In the latest JFQ, Stephen Cimbala offers “SORT-ing out START: Options for U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reductions.”
Besides a good summation of what is at stake for U.S.-Russian relations and for the global nonproliferation regime, Cimbala incorporates an assessment of hypothetical future strategic force postures. Under scenarios of 1,700 or 1,000 deployed warheads per side, he evaluates American and Russian posture configurations in the current triad, a hypothetical dyad, or a hypothetical monad.
Examining alternative mixes of launch systems is important, Cimbala writes, because “it may turn out that triads are redundant for the accomplishment of retaliatory missions under some conditions.” In addition, he notes that “alternative mixes of launch systems provide a perspective on the question of distributing conventional and nuclear forces together.” By cutting specific delivery options out of the nuclear picture, the United States might be able to utilize specific delivery vehicles for conventional strike options without Russia saying that “the mixing of conventional and nuclear strike options on the same launch systems [are] potentially provocative.”
Based on his analysis of the various alternative launch system arrangements at different states of readiness and retaliatory capability, Cimballa offers the following important conclusions:
1. In the context of bilateral U.S.-Russian deterrence: “A post-START and post-SORT arms reduction with an upper bound of 1,000 deployed strategic warheads would suffice to provide for deterrence. More important, it would provide for additional reassurance, as between Washington and Moscow, permitting them to get on with other mutually beneficial agendas, including the agenda of nonproliferation. The common interest of the United States and Russia is to move forward with this win-win agenda of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons before it becomes a lose-lose for them and for the entire nonproliferation regime.”
2. In the context of global deterrence between all nuclear-armed nations: “As one might expect, the larger deployed forces offer more survivable retaliatory power than do the smaller ones. But the difference is not as meaningful as one might suppose.”
3. And in consideration of the viability of smaller arsenals amongst all nuclear-armed nations: “smaller forces are not necessarily less crisis-stable than larger ones under all conditions…the attributes of launchers or delivery systems, and the mix of launch systems deployed by each state, are important contributors to the state’s degree of crisis stability.”