In Moscow, Buzz over Arms Race II ; an Article in Premier US Foreign Policy Magazine Has Russians Worried about Nuclear Threat

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The cold-war paradigm of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) between the US and Russia never really went away, and experts warn of a replay of the old superpower arms race.

"There are many nuclear-armed countries in the world, but only Russia and the US have this MAD relationship, in which each sees it as necessary to maintain the means to deter the other," says Dmitri Suslov, an analyst with the independent Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. "We need to get away from that, to find a new basis of stability, but I'm afraid we're not going in that direction right now."

An article in the current issue of US journal "Foreign Affairs" rang alarm bells in Moscow this month. "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy" argues that the deterioration of Russia's nuclear arsenal, coupled with recent US technology breakthroughs, means Russia can no longer count on deterring the US with its nuclear capabilities.

The authors, American professors Kier Lieber and Daryl Press, say Russia's fraying radar and satellite systems "would give Russian leaders at most a few minutes of warning before American weapons destroyed Russia's retaliatory forces." By contrast, they say, the US is actively modernizing its nuclear arsenal with stealthy and highly accurate new weaponry. "Unless they reverse course rapidly, Russia's vulnerability will only increase over time," the authors say.

While Russian experts concede there's truth in the article, the reaction to it in Russian security circles was "very nervous," says Mr. Suslov.

"Many people think it's not a coincidence, that such an article was 'ordered' by someone," he explains. "At the very least, this article has postponed any chance of talking about removing the MAD framework from our relations with the US."

President Vladimir Putin issued a statement following the article's publication last month, insisting that Russia will increase its weapons spending and do whatever necessary to keep its strategic edge. "Maintaining the minimum level of nuclear armaments required for nuclear deterrence remains a top priority," he said.

But Vitaly Shlykov, a strategic analyst formerly with the Soviet military intelligence agency GRU, says the Foreign Affairs article was "a major blow to Putin's prestige. It made him look vulnerable to charges ... that he doesn't pay enough attention to Russia's defense. Now he will pull out all the stops and spend whatever necessary to modernize Russia's nuclear deterrent."

At a press conference last week Alexei Arbatov, a senior arms control expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said that Russia today has 39 percent fewer strategic bombers, 58 percent fewer intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 80 percent fewer nuclear missile submarines than the former Soviet Union had in 1991. Mr. Arbatov said Russia should step up its production of the newest Topol-M missiles from the current rate of eight per year to about 30 annually. …