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