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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Relaunching START II

Many Russian critics of START II have complained about its high economic cost for Russia. They argue that the treaty will require Russia to destroy many missiles, to build a large number of a new class of land-based missiles, Topol Ms, and to construct a new class of missile-equipped submarines, also with new missiles. For its part, the United States will merely have to "download" or dismount some warheads from its submarine-launched missiles and will not at this time have to undergo major costs for building new types of missiles and submarines.

This disparity does exist. However, it is not mainly the result of START II, but of different cycles of production in the former Soviet Union and the United States which left the United States with newer armaments and Russia with older ones when the Cold War ended.

Under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II, Russia will retain some SS-19 missiles to convert to single-warhead missiles by downloading. But it would not be possible to do this with SS-18 missiles, which must be destroyed under the treaty, although some SS-18 silos may be retained for space and satellite launches.

Some Russian experts want to modify START II, which, as indicated, prohibits land-based missiles with more than one warhead, to permit the new Russian Topol M to be equipped with three warheads. In that case, if a new START III set a level of 2,000 for the United States and for Russia, Russia would have to build only one-third of the Topol M missiles that it would otherwise have to construct to maintain the permitted level. Even so, at a construction rate of only a handful of Topol Ms per year, it would be difficult for Russia to maintain equality with the United States in numbers of deployed warheads using three-warhead Topol M missiles only.

Equipping Topol M with three warheads therefore does make some sense from the viewpoint of saving money and of maintaining equality with the United States but not that of arms control and disarmament. True, the mutual danger from MIRVed, multiple warhead, missiles has decreased with the passing of the Cold War confrontation. But intercontinental missiles armed with multiple warheads remain a magnet for possible preemptive attack. For this reason, the U.S. Senate considers the fact that START II prohibits all land-based multiple warheads a major advantage of START II and fears losing that gain for both sides if START II is not ratified by the State Duma. That is why the U.S. administration, pressed by the Republican majority in the Senate, insists on ratifying START II before moving on to negotiate START III.

One way to deal with this cost problem and also make more rapid progress in nuclear arms control would be to add a protocol to START II reducing the permitted level of deployed warheads to 1,000 each for both countries, and then proceed to negotiate START III covering data exchange, warhead dismantlement, tactical warheads and sea-launched cruise missiles, the topics the two presidents agreed at Helsinki in 1997 to negotiate. Under this approach, Russia might have 200 land-based warheads mounted on single warhead Topol M missiles and SS-19s, and make up the difference with multiple warheads on submarine missiles.

Still cheaper for Russia would be to have a limit of 1,000 total deployed warheads each for Russia and the United States. The term "total deployed warheads" would cover both nuclear warheads intended for intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (and/or bomber aircraft) and nuclear warheads intended for shorter range "tactical" delivery systems. Each country would decide for itself on the combination of tactical and strategic warheads it desired and would be free to change that mix at a later time after notification. In this way, Russia could, with minimum construction of new Topol M missiles, maintain a 2,000- or 1,000-warhead level equal with the United States using a combination of single warheads for SS-19 and Topol M missiles, tactical warheads, and multiple warheads for submarine missiles.

A further way for Russia to deal with the cost factor would be to demand equal ceilings with the United States, and not to insist that Russia's deployed-warhead totals reach those ceilings from the beginning, but slowly increase this total over the years as new Russian single-warhead missiles are built.

All of these three approaches would save money for both countries, especially for Russia. They would also place both countries in a position to enter nuclear arms control negotiations with China, Britain and France to work out agreements on small equal arsenals of about 200 total (strategic plus tactical) warheads, immobilized through placing separated warheads and delivery systems into internationally monitored storage on the territory of the owner state. Israel, India and Pakistan could be invited to join this program under similar conditions.

Owner states could withdraw their warheads in emergencies. If it were agreed to and carried out, this approach would eliminate or sharply reduce the main current dangers from nuclear weapons for all sides f actual surprise attack, accidental launch, unauthorized launch, threats of launch and seizure or theft of warheads or fissile material. At the same time, it would leave nuclear weapon states with a strategic nuclear reserve that could be used in situations of acute national emergency.

It is true that destruction of old missiles and dismantling of excess warheads in Russia and in the United States under approaches like these would cost a lot of money. However, the advantages of such approaches for both sides and for international security would be so great that the United States should be expected to provide for considerably greater economic help for Russian warhead and missile dismantling and warhead storage than it does at present.

Jonathan Dean is adviser for international security issues at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.