Feint Right, Hit Left
By John D. Turner
12 Apr 2010

He strikes where you least expect it. Fresh from his victory-at-all-costs win in the National Health Care debate, and while Republicans were gearing up for the inevitable debate on Immigration Reform (Progressive-style), and Cap-and-Trade, under the wire slides Mr. Obama with a brand spanking new treaty on strategic arms reduction and a new policy on American use of the nuclear deterrent.

Who saw this one coming? When did strategic arms reduction emerge as a priority issue on the political event horizon? I thought we were all concerned about the economy, the housing and banking collapse, and jobs?

All I can say is, “it’s on the list”. In between major initiatives, there was apparently room to shoehorn-in a small matter such as strategic arms reduction that most of us are not real concerned about, but which the left has been promoting for decades. It’s a fait accompli; a done deal. Now let’s move on to more important issues, shall we?

Well, let’s not just for a second. Let’s instead take a look at this treaty that the President has announced, because, in reality, he can sign it but Congress has to ratify it before we are bound by it. That requires a 2/3 majority vote in the Senate, 67 votes, which would require bipartisan support. I am not sure that a treaty can be passed by reconciliation, although who knows?

The president has been emphasizing that this treaty will reduce the existing nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia by one third. He touts this as a great step forward to ridding the world of nuclear weapons and a necessary advance to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to help ensure that such weapons stay out of the hands of terrorists and other undesirable elements. I have no doubts that he is sincere; that he really believes what he says, and fully intends to draw down the U.S. nuclear arsenal by one third.

I am less sanguine about the Russian half of the equation.

The Russians, it seems, have “reserved the right” to back out of the treaty at anytime they feel it in their best national interests to do so.

One stated basis for doing so would be if the Russians “perceive” that U.S. missile defense systems grow into a threat to Russian capability to nuke the United States any time they feel like it. Missile defense has been a bone of contention between the two countries all along. In fact, Russian spending to combat President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”) is given much of the credit for the economic collapse of the former Soviet Union.

It is interesting to note that Russia has had antiballistic missile systems for decades. Under an earlier treaty, both Russia and the United States were allowed to build defenses protecting two targets within their countries, with the number of anti-missile systems capped at 100 launchers. The United States built their systems to protect ballistic missile complexes so as to preserve a counterstrike capability in the event of a Soviet first strike, and immediately abandoned them upon completion. Russia on the other hand built and maintained theirs, one of which and still operational, was designed to protect Moscow.

Apparently anti-missile defenses are OK when Russia has them; they are only bad if the U.S. has them.

I don’t know how effective these systems would have been; personally I think their use may have been more of a disaster than allowing the incoming warheads to hit their targets. Because these first generation ABMs were incapable of targeting an incoming warhead accurately, these defensive missiles used nuclear warheads themselves in order to kill the incoming nuclear warheads. To do this effectively (at a distance far enough away that the defense itself would not destroy what it was trying to protect), they would have to “intercept” the incoming missile at very high altitudes, within the upper atmosphere or beyond it. The detonation of nuclear warheads in this area would result in massive and wide-ranging EMP effects, a phenomenon of nuclear weapons we were only beginning to understand in the 1960’s and early 1970’s when these systems were designed and built.

It should also be noted that our vulnerability to this phenomena has increased enormously over time, due to the increasing prevalence of micro-electronics in all aspects of our daily life, which is one reason our current ABM designs use kinetic kill and other non-nuclear means to destroy incoming warheads.

Be that as it may, this “right” the Russians reserve to back out of the treaty should they decide they don’t like our ability to defend ourselves in effect makes the treaty null and void; it should never be signed by the President, or ratified by the Congress. The Russians will no doubt hold missile defense hostage against their repudiating the treaty. My prediction? Strategic missile defense is dead as of the date the treaty is signed. And ultimately, the Russians will end up backing out of it anyway. Or ignore it.

It should be noted that this is not a problem for the left; they don’t like missile defense either. They consider it “destabilizing.”

The United States is trading away its nuclear deterrent and getting nothing in return. Well, I shouldn’t say “nothing”. What this will do is enable the US to cut its ballistic submarine fleet, its remaining land-based missile silos, and oh yes; we won’t have to worry about a next generation bomber, because we won’t need a next generation bomber. Look at all the money we can save from the defense department budget that we can now shift to our new national priorities; universal health care, green energy, and growing the size of government.

What else it will do is seriously impact national security. What the president doesn’t seem to understand is that we have nuclear weapons so we won’t ever have to use nuclear weapons. We also have nuclear weapons to deter certain types of attacks on our country (chemical, biological, radiological, etc) by those who wish us harm.

Now the argument can be made that if we had no nuclear weapons, we definitely could never use nuclear weapons. However the argument cannot be made that not having nuclear weapons deters attacks on the United States by countries which do have nuclear weapons. Nor can we deter such attacks using other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical, biological, and cyber attacks. (Unless of course we are willing to reply in kind with chemical, biological, or cyber attacks on the perpetrators. Cyber, maybe. The others? No way.)

Additionally, we have promised not to test any nuclear weapons, or to build any new nuclear weapons. So. If we can’t test existing weapons to ensure they still work, we won’t build any new weapons (which we also can’t test to verify they work) to replace aging weapons in our inventory, and won’t use what we have in any event, one has to ask, what good are they anyhow. Ultimately this means we will dispose of them entirely.

Which one might think good, except that our adversaries are not doing the same. And I include both Russia and China in the adversarial category here, along with North Korea, Iran, and, if we continue dissing our allies as we have been, the list could include every nuclear-armed nation on the face of the planet. Russia recently fielded a new ICBM. They continue to modernize their nuclear weapons systems, including design of new warheads. China continues to build and field nuclear weapons systems. North Korea is pretty much ignoring us and doing their own thing, as is Iran, who just called Obama wet behind the ears and thumbed their noses at us yet again.

U.S. missile systems are old. Currently, the Air Force operates 450 Minuteman III ICBMs. These originally entered service in 1970, 40 years ago. The last was built in 1978. There are no new U.S. ICBMs even on the drawing board. Russia, on the other hand continues to modernize their ICBM force. Currently, they are developing the Topol-M (SS-27) ICBM. They are also working on a new Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (we are not), and have resumed production of the TU-160 strategic, nuclear capable, bomber (we have no new bombers under construction or on the drawing board as of yet).

The Russians have been fielding about six new SS-27’s per year for the past decade. There are now 65 deployed and the current plan is to build and deploy 110-120 by 2015. Originally they were single warhead missiles; now however they are being configured for multiple warheads. And these are in addition to currently fielded system, although older systems will be retired to make way for the new ones. We on the otherhand have no new, modern missiles to deploy; we aren't even considering any.

As an aside, the SS-27 uses “cold launch” technology. This means the missile silo can be reloaded and reused fairly quickly after launch. By contrast, the Minuteman III is “hot launched”, meaning that it is single use only. Launching the missile causes extensive damage to the silo, requiring major refurbishment before it could be used again.

The SS-27 can also be launched from a mobile platform, making it much more difficult to locate and target. We do not have any mobile ICBMs, either deployed or under development.

The new SLBM has had some development issues, but continues to press ahead. The first new submarine slated to carry the new missile is to be deployed sometime this year or early 2011. These are to replace their ageing Delta IVs. Please note that the United States is no longer even building ballistic missile submarines, much less fielding a new SLBM and launch platform.

Part of the problem here as I see it, is that there is no evidence, based on the current buildup of Russian strategic nuclear weapon systems, that there is any intent on the behalf of the Russians to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenal. In fact, one has to wonder why the Russians are “wasting” money in this effort at all; we aren’t spending a dime to expand or even modernize our nuclear force.

My prediction? We will start reducing our force, even before the ink is dry on the paper. The Russians will drag their heels and ultimately pull out of the treaty or simply ignore it. They may get rid of some older systems that they planned to replace anyway, but will continue to build the newer replacements and keep their warhead count pretty much where it currently is. This will end up being unilateral disarmament by the United States, ballyhooed as a significant step towards world peace.

And what of China? What about our allies who have been enjoying the protection of the American “nuclear umbrella?” What will they do when that umbrella starts springing leaks, or when it looks like the umbrella may be withdrawn entirely? At what point does the warhead count fall below the threshold where it no longer deters, or no longer “stretches” enough to cover everyone?

Will Japan decide it needs to develop nuclear weapons to have its own deterrent against an expansionist China? Will South Korea decide it needs its own weapons to deter North Korea? Either country could build such weapons in short order. They have the technology, fissionables, and scientists necessary to do so. Japan has the ballistic missile technology as well.

Decades ago, Ronald Reagan provided us with sage advice when dealing with what was then the Soviet Union; “trust but verify.” Today we seem to be dispensing with the “verify” part and are operating solely on trust. This is the leftist way; surely if we project good will toward others they will reciprocate. We need only show them that we are sincere; that times have changed, that the U.S. is no longer the bad guy. Remember Hillary Clinton and the infamous “reset button.”

Maybe if the Russians were as deluded as our leadership appears to be, this would have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. But unfortunately with the Russians we have Mr. Putin. He may be many things, but a deluded lefty with visions of sunbeams and lollypops he is not. Neither is Mr. Ahmadinejad, or Kim Jung the ill.

I just don’t see a happy ending with this one. For us, anyway.