19:33 GMT +3 hours21 November 2014
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Analysis & Opinion

Donald Rumsfeld as the serpent

Analysis & Opinion
(updated 18:23 28.10.2014)
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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Pyotr Romanov) - Modern politics sometimes yields truly Biblical plots. Recently, for example, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to feed his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov an idea that can well be compared to the fatal apple the serpent gave to Eve.

The pretext was as noble as it could be: improving the efficiency of the war on international terrorism. Russia was asked to support a U.S. proposal to use intercontinental ballistic missiles whose nuclear warheads would be replaced with conventional ones to attack terrorists.

Ivanov politely refused the proffered apple, saying that "Russia has certain reservations about such plans."

Rumsfeld was disappointed, but did not give up hope of winning Moscow's consent. The U.S. is considering the possibility of replacing the nuclear warheads of ballistic missiles with conventional ones, and would like Russia to do the same, he said, adding that the need for such missiles to prevent a terrorist threat could arise within the next five to ten years.

However, the incumbent Secretary of Defense was not the first one to voice this idea, first suggested by two of his predecessors, Harold Brown and James Schlesinger. A few months ago, they elaborated on the advantages of the scheme in The Washington Post. It would be enough to collect intelligence information on a terrorist camp and its coordinates to destroy it within minutes. You would not need to deploy bombers or to send aircraft carriers and submarines to another country. Everything would be neat and quick. They suggested first replacing the warheads of missiles on Trident II D5 nuclear submarines, which are equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles.

Why did Ivanov not snatch at the enticing apple? Probably because the cure suggested could be worse than the disease.

First of all, non-nuclear independently targetable warheads are the best way to disguise nuclear warheads. In other words, if the U.S. or Russia should launch such a missile, no one would know for sure what sort of warhead - nuclear or conventional - it was carrying. The consequences are not difficult to imagine. Of course, Moscow and Washington have become much closer since the end of the Cold War, but it is hardly wise to put this newfound trust to extreme tests. After all, people have not got nerves of steel. And devices can go wrong. What if a missile deviates from its course and targets a Russian or an American city and cannot be destroyed from the ground? Will phone explanations of the error help?

Another inconvenience of non-nuclear missiles is that they are not subject to the controls placed on strategic offensive arms. The United States may announce that a certain number of its nuclear submarines are equipped with conventional warheads, but it will be impossible to check this statement. Russia will no longer be certain that by December 31, 2012, when the parties should have no more than 1,700-2,200 deployed nuclear warheads left, the U.S. will truly have the specified amount and is not disguising an additional nuclear arsenal as conventional warheads. Obviously, it is better to work to improve trust than to undermine it.

Also, even if this anti-terrorist missile is equipped with a conventional warhead, it will still be an extremely powerful weapon; otherwise there is no point in developing the thing. It is unclear where this powerful missile will strike, all the more so since terrorists are now trying to stay as close as possible to civilian facilities. It can destroy a dam, leading to numerous civilian casualties, or a nuclear power plant, or a fuel tank, resulting in a terrible environmental catastrophe. There are numerous possibilities.

Finally, you do not have to be a prominent anti-terrorist expert to understand that the main things the international community lacks in fighting this evil are unity, greater awareness and streamlined international legislation. And, of course, the development of effective tactical and military means to carry out efficient, accurate, localized strikes that would provide the best security guarantee for the civilian population.

In other words, the apple offered to Russia was a little bit rotten, and Ivanov did right to refuse it.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.