The future of strategic arms control between the United States and Russia does not look good. Yes, Presidents Dmitri Medvedev and Barack Obama recently signed a joint understanding pledging to complete negotiation of a new strategic arms agreement that will lower the levels of nuclear armaments by about twenty percent. Russia wants this agreement not because it seeks to get rid of nuclear weapons but because its strategic forces are aging out and it would be forced to reduce unilaterally otherwise.
The truth is that Russia desperately needs nuclear weapons. Aside from oil, nuclear weapons are the main reason it remains a power on the world stage. The collapse of Russia’s economy following the end of the Cold War, the parlous state of Russian conventional forces and the sense of proliferating threats results in a logical argument for increased reliance on nuclear weapons. It is no wonder that under these conditions, Russian leaders in general, and certainly the military, would view nuclear weapons as being the one capability that guaranteed Russia’s ability to deter aggression. Indeed, it appeared for many years as if strategic nuclear weapons were the only factor that contributed to Russia having an relevance in the evolving international system.
Secular demographic, social and economic trends argue that Russia’s sense of vulnerability and determination to hold its presumed position as America’s strategic equal will only cause it to cling ever harder to the concept of strategic deterrence — and with it the retention of nuclear weapons. The U.S. desire for “zero nukes” will inevitably collide with Russia’s desire for international power and prestige.
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