About a year and a half ago, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force. The Obama Administration ensured the American people and the Senate that the treaty would contribute to strategic stability between the United States and the Russian Federation.
The treaty was touted as a crown jewel of the Administration’s “reset” policy, but yet another State Department data declaration confirms that the treaty is hopelessly biased in the Kremlin’s favor and that the “reset” policy is in shambles.
The treaty, in fact, undermines strategic stability. The State Department’s data show that Russia lowered the number of its intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles—or bombers—by three (compared to the March 1, 2012, data declaration).
At the same time, the country increased the number of its accountable warheads by seven (if the March 1, 2012, data declaration is taken as a baseline of comparison). This means that the Russians are putting more nuclear warheads, or Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), on each of their delivery vehicles. The process is also known as MIRVing and has been considered destabilizing for decades because it is said to incentivize the other side to strike first.
The Obama Administration recognized this in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and ordered all U.S. ICBMs be deployed with one nuclear warhead to “enhance the stability of the nuclear balance by reducing the incentives for either side to strike first.” The Administration, however, did nothing to negotiate a ban on MIRVing in New START, and the Russians are taking the advantage of this loophole. Currently, Moscow out-MIRVs the U.S. by one per each accountable deployed delivery system.
To exacerbate the disparity, the U.S. is the only state with nuclear weapons without a substantive nuclear weapons modernization program. Since New START entered into force, the Russians have announced the most massive nuclear weapons build-up since the end of the Cold War. Over time, if the U.S. does not change its policy or Russia adopts a fundamentally different strategic posture, Washington policymakers will be left with a qualitative and quantitative disadvantage vis-à-vis Moscow and potentially other nuclear-armed states.
President Obama touted New START as an essential step on the road toward a world free of nuclear weapons—U.S. nuclear weapons, that is, because the assumption that if the U.S. unilaterally disarms, others will follow, is just not true.
Historically, South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons while the U.S. built up and tested its nuclear weapons. North Korea and Pakistan emerged as new nuclear weapons players, while the U.S. reduced its nuclear weapons and stopped testing them.
Countries base their nuclear weapons programs on their respective perceptions of threats, not on steps taken by the United States. In a world with many nuclear-armed players, it is important that the U.S. adopts a “protect and defend” strategic posture comprising offensive and defensive systems. Such a posture would allow the military to defend the American people, territories, institutions, and infrastructure from actors who mean the country and its allies harm.