NUCLEAR MISSILE DEMOCRACY

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Potential consequences of abandoning the START Treaty

The American military is insisting on a review of the Russian-American START Treaty. Reviewing this treaty – declining to extend it – would enable the military to build up and improve strategic offensive weapons, and even use them as a main strike force in conventional combat operations.


The American military is insisting on a review of the Russian-American START Treaty. Reviewing this treaty – declining to extend it – would enable the military to build up and improve strategic offensive weapons, and even use them as a main strike force in conventional combat operations.

Russia fears that if this happens, the United States would gain the capacity to deliver a disabling nuclear strike – and, given the new missile defense system, the ability to avert a retaliatory strike from Moscow.

START I was signed at the end of the Cold War. For the USA and Russia, it was a kind of ticket to a safe future. Each side not only knows what the other side is doing in the area of developing nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, but is also entitled to visit and inspect any missile base, subject to verbal notification 24 hours in advance. Both sides have also restricted their numbers of deployed missiles, nuclear submarines, strategic bombers, and the nuclear warheads they carry. All weapons over the limits were supposed to be destroyed, under reciprocal observation.

START I expires on December 5, 2009. From that moment, unless both sides sign some sort of new treaty, each will be able to do whatever it pleases with its strategic arsenals. Russia has already said that it’s prepared to sign a new treaty. General James Cartwright, commander of US Strategic Command, maintains that declining to extend the treaty would make it easier for Washington to deliver strikes in the global war on international terrorism.

Without START I, the Americans would have their hands untied. The USA would be able to use its strategic arsenals in conventional conflicts. This is known as the global strike concept: striking at any “terrorists” or rogue states who are developing weapons of mass destruction, within an hour of identifying a target anywhere in the world. The Americans would use Trident II and Minuteman III silo-launched or sea-launched ICBMs. In upgrading these missiles, the Pentagon intends to replaces some of their nuclear warheads with conventional payloads: comparable to a nuclear charge in terms of destructive force, but with no “unpleasant” environmental consequences.

Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Defense Ministry’s Fourth Institute (nuclear weapons research) prior to 2001: “Building such weapons systems is entirely feasible. The only question concerns new high-precision warheads, targeted by means of GPS.”

According to experts, Washington is already developing new warheads for its Minuteman III and Trident II ICBMs. They were tested recently with GPS receivers. According to Dvorkin, these missiles would be accurate to within a few meters, for targets anywhere in the world.

Viktor Yesin, former chief of staff for the Strategic Missile Forces: “In recent years, we have worked with the Americans to establish a reliable system of monitoring nuclear arms development, and a missile launch warning system. All this served to rule out the possibility of a sudden nuclear conflict. Dates for all training and test launches are agreed upon several months in advance. This wouldn’t happen in the event that a ballistic missile is used against terrorists.”

The existing missile launch warning system has two components: in space and on the ground. Satellites detect a launch and inform ground-based radars, which determine the flight path and approximate targets. If the trajectory turns out to be in direct proximity to Russia’s borders – or over Russian territory, God forbid – a retaliatory strike from Russian nuclear forces is inevitable. Experts say it’s impossible for the system to tell what kind of payload a missile is carrying: nuclear or conventional. And there simply wouldn’t be enough time to work it out. Foreseeing this, the Americans have already proposed an agreement that non-nuclear missiles will be launched from strictly-specified launchers at one particular base. But what about sea-based missiles? Nuclear submarines don’t stand still, after all. And it wouldn’t be easy to identify which submarine has lanuched a missile. These uncertainties could trigger a full-scale nuclear conflict.

The only chance of restraining Washington from such a conflict is to extend START I, with all its reciprocal monitoring and notification mechanisms. At this stage, Gen. Cartwright is describing his own personal vision of solutions to US security problems. At their recent meeting, presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush noted that it is necessary to continue developing the strategic disarmament process.

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