Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Conventional Strategic Arms in the New START Treaty and Prospects for their Control and Limitation

Eugene Miasnikov's remarks at the Round-Table "Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control", FOI, Stockholm, Sweden, January 25, 2011

It is an honor and pleasure to be here today. I'd like to thank organizers for granting me such an opportunity and extraordinary reception.

You well know, that today the Russian Duma is going to approve the New START Treaty. The upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, is going to act tomorrow. Thus, the Russian side will likely complete the ratification process very soon, so that the Treaty may enter into force by the end of January or early February. Therefore, I think, our meeting is extremely useful in order to exchange ideas on what next steps need to be done to achieve the ultimate goal - a nuclear free world.

For the last couple of years there were numerous discussions in the expert community addressing this particular question. There is a general belief, that compared to the agenda of the New START talks at least three additional issues are going to emerge at the next round of bilateral US-Russian negotiations on further nuclear reductions - namely, non-strategic nuclear arms, missile defenses and strategic non-nuclear arms.

In my presentation I am going to focus on the third issue - strategic non-nuclear arms. I'll address the following three questions.

The need to have a U.S.-Russian discussion on this topic (as well as the topic of missile defenses, by the way) is caused primarily by the fact that both sides are not ready yet to abandon the concept of mutual assured destruction (MAD). The ideology of MAD is not only built in into military doctrines of the U.S. and Russia, but this fact is also widely accepted by the expert community as well. In particular, among arguments for further nuclear reductions made by my colleagues in the West, you can often see phrases like:

"An arsenal of 1000 (500, or whatever number is -E.M.) nuclear weapons is more than sufficient to allow the US military to sustain the triad to deter any plausible current and future threats or respond with devastating retaliation in case of nuclear first strike."1

Is this argument not an acceptance of the role nuclear weapons are playing in current military doctrines?

When you see proposals of Russian experts for nuclear reductions, you may notice, that they are much more reserved. You may ask - why? The answer is quite simple - compared to Americans, Russians are not that confident about survivability of their future smaller forces. Several objective reasons can explain this phenomenon.

Russian strategic forces are rapidly shrinking. Partly because of that, survivability of the Russian forces is questioned in public discussions in Russia. This has been a hot topic for at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Our colleagues in the West often do not realize, that, from the Russian perspective, survivability of smaller forces is the key issue for further nuclear reductions. Perhaps, this is the case, because for at least twenty years there were no debates in the United States about survivability of their strategic forces. There is a wide consensus that US strategic forces are survivable simply because there are submarines deployed at sea and nothing can prevent them from fulfilling their deterrence missions.

As a result Russian military experts see numerous threats to survivability of their future forces: missile defenses, high precision conventional arms, antisubmarine warfare (ASW), etc.

Russian concerns grow as the other side shifts the missions previously carried by nuclear weapons to conventional weapons instead of abandoning these missions altogether. Large U.S. investments in development of conventional counterforce capabilities also do not help diminishing Moscow's concerns. Thus, there is a widely shared consensus in the expert community in my country, that factors potentially threatening survivability of the Russian nuclear forces - strategic conventional weapons are among them - also need to be accounted for in a context of negotiations on further nuclear reductions.

Russian officials did express concerns about strategic non-nuclear weapons. At the same time, one should admit that official Moscow has not yet articulated unambiguously what kind of arms - along with conventional ICBMs and SLBMs - it regards as strategic conventional arms. Some other offensive arms like heavy bombers, long range air and sea launched cruise missiles may also fall into this category. Russian military experts consider these types of arms as a substantial destabilizing factor. New types of weapons prohibited by the "old" START Treaty but developed now within the frames of Prompt Global Strike programs, are also of concern.

The views of the U.S. side on strategic conventional arms fundamentally differ from the Russian views. Although the U.S. side admitted the impact of conventional ICBMs and SLBMs on strategic stability and agreed to set up limits on such systems in the new Treaty, nevertheless, it gives high priority to development of strategic conventional systems and, at the least, does not envisage making such systems a subject of future negotiations.

What is the current status of limiting conventional strategic range arms?

The analysis of the New START shows that the new treaty contains the following measures:

Let me just make a few points here to show you that the new START leaves strategic non-nuclear weapons in the "gray" area.

A point is frequently made, that the treaty limits conventional ICBMs. In fact, the way the US Air Force planned to deploy conventional ICBMs allows circumventing the treaty provisions. In particular, conventional ICBMs can be deployed at soft sites, which the "old" START did not allow. If so, the New START would not count such ICBMs and their launchers as "deployed" and would not limit them. Moreover, there is nothing in the treaty that requires both sides to place ICBMs at soft sites under inspection regime.

Apparently, the sides did not come to an agreement yet on how the New START would apply towards future conventional strategic systems, like, for example, missiles flying along depressed trajectories or hypersonic missiles. As indicated in Senate's resolution the U.S. side is not going to consider such arms to be new kinds of strategic offensive arms for purposes of the Treaty. In contrast, the Russian draft Federal Law of ratification of the New START states that, prior to deployment of a new type of strategic-range offensive arms, Bilateral Consultative Commission should resolve the question of applicability of the treaty provisions to this system.

Let me give one more example. The treaty allows conversion of nuclear capable heavy bombers to heavy bombers equipped for non-nuclear arms. Such a conversion does not have to be irreversible. If all the bombers of a certain type are converted to conventional ones, as, for example, B-1Bs are going to be, such type of a heavy bomber will cease to be subject to the New START limits. That means that these bombers can be based or temporary located outside the national territory with no prior notification. If the U.S. choose to do that, Russia will most likely consider such a move as a threat.

Thus, perhaps, you may find less surprising why when asked about prospects for reducing tactical nuclear weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said something like "let's first see how the United States would implement new START".

One should mention also some other problems that are beyond the scope of the New START. In particular, problems of limiting ASW activities near strategic submarine patrolling areas, limiting patrol areas of attack submarines armed with conventional long range cruise missiles, limiting deployment of tactical attack aircraft close to territories of other states, etc.

Finally, let me speak on what can be done to resolve the problem of strategic conventional arms.

You may notice, that there are some similarities between the problems of strategic conventional arms and of ballistic missile defenses. The United States justify development of strategic conventional arms, as well as that of missile defenses, by the need to face limited threats from "rogue" states. Russia considers this trend, as well as evolution of missile defenses, as a tendency that threatens survivability of its future strategic forces. Russian concerns grow, because strategic conventional arms are frequently considered in the United States as the first line of the missile defense ("pre-boost-phase defense") carrying out a task to preventively destroy threatening ballistic missiles of a "rouge" state, or, in any event, substantially lower their attack potential, and by this means increase effectiveness of the following layers of a missile defense system.

With respect to the issue of missile defenses, the sides seem to be on the way to come to the mutually acceptable solution. The U.S. side recognizes the need to resolve the issue and tries to initiate joint scientific and technical programs on missile defense cooperation with Russia. It looks like there is a hope (at least in the United States), that success of such programs will strengthen mutual confidence between the sides, so that Russia will stop considering the future U.S. missile defense system as a threat to itself. It is difficult to predict a successful outcome of the current dialog. However, even if we assume that the U.S.' approach allows to find a solution to the problem of missile defenses, a similar approach to the problem of strategic conventional arms is unlikely to work. In addition to apparent similarities between these two problems there are also significant differences.

First of all, in contrast to the dialog on missile defenses, a U.S.-Russian discussion on strategic conventional arms has not even begun yet. Second, as the dialog of the two sides on cooperation on missile defenses shows, the issue who we are going to defend against is extremely sensitive. Even taking into account that a future joint missile defense system has a defensive nature, the sides are unable yet to find a consensus on what particular threat it is going to face. Evidently, any attempt to define the source of such a threat will entail substantial political costs for Russia, which does not consider any other state as a "rogue". A hypothetical cooperation in the area of offensive arms would entail even higher costs, and first of all - for Russia.

Finally, Moscow might offer some missile defense technologies that Washington would consider interesting. However, the United States is far superior to Russia in development of precision guided munitions. Existing disbalance will apparently grow with time, since Russia is not capable to make investments in this field that would be comparable in amount with those of the United States'.

At this time solving the problem of strategic conventional arms seems possible within the frame of a dialog on strategic offensive arms only. Perhaps, the same is true for missile defense, but we will see. I believe, that an approach similar to the one used during negotiations on the New START Treaty might become more successful. Russia's primary interest was reduction of the U.S. strategic forces, and first of all the United States wanted transparency of the Russian forces. In spite of asymmetry of the interests, the sides succeeded to achieve a compromise. Similarly, a potential compromise in the next round of talks can be sought in a broader field. For example, Russia might achieve substantial benefits for itself in solving the problems of missile defenses and strategic conventional arms, provided that it makes some concessions regarding non-strategic nuclear weapons.

In any event, solution of the problem of strategic conventional weapons requires that the sides show restraint and transparency. It seems to be the only way to get out of mutual assured destruction logic.

Let me stop here. I'd be glad to take your questions. Thank you for your attention.

1) Micah Zenko, Toward Deeper Reductions in U.S. and Russian Nuclear Weapons, Council for Foreign Relation, November 2010