In this context, it seems appropriate to analyze the military threat posed by the U.S. missile defense deployment.
The U.S. missile defense system, especially its European component, has given rise to many myths. It is rumored that the missile silos in Poland will accommodate medium-range ballistic missiles rather than ground-based interceptors (GBIs). If this were true, the threat would be very serious because these missiles are capable of incapacitating major control centers in Moscow and the surrounding area in a matter of minutes. So far, however, these are no more than rumors.
Washington claims that the missile defense system will protect the territory of the United States and its allies against a missile strike by "rogue states." But that is misleading. The locations in the Czech republic and Poland are not the best for intercepting hypothetical Iranian or North Korean missiles, but happen to be very convenient for downing any missiles Russia might launch against America from its territory.
But military experts in Russia and abroad maintain that U.S. missile defense cannot pose a threat to Russia's strategic nuclear force even after the deployment of its third positioning area in Poland. Why, then, are the Russian military and politicians so nervous about it?
The answer lies in the words "first strike" and "cuts in strategic nuclear potentials." The 1972 ban on the deployment of a global missile defense system meant that neither side in the cold war could launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike and go unpunished. Even if the Soviet Union or the United States was hit by a surprise first strike, the potential of either side was enough to inflict unacceptable damage on the enemy. In simpler terms, either side would still be able to destroy the enemy's cities and most of the population, with all the ensuing global consequences like nuclear winter.
Cuts in nuclear arms, a simultaneous increase in the precision and "cleanliness" of weapons, and reduction of their yield have lowered the deterrent threshold of strategic nuclear weapons. An exchange of nuclear strikes between Russia and America no longer means the end of human civilization, but if one side strikes first, the other's surviving missiles will still be able to deal unacceptable damage to the aggressor.
The missile defense system, however, makes it possible to lower this margin still further. If it is fully deployed (as three echelons of ground-, sea-, and air/space-based), the United States will regain the capability (for the first time since the 1940s-1950s) of launching a destructive first strike at Russia without fear of retaliation. The several dozen Russian missiles likely to survive a combined attack by nuclear and conventional forces (including precision weapons capable of destroying fortified launching sites), and hence meant to provide the retaliatory "deterrent" strike, would be an easy target for a fully deployed combat-ready missile defense system.
Thus any violation of strategic parity has obvious consequences. Russia will have to build up its strategic nuclear potential once again, but in more difficult conditions than those of Soviet times. Moreover, this buildup is subject to many limitations - both external, like international treaties, which Russia does not deem it possible to sever for the time being, and internal, such as the deterioration of the nuclear missile industry since the breakup of the U.S.S.R.
What can be done? Maybe we should deploy our own a missile defense system in order to weaken a potential surprise strike at our strategic nuclear force. The prohibitive cost of such a system will not allow us to cover all of our territory, but we could and should protect the major areas of strategic nuclear forces in order to preserve their deterrent potential. But this decision will not be easy or inexpensive.
This is the cost of our defeat in the Cold War.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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