Friday, December 18, 2009

Old-Fashioned Arms Control in the 21st Century

My freshman year roomie has an interesting story on US-Russian nuclear arms control.  I was not really aware that anything was being done on this, but apparently a deal is near.

The new version of Start would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200, according to a senior American official. It would also force each side to reduce its strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles to below 800, down from the old limit of 1,600.
I am not surprised to see the number of warheads go down, but am surprised to see the number of launchers to be decreased.  This runs contrary, although not terribly so, to the notion that multi-headed missiles are greater threats as first strike weapons.  It would seem to be the case that getting down to one warhead per missile would be stabilizing, but I have not studied this arms control stuff in a long time.

The more surprising revelation is that there might be an elimination of one leg of the triad--that the US has insured the survivability of its nuclear weapons by deploying land-based, air-based, and sea-based systems.  I am not too thrilled about this step.  But there is not much info on this one. 

The other surprise is that there are still tactical nuclear weapons that are deployed:

Tactical nuclear weapons were developed during the cold war as generally lower-yield, shorter-range explosives that could be used on the battlefield. The United States and its NATO allies relied on them as a deterrent to any invasion of Western Europe by what were presumed to be superior Soviet and Warsaw Pact land forces. But since the demise of the Soviet Union, the thinking has flipped, and Russia today views tactical nuclear weapons as a bulwark against American conventional supremacy.
This last point is most interesting--that the Russians see tactical nukes as we used to see them.  

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