Russian Nuclear Weapons: Past, Present, and Future

The Role of Nuclear Weapons in the U.S.-Russian Relationship
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Russia's desire for economic advancement is more clearly established than its political and strategic position. The prospect of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe has triggered deep-seated Russian concerns about its future security that have been easily exploited by extreme nationalists and antidemocratic groups. The rhetoric differs sharply, however, from the past seven decades, since it is no longer animated by a hostile ideology.

The United States and its allies have recognized the desirability of close engagement with Russia, despite the uncertainties inherent in its continuing transition.

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The reduction and destruction of the vast nuclear arsenals developed during the Cold War are among the most important domains of such collaboration. Substantial progress has already been made in adapting the nuclear forces of the United States and Russia to the post-Cold War environment.

It is now being implemented by both countries and will reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads from about 11, for Russia and 13, for the United States to about 8, on each side. Through unilateral actions, the United States has reduced the number of its deployed nonstrategic warheads by 90 percent, from over 10, to about 1, warheads, all of which are bombs to be carried on dual-purpose aircraft.

In reciprocal initiatives, Russia has made substantial but less quantifiable reductions in its nonstrategic warheads. In addition to reducing their arsenals, both sides have undertaken a number of other measures. They have ended nuclear testing, and for the first time since World War II the United States is developing no new types of nuclear weapons or nuclear delivery systems. The United States and Russia have agreed not to target their missiles against each other on a day-to-day basis as a precaution against the consequences of an accidental launch.

Production of weapons-grade fissile material has stopped in the United States and is continuing to a small extent in Russia only until such time as the reactor cores in three dual-purpose plutonium production reactors have been converted.

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BOX 2. The term ''accountable" weapons refers to the number resulting from application of counting rules in START I, which are based on counting deployed delivery vehicles and assigning an agreed number of warheads to each type of vehicle. While the START I counting rules assume ICBMs and SLBMs to be armed with the maximum number of warheads with which the various missile types have been tested, these rules substantially undercount gravity bombs and short-range attack missiles SRAMs inasmuch as bombers not armed with cruise missiles are counted as if they contained only one warhead regardless of how many bombs and SRAMs they might actually carry.

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In the present study the term "deployed" is used to denote this category. The term "inactive" refers to intact bombs and warheads beyond those that could be delivered as just indicated. These are often characterized as "spares" or "reserves. START II also does not limit the number of nonstrategic warheads—active or otherwise—although these have been reduced through reciprocal unilateral initiatives. When nonstrategic and inactive nuclear warheads are included, this means that, even under START II, the United States and Russia will continue to possess some 10, total nuclear weapons each—even though only 3, can be deployed in strategic delivery vehicles.

These reductions and other arms control measures are important: the United States and Russia have unambiguously halted and reversed their bilateral nuclear competition.

The Risk of Nuclear Weapons

Yet as notable as these reductions and other measures are, they have not sufficiently altered the physical threat to either society. The reduced forces could still inflict catastrophic damage on the societies they target or could target. Much more can and should be done. Even if both START agreements are fully implemented, the level of nuclear forces will remain much higher than needed to meet the core deterrent function.

The basic structure of plans for using nuclear weapons appears largely unchanged, with both sides apparently continuing to emphasize early and large counterforce strikes.

Russia's Nuclear Weaponry

And despite reductions in numbers and alert levels, both countries remain capable of rapidly bringing their nuclear forces to full readiness for use. This operational availability unnecessarily exacerbates the small but significant risk of erroneous or unauthorized use. Finally, some U. In addition, the United States could hold as many as 5, weapons in reserve. Russia also would have about 3, deployed strategic warheads, assuming that it is able to provide the resources required to meet that level under the terms of the treaty.

In addition, Russia is expected to retain several thousand nonstrategic warheads in its active stockpiles, plus an unknown number of such warheads in reserve. Thus, it can be assumed that, before the March Helsinki agreement to seek START III, each country planned to retain roughly 10, nuclear warheads into the early part of the next century. These reductions represent a substantial drop from the total of 60, to 80, U.

Implementation of a START III accord would continue these reductions to lower levels, but even further reductions are both possible and important to the security interests of both countries.

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RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. Stephen J. Blank. Editor. November The views expressed in this report are those of. Russian Nuclear Weapons: Past Present and Future [Stephen J Blank] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. As of November , the.

In addition to the fundamental reasons for such cuts discussed in Chapter 1 , the Helsinki agreement to undertake additional reductions should improve prospects for Russian ratification of START II and for continued improvement in U. From an American perspective, these security benefits alone should be sufficient to persuade Russia to ratify the treaty in its existing form. The treaty requires Russia to destroy far more delivery vehicles than the United States.

But it makes no sense for Russia to spend scarce resources to build new nuclear weapons systems when smaller arsenals based on existing systems are more than adequate, even for existing nuclear missions. In addition, even though these additional weapons would be permitted by the treaty, there could be calls in the United States to respond to what would be represented as a Russian program to field a new missile force containing the latest technologies.

Although START II limits the number of warheads that can be mounted on strategic delivery vehicles, it does not limit the number or types of warheads that each side may possess. That is, under the terms of the treaty, each side can keep as many warheads as it desires—it is only limited in how many of those warheads may be mounted on long-range missiles or bombers, which are themselves limited by the treaty. It is therefore perfectly legal under START II to store and maintain for redeployment the warheads that must be removed from delivery vehicles to meet the treaty's limits.

This failure to limit warheads, combined with the inherent capability of some delivery vehicles to carry many more warheads than START II permits, provides the possibility of rapid breakout. Russia or the United States could, for example, relatively quickly place additional warheads on land- and sea-based missiles and bombers.

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Author interviews with Central Asian diplomats, Decem- ber Search for all books with this author and title. Print Page. However, deterrence in a crisis may collapse simply under the weight of plans and capabilities intended to deter the enemy. In Syria?

Verifying limits on nuclear warheads is substantially more difficult than verifying limits on delivery vehicles. Current estimates of the total number of nuclear warheads in the Russian stockpile have a margin of possible error measured in the several thousands. This has been a key factor in discouraging efforts to establish warhead limits that are not associated with delivery systems.

It is time, however, for the United States and Russia to step up to this challenge because deep reductions in nuclear weapons will be impossible unless the two sides lay a solid foundation today by agreeing to monitor warhead stockpiles and dismantling activities. The very large numbers of nuclear warheads in today's nuclear arsenals leave little incentive to cheat, but as the numbers are reduced verification will become an increasingly important issue. Since nuclear weapons can be small and portable, and not easily detectable by technical means, a regime that would provide high confidence of locating a small number of hidden warheads would be.

Even an imperfect verification regime would greatly reduce the uncertainties in present U. An improved verification regime would include a series of detailed data exchanges on the number and location of all nuclear warheads, fissile material production sites and their specifications, as well as total inventories of all fissile material stocks. These declarations would be subject to multiple random and challenge inspections of activities relating to storage and deployment, as well as to the dismantlement of warheads and the storage and disposition of recovered fissile material.

An expanded inspection regime would profit by improvements in physical protection and accounting for fissile material. In addition, as part of a general program of increased transparency, all historical records relating to production of fissile materials and weapons should be made available for review. Drawing on all of this new detailed information, classical intelligence techniques, including human sources, could also provide information with which to assess declarations and provide leads on possible diversions.

While information from such classical sources, which might reveal even very small diversions, would probably prove to be extremely useful in a verification context and a powerful deterrent to cheating, its contribution cannot be assessed quantitatively. With this amount of access, including challenge on-site inspections, the problem of detecting new production activities should be less demanding.

In this connection, recent developments do provide an improved basis for unilateral remote detection of reprocessing or enrichment activities that would be required to produce new supplies of fissile materials. Although no single measure would guarantee against cheating, taken together such measures would create a web of access points and data, so that it would be increasingly difficult and risky to hide a strategically significant cache of weapons.

Significant advances in recent years in the technologies for remote and proximate sensing, tamper-proof labeling, information processing, and long-range communication would in principle allow immediately verifiable monitoring of all declared nuclear warheads and fissionable materials—if the U. Limited experiments in cooperative monitoring have already been undertaken under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program Nunn-Lugar Act and serve to demonstrate its basic feasibility.

Even a comprehensive monitoring arrangement would not immediately resolve all uncertainty, since retrospective accounting for material would invoke a certain inherent degree of uncertainty. Given this uncertainty, it would be difficult to prove that no clandestine cache of weapons or materials had escaped the system unless evidence of inconsistencies or actual falsification in the data, or information on actual diversions through national classical intelligence sources emerged.

Over time, however, the operation of a comprehensive monitoring. Without systematic cooperation and reciprocity, however, the effectiveness of monitoring will be severely limited. Nonstrategic nuclear weapons generally have less sophisticated use controls and may be more vulnerable to theft and unauthorized use than strategic weapons, making an expanded program of reduction and control especially important for this class of weapons. START I and II address only strategic weapons; they contain no limits on the nonstrategic nuclear weapons beyond the ban on land-based missiles with ranges between and 5, kilometers imposed by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Soviet atomic bomb project

Even after the implementation of their reciprocal unilateral pledges not to deploy certain types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and to dismantle some fraction of them, however, it is estimated that the United States will retain about 1, active and reserve nonstrategic warheads. The United States estimates that Russia will retain significantly more nonstrategic weapons. As noted in Chapter 1, Russia's abandonment of the Soviet Union's no-first-use pledge indicates a growing reliance on nuclear weapons, particularly nonstrategic weapons, at least in rhetorical terms.

In the committee's opinion, however, U. The original rationale for their deployment—to deter or halt a Soviet invasion of Western Europe—has vanished. The NATO alliance, with its modern conventional forces and greatly increased strategic depth in Central and Eastern Europe, no longer needs to resort to threats of nuclear use to deter or repel invasion. The related view that U. Germany was a leading proponent of the indefinite extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty NPT and has been outspoken in its support for additional controls on nuclear weapons and weapons materials.

In the changed strategic context of the post-Cold War world, the strategic nuclear forces of the United States, and to a lesser extent of the United Kingdom and France, should provide abundant reassurance to their European allies against nuclear coercion without U. The committee suggested in Chapter 1 that the United States, in full cooperation with its NATO allies, should give serious consideration to seeking an agreement with Russia and other affected states that would prohibit the forward deployment of nuclear weapons in Central Europe.

Foreclosing such deployments. The situation in Asia in slightly different. As acknowledged when the weapons were withdrawn from South Korea in and removed from all naval vessels, U. North Korea, the only country in the region that is openly hostile to the United States, can no longer rely on Russian or Chinese support. Moreover, North Korea is covered by the most recent statement of U. If the United States wishes to deter or respond to nuclear attacks on South Korea, Japan, or other Asian friends or allies, nonstrategic nuclear weapons would have no essential military advantages over strategic weapons, and the symbolic advantages historically attributed to nonstrategic weapons are outweighed by the political and security costs of the deployment of such warheads.

The presence of these weapons has provided allied countries with a basis for participating in nuclear planning and activity, which they regard as important to their security.

Lab-to-lab collaboration

Given this and the important symbolic role that forward-deployed nuclear weapons have played in the defense of U. Despite the end of the Cold War, both the United States and Russia maintain the technical capability, even during peacetime, to launch thousands of nuclear warheads on short notice. This is particularly true of the United States, which maintains two-thirds of its submarines and virtually all of its land-based missiles in a high state of alert.

Alert practices make deterrent forces immediately responsive, but they also increase the chances of an unauthorized or even accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon and contribute to the possibility of triggering a war that neither side intends. Current U. The technical ability of each side to launch massive nuclear attacks with little warning creates incentives for the other side to prepare for virtually instantaneous.

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Russian military planners, for example, must still worry about the fact that accurate U. Trident and Minuteman and, until START II is fully implemented, MX missiles could destroy a large fraction of Russian nuclear forces and command-and-control systems with as little as 20 minutes warning of an attack, since only a small portion of the Russian submarine and mobile missiles are on patrol or positioned to survive a first strike.

Especially troubling is that Russia, in protecting against the possibility of such a sudden attack, reportedly continues to rely on its capacity to launch ICBMs and pier-side submarine-launched ballistic missiles SLBMs on warning of a missile attack. According to some reports, the situation is exacerbated by the fragmentation and degradation of Russia's attack warning system.

Thus, by deploying relatively large, lethal, and alert forces to deter the increasingly improbable circumstance of a deliberate surprise Russian attack, the United States may prompt Russia to adopt a posture that greatly increases the risk of erroneous or unauthorized launch. The strain on both countries would be relieved if neither had to worry about even the possibility of instant nuclear attack.