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Is the world in for a new cold age?

31/05/07- MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) –

Today’s strategic balance is an expression of the quantitative and qualitative alignment of forces with due account of the factors determining the strategic situation. Its parameters
form a sophisticated dynamic system; nuclear, primarily strategic weapons are one of its elements.

But the general condition of this system largely depends on its other
elements. Thus, there is an inseparable connection between offensive and
defensive arms. Both the Soviet Union and the United States acknowledged it
when signing the ABM Treaty. Indicatively, this treaty and the first
agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive arms (SALT-1) were signed
simultaneously (in 1972).

The gist of the problem is as follows: centuries-long escalation of a
sword-and-shield race (offensive and defensive weapons) has always been won
by the sword, but reached a fatal point with the invention of nuclear arms.
A shield became useless even if it could parry 99% of all nuclear strikes.
One percent would be enough to paralyze civilization. At the same time, a
scientific and technical analysis of the problem shows that offensive
weapons will continue leaving defensive arms far behind. No shield will
parry even 90% of attacking missiles.

Many factors make it impossible to consider the U.S.-declared global ABM
system as an effective protection against a massive first strike. But its
deployment will create an illusion that it is possible to repel a weakened
retaliatory strike. The illusory advantage of the first strike is one of the
main dangers inherent in a global ABM system. Any crisis will increase the
impetus for a pre-emptive strike and simultaneous measures to neutralize
enemy anti-missile defenses.

American officials are adamantly denying the fact that their ABM system will
threaten Russian security. This is what Condoleezza Rice said on this
subject: "Let's be real about this," she said. "The idea that somehow 10
interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten the
Soviet strategic return is purely ludicrous and everybody knows it."
Indicatively, she used the Cold War term “Soviet.” This is all true, but not
in case of retaliation, when it will be much easier to intercept the few
surviving missiles. Moreover, in perspective the Americans are going to
equip their missile interceptors in Poland with hit-to-kill kinetic cassette
warheads – 30 to 40 each. They will be much more powerful than 10 simple
interceptors.

The main goal of the United States is to create basic elements of the ABM
infrastructure – it won’t be difficult to build them up in the future. The
planned location of the American radar in the Czech Republic is very
convenient – it will allow the United States to detect all Russian ICBMs
within 60-75 seconds after launch and will immediately produce a
mathematical model close to the missiles’ flight paths, thereby facilitating
their interception.

Washington’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and particularly its intention
to deploy ABM elements in Europe have been subjecting Russian-American
partnership to the most serious test in the last few years. The Russian
government’s initial response was very reserved. It merely expressed
“regret.” This is quite natural considering that in the next 10 to 15 years
this will be a political rather than a military problem for Russia. Today’s
technologies cannot produce a reliable ABM system. It will be even less
effective against MIRVed ICBMs accompanied by multiple decoys in a
well-orchestrated counteraction.

Nonetheless, Moscow made a decision to extend the service life of RS-20
Satans and RS-18 (UR-100N UTTKh) missiles with multiple warheads. If they
remain in use, it makes no sense to speed up the re-equipment of
single-warhead Topol-Ms with their three-warhead versions. Be that as it
may, on May 29 Moscow announced a successful test of a new MIRVed RS-24
ICBM.

By the time the interceptor systems become combat-ready – in 2013, the
Russian ICBMs would be capable of overcoming the American ABM system. But
this is bound to create an issue of a response to offset a potential
military imbalance.

Prominent military and political leaders have made a number of statements
about potential response measures. Generally, they are described as
asymmetrical and are capable of maintaining strategic stability. In
practical terms they boil down to modernizing strategic offensive arms and
enhancing their ability to overcome any future ABM system in order to
inflict unacceptable damage on the aggressor in a massive retaliatory
strike. It is especially important to guarantee immunity of ICBMs at the
boost stage when they are the most vulnerable. One of the possible options
is to reduce this stage and make a missile maneuverable.

Nuclear warheads should be also able to maneuver at the final stage of their
flight. The first maneuverable warheads were tested in February 2005 at the
Topol-M ICBMs. Judging by all, its warhead had several maneuvering slides
and one ramjet. A warhead that slowed down during re-entry into the
atmosphere is again propelled by this ramjet to supersonic speeds, and
maneuvering slides send it into a zigzag flight with a completely
unpredictable path.

Apparently, Russia tested not simply a ballistic missile warhead but an
independent craft that an ICBM can carry to enemy targets. Chief of the
Russian General Staff Yury Baluyevsky said that missiles with maneuvering
warheads would go on combat duty in 2010.

Finally, the most often mentioned asymmetrical response to American ABM
deployment is Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from the treaty on medium and
shorter-range missiles. This option is unviable both militarily and
economically. It will require tremendous military expenditures on
large-scale R&D, re-orientation of plants to the production of new types of
weapons, construction of military bases and so on and so forth.

Maybe, this is what Washington is after – to involve Russia in a new arms
race and let it drop from exhaustion like the Soviet Union did in a
desperate bid to catch up with the United States in strategic nuclear
armaments. Contrary to the assurances of our overseas and European friends,
they do not need a strong Russia, and many became concerned when it started
rising from its knees.

During talks with U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Vladimir Putin
emphasized once again that the deployment of American ABM elements in
Eastern Europe would upset the current global balance of forces. The Russian
president said that the American plans were not a problem only for
Russian-U.S. relations but concerned the interests of all European
countries, including non-NATO members, to a greater or lesser extent.

Russia, Europe and the United States should jointly evaluate all potential
strategic risks. Otherwise, we will be in for a new cold age.

Yury Zaitsev is an expert of the Institute of Space Studies at the Russian
Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.-0-