Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces and Deterrence
by Yuriy RUBTSOV
Rose Gottemoeller, the United States Department of State's Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance and also Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, has visited Moscow recently. The visit took place within the framework of the second round of the Obama’s reset Russia’s policy, which places the strategic arms control issues at the top of priorities list. «We will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals», Obama said in his recent State of the Union address.
According to the Foreign Policy, «Reductions, as spelled out in his 2009 speech in Prague, as part of his legacy... might be included in the next round of U.S.-Russia arms control negotiations. There is no clarity on which types of weapons might be included in the next round of U.S.-Russia arms control negotiations, but the administration is said to be open to including strategic deployed nukes, strategic non-deployed nukes, tactical nukes, and missile defense in the talks».
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Vice-President Biden discussed arms control at the 49th Munich security conference at the beginning of February.
The Obama administration believes the both sides can be protected against aggression with a smaller strategic nuclear arsenal equal to a half, or even a third of the level stipulated by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – 3 (START-3) effective since February 2011. According to it, each side is to deploy no more than 1550 strategic warheads. In October 2012 Russia was already within the limit before time with 1499 warheads while the United States had 1737 in the inventory. Further reductions may threaten Russia’s security.
The Russia’s US partners continue to perceive the strategic nuclear forces as a means to strike a potential enemy. From this point of view the arsenals the both sides possess are really redundant. It’s a long time the contemporary strategic thinking abandoned the idea prevailing in the 1960-1970s, which said thousands of warheads were required for bringing unacceptable damage to the other side. It’s not area covered, but rather striking key economic and military infrastructure targets, what destroys the enemy’s resistance potential today.
The proposals, which hat made Obama a Nobel Prize winner, had been worked out by 68 Nobel Prize winners from the Federation of American Scientists. They recommended re-targeting the strategic missiles from densely populated areas to the 12 largest Russian economic facilities - Omsk, Angara and Kirishi oil refineries, Norilsk Nickel, Magnitogorsk, and Nizhny Tagil, Cherepovets metallurgic plants, Bratsk and Novokuznetsk aluminum plants and Berezovskaya, Sredneuralskaya and Surgut power stations. The Nobel Prize winners said striking those facilities would paralyze the Russian economy and the country would lose capability to resist. According to the Federation experts, the number of targeted Russian silos has diminished by three times (from 660 to 220) and it will go down in future.
In the 1960s Robert McNamara thought that losing at least 30% of population, 70% of industrial output and around 1000 key military facilities was tantamount to suffering unacceptable damage. Today the destruction of infrastructure could be achieved with much smaller number of warheads. It makes the US and Russian potentials redundant. Still the picture is quite different if the strategic arms are viewed not as a tool of destruction but rather as an element of deterrence. According to Russia’s stance, any country committing an act of aggression against it will have to face guaranteed retaliation. The Russian strategic forces have reached the critical stage: the US missile defense is capable of intercepting 600 - 700 ballistic missiles and is being upgraded. The estimates show that only the level of 1.5 thousand warheads guarantees the capability to strike on launch. The further strategic arms reductions without reaching an agreement on missile defense will devalue the Russia deterrence potential and create new threats to the security of Russia and international security in general… Moscow doesn’t see such the reduction as an «issue to discuss in the near future». According to Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alexander Lukashevich, «We have not yet received specific proposals on further reductions of our strategic nuclear arsenals. If such proposals come, we will certainly study them carefully. Russia’s position on the issue is well-known. At the present stage, our priority is full-format implementation of the Russian-U.S. New START Treaty. After the treaty’s implementation, we would be prepared to discuss possible further steps in the nuclear disarmament area. At the same time, we will take into account all factors affecting strategic stability, including plans to deploy the U.S. global missile defense system, the absence of progress in the ratification of the CTBT (the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty) in the U.S. and other countries from the so-called list of 44, unwillingness to give up the chance to deploy weapons in space, the presence of quantitative and qualitative misbalances in conventional weapons in Europe, and others». Under the conditions, the focus on nuclear forces is a natural thing to do.
Russian Chief of General Staff Colonel – General (three stars) Valery Gerasimov, who presented his report to a conference entitled «Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century» organized by defense and security committees of Russia State Duma and the Council of Federation, said, «Strategic nuclear forces remain a priority in the development of the Russian armed forces within the foreseeable future». He pointed out, «Until 2030 the expanding of challenges and threats is expected as a result of formation of the multi-polar system.» According to him, «The priority has been given to the strategic nuclear forces to sustain their readiness for strategic nuclear containment». He cited the Topol-M and Yars intercontinental nuclear-tipped ground-based ballistic missiles, new strategic submarines, Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers as pillars of Russia's strategic forces. Gerasimov said that by 2015 the share of modern weaponry in Russia would reach 30 percent. He also mentioned air-space forces as an element of the system of strategic nuclear containment and called information space a new dimension of warfare.
Addressing the arms control issue requires a comprehensive approach. The US talks about strategic weapons reductions, but stubbornly refuses to talk about cutting tactical nuclear potentials at the time it deploys around 500 nuclear munitions on European soil. They can strike Russia and inflict the same damage as strategic arms.
The other problem is conventional high precision munitions, like sea-based cruise missiles, for instance. Their striking power is comparable with nuclear tipped weapons; they are more movable and not covered by any international agreement, which make them especially dangerous. The US sea-based cruise missiles advantage is 30 to one!