Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies


Does Russia Need Strategic Rocket Forces?

July 12, 2000

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On June 21 2000, Mikhail Leontyev stated in the TV program "Odnako" ("However") that the Russian Armed Forces General Staff made an offer to increase appropriations for and numbers of conventional armed forces in the nearest future at the expense of appropriations for the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF). Similar statements were made by Gennady Zyuganov in the TV program "Geroi Dnya" ("The Hero of The Day") on June 30, 2000. As it was mentioned in these programs, the General Staff plans to reduce the number of deployed missiles of the SRF to 150, and the quantity of the SRF divisions - from 19 to 2.

Historically the Soviet Union and then Russia relied mainly on the land based component (the SRF) in the development of its strategic nuclear forces (SNF), whereas USA paid most attention to sea and air components of their SNF. The reason for these contrary approaches was caused by differences in geostrategic positions of these states and conditions of their economy.

The USA always insisted on limitation and reduction of mainly land-based component at all negotiations on SALT and START Treaties. Thus, if the proposal mentioned above is implemented, the dream of the United States of America to radically reduce the land-based component of the Russian SNF will come true.

As it is known, the prospects of the Russian SNF are determined by the acting agreements between Russia (the USSR) and the U.S. (START Treaties), the Federal law "On Financing the State Defense Order for the Strategic Nuclear Forces of the Russian Federation" and decrees of the Russian President. These documents define quantitative parameters for composition of the Russian SNF over the period till 2010, main measures for the SNF development and necessary financial appropriations.

According to existing estimates, from 10 % to 15 % of military spending are required over the period till 2010 in order to maintain the SNF structure of 1500 deployed warheads (400-500 of which are in the SRF), that would correspond to limitations of START II Treaty, and possibly START III Treaty.

At the same time the indicated levels of military expenditures will ensure only partial satisfaction of procurement needs of the Russian conventional forces at their existing numbers and combat structure. Thus, even on condition that the military expenditure level consists of 3,5 - 4 % of the GDP over the period till 2010, the conventional armed forces would have only one third of their armaments ready for use in combat, and only less than 6-7% of them would be modern weapons.

Nevertheless, attempts to solve existing and really sharp problems of the conventional forces at the expense of drastic reduction of the SNF (mainly, the SRF) and reallocate the freed resources to development of the conventional forces can bring even more harm to the national security.

Weapons procurement for conventional forces can only be increased by slightly more than 6% even if the SNF liquidated completely. Less radical options of the SNF reduction and redistribution of resources in favor of conventional forces would provide with even more modest results. It is also necessary to take into consideration that suggested reduction requires additional financing of 10-15 billions Rubles ($ 360-540 millions) within the nearest three years to downsize and reorganize the SNF.

Thus, there is no reasonable basis to solve problems of increasing potential of conventional forces at the expense of the SNF only. Moreover, it is necessary to acknowledge impossibility to ensure development, maintenance and an acceptable level of readiness of conventional forces of the existing size and structure, taking into consideration the realistic prognosis of the level of military expenditures. On condition that the military spending is equal to 3,8 - 5 % of the GDP, one can only possible to maintain a conventional force of 600,000 800,000 man (if the share of modern arms does not exceed 25 %).

Besides military-economic insolvency, attempts to sharply reduce and curtail the SNF development programs create additional military-political costs. Obviously, recent bilateral consultations on offensive and defensive strategic arms do not leave any doubt, that the offered reduction and curtailment of the SNF (especially SRF) will deprive the Americans of the last stimulus for serious negotiations with Russia both on START III and ABM Treaties. At the same time the Russian Federation will is going to lose its main leverage to influence on the U.S. foreign policy.

Moreover, the START II Treaty Protocol of 1997 loses its sense. This Protocol, ratified by the Russian Federation in April 2000, prolongs the schedule of START II reductions till December 31, 2007 (instead of December 31, 2002). Since the United States have not ratified the Protocol of 1997 yet, we are going to give up the leverage, which was tested successfully during the Russian delegations visit in May of this year. According to the Russian Federal Law on START II Treaty ratification, exchange of instruments of ratification between the Russian Federation and the USA (after which START II enters into force) will be made only after approval of the Protocol and Agreed Statements in connection with the ABM Treaty by the American side. The proposal to reduce the SNF by 2003, actually returns us to the START II Treaty framework without the mentioned Protocol.

The offered redistribution of resources will not give a positive influence on the conventional forces in the wide strategic-military sense, but such a step will destroy the last pier of security, status and influence of Russia in the world the nuclear deterrence. Taking into account problems with modernization and maintenance of the sea and air components of the Russian "triad", the SRF curtailment leads the Russian real status to a level of UK and France, or even below, if prospects for the U.S. NMD and TBMD deployment are taken into account.

Pyotr Romashkin
Colonel, Ret.
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Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 2000