Nuclear Arms Reduction and Defense Reform in Russia

Meeting report, Vol. 2, No. 12, Nov. 22, 2000

On November 22, 2000, Sergei Rogov, the director of the USA and Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a prominent specialist on arms control, discussed the desirable direction of US-Russian nuclear relations, and potential content of new strategic arms control agreements. The event was chaired by Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Rose Gottemoeller.

US- Russia relations are adrift today; the two nations are neither allies nor enemies. Despite frequently expressed opinions that US and Russia are returning to a Cold War climate, Rogov expressed the hope that there is a good chance for a strategic partnership.

Rogov stressed that it is necessary for the US and Russia to move away from the Cold War mentality. This mentality became institutionalized in the military sphere through arms control agreements, shaped to regulate a "highly competitive relationship," which arose from the absolute, ideological nature of the US-Soviet conflict. This conflict no longer exists, and the arms control regime today should be guided by different principles. Rogov offered three such principles.

The first principle is that the arms control regime should be regarded as an essentially transitional regime, and hopefully we will soon complete the last arms control package between the US and Russia. Rogov's hope is that this regime will eventually obviate the need for the negative rules that make up arms control agreements, and enable the switch to more cooperative rules, similar to those shaping American relation with its NATO allies. NATO members are bound by the CFE treaty; yet much more positive and friendly principles define the relationship between these states, not the treaty's restrictions.

The second principle is that the rigid relationship embodied by MAD (mutually assured destruction) cannot be changed overnight. Rogov outlined three main components of MAD logic: the preoccupation with numerical balance, reliance on counter-force weapons, and reliance on tactical early warning. To illustrate the specific competitiveness of US-Russian nuclear relations, Rogov pointed out that numerical balance for instance, does not play a role in US relations with other nuclear powers. These three characteristics of MAD are what defined stability in the Cold War era - a very limited notion of stability, according to Rogov. The new arms control package should, when possible, replace these components of MAD, and ideally lead us to a situation of "no more MAD" in ten years. During this transition period however, most of these characteristics will remain applicable.

The third principle is related to the signals our two nations send to others. While Russia and the US aim to diffuse tension and tone down the competitive nature of their previous nuclear relationship, they should not send signals to China or any other state that a possibility of "catching up" exists. Both nations have a strategic interest in not dealing with a China that aspires to strategic military parity with them.

In accordance with these three principles, Rogov offered several possible actions. One of the options is simply a low number of weapons. President Putin recently reiterated the Russian position that START III should take both country's arsenals to 1,500 warheads. Rogov asserted that this is too high for Russia; even if the official ceiling is 1,500, Russia should and most likely will have less. Rogov offered 1,000 warheads on ballistic missiles as a better limit. Rogov pointed out that this allows airborne weapons to be treated in a different package. Perhaps the old definitions of strategic and non-strategic weapons should be changed; instead we should distinguish between nuclear weapons carried by ballistic missiles (ICBMs and SLBMs) and those that are carried by aircraft. With a limit of 1,000 warheads on ballistic missiles, a common ceiling should be established on ICBMs and SLBMs of no more than 500. Under this arrangement, each side would be free to decide how to deploy its weapons. MIRVing of mobile ICBMs should be allowed; and mobile ICBM SS-27, should be treated as "stabilizing" as the D-5.

Another idea Rogov proposed is the adoption of different alert stages. All deployed weapons would be classified according to a scheme of different alert stages. For instance, high alert status may denote weapons that could be launched within minutes; low alert weapons could be launched within days or weeks; and zero alert weapons would require months. Even if Russia or the US place 500 weapons on high alert status, the scenario of a counter-force disarming first strike becomes impossible. Raising the alert status of weapons by one side would send a clear signal to the other side, who can respond in kind.

The combination of a low number of weapons with an alert status differentiation will help us to move beyond "the Holy Grail of nuclear theology" - that is, the knowledge that one side is capable of destroying its opponent without warning in half an hour. If these two proposals are adopted, Rogov estimated that Russia would have a 1,000 warheads, 700-800 of these on ballistic missiles, and 200-300 on the heavy bombers. If there is an option of MIRVing Topol-Ms, half of the 700-800 missiles would be on roughly 150 of these, and the other half on the 7-8 submarines. The US would have numerical superiority - it is not likely to agree to less than 1,000 ballistic missiles, and an additional 700 on bombers. Rogov doubted that the superiority in airborne weapons would afford the US a real advantage, and is thus acceptable under his proposed regime.

Rogov suggested that it is then possible to rethink the conventional offense/defense relationship. Even if a decisive first strike attack becomes impossible, Russia would retain sufficient retaliatory potential, even with limited defenses. Limited defenses would mean that instead of 50 million Americans, 40 million would perish in the retaliatory strike. This does not at all change the essence of retaliation, and brings up the question of what limits limited defenses? Rogov claimed that the Clinton administration has not been able to answer this question. ABM treaty does not prohibit all strategic defenses - it does not prohibit strategic air defenses, strategic ASW (anti-submarine warfare?), or land-based strategic defenses. It limits land-based defenses by prohibiting territorial defense, placing a limit on the number of interceptors, and restricting battle management system -- command and control - by imposing strict technical limitations on the phased array ground based radar. Now the US wants to deploy new technology; according to Rogov, it does not have effective new technology yet, and it will take years before it will have anything to deploy. Rogov expressed his personal opinion that if US still wants to deploy this future technology, and at the same time fundamentally change the relationship with Russia, Russia can be accommodating on the issue. It is possible to imagine maintenance of the general ABM treaty regime, with somewhat different limitations.

On the issue of interceptors, Rogov asserted that space-based defenses only become problematic when they acquire capability to intercept missiles during mid-course or at boost phase; this is the point at which defense is no longer limited, but becomes really robust. This is a line that should not be crossed, Rogov cautioned. With respect to numerical limits on interceptors, the original 1972 protocol sets it at 200; anything between 100 and 200 is negotiable and acceptable. The main problem is what types of restrictions to maintain on battle management systems. The new generation of space-based sensors renders the old restrictions on phased array radar irrelevant; the proposals of the Clinton administration do not include any restrictions on x-band radar and SBIRS satellites. Rogov proposed several possible restrictions that would address this new technology.

Russia can propose that the US deploy only 4 or 6 SBIRS satellites, instead of 24. The orbits' lifetime could be restricted to 2 years, the satellites could be forbidden from going above the degree that allows them to cover Russian territory, or from changing orbits. Thus the command and control of ballistic missile defenses becomes again effectively restricted, while preserving the Americans' ability to deal with limited threats such as North Korea or Iraq.

To achieve the kind of strategic partnership that he envisions, Rogov offered another suggestion. The desired kind of relationship between Russia and the US should not be formalized by 800 pages of small print of the START I treaty, but should be more "flexible and self-regulating." Establishing an informal common ceiling on offensive and defensive weapons would aid that objective. For instance, both can agree that each side could have no more than 600 missiles, and no more than 500 offensive missiles. Thus, if one side wants more than 100 interceptors, it would have to cut the offensive potential, creating a situation where neither side would be willing to build up too great of a defensive system.

To conclude his discussion, Rogov ventured several predictions regarding the US-Russian nuclear relationship. He expressed the opinion that George W. Bush is more likely to win the presidency, and the resulting Republican administration will not rush into the decision of NMD deployment. It will not do so for several reasons - mainly, because there is nothing to deploy. Secondly, Rogov claimed that it would be difficult for the new administration, whether Republican or Democratic, to push through any controversial decision, because of the close balance between parties in Congress, and the circumstances of this election. Rogov also expressed confidence in Governor Bush's security team, asserting that they understand the costs of unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Overall, Rogov concluded that in the near future, US-Russia relations are "not going to be a disaster, but a period of very serious bargaining."

Questions and Answer Period

Rogov elaborated on several points of his presentation through his answers to the numerous questions posed to him. To further clarify the state and the prospects of US-Russian relations with regards to nuclear arms control, Rogov shared his perceptions of the Russian government's attitudes, and outlined some of the key strategic issues around which the strategic partnership between the two countries can be built.

With respect to the Russian official position, Rogov admitted that Russians would naturally prefer to deal with an America without NMD. While Russia would like to preserve the ABM Treaty in its original form, it would also like to reduce American offensive capability, harboring no illusions about matching it. Rogov suggested that this provided some leverage to the Americans, and although Russia is not currently making any concessions, realistically it understands that status quo cannot be maintained. President Putin had made a serious commitment by ratifying START II, and he is unlikely to become uncooperative in the future.

Rogov also identified several strategic interests that demonstrate the advantage of a strategic partnership between Russia and the US. First, both view China as a potential threat. If China's rapid modernization is to be followed by a military modernization, China turns into a country that can physically challenge Russia and threaten its natural resources. Both US and Russia consider it in their interests to prevent China from catching up in the nuclear field. Second, both nations face the challenge of Islamic fundamentalism, and both are unsuccessful at responding to this challenge that is proving to have no military solution. Third issue of mutual interest is energy - the US must realize that Russia could play an important role in stabilizing the global energy situation, with its great natural gas and oil resources. These and other issues of shared concern demonstrate the need and the advantages of a strategic partnership, and the dangers of perpetuating hostile competitiveness.

Rogov's presentation concluded in the same cautiously optimistic tone that he began - although there are problems, Russia and the US have both the incentives and the practical opportunity to change their bilateral arms control regime for the better.

Summary by Elina Treyger, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program