What START III Could Correspond to Russia's Interests?

by Eugene Miasnikov, Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Presentation at the seminar "The Future of Russian-US Strategic Arms Reductions: START III and Beyond" (The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, MA, February 2-6, 1998)



In the beginning, let me first shortly describe the objective reasons, why further nuclear cuts are necessary. Ratification of START-2 by Russia is usually considered as a stumbling-stone for negotiations on further nuclear cuts. However, the criticism of START-2 does not mean, that the Russian society objects disarmament. Moreover, the idea of achieving much lower ceilings of deployed strategic arms is very popular in Russia. There is a common understanding, that it is beneficial for Russia to succeed a START-3 with even lower levels, than it was agreed in Helsinki. The next disarmament agreement should also exclude the possibility that one side gets unilateral advantages and/or circumvents the treaty.

One of the lessons of START-2 ratification process in Russia is that public opinion does matter. In order to avoid similar obstacles for the next treaty in future, it seems important to describe the Russian view of disadvantages of START-1 and START-2 treaties. Such an approach would allow to outline prospects for further cuts, that would find support in Russia.

Let me first to define the terms, which I'll use further. The US and Russian nuclear arsenals may be divided into four basic categories:

Category A. Warheads attributed to deployed strategic systems. It is this category to be covered by START-1 and START-2 treaties.

Category B. Breakout potential - nuclear warheads, that can technically be placed on deployed strategic systems in addition to the warheads permitted by the treaties. The warheads related with non-strategic heavy bombers fall also into this category. In principle, it takes from few hours (heavy bombers) to several months (ICBM warheads) to deploy the breakout potential, and were such an action taken, it would be a violation of the treaties.

Category C. Warheads related with eliminated strategic delivery systems. In many cases, these warheads can be used as a replacement of deployed strategic warheads. However, additional deployment along with the warheads permitted by the treaties (category A), new delivery systems have to be developed, tested and deployed. This process requires at least from 5 to 10 years. Substantial financial resources have to be spent as well.

Category D. Warheads scheduled for disassembly.

It should be mentioned, that, in practice, there is almost no border line between the categories A and B in technical domain. Only a fraction of deployed warheads can be used in a first or launch-on-warning nuclear strike. For example, some of US SSBNs are located at their bases at any given time. It takes at least a day or two for these submarines to go at sea and arrive at missile firing positions. A fraction of strategic systems may be under repair, and, if so, those systems can only technically be used for delivering nuclear weapons after a prolonged period of time, such as few months. The other fraction of strategic systems is deactivated in preparation for final elimination, but still counted by START agreement rules as deployed. For example, many of Russian SSBNs are currently in such a condition.

Therefore, the only difference between the categories A and B lies in a political domain. As long as both sides obey the disarmament treaties, they can not deploy the warheads of the category B. However, this fraction of a nuclear arsenal can in fact be promptly deployed, if a one side decides to get out of the treaties regime.

The situation with the category C is entirely different. Even if a one side decides to deploy warheads of the category C in violation of the treaties, such an action will take at least several years, so that another side will be able to take adequate countermeasures and preserve the strategic balance.

What structural changes will occur in the US and Russian strategic arsenals as a result of implementation of START-1 and START-2 Treaties?

The structures of US and Russian arsenals in the fall of 1990 are shown on Figure 1. For the sake of simplicity, "zero" numbers are assigned to the C and D categories, though, in fact, both countries did possess nuclear weapons taken out of older systems eliminated previously. The warheads attributed to 241 bombers, that located at Davis-Montain air base, are also excluded from our consideration, because these airplanes were scheduled for elimination.

Figure 1. US and Russian strategic arsenals in 1990.

Figure 2 shows the structures of strategic arsenals after implementation of START-1. The actual numbers, that can be deployed, are presented. These diagrams clearly show, that the US can deploy more than 8500 weapons without any violation of the treaty, and 3900 of which can be placed on bombers. The upload potential will consist of 500 warheads. In theory, Russia can deploy nearly 6000 warheads and possess an upload potential of 480 warheads. However, Russia will unlikely use this opportunity, because a life extension of existing delivery systems will take considerable resources.

Figure 2. US and Russian strategic arsenals after START-1 reductions.

The START-2 creates much larger asymmetry (see Figure 3). According to START-2 treaty, the US will be able to deploy 3800 warheads and keep a breakout potential of 4500 warheads in addition. The breakout potential will consist of

Figure 3. US and Russian strategic arsenals after START-2 reductions.

As a result of START-2 implementation, Russia will have less than 3000 weapons in the category A and near 1000 weapons (this is in theory, but 525 - in practice) - in the category B. Most of warheads of the category A will go to the categories C and D.

Thus, the reduction process reveals a strong imbalance. Russia eliminates its delivery systems, and the US in fact just reduces combat readiness of its strategic forces.

The Helsinki agreements do determine the ceilings in the category A after START-3 is implemented - namely 2000-2500 warheads. However, these agreements fail to answer to the question - what categories will the extra 1000 warheads be assigned to? The Helsinki statements do not address the issue of what will happen to the warheads of the category B after START-1 and START-2 implementation. It is these questions, that Russia would like to get answers to before it ratifies the START-2. In this connection, working out a START-3 frame agreement, similarly as the START-2 frame agreement was signed in June 1992, would be strongly desirable.

Frequently the US press media exploit the argument, that the basic components of a START-3 agreed in Helsinki include the "measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads" and this is done to meet Russia's concerns about unequal breakout potential. I hope, Prof. Diakov will elaborate on the subject. Let me make just a one point here.

After a more careful examination, it is not difficult to see, that this particular provision of the Helsinki agreements does not provide the solution of the problem of breakout potential. In Helsinki, and then, in New York, the both sides agreed to work out a START-3 before the all strategic systems subject to elimination according START-2 are deactivated - that is, before the end of 2003. Taking into account, that the US and Russia are taking the first steps in the long way of ensuring transparency of nuclear warheads, it is unlikely, that during remaining five years they can reach a mutually acceptable agreement, that would cover all categories of the nuclear arsenals. At best circumstances, it might be only possible to work out an agreement on warheads scheduled for elimination, namely of the category D. Such an achievement would be significant in a long term. However, it does not remove or amend the disadvantages of START-1 and START-2 Treaties.

Finally, let me describe the view of my colleagues in our Center, what kind of START-3 Russia would accept. Our attitudes were presented in a paper entitled "Nuclear Weapons Disarmament. Process and Problems", which came out several months ago and was widely distributed.

We came to the conclusion, that the deeper cuts of nuclear arsenals than agreed in Helsinki are possible within the frames of START-3. Russia would favor the limit of 1500 deployed warheads.

We think, it is not enough to put ceilings on warhead numbers for real disarmament. The restrictions for numbers of deployed delivery systems are needed as well.

The listed measures allow just to diminish, but not eliminate the breakout potential. It is necessary to adapt a series of technical measures, that would draw a more appreciable border between the categories A and B in technical domain and impair Russia's concerns about breakout potential.

Such measures may include:

I would like to address another concern, that have been raised by Russian arms control experts recently. The Helsinki agreements include a new designation, namely "nuclear warheads". It is well known, that both START-1 and START-2 do count deployed "warheads" regardless of whether these warheads nuclear or conventional. Thus, new counting rules are seen in Russia as a creation of a potential opportunity to circumvent the next (START-3) treaty. Since the nuclear warheads only will be counted under START-3, the both sides will get a "loop-hole" for deployment of conventional warheads on strategic platforms. There is a worry, that at such circumstances, the declared nuclear cuts will not be followed by elimination of strategic platforms, and breakout potentials will grow.

The issue of limiting nuclear sea launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), which are currently not covered by START treaties is also related to the problems of strategic stability and breakout potential. In 1991 Presidents Bush and Gorbachev announced, that deployed numbers of nuclear SLCMs will not exceed 880 on each side. Such large numbers may sufficiently change the actual ratio of US and Russian strategic forces after START-3 implementation.

Even if START-3 is concluded, its ratification and implementation by Russia will strongly depend on such factors as development of ABM defenses in the US, dynamics and nature of NATO expansion process, and US attitudes toward Russia's interests in related matters.

We think, it is important, that the sides address the issues of limiting counterforce capabilities of high precision conventional weapons, antisubmarine warfare capabilities and tactical nuclear weapons at formal US-Russian negotiations. As well as the problem of transparency of nuclear warheads, these issues can unlikely be resolved quickly. However, it is important to define these problems and proceed to seeking solutions. What makes the listed problems timely is the concerns about survivability of remaining nuclear arsenals, that eventually become the major obstacle to further cuts after the START-3. Addressing these problems in US-Russian negotiations would correspond to the spirit of times and contribute to building confidence between our countries.

Let me also note, that we think, that it is such kind of an approach, namely putting on negotiating table the issues of SLCMs, nuclear tactical and conventional high precision weapons, limiting antisubmarine operations, that can open the way to the initiative, which is becoming more and more popular in the US, namely, deep de-alerting of strategic forces in order to remove the nuclear "hair-trigger".

Thank you for your attention. I'll be glad to answer to your questions.


  Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1998.