This strategic reality will prompt the new Russian leadership, of whatever composition and persuasion, to initiate a de-escalation of tensions in its Nordic-Baltic neighborhood in order to avoid a disabling arms race. This prospect might appear far detached from the present-day discourse on the existential confrontation between the Russian “state civilization” and the decadent, disunited and at the same time invariably hostile West. It is useful to reflect, nevertheless, that the military reforms implemented in Russia as recently as 2008-2012 were underpinned by the strategic assumption that a protracted conventional war in Europe was not an option. Russia cannot afford to proceed with militarized confrontation with the re-energized Atlantic Alliance, and its ability to recover from potential defeat in the war of Putin’s choice depends directly on returning to cooperative formats—and first of all in the Baltic region, which will then no longer be perceived as a strategic theater.


Why would Russia want to avoid a "disabling" arms race with the West? I was reading this and I was wondering why Russia would even want to participate in an arms race with the West and why it would even want to prevent the West from building up superior weapon systems. I was thinking any arms buildup is insignificant since Russia can use nuclear weapons at any time it may get invaded, so it doesn't have to match Western military spending nor have to prevent a military buildup from the West. Is there anything I am misunderstanding?

  • 3
    'disabling' is relative. Right now they seem to be outproducing the West in terms of shells etc., albeit with a bit of North Korean (and Iranian) help. Related: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/85931/… Presumably the author is talking about a long-term repeat of the fall of the USSR, under the pressure of internal economic problems. Feb 29 at 4:10
  • Do these two questions taken together answer your question? politics.stackexchange.com/questions/23382/… and politics.stackexchange.com/questions/63926/…
    – Allure
    Feb 29 at 5:24
  • 2
    Frame challenge. The fear is not about Russia being invaded from west, but about Russia not being able to invade or threaten to invade neighbors. Feb 29 at 8:37
  • At this point, the question is moot - because the race is betw US and PRC
    – Pete W
    Feb 29 at 14:26
  • 1
    It's currently facing an arms race over Ukraine, one which it's winning by being able to supply and fire far more shells and similar munitions than the Ukrainian army supplied by the West.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 29 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


In the long term you sure want to avoid being one of those two monkeys who fight under the hill, while the third monkey sitting on the hill reaps all the benefits. It's even worse when you are smaller and therefore can't really even expect to realistically win that fight under the hill.

This effect wasn't that significant when USA and USSR-led blocks participated in arms races and the rest of the world was economically insignificant. The rest of the world is now economically very significant, and, for the most part, it does not participate in arms race. So it does make sense for Russia to avoid doing so in the long term. Much better if somebody else takes this place.


Russia has lost a disabling military production war against the US before. That has cost it dearly: of the 300-million Soviet Union, 240 million of which was the former Russian Empire, it retained less than 150 million.

Nuclear weapons are only good as the last bastion of defense. It's like building a panic room out of ballistic concrete in your home. Sure, it's then almost impossible to kill you in your home, provided you hide inside and call police fast enough. But attackers can still rob you of possessions, steal your cars, and burn down the rest of your house. Actually, nuclear weapons are kind of a self-destruct mechanism for your house; leaving only the panic room.

The most rational option for Russia and most other countries that aren't in any military alliance is the middle road: to maintain a reasonably strong military that can keep the home secure, but not fall into the trap of trying to match China and the US one-for-one on military expenditure.

A linked question has cited an old clip from a British TV show. I find it a good enough illustration of why nuclear arms are not enough to repeat it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o861Ka9TtT4

  • I don't believe it is correct to attribute the fall of USSR to "losing a production war". USSR had a deeper problem of communism not being economically and politically efficient. None of USSR's problems stemmed from not producing sufficient armements.
    – alamar
    Feb 29 at 13:14
  • @alamar That, and the Chernobyl disaster, and losing the culture competition. But the strife to match the US and its bloc gun-for-gun, made even more taxing by occasionally succeeding, and the USSR's retreat from Afghanistan (even if mirrored 30 years later by the US), definitely played a role.
    – Therac
    Feb 29 at 13:22
  • Even if you lose this-competition and that-competition, your country does not have to come apart. Japan has lost a lot of competition in the last 30 years and is doing just fine.
    – alamar
    Feb 29 at 14:14
  • Japan responded to loss more productively than Russia.
    – bharring
    Mar 1 at 15:36
  • "Russia and most other countries that aren't in any military alliance" do you mean to imply that Russia does not have any military alliances? Mar 1 at 18:08

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