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The "Cold Peace:" Arms Control After Crimea


As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.


Volume 5, Issue 5, March 20, 2014

As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

American politicians and pundits have presented an array of policy response options, including intensified NATO military activities in Russia's "near abroad" and retreat from cooperative endeavors in U.S.-Russian arms control. At such times, there is a critical need for prudence, rationality, and historical perspective, and for avoiding actions that are counterproductive to the interests of the United States and our European allies.

Russia's actions certainly require a strong response, including international condemnation and measured sanctions against key Russian figures. The fragile new government in Kiev also needs assistance to put the country's economy on a more stable footing and to help counter any Russian efforts to intimidate Ukraine or seize additional territory.

However, U.S. policymakers should recognize that despite the severe differences with President Putin over Ukraine, it is clearly in the national interests of the United States to

  • scrupulously implement existing arms control treaty verification measures, which provide vital information and help to ensure compliance with treaty limits regarding Russian and U.S. military capabilities;
  • reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility and continue to seek further reductions in the still oversized nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States;
  • refrain from using strategic weapons to make political gestures;
  • redouble efforts to maintain dialogue between U.S. and Russian nongovernmental experts and organizations.

A Cold Peace, Not a New Cold War
It is also important to avoid facile comparisons with the four-decade-long, post-World War II confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. As Cold War veteran Jack Matlock, the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow during the Gorbachev era, recently observed, "The tensions between Russia and the West are [now] based more on misunderstandings, misrepresentations and posturing for domestic audiences than on any real clash of ideologies or national interests."

By the end of the second term of President George W. Bush, Russia's relationship with the United States and Western Europe was already troubled; Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 had cast a particular chill over a range of diplomatic undertakings. Although the Obama administration's "reset" in 2009 facilitated negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a new "Cold Peace" had settled over bilateral relations.

Today, Russia's behavior often appears to be driven by President Putin's interest in maintaining a strong grip on power inside Russia and to prevent more of the states of the former Soviet Union from integrating into the European economic and political sphere.

In contrast, the Cold War was a global struggle involving the near constant threat of a direct military confrontation and frequent proxy wars. Throughout much of the Cold War, more than 250,000 Soviet troops were positioned along the border of West Germany to seize isolated West Berlin and drive toward the English Channel. That border divided not only a nation, but two powerful military alliances, each possessing vast nuclear arsenals maintained on high alert and targeted against each other. At the time, many American politicians depicted a growing Soviet superiority--not only in conventional forces in Europe, but in continent-spanning strategic missiles and ballistic missile defense systems, which allegedly enabled Moscow to pose the threat of a disarming, first-strike attack on the United States.

The Cold War also demonstrated dramatically the extent of nuclear dangers in the ideologically driven confrontation between Moscow and Washington. Indeed, the world came far closer to a nuclear exchange in 1962 (during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and in 1983 (following the Soviet shootdown of the Korea Airlines passenger plane and during NATO's "Able Archer" military exercises) than was publicly known at the time.

The striking dissimilarity between the present and that earlier era is captured by comparing the Cold War Soviet Threat Assessments of the U.S. intelligence community with its 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, whose 27-page public summary did not even mention Russia's nuclear arsenal.

At the same time, there are two elements of conspicuous continuity between the past and present.

First, Washington and Moscow still possess huge nuclear arsenals, far larger than those of all other nuclear weapons states combined. These arsenals contain thousands of warheads--each one of which dwarfs the destructive power of those that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki--far more than are needed for any rational requirement of nuclear deterrence and beyond any possible utility for political leverage in the current crisis over Ukraine.

Second, as was the case during the Cold War, reducing nuclear dangers rightly trumps other issues. During the lowest points of the U.S.-Soviet relationship, arms control agreements helped prevent a complete collapse of bilateral communication. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty survived the Vietnam War and crises in the Middle East; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty survived the 1981 declaration of martial law in Poland and the 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.

The conflicting interests of the United States and Russia in Ukraine or Syria today do not erase their joint interests in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons accidents or unauthorized nuclear weapons use, curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, securing vulnerable nuclear weapons usable material to avoid terrorist acquisition, and reducing their own costly nuclear arsenals, which still vastly exceed common-sense deterrence requirements. These and other common concerns make it imperative that Washington and Moscow continue pursuing efforts to achieve reductions in and limitations on nuclear weapons - independent of the health of the bilateral relationship at a particular point in time.  

Russia's provocative actions in Crimea and the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations certainly make the pursuit of a cooperative agenda even more challenging and there is more than a theoretical danger of backsliding. Yet, even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union shared a common interest in reducing nuclear risks and found ways to overcome ideological differences to pursue joint initiatives and agreements designed to reduce those risks and strengthen strategic stability.

The rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine makes it difficult to offer a detailed formula for preserving and promoting advantageous U.S.-Russian arms control and nuclear security outcomes, but some general principles can be outlined:

Continue to scrupulously implement existing treaty verification measures. No matter what their differences on the Ukraine crisis, it is not in the interest of either the United States or Russia to suspend inspections required by New START or to otherwise walk away from a treaty, which establishes clear, verifiable limits on each side's strategic nuclear arsenal--a measure of stability in an otherwise strained bilateral relationship. Weakening the implementation of verification measures would simply reduce the confidence levels of national threat assessments, leading to higher "worst case" projections and increased strategic spending.

Furthermore, according to Part Five, Section IX of the Protocol of the New START Treaty, the only basis for the cancellation of inspections are "circumstances brought about by force majeure," which do not apply to political differences over events in Ukraine.

Continue to reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility. Even at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions, Washington can and should reduce spending for those nuclear weapons that have no utility as instruments of power in dealing with political crises like Ukraine. The new Quadrennial Defense Review says that the United States can cut strategic warheads by one-third below New START and still provide more than sufficient nuclear firepower to deter nuclear attack. Now is the time to avoid squandering tens of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons projects that the United States does not need and cannot afford.

Refrain from using strategic weapons to make aggressive political gestures. U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are not militarily useful for the defense of NATO allies. Some have recently suggested that such weapons should be deployed further east into the newer NATO members bordering on Russia. However, such action would be politically divisive inside the NATO Alliance and would likely provoke dangerous responses by Moscow.

Some have suggested accelerating the ongoing deployment of U.S. missile defenses to Europe under the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), reviving the "third-site" deployment of strategic missile interceptors to Poland, or deploying missile defense cruisers to the Baltic and Black Seas. Such moves would be extremely counterproductive, since they would seem to validate Russian suspicions that U.S. missile defenses in Europe have either been oriented against them all along, or at least would provide the infrastructure for rapidly adding a capability to threaten Russia's strategic deterrent.

Moreover, as the U.S. Government has continually insisted, none of the specific U.S. missile defense systems considered for deployment in Europe would be capable of defending Europe (or the United States) from Russian strategic forces.  NATO should therefore maintain its steady course in implementing the first three phases of the EPAA, which do not include defenses against ICBMs, in response to evolving missile threats from the Middle East. Moreover, NATO should articulate more clearly its readiness to adapt downward its EPAA deployments if no Iranian IRBM/ICBM threat materializes.

Redouble efforts to maintain "Track 2" dialogue between American and Russian interlocutors. At a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Russian governments, it is even more important to use unofficial channels of communication to better understand the differing national perspectives and to search for policy options that would constitute acceptable compromises by both sides. One such ongoing effort is the German/Russian/U.S. Commission on "Challenges to Deep Cuts in Nuclear Arms," www.deepcuts.org, which is scheduled to release an interim report in late April.

Above all, the United States and Russia need to maintain a realistic perspective about the limits of hostility imposed by the existence of each other's nuclear weapons and an active appreciation of the mutual benefits they are now enjoying from cooperative endeavors - such as the generation of electricity in the United States from Russian-supplied fissile material and the security provided by a northern route of supply (through Russia) for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

When the current tensions subside, there will be other cooperative opportunities to exploit in the bilateral relationship and none will be more important for the world than finding the elusive path to mutual reductions in Cold War-sized U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.--GREG THIELMANN


The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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The Lisbon Protocol At a Glance

March 2014

Press Contact: Tom Collina, Research Director; (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2014

A pervasive fear surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union was the uncertain fate of its nuclear arsenal. In addition to Russia, the emerging states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited a significant number of nuclear weapons, raising concerns that the Soviet Union would leave four nuclear weapon successor states instead of just one. Aside from increasing the number of governments with their finger on the proverbial nuclear button, the circumstances simultaneously raised concerns that those weapons might be more vulnerable to possible sale or theft. The Lisbon Protocol, concluded on May 23, 1992, sought to alleviate those fears by committing the three non-Russian former Soviet states to return their nuclear weapons to Russia. In spite of a series of political disputes that raised some concerns about implementation of the protocol, all Soviet nuclear weapons were eventually transferred to Russia by the end of 1996.

When the Soviet Union officially dissolved in December 1991, the newly-independent states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited more than 3,000 strategic nuclear weapons (those capable of striking the continental United States), as well as at least 3,000 tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. All dispersed Soviet tactical weapons were reportedly back on Russian soil by the end of 1992, but the strategic weapons posed a larger problem.

The United States and Russia reached a solution to this complex problem by engaging Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in a series of talks that led to the Lisbon Protocol. That agreement made all five states party to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which required Washington and Moscow to each cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces from approximately 10,000 warheads apiece to down below 6,000 warheads on no more than 1,600 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and long-range bombers. The protocol signaled the intentions of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to forswear nuclear arms and accede to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon states, a commitment that all three fulfilled and continue to abide by today.


Estimated Warheads in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in 1991



Strategic Warheads

Tactical Warheads










Sources: Robert S. Norris, “The Soviet Nuclear Archipelago,” Arms Control Today, January/February 1992, p. 24 and Joseph Cirincione, et al., Deadly Arsenals, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005, p. 366.


Basic Timeline and Provisions:

  • July 31, 1991: The United States and the Soviet Union sign START.
  • Dec. 31, 1991: The Soviet Union officially dissolves, delaying entry into force of START.
  • May 23, 1992: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the United States sign the Lisbon Protocol.
    • Under the protocol, all five states become parties to START.
    • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine promise to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states “in the shortest time possible.”
  • July 2, 1992: Kazakhstan ratifies START.
  • Oct. 1, 1992: The U.S. Senate ratifies START.
  • Nov. 4, 1992: The Russian State Duma refuses to exchange START instruments of ratification until Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan accede to the NPT.
  • Feb. 4, 1993: Belarus ratifies START.
  • July 22, 1993: Belarus submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
  • January 14, 1994: The Trilateral Statement is signed by Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, allowing Ukraine to observe the transfer of weapons from its territory to Russia and the dismantlement of certain systems. It also commits Russia to send some of the uranium extracted from the returned warheads back to Ukraine for fuel.
  • Feb. 14, 1994: Kazakhstan submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
  • Dec. 5, 1994: Ukraine submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
    • The five START parties exchange instruments of ratification for START, which enters into force.
  • April 24, 1995: Kazakhstan transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia.
  • June 1996: Ukraine transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia.
  • November 1996: Belarus transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia, marking completion of Lisbon Protocol obligations.

Ratification and Implementation:


When the Soviet Union dissolved, the newly-established Republic of Belarus found itself in possession of roughly 800 total nuclear weapons deployed within its borders. Although Russia retained the warhead arming and launch codes, many worried that Belarus might attempt to take control of the weapons. Moreover, President Alexander Lukashenko twice threatened to retain some weapons if NATO deployed nuclear weapons of its own in Poland. However, when a constitutional crisis erupted in November 1996, Lukashenko was finally compelled to finalize the transfers.

Minsk signed the Lisbon Protocol on May 23, 1992, ratified it on Feb. 4, 1993, and deposited its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state on July 22, 1993. By November 1996 all nuclear warheads in Belarus had been transferred to Russia.


After gaining independence, Kazakhstan with extensive U.S. technical and financial assistance disposed of the strategic nuclear weapons that it inherited from the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan’s 1,410 strategic warheads were deployed on several different systems, including SS-18 ICBMs and cruise missiles carried by Bear-H bombers.

Kazakhstan’s parliament ratified START on July 2, 1992. All tactical nuclear weapons had been withdrawn to Russia by January 1992. The parliament approved accession to the NPT on Dec. 13, 1993, and deposited the state’s NPT instrument of ratification on Feb. 14, 1994. The last of the Kazakh-based strategic nuclear weapons were transferred to Russia by April 24, 1995.


When the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine became the third-largest nuclear weapons power in the world behind the United States and Russia. Ukraine’s 1,900 strategic warheads were distributed among ICBMs, strategic bombers, and air-launched cruise and air-to-surface missiles. Although President Leonid Kravchuk signed the Lisbon Protocol on May 23, 1992, Ukraine’s process of disarmament was filled with political obstacles. Many Ukrainian officials viewed Russia as a threat and argued that they should keep nuclear weapons in order to deter any possible encroachment from their eastern neighbor. Although the government never gained operational control over the weapons, it declared “administrative control” in June 1992, and, in 1993, claimed ownership of the warheads, citing the potential of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium they contained for creating peaceful energy.

A resolution passed by the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, on Nov. 18, 1993, attached conditions to its ratification of START that Russia and the United States deemed unacceptable. Those stated that Ukraine would only dismantle 36% of its delivery vehicles and 42% of its warheads; all others would remain under Ukrainian custody. Moreover, the resolution made those reductions contingent upon assurances from Russia and the United States to never use nuclear weapons against Ukraine (referred to as “security assurances”), along with foreign aid to pay for dismantlement.

In response, the Clinton and Yeltsin administrations intensified negotiations with Kyiv, eventually producing the Trilateral Statement, which was signed on Jan. 14, 1994. This agreement placated Ukrainian concerns by allowing Ukraine to cooperate in the transfer of the weapons to Russia, which would take place over a maximum period of seven years. The agreement further called for the transferred warheads to be dismantled and the highly enriched uranium they contained to be downblended into low-enriched uranium. Some of that material would then be transferred back to Ukraine for use as nuclear reactor fuel. Meanwhile, the United States would give Ukraine economic and technical aid to cover its dismantlement costs. Finally, the United States and Russia responded to Ukraine’s security concerns by agreeing to provide security assurances upon its NPT accession.

In turn, the Rada ratified START, implicitly endorsing the Trilateral Statement. However, it did not submit its instrument of accession to the NPT until Dec. 5, 1994, when Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States provided security assurances to Ukraine. That decision by the Rada met the final condition for Russia’s ratification of START, and subsequently brought that treaty into force.

Note: In 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union announced through the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives to substantially reduce their respective tactical nuclear weapons arsenals. For more, see “The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) on Tactical Nuclear Weapons At a Glance” at http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/pniglance.asp.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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U.S. Raises INF Concerns With Russia

The United States said Russia may have breached a landmark arms control accord by testing a new cruise missile, but has not concluded that Russia violated the treaty.

Tom Z. Collina

The U.S. State Department confirmed in January that Russia may have breached a landmark arms control agreement by testing a new cruise missile, but has not concluded that Russia violated the accord.

Confirming the details of a Jan. 29 report in The New York Times, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a Jan. 30 press briefing that the United States has raised the “possibility of…a violation” with Russia and U.S. NATO allies. The specific U.S. allegation is that Moscow flight-tested a new medium-range, land-based cruise missile. Such a test would run afoul of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which permanently bans ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has discussed the issue with her Russian and NATO counterparts, Psaki said, adding that “there’s still an ongoing review, an interagency review, determining if there was a violation.” Psaki indicated that the administration does not view the INF Treaty as being in serious jeopardy.

According to the Times, U.S. officials believe Russia began flight-testing the cruise missile in 2008 and that it has not been deployed. Gottemoeller first raised the issue with Russia last May, and Moscow has said it investigated the issue and considers the case closed, the Times said.

There has been speculation for months regarding Russia’s compliance with the INF Treaty, but this is the first time that the suspect weapon has been identified as a cruise missile. Neither the State Department nor the Times identified what type of ground-launched cruise missile it might be, but unconfirmed reports have since focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K. That system, reportedly first tested in 2007, would use a road-mobile launcher, as the Iskander-M does. The latter is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile that Russia has said it plans to deploy near NATO member countries in response to U.S. missile defense plans. (See ACT, January/February 2014.) It is not clear if the range of the R-500 exceeds the lower limit of the INF Treaty and, if so, by how much.

Previous reports had focused on Russia’s RS-26 ballistic missile, which Moscow has reportedly flight-tested at intermediate ranges. But because the RS-26 has also been tested at ranges greater than 5,500 kilometers, it is considered by both sides to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and therefore covered and allowed by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). It is not covered by the INF Treaty.

The INF compliance issue has surfaced at a sensitive time for President Barack Obama, who is seeking Senate confirmation of Gottemoeller and National Security Council staff chief Brian McKeon, who has been nominated to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. McKeon was one of the administration’s main liaisons with the Senate during the New START ratification debate.

Republican members of the Senate have held up Gottemoeller’s confirmation vote in the full Senate over the issue. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in a Feb. 20 letter to McKeon that if the administration knew about Russia’s “potential violations” and did not fully inform the Senate before the New START vote, “this would represent a serious abrogation of the administration’s responsibilities.”

In a Feb. 6 letter, three Republican House committee chairmen asked Obama to take stronger action against Russia in response to the possible violation, writing that failing to act “would only invite further violations by Russia.”

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, has become controversial in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. In 2007, Putin expressed concern that the INF Treaty’s missile ban applies to Russia but not to neighboring countries. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes in his recent memoir that, also in 2007, Russian officials suggested to their counterparts in the George W. Bush administration that the two countries withdraw from the treaty.

Last summer, Sergey Ivanov, the Kremlin chief of staff, publicly questioned the value of the treaty, saying Russia has more potential threats on its borders than the United States does. “The Americans have no need for this class of weapon, they didn’t need it before and they don’t need it now,” Ivanov said, according to RIA-Novosti. “They could theoretically only attack Mexico and Canada with them, because their effective radius doesn’t extend to Europe.”

The State Department reports annually to Congress on global compliance with arms control agreements. The most recent unclassified report, covering 2012, did not mention any INF Treaty compliance issues. The report covering 2013 has not been released.

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Russia Links Missile Defense, Iran Deal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program would remove the justification for NATO missile defenses.

Tom Z. Collina

The recent deal between six world powers and Iran to temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program would eventually remove the main rationale for NATO’s missile defense plans, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in December.

“Implementation of the Geneva agreement on Iran will remove the cause for construction of a missile shield in Europe,” Lavrov told a Dec. 19 news conference in Poland, where U.S. missile interceptors are planned to be installed by 2018. Lavrov was referring to an interim agreement reached in Geneva on Nov. 24 by Iran and six global powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that are seeking to ensure Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons. The agreement adds a new twist to long-standing Russian arguments against U.S. and NATO plans to field missile defenses in central Europe.

In his comments, Lavrov was highlighting the U.S. contention that a Europe-based missile defense system was needed to counter the potential threat to Europe of a missile attack from Iran. U.S. President Barack Obama said in Prague in 2009, “If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.”

But current and former U.S. officials say that it would be premature to assume the Iran deal will succeed and that even if it does, that alone would not remove the threat from Iran. According to a Dec. 16 press statement by Defense Department spokesman Carl Woog, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, during a video teleconference earlier that day that the Iran deal does not obviate the need for the United States and its NATO allies to continue their current approach to missile defense in Europe. Hagel told Shoygu said that U.S. and NATO missile defense efforts do not threaten Russia, and he urged Moscow to continue consultations with Washington on missile defense cooperation, Woog said in the statement.

Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013, said in a Dec. 18 interview that the interim agreement starts a promising process but that “the outcome is not inevitable.” Even if the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon were removed, there would still be the threat from Tehran’s missiles, he said, which can reach southern Europe. But if both threats were eliminated, “I would not be surprised to see a new debate on this in NATO,” Daalder said.

In a separate Dec. 18 interview, a senior Republican Senate staffer said that, in the context of U.S. missile defense, Iran will maintain a capability to break out from any future nuclear agreement “faster than we can deploy missile defenses.” He said that existing U.S. plans to field up to 44 interceptors in Alaska and California are “enough for the current Iran situation,” but that if Tehran flight-tests a long-range missile, which it has not done, “that would be an indicator” to start new projects, such as a missile interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Dec. 19 that Moscow was considering the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles, which could carry nuclear warheads, in Kaliningrad, a Russian territory on the Baltic Sea within striking distance of where U.S. missile defenses would be deployed in Poland.

“One of the possible responses [to Western missile defense plans] is to deploy Iskander complexes in Kaliningrad...but I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have not yet made this decision,” Putin said at a press conference, according to RT News.

Putin was contradicting press reports that the Iskanders already were in Kaliningrad, based on a Dec. 16 Russian Defense Ministry statement that “Iskander rocket complexes are indeed standing armed with the rocket and artillery divisions in the Western Military District,” which includes Kaliningrad.

Russia warned two years ago that it would put Iskanders in Kaliningrad if NATO were unable to convince Moscow that its missile defense plans were not a threat to Russia. Dmitry Medvedev, then president and now prime minister, said in November 2011 that the missiles could be placed in the region to “secure the destruction of the European component of the U.S. missile defense system.” (See ACT, January/February 2012.) It is not clear whether the missiles are armed with nuclear or conventional warheads.

Russia has been seeking a legal guarantee that NATO missile interceptors would not be used against Moscow’s nuclear-armed, long-range ballistic missiles. NATO has refused, offering political assurances instead.

The Iskander-M, the version of the missile that may be deployed to Kaliningrad, has a range of up to 400 kilometers and is not banned by any U.S.-Russian treaty. It could potentially target ground-based radars and interceptors deployed at Redzikowo, Poland, a site 250 kilometers from Kaliningrad at which NATO plans to deploy interceptor systems by 2018.

Interceptors are also planned for Romania by 2015. Ship-based interceptors were deployed in the Mediterranean Sea in 2011, along with a radar in Turkey. Last March, the Pentagon canceled U.S. plans to field more-capable interceptors in Poland by 2020.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Nov. 5 in Warsaw that the plan to field the system in Poland by 2018 is “absolutely on target” and noted that officials had recently broken ground on the site in Romania.

In the interview, Daalder said that the possible Russian action is less about missile defense and “all about Poland” because “Russia does not want NATO military capability” in the former Warsaw Pact country. Moscow is sending the message that “the threat to Poland will go up” if interceptors are fielded as planned, he said.

Moscow appears to be much more concerned about U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe than actual interceptor deployments in the United States, which have a greater capability against Russian long-range missiles, Daalder said.

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Missile Defense Against Iran Without Threatening Russia

Cancellation of the planned fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach has removed any capability that the fully deployed system would have had to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles but does not diminish the system’s capability against Iranian missiles.

Jaganath Sankaran

All recent U.S. efforts after the conclusion of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to move ahead on bilateral nuclear arms reductions with Russia have stalled over Russian concerns regarding the capabilities of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, as the Obama administration’s missile defense policy in Europe is formally known, and its effect on Russian nuclear retaliatory potential.

Since the early stages of the phased adaptive approach, Russian officials have cited it as an obstacle to further nuclear arms reduction. Last March, however, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a restructuring of the approach, canceling the planned implementation of its fourth phase, which had prompted the strongest Russian complaints.[1] The key feature of that phase was the deployment of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB interceptors in Poland. The SM-3 IIB, with a planned velocity of 5.5 kilometers per second, would have had the ability to fly further and faster than any other missile in the system.

Cancellation of the fourth phase has removed any capability that the fully deployed system would have had to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). As described below, Russia should be able to independently verify that, under the restructured plans, the system will not be able to intercept Russian ICBMs even when fully deployed. At the same time, proponents of the phased adaptive approach can be confident that the cancellation of the planned deployment of the SM-3 IIB interceptors did not diminish the ability of the system to intercept Iranian missiles. This restructuring should now pave the way for more-productive U.S.-Russian negotiations on nuclear arms reduction.

The U.S.-Russian Discourse

The phased adaptive approach was originally viewed by many as an attempt to ease Russian concerns over the previous administration’s missile defense plans in Europe. In 2007 the Bush administration proposed deploying a ground-based midcourse defense system in Europe to defend against Iranian missile threats. That system would have included 10 interceptors in Poland, a radar in the Czech Republic, and another transportable radar deployed in a country close to Iran. This proposal raised strong opposition from Russia.[2]

On September 17, 2009, the Obama administration announced it would cancel the Bush-proposed European missile defense program. Instead, the plan was to develop and deploy a missile defense capability based on SM-3 interceptors on land and on ships equipped with the Aegis missile defense system. The interceptors to be deployed in a phased manner, adapting to the threat posed by Iran. Moscow initially welcomed this decision with caution.[3] As details on the phased adaptive approach emerged, however, Russia argued that this missile defense system still posed threats to Russian ICBMs. Russian political leaders have claimed that the phased adaptive approach, particularly the now-canceled fourth stage of the system involving advanced high-velocity interceptors and possibly advanced missile-tracking satellites, was a threat to its strategic nuclear deterrent and a potentially destabilizing element.[4]

alternate text

Click image to enlarge.

Russia has asked for legally binding “military-technical” guarantees from the United States and NATO that the missile defenses that they are deploying in Europe will not be aimed against Moscow’s strategic nuclear forces.[5] The only publicly available explanation of what constitutes military-technical guarantees describes them as making certain changes to the algorithms of the operation of missile defense radars, refraining from bringing Aegis-equipped ships into areas that are in direct proximity to the potential trajectories of Russian ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, stationing Russian observers at U.S. and NATO missile defense installations, and formulating a mechanism to monitor the implementation of such measures.[6]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that his government would contemplate further bilateral nuclear arms reductions only if the United States addressed concerns about the evolving ballistic missile system. “Russia is open to new joint initiatives” in arms control, Putin said in an August 2012 statement. “At the same time, their realization is clearly possible only on a fair mutual basis and if all factors affecting international security and strategic stability are taken into account.” Among the factors, according to Putin, is the “unilateral and totally unlimited deployment of a global U.S. missile defense system.”[7]

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president from 2008 to 2012, had expressed similar views. Speaking at the 2011 summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries, Medvedev said, “If we do not reach an agreement by 2020, a new arms race will begin.”[8] He further suggested that “a European missile defense system can only be genuinely effective and viable if Russia participates in an equal way.”

Initially, the Kremlin had demanded that Europe be divided into two sectors, with NATO taking responsibility for providing missile defenses for one and Russia for the other. Under this arrangement, the two sides would have equal authority in decision-making for interceptor launches.[9]

The United States and other NATO countries did not agree to Russia’s proposals for such sectoral missile defense. Citing Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which says that an attack on any member “shall be considered an attack against them all” and that each member “will assist” the attacked country, they claimed that NATO alone bears responsibility for defending the alliance from ballistic missile threats.[10]

The constant U.S. response to Russian claims of vulnerability has been that the interceptors to be deployed under the phased adaptive approach would not pose a threat to Russian missile forces. Responding to such concerns in late 2011, Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said, “We have worked at the highest level of the United States government to be transparent about our missile defense plans and capabilities and to explain that our planned missile defense programs do not threaten Russia or its security.”[11]

The United States has declined to engage in negotiations on any formal agreement with Russia on the phased adaptive approach. In March 2012, Ellen Tauscher, U.S. special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, said Russia was seeking a “legal guarantee” with a set of military-technical criteria that would limit the ability of the United States to deploy future missile defense systems. Tauscher said Russia also was asking for data on when U.S. Aegis-equipped ships entered certain waters and when an interceptor achieved a certain velocity. The United States “will not accept limitations on the capabilities and numbers of our missile defense system” or on where it deploys the Aegis-equipped ships, she said. Those vessels are “multi-mission ships that are used for a variety of missions around the world, not just for missile defense,” she said.[12]

Nevertheless, the U.S. government has expressed a willingness to accept a political agreement affirming that U.S. missile defenses are not aimed at Russia. Tauscher explained that any such statement would be politically but not legally binding and would publicly proclaim Washington’s intent to work with Moscow in charting a course for cooperation on missile defense.[13]

Russia has continued to insist on a legally binding agreement with limits on U.S. missile defense operations. Such a legally binding agreement seems very difficult to achieve given the strong Republican animosity to it in Congress. The Senate resolution supporting ratification of New START, for example, specifically stated that the Senate would not accept any limitations on missile defense.

System Capabilities

Russian concerns, as well as the U.S. responses to those concerns, are closely tied to the location and capabilities of the various elements of the phased adaptive approach. Under that approach, interceptors would be stationed in phases on Aegis-equipped ships in the Mediterranean Sea and at land sites at Deveselu, Romania, and Redzikowo, Poland, to defend against a variety of current and future Iranian missile threats. The first phase of the approach is already in place with a command center in Germany, a forward-based radar in Turkey, and an Aegis-equipped ship with SM-3 IA interceptors deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. Phase II, consisting of SM-3 IB interceptors deployed in Romania, and Phase III, consisting of SM-3 IIA interceptors deployed in Poland, are to begin in 2015 and 2018, respectively (fig. 1). The previously planned fourth phase, consisting of the SM-3 IIB interceptors, was to be deployed in Poland.[14]

The major Russian concern with the system has been with the capability of the SM-3 IIB interceptors that were to be deployed as part of the fourth phase at the Polish site around 2022. The Russians have suggested that the interceptors would be able to intercept Russian ICBMs. Yet, modeling done by this author using minimum energy trajectories of the missiles and interceptors shows that interceptors at that site do not pose a viable threat to Russian ICBMs.[15] Under the original conception of the phased adaptive approach, an SM-3 IIB interceptor launched even with an idealized “zero time delay”—that is, immediately after the launch of the target ICBM—would be able to intercept Russian ICBMs from only five missile sites in western Russia. Modeling demonstrates that, even under these conditions, Russia would be able to launch its ICBMs from at least nine other launch sites without being intercepted.

In reality, interceptors can never be launched without some delay. It takes nearly 30 seconds for an ICBM to rise above cloud cover and for early-warning missile tracking satellites to recognize the launch of an ICBM.[16] After that, depending on the location of tracking radars, it can take as long as a couple of minutes for the system to calculate the point at which it will intercept the target missile. It seems that the closest radar that can track Russian ICBMs is the Fylingdales upgraded early-warning radar located in the United Kingdom. This radar would start tracking Russian ICBMs just as their powered flight ends, approximately three minutes after being launched.[17] Some Russian experts, however, have indicated that the Globus II X-band radar in the city of Vardo, Norway, which is much closer to Russia, also could be utilized in missile defense operations against Russia.[18] These Russian experts claim that the Norwegian radar will begin tracking Russian ICBM flight trajectories 140 seconds after launch.

In order to account for these real-world operational delays, the same modeling described above was repeated with a delay of 155 seconds. That time period was chosen because an additional time of at least 15 seconds is needed from the start of tracking (140 seconds) to calculate an intercept point and launch the interceptor. The interceptors in Poland have no capability to intercept Russian ICBMs with a time delay of 155 seconds. This would have been the case even if the SM-3 IIB interceptors were in place. Because of the distance of Russia from the Polish site, a time delay greater than 45 seconds would guarantee that interceptors from that site could not hit Russian ICBMs.

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The March 15 decision by the Obama administration to cancel the planned deployment of SM3-IIB interceptors, the fourth phase of the phased adaptive approach, has effectively removed any possibility that these interceptors based in Poland and Romania could be a threat to Russia. Russia, however, also has expressed concerns that Aegis-equipped ships with the SM-3 IIA interceptors, which have a velocity of 4.5 kilometers per second, located in the North Sea and the Barents Sea could pose a threat to its deterrent. Under a number of ideal and therefore unrealistic conditions, including immediate launch of the interceptors in response to the launch of the target missiles, ships located at these two positions would be capable of intercepting some ICBMs traveling on trajectories from Russia toward the United States. The threat dissipates again if one assumes a time delay of 155 seconds (fig. 2). Furthermore, during a real attack, Russia would be able to deploy multiple missiles and countermeasures that would make interception even more difficult. If the interceptors are not able to hit Russian ICBMs without taking these factors into account, as the modeling shows, then the interceptors will not be able to do so when they come into play in a real-world scenario.

Some experts within Russia support the argument presented above. In a number of articles, these experts have said that, in a hypothetical strike against U.S. territory, Russian ICBMs cannot under any circumstances end up within reach of the missile interceptors in Romania and that ICBMs from Kozelsk in western Russia can be intercepted by the missile interceptors in Poland only if they are aiming for the U.S. East Coast. Furthermore, these experts have said that other missile divisions in western Russia, such as those deployed at Vypolzovo, Teykovo, Tatishchevo, Yoshkar-Ola, and Dombarovskiy, could possibly be threatened only by ship-based missile defense systems from the waters of the Baltic, Barents, and Norwegian seas. Yet, the farther east the Russian missile division is located, the more hypothetical this threat becomes. According to these Russian analysts, inasmuch as it is the midcourse, or space, phase of ICBM trajectories that will pass over those seas, even the ship-based missile defense systems in present form are incapable of reaching these missiles.[19]

Although the cancellation of the planned deployment of the SM-3 IIB interceptors has removed the possibility that interceptors deployed under the phased adaptive approach would pose a threat to Russian missiles, it has not diminished the missile defense system’s primary mission of intercepting an array of current and potential future Iranian missiles (fig. 3). The restructured missile defense system would still theoretically be able to handle these Iranian missile threats, even if one factors in a comfortable amount of time for detecting and tracking them.

Moving Forward

The phased adaptive approach in its currently planned form would not have any effect on Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Nevertheless, a number of policy actions to ease Russian concerns have been suggested by experts in Russia and the United States. Giving Russia access to interceptor data, such as burnout velocity, is one of the prominent suggestions.[20] Given the now-reduced maximum velocity of the current system, however, it is not clear what data the United States could provide to the Russians that they could not discern on their own and that would provide them with a greater reassurance about the capabilities of the interceptors deployed under the phased adaptive approach. Russia possesses, among other means, its own early-warning satellites that it can use to monitor and estimate the characteristics of interceptors deployed under the phased adaptive approach.[21] Also, as described above, even under ideal conditions, the currently planned U.S.-NATO system does not pose any potential threat to Russia. Additional data are not needed to determine this.

It might be necessary to reassure Russia about the future evolution of U.S. missile defense systems in order to convince Moscow to engage in negotiations on further bilateral nuclear arms reduction. It is conceivable that Russia is concerned about the possibility of a very ambitious and hostile U.S. effort to employ missile defenses against it in the future. Earlier this year, Medvedev said, “We do not want next generations of politicians in 2019 or 2020 to take decisions which would open a new page in the arms race. But such a threat exists and everyone in Russia and the United States should understand this, that’s why we still have chances to come to an agreement.”[22]

In order for the phased adaptive approach to threaten Russia in a meaningful fashion in the future, not only would the United States have to deploy Aegis-equipped ships at difficult-to-operate locations such as the North Sea and Barents Sea, but it also would have to succeed in some of its ambitious plans for the development of space-based missile defense sensors.

In particular, the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS) that was planned for launch in 2017 was touted as a sensor that would have been able to provide more-precise missile tracking much earlier in flight than current systems. If the PTSS sensors had been able to reduce interceptor response times to less than 155 seconds, the Aegis-equipped ships equipped with SM-3 IIB interceptors located in the North Sea and Barents Sea would have had the ability to intercept Russian ICBMs.[23] The PTSS, however, has been canceled because of its “significant technical, programmatic, and affordability risks.”[24] Without these advanced sensors, it would not be possible for the United States to reduce the time delays to values small enough to successfully intercept Russian ICBMs. Also, the initial SM-3 IIB conceptual designs with liquid-fueled boosters were unsafe for deployment on Navy ships.[25]

Yet, it might still be prudent to reassure Russia that future U.S. missile defense systems will not affect its deterrent. The United States could bolster the offer of a political agreement that U.S. missile defenses are not aimed at Russia by voluntarily limiting the operational scope and reach of its future space-based missile defense sensors and missile defense interceptors. Developing a joint data exchange center[26] focused on monitoring missile launches might be useful, particularly if it will demonstrate to Russia the limitations of current U.S. early-warning and missile tracking systems.

In conclusion, the U.S. policy decision to eliminate the planned deployment of SM-3 IIB interceptors from plans for missile defense in Europe has removed any potential capability to intercept Russian ICBMs bound for the continental United States. The two countries should utilize the opportunity provided by this policy decision to begin discussions on further bilateral nuclear arms reduction.

Jaganath Sankaran is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He obtained his doctorate in public policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. The research for this article was done while serving as a Stanton nuclear security postdoctoral fellow at the RAND Corporation. A more detailed version of this article is forthcoming. The views expressed in this article are the author’s.


1. Tom Z. Collina, Daryl G. Kimball, and Greg Thielmann, “What Does DoD’s Missile Defense Announcement Mean?” Arms Control Now, March 15, 2013, http://armscontrolnow.org/2013/03/15/what-does-dods-missile-defense-announcement-mean/; Eliot Marshall, “A Midcourse Correction for U.S. Missile Defense System,” Science, March 29, 2013, pp. 1508-1509.

2. At a February 2007 security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly criticized the ground-based midcourse defense system, maintaining that it would lead to “an inevitable arms race.” Russia had threatened to abrogate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. For details, see Steven A. Hildreth and Carl Ek, “Long-Range Ballistic Missile Defense in Europe,” CRS Report for Congress, RL34051, September 23, 2009.

3. Kevin Whitelaw, “Obama’s Missile Plan Decision: What It Means,” NPR, September 27, 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112909735; Robert Golan-Vilella, “NATO Approves Expanded Missile Defense,” Arms Control Today, December 2010.

4. “Moscow Takes Harder Line, but NATO Chief Still ‘Hopeful’ on Missile Defense,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 3, 2012; “Russia Warns U.S. Against Deploying Final Phases of Missile Shield,” Global Security Newswire, October 1, 2012. Some Russian leaders also see the act of placing interceptors close to Russian territory more as a betrayal rather than as an actual threat. See Oleg Vladykin, “Missile Defense Push Seen by Russians as Latest in Long Line of U.S. Deceptions,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye Online, December 2, 2011 (in Russian).

5. “Russia Restates Demand for Pledge on NATO Missile Shield,” Global Security Newswire, September 14, 2011; Titus Ledbetter III, “U.S. Invites Russia to Monitor Aegis Missile Intercept Test,” SpaceNews, March 30, 2012; Robert Bridge, “Moscow Looking for NATO Cooperation, Missile Defense Guarantees,” RT, February 19, 2013, http://rt.com/politics/russia-missile-defense-nato-security-document-566/.

6. For details, see Sergey Rogov et al., “Russia: Experts—Missile Defense Compromise Dependent on Obama Reelection,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye Online, September 20, 2012 (in Russian).

7. “New Russian Nuke Cuts Will Depend on U.S. Missile Defense Moves: Putin,” Global Security Newswire, August 24, 2012.

8. Peter Topychkanov, “Missile Defense: Not Joint, but Cooperative,” Russia Beyond The Headlines, June 24, 2011.

9. “NATO Missile Shield Needs to Include Russia, Medvedev Says,” Global Security Newswire, May 16, 2011.

10. Frank A. Rose, “Reinforcing Stability Through Missile Defense” (remarks made at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Forum for Security Cooperation, Vienna, June 6, 2012), http://osce.usmission.gov/may_6_12_fsc_rose.html; Frank A. Rose “Growing Global Cooperation on Ballistic Missile Defense” (remarks, Berlin, September 10, 2012), http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/197547.htm. For the text of the North Atlantic Treaty, see http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_17120.htm.

11. “Obama Administration Defends Antimissile Plan,” Global Security Newswire, September 15, 2011.

12. Ellen Tauscher, “Ballistic Missile Defense: Progress and Prospects” (remarks at the 10th Annual Missile Defense Conference, Washington, DC, March 26, 2012), http://www.state.gov/t/186824.htm.

13. Ibid.; Ledbetter, “U.S. Invites Russia to Monitor Aegis Missile Intercept Test.”

14. For a review of the evolving architecture of the phased adaptive approach, see Tom Z. Collina, “The European Phased Adaptive Approach at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, May 2013, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Phasedadaptiveapproach.

15. In order to evaluate the capabilities of the various SM-3 interceptors against Russian ICBMs, a computer model was developed in the engineering software Matlab. The modeling was done using impulsive minimum energy trajectories of the missile and interceptor. Given the performance of a particular combination of missile and interceptor, the lowest required burnout velocity for interception was calculated.

16. David K. Barton et al., “Report of the American Physical Society Study Group on Boost-Phase Intercept Systems for National Missile Defense: Scientific and Technical Issues,” Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 76, No. 3 (October 2004).

17. Yousaf Butt and Theodore Postol, “Upsetting the Reset: The Technical Basis of Russian Concern Over NATO Missile Defense,” FAS Special Report, No. 1 (September 2011); Dean A. Wilkening, “Does Missile Defense in Europe Threaten Russia?” Survival, Vol. 54, No. 1 (February-March 2012).

18. Colonel-General Viktor Ivanovich Yesin and Major-General Yevgeniy Vadimovich Savostyanov, “Russian Experts Conclude European BMD Will Have No Significant Effect on RVSN,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye Online, April 13, 2012 (in Russian).

19. For details, see Aleksandr Khramchikhin, “Russia: Khramchikhin Answers Criticism of His Earlier Article on Missile Defense,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye Online, July 22, 2011 (in Russian); Yesin and Savostyanov, “Russian Experts Conclude European BMD Will Have No Significant Effect on RVSN.”

20. Jim Wolf, “Exclusive: U.S. Dangles Secret Data for Russia Missile Shield Approval,” Reuters, March 13, 2012.

21. For example, Russian radars detected the recent Israeli test-firing of the Sparrow missile in September. Available public information suggests that Russia was able to determine the launch direction and impact point. Given this, it is reasonable to conclude that Russia would also be able to monitor and estimate the velocity of the SM-3 interceptors independently. For a review of current Russian early-warning satellites and radars, see Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, “Early Warning,” August 22,,2013, http://russianforces.org/sprn/. For details on the detection of the Israeli missile launch, see Dan Williams and Steve Gutterman, “Unannounced Israel-U.S. Missile Test Fuels Jitters Over Syria,” Reuters, September 3, 2013.

22. “‘No Flexibility’ in U.S. Missile Talk—Medvedev,” RIA Novosti, January 27, 2013. Although rarely considered seriously in the U.S. debate, this ambitious vision does emerge from time to time. See Jon Kyl, “Missile Defense Is Self-Defense,” The Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2012.

23. For details on how the Precision Tracking Space System can be combined with land-based radars to intercept ICBMs in boost phase and early post-boost phase flight, see Jaganath Sankaran, “Debating Space Security: Capabilities and Vulnerabilities” (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, August 2012), pp. 148-225, http://www.cissm.umd.edu/papers/files/sankaran_debating_space_securitycapbilities_and_vulnerabilities.pdf.

24. SpaceNews, “PTSS Canceled Before Analysis of Alternatives, Report Says,” July 29, 2013.

25. ACTMedia News Agency, “U.S. Defence Official: The Deveselu Base Will Be Equipped With SM3 IB Interceptors by 2015, Later On to Be Upgraded,” March 25, 2013, http://actmedia.eu/daily/us-defence-official-the-deveselu-base-will-be-equipped-with-sm3-ib-interceptors-by-2015-later-on-to-be-upgraded/45087.

26. Steven Pifer, “NATO-Russia Missile Defense: Compromise Is Possible,” Brookings Institution, December 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2012/12/us-russia-nato-arms-pifer.

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Summit Off, U.S.-Russian Talks Go On

Despite public friction over several issues between Russia and the United States, including the postponement of an upcoming presidential meeting, high-level discussions on nuclear arms reductions and missile defense are continuing, according to senior officials on both sides.

Tom Z. Collina

Despite public friction over several issues between Russia and the United States, including the postponement of an upcoming presidential meeting, high-level discussions on nuclear arms reductions and missile defense are continuing, according to senior officials on both sides.

Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted for leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs to the media, was a recent and high-profile irritant in the U.S.-Russian relationship. That decision prompted sharp criticism from Congress and was cited by President Barack Obama as a reason for calling off a planned Sept. 3 summit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The summit could be rescheduled, according to the senior officials, and just two days after the postponement announcement, the United States hosted a previously scheduled Aug. 9 meeting in Washington of defense and foreign ministers, known as a “2+2” meeting. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Obama and Putin had agreed to revive the 2+2 process at the June 17-18 Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.

Both sides reported that they had made progress at the Aug. 9 meeting. “I do not think that the Snowden affair colored the engagement of the 2+2,” a senior U.S. official said during a press call after the meeting. “We would like to hold a summit with Russia, but the substance needs to be there, and so this 2+2 mechanism is a way to move forward,” the official said.

Striking a similar theme, Lavrov said during an Aug. 10 press conference that “Snowden is an anomaly” and there is “no cold war.” He said the two sides had agreed to continue the 2+2 meetings to discuss complicated issues “based on mutual benefit, mutual respect, [and] equality.” Lavrov added that Russia pays attention “to specific issues rather than those issues which some would like to make headlines in the mass media.” A schedule for future meetings was not announced.

Lavrov said that the Aug. 9 meeting “paid particular attention to the anti-ballistic missile problems.” The United States is fielding a missile interceptor system in Europe to defend NATO member states against a possible future missile attack from Iran. Moscow says it is concerned that the U.S. system could be used to target its long-range missiles based in western Russia. Hagel announced in March that the Pentagon had canceled the part of the program that Russia found most threatening, the fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, as the Obama administration’s missile defense policy for NATO is known, which included plans to field the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB interceptor. Moscow, however, has continued to express doubts about U.S. intentions. (See ACT, April 2013.)

According to a second senior U.S. official speaking during the Aug. 9 press call, the participants agreed to “look for ways to work together on missile defense, missile defense cooperation, and to explore the possibilities for further nuclear reductions.” Obama said in June that the United States could reduce the number of its deployed strategic nuclear weapons “by up to one-third” and that he intended “to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.” (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

Obama finalized new nuclear policy guidance in June that found that the 1,550 limit on deployed strategic warheads under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is “more than adequate” to meet U.S. national security objectives. The new guidance did not call for any immediate changes to currently deployed nuclear forces. That apparently will have to wait a year or so, until the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff translate the new guidance into more-specific directives. Once U.S. Strategic Command drafts new plans for using nuclear weapons, the administration can make changes to the way in which the United States deploys those weapons. For example, the new policy may allow the Navy to reduce the number of nuclear-armed submarines at sea.

Russia is resisting Obama’s call for reductions due to its concerns about U.S. missile defense and other issues. “Apart from the deployment of European missile defense elements at the sites that have already been determined, we believe issues related to sea-based systems, especially in the Barents and the Baltic Seas, should also be addressed,” Shoigu said.

In an effort to break this logjam, Obama’s then-national security adviser, Tom Donilon, hand-delivered a letter to Putin in April with a U.S. proposal on missile defense cooperation and arms reductions. The second U.S. official at the Aug. 9 briefing said that “we’re still waiting for their formal counterproposal, but they are evidently working on it, and they are ready to engage us intensively on it.”

Lavrov said there are items to discuss at a future summit, including a proposal to boost bilateral contacts and information exchange on nuclear weapons proliferation through Russia’s National Nuclear Threat Reduction Center and to allow the Russian state-run nuclear company Rosatom to collaborate with U.S. national laboratories.

Despite some signs of progress at the working level, Republicans in Congress expressed pessimism about the prospect of Obama-Putin talks in the future. “Obviously, the relationship is souring,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, Politico reported Aug. 9. “And obviously we’re in a period of time in our relationship with Russia where it’s likely the discussions of this nature are not going to be fruitful,” Corker said.

Politico also quoted Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) as saying that the administration should stop trying to win Russian support for U.S. missile defense plans. “The administration needs to be committed to a missile defense policy that is North Korea and Iran directed and quit tying our missile defense initiatives to an elusive Russian relationship,” Turner said.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued an Aug. 8 statement saying, “[N]ow we must move beyond symbolic acts and take the steps necessary to establish a more realistic approach to our relations with Russia,” including moving forward with “completion of all phases of our missile defense programs in Europe,” an apparent reference to the now-canceled fourth phase of the planned deployment in Europe.

Obama still plans to travel to the Russian city of St. Petersburg on September 5-6 to attend the Group of 20 summit, but it is not clear if he plans to meet one-on-one with Putin while he is there.

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Understanding the 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report


The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.


Volume 4, Issue 7, July 17, 2013

The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

Covering the period ending on December 31, 2012, the report provides no obvious basis for the conclusion rendered in a recent amendment adopted by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that Russia was "in active noncompliance with existing nuclear arms obligations."

The vague public charge repeatedly made by HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon appears to refer to more specific allegations in the press that a missile recently tested by Russia is a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Yet neither the Compliance Report nor the July 10, 2013 "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" assessment of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) identifies any Russian intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which the INF Treaty defines as missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km.

No Russian INF Missiles
With regard to the INF Treaty, the 2013 Compliance Report registers no issues of concern during the reporting period. This month's NASIC missile threat report says explicitly that "neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM [1,000-3,000 km range] or IRBM [3,000-5,500 km range] systems..." The NASIC report lists no Russian SRBM [<1,000 km range] with a range over 280 km.

Moreover, the missile threat report, the product of three Defense Department intelligence agencies, covers missiles under development, as well as those deployed. The absence of any Russian INF-category missiles in the report strongly implies that those observed in flight tests from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan (in October 2012 and June 2013) were the "New ICBM" NASIC lists with a range of 5,500+ km, and as "not yet deployed ."

With regard to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the 2013 Compliance Report certifies that Russia is in full compliance with the terms of the 2010 treaty. As in the case of every previous U.S.-Soviet or U.S.-Russian nuclear limitation treaty, implementation-related questions have been raised by both sides in the designated commission for discussing these issues, according to the report, and discussions are ongoing.

Russian Skies Not Completely Open
The 2013 report identifies four concerns, two of them new, regarding Russia's fulfillment of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty. This treaty establishes a regime for conducting unarmed observation flights by States Parties over the territories of other States Parties.

Specifically, the State Department report says that Russia has imposed: 1) restrictions on access by Open Skies aircraft to three areas: over Chechnya; in an air traffic control zone around Moscow; and along the border of Russia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions of Georgia that only Russia recognizes as independent countries; 2) air traffic control restrictions around Moscow that prevented flights or flight segments from taking place; and 3) airfield closures in support of holidays. Russia, the report notes, has also failed to provide a first generation duplicate negative of processed photographic film. Only the latter concern appears headed toward resolution, anticipating that Russia's future use of digital cameras will eliminate the need for negatives.

Through a Glass Darkly: BWC/CWC
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) section raises concerns about compliance with a number of countries, but conclusions are usually tentative or qualified. For example, "It remains unclear if Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article II..." and  "Syria may be engaged in activities that would violate its obligations under the BWC if it were a State Party to the Convention." These constructions are not surprising given the absence of a verification mechanism for the treaty.

As in last year's report, the United States assesses that Russia's Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) declaration is incomplete with respect to chemical agent and weapons stockpiles. In the absence of additional information from Russia, the United States is unable to ascertain whether Russia has declared all of its CW stockpile, all CW development and production facilities. Both the United States and Russia were unable to meet the convention's deadlines for eliminating chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles and facilities. In the "U.S. Compliance" section of the 2013 report, the authors artfully report only that the United States "continues to work towards meeting its CWC obligations with respect to the destruction of...[CW] and associated CW facilities."

Rogue's Gallery
Although the vast majority of states parties to arms control agreements are said to be complying with their commitments, the actions of North Korea, Iran, and Syria are   conspicuous for including multiple instances of noncompliance.

As in last year's report, the 2013 report again found North Korea to be in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in noncompliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement before its announced withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. North Korea's continued nuclear program development was judged to be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and of Pyongyang's commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.

Iran and Syria were said to be in violation of their obligations under the NPT and their IAEA Safeguards Agreements. As before, Iran was also cited for violating its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

In light of the U.S. assessment that Syria has used nerve gases against its domestic opposition in recent months, it is worth mentioning that Syria is not a party to the CWC, which prohibits such use. Moreover, although Syria is a party to the 1925 Protocol Against the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, that treaty does not prohibit use of chemical weapons within a state's own borders in a civil conflict. The Syrian case provides a dramatic reminder that absent arms control treaties and their verification mechanisms, the prospects for deterring, detecting and reversing behaviors unacceptable to the international community are much diminished.

An Encouraging Word on Burma
The concern expressed in last year's report about Burma's compliance with the NPT has eased. The 2013 report notes that Burma announced in November 2012 that it agreed to sign on to more intrusive IAEA inspection procedures, such as the Additional Protocol and that it would abide by certain UN Security Council resolutions on nonproliferation.

Compliance with the Global De Facto Nuclear Test Moratorium
The 2013 Compliance Report notes North Korea's 2013 nuclear weapons test explosion, but does not report any violation of the nuclear test moratoria, which have been declared by each of the five NPT nuclear weapon states since 1996, and by India and Pakistan beginning in1998.

Taking Arms Control Compliance Seriously
Compliance reports provide not only an important snapshot of contemporary issues regarding the implementation of arms control agreements; they also supply a valuable measure of progress over time and of relative performance between states parties. It is encouraging to see the Obama administration re-establishing executive branch fidelity to the congressional mandate for yearly reports--particularly after the previous administration managed to produce only two over an eight-year period.

Reviewing the content of the 2013 Compliance Report offers a reminder that adequate verification provisions and consultative mechanisms are prerequisites to meaningful monitoring and resolution of compliance issues. There is thus a symbiotic relationship between verifiable arms control agreements and conscientious efforts to monitor and report on compliance.

Although the U.S. Government's contributions to evaluating compliance are invaluable, any report by an individual national government can be subject to inherent limits on objectivity. Additional insights can be gained from such independent elaborations as the "2010-2013 Report Card" of the Arms Control Association on progress made by 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories. In this assessment, there are no straight "A"s to be seen. --GREG THIELMANN

1. 2013 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments; Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; Washington, DC, July 2013.


The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

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Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START

April 2013

Press Contact:  Tom Z. Collina, Research Director, 202-463-8270 x104

Research Assistance by Daria Medvedeva

April 2013

On April 8, 2010, Russia and the United States signed the New START Treaty. The treaty requires the sides to limit the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and fielded delivery platforms to 700. The treaty also permits the United States and Russia to conduct 18 annual on-site inspections of facilities operated by the other country. Biannual data exchanges indicate the current state of their strategic forces.

As of April 2013, the data exchange showed that Russia has 492 deployed delivery systems and 1,480 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.[1] Experts estimate that Russia will continue to reduce its forces to approximately 400 delivery systems and 1,100 warheads by 2020, well below New START limits.[2] Russia is in the process of retiring many of its older strategic systems.[3]

For a factsheet on U.S. nuclear forces, click here.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

As of March 2012, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces were estimated to have 332 operational missile systems that can carry 1,092 warheads. These include 55 R-36M2 (SS-18) missiles, 35 UR-100NUTTH (SS-19) missiles, 150 road-mobile Topol (SS-25) systems, 56 silo-based and 18 road-mobile Topol-M (SS-27) systems, and 18 RS-24 missiles.[4]

Missile system

Number of systems

Warheads Total warheads


R-36M2 (SS-18)




Dombarovsky, Uzhur

UR-100NUTTH (SS-19)




Kozelsk, Tatishchevo

Topol (SS-25)




Yoshkar-Ola, Nizhniy Tagil, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Barnaul, Vypolzovo

Topol-M silo (SS-27)





Topol-M mobile (SS-27)





RS-24 mobile








All tables are from http://russianforces.org.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and Submarines

The Russian strategic fleet includes 11 operational strategic missile submarines. Bases of the Northern Fleet host six 667BDRM (Delta IV) submarines; three operational submarines can carry 48 R-29RM (SS-N-23) launchers. The remaining Pacific Fleet base hosts three 667BDR (Delta III) submarines, which carry 48 R-29R (SS-N-18) missiles. Since the missiles have reached end of their service lives, Project 941 submarines have been withdrawn from service. The only exception is the lead ship of the class, TK-208 Dmitry Donskoy, which has been refitted for tests of a new missile system, R-30 Bulava. The first two Project 955 submarines - Yuri Dolgorukiy and Aleksandr Nevskiy - are expected to enter service in 2012.

As of March 2012, the Navy included 11 strategic submarines of three different types. The operational submarines carried 96 sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with 336 nuclear warheads. [5] Typhoon class submarines still remain in service in Russia's Northern Fleet but are going to be cut up and turned into scrap metal by 2014.

Strategic submarines

Number of submarines

Number of SLBMs and their type


Total warheads

Project  667BDR (Delta III)


48 R-29R (SS-N-18)



Project  667BDRM (Delta IV)


96 R-29RM (SS-N-23)



Project 941 (Typhoon)





Project 955


16 R-30 Bulava







[a] Three submarines are undergoing overhaul.
[b] One submarine of the Project 941 type has been refitted as a test bed for the Bulava missile system. It is not counted in the total number of operational submarines.

The RIA News reported, in June 2012, that the Bulava sea-based ballistic missile had entered service. The Bulava (SS-NX-30) SLBM, developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, carries up to 10 MIRV warheads and has a range of over 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles). The three-stage ballistic missile is designed for deployment on Borey-class nuclear submarines.[6]

In August 2012, Russian officials announced two Borey class strategic nuclear-powered submarines, the Yuri Dolgoruky and the Alexander Nevsky, would enter service with the Russian Navy, one with the North Fleet and the other with the Pacific Fleet. The Borey class submarines are expected to constitute the core of the Russian strategic submarine fleet, replacing the aging Project 941 (NATO Typhoon class) and Project 667 (Delta-3 and Delta-4) boats. Russia is planning to build eight Borey and Borey-A class subs by 2020. All the Borey class strategic submarines will carry up to 16 Bulava ballistic missiles, each with multiple warheads.[7] On July 30, 2012 the Sevmash shipbuilding plant formally inaugurated construction of the first submarine of the Project 955A class, Prince Vladimir.[8]

Strategic bombers

Russian strategic aviation consists of 66 bombers that carry an estimated 200 long-range cruise missiles and bombs, including 11 Tu-160 (Blackjack) and 55 Tu-95MS (Bear H). The bombers can carry various modifications of the Kh-55 (AS-15) cruise missile and gravity bombs. As of March 2012, the 37th Air Army was estimated to include 66 operational strategic bombers.[9]


Number of bombers

Number of cruise missiles and their type

Total cruise missiles

Tu-95MS (Bear H)


Up to 16 Kh-55 (AS-15A)


Tu-160 (Blackjack)


12 Kh-55SM (AS-15B)






1. “New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms”, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Washington, D.C.,  April 3, 2013, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/207020.htm

2. Options for Implementing Additional Force Reductions, Draft Aug. 14, 2012, International Security Advisory Board, U.S. Department of State.

3. Woolf Amy F. “The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions”, Congressional Research Service, February 14, 2012 p.21 http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R41219.pdf

4. Podvig, Pavel, “Strategic Rocket Forces”, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, April 12, 2012 http://russianforces.org/missiles/

5. Podvig, Pavel, “Strategic fleet”, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, May 12, 2012 http://russianforces.org/navy/

6. “Bulava 'De Facto' Enters Service”, RIA Novosti, June 25, 2012 http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20120625/174237676.html

7. “Borey Class Subs to be Deployed in Russian North, Pacific Fleets”, RIA Novosti, August 31, 2012 http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20120831/175536382.html

8. Podvig, Pavel, “Construction of first Project 955A submarine formally inaugurated”, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, July 30, 2012 http://russianforces.org/blog/2012/07/construction_of_first_project.shtml

9. Podvig, Pavel, “Strategic aviation”, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, April 13, 2012 http://russianforces.org/aviation/





Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Nunn-Lugar Program’s Future Uncertain

Moscow said that it would not sign a U.S. draft agreement to extend the landmark Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle and protect former Soviet weapons of mass destruction. The United States hopes to extend the agreement, which expires next year.

Tom Z. Collina

In a potential setback for U.S.-Russian relations, Moscow said in October that it would not sign an agreement drafted by the United States to extend the two countries’ 20-year partnership to dismantle and secure Russian weapons, materials, and delivery systems left over from the Cold War.

The United States, however, hopes to extend the so-called umbrella agreement, which provides the underlying legal framework for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. The program is commonly known by the names of the authors of the 1991 legislation that established the effort, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

If the program, widely viewed as one of the most successful initiatives to control excess Russian weapons of mass destruction, is not renewed, “Russia’s unsecured weapons and materials [would] remain a temptation for terrorists of all varieties to buy or steal for use in future attacks,” The New York Times editorialized Oct. 17.

In comments that many interpreted as an indication the deal was dead, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Oct. 10 that “[t]he American side knows that we do not want another [Nunn-Lugar] extension,” according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

An Oct. 11 Times story characterized the prospects for a new deal as “bleak,” citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to U.S. plans to deploy missile interceptors in eastern Europe and his decision to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development after two decades of work on Russian civil society and public health programs as examples of a growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Moscow.

Russian media said Moscow may not want to continue the agreement at all because it no longer needs Washington’s financial assistance to carry out the program and does not want to risk revealing sensitive information to the United States.

According to Western experts, Moscow’s sense of humiliation at being dependent on Washington to pay for securing its own weapons has always been an issue. “Russia did see the dangers after the Cold War, and many people rose to the challenge of doing something about it, but the pent-up sense of being dependent and wanting to end that seems to have finally come to the surface,” said David E. Hoffman, the author of a book on the Soviet nuclear and biological weapons programs and a former Washington Post bureau chief in Moscow, in an Oct. 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Russia is apparently at least open to renegotiating the deal on terms that it views as more favorable. In a statement posted on its website Oct. 10, the Russian Foreign Ministry referred to the proposed extension agreement, saying, “Our American partners know that their proposal is at odds with our ideas about the forms and basis for building further cooperation in that area. To this end, we need a more modern legal framework.”

The Obama administration has said it believes that Moscow is open to a new deal, as has Lugar. The Indiana senator, who is leaving office, issued an Oct. 10 statement saying that when he was in Russia last August, officials did not indicate “they were intent on ending [the program], only amending it.” He said that Russian officials welcomed prospects for future work and that more retired Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) await dismantlement.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Oct. 11 that the United States and Russia can do “a lot of future work…together” on threat reduction and that the Russians “have told us that they want revisions to the previous agreement.”

The original Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement was extended in 1999 and again in 2006, and the current agreement will expire next June. The Obama administration began discussions with Russia on extending the agreement last July, according to the State Department.

In August, after his trip to Russia, Lugar told reporters that the new U.S. draft agreement is virtually identical to the current one. At the time, Lugar predicted Moscow might have problems with the draft as it does not address the liability issues that Russian officials have raised in the past. Under the original agreement, the U.S. government and its contractors are shielded from virtually all liability for accidents that could occur under the program’s work with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in Russia. In 2006 the deal was reportedly on the verge of collapse due to Moscow’s concerns over liability.

Other U.S.-Russian nuclear accords, such as the Nuclear Cities Initiative, have lapsed amid disputes over liability issues.

Even if Russia is open in principle to a revised agreement, it is unclear what specific changes Russia would want and if they would be acceptable to the United States.

The CTR program was started soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, amid rising concerns that a cash-strapped Russia would not be able to control the vast Soviet weapons complex and that terrorists might buy or steal dangerous materials. The program allowed the United States to assist Russia in dismantling and destroying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and delivery systems for such weapons and in enhancing the security of key sites.

The bipartisan program’s accomplishments include removing nuclear weapons from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine; deactivating more than 7,600 strategic nuclear warheads; destroying more than 900 ICBMs; and improving security at two dozen nuclear weapons storage sites.

Without a new U.S.-Russian agreement, the cooperative work would end. Moscow could continue the effort on its own, but experts worry that Russian leaders will not give the program high priority compared to other budget demands, such as producing new weapons and countering U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe.

“The decision to move forward on this agreement is one for the Russians to make, but the implications and consequences of that choice are global,” Kenneth Luongo, an Energy Department official in the Clinton administration and a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said in an Oct. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “If the agreement is terminated, then it sends one of the worst signals to the international community about the importance of cooperation to secure loose nukes” and other weapons of mass destruction, he said.

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Russia to Field New Heavy Missile by 2018

As part of its declared effort to respond to U.S.-NATO plans to field missile interceptors in eastern Europe by 2020, Russia said in September that it would deploy a new “heavy” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in 2018.

Tom Z. Collina

As part of its declared effort to respond to U.S.-NATO plans to field missile interceptors in eastern Europe by 2020, Russia said in September that it would deploy a new “heavy” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in 2018.

The new ICBM prototype was flight-tested for the first time at the Plesetsk test site in Archangelsk on May 23, according to Voice of Russia. Strategic Missile Forces commander Sergey Karakayev said Sept. 3 that Moscow plans to deploy the new ICBM by 2018 to replace the Voyevoda, or SS-18 “Satan” missile, which is being retired. The new liquid-fueled, silo-based missile would carry up to 10 warheads and “penetration systems” to prevent “discrimination of the true from false warheads,” Voice of Russia said.

Russian retired Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, now with the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow, told Voice of Russia Sept. 4 that he did not see “any compelling reason for developing a new fixed-site, liquid-fueled heavy missile,” which can only be used “for a first-strike or counterforce attack,” a prospect he found “absurd.” He said, “[T]he missile is not suitable for a retaliatory strike” due to its vulnerability to “nuclear and high-accuracy non-nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board wrote in an Aug. 14 draft report that the United States and Russia could pursue mutual reductions below the levels established in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and thus “could improve stability by reducing Russia’s incentive to build a new heavy ICBM.”

The report noted that Russia is already below New START limits and said that the United States “can follow Russia downward below New START ceilings,” allowing both countries to avoid “costly or destabilizing modernization efforts.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said last year that it would take steps, such as building a new heavy ICBM, if the United States followed through on its plans to field missile interceptors in eastern Europe capable of targeting Russian long-range missiles.


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