Restraint, Peace Through Strength and Arms Racing

by PETER HUESSY October 11, 2016

We have to keep in mind the United States has not built any new submarine, land based missile or new bomber in 30 years and will not introduce such modern platforms into our nuclear Triad until the mid-to-late 20's at the earliest if the current modernization plan is implemented. Thus the context in which such a "restraint" decision might be made is important.

For the past decade, the Russians have undertaken a massive modernization of their own nuclear weapons. According to expert analyst Mark Schneider, who spoke this summer at a Mitchell Institute seminar, "The Russians have a program to deploy right now the SS-27 Mod 2, which they call the RS-24/Yars. It's a highly MIRV'ed version of the SS-27. It carries at least, according to a deputy Russian defense minister, four nuclear warheads.

Schneider further notes, the Russians are "deploying a new ballistic missile submarine called the Boray-class, or the 955. It's carrying a new ballistic missile called the Bulova-30, which was declared under the old START Treaty a six warhead missile. Two versions of legacy Cold War missiles have been improved. They're called the Sineva and Layner.

Are the Russians designing new nuclear systems for regional war-fighting? Schneider believes they are, explaining:  "They have two nuclear-capable stealthy cruise missiles that have been deployed in the last several years. One of them is called the KH-102. Russian sources say it has a 5,000 kilometer range and is stealthy. The other one is the KH-101, which was supposed to be conventional, but in December Putin revealed it's nuclear-capable."

Interestingly, says Schneider, "Here we have a weapon that has just been used in Syria with the conventional version. The KH-101 could [also] be used for precision low-yield nuclear attacks. Russia is modernizing the existing bomber force with the new cruise missiles and a variety of upgrades of weapons capabilities on the Blackjack, or TU-160 bomber. The Russians in 2015 announced a program to build 50 more improved versions of the TU-160."

As for ICBMs, the Russians are developing, says Schneider "with an intended deployment date between 2018 and 2020, a new heavy ICBM called the Sarmat. A Russian deputy defense minister said it had 10 metric tons of throw-weight, which is greater than the Cold War SS-18 heavy ICBM. Russian press reports indicate it will carry 10 heavy or 15 medium nuclear warheads. That would make it the most destructive ICBM or missile of any time in the world."

But the Russian efforts don't stop there. Schneider explained: "They are now, or just about, to deploy the RS-26. They call it an ICBM and say on the first test it went to a minimum ICBM range of 5,600 kilometers. Every subsequent test has been announced to a range of 2,000 kilometers. It is clearly intended to be a theater weapon, and it is MIRV'ed. They are developing something that they call a fifth generation ballistic and cruise missile submarine. Recently the state media has called it the Husky. It's supposed to be [deployed] around by 2020. They are developing a new stealthy heavy bomber. They call it the PAKDA. It's reported in the Russian press to be similar in design to a B-2 bomber. It carries both nuclear cruise missiles and now reportedly hypersonic missiles."

In the face of such modernization, former Secretary of Defense Perry argues that if the United States simply slows down and eliminates key parts of its own nuclear modernization program, the Russians will feel compelled to slow down or stop their own systems. But as former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown warned us many years ago about the Soviet Union, "When we build, they build; when we don't build, they build". Given the very extensive Russian modernization program outlined above, what would the Russians actually stop building in return for American unilateral restraint? Wouldn't it be more likely that Moscow would pocket the US concession and demand more and continue to build as well?

Since the end of the Cold War, for over two decades now, the United States went on what one top USAF general characterized as a nuclear "procurement holiday" where we simply delayed or stopped any nuclear modernization effort for our submarines, land based missiles, bombers, warheads and command and control systems.

That is why our newest nuclear armed submarine is 20 years old; our nuclear land based missiles are 46 years old, our newest nuclear capable B2 bomber is approaching 20 years old (but is based on 1970's stealth technologies) even as our venerable nuclear armed B-52's are now approaching their fifth decade of deployment.  

Even when the United States after the Cold War deliberately planned no new strategic nuclear modernization program, the Russians put together defense budgets that according to the Swedish Defence Research Agency will now allocate 1 trillion rubles to nuclear modernization.

Even during the Cold War and the age of détente, particularly in the years after the war in Vietnam, US restraint didn't affect change in Russian behavior. Even as the United States delayed deploying the current Ohio class submarine by seven years; repeatedly stopped funding for the B-1 bomber; and failed for a decade to agree on a deployment option for our new MX land based missile, the Soviet Union on the other side of the globe, expanded its nuclear and conventional military arsenal. Although the United States had undergone "a decade of slips, reductions and cancellations" that "retarded US modernization appreciably", the Soviet reaction was one of a continued major military build-up.

Said America's top military leader, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a 1979 report to the President, "Regrettably, the record shows that we have tended to underestimate Soviet forces and programs...while hoping for reciprocity for US weapons restraint...that ominous future ...[of] slowing gathering clouds...has been getting steadily nearer." General David Jones continued, "Soviet power for more than a decade has assumed an increasingly ominous character. Its most worrisome feature from my viewpoint is the steady, relentless, concentration on building offensive military power".

Would peace through nuclear restraint work?

It didn't during the Cold War. It didn't during détente and peaceful co-existence. It didn't after the Cold War in the age of the "end of history."

Would it work now in the post-post-Cold War era?

The lessons of history would point decidedly to a "Probably not".

The most relevant may be an earlier historic nuclear arms control agreement reached thirty years ago.

In 1982, President Reagan implemented the 1979 pledge by President Carter and German Chancellor Schmidt to deploy US intermediate range missiles (INF) in Europe-our Pershings and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles-if the Soviet Union didn't stop the Eastern European and Asian deployments of its nuclear armed SS-20's.

The subsequent deployment of American INF missiles in Britain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, though highly controversial, was given final approved by the US Congress with deployment in November 1983. Though Moscow pushed very hard for the nuclear freeze, which would have cemented in a Soviet monopoly of INF missiles in Europe, the US and its allies did not buckle. Said Prime Minister Thatcher of Great Britain: "If they are not successful in reaching zero option, the cruise and Pershing missiles will be deployed by the end of this year. Our nerve is being tested, we must not falter."

Eventually the Soviet Union accepted President Reagan's original proposal to eliminate all INF missiles in Europe and Asia. In an historic agreement signed into law December 8th, 1987, the Soviet Union and United States agreed to eliminate 2,692 deployed missiles in the joint Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty signed in Washington, D.C.

The treaty was not just about nuclear weapons. As President Reagan emphasized: "We must never forget that arms reductions are not enough. Armaments are only the symptom, not the cause, of a much deeper division between free societies and the unfree".

A version of this piece also appeared on The Daily Caller.

Peter R. Huessy is President of Geostrategic Analysis and a guest lecturer at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was formerly Senior Fellow in National Security at the American Foreign Policy Council.


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