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#32 - JRL 2009-71 - JRL Home
April 15, 2009
Russia's Nuclear Dilemma
By Brian Whitmore
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036

It has been conventional wisdom of late that Russia has been much more interested in nuclear arms reduction than the United States.

With its nuclear stockpiles aging, Russia has long been eager to revive arms-control negotiations with the Washington.

Moreover, many analysts have pointed out that arms control treaties, with their echoes of Cold War-era superpower summitry, are psychologically important to the Kremlin because they place Russia on equal international footing with the United States.

When U.S. President Barack Obama and Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev agreed at their recent meeting in London to negotiate a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the end of the year, Russian officials broadly welcomed the move.

But in his speech in Prague on April 5, Obama put forth a vision of a nuclear free world. The goal is long-term to be sure, but it was the clearest signal yet that the White House intends to seek the deepest possible cuts in the Russian and American arsenals.

And this has some Russian defense experts nervous.

In an article in today's issue of "Kommersant," Sergei Rogov, director, USA and Canada Institute argues that the closer we get to nuclear disarmament, the more the balance of power tips to the United States:

"In recent years, however, the USA has increased its superiority in conventional weapons - high-precision non-nuclear systems capable of hitting almost any target, including targets that used to be vulnerable to nuclear weapons only. In a nuclear-free world the United States would have absolute military superiority."

This is a complete reversal of the situation during the Cold War, when the United States was reluctant to remove nuclear arms from Europe due to the Soviet Union's conventional superiority on the continent.

Rogov argues that now, nuclear disarmament would leave Russia excessively vulnerable:

"Russia is lagging far behind the U.S.A. in deploying state-of-the-art high-precision conventional weaponry; it regards nuclear weapons as a means of deterring not only a nuclear war, but also a large-scale conventional war."

Be careful what you wish for.