Evolution of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Force, The

Working Papers

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July 1998

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The majority of Russia's current strategic nuclear force will become obsolete shortly after the turn of the century. Hence, Russian strategic force modernization is essential if Russia is to remain a nuclear power on a par with the United States. Numerous uncertainties, especially financial uncertainties, prevent accurate estimates of Russia's future strategic force structure. Nevertheless, under the START I Treaty, Russia can probably maintain a force with slightly more than 4,000 strategic nuclear warheads over the next two decades-about half the number of the United States. Under START II, Russia is likely to maintain a strategic force of between 1,800 and 2,500 warheads, compared to 3,500 warheads for the United States. Therefore, Russia's main interest in ratifying the START II Treaty would be to pursue a START III Treaty that limits both sides to between 2,000 and 2,500 strategic nuclear warheads. This is the least expensive way to retain rough parity with the United States. Several reasons have been educed for why Russia should not ratify the START II Treaty, namely, because the Treaty allows a U.S. advantage in reconstitution capability and prompt hard-target-kill capability. However, these advantages are neither so great nor so consequential that Russia should reject the START II Treaty for these reasons alone. If Russia ratifies the START II Treaty, and presumably a follow-on START III Treaty, Russia's future strategic nuclear force will appear a lot different than its Soviet predecessor due to the reduced emphasis on land-based ICBMs. Nevertheless, the Russian force should remain a highly survivable, stable force-assuming Russian leaders allocate sufficient resources to ensure that their ballistic missile submarines, mobile ICBMs, and bombers can survive all plausible counterforce threats.

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