Don't miss Jeffrey Lewis' article on minimum deterrence in the recent issue Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. You can also join the discussion at armscontrolwonk.com.
A well written and thought provoking article.
Frank: I agree. Jeffrey made quite a few good points.
Frank, do you remember our exchange of point of views about “MAD” as “minimum-assured-deterrence”, not as mutual-assured-destruction. After all, we were not far from this view ;).
I remember, the big “?” in our discussion was the number of warheads. Lewis give a number: 1000.
I remember our discussions well, my friend. Lewis makes a good point; no matter how many nuclear weapons you have, deterrence only works in the minds of rational men. Are 1000 weapons that point, or are only 500? If any nation has the ability to reply to a nuclear attack with a devastating response, it that deterrence enough in today’s world? Can you deter al-Qaeda with a nuclear bomb?
Or perhaps a better discussion, as Russia today strives to rebuild its nuclear arsenal with new SLBMs, new land based ICBMs and new nuclear cruise missile systems, it this investment wise? Is Russia building only “Cold War” weapons that really have little value in today’s world? Will these weapons buy Russia prestige and security? Strangely, it seems the United States has given up on nuclear cruise missiles and tactical nuclear weapons and seems very content in unilaterally reducing our nuclear arsenal and accepting nuclear weapons as a necessary political tool but an unnecessary military burden. I’m not sure deterrence can be measured by an absolute number of nuclear weapons. I think capability is far more important.
Frank so US is the new age peacemaker and Russia is the bad boy who is trying to build new type of nuclear weapons ?
Russia is in no way increasing the numbers of Nuclear Weapons but just trying to replace its out of date Nuclear weapons , not trying to build many.
US nuclear arsenal is equal large if not larger and most of the changes made by US is superficial , I certainly see by building ABM systems US is trying start a new arms race.
I’m not sure I buy your argument. How is Russia’s inventory of nuclear weapons so much inferior to America’s? Are the Russian SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs less a deterrent today than the US Minuteman IIIs that were first introduced back in the early 1970’s? While Russia may be recycling some of the nuclear weapons for the current Topol-M fleet from the earlier SS-25 missile system, the Bulava and the RS-24 are using newly constructed warheads. It is also suspected the Sineva is also using a new warhead design in place of the older R-29RM (SS-N-23). Today, Russia is building new nuclear weapons; it’s just a fact.
My comments weren’t meant to be moralistic. The United States is hardly a saint. I was only drawing inference to the Lewis article on deterrence, how much is really enough?
What changes made to the US arsenal do you think were “superficial” and why do you think America building defensive ABM systems will “start a new arms race”?
The SS-18 and 19 are almost at their end of service life , they have suitable been given a mid life upgrade , but in a decade time it will go and if their warhead numbers has to be maintained they will have to be replaced by systems like Topol-M , RS-24.
New Missile will always have a new warhead (design) to get the optimum benefit out of it , in some cases old warhed can be added on new missile but that ends in being a sub-optimum solution.
Certainly what Russia is building new like subs or ICBM will just replace the old ones , there is a lost decade in 90 where things got rusted and now that has to be replaced.
ABM system adds to instability as it gives one an ability to do first strike and deal with what is left , atleast a potential foe would like to think in that way.
So the only way around is build better offensive capability or build an equivalent ABM system , the former is far far cheaper and not every country has technology capability backed by multiple systems to build an effective ABM system
> Today, Russia is building new nuclear weapons; it's just a fact.
- But Russian nuclear weapons only stays at their arsenals, - stays for almost 59 years without a single usage in military conflict, - while at the same time, giant amounts of US and NATO conventional weapons provides mass killings in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Right now when your read this message.
- Another argument is, as Austin Joseph said, - that Russia is not increasing the numbers in her strategic arsenals; and, as you may see, - such a 'building new nuclear weapons' do not add to the Russia's strategic potential; contrary to it, - in fact, such a 'building' still scrap the Russia's strategic potentials, as new weapons replace older ones with lower than 1 : 1 ratio.
- New SS-27 Topol-M with single 550-kt warhead replace the older SS-25 Topol with single 550-kt warhead, with lower than 1 : 1 ratio;
- New RS-24 with less-than-2-tonnes throwweight (and probably 3 'middle-class' warheads or 6 'light-class' warheads) will surely replace the older SS-19 Stilletos with more-than-4-tonnes throweight and 6 'middle-class' warheads;
- The fleet of 7 - 9 Boreys (probably, 16 SLBMs on each) will replace the existing fleet of 12 Delta-class SSBNs, 16 SLBMs on each.
> Why do you think America building defensive ABM systems will "start a new arms race"?
- Explanation is very simple: unilaterally built 'defensive ABM systems' is a potential threat to the world strategic balance.
When the Minuteman III is scheduled for replacement in 2028, if it actually will be, the system will be 57 years old. I can’t keep from thinking Russia has the technical ability to rebuild the SS-19 fleet, for example, and not invest in the manufacturing of new nuclear warheads. This is a choice and not a conclusion.
My original statement to Kolokol went to the wisdom of such a rearmament strategy by Russia when the Kremlin’s military needs are so great. Russia has satellites to launch, warships to build, and a tactical air force to improve. Today, Russia needs 500,000 more soldiers in its army. Is Russia better served by building a vast array of new nuclear weapons, weapons we all agree will never be used, or should she plow monies back into her conventional military? I submit that Russia will not have any greater security or prestige with a nuclear arsenal of 10,000 weapons than she would have with 1500. That was the point of the Lewis article, where is the “tipping point” in nuclear deterrence? I think the conclusion I reached is that “point’ isn’t an absolute number but a flexible capability to respond that creates doubt in an adversary. (deterrence)
How did the Russian ABM system operational around Moscow today contribute to the arms race?
I’m not sure your argument has conviction. It’s acceptable for Russia to build new nuclear weapons because they will never be used as opposed to the United States building conventional weapons that will? (?) I think the simple truth is that Russia and the United States will build whatever weapon systems they deem necessary to provide for their national defense. This is both logical and right. After January 1, 2013, Russia can build as many nuclear systems as she wants or needs, without restrictions. Where is the “tipping point”? How many nuclear weapons does Russia need? Or better put, how much destruction will the United States accept in “victory” over Moscow in a nuclear exchange? And, explain again to me what issue would ever bring our nations to that point?
> Or better put, how much destruction will the United States accept in “victory” over Moscow in a nuclear exchange?
- I think the final aim of the US is a creation of conditions, when Russia simply will not be able, - both morally and physically, - to perform such an exchange.
For it, US is vitally needed in low level of Russian nukes.
The Unites States can’t even dominate, or seem to greatly influence, an Iraqi government we created and have 140,000 troops stationed there. This world domination strategy thing just isn’t something America is good at. Honest.
Tactical nuclear weapons may mean something different to the United States than it means to Russia. In the “old Cold War” reality, tactical weapons were to be operationally released to the Generals and Admirals to be used at their discretion. If an Admiral needed to drop a nuclear depth charge on a hostile submarine to save his fleet, he had permission to do so. If a General need to launch a nuclear strike with a Lance surface-to-surface missile or drop a B-61 bomb from an F-16 fighter on a hostile troop concentration, no farther permission from the White House, or the Pentagon for that matter, was needed. He was authorized to deploy. Today, no American Commander-in-Chief is going to blanket release nuclear weapons to the battlefield commanders. Not going to happen. For the United States the day of such “tactical” nuclear weapons has passed. In fairness, the United States needs these weapons less because our conventional capability is so robust and growing. “Smart” weapons of yesterday are now becoming “brilliant” weapons of today.
Here is Russia’s dilemma. Weapons systems the United States are developing today to combat future America’s adversaries, pick China or Iran just for a hypothetical example, have just as much military capability against Russia. For example, weapons systems such at the new ABM systems, the GBI systems deployed in Alaska and California and proposed for Europe, the Standard SM-3+ ABM system deployed by the US Navy, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system deploying with the US Army, the Airborne Laser Aircraft (ABL), a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for recon & strike, new unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), a new strategic bomber, the hypersonic FALCON space-plane, the Global Strike conventional ICBMs project and a hosts of new, exotic satellites for communications, data processing, surveillance, and intelligence gathering.
An important note to make, all these new technologies don’t involve nuclear weapons.
Russia’s dilemma is that all these technologies that are not aimed directly at Russia must still be accounted for in the Kremlin’s military planning. Any American weapon designed to shoot down a Chinese DF-31A ICBM will work just as well against a Topol-M SS-27.
[Russian: I think the final aim of the US is a creation of conditions, when Russia simply will not be able, - both morally and physically, - to perform such an exchange.] The United States will never be able to guarantee that condition. That’s why we have deterrence.
I always enjoy you comments and insights.
> And, explain again to me what issue would ever bring our nations to that point?
- Struggle for natural resources, of course.
Now, when oil is priced near $143 - $147 per barrel, - US have a serious crysis in economy.
- And what will happen when oil will be priced near $200 per barrel? $400 per barrel?
I think the West will go mad.
> I always enjoy you comments and insights.
- It's not my 'insights'. In fact, - it's a good consensus between our authorities (i.e. Kremlin) and society (i.e. ordinary Russian people).
> The Unites States can't even dominate...
- We've heard these words all 1990s. And result is:
(a) 250 8.8-tonn 'Satans' scrapped vs only 50 4.3-tonn 'Peacekeepers' scrapped.
(b) 3 : 1 (Russia : NATO) ratio in conventional weapons.
(c) NATO military infrastructure at Russian borders.
(d) NMD installations on the way to Europe.
and so on...
There's no more trust to such a words, - Frank, you should to understand.
- Meantime, it seems that we're 'in the one step away' from the mass deployment of Topol-Ms: RVSN chief commander gen-col. Nikolay Solovtsov declared yesterday that SS-25 regiments in Bologoe (a.k.a. Vypolzovo here at Pavel's blog), Tver region, will be rearmed on 'new missile complexes'.
And, that's more important, - according to Nikolay Solovtsov, 'some other regiments of RVSN has started their preparations on 'Topol-M' rearmament, too'.
The struggle for natural resources will bring our two countries to nuclear war? (???) Who exactly would win that struggle? What exactly happens to the “natural resources”?
I’ve asked you this question many times; in many ways. Keeping with the topic of Lewis’ “Minimum deterrence”, what do you think is the lowest number of nuclear weapons that Russia needs for her defense? Give me your “good consensus” opinion. If your answer is just as many as the United States regardless of the numbers what do you think that absolute number is? Or, better put, how many nuclear weapons do you think America needs to maintain deterrence?
There is going to be no nuclear way between Russia and US , irrespective of US ABM system development or Russian Strategic Force Modernization.
The idea is not to fight a war ( if there is a war then every one losses ) , but to gain geo-political influence and exercise control,infulence over other countries or places/regions of interest to ones own maximum advantage.
Clearly having a Military Force to back it up or provide the right deterrent is one of the foundation of such policy , the other being strong economy and political stability of the country.
Discussions of deterrence theory are always interesting because it is a subject that cannot help but engage the worlds of theory and policy. I think the key issue here is credibility. What forces does one need to credibility threaten one's adversaries? The credibility of the threat is what impacts decision-making and allows deterrence to work. I am sympathetic to the argument that the size of the force structure is, to a degree, irrelevant, but I would argue that force structure alone offers an incomplete picture of the balance. Total capability is the metric that ought to be considered. The force structure is simply a means to an end--the end being capability and credibility.