Degradation of Russia's Nuclear Forces:
This Alarming Process Must Be Kept in Mind Constantly in Discussing the Fate of the START II Treaty

Moscow Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye 5 Feb 1997
by Yuriy Dmitriyevich Maslyukov, chairman, State Duma Committee on Economic Policy

The question of State Duma ratification of the Russian-American START II Treaty has been drawing the attention of Russian parliamentarians and the public more and more lately.

The Missile Attack Warning System is functioning in a truncated makeup both with respect to the space grouping as well as the ground component. The radars included in it are not being modernized and already have used up the warrantied service life to a considerable extent. The air component of strategic nuclear forces has been reduced to a minimum. Its level of combat readiness causes serious misgivings.

The degradation process also affected the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces (the naval strategic nuclear forces). The combat patrol rate of nuclear powered missile-armed submarines (PRK) has declined by many times in recent years. Their level of combat stability clearly is unsatisfactory under conditions of visibly stepped-up activity of U.S. and NATO antisubmarine defense assets. Battle management is unreliable, especially if a military conflict begins. Not one new missile-armed submarine has been commissioned since 1990. The Navy leadership's plans to launch one new-generation submarine per year beginning in 2002 appear unrealistic with the planned financing of national defense. Under such conditions no more than 9-12 missile-armed submarines with a total of 800-1,000 warheads will remain in the makeup of naval strategic nuclear forces in 10-12 years, and this at a time when the START I and II treaties allow Russia to have up to 1,750-1,900 warheads in the naval component.

The Strategic Missile Troops, foundation of the country's nuclear missile might, are encountering serious problems. At a time when the warrantied service life of many Strategic Missile Troops missiles (ICBM's)is close to exhaustion, work on the new Topol-M ICBM is lagging seriously behind the initial timetable. Defense state order financing for the next decade which the Ministry of Economics is putting into its plans provides grounds to figure only that by 2003 there will be on the order of 250- 300 Topol-M missiles in the order of battle. In addition, by that point in time a little over 100 SS-19 ICBM's (either with one or six warheads on a missile) and several dozen ICBM's of a "heavy" class, each equipped with 10 warheads, may be preserved in the Strategic Missile Troops. But the START II Treaty obligates us to destroy all these "heavy" missiles, and long before they exhaust their warrantied life. As a result the Strategic Missile Troops will have a total of approximately 350-400 warheads, not at all the 800-900 which Ministry of Defense experts believe Russia needs within the framework of the START II Treaty to maintain a nuclear missile potential commensurable with the Americans.

Meanwhile, under present conditions, when our conventional forces are many times inferior to the Soviet Army of ten years ago in all parameters, when plans for their further reductions have been announced, and when in the meantime the NATO bloc is coming right up to Russia's borders, Russia vitally needs to preserve strategic parity with the United States as a guarantee against possible aggression, both nuclear as well as large-scale non- nuclear. The fact is that in a situation where the North Atlantic Alliance surpasses our country by a minimum of fourfold in conventional arms, nuclear weapons are the only real tool still left in our hands to deter the majority of potential external threats. The viewpoint exists that the best way out of the situation at hand, which will permit maintaining Russian-American strategic parity without a substantial increase in state budget expenditures for the strategic nuclear forces, would be to conclude a new START III Treaty limiting both sides' offensive arms to approximately 2,000 warheads.

But a number of questions arise here, above all in connection with officially announced U.S. plans to complete the RDT & E program for developing a strategic ABM defense system by 2003 and after that to make a political decision on withdrawing (or not withdrawing) from the 1972 ABM Treaty and subsequently deploying such a system within a three-year period.

We know the ABM defense system can be overcome most effectively only with quantitative oversaturation of its information and combat channels. Consequently, if we have small strategic nuclear forces, then their capability of delivering a retaliatory strike when an ABM defense exists will be far from obvious. True, many of our experts say that Russia has to repudiate all START agreements in case the United States withdraws from the 1972 ABM Treaty. But how? Specifically what will we be able to do if, for example, such a situation arises 10 years from now? Will we begin a sharp buildup in the number of Topol-M missiles? But many hundreds will be required, and this is very costly.

And where is the guarantee that we will find the funds necessary for these purposes if we are not managing to support financing of strategic nuclear forces today on a much more modest scale?

By the way, it would be possible to follow a less expensive and more rapidly realizable path of transforming Topol-M missiles into missiles with multiple reentry vehicles [MRV's]. Their throw weight fully allows accommodating 3-4 warheads on a missile. And the warheads themselves exist. They could be taken, for example, from some of those ground-based and naval missiles which will be withdrawn from the order of battle in the next few years, but on the whole such work is not allowed either by START II or START I. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that in preparing START III the Americans would agree to lift the ban on flight tests of Topol-M missiles in the MRV'ed ICBM version with subsequent production and storage of additional combat MRV stages.

On the whole it seems a variant of START III, whatever it might be, under certain circumstances, appears to be attractive. Therefore, most quickly, Russia still will have to choose between the START I Treaty now in force and the new START II agreement. And this means that in any case budgetary financing of strategic nuclear forces must be increased, and substantially, if of course we are interested in preserving strategic stability in the world.

And only if this is ensured and, what is important, legislatively secured does it make sense to hold a discussion on pros and cons of START II compared with START I.

In analyzing these two treaties it is impossible not to touch on the problems stemming from them. Thus, although the START II Treaty is called an agreement on reducing arms, that essentially is not the case for the American side. In contrast to Russia, which will be forced to destroy many hundreds of its missiles and their launchers, the United States will limit itself to physical elimination only of 50 MX ICBM's, around a hundred missiles from four Ohio-Class submarines, and 20-30 B-52 bombers. The other reductions are achieved by so-called "downloading," where, for example, it is planned to remove 3 of 8 warheads from Trident missiles and store them. And such warheads can be returned to their previous place at any moment in extremely compressed time periods. Things also are very similar with "downloading" of the Minuteman III ICBM and so-called conventionalization of B-1B bombers. In addition, one also cannot discount the following: U.S. SLCM's, which are stored but can be redeployed on ships and submarines; U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, which are strategic weapons to Russia, especially in connection with the planned NATO bloc expansion; and finally, strategic arms of America's allies-- England and France. On the whole, while formally having the right to have 3,500 warheads within the scope of START II, in fact the Americans together with their allies will have 8,000 strategic nuclear weapons, so that this Treaty is not so much about reductions as about simulated reductions.

With respect to START I, there are lots of problems there as well. Thus, the Treaty requires creation of new ICBM's with 10 warheads on each no later than 2003-2005 and subsequent deployment of approximately 330 such missiles in existing silos over 5-7 years. It is obvious here that widespread impressions that the new missiles must be created in Dnepropetrovsk on a mandatory basis and be a kind of evolution of the SS-18 and SS-24 systems are not quite correct. Scientific and test facilities and production capacities existing in the Russian Federation today, a portion of which now stand idle, provide grounds to assert that it is possible to create a purely Russian MRV'ed ICBM. What is of fundamental importance is that this does not require creation of new capacities. A military and economic analysis shows that it is known the cost of this project will not exceed expenses for implementing the START II Treaty.

On the whole, the choice between START I and START II is a kind of analog of the discussion about what development is preferable, evolutionary or revolutionary? The latter presumes rapid elimination of what now exists and somehow functions, and at the same time an attempt to create something new just as rapidly. But as we know, while we do succeed as a rule in destroying all and everything, creating something worthwhile in its place does not work out in the majority of cases. Calculations that the START II Treaty can be improved by making a number of amendments to it during State Duma ratification also are hardly substantiated, for START II already has been approved by the U.S. Senate and any amendments on our part will signify repeat talks and repeat debates in parliaments of both countries. Finally, it would be naive to agree with proposals of a number of American experts to ratify START II in return for a verbal promise (that legally binds no one to anything) to begin a dialogue on making the changes to it that Russia needs.

So it looks very much like our choice is extremely limited: either ratify START II in its present form or, putting this document aside, develop the strategic nuclear forces within the framework of START I, at the same time preparing a new strategic arms reduction agreement together with the United States, and desirably with all other nuclear countries. But first, nevertheless, we must ensure an increased level of budgetary financing of the Armed Forces and the defense industry with respect to the strategic nuclear forces to an amount at which their capability to inflict unacceptable damage on the United States in retaliatory operations will be reliably guaranteed. Otherwise Russia very soon will lose the capability for nuclear deterrence of a potential enemy and will become vulnerable to blackmail and defenseless to the possible threat of military aggression. And this will occur regardless of ratification or nonratification of the START II Treaty.