A 'New START' to an arms race between the US and Russia?
How European missile defense is blowing up the 'New START' nuclear weapons treaty, US relations with Russia, and possibly reigniting a cold-war arms race.
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Russia has also been increasing its deployed strategic nuclear stockpile. Russian warhead numbers had already dipped below the New START limits earlier this year, but have now increased to 16 warheads above the treaty limits. While the increase is not large, the trajectory of change is discouraging: Instead of continuing the decline in warhead numbers, Russia is now evidently increasing its deployed strategic stockpile.Skip to next paragraph
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That more of the three-warhead RS-24 missiles are now being used – and fewer of the single warhead SS-25s – strongly suggests that this is a direct reaction to NATO missile defense, since the RS-24s were specifically developed in response to earlier missile-defense plans.
While New START is a modest treaty in terms of strategic warhead reductions, it represents an important accomplishment for Russia and the United States: It re-establishes the data exchange on strategic-weapon systems and resets the US-Russia nuclear arms control relationship by building in a degree of predictability. It regularly brings together experts from both nations and increases transparency and decreases the possibility of misunderstanding.
But the domestic bargains struck to ensure the passage of this modest treaty in the US were much more significant – and, ultimately, destabilizing – than its meager benefits.
Huge funding increases for America’s nuclear-weapons complex and “modernization” programs as well as the green-lighting of the flawed missile-defense system were offered as concessions to reluctant hawks to get their agreement to sign on the dotted line. Obama entered office not favoring the ill-tested missile defense system but changed his mind because he needed additional votes to pass New START.
And this missile-defense “time bomb” in New START is what is now going off.
It is not only the monetary cost of the funding increase for the nuclear-weapons complex and missile defense, totaling about $200 billion over the next decade, but also the negative arms control blowback that make the domestic ransom paid to get passage of New START a ridiculously bad deal. The huge concessions made were simply not worth the modest goals of the treaty and, in fact, are now actively undermining it. A proper cost-benefit analysis carried out before acceding to the demands of defense-hawks would have clearly indicated this.
The anticipated increase in security by slightly reducing strategic-nuclear-warhead numbers is now more than negated by the poisoning of relations with Russia over missile defense. It would possibly be worth tolerating the deteriorating relations with Russia if the planned missile-defense system were actually effective against Iran or North Korea.
The irony of it all is that the type of missile defense that is being fielded could easily be defeated by any adversary who has the skill to manufacture missiles.
The simplest countermeasures are cheap inflatable balloon decoys. Because the missile-defense interceptors try to strike the missile warheads in the vacuum of space, these balloons and any warheads would travel together, making it impossible to tell them apart.
An enemy bent on delivering a nuclear payload to Europe or the United States could inflate many such decoys near the warhead and fool or overwhelm the defense system by swamping it with fake signals.