Future of US-Russian Strategic Nuclear Weapons Reductions


Future of US-Russian Strategic Nuclear Weapons Reductions

Эксперты МГИМО: Мизин Виктор Игоревич, к.ист.н.

As the battle for ratification is starting to rage on Capitol Hill in Washington DC some US and Russian experts have already started to look beyond the limits and horizons of the new START Treaty between Russia and USA.

1. The rollback in arms control sphere and general absenteeism on this agenda during Bush-jr.’s term caused certain serene complacency in Russia. Consequently, the advent of Obama’s administration was met with cautious optimism in Moscow in anticipation that, at least, the negotiations process could be re-started. So far, despite fanfarous declarations about cooperation and partnership, strategic nuclear issues is the only area in which the US-Russian partnership has produced any meaningful progress — as it is linked to core issues of Russia’s statehood.

Professing elimination of nuclear weapons as distant and difficultly-achieved goal Russia has unequivocally has made her strategic stake on nuclear weapons. This not only fixed in doctrinal documents but is deeply embedded in hearts and minds of experts, government officials and common citizens. The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation till the year of 2020 and the new version of Military Doctrine of the RF stipulate that in present conditions Russia must possess nuclear weapons’ potential which could assure inflicting damage in defined parameters to any aggressor (a state or a coalition of states) and in any circumstances. The nuclear weapons are thus perceived as the ultimate deterrent, the instrument of prevention of any type of aggression and the major factor of protecting national security of the state and its allies, maintaining international peace and stability. Only nuclear arsenal would secure the environment in which Russia can unabatedly complete her reforming process, including the refurbishment of ailing armed forces. Nuclear weapons, by the same token, ensure the special status for Russia in the world as the permanent member of the UN Security Council and the leading international actor. So while the Western liberal thinkers multiply arguments in support of the «nuclear zero», Russian experts counteract with proliferating views on the inadmissibility of immediate unconditional nuclear disarmament — perceiving the nuclear potential as the most valuable asset that the adversaries would like to divest Russia.

2. This is why the opening of the new START talks was met from the beginning with only partly camouflaged skepticism in certain Moscow circles. Many military experts were openly stating that they would not be chagrined if the negotiations collapse. Such attitude was propped by the great alarmism and suspicions regarding Obama’s nuclear disarmament «offensive» — viewed by many Russian military as a ploy to disarm and overcome Russia (despite President Medvedev’s pronouncements in favor of the same nuclear «abolitionist» goal). Some Russian military experts opine that the removal of the risk of a major war fought with nuclear weapons paradoxically makes their «limited» use as battlefield force-enhancers in war-fighting (like striking certain well-protected underground WMD-related facilities or compact terrorists-controlled enclaves) more plausible. They do not trust the US new doctrinal shifts toward hi-tech, modern precision-guided conventional weapons citing examples of ongoing modernization and consolidation of the US nuclear weapons arsenal and the refurbishment of the design and production complex, its refusal to enact the CTBT. In this light, even despite drastically shrunk numerical importance, American plans to achieve safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile e.g. along the lines of Stockpile Stewardship program are viewed as another claim for global domination in the situation where Russian nuclear capabilities quickly dwindle what may lead to overwhelming US nuclear preponderance in the future. Commenting on President Obama’s denuclearization initiative they stress its caveat side and the admission that nuclear weapons can’t be eliminated until the single nuclear state remains in the world. Or they cite opinion pieces, like Robert Gates’ article in «Foreign Affairs» in the beginning of 2009 which stated that Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy is oriented to «…maintaining the United States' existing conventional and strategic technological edge against other military forces…» This suspicion about the real plans and intentions of the US strategists is the key factor. Most Russian military experts are unmoved by the well-developed line of argumentation articulated by the American specialists like, say, George Perkovich. All this is at best regarded as typical liberal blabbering which ignores the harsh strategic realities and at worst as the attempts to unilaterally strip Russia of its only meaningful defense capability. Many experts in Russia think that the course on the new generation on conventionally-armed strategic weapons in US arsenal could minimize or even nullify the potential of Russia’s retaliation response launched on warning. They even quote academician Andrey Sakharov’s ideas in his 1983 letter to Sydney Drell that nuclear weapons should be eliminated but it can be done only in dramatically changed international environment, in the world without expansionism, violence, with the well-protected human rights, pluralism, mutual trust and transparency.

Deplorably, like in the Cold war era, the US-Russian agenda is still grounded in arms control and global security realm while other issues like economics or technological cooperation stay on the periphery. Hopefully this could be changed with the new understanding quite recently reached by the Presidents Obama and Medvedev on the necessity to develop bilateral collaboration on these latter topics as well.

3. Meanwhile, signing of the new START treaty in Prague has become the major event of this year. It is definitely the symbolic success of two innovative Presidents and the telling sign of certain breakthrough in bilateral relations as well as in general situation in global arms control.

The new START based on START-I and SORT treaties is already well assessed. Its ratification will no doubt enhance transparency and predictability; favor the strengthening of the international nonproliferation regimes; stimulate further-on process of nuclear disarmament including its eventual multilateralization. It is very important that the negotiations were held in friendly cooperative manner, despite the host of divergences at their start, and the two sides agreed to continue discussions of the follow-on SOA reductions process as well as consultations on the ABM. It is the material proof that arms control process is back on track. Despite certain anxiety about the intensity of resistance and opposing debates, there are serious hopes that this treaty will be ratified both by the Congress with its grumbling Republican senators and by the Russian State Duma with its US-suspicious deputies.

It is the fact that treaty that fully responds to Russia’s national interests as it basically caps the status quo in the really existing strategic forces with the prospects of their natural (and hastened) phasing out Russia can easily be under 1550 ceiling in 3–10 years.

So whither new strategic reductions? What are numerical limits? Where to from here?

Most Russian military now agree that the process of strategic arms control has reached a certain plateau level. Both the US and Russian military seem to be reluctant of further cuts. Further deep cuts are possible only if certain basic factors are taken into account or eliminated:

First of all, this regards the new dimensions of strategic stability. If we continue reducing the number of warheads their diminished number can be theoretically knocked out by a first strike, even if they are to be based in mobile or somehow concealed or sheltered mode. Thais eventuality is even more plausible if the sharply reduced numbers are secured by the national ABM systems which guarantee the inefficiency of even highly weakened parameters of a retaliation strike.

Moreover, if the US and Russian potentials are starkly reduced they become comparable with other, especially non-official nuclear states’ potentials what brings about totally new situation in strategic stability while downgrading Washington and Moscow to a non-enviable status of regional nuclear «barons». Moscow is especially strongly alarmed, if tacitly, by the quickly increasing China’s military potential. Thus reducing Russian nuclear forces to the level of Chinese can make Russian vulnerable to the rising Beijing’s prevalence in conventional forces in the Far East.

Speaking in purely numerical sense, generally the experts agree that the next figure can be somewhere around 1300–1400 warheads then sliding down to 1200 while 1000 is the utmost lowest limit which takes into account the existing potential targets (and threats) worldwide. This is shared by many US specialists. Going lower means to undermine or to redefine the entire concept of deterrence, including extended deterrence. This is a really blocking barrier which could be removed if certain criteria are fulfilled.

First of all, non-official nuclear states must start to relieve themselves of their weapons potentials and, most important factor, the US national ABM plans a are to be really and irreversibly mothballed.

Therefore, what are the major sticking points when the discussions on further reductions resume? What are the major problems on the path to further reductions, if not to the non-nuclear world, that are well outlined in the Russian strategic mindset?

To begin with, there are, so to say, philosophical problems.

They include and also presuppose next steps in developing bilateral strategic reductions process and in strengthening strategic stability:

  • The general situation of global stability which must be made propitious for nuclear disarmament — meaning the very low level of intensity of international and regional tensions, mitigation of regional conflicts and absence of rivalry, at least between major powers, in sum, something resembling the Golden Era of Eternal Peace or the dreams of great thinkers like I. Kant and others.

In any case, the US and Russia have agreed to begin the discussion of a broader set of topics as it is stated in the recent small joint statement of Obama and Medevedev beginning with 3 major points: new venue for discussions of issues such as transparency; expert discussions of cooperation on early warning; and evaluation of such thorny matters as the future of conventional arms reductions’ process in Europe.

  • curbing of regional nuclear (WMD?) proliferation while irreversibly «disarming» non-official nuclear weapons actors
  • other nuclear states, perhaps starting with UK or France (?) are to join in the process. No doubts, it will be very hard to draw them to the negotiations’ table.
  • basic refusal of further attempts to promote global ABM or very distinct limits on national BMDs

This is the major irritant in bilateral relations and major stumbling block on the way to nuclear disarmament. Large suspicions are looming in the Russian military circles regarding it, while many Russian experts are rather skeptical regarding President Obama’s plans to curb further development of strategic ABM defense, or that according to the so-called phase-adaptive approach it will be focused exclusively on the emerging threats in Eurasia. Some Russian officials (Russian envoy to NATO Dmitri Rogozin) even say that Obama’s new plans for defensive radars and Aegis-based SM-3 interceptors in Europe might eventually prove more threatening for Russia’s retaliatory capabilities than what the Bush-jr. administration had planned. ABM was the only reasons which has delayed otherwise amazingly quick and productive negotiations on the new START.

For Moscow the link between offensive and defensive potentials in the text of the preamble to the new START, as well as its other relevant clauses e.g. banning the transformation of ABM into offensive weapons, is the key feature of the treaty while for many on the American side it has no practical or legal meaning. There are no hidden commitments/secret deals or attached Molotov-Ribbentrop-style protocols to the new treaty on the US refusal to further develop ABM systems as some Republicans speculated in the US Congress. While acknowledging the philosophic link between defense and offense it refers to reducing strategic offensive, not defensive potentials. In the same time, the agreement on joint cooperation, even beyond the JDEC concept which is now dead for years, would be a major breakthrough. According to Moscow’s unilateral statement, if to the contrary Russia will see that the configuration of the emerging US ABM is threatening to its retaliatory capability it preserve the right to abrogate the new START.

Some Russian liberal commentators think that the time has come to proceed from meaningless assessment of emerging missile threats to the designing joint plans of at least regional BMD as Russia had proposed some time ago (2000) and what is now strongly advocated by NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen. Officers could return on exchange basis to national EW and command facilities. Probably, Russia could soon formulate its own responses to the set of Obama’s proposals on collaboration on ABM. Medvedev’s recent interview to the ABC News expresses Russia’s readiness to cooperate is the promising sign.

  • A very delicate and interesting issue — non-strategic nuclear component of the US and Russian arsenals. While Obama administration is stressing the need to start discussions Russians are at best ambivalent stressing that the US must first withdraw their TNWs to the national territory. This is not feasible, even if NATO new strategy is completed, as it undermines the entire concept of extended deterrence. Russia sticks to importance of TNW as she considers herself dwarfed in comparison with NATO (China) in its conventional capabilities. At least, the initial discussions on transparency measures could be opened.
  • Russia is really concerned by US plans to create new strategic conventional component of the new triad along the lines of the US Prompt Global Strike concept. Many Russian military think this can be employed to target Russian command and control or early warning centers forcing Moscow to unleash an all-out nuclear war. This once again might seem paranoid but this only reflects Russian military feelings of inferiority complex and anxiety that Washington would act from the position of strength dictating to Russia some unbearable conditions. Thus further restraints must be put on these weapons.

Now to the practical issues which could define the outlines of the follow-on to the new START or obstruct the finalization of this next agreement.

  • The major issue as all Russians agree is the upload potential or the problem of non-deployed warheads. US have historically resisted any limits on its upload capability understandably trying to preserve a kind of hedging for any unpredictable turn of events, say, hypothetic breakout strategic armament leap by China. Russia is still worried that by downloading its missiles and storing the warheads US could then walk out of any future START limitations, like Bush-jr. has done with the ABM Treaty, and thus gain breakout capability acquiring many thousands of new operational warheads. It may be paranoid and totally in the vein of the Cold war logic but this is how it stands. According to some estimations, Americans can have from 1500–2000 to hypothetically 4000–5000 reserve warheads thus securing a considerable edge. It of course is meaningless, unless someone is going to lead protracted nuclear war methodically exchanging nuclear strikes starting with some Schlesingerian «limited options».

To prevent this new treaty must cover warheads non-associated with delivery vehicles. This entices a totally new system of the on-site verification using new generation of advanced radioactive and other detection equipment. Both US side (under Clinton) and Russia side (experts from nuclear labs) have developed conceptual outlines of some possible mechanisms. They are technically feasible) but demand only higher level of trust, transparency and political cooperation. There are no technological stoppers for on-site verification of warheads numbers, their dismantlement status, as well as, for example, the quantity or fissile materials inventory say fro the FMCT. Many of them are currently used by the IAEA. Many were devised to verify possible limits on SLCMs in inspecting nuclear subs in the bases (examined, for example, during the Black Sea experiment). The only caveat is the barrier of assuring that the secret or sensitive technology is not disclosed.

On a later stage, the more far-reaching ideas like de-activation, de-alerting, etc. can be explored which currently seem to remain the far-away fantasies but could become interesting to the in-depth analysis when the time comes to abandon MAD strategies and veer to a kind of minimal (existential) deterrence.

Точка зрения авторов, комментарии которых публикуются в рубрике
«Говорят эксперты МГИМО», может не совпадать с мнением редакции портала.

Источник: Портал МГИМО
Коммерческое использование данной информации запрещено.
При перепечатке ссылка на Портал МГИМО обязательна.
Распечатать страницу