Russian Expert Urges Multilateral Ban on Ground-Based Strategic Missiles

A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile is displayed in Moscow's Red Square during a May 2011 military parade. A Russian nuclear-policy expert this week advised getting rid of all land-based strategic missiles as a means of encouraging multilateral arms control.
A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile is displayed in Moscow's Red Square during a May 2011 military parade. A Russian nuclear-policy expert this week advised getting rid of all land-based strategic missiles as a means of encouraging multilateral arms control. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian nuclear policy analyst is recommending getting rid of all land-based strategic missiles as a new move in international arms control.

In an analysis published by the state-affiliated Russian International Affairs Council, Alexander Savelyev, a senior nuclear policy researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, called for "a multilateral agreement with participation of all nuclear powers that establishes a total ban on land-based ballistic missiles with a range in excess of 500 kilometers [roughly 311 miles]."

Savelyev used the term "nuclear powers" to refer to the five recognized nuclear-weapon nations: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles are generally understood to have a range of roughly 3,400 miles or more. However, under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia and the United States have agreed not to test or field any ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges from 300 to 3,400 miles.

The United Kingdom's nuclear arsenal consists solely of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, while France's stockpile includes SLBMs and heavy bombers. China is the only other nuclear-weapons state to possess land-based strategic missiles. It also has ballistic weapons of intermediate range.

Thus under the terms laid out by Savelyev's policy analysis, the envisioned new treaty would affect solely Russia, the United States and China. Moscow and Washington already have negotiated a series of arms control pacts -- the most recent being the New START accord -- but have never held nuclear force reduction talks with third-party countries.

In publishing Savelyev's recommendations, the Kremlin-backed Russian International Affairs Council noted it was not necessarily endorsing the analyst's views. Savelyev leads the Strategic Research Division at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations. He participated in the START I arms control negotiations as an adviser to the Soviet Union.

Obama administration officials have said that further bilateral reductions are needed before arms control talks are opened up to other nations. Russian leaders disagree with this. President Vladimir Putin in February 2012 said "further steps in nuclear disarmament should be comprehensive in nature, and all nuclear powers should participate in the process."

As a first step down the road to multinational nuclear disarmament, Savelyev favors getting rid of land-based strategic missiles because their purpose is sometimes seen as more offensive than defensive. 

"Unlike the submarined-launched ballistic missiles, the attack with ICBMs is much easier to coordinate," he writes. "Their accuracy is sufficiently high to destroy such hardened facilities as silo launchers. And without any doubt they themselves are the primary targets for the first strike of a potential enemy."

Savelyev argues that their potential to carry out "disabling" first strikes means they do not contribute to "strategic stability."

The policy expert recommends the topic first be explored by U.S. and Russian experts, with government representatives joining the discussions only later on.

"If mutual understanding is reached this forum may be enlarged to include the representatives of all five nuclear powers," he said.

Feb. 13, 2014
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A Russian nuclear policy analyst is recommending getting rid of all land-based strategic missiles as a new move in international arms control.