Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Behind the Scenes of the Russian Nuclear Policy

Discussing the role of nuclear weapons in global politics and maintaining Russia’s security at the International Summer School on Global Security in the beginning of July in Abramtsevo, Russia, Eugene Miasnikov, Director of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies, presented the analysis of the trends in the development of strategic forces of Russia, which can help understand why Russian senior officials reacted so coldly to the US President Obama’s suggestion of further reductions in the nuclear arsenals.   

Miasnikov notes that the Russian view of the role of nuclear weapons is essentially conservative. Though some believe that nuclear weapons have lost their significance and that nuclear deterrence is not more than just a myth, in practice these ideas do not really affect the state nuclear policy. Miasnikov points out, that unlike the USA, the discussion of the role of nuclear weapons among the Russian expert community oftentimes takes place behind the scene, and it is difficult to say in what way it affects the official policy of the Russian Federation.   

In general there is a consensus among Russian experts, Miasnikov says, that the nuclear weapon is (i) the key element of strategic deterrence system; (ii) a guarantor of the Russian national security from an extensive aggression of another state or a group of states; (iii) a guarantor of sovereignty; (iv) an agency that ensures Russia’s high status among other states; in the nuclear area, equal to the one of the USA.

The views of Russian experts differ mainly in regard to the way Russia should respond to the US suggestions for further bilateral cutting of nuclear arsenals.  The views differ, Miasnikov explains, because specialists differentially assess threats and dangers for the Russian Federation as well as prospects of the Russian economy.

The liberal wing of the expert community underscores the necessity of concerted reduction of American and Russian nuclear arsenals. They criticize the Russian position for being unconstructive with regard to defense systems, non-strategic nuclear weapons, and involving other nuclear states into the cutting process. As we know, this has become a stumbling block to further US-Russian dialogue concerning the nuclear reductions.

The conservatives, to the contrary, think that Russia should not make any concessions: any arrangements with the USA are deleterious for Russia. Conservative experts believe Russia must build its own independent and self-reliant nuclear policy. As Miasnikov remarks, this position reflects the view prevailing among the Russian military-political leaders.

However, to understand the Russian nuclear policy it is also important to consider the prospects of the countries strategic forces.

To demonstrate and discuss the prevailing trends in the development of strategic forces of the U.S and Russia, Miasnikov uses the following graph:

“The graph shows the forecast for strategic delivery systems development for the next 18 years,” Miasnikov comments, “provided that both parties adhere to the START treaty over this period of time. The numbers were calculated in accordance with the rules provided by the START treaty currently in force. Blue curves represent U.S. strategic systems, and the red ones - Russian systems. Dotted curves show aggregate numbers for deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers. Solid curves show the number of deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers. Two solid red curves shown for Russian missiles and bombers represent two extreme scenarios of strategic forces development - the most optimistic and the most pessimistic ones.”

“Unlike the U.S.,” Miasnikov says, “Russia has long been replacing its nuclear triad. The process of phasing out old delivery systems (currently about 80% of total deployed delivery systems) will likely continue till mid-2020s. At the moment this process proceeds with a pace that is still faster than the new missiles are built.”

“The lower solid red curve represents a hypothetic scenario that starting this year Russia stops production of new ICBMs, but the Navy will still get the three SSBNs that are on final phases of production. The upper solid red curve represents a scenario when the Strategic Rocket Forces will receive 18 ICBMs yearly until 2025, and the Navy will commission one 955A Project SSBN each year (8 submarines altogether in accordance with the State Program for Armaments till 2020).” Recently the period for realization of the State Program for Armaments- 2020 has been extended. Hence it is clear that the optimistic scenario is not feasible. The most likely there will be an intermediate variant meaning that  Russia may have no more than 400 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers over the next decade. 

In view of the above, Miasnikov comes to the conclusion that the next round of reductions will affect only the U.S. strategic offensive arms. Therefore, the lack of enthusiasm, with which Russia responded to the US suggestion to further cut the countries’ nuclear arsenals by one third, becomes quite understandable.

Ekaterina Kuzmina is a graduate student at California State University, Fullerton  and an intern at NAPF.

The Role of Nuclear Weapons in Global Politics and Maintaining Russia’s Security, (in Russian), by Eugene Miasnikov, remarks at the International Summer School on Global Security, organised by PIR-Center, Abramtsevo, Russia, July 3, 2013

Strategic Nuclear Forces: Goals and Possible New Arms Control Measures, - (in English), by Eugene Miasnikov, remarks at the CENESS-ACA-BASIC-IFSH workshop on prospects for Russia-US arms control, Moscow, May 29, 2013 

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