Missile Defense: America Wants Russia to Take Her on Trust

The United States does not believe it has to give Russia a legal guarantee that the developmental American missile defense system is not directed against them. “We have given legally binding guarantees on offensive weapons against Russia. And that is really what they need,” said Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the US Senate’s Appropriations Committee.

Russia, you see, is asking for too much—a legally binding guarantee that the developmental American missile defense system will not be directed against its nuclear shield. They can get along without it. They should take America at its word.

Incidentally, it is unclear when the Americans managed to guarantee to us (and legally to boot), that their nuclear triad—ballistic missiles on submarines (SLBMs), land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and heavy bombers carrying nuclear weapons—are in no way directed against Russia.

But against whom, then, is America’s nuclear armada aimed? If not against Russia, then against China? Or against Libya, or Syria or some other “rogue state”? I can’t believe it—China’s nuclear capability is quite a bit—orders of magnitude—inferior to both America’s and Russia’s. Why do the Americans need so many nuclear weapons to deter modern-day China? And it simply makes no sense at all for them to keep their nuclear sights on such small rogue states as Syria and North Korea.

Mr. Leahy should be forgiven, of course—he is no expert on nuclear weapons and missile defense. He is only a congressman charged with allocating money from the US budget for a variety of programs, including the military. But more significant is a slip he made—in private the Americans make no bones about the fact that they are developing their missile defense almost entirely to counter Russia’s nuclear shield (of course, people in the know do not say it out loud, but people like Leahy slip up). Not against “rogue states” and not (yet) against China’s relatively weak nuclear forces—but against Russia’s ballistic missiles. For now, it is Russia’s nuclear shield that prevents America from becoming an total world military and political predominant force. The Americans need to find a way to counter it.

How can they do that? They need to take several approaches simultaneously—reduce Russia’s retaliatory capability with various START treaties (by the way, the Russian government is willing enough to make such agreements if only because our capability has been on the decline for 20 years and shrinking by attrition) while at the same time developing a missile defense system against it (and assuring the Russians, of course, that the system is not in any way directed against them).

Why are Americans prepared to sacrifice their own nuclear triad (the most powerful in the world)? Because the net balance of forces (the hegemony sought by the Americans) is a combination of both powerful offensive weapons (the nuclear triad) and the enemy’s capability to counter a retaliatory strike, which only an effective missile defense system could do. In addition, the Americans have achieved superiority in precision non-nuclear weapons—which sometimes can completely take the place of nuclear weapons (which the Americans are even willing to cut).

The balance of forces with present-day Russia is quite different. Yes, according to START, Russia is still a nuclear power that is almost comparable to the United States. For now, anyway. But in the field of missile defense (and non-nuclear precision guided weapons) they have nothing special to boast about. It follows from this that the only way for Russia to provide for its own security at this stage is to preserve and strengthen its nuclear retaliatory capability. Otherwise…

The well-known military analyst Pyotr Belov warns that Russia will be at risk soon of not being able to penetrate US missile defenses: “We are talking about 2015. By then the Americans will likely have a full-scale missile defense system that will ensure that they can parry a relatively small number of warheads—especially if they are not launched simultaneously and en masse, and if they are not accompanied by enough false targets… It may well be that by 2015 we will have about 250 missiles. And by then the US missile defense system will be capable of parrying 300 of our warheads.”

Currently, Russian military leaders (and Dmitry Medvedev) are calling 2020 the “point of no return,” after which—if the Americans continue building a missile defense system without Russian participation— they will need to stop disarming and accept the challenge of an arms race. But the issue of dates (although vital)—the general trend mentioned by Peter Belov—is obvious.

“According to very competent estimates,” Belov says, “1700 warheads is the minimum that Russia should have in any case. Only that number can guarantee a counterstrike capability. Reducing the number of warheads below that level will automatically lower Russia’s status on the international stage—i.e., we would no longer be a ‘great power.’

“But the Americans are quite happy with a radical reduction. They are willing to make cuts ( even if we balk) quite honestly, on a parity basis. They currently produce so many precision-guided weapons and various non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction that they can actually, as Obama has said, completely abandon nuclear weapons. If we were to do that, we would be unable to fight off even close neighbors like China and Japan if they were to suddenly adopt an aggressive posture towards us. But if necessary, the Americans could handle both us and China at the same time. American diplomacy will most likely work towards that in the coming years.”

Another expert, Viktor Kovalev of the Academy of Military Sciences, seconds that opinion when he says, “Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Academy of Sciences observed that there is a lower limit to possible cuts. It’s not just that a dramatic reduction in nuclear forces may lead to an obvious loss of deterrent capability,” he explains. “A cut to strategic nuclear forces beyond a certain level would have an unexpected effect that is not obvious. We could have nuclear forces that provide no retaliatory deterrent. But the reverse is true for preemptive operations—they would be effective. That in essence gives the sides an incentive for a pre-emptive strike… And it turns out that if strategic nuclear forces are subjected to such drastic cuts the situation simply becomes unstable. And here we are, rushing full steam ahead towards the kind of strategic nuclear forces that will only destabilize the situation.”

But in the meantime America will continue building its missile defense system—and swearing to Russians (giving “legal guarantees”) that their system is not aimed at them.

Source: New Eastern Outlook


  1. The U.S. missile Defense system will have another advantage – its radar will be able to intrude many miles into Russian airspace, and Russia will be faced with the choice of jamming it (likely dificult given its massive power output and probable frequency-shifting capability), or routing air traffic it does not want monitored around the radar envelope. Since that is not known, the probable range will have to be doubled for safety.

    There is an alternative – an alliance with China. China is already aware of how much it relies on Russia for energy supplies, but a formal alliance would give China the national interest needed to voice its objections to encroachment. Such an alliance could be both announced and formalized by joint military exercises. China will soon be the world’s largest economy.

    Additionally, Russia’s nuclear forces need more mobility. Fixed silo systems’ positions are mostly known – more launchers should be mobile, or on more submarines. Missiles whose location is not known are deterrent multipliers, and the possibility of a counterstrike is the best way to ensure a first strike will not happen.

  2. @Mark:

    Thanks for the timely comment. Today’s successful launch of Bulava sea-borne ballistic missile from a nuclear Russian submarine adds some hope for alternative options of deterrence. There are also available ‘anti-dots’ against US space- and airborne ABM systems which are their real priorities (plans to deploy land radars in Eastern Europe seem just a cover up for that).

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