News outlets and web sites around the world yesterday reported the startling news that after a nearly twenty year hiatus a Russian attack submarine was conducting a combat patrol off the East Coast of the United States. During the last decades of the Cold War, Soviet submarines routinely prowled our shores trying to detect U.S. ballistic missile submarines entering or leaving port. One would have thought that the least likely time for Moscow to behave in a manner more befitting its erstwhile Communist bosses was in the early months of the Obama Administration and in the aftermath of a new agreement with the United States to pursue strategic arms reductions. Apparently, old habits die hard in the Kremlin.
What is most disturbing about this incident is that the Russian submarine is reported to be patrolling off the coast of Georgia. This state is the home of the King’s Bay base which supports the U.S. strategic ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) fleet, the heart of this country’s strategic deterrent.
When the U.S. possessed several thousand strategic delivery systems (read missiles and bombers) and many thousand warheads the threat posed by a Russian submarine to the security of this country’s deterrent force was minimal. However, today the U.S. has only fourteen SSBNs. A new strategic arms treaty could reduce that number even further, increasing the value of each remaining submarine. From this perspective, a Russian attack submarine lying in wait near the base is an implicit threat to the stability of our deterrent force.
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