Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Nuclear Arms Reduction: The Process and Problems

Authors | Contents | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Conclusion | Responses (in Russian)

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Chapter 1. Trends in Nuclear Disarmament. The Drawbacks of the START I and START II Treaties

The last decade of the 20th century is characterized by cardinal changes in world politics brought about, in the first place, by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the entire system of inter-state relations that had been formed after World War II. The main feature of this system was the rigid confrontation of two military-political alliances led by the U.S.S.R. and the United States. This confrontation, founded on different ideological imperatives, resulted in colossal arms race and accumulation of enormous nuclear arsenals that far exceeded any reasonable and sufficient levels. In the bipolar world nuclear deterrence was the central element of international security. The realization of the inevitability of the retaliatory nuclear strike forced leaders of both countries to be extremely cautious and responsible in making decisions in crisis situations, which allowed to avoid an armed conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Adoption by the Soviet leadership of a new foreign policy based on the acknowledgment of integrity of the contradictory but interrelated world led to serious changes in international relations. Accepting the principle of reasonable sufficiency, the Soviet Union started to carry out a more restrained military policy aimed at maintaining national security without threatening other countries. Thus, conditions were established for a progress in negotiations on drastic reductions in nuclear arms of the two nuclear superpowers.

The signing of the Soviet-American Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) on 8 December 1987 and its subsequent implementation became the first step in this process. For the first time the Treaty included provisions for the exchange of full and detailed data for these weapons, as well as for the reliable verification of their destruction. The INF Treaty realization encouraged an emergence of new weapons reduction agreements. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Chemical Weapons Convention, the ratification of START I and the signing of START II created an unprecedented breakthrough in arms control and disarmament process. Overall, due to serious efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction international situation has improved considerably.

Formation of the Russian state demands, besides grappling with a number of domestic political and economic problems, a rethinking of the role and place of Russia in international system, maintaining its national security, defining Russia's national interests and maintaining the capability for their defense. Both realistic opportunities1 and geopolitical and geostrategic changes unfavorable for Russia that have occurred recently should be taken into account.

The ongoing discussion within Russia's political and scientific circles about the future of the world's development reveals various approaches to the evaluation of current global changes. A number of military and political experts proceed from an understanding that the world is currently in a transition from the confrontational bipolar system of international relations to a unipolar world dominated by the United States.2 NATO's recent decision to admit new states - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - illustrates that the United States guided by its national interests is, in fact, trying to strengthen its dominating role. Another group of experts think that we are witnessing the formation of a multipolar system whose centers may develop in Western Europe, Japan and an increasing power - China.

In a situation when conventional forces are in deep crisis, Russia's strategic nuclear forces are being regarded as the principal guarantor of its security. Nuclear weapons' mission is to guarantee sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as prevent from external aggression.3 This is the dominant substance of the Russian Federation's nuclear strategy.

On the other hand, the degradation of Russia's Armed Forces did not leave its elite-the strategic nuclear forces-untouched.4 The lack of resources does not allow Russia to maintain the huge nuclear potential inherited from the Soviet Union. Thus, naturally, that the ongoing discussion of perspective of Russia's strategic nuclear forces is focused on what their structure and size could be. This issue derives a particular intensity, because of the situation with the problem-ridden ratification of START II Treaty by Russia and forthcoming negotiations on the next phase of nuclear weapons reduction.

It is evident that the perspective of long-term development of Russia's nuclear policy, in accordance with its NPT obligations, is a course for gradual declining of the role and size of nuclear weapons till to their total elimination. The dynamics of nuclear disarmament should correspond to the rate of building an effective global and regional security system and increasing mutual confidence and trust among states.

As far as the near future is concerned, in the present international situation it should be rational for Russia to have nuclear forces which would be capable to carry out a non-confrontational deterrence strategy. The basic features of such a strategy, in our view, are its credibility, orientation on all directions, as well as an absence of provoking and aggressive factors. The existing Russia's nuclear forces are excessive in size and inadequate in structure to carry out this strategy.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union persistently tried and, in fact, succeeded to reach a numerical and qualitative nuclear parity with the United States. The status and development of the U.S. strategic forces remains one of the major defining factors in considerations of the future of the Russian nuclear forces.

At present, in the U.S. nuclear policy continues to rely on the premises and doctrines of the Cold War era. It is demonstrated by the U.S. Defense Department's "Nuclear Posture Review" released in September 1994.5 This document leaves practically intact the concept of the use of nuclear weapons and the substantiation of the U.S. strategic nuclear forces' size. The Nuclear Posture Review concludes that the United States should not take any steps towards reducing its nuclear arsenal below the START II levels. Besides, it underscores the necessity to keep the ability to double it rapidly in case of "emergence of a hostile government in Russia and/or failure of the arms control process in the FSU"

On the other hand, there is no doubt that today, even regardless of its nuclear potential, the United States possesses the most powerful armed forces in the world. Among other nuclear states, Britain and France are close allies of the United States, and the latter's relations with Russia and China have improved considerably lately. As far as threshold countries - India, Israel, and Pakistan - are concerned, there is low probability that a situation may arise in which the United States may decide to use nuclear weapons to deter them. Thus, today and in the foreseeable future for the United States there is no threat of the direct use of nuclear weapons. In such a situation one may expect a change in the U.S. approach to nuclear weapons and further steps towards their reduction.6

Some American experts came out with an initiative of complete elimination of nuclear weapons.7 However, implementation of this initiative would affect too many political, military and economic interests, and is hardly feasible in the near future. Most probably, in the foreseeable time the United States will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence as the foundation of its security. At the same time, it will try to reduce the nuclear threat by means of the further reductions of nuclear arsenals, de-alerting measures and non-proliferation efforts. In long-term perspective, these directions of the U.S. nuclear policy meet the interests of the Russian Federation.

Continuing reliance on nuclear deterrence and a course towards further reduction of nuclear arsenals will require the politicians of both countries to be ready to transform the nuclear deterrence as it was formed during the Cold War. It is also necessitated by the transition from a central confrontation to a situation when the main nuclear threat is associated with a possibility of accidental or unauthorized use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

De-alerting of strategic forces and the withdraw from destabilizing concepts of their use could become important steps towards further nuclear disarmament. The recently implemented agreement to de-target strategic ballistic missiles illustrates the will to move in this direction. However, this measure is more of a symbolic value since re-targeting can be accomplished within very short time.

Under new conditions, it seems necessary to reject the destabilizing concepts of preventive strike and launch on warning, and move to a more restrained concept of a retaliatory strike. In this connection the size and structure of nuclear forces should meet the requirements of defense sufficiency. This does not mean the maintenance of numerical parity but the survivability of nuclear forces at a level sufficient to deliver an unacceptable damage to the aggressor in a retaliatory strike.

De-alerting of Russian and U.S. nuclear forces and the loss of the ability to make a surprise preventive strike should also help improve stability. Of course, today this measure has natural limitations due to existence of the other nuclear states. Elimination of any advantages in the number of warheads or missiles that could be re-deployed could become another effective measure fostering trust and stability.

Obviously, transition to the concept of non-confrontational deterrence will require additional control measures over the size of nuclear arsenals, their combat readiness and the elimination of nuclear warheads. According to START I and START II, only the elimination of missiles is under control while elimination of warheads are not covered by these Treaties.

More than four years have passed since START II was signed. On 26 January 1996, the U.S. Senate recommended the Treaty for ratification. So far the agreement has not been ratified by Russia, and that has become a major obstacle for further steps in nuclear weapons reduction. Russian politicians and experts do not doubt that in order to guarantee strategic stability and equal security for both sides an agreement on new reductions should meet at least two conditions: the exclusion of unilateral advantages and strict compliance to mutual agreements.8 This seems especially important because with deep reductions even insignificant weaknesses of a treaty may lead to significant advantages of one of the parties, or create a possibility for circumvention of the Treaty.

The development of mutually acceptable agreements is known to be a very difficult process requiring mutual concessions and compromises. At the same time, violation of a treaty's balance creates problems which may sometimes become insoluble during ratification. It is at this stage that a treaty is subject to a particularly thorough and comprehensive evaluation. It seems necessary to analyze the shortcomings of the START I and START II Treaties as seen by the Russian side so that an agreement on further strategic weapons reduction does not share the fate of START II. This will help to clarify obstacles that are already in place for START III, and the circumstances under which this agreement, if reached, could pass ratification.

A number of publications in the Russian press discuss START I and II's shortcomings.9 As far as START I is concerned, they are as follows:

1. Counting rules for nuclear weapons on heavy bombers do not count the actual number of weapons.

The U.S. B-1B bomber can serve as an example. Fully loaded it can carry up to 32 weapons. However, START I counts only 1 weapon per bomber. As of 1 September 1990, the START I counting listed 2,112 weapons for 333 U.S. heavy bombers of various types, although in reality these bombers could carry 7,260 (see Table 1.1).

Counting rules were accepted under U.S. insistence. It was argued that in terms of combat effectiveness one weapon on a heavy bomber cannot be compared with one warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It seems doubtful that the United States would insist on such counting rules if its air leg did not have an obvious advantage.

2. Rather moderate limitations and control measures are placed on sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), in which the U.S. has an advantage, in comparison to Russia's mobile ICBMs, which the U.S. does not have.

Defending its position, the U.S. stated that the naval component with its high survivability is intended only for retaliatory strike and, thus, enhances strategic stability. On the other hand, according to the U.S. position, ICBMs equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVed ICBMs) are a destabilizing component since they can be used in the first strike, first of all against hardened point targets.

Such argumentation is one-sided because it does not distinguish between Russian mobile and silo-based ICBMs. Russian mobile ICBMs were built as a supplement to silo-based ICBMs for the purpose of increasing the strategic forces' survivability. On the other hand, the U.S.' arguments in defense of its naval component ignore the fact that Trident II SLBMs are capable to destroy hardened targets like silo-based missile as well as to hit soft area targets. In this sense, Trident II has a counterforce capability and is, therefore, destabilizing.

Such a lopsided approach to SLBMs and mobile ICBMs, implemented in START I, is one of the manifestations of the latter's asymmetry.

Table 1.1. Deployed U.S. Strategic Nuclear Warheads and Delivery Vehicles Before and After START I Reduction (A Possible Scenario)
Type of Delivery
Weapons on
1 September 1990
5 December 2001
Vehicle
Delivery Vehicle
Delivery Vehicles
Weapons
Delivery Vehicles
Weapons
Counted
Possible
Counted
Possible
ICBMs
Minuteman II
1
450
450
-
-
Minuteman III
3
500
1500
500
1500
Peacekeeper MX
10
50
500
50
500
Total
1000
2450
550
2000
SLBMs/SSBNs
Poseidon/Lafayette
10
192/12
1920/12
-
-
Trident I/Lafayette
8
192/12
1536/12
-
-
Trident I/Ohio
8
192/8
1536/8
-
-
Trident II/Ohio
8
72/3
576/3
336/14
2688/14
Total
648/35
5568/35
336/14
2688/14
Heavy Bombers10
B-52G
24
49
49
1176
-
-
-
B-52G
24
96
1038
2304
-
-
-
B-52H
20
93
930
1860
66
660
1320
B-1B
24
95
95
2280
93
93
2232
B-2
16
-
-
-
20
20
320
Total
333
2112
7620
179
773
3872
Grand Total Strategic Weapons (Without SLCMs)
ICBMs, SLBMs, Bombers
2013
10162
15670
1065
5461
8560

3. Under U.S. insistence, START I does not include any reduction of long-range sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). There exist only political statements from the parties that they will accept the restriction to deploy no more than 880 nuclear-armed SLCMs within the Treaty's time-frame, but their numbers are not accounted in the strategic warhead and missile totals.

In the U.S. case, we are talking about Tomahawk SLCMs. Four modifications of nuclear and conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles were designed within a single program, and by 1997 over 4,000 of them had been produced. These modifications have identical dimensions as well as many other characteristics. Production of conventional Tomahawks continues and, perhaps, will be halted in 1998, while retaining the production capability. Given that various modifications of the Tomahawk cruise missile are indistinguishable and, to a certain degree, mutually convertible, such a situation can be regarded as a potential for breaking the balance created by START I.

4. Implementation of the Treaty requires Russia to commit unjustifiably large physical and financial resources because Russia faces a much greater elimination burden than the United States.

During the consultations and negotiations over START II the Russian side took efforts to correct these and other drawbacks. As a result, the following agreements were reached.

The United States accepted a Russian proposal on warhead counting in accordance with actual number of weapons deployed on heavy bombers. However, the U.S. side gave the weapon's loading for heavy bombers for inclusion in the Memorandum of Understanding only in the last days of negotiations. For the B-1B bomber, the U.S. proposed to count only 16 weapons per bomber although the removal of excessive attachment joints was not envisioned. In response to Russian objections, the U.S. Secretary of State in a letter from 29 December 1992 gave "assurances and guarantees" that the number of nuclear weapons deployed on each U.S. heavy bomber will not exceed levels specified in the Memorandum of Understanding.

The U.S. side's consent to the Russian proposal on the actual warheads counting for bombers was countered by a proposal that each side may convert up to 100 bombers for conventional missions, and these bombers will not be included in the aggregate START II levels. It is not hard to discern that in practical terms when talking about conversion of heavy bombers the U.S. meant only its own B-1Bs since Russia is unlikely to take advantage of this provision. Nevertheless, this proposal was accepted by the Russian side. Transfer of B1-Bs to conventional mission leaves over 2,200 weapons out of the account (see Table 1.2). It appears that the United States' approach to the issue of convertible heavy bombers is supposed to help put strategic weapons in reserve by legal means.

The U.S. accepted a Russian proposal that in addition to MIRVed ICBMs which were of interest to the United States, warhead reductions should include MIRVed SLBMs which reflects Russia's interests. Based on that, the Framework Agreement and later START II included provisions that total warhead numbers on SLBMs should not exceed 1,750.

On 17 June 1992, the United States supplemented the Framework Agreement with a letter from the Secretary of State to the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs formulating a proposal to allow the downloading of ICBMs and SLBMs without the replacement of re-entry vehicle platforms. This proposal was also accepted by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs. It became a significant obstacle for START II's ratification in Russia since it creates an upload potential for U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs. Upload potential in this case refers to the number of warheads removed from ICBMs or SLBMs which can be rather easily put back during servicing of these missiles.

For Trident II SLBMs and Minuteman III ICBMs, upload potential can be over 2,000 warheads, in addition to 2,200 warheads remaining on these missiles (see Table 1.2). Thus, taking into account weapons on heavy bombers, the total U.S. breakout potential will exceed 4,000 warheads while Russia's will be around 500 warheads.

Table 1.2. Deployed U.S. Strategic Nuclear Warheads and Delivery Vehicles in 2000-2007 in the Case of START II Implementation (A Possible Scenario)
Type of Delivery Vehicle
According to START II
Possible Scenario
Delivery Vehicles
Weapons
Delivery Vehicles
Weapons
ICBMs
Minuteman III
500
500
500
1500
Peacekeeper MX
-
-
50
500
Subtotal
500
500
550
2000
SLBMs/SSBNs
Trident II
336/14
1680/14
336/14
2688/14
Subtotal
336/14
1680/14
336/14
2688/14
Heavy Bombers
B-52H
50
1000
50
1000
B-1B
-
-
93
2232
B-2
20
320
20
320
Subtotal
70
1320
163
3552
Total Strategic Nuclear Weapons (Without SLCMs)
ICBMs, SLBMs, Bombers
906
3500
1049
8240

Under U.S. insistence, the SLCM issue was not discussed during the START II negotiations.

The parties acknowledged that the implementation of START I required large expenditures and agreed that the new Treaty should be oriented towards less economically burdensome implementation procedures. As has been noted, the American side insisted on the provisions for preservation of ICBM and SLBM re-entry vehicle platforms and the external attachment joints for pylons on the B-1B bomber. At the same time, arguments in favor of Russian interests were not considered, which eventually resulted in the necessity to restructure Russian strategic nuclear forces. The Russian side could not protect its interests on the following issues:

It should be noted that Russia will be limited in its ability to compensate part of its expenditures on the Treaty's implementation with income from commercial SS-18-aided space launches because, in comparison to START I, the new Treaty presupposes a higher rate of the SS-18 elimination. Besides, Russia will have to eliminate both deployed and non-deployed missiles of this type.

Evaluating the results of the START II agreements, one can conclude that the balance of the parties' interests has been sharply broke unfavorably for Russia. Therefore, it is not surprising that the discussion of the Treaty generates a great deal of fair criticism.

Nevertheless, even the START II levels of nuclear arsenals are excessive, and further bilateral reduction of strategic offensive weapons meets the national security interests of Russia. Therefore, the ratification of START II and the renewal of negotiations on further strategic weapons reduction are necessary.



1) Russia's economic capacity is considerably lower than the U.S.S.R.'s. The Russian Federation inherited slightly over a half of the Soviet population, less than 30% of industrial potential and 20% of the GDP; Sergey Rogov, "Military Reform Under Conditions of Economic Crisis in Russia," Morskoy Sbornik, No. 3, 1997, pp. 9-14.

2) E.g., Vladimir Potemkin and Yury Morozov note the "actual existence today of the unipolar world model" in the article "Military-Strategic Stability in XXIst Century," Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye Nezavisimoi Gazety [Independent Military Review of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta; hereafter referred to by its abbreviation NVO NG - Trans. note], No. 27, 1997.

3) Some experts also point out that maintaining the leading nuclear power status is necessary not only for guaranteeing Russia's security, but from the perspective of keeping Russia's role and place in international hierarchy. See, e.g., Sergey Kortunov, "National Philosophy of Disarmament," Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 7 June 1996. In "Russian Strategic Forces of Deterrence" (NVO NG, No. 5, 14 February 1997), Igor Korotchenko also states that "strategic nuclear forces remain the only factor allowing Russia to maintain the status of a great power."

4) See, e.g., Yury Masliukov, "Degradation of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces," NVO NG, No. 2, 1997; Valery Poliakov, "Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces: The Present and the Future," Nevsky Bastion, No. 1, 1996.

5) Nuclear Posture Review: Press/Public Version.

6) Some American scientists make a similar argument. See, e.g.: The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, 1997); "An American Legacy: Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World," Final Report of the Steering Committee Project on Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction (Henry Stimson Center, 1997); Frank von Hippel, "Paring Down the Arsenal," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 1997, pp. 33-40.

7) In particular, such initiative was proposed by the former chief of the U.S. Strategic Command; General Lee Butler, National Press Club Remarks, 4 December 1996, Washington, D.C.

8) These conditions are not new. The parties used them while negotiating all earlier signed agreements on strategic weapons limitations and reductions.

9) "START II Treaty and Russia's National Security" (Center of Geopolitical and Geostrategic Prognosis, Moscow, 1993); Sergey Kortunov, "Future of Nuclear Disarmament," NVO NG, 25 April 1996; "START II: A Strike on Russia," Zavtra, No. 11-12, 1996; Irina Zhinkina, "Russia and U.S. in Nuclear Impasse: Who Is Interested in Quick Exit," NVO NG, 11 April 1996; Oleg Yerofeyev, "Naval Component of Nuclear Triad," NVO NG, 14 March 1996; Boris Sibirsky, "Strategic Nuclear Forces After START II's Implementation," NVO NG, 14 March 1996, p. 5; Valery Poliakov, "Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces: The Present and the Future," Nevsky Bastion, No. 1, 1996; Vladimir Dvorkin, "Nuclear Deterrence and START II Treaty," NVO NG, No. 3, 1997. A larger list of publications on this subject can be found at the START Web-site of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies: http://www.armscontrol.ru/start (mirror at http://blue.iris.mipt.ru/start)

10) Not including 241 B-52s which, as of 1 September 1990, were at a destruction facility at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.


Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1998.