[Наука] MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) – Russia’s defense interests have been thoroughly tested for the past 15 years. Countries located near Russian borders are acquiring medium- and shorter-range missiles. Some of them are likely to develop nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.
The leaders of NATO, who had previously pledged not to expand the alliance to the east, have forgotten their promises. Many NATO countries have virtually refused to ratify the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. At the same time, the United States is violating the treaty’s flank restrictions and is deploying military bases in Romania and Bulgaria.
Washington’s intention to deploy elements of its National Missile Defense (NMD) system in Poland and the Czech Republic is the most important factor. Moreover, the United States refuses to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty as it wants to avoid various international law restrictions while developing new generation nuclear warheads.
By reinterpreting ambiguous START I Treaty provisions, Washington has created an impressive potential for stockpiling redundant warheads that can be used to expand the combat capabilities of its nuclear arsenal. As a rule, the U.S. side ignored Russian claims.
The START I Treaty, signed by U.S. President George Bush Sr. and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and enacted in 1994, barred the parties from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads on top of a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and bombers.
In December 2001, Russia had 1,136 delivery vehicles and 5,518 warheads, while the United States wielded 1,237 delivery vehicles and 5,948 warheads.
The U.S. Department of State estimates that, as of January 1, 2009, Moscow had 814 delivery vehicles and 3,909 warheads. However, some Russian analysts put their number at 672 delivery vehicles and 2,765 warheads, as compared to 1,198 delivery vehicles and 5,576 warheads for the United States.
The Strategic Missile Force, the mainstay of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, will continue to play a crucial role in the future. At present, it has 417 combat-ready ICBM launchers with 1,577 warheads, including 75 R-36M UTTKh and R-36M2 heavy modified ICBMs with improved specifications (SS-18 Satan, Mod4 and Mod5, respectively), 97 UR-100N UTTKh (SS-19 Stiletto) lightweight ICBM launchers, 180 land mobile Topol (SS-25 Sickle) launchers, as well as 50 silo-based and land mobile Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) ICBM launchers.
There are plans to start deploying the new RS-24 (Topol-MIRV or SS-X-29) ICBMs this year.
In principle, strategic offensive arms ought to be reduced. But calculating methods and mutual guarantees are the main issue at stake.
First of all, the United States is still trying to exclude some of its strategic offensive arms from START I ceilings, while equipping them with conventional warheads. However, such missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads in no time at all. Washington is ready to discuss the status of conventional warhead missiles in the long-term context, that is, after the drafting of a new START agreement.
Although Washington seems ready to calculate not only warheads but also delivery vehicles in line with long-term Russian demands, it does not want to count warheads in storage.
The new START negotiator, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation Rose Gottemoeller, recently told Interfax that in the history of the strategic arms limitation talks the subject of the negotiators was always constraint on delivery vehicles rather than on the warheads they carry.
“It’s a new phase and a very different approach to the strategic arms reductions we have ever had in the past. I think we have to consider it as something for the future,” Ms. Gottemoeller said.
It appears that the United States is not yet ready for such a drastic reassessment of its relations with Russia.
Moscow believes that Washington’s complete refusal to deploy elements of its NMD system in Europe is a crucial pre-condition of effective START talks.
All analysts do not doubt the fact that the NMD system’s European elements are directed against Russian ICBMs and aim to reduce the counterforce potential of nuclear deterrence forces deployed in Central Russia, namely, 321 silo-based UR-100N UTTKh ICBMs, as well as silo-based and land mobile Topol and Topol-M ICBMs with 451 nuclear warheads, in the Ivanovo, Tver, Saratov and Kaluga regions and the Republic of Mari El in the Volga Federal District.
This makes up for two-thirds of the Russian Strategic Missile Force’s ICBMs and one-third of its nuclear warhead potential.
In these circumstances, Russia must have enough nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles for breaching enemy missile defenses and inflicting guaranteed, unacceptable damage on the opposing side during a retaliatory or second strike.
Many Russian and foreign military analysts consider it necessary to introduce a certain ratio between strategic nuclear offensive arms and missile defenses. Nuclear arms cuts should go hand-in-hand with missile defense reductions, and not vice versa, as is the case today.
It appears that U.S. President Barack Obama plans to slow down the NMD system’s build-up.
However, the impression that follows tells that this intention is nothing more than an illusion.
Washington may temporarily mothball the deployment of a global missile defense system and instead prioritize R&D projects and more effective missile interception methods, only to subsequently implement them at an appropriate time.
On December 13, 2001, President George W. Bush gave Russia notice of the United States' withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty. Washington quickly withdrew from the treaty, after it stopped matching U.S. interests.
The United States might decide to deploy elements of its NMD system in Eastern and also Western Europe after Russia fulfils its commitments under a new START treaty. The NMD system would then target surviving elements of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.
The whole world would stand to gain if Russia and the United States sign documents facilitating long-term stability. However, mutual disagreements will prevent this from happening either by December 5 when the START I Treaty expires or, even less probable, in the run-up to the Medvedev-Obama summit, scheduled to be held in Moscow in early July.
At the same time, a sense of disquiet emerges from statements made by some Russian officials that the document could be promptly drafted if political will is displayed. These statements probably imply that Moscow could make unilateral concessions running counter to Russian interests and could allow Washington to gain an advantage.
In this context, it would be appropriate to mention some historical aspects of previous “prompt” disarmament agreements, as well as unilateral concessions and strategic blunders made by the Soviet Union and Russia.
For instance, contrary to common sense, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to list OTR-23 Oka (SS-23 Spider) mobile theater missiles among those missiles earmarked for elimination under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). This was a mistake because the Oka did not match the specifications of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles.
Sergei Nepobedimy, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the renowned designer of various Soviet missile systems, including the Oka, remarked that Gorbachev and his Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had prioritized political considerations to the detriment of the national security interests.
The new Iskander-M theater level missile embodies many specifications of the Oka system, although not in full measure.
At Washington’s insistence, Moscow disbanded all divisions of railway-based ICBMs mounted on armored trains and destroyed their expensive infrastructure. Three out of six Project 941 Akula (Shark)-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (NATO reporting name, Typhoon) were also decommissioned.
Under the guise of peace initiatives of the early 1990s, Washington facilitated the destruction of Soviet-made RS-20 (SS-18 Satan) ICBMs, the most powerful ballistic missiles in history.
The then Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachyov ordered the dismantling of these missiles and their silo-based launchers, without waiting for the START II Treaty’s ratification. However, the document never entered into force, while Russia ceased decommissioning RS-20 missiles only after the United States withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty.
Instead, their service life was extended. Although the Russian Army had over 3,000 RS-20 warheads in 1990, their number has now dwindled to 700.
Leonid Ivashov, president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said that if Russia is deprived of nuclear weapons for deterring a hypothetical nuclear strike and large-scale conventional aggression, it would be virtually disarmed.
The issue at stake is whether Moscow will agree to formalize the existing strategic imbalance, an eventuality which is obviously not in its favor.
Yury Zaitsev, a veteran of the Russian Strategic Missile Force, is currently an academic consultant for the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.