Why Russia Has Let Its Nuclear Arsenal Go for Soap and Sausage

by Aleksandr Golts
in Russian, 5 Sep 95 p 7

[FBIS Translated Text] We are always short of something. Quite recently it was sausages. Now most citizens lack the money to buy that sausage and in the country as a whole there is a lack of investments to produce this sausage at a price accessible to all. But there have always been plenty of nuclear missile weapons. It is not for nothing that one foreign leader called the Soviet Union "Upper Volta with missiles." Now that Russia has inherited the Soviet nuclear arsenal in full (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus must hand over to Russia for destruction the nuclear weapons on their territory) and the implementation of the START I treaty is only beginning, the number of missiles per capita in our country is higher than in the USSR.

At the same time we do not now expect a surprise nuclear attack from any direction. If you consider that our nuclear missile arsenal, like the U.S. arsenal, is several times greater than the nuclear potentials of China, France, and Britain taken together then the desire to reduce it looks entirely natural. Under the START I treaty about 40 percent of arms are subject to reduction, as a result of which Russia and the United States will each have 6,000 nuclear warheads left. The START II treaty, which should halve the remaining quantity of arms, awaits ratification by the Russian parliament.

But it is highly likely that the ratification of START II will not proceed smoothly. Will our parliamentarians on the eve of the elections be able to let slip the chance to accuse the government of betraying national interests??? This time not only the extreme opposition is calling for caution in ratifying the treaty. Doubts are being voiced by very sober experts including supporters in principle of START II. The point is that the treaty signed during the U.S.-Russian "honeymoon" requires a degree of mutual trust which cannot be established by any reciprocal checks, however scrupulous.

START II in terms of its philosophy was a departure from the concept of mutual assured destruction which for decades was the basis of the military balance between Moscow and Washington. The two sides' security was guaranteed by the very precise correspondence of their arsenals' combat potential. But under the treaty Russia undertakes to destroy those weapons which most frightened the United States: MIRV'd missiles. In exchange, the United States agreed to reduce warheads on sea-launched and ground-launched missiles and to restrict the deployment of strategic aircraft. Here our reductions were entirely feasible: We must destroy 154 "heavy" RS-20 missiles and the same number of RS-22 launchers. In addition we must eliminate several submarines. The Americans are thus deprived of over 50 MX missiles. And from the rest they will simply remove a certain number of warheads. And 100 strategic bombers will simply be called "non-nuclear." Specialists believe that the Americans will be able to restore their potential in just a few weeks without spending large amounts of money.

But that is not the only point. Already at the time the treaty was signed in early 1993 it was clear that, having eliminated its "heavy" missiles Moscow would in fact be changing the structure of its nuclear potential. But, having acted in this way, Russia would hardly be able to achieve even the limits allowed under the START II treaty. After all, Moscow simply does not have and will not have in the immediate future the money to build the necessary number of single-warhead ground-launched missiles and strategic bombers. It is true that we did not have too many opportunities for maintaining the missiles which we agreed to reduce. Those missiles, like the spare parts for them, were produced in Ukraine. Leaving them meant turning our strategic potential into a hostage of the complex relations with Kiev. So that on the other hand the result is that if the treaty is not ratified the United States will gain an opportunity to retain its entire nuclear arsenal. But Russia's potential will decline of its own accord. So that in principle START II is to Russia's advantage. Where do the doubts come from?

We can come to terms with the fact that Washington will have a big potential if we are sure that across the ocean they will never assess this as a weakness and will not start to view the balance of strength from a purely arithmetical viewpoint. Otherwise there will always be a danger that they will try to put pressure on Russia. Yet the facts attest that they have not abandoned these attempts. Here is a recent example: The House of Representatives blocked in the plan for the next fiscal year the allocation of money to Russia in accordance with the Nunn-Lugar bill. The pretext consisted in the charges that Russia, in violation of the 1972 convention, was continuing to develop bacteriological weapons. It is indicative that suspicions of violating this agreement have been put forward virtually every year since the convention was concluded.

All this time diplomats have exchanged opinions about how to supplement the convention with an effective checking system. There was no need for mutual accusations. But now, in order to "put pressure on Moscow," the congressmen intend to suspend financial aid to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in implementing the START I treaty. That is in the transportation of nuclear warheads to Russia and their destruction there. If that happens then it is entirely likely that Moscow will be unable to implement the necessary reductions on time. And that will provide new food for mutual suspicions. The vicious circle will be closed. Moscow and Washington have so far been obliged to retain the old structure of global confrontation.

U.S. Congress' recent decisions attest that U.S. legislators are seeking greater security for the United States in an attempt to bypass the treaties already concluded. The Senate has just voted for the allocation of $300 million for the development and creation of an ABM system, a smaller "tactical" version of the notorious Reagan "star wars" program. The deployment of this system will undermine the ABM Treaty which is the basis of the Russian- U.S. accord on reducing nuclear missile weapons. Of course, in an attempt to obtain a "makeweight" to the existing ABM system Washington politicians are not preparing a nuclear strike against Russia but are fighting for new orders for the military-industrial complex. But it remains a fact that by adopting a unilateral decision the U.S. legislators have shown that they do not consider themselves bound to observe the existing parity.

And since that is so the question arises: Do we have enough missiles? To prevent a hypothetical nuclear attack we probably do. But to retain Russia's status as a great power -- I do not know. After all, it emerges that our partners are still thinking in the old confrontational terms and it is they and not we who are still inclined to attach too great significance to purely military means of ensuring security. This was best put by the U.S. defense secretary: "The Soviet nuclear complex is like the many- headed Hydra.... It is futile simply to cut off the warheads, we must destroy the monster itself, or new warheads will appear...."

But will the United States be able to see Russia as a partner if it acquires superiority, albeit relative, in the field of nuclear missile weapons? And will we not seem in Washington's eyes to be merely an "Upper Volta" but without missiles? With all ensuing consequences. For instance, with the possibility of threatening to apply sanctions if they do not like something in Russian policy. That way we could be without sausage as well.