What Trump and Putin will do with nuclear arsenals?

Author : Volodymyr Dvorkin

Source :

The thoughts of the new US administration that the United States is able to guarantee nuclear deterrence without agreements with Russia may soon become predominant.
21:40, 5 April 2017

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President Donald Trump is absolutely right as a businessman, assessing the 2010 START Treaty between the United States and Russia as a "bad contract". After all, in business, any agreement provides nearly the same financial, economic and other benefits for the parties. So the advisors could tell him that this agreement contradicts the ideas of businessmen - the benefits from it are very different for US and Russia.

For example, according to its conditions, the parties should reduce their strategic nuclear weapons to seven hundred deployed carriers by 2021. The USA consistently carried out this reduction (in 2016 reduced it by more than 60 units), and according to the results of data exchange at the end of 2016, there were 681 nuclear carriers in US. At the same time in Russia at the end of 2016 there were only 508 deployed carriers. That is, Americans should spend their money on reducing strategic offensive arms, while Russians, on the contrary, can live without spending anything or even build up their nuclear potential by almost 200 carriers. From the point of view of the required costs, the reduction or increase in the number of nuclear warheads on carriers differs little - it is possible to vary their quantity by unloading or additional loading of deployed carriers.

In addition, these same advisors could find out that the situation with the previous Treaty, START I, was similar. Indeed, this treaty, planned for 15 years, was signed in 1991, but came into force only in 1994 after Ukraine joined it, following Belarus and Kazakhstan (after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet nuclear weapons were scattered across four countries). Under the terms of the START I Treaty, in seven years after its entry into force, the parties had to reduce their strategic nuclear weapons from about 11,000 nuclear warheads to 6,000, the number of carriers to 1,600, heavy missiles from 308 to 154, and to fulfill a number of other restrictions by sublevels.

However, in practice, before the START I Treaty entered into force, Russia fulfilled most of its requirements naturally, removing the missile systems that had exhausted operational resources and not having enough time to replace them with new ones. If in 1992 the Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF) of Russia had 2,500 carriers and 10,780 warheads, in December 1994 - 1,597 carriers and 7,060 warheads. It remained to complete the withdrawal of 50 heavy missiles from 204, after which Russia reached the required level of limitations on warheads.

Position of the USA

Now, having information on all these ratios, the new American administration may lose interest in concluding a new START Treaty, which is considering the possibility of reducing strategic weapons to one thousand warheads and five hundred deployed carriers. That’s not fair, they will decide in Washington, we again need to spend money on new cuts, and Russians, who already have 508 carriers, will not need anything at all!

Thus, the widespread version that the START treaties with Russia are agreements on the reduction of US nuclear forces would have received additional confirmation.

Under these conditions, it is difficult to expect that Trump will agree to extend the Prague START Treaty after 2021 for five years, as allowed in Article XIV. But it is also quite difficult to denounce it. The treaty was ratified in Senate by 71 votes of Democrats and Republicans against 26 (all Republicans). Two amendments were adopted to the text of the resolution, the main one is the commitment of the US administration to ensure the modernization of the nuclear complex. The Obama administration has provided the necessary funds for this.

In such a situation, the START Treaty of Prague may be the last in a long series of Soviet-Russian and American treaties in this field.

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Paradoxically, the US can now reproduce the position of the American Republicans after the victory of Bush Jr. in 2000. Then his representative arrived in Moscow to discuss the inexpediency of the continued existence of the START treaties between Russia and the United States. The new president was confident that when Russia and the US were not enemies, but almost friends, such agreements were meaningless. Washington has no such agreements with London and Paris, he said.

But in Moscow it was considered that it would be dangerous to find themselves in a legal vacuum in this sphere, and all subsequent transformations of relations between the two nuclear superpowers confirmed the validity of the Russian point of view.

Now, of course, there can be no talk of any kind of friendship, but the idea of the new administration that the United States can guarantee nuclear deterrence without agreements with Russia may become predominant. Such position of the US is unlikely to be changed much, not only after the first hundred days of Trump's presidency, but also in the future. There are the majority of businessmen and generals in his team, including the Minister of Defense, the former marine Matisse, with very distant notions of the problems of strategic offensive arms, nuclear balance and the philosophy of strategic stability. And it is not yet clear who they will attract as experts and consultants.

Politics of Russia

What is Russia's reaction to the proposals of the American side on the nuclear sphere?

In June 2013, President Obama in Berlin invited Russia to conclude a new treaty, reducing the strategic arms of the parties by about one-third. In this case, Russian and American strategic offensive arms could be limited in number of warheads to one thousand units, deployed carriers - up to five hundred units.

Another proposal by Washington on further reductions in strategic offensive arms was made in January 2016.

These proposals were followed by rather harsh answers from Moscow. Russia mentioned several reasons, according to which it cannot conduct such negotiations with the United States. Firstly, it is necessary to organize multilateral agreements with other nuclear states. Secondly, the ongoing deployment of European and global American missile defense is hindering. Thirdly, there is a potential threat of a disarming strike by strategic, non-nuclear means of high precision at the Russian nuclear forces. Fourthly, the threat of militarization of outer space has not been removed. Finally, the West, led by the United States, is conducting a frankly hostile sanctions policy towards Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine.

Firstly, it is obvious to specialists that it is pointless to demand multilateral negotiations on the reduction of nuclear weapons with other nuclear powers. And not only because Russia and the United States have almost 90% of the world's nuclear weapons. But first of all, for the reason that Russia (the USSR) and the United States for the entire history of relations in this sphere could conclude treaties on control only over strategic weapons (with the exception of the Treaty on medium-range and shorter-range missiles that was completely eliminated). Since it is impossible to control the whole set of objects with non-strategic nuclear weapons, which carriers have a dual purpose.

In all other nuclear states, except Britain and France, the main nuclear arsenals are non-strategic nuclear weapons. Just try to persuade India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to reduce their nuclear weapons on these conditions. Or imagine the spread of the Russian-American system of mutual inspections that has been worked out over many years for all the nuclear powers. Therefore, the myth of multilateral nuclear arms reductions should be forgotten.

There are developments to increase the transparency of nuclear weapons of other states, but this is a separate problem, which will be difficult to solve.

Secondly, even President Putin said at the forum "Army-2015" that Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles are capable of overcoming any of the most advanced missile defense systems. This has long been known by the results of specific calculations of military and civilian experts, which are published in open sources. But in Russia they still cannot calm down, continuing to frighten the American missile defense system.

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Thirdly, it is impossible to inflict a disarming strike by strategic high-precision non-nuclear weapons on stationary intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers for many operational, technical, spatial and other reasons. This is proved by the published materials of military specialists. In addition, it is impossible to plan such a blow without catastrophic consequences for the attacking party.

But even more remarkable in the Russian reaction is the feeling of profound resentment towards the Americans for all their words and actions. This was most clearly manifested in explaining the reasons why Moscow suspended the Agreement on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium. The US really did not technically fulfill the terms of this agreement, referring to big construction costs for the plutonium processing plant, and decided to "dilute" it and dig it in a storage facility in New Mexico.

However, the conditions on which Moscow can resume cooperation under the agreement, caused amazement in the expert community by its illogicality. There was also a reduction of US troops in Europe, and the abolition of the Magnitsky law, and the lifting of sanctions, and compensation for damages from sanctions and own anti-sanctions.

The Russian leadership also stated that it viewed the agreement as one of the important steps towards nuclear disarmament, and US actions threaten strategic stability. Such statements seem hasty and inadequate. In reality the amount of weapons-grade plutonium in Russia is estimated at 120 tons, in the US - about 90 tons. These are surplus values, and the seizure of 34 tons of these stocks under a suspended agreement would not prevent the two nuclear countries to resume the production of nuclear munitions after the fulfillment of its terms in the event of hypothetical necessity.

All this once again points to one of the main reasons for the absence of agreements on many problems between Moscow and Washington in times of Obama presidency - a deep personal insult, to a certain extent mutual. How could you not be offended when the Russian threat is compared to the ebola fever, when Russian diplomats are massively expelled from the country, in the last days of the presidency top officials introduce bills that prevent the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions.

Later, the Obama administration finally offered Russia to extend the START Treaty for five years, but there was no response. Moscow believed that in the future problems in this area will be easier to solve with President Trump.

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