RUSSIAN NUCLEAR STRATEGY: IN SEARCH OF AMENDMENTS


14.11.06
MOSCOW. (Sergei Kortunov for RIA Novosti)

Since the U.S. State Department, three months after 9/11, said America was going to quit the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty – which it did half a year later – Moscow’s response has been conspicuous by its nearly total absence.
At that point, no one among Russia’s political elite offered a viable perspective of a future international nuclear arms control regime, heavily undermined by the U.S. unilateralism. Then, on May 26, 2002, the Russian and U.S. presidents signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, a move that sent a very clear signal – at least, to security experts’ community – that bilateral and probably multilateral nuclear arms control, in its previous shape, was history. From that point on, a new national nuclear strategy has been a most urgent imperative.
Similarly to what we witnessed four years ago, we can see now that the Bush Administration is apparently not going to have its hands tied by any arms limitation or reduction treaties whatsoever. The U.S. military policies are being significantly reshaped – not so much by the war on terror but for other, deeper reasons.
The Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, has not been ratified. Now both look completely forgotten. The Pentagon gets nearly $100 billion more a year than before. A recently adopted U.S. nuclear doctrine includes the upgrade of strategic offensive arms, the development of small nuclear munitions to be used together with smart weapons, and a premise that Washington might resort to nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.
Many Russian experts believe the recent changes to the U.S. military policy do not mean that Russia’s national security is going to be under threat, at least for 10 to 15 years to come, when the full deployment of the national missile defense system is expected. However, the abandonment of the ABM Treaty, in combination with other changes, puts the international arms control regime under question and probably sets the stage for a new international arms race.
The U.S. is making strategic moves that – naturally – call for strategic nuclear responses. In fact, the new U.S. strategy says that unprecedented terrorist attacks and a new prioritization of threats may well lower the go-nuclear threshold, which means that a nuclear capability, once used, can easily spiral out of control. The continuing proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, as well as of means of delivery, and growing regional instability add little comfort.
Amid utterly unpredictable political momentum, the U.S. has chosen to further upgrade its nuclear force, to retain the means to quickly build up its nuclear capability in time of need, and to effectively put off the table any binding and verifiable agreements with Russia on the inconvertible reduction of strategic offensive arms. On the other side of the equation, recent tests and general U.S. technological potential suggest that a workable and consistently upgradable missile defense system could be deployed already in the medium term.
All this demonstrates that the only option for Russia is to retain a great nuclear power status for at least 15 to 20 years to come – which means to rethink its nuclear plans. What we have right now was drawn up on the assumption that both START II and ABM would be in place, and that the naval and air legs, like in the U.S. nuclear triad, will grow, while the ground component will be largely reduced.
The new strategic reality suggests that we should instead maintain our ground nuclear force as long as possible, while shaping the naval and air legs so that they could fulfill both nuclear and conventional tasks. Old plans, drawn up in response to radically different challenges, are no more viable – economically as well as militarily.
In his State of the Nation Address earlier this year, the President radiated confidence on a new nuclear reality. Let’s hope it is really there.

Sergei Kortunov is chairman of the Foreign Policy Planning Committee. -0-