American nuclear missiles should target Russian industry

A new report argues that current US nuclear arsenals are not only useless, but actually dangerous for America itself. The report proposes cutting US warhead numbers to a minimum and retargeting missiles from Russia’s densely-populated cities to 12 key points in the Russian economy.

The Federation of American Scientists has released a report on working out a new nuclear doctrine for the United States. It sets out the grounds for President Barack Obama’s ideas on nuclear disarmament, arguing that current US nuclear arsenals are not only useless, but actually dangerous for America itself. The report proposes cutting US warhead numbers to a minimum and retargeting missiles from Russia’s densely-populated cities to 12 key points in the Russian economy: enterprises owned by Gazprom, Rosneft, UC Rusal, Norilsk Nickel, SurgutNefteGaz, Evraz, Severstal, and even E.ON (Germany) and Enel (Italy).

The FAS report, entitled “From Confrontation to Minimal Deterrence,” is the first academic response to President Obama’s ideas on the need for nuclear disarmement. He discussed these ideas with President Dmitri Medvedev when they met in early April; then, in his Prague speech, he said that his administration’s main goals include the gradual destruction of all nuclear weapons. The new report argues that Obama’s ideas are very timely and indicates how they might be achieved.

The FAS report argues that the existing system of nuclear forces in the USA is a Cold War relic – a greater threat to the US itself than to any potential opponents. The USA has 5,200 nuclear warheads: 2,700 deployed and 2,500 mothballed. According to the report, this amount is excessive: firstly, they cannot be used in military combat, since the USA doesn’t intend to fight a nuclear war; secondly, they pose a potential danger to American citizens in the event of natural disasters.

Consequently, the report argues that “minimal deterrence” would be the most appropriate option in present-day conditions. In other words, the USA needs only a few hundred nuclear warheads; this would be enough to deter potential opponents from attacking the USA. Meanwhile, conventional weapons could be used for actual combat.

The report suggests that Russia would also reduce its nuclear arsenals to a similar level. The Russian experts we approached for comments see this as the main flaw in the American proposals.

Leonid Ivashov, former head of the Defense Ministry’s international military cooperation directorate, now president of the Geopolitical Studies Academy: “By means of a negotiation process, the USA is aiming to minimize Russia’s nuclear arsenals to a level that could be neutralized by the US missile defense system.” Moreover, says Ivashov, the US conventional forces have long been superior to Russia’s – there is no question of parity there.

Moreover, according to the FAS report, the USA may select some new targets for its nuclear missiles in order to achieve effective deterrence in the 21st Century. The report argues that selecting densely-populated cities as targets is inhumane, since there would be numerous casualties in the event of war. Instead, the new targets should be confined to key infrastructure. Although the report also lists China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria as potential opponents, the example it uses is Russia.

The report sets out a list of Russian targets sufficient to ensure effective deterrence. There are 12 targets. Firstly, three oil refineries: in Omsk (owned by Gazprom Neft), Angara (Rosneft), and Kirish (SurgutNefteGaz). Secondly, Russia’s most important metals sector enterprises: the Magnitogorsk, Nizhny Tagil, and Cherepovets steel mills (owned by MMK, Evraz, and Severstal respectively), Norilsk Nickel, and the Bratsk and Novokuznetsk aluminum plants (owned by UC Rusal). The list of nuclear targets concludes with the Berezovskaya hydroelectric power station (owned by OGK-4, with E.ON as chief stakeholder), the Sredneuralskaya hydroelectric power station (OGK-5, Enel), and the Surgutskaya hydroelectric power station (there are two with that name – one owned by Gazprom’s OGK-2, the other owned by OGK-4, E.ON).

These facilities have been selected not only as Russia’s most important industrial enterprises, but also as targets that would minimize human casualties. However, the report stresses that destroying these targets would leave Russia incapable of fighting a war, since its economy would be paralyzed; and there would be an inevitable death toll of around one million people. “These are sobering calculations,” says the report.

It should be noted that selecting 12 Russian targets sufficient for effective deterrence is practically a revolutionary proposal. For example, a similar report eight years ago identified 150-194 major cities in Russia as potential targets for American nuclear missiles, along with thousands of industrial enterprises.

An appendix to the FAS report sets out a draft presidential directive to the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff, instructing them to start destroying a significant proportion of America’s nuclear weapons and choosing “minimal deterrence” as the foundation for US nuclear doctrine.