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Vassily Lata

Doctor of War Science, Professor, Academician of the Russian Academy of War Sciences

The reduction of nuclear arsenals of the two leading global powers is in the interests of maintaining strategic stability and international security.

However, the disarmament process under START-III cannot bring about changes in the balance of forces in the area of strategic weapons in favor of one side, simultaneously creating a threat to national security of the other.

The reduction of nuclear arsenals of the two leading global powers is in the interests of maintaining strategic stability and international security. However, the disarmament process under START-III cannot bring about changes in the balance of forces in the area of strategic weapons in favor of one side, simultaneously creating a threat to national security of the other.

The reduction of strategic offensive weapons (SNF), primarily under START-III, and the deployment of the US ABM system should be considered both in their interrelation as well as with respect to the maintenance of strategic stability which is a qualitative characteristic for the whole system of international relations. Strategic stability is a state of stable strategic nuclear equilibrium between the countries–centers of power in the bipolar system of international relations maintained for a long time despite the influence of destabilizing factors. Its achievement is possible through further progressive development of disarmament and reliable prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, with effective international control and limitation of other types of weapons, and prevention of the arms race in new spheres.

As to maintaining strategic stability the US position formulated by C.Rice, national security adviser to the president, contradicts common sense. In 2003 Rice said outspokenly that the US saw no need for a new strategic stability treaty.

The United States believes that in the period until 2025 real threats for Americans from global powers can come, among others, from Russia and China. To counter these threats the United States would require large quantities of nuclear weapons.

At present strategic stability is seen as a state of political, economic, military and other relations between the countries, eliminating the threat of aggression. The main factors determining strategic stability in the world are:

  • SNF reduction and matching this reduction with the deployment of defensive systems;
  • steps taken to ensure European security;
  • countering the spread of weapons of mass destruction, missile delivery systems, terrorism etc.

It is from these positions that START III and US ABM system should be considered.

The ABM Treaty, START-1, START-2 and SORT have become very important milestones on the way towards creating and maintaining political stability. The ABM Treaty (1972) radically changed relations between the countries and the military and strategic situation over the recent years and for a long time was a stabilizing factor of international security. The states-parties to the Treaty committed themselves to prohibiting development, testing, or deployment of sea-based, air-based, or space-based ABM systems and their components, along with mobile land-based ABM systems as well as launchers for more than one interceptor missile at a time.

The Treaty also stipulated that both parties should undertake to continue active negotiations for limitations on strategic offensive arms which reached the limits of security. As a result of agreements reached and practical steps during the forty years that ensued the SNF ceiling was not only limited but considerably lowered. The required levels of SNF reduction in accordance with the ABM Treaty were achieved due to the destruction of obsolete missile systems (“Minuteman” and “Poseidon”) and B-52 heavy bombers.

By fulfilling the provisions of the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reduction (SORT), better known in the West as the Moscow Treaty (2002) the US military and political leadership planned to reduce by 2012 the combat strength of strategic offensive arms to 1,700-2,200 warheads. At the same time it was provided that if in the future US-Russian relations deteriorated significantly, the U.S. might reconsider its nuclear strategy and views on the required levels of nuclear forces.

For this reason, a significant part of nuclear warheads and launchers was transferred into a reserve pool retaining the possibility of their return into operationally deployed forces in the event of unforeseen circumstances. This is consistent with the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, contained in The Uniform Statute of the U.S. Armed Forces, specifying that the remaining strategic nuclear weapons will be transferred to the custody of storage facilities and serve as additional reserve capacity in case the need for strategic nuclear weapons rises above the level defined by the Moscow Treaty. So, in the U.S., along with the reduction in strategic offensive weapons, a considerable return potential has been accumulated. Russia has had no such opportunity.

By December 31, 2012 the US strategic nuclear forces, as a result of the implementation of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, are expected to include 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles "Minuteman-3", "Minuteman-3M", "Minuteman-3S», 14 nuclear submarines equipped with 336 ballistic missiles "Trident-2", 76 B-52H bombers and 21 B-2A bombers.

On April 8, 2010 in Prague was signed the Agreement on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START-3). It replaces the START-1 Treaty, concluded between the USSR and the USA in 1991 which expired in December 2009 and the SORT Treaty signed in 2002 by Russia and the U.S.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, President Vaclav Klaus and President Barack Obama, Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010
Photo: Pete Souza

START-3 envisages the reduction of strategic offensive forces to the following levels: 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and deployed heavy bombers; 1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed on SLBMs and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers; 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, deployed and non-deployed SLBMs launchers and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers.

SNF target levels are to be achieved primarily by reducing the number of warheads on existing launchers rather than through the elimination of delivery vehicles. Besides, some of the nuclear warheads removed from the liquidated launchers or those remaining operational are to be kept in storage facilities to ensure a rapid increase in the capacity of deployed nuclear forces. The required number of such warheads will be determined by the leadership of the United States proceeding from the interests of national security and is not subject to discussion in any agreement on nuclear arms control.

In this regard, each element of the strategic nuclear triad provides for measures to increase the composition of combat-ready and standby forces in case of emergency.

In general, the current US capability for the rapid buildup of U.S. strategic offensive forces is as follows: within 24 hours the strength of forces involved in the first nuclear strike can be increased from 643 launchers/2485 warheads to 716 launchers/2940 warheads, and within 30 days - to 764 launchers/3624 warheads.

Thus, in case of a threat the United States only by using the stockpiled nuclear warheads and launchers and without mobilizing the industry can rapidly increase by 1.5-2 times the number of nuclear warheads on combat-ready launchers of strategic offensive forces at any stage of their reduction.

Taking into account non-strategic nuclear weapons (2,010 units), by 2012 the U.S. will have 9,980 operational nuclear warheads (see Table 1).

Table 1
Armaments of US Strategic Offensive Forces by 2012

Launcher by type Number of launchers
Number of launchers
Operationally deployed In reserve Total
ICBM "Minuteman-3" 450 450 985 1435
SLBM "Trident-2" 288 1440 2160 3600
Long range strategic bombers 72 260 2675 2935
Total 810
2150 5820 7970

It is obvious -- to put it mildly -- that the comparison of nuclear potentials of the United States and Russia is not in Russia's favor. What is more -- our country is on the verge of losing its deterrent potential and the ability to ensure national security. Further decrease in the level of strategic offensive forces can have an extremely negative impact on our security, especially with the account taken of the development of global US ABM system.

Americans hold the view that the development of the American missile defense system, including the European component, will address two interrelated problems:

  • effectively track and destroy the whole range of tactical, operative-tactical and strategic ballistic means of warfare before their launching;
  • destroy ballistic missiles already launched to the target, those that evaded the impact, at all stages of their flight-path.

In the U.S. there are all the prerequisites to effectively destroy ballistic missiles before their launching in order to ensure acceptable conditions for the functioning of the missile defense system capable of coping with a quantity of targeted intercontinental missiles and warheads.

This fundamentally changes the whole view of the missile defense system which, in essence, has become not only a missile defense system, but also a powerful counterforce capable of neutralizing the Russian strategic nuclear potential.

In this regard, it appears that the main threat to Russia’ strategic ballistic capability and for the SNF in general, comes from a new U.S. counterforce potential.

That potential is further increased when the ABM structures are positioned close to the launching sites of intercontinental missiles. Ideally it is also possible to provide tracking of the launching phase, and more dangerous still, the phase where the MIRV is dispensed. In our view, at present the U.S. military and political circles are concentrating their efforts on the development of this capability.

Now the prevailing view in the US leadership is that the experience accumulated in the area of missile defense will enable Americans to take a significant step forward, upsetting the strategic armaments balance of forces in their favor. If one follows the link between START-3 and ABM systems (and they should be considered only in relation to each other), then a significant reduction of strategic offensive forces raises the effectiveness of the ABM system, with reduced costs for its development. Given that, a conclusion could be drawn that as a result of the imbalance an unpunished nuclear attack on Russia becomes possible. That has always been the goal of the US nuclear policy. This runs not only against Russian interests but also against the interests of international security and stability.

Thus, seen against the backdrop of the deployment of a global missile defense system with its European component, the reduction of our nuclear weapons under START-3 can make sense only in case of a balanced policy of the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S increasingly claims its role of a world arbiter and does not conceal the fact that the new world order is being built on the ruins of Russia, at the expense of Russia and against Russia.

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