As tensions have continued to rise to alarming levels in the Korean Peninsula, one of the two parties of the Cold War has declared the state of readiness of its nuclear arsenal in the event the threat of World War III becomes a reality.
During a senior-level Defense Ministry meeting last 31 October, Russian Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov expressed confidence at the nation’s nuclear deterrence capabilities. General Gerasimov shared a report on the state of Russia’s nuclear program which disclosed that 74% of its arsenal utilized cutting- edge technology.
“Today the strategic nuclear forces are capable to inflict a guaranteed level of unacceptable damage to any aggressor, including those possessing antiballistic missile defense.”
Gerasimov clarifies that Russia’s on-going nuclear development program did not contradict or violate its obligations to international agreements on proliferation and arms reduction.
One year after the events of 11 September 2001, the United States then under President George W. Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile or ABM Treaty the country had signed with Moscow in 1972.
The ABM Treaty was an agreement between the United States and the former Soviet Union to limit the development of anti-ballistic missile systems designed to defend their respective sovereignty from ballistic-delivered nuclear weapons.
The terms of the treaty limited the US and the Soviet Union to two ABM silos each of which would have a capacity of only 100 anti-ballistic missiles.
The treaty was signed in 1972 and had a term of 30 years. In 2002, six months before the expiration of the ABM Treaty, President Bush gave Moscow notice of its withdrawal from the agreement:
“The 1972 ABM Treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union no longer exists. And neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert, pointed at each other.”
In his address, President Bush alluded to the increasing frequency of terrorist attacks as the motivating factor for the withdrawal:
“Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.”
Among the “rogue states” President Bush referred to included Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Bush was also concerned about the ability of China to develop a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. China which was not a party to the ABM Treaty strongly opposed the United States’ decision to withdraw from the agreement.
In 24 May 2002, Russia and the United States signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty which mandated reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads. However it did not include cuts in total stockpiled warheads and did not have any provision for strict enforcement.
Since then, Russia has invested heavily in shoring up its nuclear arsenal. Gerasimov also disclosed that over the past five years, Russia had improved its ability to detect any nuclear attack that targeted the country by installing satellites that could detect missile launches from North America.
The United States believes Russia’s concerns are misguided. However with tensions rising between the two nations as a result of allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 US Presidential elections and its close relationship with North Korea, it does not seem likely that Moscow will change course in its current nuclear arms development program.