Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#29 - JRL 2009-26 - JRL Home
RIA Novosti
February 6, 2009
Reducing nuclear threat: necessary conditions

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Barack Obama is planning to propose that the United States and Russia make drastic cuts in their strategic nuclear potentials, down to 1,000 warheads for each side.

The Russian media reported the news on February 4, quoting The Times as its source. The leading British paper in turn cited unnamed sources in the new U.S. administration.

Russia's response was quick and at a high level: on the same day Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia was ready to negotiate a reduction of strategic arms and sign a new agreement in place of START I, which expires this year.

The issue of nuclear parity between the U.S.S.R./Russia and the United States has been central to the two countries for decades. At present, relations in this sphere are regulated by two documents. First, it is START I. The treaty, which was signed in 1991 and put into effect at the end of 1994, limits the strategic offensive potentials of the sides to 1,600 delivery vehicles and 6,000 warheads each.

On the date of signing, the Soviet Union had 2,500 vehicles and 10,271 warheads and the U.S., 2,246 vehicles and 10,563 warheads. Cuts were to be made within seven years of the treaty coming into effect. On December 6, 2001 the sides reported fulfillment of the treaty terms and conditions. Russia said it now had 1,136 vehicles and 5,518 warheads, and the U.S. 1,237 vehicles and 5,948 warheads. START I also put strict limits on the deployment of existing nuclear forces - for example, on areas where mobile missile systems could be stationed.

In addition to START I, there is also the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), signed in 2002, which regulates strategic nuclear cuts by both sides. Although it has set a ceiling of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads for each side, it has not stipulated the number of vehicles and warheads per vehicle - each side is free to decide on the make-up of its nuclear forces. The treaty did not provide control mechanisms either - instead, the sides limited themselves to a reference to START I and to calling an implementation commission meeting twice a year.

But START I is expiring in 2009, and all its inspection and monitoring rules are stopping, too. The agreement has set no caps on decommissioned warheads and vehicles. If anything, they can be placed in storage and quickly returned to combat duty if necessary.

In the period between START I and SORT, in 1993, Russia and the U.S. signed the START II treaty, which, in particular, banned the use of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). But the treaty never entered into force, and in 2004 Russia officially withdrew from it in protest over the U.S. pulling out of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty of 1972.

As a result, the sides may find themselves in a situation when their nuclear potentials are covered only by SORT, which has no control mechanism and which expires in 2012. It must further be remembered that Russia's economy is not strong enough to replace almost 300 Soviet-manufactured ground-based and nearly 100 sea-launched missiles within the next ten years. The pace of replacement will not allow Russia to have more than 500 vehicles and 1,700 to 2,000 warheads by the end of the next decade.

The best-case scenario provides for 2,500 warheads, while the worst-case scenario speaks of 1,000 or 1,200 units. No measures to build up the nuclear potential or increase the number of manufactured missiles will produce an instant effect but will ensure heavy spending, something unacceptable in time of the crisis.

So a new and all-embracing agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive arms, setting not only quantitative restrictions but also providing for a monitoring mechanism, is crucial at this stage.

At the same time, an agreement providing for cuts to 1,000 warheads must necessarily include limits on the deployment of a missile defense network. Undeterred by such limits, the U.S. could establish a far-flung missile defense system capable of intercepting the few surviving missiles after a pre-emptive attack.

The agreement must limit the deployment of missile defenses not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world. It should also ban the uncontrolled deployment of sea-, air- and space-based missile systems. Ideally, the U.S. and Russia could renounce attempts to create a strategic missile defense and focus their efforts on an effective theatre missile defense system. Strategically placed in various parts of the world, it could provide an effective defense against likely launches of ballistic missiles by such countries as Iran or North Korea.

The attitude to this issue could become a litmus test in the near future. If the U.S. refuses to link nuclear arms cuts to limitations on missile defenses, it will mean it is not interested in an equal and mutually beneficial agreement.