The Kursk submarine disaster has grabbed world attention, but there is one question no one is asking: Why are these ships going to sea at all?" Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project explores this question in an editorial published in the Christian Science Monitor on August 28, 2000. He argues that "[w]ith the Cold War over, the rationale for keeping such systems at sea is gone, and the risk that the next accident will involve a ship carrying nuclear weapons is unacceptably high."
"Russia's economic collapse severely affects its ability to maintain and operate its submarine force. Many subs, including newer models, are routinely tied up at dockside, rusting away for lack of maintenance funds."
"The United States operates 18 strategic ballistic missile submarines, four of which are ready to launch missiles at all times. Each sub can carry 192 warheads, meaning over 750 are seconds away from launch right now."
Wolfsthal contends that "there are significant risks and costs to keeping such large arsenals at sea. The odds increase every day that the next Russian sub accident will involve a ship carrying nuclear missiles." He continues that "[t]he U.S. and Russian subs are trapped in an underwater catch -22. Keeping U.S. missile subs at sea forces Russia to keep it's attack subs out there looking for U.S. subs, and encourages Russia to keep as many strategic missile subs at sea as possible. This, in turn forces the U.S. to keep its arsenal of attack submarine artificially high, tracking Russian subs."
"The solution to these risks is simple: keep the subs at home. The United States should announce, after working with Russia to obtain a bilateral commitment to do the same, that SSBNs will no longer go on routine patrol and will instead be maintained in their home ports. The United States could arrange for financing dismantlement of Russian subs as an incentive for Russia to agree. Each site could operate 3 submarines, ensuring that at least one would be able to put to see at any time in a crisis."
"It may be too late to save the sailors of the Kursk, but it's not too late to learn from their sacrifice and prevent needless deaths, insecurity and environmental damage."