Unrevealed Aspects of START III

Viktor Kovalev (Russia)

It became known almost immediately after the new START treaty was inked that the US had successfully tested its X-31 unpiloted spaceplane which would in the future serve as a space platform for high accuracy delivery vehicles carrying non-nuclear (or, potentially, nuclear) munitions. The system – an aero-ballistic capsule – is supposed to minimize the flight time during an attack against Russian strategic forces (!) and thus should definitely be regarded as a destabilizing weapon.

It appears that the activities in the framework of the CAV and the parallel NASA HGV (Hypersonic Glide Vehicle) programs should be interpreted as an attempt to route around the limitations imposed by the START treaty on the numbers of delivery vehicles.

From the technological standpoint, Washington should not have to worry about the consequences of a rapid downsizing of the nuclear arsenals. Due to the «micro-revolution» in weapons technology, the US can boost its military potential by strengthening its non-strategic forces and the non-nuclear component of its strategic forces. Neither Russia nor China have any chances to compete with the US in this sphere.

Given that the traditional deterrence paradigm persists, the quest for non-nuclear functional equivalents of the nuclear weapons, which is underway in the US, is essentially an aggressive approach destabilizing the global situation. Under the circumstances, it makes sense to reassess the usefulness of the START III for Russia, the adequacy of the principles behind the Russian decision-making, and generally the advantages and disadvantages of massive cuts of the nuclear arsenals which have proved efficient in preventing and deescalating military conflicts.

The recurrence of irrational optimism that used to dominate Russia’s relations with the US in the early 1990ies presents a serious — perhaps the single most serious – threat to Russia’s deference capabilities. It is a well-established fact in psychology that victims of fraud are typically guided by likewise unrealistic perceptions.

In my view, three significant circumstances remain unrevealed to the general public and decision-makers in Russia.

The first «secret» is that deep strategic reductions carry a risk to the strategic stability. Only experts realize that — paradoxically as it may seem — there exists a nuclear stability threshold. When the proportions of nuclear arsenals sink below the threshold, the level of stability against crises decreases. The concept was presented by a group of researchers from the Russian Academy of Science (A.I. Ageev, V.S. Kurdyumov, G.G. Malinetsky) in «Design for the Future, the Crisis, and S.P. Kurdyumov’s Ideas»:

«Strategic parity which has guaranteed peace for half a century, is based on the fact that during any phase of the conflict each party can inflict unacceptable damage on the other. For each side, the threat tames the temptation to launch the first strike. Suppose that cuts of nuclear arsenals, albeit symmetrical, equal, and subject to proper inspections, brought the situation to a critical threshold such that each side can inflict unacceptable damage on the other by the first strike, but not by a response strike. This breeds the temptation to launch the first strike… The result is a reflexive game: I know the enemy knows that I would not be able to retaliate in case he launches the first strike. Therefore, the enemy is sure to assume that in order to protect my country I must be preparing to launch the first strike. Then, from the rational standpoint, he should be bracing to launch the fist strike or be working to come up trumps, that is, to have non-nuclear weapons to accomplish the same strategic objectives, etc. The simple Lanchester’s laws usually taught as a part of mathematical modeling classes predict the threshold level at approximately 1,600 warheads».

The START III sets roughly the same threshold, making us face the problem of stability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent against the factors that tend to erode it.

The second unrevealed aspect of START III is that, contrary to what is written in its preamble, its strategic offensive cuts and limitations, as well as other obligations it imposes, actually do not enhance predictability and stability.

Experts believe that the strategic stability has two aspects — crisis stability and the arms race stability. The former means that even in a crisis neither of the opponents has serious motivation to launch the first strike. The latter type of stability is assessed depending on the existence of stimuli to boost a country’s strategic potential, either based on the strengthening of its nuclear forces or on the strengthening of the non-nuclear component of its strategic offensive and defensive forces as well as the general-purpose forces.

The mechanism of crisis stability can be explained as follows. If the strategic forces of one of the sides have a high damage-inflicting (disarming) potential but are vulnerable to the enemy’s preemptive first strike and, moreover, appear «attractive» from the standpoint of the first strike, the strategic (crisis) stability is violated. Obviously, the strategic stability is heavily affected by external destabilizing factors. Those include the deployment of a national missile defense system, massive fighting with conventional warfare that can cause damage to the strategic forces and their control, technological breakthroughs leading to an upgrade of defense capabilities, the creation of a coalition of countries with common military planning, etc.

Since Russia was talked into accepting the US concept of deployed warheads and the absurd rule by which «deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments are each counted with one warhead» (bombers yet have to be declared as equipped for nuclear armaments), the US warhead return potential exceeds that of Russia by some 2,000 warheads. Given the imbalance, the US can rapidly build up its strategic nuclear forces during the «demonstration phase» of the conflict to the level, at which its disarming strike potential, combined with the missile defense capabilities, would make the first strike a safe bet.

How do the formulations in START III correlate with crisis stability and the arms race stability?

In addition to the strategic and the so-called non-strategic missile defense, the key factors threatening the stability during the START III duration are:

– The development of supersonic and hypersonic long-range vehicle technologies to deliver non-nuclear warheads;

– The development of various unpiloted combat aircrafts including anti-missile platforms.

The assessment of the impact of destabilizing factors should take into account the fact that not only the US heavy bombers and strategic aircrafts but also the tactical component of the US air force are being modernized to be able to attack «time-critical» targets and are thus acquiring the capability to target Russia’s strategic forces with efficient disarming strikes, including the environmentally unacceptable ones.

The integration of hypersonic air-to-ground guided missiles with the currently developed new-generation supersonic tactical aircrafts which can be marine-based or based on unprepared ground sites, carry massive payloads, and evade radars will make it possible for the US to add to the tactical part of its air force a highly efficient component not subject to START constraints. This component can both destroy Russia’s strategic force installations during the «non-nuclear phase» of the conflict (at the early phases of escalation) and act as a tactical group having the capability of a sudden disarming and decapitating strike on Russia’s strategic forces and their control systems. In this context, lower numbers of ICBMs and bombers, which are the potential targets, are likely to translate into greater vulnerabilities.

Russia will not have «tactical» groups with comparable capabilities (including comparably advantageous locations in the proximity of significant US installations) in the foreseeable future. Clearly, the gap between the combat capabilities of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces and those of the US is widening.

It should also be noted that one of the functions of the nuclear deterrent is to impede the technological arms race. The degradation of Russia’s nuclear forces has already prompted the US to withdraw from the 1972 missile defense treaty. Further reduction of the potential of Russia’s nuclear forces is likely to trigger the deployment of new systems of weapons by the US.

Overall, the cuts of Russia’s nuclear arsenals combined with the absence of limitations on the non-nuclear strategic offensive forces and the general-purpose forces can further erode Russia’s military security.

The third unrevealed aspect of the new START is that its signing is not going to improve the non-proliferation climate. Fighting the “horizontal» proliferation is an attempt to avert consequences without addressing their cause. Polishing the inspection mechanisms will never break the nuclear stalemate. Instead, mankind — especially the world’s leading powers — must change, since war is not a technical problem and cannot be resolved by technical means.

The nuclear weapons which meet with strong opposition in the world of today represent an «extreme» version of the weaponry of the 4th technological formation. The onset of the 6th technological formation will confront the world with challenges and threats of much greater proportions, and they are sure to have completely new forms.

Nanotech and biotech are opening opportunities not only to industrialized countries but also to small groups of researchers to create weapons of unprecedented potential, that can be handed over to anti-social elements seeking to destroy or to subdue mankind. Inspection mechanisms alone will not help to meet the challenge.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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