A NUCLEAR STORM IN A TEACUP

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Russia ought to thank the authors of "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy"

An article in the March issue of “Foreign Affairs,” concerning the prospect of nuclear primacy for the United States, has drawn a completely inappropriate reaction from the Russian media. The article deserves our respect, not our condemnation.


An article in the March issue of “Foreign Affairs,” concerning the prospect of nuclear primacy for the United States, has drawn a completely inappropriate reaction from the Russian media.

The direction of that article, written by two American political scientists, deserves our respect, not our condemnation. The authors are concerned about the fact that the United States has set itself the goal of entrenching its superiority in military might at the global level, and has a chance of securing primacy over Russia in nuclear weapons – which could disrupt the existing state of parity. China is not showing any signs of seeking to expand its nuclear arsenals signficantly.

Under the circumstances, unilateral superiority for the United States could coflict with Russia’s security interests. What alarms the authors most is the prospect of the United States using its nuclear weapons to forcibly export democracy, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or prevent other countries from expanding their nuclear arsenals.

Are there any grounds for disagreeing with such assertions? Apparently not.

Striving for complete global dominance in military might: this goal is declared openly in the two latest editions of the National Security Strategy of the United States. The development prospects of strategic nuclear weapons, along with their role, place, and views on their use, are set out fairly thouroughly in the Nuclear Posture Review Report (January 8, 2002) and the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (March 15, 2006).

What is the basis for the assumptions made by the authors? Their conclusions are based on results of computer modeling with use of standard mathematical methods used for many decades. They modeled a situation of sudden strike at the strategic nuclear forces of Russia. The quantitative parameters of the military arsenals of both sides were based on data from the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty also taking into account the known plans of each of the parties regarding implementation of the treaty and development of its strategic nuclear forces. It was possible to presume that initial data for modeling and the range of their variation was set by the professors of political science sufficiently skillfully but it was absolutely incorrect to make presumptions and moreover to draw political conclusions about possible outcome of a surprise nuclear attack of one of the parties on the basis of such models. Research models have an absolutely different purpose. With their assistance it is possible to study influence on combat use of the composition of the group of strategic nuclear forces. It is also possible to evaluate the role of these or those parameters of delivery vehicles and warheads and efficiency of the means for penetration of missile defense. However, it is impossible to draw conclusions regarding a possible outcome of real combat operations on the basis of research models, mo matter how perfect are mathematical methods and computer modeling.

Is it correct to draw political conclusions on the basis of such data? Even if calculations show that probably of response actions is less than one-thousandth fraction this does not mean that it is possible to stake at delivery of such strike and at policy of harsh nuclear intimidation. It is possible that one-thousandth fraction of possibility of a successful counter strike will come true even in the first try and there will already be no other tries.

To the insufficiently correct statements it is possible to attribute the reference to inability of the early warning system to detect launches of missiles from seas and to readiness of the naval and aviation components of the strategic nuclear forces in evaluation of reaction of Russia to a surprise strike. Neither the naval nor the aviation component of the strategic nuclear forces of Russia or US is intended for use in a counter strike. They can normally participate only in a strike prepared beforehand or in a retaliatory strike. On the Strategic Missile Forces are capable of a counter strike. Moreover, their part located on mobile carriers can in unfavorable circumstances (untimely making of decision by the military political leaders of the country) can form the basis for a retaliatory strike. That is why readiness of the naval and aviation carriers does not influence the possibility of response actions of Russia in case of delivery of a surprise blow on the country and the Strategic Missile Forces are permanently in a condition of readiness for such situation. As to the early warning system, it is too early to bury it yet and, on the contrary, its capabilities are gradually growing.

According to the known documents, the strategic forces of the US are included into the new triad and the traditional nuclear triad consisting of ground-based intercontinental missiles, submarine-based missiles and airborne missiles re is only a component of the new triad. The functions of the new triad are laid on the strategic command. The areas of its activities include nuclear deterrence, space operations, information operations, integrated antimissile defense, global control, collection and analysis of information, global strikes and counteraction to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Use of nuclear weapons is present in the field of nuclear deterrence and can be implied in planning of global strikes. It is planned to obtain new qualitative capabilities capable of influencing of efficiency of nuclear forces use in the course of development of possibilities of organization and performance of global strikes.

First of all, global strikes are implied for the scenarios of situation development when new unforeseen threats appear regardless of their geographic location. Preparation of global strikes should be done in real time when a threat appears and targets subject to destruction are detected. Characteristics of new targets should be determined in real time and if they are mobile the changing coordinates should be tracked. Bearing in mind that performance of global strikes may imply use of nuclear strikes it is possible to say that possibility of use of nuclear weapons against mobile targets may grow significantly. This will be a kind of nuclear reconnaissance and strike system. Possibilities of destruction of stationary protected goals will grow simultaneously due to appearance of special nuclear ammunition for destruction of subsurface targets.

Is it possible to say that appearance of these new qualities may break the strategic parity? I think it is not. Coordinates and main characteristics of the stationary objects of each of the parties have been known for a long time and there is an estimate of means necessary for their destruction. Appearance of new ammunition will not change the situation radically. As to the real-time tracking of mobile objects, very much will depend on the possibilities regarding the quantity of simultaneously tracked targets and quickness of correction of flight missions for their destruction.

Preparation of global strikes at new targets does not require a capability of simultaneous tracking of a big quantity of targets but requires a possibility of quick maneuvering of tactical reconnaissance means for quick detection of targets in any new region. It is impossible to hide the fact of buildup of the capabilities of the system for permanent tracking of mobile objects of the Russian nuclear forces. If such task is set counteraction methods will be found. In any case, detection of mobile objects can only reduce efficiency of a retaliatory strike but cannot influence efficiency of a counter strike.

Thus, it turns out that there are no grounds for concern about a prospect of breaching of the nuclear parity between Russia and the US. Especially since that parameters of such parity are absolutely different from those of the Cold War period. Speaking about new opportunities it is impossible to omit another important aspect. Russia and the US signed a memorandum a few years ago on opening of a joint center in Moscow for exchange of data from the early warning systems implying permanent duty of Russian and American crews. After its opening not only risk of incidental use of nuclear weapons but also a purely theoretical possibility of surprise blow will be ruled out.

Probably there is a grain of truth in Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov’s suggestion that the article may have been written to order. However, most likely, its appearance incidentally coincided with President Putin’s visit to China. It is possible that it has simply been a turn of the article in a queue for publication. Bearing in mind the real content of the article and not that voiced by Russian mass media it is possible to make another assumption. Is it possible that reaction to this article is deliberate too? Who needed this storm in a half-empty teacup? Probably someone wants to see the United States only as an enemy to “lobby” additional financing of defense programs or to achieve changing of priorities in financing of the existing programs?

In general, it is possible only to thank the authors of the article for their attention to the threats connected with significant superiority of the US in military power and inclination to actions from the positions of force. The wrong presumption about a possibility of destruction of Russian strategic nuclear forces by a surprise strike proved to be useful too. At this example it is seen which component of our strategic nuclear forces allows fulfillment of the task of nuclear deterrence and efficient fulfillment of tasks in circumstances of a counter strike and retaliatory strike at the minimum cost.

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