Wednesday, February 03, 2010

MAD About You?

This author is not happy about early word of the shape of the new START treaty:

Word on the wires is that U.S.-Russian negotiators have reached an agreement in principle on a drastic reduction to nuclear forces. The cuts, part of the new START agreement, are projected to sharply cut nuclear delivery systems like subs, bombers, and ICBMs, as well as nuclear inventories. It will not address Moscow's massive inventory of tactical nuclear weapons.

This is a great deal for Russia. If you can't achieve military parity with the United States, but seek to restore the might the Soviet Union once had (Putin has announced this is his intention), arms control treaties are the best way to force America into a posture where they can be more effectively threatened. Russia can't keep up, so they're lowering the bar.

I'm not ready to pounce on this advanced news to condemn the Obama administration. The cited article states:

The deal would bring the ceiling for deployed nuclear weapons down to between 1,500 and 1,675 per side, from the 2,200 agreed to in 1991, but nuclear-delivery systems would fall more sharply, to between 700 and 800 each from the current limit of 1,600. In fact, both sides have already reduced their nuclear-armed bombers, submarines and missiles to below 1,000.

So Russia gets parity with US on strategic nukes while Russia has free hand with shorter range nukes? OK. I'm not terribly worried. Our strategic nukes will be more survivable, first of all, since Russia will rely on MIRVs for warhead equality, if other information I read is accurate. Our more numerous delivery systems will make our nuclear force more survivable. Nor did the Russians get their way by making us count systems that could deliver nukes but are now used for conventional weapons (like our Ohio-class SSGNs and certain long range bombers).

Also remember that in the Cold War we needed our nukes not only to deter a Russian nuclear attack but to deter a Russian conventional invasion of NATO. That was a higher bar for our nukes to achieve. Now we barely need to deter a Russian nuclear attack. And our conventional military is dominant.

And if we don't count Russian theater nukes, neither do we count French and British nukes that balance them if the question is the security of Western Europe. And if you are talking China, let Russia point nukes at China. China so far hasn't pointed many nukes at us, so why designate a certain number of our strategic nukes as outside US-Russia framework, and so give China an open challenge to match?

Besides, will Russia be able to sustain even the numbers they are allowed under the new START treaty? I don't know, but that might be an optimistic assumption by Russia.

Further, even with strategic targets, we can probably use precision conventional weapons for some to supplement nukes, especially when it comes to deterring or fighting smaller rogue states that get nukes.

Maybe I'll be upset with the details when they come out, but based on this early view, I'm not worried. I'm more worried about verification issues related to START limits than the systems counted. And I'm worried about any side agreements that undermine building our missile defenses. If we made such agreements, we were taken for a ride since Russian numbers will decline whether we reduce our nukes or not--Russia can't afford their nukes any more.

So let's wait and see what the agreement provides. It wouldn't shock me if the administration screwed this up. But I won't assume this is so. I'm willing to wait to see if I should work myself up into a bit of outrage.