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Russia's Answer to U.S. NMD Deployment

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Wrong by a Mile

by Pavel Podvig
The Washington Post
Saturday, February 13, 1999; Page A26

I was surprised to see that the published version of my letter to the editor "40,000 Warheads" [Feb. 6] has 40,000 as the number of nuclear warheads Russia could have 10 years from now. The text I sent to The Post has the number 4,000 in it.

In fact, 40,000 is way too high. It's more than the total number of nuclear warheads the Soviet Union had at the height of the Cold War. Given the current state of the Russian economy, deploying even 4,000 warheads would be rather difficult. This may not seem too large an arsenal, but I think it is still a high price to pay for a U.S. national missile defense.

Pavel Podvig
Research Associate, the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT


40,000 Warheads

by Pavel Podvig
The Washington Post
Saturday, February 6, 1999; Page A20

I am concerned that the way I was quoted in the Jan. 22 news story "Russia Says Start II Is Imperiled" may have left The Post's readers with the misimpression that Russia will have to reduce its nuclear arsenal regardless of whether START II is ratified, as many in the United States seem to believe. In fact, without START II Russia will have an option of keeping a strategic arsenal significantly larger than 1,000 to 1,500 warheads.

Russia has serious financial constraints, but without START II Russia will extend the lifetimes of about 60 newer SS-18 missiles with multiple warheads rather than destroy them. Production of a new multiple-warhead missile, based on the SS-24 technology, although expensive, is also possible. It's true that Russia now has no such plans, because it is hoping for a limit of 1,000 to 1,500 warheads under START III and plans accordingly.

But if the United States persists in dismantling the ABM Treaty and START II and III do not take effect, in 10 years Russia could instead have an arsenal of some 40,000 warheads, a large portion of which would be deployed on MIRVed silo-based missiles. That's a high price to pay for a U.S. national missile defense system.

Pavel Podvig
Research Associate, the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT


Russia Says START II Is Imperiled

by David Hoffman
The Washington Post
Friday, January 22, 1999; Page A16

MOSCOW, Jan. 21 The Clinton administration's decision to move ahead with a national ballistic missile defense system could stifle any last hopes that the Russian parliament will approve the START II strategic arms treaty, Russian specialists said today.

The U.S. announcement, made Wednesday by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, appears certain to aggravate relations between Moscow and Washington, which have gotten off to a tense beginning this year with U.S. sanctions against Russian scientific centers, diverging views over Iraq and Kosovo, and Russian impatience with Western debt relief and loans.

The administration pledged to spend $6.6 billion over five years to field a missile defense system and said it would seek unspecified changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia. The treaty sharply limits the development of missile defenses. Cohen said the United States might unilaterally pull out of the treaty if Russia does not agree to changes.

Until now, the administration had expressed doubt about whether such a missile defense system was necessary or feasible. Russia has long expressed opposition to any changes to the treaty.

The START II treaty was close to ratification last year before the December attacks on Iraq, which triggered a backlash in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, and caused a postponement of the vote. The START II treaty, which would cut both sides' nuclear arsenals nearly in half, was signed in 1993 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, but it has never been approved by the Duma.

President Clinton sent a letter to President Boris Yeltsin warning him of the impending U.S. announcement on missile defense. The initial Kremlin reaction today was low-key, with advisers saying they are studying the letter while Yeltsin is in the hospital with a stomach ulcer.

But several specialists said the move will provoke a negative reaction in Russia. Dmitry Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moscow Center, said there is a growing anti-American sentiment, and START II ratification could be the first casualty.

"The whole window of opportunity for START II that opened up last year has now closed," he said.

Alexei Podberiozkin, a Communist Party member of parliament who recently decided to support START II ratification, said the U.S. decision to build a missile defense system could be the death knell of the strategic arms treaty.

"Certainly it will make ratification of START II impossible," he said. "But we don't know how far this decision goes beyond the ABM treaty. It must be studied carefully. ..."

Paul Podvig, a researcher at the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies here, said draft legislation in the Duma to accompany the START II ratification already stipulates that the United States must stick by the ABM Treaty. "It will be very difficult to get START II ratified if the United States is serious about changing the ABM Treaty," he said.

"The reaction to this kind of proposal, from the Duma, politicians, and the military will be very negative," he added. "I have an impression that the United States has given up on START II. They see that the chances to get it ratified by the Duma are very small . . . that Russia is going to destroy our missiles with or without START II. They see that Russia is going to reduce anyway, so why worry that much?

"The Duma got as close to ratification as it could" before the air attacks on Iraq, Podvig said. "Everything was more or less in place. I think that somebody in the State Department or the administration should have thought about that, about timing, and they didn't. Which means they just don't care."