Friday, November 19, 2010

Trust Russia on START?

START II never entered into force. Yet, the U.S. went ahead and decommissioned the LGM-118A Peacekeeper, citing underperformance with missile range objectives:


Time exposure shot of testing of the Peacekeeper re-entry vehicles at the Kwajalein Atoll, all eight fired from one missile. With live warheads, each would have the explosive power of twenty Hiroshima-sized (Little Boy) nuclear weapons.


The Russians, on the other hand, also covered in START II, continued to deploy the SS-18 Satan, historically one of the most devastating ICBMs in the Russian nuclear arsenal. And again, while START II was not ratified and nor entered into force, the norms that motivated the treaty apparently had little affect on Russian strategic behavior. The SS-18 Satan is a MIRV'd reentry missile. It remains the backbone of the Russian strategic arsenal. Previously, the SS-18 was thought to have destabilized the U.S.-Soviet deterrence structure, since the enormous size of the missile, along with the multiple warheads, threatened a successful first strike against U.S. land-based missile silos. And this history matters, as symbolism and memory are powerful elements of the Russian identity. To make matter worse, the Obama-negotiated New START doesn't actually call for a large quantitative reductions in deployed missiles (and that's just for START-ers). The U.S., frankly, would be placed at the mercy of Russian compliance with a renewed inspection regime. We are, then, to trust Moscow, not only with numerical ceilings, but with access for the inspection regime? It's asking a lot.