Starting a war is always easier than keeping the peace. It doesn’t take much to declare war, whereas peace is based on concrete guarantees. We once had four agreements that protected us from an arms race and rising tensions. They were the guarantees of peace. Two of them have already ceased to exist.
A treaty to limit missile defence systems.
The May 1972 deal between the U.S. and the USSR obliged both countries to abandon the development of sea, air, space or mobile ground-based missile defense systems. Until the end of the 70s, both the USSR and the USA strictly followed the agreements. When Reagan came to power in the United States, they began to promote the idea of unilateral withdrawal from the agreement. The signing of the treaty was justified by the fact that the superpowers had reached military and strategic parity. But it was this factor that kept Washington busy.
When the USSR collapsed and Moscow inherited the responsibility to comply with the agreements, the United States renewed its criticism of the ABM Treaty. Against this background, the first accusations against Russia appeared. In spring 1996, members of the US Senate Committee on Armed Forces sent a letter to the Kremlin. In the document, the senators expressed their dissatisfaction with the underground facility in Mount Yamantau in the South Urals. Moreover, they explicitly stated that this facility «will undermine Congress support for continued bilateral cooperation and the preservation of the ABM Treaty.
In response, Moscow hastened to provide all necessary clarifications regarding the facility in the South Urals. In particular, the Russian presidential aide for national security responded to Washington that the disputed facility actually «belongs to the system of strategic nuclear force management. This system was not subject to restrictions, and countries had the right to build it in order to strengthen strategic security.
At the time, the Kremlin tried to conduct the dialogue with extreme caution, as it understood the intentions of American political circles. The fears were well-founded, and the states have to give credit. They proceeded carefully to terminate the agreement so as not to damage their reputation. For the sake of persuasion, the initiative to revise the ABM treaty was presented there. Given that the former Soviets republics became independent, the US demanded that Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan join the agreement.
Against this background, Congress supported the U.S. National Missile Defense Act, which provided for the «deployment of an effective national missile defense system capable of protecting the U.S. territory from a limited strike within the shortest technologically possible time». The fact that the law was contrary to the ABM Treaty was confirmed even in President Clinton’s administration. Russia considered such a step unacceptable, and the U.S. began to replicate the thesis that the situation has reached an impasse. In short, Washington issued an unspoken ultimatum: either you accept the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system or the treaty does not meet the interests of the United States. How it ended is well known to everyone.
We feel the consequences of the collapse of the agreement right now. When the United States was no longer constrained in its actions, it began deploying its missile defense systems in Alaska, South Korea, the Mediterranean, and Europe. If we simulate an armed conflict in this situation, the US could strike with cruise missiles with small nuclear warheads and inflict irreparable damage on the nuclear potential of the enemy, that is Russia. At the same time, the abundance of missile defense systems would make it possible to intercept the remnants of ballistic missiles launched as a retaliatory strike.
Moscow was aware that such an imbalance was sooner or later exploited, provoking a conflict of appalling proportions. As a result, the Russians were able to launch Dagger supersonic missiles. Their speed and maneuverability negated the American ABM system. And the U.S. missile defense systems deployed in Europe would have lost their relevance if not for one «but». So we move on to the next treaty.
Treaty on the elimination of medium- and shorter-range missiles
The U.S. came out of that agreement almost a year ago. By that time, the DDPMD had already lost its relevance as U.S. military technology was increasingly at odds with it. To be fair, in 1987, when Moscow and Washington signed the agreement, there was no clear understanding of short- and medium-range weapons. Thus, even American combat UAVs MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and Avenger are subject to the restrictions of the DRSMD. With a range of more than 1,200 km, they are capable of carrying air-to-ground missiles on board.
The Pershing II and Minuteman II missiles have been eliminated in accordance with the requirements of the treaty, but the experience has been preserved. They were later used for a Hera target missile with a range of about 1,200 km. The United States did not stop claiming that this missile was used exclusively for missile defense, only this did not rule out the fact of violation of agreements.
Of course, all this pales on the background of the impressive American development — Mk-41 launchers. They were equipped with Aegis missile defense systems. Since 2016, such a complex has been located at the military base in Romanian Deveselu. The situation would not be so sad if it were not for the Mk-41’s versatility. These systems are capable of launching both an anti-missile and the well-known Tomahawk cruise missile. The U.S. confirmed this capability when it conducted tests on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California on 19 August 2019. At that time the DRSMD no longer existed, only the Mk-41 had been in use since 1986 and the Tomahawk since 1983.
Russia has repeatedly pointed out that the technology is inconsistent with the treaty, but the U.S. intercepted the initiative when counter accusations were made. In the summer of 2014, Barack Obama stated that the characteristics of the Russian missile 9M729 violated the DRSMD. The situation was gradually escalating, and only three years later did the US Congress raise the issue of terminating the treaty. That was when the countdown began.
«Perhaps we can agree on another agreement by adding China and others,» Trump said in February 2019.
It was clear to everyone that Beijing would not voluntarily limit itself. The fact is that the prospect of ending the DDPMD has alarmed European countries. It was they who were in the greatest danger. It was important for Washington that there was no riot on the other side of the Atlantic, so it demonstrated its willingness to reach a settlement agreement.
It is not difficult to notice that the circumstances of cancelling the ABM Treaty and the DDPMD are very similar. In the first case Russia was accused of violation because of an underground facility in the South Urals, in the second case — because of missile 9M729. In the first case, the US demanded that the terms of the agreement be extended to the former Soviet republics, and in the second case, China. By the way, in both the first and second cases, Moscow gave exhaustive refutations of its guilt. In early 2019, Russia even agreed to admit foreign experts to missile 9M729, only NATO countries ignored this possibility.
So another important treaty fell apart. From now on, nothing prevents Europe from becoming a missile range. Soon the Aegis system will appear in Poland as well, but it will hardly increase security in the region. Taking into account the striking potential of this complex, Russia will definitely take it in its sights.
It is only regrettable that European leaders ignore this fact. Loud but meaningless statements on international platforms do not count.
A treaty on strategic offensive arms reduction still exists. It will expire on February 5, 2021, which means there are more than nine months for Washington and Moscow to find common ground. There is little chance of a successful outcome, and the new year will surely start with another round of escalation. The scepticism is not without reason. The experience of the two previous cases makes it possible to simulate further developments around START-3.
Both Russia and the United States are now demonstrating their commitment to extending the treaty. Moscow is demanding an extension without preconditions. In the case of Washington, it is more and more complicated. Trump insists on making the agreement trilateral. It is proposed that China be involved in the deal. It’s a familiar situation, isn’t it?
But is it necessary to risk such an important document in an attempt to impose it on China? «Of course,» they say in Washington. — «China is a threat to the Americans. What’s the point of renewing the treaty if it doesn’t serve American interests?»
It’s hard to argue with that statement, because there’s a confrontation between the US and China. Only no one’s specifying what it has to do with nuclear weapons. China’s nuclear arsenal is 21 times smaller than that of the US — 6,185 American warheads against 290 Chinese. Russia has 6,500 warheads.
Obviously, START 3 is a peer agreement. The nuclear arsenal of the US and Russia accounts for more than 90% of all nuclear weapons in the world. The gap is colossal. China, like other countries, will not be able to violate this state of affairs for long. This means that there is no point in expanding the treaty, at least not at this stage.
If we follow the US logic, the concept of an equal agreement loses its meaning, which means that France, Britain, India and other countries should sign a new treaty. Why does Washington prefer to ignore them? It’s not about the Chinese threat. It’s just a ploy to justify the US.
«We agree, but…» That’s Washington’s position. Unfortunately, this «but» means the collapse of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. China is not going to make a deal. That’s exactly what the states need. Trump has already made it clear that he is not waiting for an extension of START 3. It plans to put $44 billion in the 2021 budget for expanding its nuclear arsenal. By comparison, the entire Russian military budget this year is only $24 billion.
The consequences of the termination of START 3 for the world will be deplorable. People have forgotten what it’s like to live in constant fear of the scorching nuclear flames. It was all in the midst of the Caribbean crisis. Now imagine a nuclear race in modern conditions and technology. Imagine a world where one political decision can have irreversible consequences, for pushing a button is so easy.
The Outer Space Treaty
Perhaps this agreement is the most unobvious and underestimated in the list of those that underpin world stability. Few people are paying attention to it right now. That is understandable, because START III is at stake. Nevertheless, the Outer Space Treaty is the first and only document of its kind.
It was signed in 1967, prohibiting countries from placing weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit. Of course, much has changed in the half-century of the Treaty’s existence. Russia has renamed its Air Force into the Air and Space Forces. The US also created the Space Forces. And can there be troops without weapons?
At the moment, countries are carefully trying to find a new bridgehead for combat operations, but there are certain negative trends already. For example, recently a scandal broke out over a Russian satellite approaching an American one. Back then, the U.S. accused Russia of espionage. Fortunately, this story has not been replicated for a long time. It should be understood that the U.S. also has spy satellites, which Washington would prefer not to talk about again. Nevertheless, the situation has shown how shaky the space status quo is.
In October 2018, Mike Pence made it clear that Washington does not rule out the deployment of nuclear weapons in space. «I think we need to do everything we can to protect US citizens. The president supports the principle that there can be no peace without power,» he said.
In August 2019, the White House released the following document: «The United States will develop and use space nuclear systems when such systems sustainably provide or expand space exploration and operational capabilities.
It remains to be seen when the United States claims that the Outer Space Treaty is not in its interests. The militarization of space will take the arms race to a whole new level. Should we say how it will undermine the situation on the planet? In the beginning, we talked about the fact that all four treaties are guarantees of peace. If they do not, the imbalance in armaments will reach incredible limits.
Imagine the situation: two people who are at war with each other. Each of them has a gun. They know about it. They can fire a gun, but they don’t, because then the opponent will use the gun as well. The outcome of the firefight is unpredictable. But the situation changes when only one of them has a gun. It’s the same in a global sense. If one country is armed with tanks and planes and another can hit a nuclear missile directly from space, sooner or later this advantage will be used.