August 25, 1999

Russia's Military Today

Russia's Military Today

Recently, a neighbor of mine commented to me that we don't need a military anymore. I had to ask why and the reply was, "haven't you noticed, the Cold War is over?" The Cold War, of the post WWII era, may be over. However, concern over nuclear power and anti-ballistic missiles is still alive and well.

How big is the threat, if any? U.S. President Clinton has informed the American people, on over 130 occasions, that Russia does not have any missiles pointed at us, nor us at them. But, there is growing concern, on the part of Russia and the US, regarding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START) and START III treaties.

Russia has yet to ratify START II and the immediate future does not look good for this treaty. The problem centers around the ABM Treaty, signed by US President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, on May 26, 1972. The upshot of this treaty was to prevent the US and Russia from developing or deploying defense systems capable of shooting down incoming ballistic missiles. Many believe that this treaty placed the US in serious jeopardy rendering her defenseless against any form of foreign attack. With the fall of the Soviet, and thus the demise of the world's only other serious nuclear threat, these same people feel that the ABM should be considered null and void. Without this treaty, all nations would be free to develop and employ defense systems of virtually any type.

Other provisions of the ABM Treaty prohibits either country from providing air defense missiles, radars or launchers with the ability to deter strategic ballistic missiles. The treaty, also, prohibits the testing of such systems. In 1993, President Clinton announced his intention to begin testing and deployment of the Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) system. Since this system intercepts strategic ballistic missiles, and is considered, by many, to be in violation of ABM.

In 1983, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense System (SDI), better known as Star Wars. The concept was one of deterrence and defense; not aggression. SDI would intercept and destroy any incoming attack to the US. This system would have utilized laser technology, computer guided projectiles and a series of space based sensors. A costly program, indeed. In 1992, the project was tabled by the newly elected President Clinton and replaced by the less expensive Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO). This program uses a ground based anti-missile system whose missiles can be launched to destroy or divert incoming attacks.

On October 17, 1999, the US offered to assist Russia in completing their radar site near Irkutsk, Siberia. The trade off is that Russia must agree to renegotiate the ABM Treaty. The US needs this treaty re-worked to allow it to build its new national missile defense system. US officials claim that the desire is not to nullify the ADM Treaty and that the US does not desire a new arms race with Russia or China. On the other hand, the US perceives a growing ballistic missile threat from nations such as N. Korea, Iraq, Iran and other suspected states. The US is attempting to convince Russia that a reworking of the ABM is in their mutual interest as a means of protection against common threats. Thus far, Russia is not interested in or willing to make any changes to the 1972 treaty.

The US has assured Russia that its new defense system will not be aimed at Russia. Under this plan, the first phase would be completed by 2005 and involve constructing a new radar in Alaska and the deployment of about 100 antimissile interceptors. Russia remembers that, in the1980's, they were forced, under the provisions of the ABM, to tear down a radar which they had built at Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. The second phase of the US defense system would be done by 2010 and include another radar in Grand Forks, ND, and deployment of another 100 interceptors. Additionally, the US has offered financial assistance towards the completion of a radar at Mischelevka, near Irkutsk and another one in Azerbaijan, which would be controlled by Russia.

Currently, Moscow is looking to the United Nations for support in preventing the US to alter the ABM Treaty. Russia contends that such revisions would place disarmament and non-proliferation processes in dire jeopardy. They are joined, in this opinion, by China and Belarus. On October 2, 1999, the US launched an unarmed strategic missile from the Marshall Islands, over the Pacific Ocean, which successfully intercepted another missile launched from California. This was a test of their new defense system and seen, by Russia, as a direct violation of the ABM Treaty. Russia made it clear that this type of activity and further talk of revisions to the ABM Treaty would halt efforts to push ratification of START II through the Duma. The main objective of START II is for the two countries to eliminate strategic nuclear delivery vehicles by December 31, 2003.

Russia Sees New Arms Race . . .

Russia has warned that a renewed Cold War style arms race, racked with uncertainty and distrust, may well result from the US's insistence upon testing and deploying its new defense system. Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, recently commented that such action on the part of the US could result in Russia stockpiling nuclear weapons, dropping of all disarmament treaties and denying entry to any US arms observers. Russia feels that since the US is violating the standing ABM Treaty and doesn't allow Russian observers near its facilities, Russia need not allow US inspectors hear her arms.

Russia has been consistent in its warnings that by putting aside the ABM Treaty, the US can expect Russia to pull out of the START I treaty, abandon ratification efforts of START II and forget about further talks on START III. This would lead to a renewed arms race. It's no secret that Russia is experiencing severe economic difficulties. As such, she has little, if any, funds to develope and deploy a system similar to that of the US. However, critics point out that she is capable of arming her new Topol M (S-27) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) with multiple warheads. This is an act which Russia has not done, to date, because of her commitment to disarmament plans and treaties, such as the ABM and START.

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