The Obama administration plans to negotiate an unprecedented strategic nuclear arms reduction initiative with Moscow. The drastic proposal, greeted by Russia, may result in cutting the American and Russian nuclear stockpiles by some 80 percent to 1,000 warheads each.
As previously reported by UPI, in December 2008 former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Moscow on behalf of President-elect Barack Obama for secret negotiations with the Kremlin's leadership to secure support for the proposed nuclear reduction deal.
According to numerous statements of his advisers, President Obama is also ready to compromise with Moscow over the deployment of the ballistic missile shield in Europe. It is unclear to what extent the United States may continue the Bush administration's push to bring the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia into the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
These moves would give another strategic win to Moscow after NATO failed to extend its Membership Action Plan to Kiev and Tbilisi in 2008, and after Moscow recognized the independence of breakaway Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia without significant diplomatic repercussions.
The nuclear talks with Russia are topping the U.S. agenda as the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- START-1 -- is expiring in December 2009. The treaty resulted in the two states cutting their nuclear stockpiles from some 10,000 to 5,000 each over the seven-year implementation period.
Overall, Russia possesses an estimated 702 nuclear delivery systems and 3,081 to 3,155 warheads, carried by submarines, heavy bombers or intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, in January 2009 Russia had 426 operational intercontinental ballistic missile systems of four types capable of delivering 1,586 warheads.
These systems include 75 RS-20s (NATO designation SS-18 Satan) carrying 10 warheads each; 97 RS-18 (NATO designation SS-19 Stiletto) with six warheads each; 189 single-warhead Topol systems (NATO designation SS-25 Sickle); 50 silo-launch Topol-M systems (NATO designation SS-27); and 15 mobile Topol-M systems. The United States has an estimated 1,255 delivery systems and 4,200 deliverable warheads.
Defense experts on both sides of the Atlantic are analyzing the merits of Obama's initiative. The White House has not had time to strategize on how the remaining nuclear arsenal -- including which types of weapons -- would ensure the security of the United States and its allies. Besides, the proposal must elaborate clear standards for verification and enforcement.
Another important factor to consider here is the current state of the strategic nuclear arms and related infrastructure in both countries, and the Defense budgets available for their maintenance, security and disposal.
The state of Russian military infrastructure, including strategic nuclear forces, has been deplorable for decades. On the U.S. side, the Pentagon has reported the decline of the nuclear weapons infrastructure. Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the long-term outlook of the nation's nuclear force as "bleak."
Therefore, the Obama administration should agree upon a vision for the endgame nuclear posture, develop a coherent strategy, and proceed with caution when negotiating a new strategic nuclear agreement with Russia.
Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in UPI