The official Russian attitude toward the U.S. NMD (National Missile Defense) plans is well known. Deployment of a system to protect the nation represents a clear violation of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty, which Russia considers a cornerstone of strategic stability, a key element within a whole system of disarmament treaties, and a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons.
This attitude was reiterated by Russian officials many times and at various levels. One of the best explanations of likely Russian responses to a U.S. NMD deployment was made by Ambassador Yuriy Kapralov, Director, Department for Security Affairs and Disarmament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. In particular he stated:1)
“…The following would be the most immediate consequences of NMD deployment for the arms control process:
- The Russian Federation would discontinue the implementation of START I Treaty (it is conditioned by the preservation and strict compliance with the ABM Treaty – a statement of the Soviet side at the Soviet-American negotiations on June 13, 1991)
- The START II Treaty (ratified by the Russian Federation and not yet ratified by the United States) would not be enacted, since its entering into force and implementation are conditioned according to the law of ratification by the preservation and compliance of the US with the ABM Treaty;
- Further agreed upon reductions of strategic offensive arms (START III) would become impossible (one should be out of touch with reality to assume that it is feasible to radically reduce on a reciprocal basis strategic offensive arms and simultaneously have a national missile defense deployed for one side);
- The ongoing implementation of unilateral initiatives of 1991-1992 would be stopped and reviewed;
- The expedience of the INF Treaty in a new strategic environment would be closely examined with more chances for the Treaty to be scrapped;
- Even the CFE Treaty, recently adapted, would be put in doubt (at least that was mentioned during ratification of START II and CTBT)…”
This attitude may look steadfast and hard-edged, however it is hardly surprising to those who try to look objectively at a broader picture and understand Russian perceptions.
A wide discussion is currently underway in the community of Russian experts on likely consequences of US NMD deployment, and how Russia should respond. There is a wide spectrum of opinions and recipes on what to do. However, what most Russian experts agree on is that the current attitude of the Russian society toward arms control is increasingly negative. The primary reason for that is failed hopes for establishing true partnership relations with the West which are intensified by the continuing economic crisis in Russia.
Disarmament steps of the Russian leadership in the late 1980s and early 1990s were basically motivated by good will in the hope that the West would reciprocate rather by a well thought-out long-term strategy. Therefore, there is a dominating perception in the society that the former Russian political leadership gave away Russian strategic interests.
Negative public attitudes toward the West are intensified by some political moves of western partners, which certainly can not be regarded as friendly to Russia. These are in particular:
- Shortcomings of the START II Treaty; this Treaty means irreversible elimination of strategic delivery systems for Russia. In contrast, the United States are going to conduct most nuclear cuts by taking strategic platforms out of service;
- NATO expansion;
- U.S. plans to deploy NMD;
- U.S. and NATO policies toward resolving the Kosovo crisis;
- Reluctance of the U.S. to strictly implement the START I Treaty.
Let me also mention another concern that has not become a political issue yet. It is a growing counterforce capability of conventional precision-guided weapons, which may eventually undermine survivability of the smaller remaining Russian nuclear arsenal. This problem is probably much more important than NMD deployment and it will become a major obstacle in the next round of strategic arms cuts.2)
Unfortunately, all these developments are perceived as elements of one chain aimed at depriving Russia of its nuclear status, its last attribute as a superpower.
The situation is aggravated by the fact, that the Russian military industry continues to deteriorate. The military reform was a complete failure. In addition, the dispute between Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev and Chief of the General Staff Anatoli Kvashnin about the role and future of nuclear forces clearly demonstrated that Russia has in fact very little chance to negotiate a balanced START III Treaty.
Therefore, the Russian political leadership faces a serious dilemma: should Russia continue to restrict itself in accordance with obligations of disarmament treaties and further pursue the START process or should it go on its own in increasing nuclear forces. Currently, there is a very good opportunity to choose a second option and blame the United States of destroying the ABM Treaty and thus the whole nuclear disarmament process. The questions are:
- What can we expect from such a likely development?
- Will it mean the end of arms control?
- Is a new arms race inevitable?
- If not, can a new arms control process be created that would be more appropriate to a post cold war era with only one major superpower?
- What needs to be done to diminish negative impacts of US NMD deployment on the arms control process?
I think that these questions are only part of a broader agenda to be discussed among arms control experts. Most of these questions do not have clear answers yet. Let me just briefly summarize the views shared by my colleagues at the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies. These views are expressed in the Center’s report “U.S.-Russian Relations in Nuclear Arms Reductions: Current State and Prospects“.3)
We think that:
- Deployment of the National Missile Defense system and development of conventional precision guided weapons by the United States are aimed at devaluating Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Consequently, Russia will have to take adequate measures to ensure the efficiency of its nuclear arsenal even in view of possibly undesirable developments.
- Russia faces a hard dilemma. Objectively, it does not have an opportunity to influence the U.S. approach toward missile defenses and strategic reductions without compromising its strategic interests. The best outcome would be to achieve a balanced START III Treaty eliminating the ‘breakout potential’ in return for modification of the ABM Treaty. If this result proves to be unachievable, Russia will have to scrap the START II Treaty that limits its options in configuring its nuclear forces.
1) Ambassador Yuriy Kapralov, Effects of National Missile Defense on Arms Control and Strategic Stability, presentation at the forum “The Missile Threat and Plans for Ballistic Missile Defense: Impact on Global Security” (Rome, January 18-19, 2001)
2) This problem was particularly considered in detail in the following report: Eugene Miasnikov, Precision Guided Weapons and Strategic Balance, Center for Ams Control, Energy and Environmental Studies, November 2000
3)Anatoli Diakov, Pyotr Romashkin, Timur Kadyshev, Eugene Miasnikov and Pavel Podvig, U.S.-Russian Relations in Nuclear Arms Reductions: Current State and Prospects, Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, June 2001
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