The ratification of the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) II agreement by the Russian Parliament in 2000, albeit with conditions that made its ultimate entry into force uncertain, opened the door to additional nuclear arms reductions by Washington and Moscow. U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in November 2001 on a general goal of two-thirds reductions in their strategic nuclear forces. Both states’ approaches to further arms reductions under a de facto or de jure START III regime would depend in part on their respective modernization plans, their budgetary assumptions about how much was affordable, and their perceptions of one another’s commitment, or lack thereof, to mutual deterrence based on offensive retaliation.
One question facing U.S. and Russian defense planners and arms controllers was whether either state needs to maintain its three-cornered “triad” of strategic nuclear delivery systems: land-based missiles, sea-launched missiles, and bomber-delivered weapons. This chapter considers various U.S. and Russian options for strategic nuclear forces consistent with the lower overall limit of 1,500 weapons for START III proposed by Russia. It is at this lower level that the challenge to the traditional triad is greatest. First, we discuss issues of force structure and modernization pertinent to the two states’ strategic nuclear forces. Second, we compare the performances of various U.S. and Russian START III compliant forces under several operational conditions. Third, we discuss some of the political and strategic reasons why, despite the findings of analysts, both states may prefer to adhere to a strategic nuclear “triad” even at greatly reduced force levels.