORUZHENIYE and replaced it with a new structure, ROSOBORNEXPORT. 1 However, it may well be that the only effect that this reorganization has is to replace the Yeltsin-era appointees who were able to siphon off the profits from weapons exports with officials appointed by the new Putin administration.

In sum, Russia, or at least some Russians, are unlikely to see U.S. pressure for it to scale back or stop its exports of submarines and submarine-related technology as motivated by a genuine concern for arms control and global stability. Instead, it will probably be perceived as merely as an effort to remove the Russian Federation as a competitor from the world arms export market.

The Russian Navy’s Fear of U.S. Submarines

A final factor effecting Russian willingness to back U.S. initiatives to restrict the proliferation of submarines and the diffusion of submarine technology was highlighted by a revelation of the KURSK tragedy-the Russian naval leadership is terrified of the U.S. Submarine Force. From the moment it made news of this disaster public the Russian Northern Fleet command insisted that its probable cause was collision with a U.S. or other NATO submarine.

Moreover, the KURSK tragedy highlights the fact that Russia believes that the U.S. is behind other Russian submarine losses. When he appeared on Larry King Live President Putin stated that no fewer than 19 collisions had occurred between U.S. and Russian submarines.

This leads to a vastly differing perception of submarines and undersurface operations between the U.S. and Russian navies. When, for example, in the START negotiations the U.S. pressed for the Soviet Union and then Russia to base a larger proportion of its strategic nuclear force on ballistic missile submarines, U.S. motivation was that this was the most secure basing mode. Some Russians saw this as motivated by a U.S. desire to have Russia place its most valuable strategic assets in a position where they were vulnerable to a stealthy U.S. preemption.

Finally, the Russian naval leadership is so fixated on this view that it is willing to make (and believe) absurd charges. It did so even after being long ridiculed even in the Russian press and in embarrassing the military leadership and the Commander-in-Chief himself.

Russians holding this view are likely to see initiatives by the U.S. government to curb submarine exports as merely an attempt to preserve its unique unilateral maritime dominance. Why should they support any Russian government’s willingness to acquiesce in this?

The Bottom Line

Many Russians are unlikely to believe that proliferation of modem conventional submarines is a global problem requiring concerted action. Many Russians are prepared to believe that the United States will make claims that such submarines are a global problem, in order to serve its own selfish interests. They incline to the view that, while the United States may have its own problem with nations such as Iran and North Korea-let alone China, these states are not rogues posing a threat to the entire global order. Instead, the United States opposes sale of submarines and associated technology to these states because we do not want them to be able to resist when we impose our will on them, or because we want to harm the Russian arms export industry, or because we want to maintain our naval supremacy cheaply and without modem technological challenges.

Unless there is a dramatic improvement in Russian-U.S. relations across the board, the United States has only two choices in this area. Either we must do a much better job of explaining why the spread of modem conventional submarines and submarine technology is a threat to Russia; or we must find offsets, concessions in other areas, so as to purchase Russia’s backing for us in this area.

I want to close by raising a related issue-Russia may be an important source of submarines and submarine technology to adversaries of the United States. But some of our European allies, such as Germany, are at least as significant in providing these countries of concern with the means of complicating U.S. naval operations and threatening global maritime trade.

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