Russia "resets" to nuclear-weapons, "military-purpose spacecraft" expansion

In early 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a supposed “reset button,” intended to symbolize a new era of friendship between the two nations after the retirement of George W. Bush.  The button didn’t actually say “reset” in Russian; thanks to a faulty State Department translation, it said “overcharge,” and was written in Latin rather than Cyrillic script.  That was an embarrassingly silly start to the so-called “smart power” foreign policy of the Obama administration, which thought that Russia could be wooed through sweet talk into supporting US interests.  Despite the reset button and a retreat on the anti-missile shield that left our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic holding the political bag, Russia has not changed its position at all on Iran, Georgia, or any other US security or economic concerns.


And now, thanks to a new militarization push by Vladimir Putin, the only thing that may be reset is Russia’s nuclear arsenal:

Russia’s armed forces will receive over 400 modern intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), more than 100 military spacecraft and over 2,300 new tanks within the next ten years, Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin said.

Earlier media voiced fears that by 2020, Russia’ ICBM arsenal could reduce by more than half as over 400 missiles would go beyond their maximum service life without timely replacement.

“Within the next decade, the armed forces will receive more than 400 modern ground- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, eight ballistic missile submarines, about 20 general purpose attack submarines, over 50 surface ships and some 100 military-purpose spacecraft,” Putin wrote in a new article for the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily.

He said the number will also include “over 600 modern aircraft, including fifth-generation fighters, more than a thousand helicopters, 28 regimental sets of S-400 [SA-21 Growler] surface-to-air missile systems, 38 division sets of Vityaz air defense systems, 10 brigade sets of Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) tactical missile systems, more than 2,300 modern tanks, some 2,000 self-propelled artillery systems and guns, as well as more than 17,000 military vehicles.” …

The Russian Defense Ministry is planning to acquire at least 10 Borey class strategic nuclear submarines, thoroughly upgrade its fleet of Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers, and equip its Strategic Missile Forces with formidable Yars mobile ballistic missile systems.


The addition of eight missile submarines and ten additional “strategic” submarines make this look a lot less like domestic defense and a lot more like having a long-range offensive capability.  Furthermore, the mobile ballistic-missile launchers should give the US some headaches.  The Yars was developed to defeat anti-missile shields like the one we had originally planned to install in eastern Europe to deal with Iran.  The expansion of the Yars deployment even after Obama’s retreat on the missile shield is a statement about the efficacy of American diplomacy in the “smart power” era.

Also, the “military-purpose spacecraft” pledge looks rather interesting as well.  That could refer to military-use satellites (such as this launch from a Proton-M rocket in September), but it’s hard to imagine why Russia would need one hundred military communication and intelligence satellites over the next decade.  This sounds like an aggressive step towards militarizing space, a direction we have noted from China but not so much from Russia until now.

So what are Obama’s nuclear plans?  Er

Even before becoming president, Obama said that he wanted a fundamental reevaluation of the place that nuclear weapons have in the nation’s security equation, that Cold War thinking had to be abandoned, and that we should even look forward to a world free of nuclear weapons sometime in the indeterminate future. Every administration develops its own rules, or military doctrine, describing the purpose of nuclear weapons and when and how they might be used, all of which it then sets forth in a document called The Nuclear Posture Review. The Obama administration, for the first time ever, made the Review public, opening it up for discussion. While his administration’s Review, released in 2010, hinted that it might soon be time to radically reevaluate the role of nuclear weapons in American security, it actually called for some very cautious baby steps (not the wild leaps that some conservatives seem to imagine) from the nuclear doctrines that go right back to the nuclear glory days of the Cold War.

The president then asked the Pentagon to develop, based on the Nuclear Posture Review, several options for what role U.S. nuclear forces should play. These are the options that were leaked and apparently include cutting up to 80 percent of the deployed nuclear weapons, leaving 300 or so ready-to-use nuclear warheads. Perhaps thousands more – the U.S. currently has 8,500 warheads — would remain in storage.


Small wonder the Heritage Foundation blasted Obama’s position today:

President Obama wants to reduce the nuclear arsenal to as little as 300 warheads. While this might seem like a lot, the targeting list is evolving more rapidly than at any point in history. The United States has more enemies than ever before and provides nuclear security guarantees to more than 30 countries. …

In addition, enemies can take steps to discourage or complicate U.S. counter-force targeting. They can disperse facilities and forces or hide them in tunnels or within population centers. Lowering the number of U.S. nuclear weapons will incentivize enemies to create more targets that can be attacked. As a result, the United States might not be able to stop an enemy force before it could attack. With lower numbers of nuclear weapons, the United States would be forced to threaten the population centers in other countries. A country that values freedom—for itself and others—above anything else should not divest itself of weapons that allow it to destroy enemy forces instead of civilian populations.

A review based on an arbitrary set of numbers instead of a sound assessment of the strategic environment can have devastating consequences for the U.S. and its allies. U.S. adversaries will not give up their weapons just because the United States gets rid of its nuclear arsenal. After all, since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. eliminated more than 80 percent of its nuclear weapons arsenal while North Korea, India, and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons.


Obama’s most radical plan would give us fewer nuclear missiles overall than Russia plans to buy in the next ten years, and they’d be older, too.

Putin’s plans look like a reset of  the Cold War rather than an era of cooperation.  This kind of escalation in defense spending by the Putin regime should be very worrisome.  Iran represents a real danger to the US, but a fully rearmed and belligerent Russia would be an existential threat.  Maybe the US needs a reset button on its foreign-policy assumptions. (via Daniel Foster)

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