Arms Control

New Report: Trimming Nuclear Excess

The US and Russian nuclear arms reduction process needs to be revitalized by new treaties and unilateral initiatives to reduce nuclear force levels, a new FAS report argues (click…

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DOD: Strategic Stability Not Threatened Even by Greater Russian Nuclear Forces

A Department of Defense (DOD) report on Russian nuclear forces, conducted in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence and sent to Congress in May 2012, concludes that even the most worst-case scenario of a Russian surprise disarming first strike against the United States would have "little to no effect" on the U.S. ability to retaliate with a devastating strike against Russia. I know, even thinking about scenarios such as this sounds like an echo from the Cold War, but the Obama administration has actually come under attack from some for considering further reductions of U.S. nuclear forces when Russia and others are modernizing their forces. The point would be, presumably, that reducing while others are modernizing would somehow give them an advantage over the United States. But the DOD report concludes that Russia "would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty" (emphasis added). The conclusions are important because the report come after Vladimir Putin earlier this year announced plans to produce “over 400” new nuclear missiles during the next decade. Putin’s plan follows the Obama administration’s plan to spend more than $200 billion over the next decade to modernize U.S. strategic forces and weapons factories. The conclusions may also hint at some of the findings of the Obama administration's ongoing (but delayed and secret) review of U.S. nuclear targeting policy. No Effects on Strategic Stability The DOD report – Report on the Strategic Nuclear Forces of the Russian Federation Pursuant to Section 1240 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 – was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. It describes the U.S. intelligence community’s projection for the likely development of Russian nuclear forces through 2017 and 2022, the timelines of the New START Treaty, and possible implications for U.S. national security and strategic stability. Much of the report’s content was deleted before release – including general and widely reported factual information about Russian nuclear weapons systems that is not classified. But the important concluding section that describes the effects of possible shifts in the number and composition of Russian nuclear forces on strategic stability was released in its entirety. As long as a sufficient number of U.S. SSBNs are at sea, strategic stability is intact even with significantly greater Russian nuclear forces, the DOD says. . The section “Effects on Strategic Stability” begins by defining that stability in the strategic nuclear relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation depends upon the assured capability of each side to deliver a sufficient number of nuclear warheads to inflict unacceptable damage on the other side, even with an opponent attempting a disarming first strike. Consequently, the report concludes, “the only Russian shift in its nuclear forces that could undermine the basic framework of mutual deterrence that exists between the United States and the Russian Federation is a scenario that enables Russia to deny the United States the assured ability to respond against a substantial number of highly valued Russian targets following a Russian attempt at a disarming first strike” (emphasis added). The DOD concludes that such a first strike scenario “will most likely not occur.” But even if it did and Russia deployed additional strategic warheads to conduct a disarming first strike, even significantly above the New START Treaty limits, DOD concludes that it “would have little to no effects on the U.S. assured second-strike capabilities that underwrite our strategic deterrence posture” (emphasis added). In fact, the DOD report states, the “Russian Federation…would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty, primarily because of the inherent survivability of the planned U.S. Strategic force structure, particularly the OHIO-class ballistic missile submarines, a number of which are at sea at any given time."

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