MOSCOW. (Sergei Kortunov for RIA Novosti)
An all-out war or armed conflict between the great powers no longer seems possible. However, the five official nuclear powers are in no hurry to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their policy, a fact attested to by the US's new nuclear doctrine, loose rules of engagement for using nuclear weapons in the event of a crisis and greater regional tensions.
Russia therefore has no choice but to remain a major nuclear power in the foreseeable future.
It is our opinion that, depending on the global military-political situation, by 2012 Russia's strategic nuclear forces should have
* about 600 ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles;
* ten to 12 SSBNs (ballistic missile submarines);
* 50 strategic bombers for carrying nuclear and conventional weapons;
* 1,000 to 1,200 nuclear warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles).
Moscow would therefore be able to maintain its special strategic relationship with the United States and preserve its global political role.
Russia and the United States have managed to conclude the legally binding Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions stipulating a ceiling of 1,700-2,200 warheads in the next decade.
But the Russian side had initially insisted on a more comprehensive treaty that would call for irreversible and controlled strategic arms reductions. Moreover, Washington has refused to formalize its assurances that the National Missile Defense (NMD) system will only be able to intercept several dozen warheads.
Consequently, the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions does not stipulate irreversible and controlled reductions; nor does it place any limitations on the potential of ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) systems.
In effect, this treaty merely reduces the combat readiness of strategic offensive arms and does not provide for disarmament or arms control measures. The United States will not scrap any strategic delivery vehicles or their warheads, meaning that Washington can beef up its strategic forces anytime.
But Russia has to spend a lot on scrapping its aging strategic offensive arms because of their specific features, as well as the lack of co-production arrangements between post-Soviet republics and some other factors.
Moscow, which has no alternative but to fulfill the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions, must also modify its nuclear policy. We must face the facts: the United States will create the NMD system in the near future and completely dominate the world unless Russia's nuclear policy adapts to the above-mentioned priorities.
If possible, Moscow should continue to negotiate with Washington and suggest a joint search for ways of minimizing risks that stem from the current mutual nuclear deterrence situation. However, given the current attitude of the Bush Administration towards bilateral and multilateral strategic offensive arms control, such agreements seem unlikely.
Under these circumstances, we should study the possibility of resuming work on weapons and systems that can effectively breach or neutralize the US ABM system.
In his state of the nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "work is already under way on creating ... maneuverable combat units that will have an unpredictable flight trajectory for the potential opponent."
But this is not enough, because such weapons were contemplated during the Soviet period. Experts believe the cheapest option is to implement a set of active and passive measures for protecting Russia's strategic nuclear forces.
The most likely scenario involves parallel unilateral reductions in both the US's and Russia's nuclear arsenals without any mutual agreement or prior consultations. These cuts will depend on technical and economic expediency factors.
Such a situation would mean the end of arms control as we know it, and politicians, diplomats, military leaders and the general public might find it disorienting.
Sergei Kortunov is Chairman of the Foreign Policy Planning Committee
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.