Lowering threshold of wars

New inventions and new concepts in the military technology and latest changes in military doctrines are lowering the threshold of wars and other conflicts between great powers, both with the use of conventional, non-conventional and nuclear weapons, during 2014-2019.

Key driver 1:

RMA and state-of-the-art new weapons and weapons systems enable fast and surprising offensive strikes. New doctrinal tunings lower the threshold of using nuclear weapons.

Key driver 2:

Enlargement of concept “war” enables new types of forms in “war waging” (hybrid war, proxy war, cyber war etc.)

The long list of arms control and disarmament agreements stemming from the Cold War era, have been aborted and now only the last one (New START) is left but will be highly likely eliminated in the next year. The real possibilities to get any new arms control agreements between the US-China-Russia seem exceptionally weak.

The atmosphere between great powers is so toxic and mutual mistrust so high that it will probably take the whole 2020s before any thaw is in sight. Just the legally nailed extensive sanctions by the US Congress against Russia and China prohibit any reasonable convergence between great powers.

Nuclear weapons


China is modernizing and enlarging strongly its nuclear arsenal, although so far has held officially on the concept of NFU (“no first use”). An important part of Chinese nuclear capability, besides new domestically developed missiles, will be a joint development project with Russia to construct the strategic ICBM early warning radar system. As such, this particular project is one of the most convincing evidence of exceptionally close military partnership between China and Russia.


Russia is upgrading assertively its nuclear weapons covering the whole range of its nuclear arsenal including brand new offensive weapons, delivery methods and also cutting- edge hypersonic elements.  Russia seems to adopt a new doctrine of using nukes, in “escalate to de-escalate” strategy.

The new doctrine allows Russia to continue developing and modernizing nuclear capability and reserves the right to use nuclear weapons when the existence of the state is in jeopardy, in other words Russia is prepared to use nuclear weapons in global and in regional conflicts. Russia may have placed a greater reliance on nuclear weapons even on regional conflicts and therefore some Western analysts conclude that Russia has adopted an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, where Russia might threaten to use nuclear weapons in an effort to convince the US and its NATO allies to withdraw from the conflict.

The US

The US is just deploying new low-yield nuclear warheads in its Trident missiles. The purpose of the move is to counter the “Russian threat” and according to US military authorities the measure was taken to reduce the risk of nuclear war although many critics (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists) believe this will increase rather than disease the risk of nuclear war.

Prompt Global Strike

The US started pursuing the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) program, which seeks the ability to launch precision non-nuclear strike against any target on the planet within 1 hour. PGS entailed the development of several hypersonic delivery vehicle types, including cruise missiles and gliding warheads.

Since these measures undermined the foundations of deterrence, namely Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), Russia was forced to respond. It launched several weapons programs in order to nullify US and NATO superiority in that area. This led finally to Putin’s public announcement of a range of new “wonder weapons” in March 2018.

All these measures add, in practical terms, the potential use of nukes, although otherwise stated.  In the sphere of conventional weapons, the situation is even more dangerous and getting in worse direction with accelerating trajectory.

Recent inventions in ASAT, EW, hypersonics and in other strategic segments of new arms development have caused the spiraling cycles of endless “offensive weapon – countermeasure” process and there seems to be no hamper in sight to this process.

The history is prone to telling that the longer this arms race will continue the probable appears to be the use of these new weapons and weapon systems.

Numerous official public statements by the American generals, admirals and other high-ranking military officials as well as reports and articles of think tanks, military magazines etc. have warned of the US being left behind Russia’s and China’s new state-of-the-art weapons and the present spiral of leading to large scale wars.

Monteiro’s arguments

Monteiro’s main arguments here, regarding military power and nuclear weapons, are:

A. “Nuclear states will balance against a state with preponderance of conventional power only if their long-term viability is threatened – and this will happen only if the preponderant power tries to constrain their economic growth or increase its control over their region. Otherwise, nuclear states will have little incentive to balance against a unipole”.

B. “When a systemic balance of power is absent, recalcitrant states threatened by the preponderant military power have an incentive to try to acquire nuclear weapons in order to deter these threats. The preponderant power, for its part, has an incentive to prevent these states from nuclearizing”.

As seen, these Monteiro’s arguments are very relevant and important when examining the present international situations and relations among the US-Russia-China-North Korea-Iran.

The foreign policy of the US turned to “offensive containment” in early 2010s and the above- mentioned point A. has been valid since then. The point B has been very concrete case with the US- North Korea – Iran context.

Recent events

In addition, a couple of recent incidents remind of the sensitive and tensed up atmosphere in great power relations:

  • in Russia: the extensive account report in 2017, regarding the nationwide mobilization plan from “peace time into war time”; in spring 2018 obviously the largest military mobilization exercise since the end of the Cold War, in 2019-2020 increasing amount of military drills worldwide as well as recent ASAT missile tests
  • in China: President Xi has urged publicly PLA, both in 2019 and 2020, to enhance military trainings and combat preparedness, stressing especially the will and assertiveness to win all challenges; China continues a massive buildup of military equipment and material both in the army, navy, air forces and in the nuclear armament

The whole new militarized area, “hybrid measures”, has emerged in recent years.

The increasing use of different new tools and concepts:

  • cyber measures,
  • media & internet and other informatics measures,
  • camouflaged proxy operations etc.

have caused much attention on new ways to impact, other than “traditional” use of military force.

US group of general and admirals recently released a report where they stated that China and Russia are outmaneuvering the US, using aggressive actions that fall short of war. To counter them, the US needs new ways to use the military force without shooting and broaden the thinking of “the grey zone concept”. This new area is apt to make the concept “war – peace” even more blurry.

Based on this grey zone concept, it seems that “war time” has been valid between great powers since 2014 and seems even to intensify in the near future.