Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 118

Perhaps wishing to divert attention from the State Duma’s continuing inaction regarding the START II treaty, an unidentified Russian military official recently charged that the United States was not complying fully with START I. His examples were rather specious. He suggested that in testing British Trident missiles from American submarines without providing telemetry data to the Russians, Washington and London might be colluding to add more warheads to the U.S. Tridents than the treaty allows. Anglo/American nuclear cooperation has always rankled the Russians. The Americans were careful to protect this long-standing program in the treaty text. The official also complained of the “uncontrolled” elimination of U.S. MX missiles. He indicated that the Russians feared that the United States might be trying to restore a nuclear air-launched cruise missile capability to its fleet of B-1B bombers, citing some structural modifications to the planes’ landing gear that were being performed in the field rather than at an industrial plant. In fact, while the B-1B remains accountable under the START I treaty as a nuclear bomber, the U.S. Air Force has removed even this capability from the aircraft–leaving it only with a mission of delivering conventional ordnance.

The recent preoccupation with START II has obscured two facts. First, that Russia has destroyed very few strategic nuclear delivery systems in the past several years. Second, that it will be hard-pressed to meet its obligations under START I, let alone assume the added burdens of START II. True, the four post-Soviet nuclear successors to the USSR–Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine–collectively met the treaty targets for the first elimination period which ended last December. They did so because Russia had destroyed the bulk of its obsolete SS-11 and SS-13 missiles even before the treaty entered into force, and because of the former Soviet missile sites that were eliminated by Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Over the last three years, the Russians themselves have destroyed only eight intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites. To meet the treaty limits for the giant SS-18 ICBMs, the Russians must destroy twenty-six launchers by the end of 2001. Should the State Duma ratify START II, Russia would be required to eliminate the SS-18s at the rate of more than twenty per year for the next eight years. In addition, each year they would also have to cut some fourteen SS-19 and SS-24 missiles. Unable to afford anything more than token strategic nuclear rearmament–the two Topol-M ICBMs put into service last year–the Russians will also have difficulty paying for nuclear disarmament.