Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



July 30, 2018

Russian nuclear doctrine has received much recent attention in government and academia. Some of this work draws parallels between Russia's current strategy and NATO strategy during the Cold War. Constrained by limited data, the literature on the character of Russian nuclear strategy remains ambiguous. Although a consensus exists that Russia would escalate to nuclear use in order to avoid losing a conventional conflict, what this might mean in practice is unclear. Missing from these discussions is a comprehensive account of what drives Russian strategy, the conditions under which nuclear use would occur, and the logic guiding nuclear escalation. What does escalate to de-escalate mean and what could it look like?

To fill these gaps, this talk addresses questions:How and under what conditions could nuclear escalation occur in a conventional conflict between the United States and Russia? Specifically, in a conventional conflict what type of first-use nuclear strategy could Russia adopt to prevent defeat? How could Russia use this nuclear strategy to pursue its foreign policy goals more broadly?