The Obama Administration’s “reset” policy with the Russian Federation is failing in yet another important aspect of this relationship: its predictability regarding the development of each country’s respective nuclear forces. This is despite the Obama Administration touting the New Strategic Arms Control Treaty (New START) as one of the greatest accomplishments of the reset policy.
The list of U.S. “reset” concessions is extensive: unilateral cuts of U.S. strategic nuclear forces, abandonment of missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, neglect of Russian aggressiveness in the areas of the former Soviet Union, and reduced criticism of political freedom violations in Russia. Yet, since President Obama took office, Moscow has launched the most ambitious nuclear weapons modernization program since the end of the Cold War, including the development of new types of highly destabilizing “heavy” intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in return.
Heavy ICBMs are ballistic missiles equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). MIRVs have been considered destabilizing because they offer a significant strategic advantage to whoever uses them first. Russia is reportedly working on at least three new heavy ICBMs. These new systems are likely to have the capability to destroy U.S. ICBMs (and grounded bombers) if the Russians strike first.
The U.S. does not have any substantial nuclear modernization plans, unlike Russia and all other nuclear-armed countries in the world. President Obama’s promises to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal look increasingly dim given the fiscal environment. It is the policy of the Obama Administration not to develop new nuclear warheads, support new military missions for nuclear weapons, or provide for new military capabilities. This leaves Washington stuck with nuclear warheads last tested in 1992 mounted on decades-old delivery systems. It is also U.S. policy not to MIRV its ICBMs.
New START was supposed to bring predictability into the U.S.–Russia strategic relationship. In February 2011, following the New START’s entry into force, Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, argued that “we can reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons and enhance our security.” As President Reagan would have said, this is just not so.
As it turns out, the United States will have to unilaterally reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal under the terms of New START. These reductions might cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1 billion over the next seven years. Meanwhile, Russia can actually build up its nuclear forces, which is exactly what it has been doing.
In addition, New START’s verification provisions are inadequate, as Heritage’s experts reported in July 2010. The treaty has a minimal contribution to the U.S. ability to monitor Russian modernization as the data exchanges are severely restricted and the number of inspections is limited to the point of being largely irrelevant.
The “reset” policy fails exactly where it was supposed to succeed: in the nuclear disarmament and arms control area.