MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Russia and the United States cannot agree on a new strategic arms reduction treaty to replace the START-1, which will expire on December 5, 2009.
The problems concern control of mobile missile systems, cuts in delivery vehicles, and a connection between the new treaty and limits on the deployment of ballistic missile defense systems.
The START-1 treaty signed in 1991 stipulated the size of mobile missile systems' deployment areas and the number of basing stations for rail missile systems. It also limited the number of missile systems that can be simultaneously deployed outside their deployment sites, and the duration of such deployment.
The liquidation procedures stipulated for mobile missiles are stricter than for silo-based missiles. In particular, mobile missiles must be liquidated together with their delivery vehicles, whereas the cuts for silo- and submarine-launched missiles stipulate only the liquidation of silos and submarines.
Topol is the only mobile intercontinental ballistic missile on combat duty in Russia. The United States decided in the early 1990s that submarine-launched Trident II missiles could replace its land-based mobile systems.
When the silo-based group of missiles was cut in Russia, the focus was shifted to the Topol missiles. The role of mobile systems increased when the Topol-M system was introduced and the RS-24 Yars MIRVed missile, which is heavier than Topol-M and can carry up to ten independently targetable warheads, was created.
Given the current trends, land-based mobile missiles will constitute the bulk of Russia's Strategic Missile Force in the next 20 years. Russia might also deploy new rail missile systems.
In this situation, limits put on the deployment areas and movement of mobile systems will deprive Russia's Strategic Missile Force of its main advantage - mobility, which ensures a degree of safety in case of a first strike. However, the survival of silo-based missiles in a first strike is not assured either, given the growing precision of reentry vehicles.
The U.S. strategic nuclear might is based on the naval element of the nuclear triad, in particular its 14 Ohio-class nuclear submarines armed with 336 Trident II missiles, each with eight individually targeted warheads. It would be useless to try to limit the deployment areas and movement of submarines, because such a limitation cannot be effectively verified.
Another bone of contention is the number of delivery vehicles. Russia has proposed cutting them to 500, whereas the United States sets the limit at 1,000. This explains the big difference in the proposed limitations, between 500 and 1,100 delivery vehicles and 1,500-1,675 nuclear warheads.
The issue of delivery vehicles is closely connected to the "upload potential," which is the number of warheads for cruise missiles carried by heavy bombers that can be stored for potential deployment in a dangerous period. The more delivery vehicles a side's strategic nuclear forces have, the larger the upload potential, which makes strategic arms reductions senseless.
And lastly, the main problem of the new reduction treaty is a connection between strategic nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defense (ABM) systems. Russia insists that the ABM systems should be curtailed, whereas the United States is only prepared to recognize a connection between strategic offensive arms and ballistic defense systems in the preamble to the new treaty.
Unless the sides agree on this issue, the new treaty will be a useless document suiting neither side. This will not please the United States, the economically stronger partner. At present Russia plans to supply 30 new missiles to its strategic nuclear forces annually and may step up the process. If necessary, Russia will be able to maintain its nuclear forces at standards guaranteeing unacceptable damage to the aggressor, irrespective of the ABM systems.
If the sides do not sign the new treaty, or if the treaty does not limit the deployment of ABM systems, this will actually restart a nuclear missile race, even if at a lower level than in the 1950s through 1980s.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.