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Our Nuclear Illusions

A message from Moscow.

10:27 AM, Aug 11, 2010 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
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A central theme of Barack Obama’s national security policy is that nuclear-armed states should reduce their reliance on such terrible weapons. If the United States and the other nuclear states set an example and take progressive steps toward the ultimate goal of zero nuclear weapons, others will follow along.

The message has clearly not yet gotten through to Pyongyong or Tehran. Nor, for that matter, has it gotten through to Moscow.  Here is what General Oleg Frolov, acting head of Russian armaments, has just told the Duma:

the Ministry of Defense's highest priorities during the next decade will be upgrading Russia's strategic triad together with the Air Force and Air Defense Forces. Accordingly, the army and navy during the next 10 years will have a lower priority, with ground and naval forces maintaining existing equipment in combat-ready condition while receiving with minimal deliveries of new equipment.

We are downgrading our nuclear forces as Russia is upgrading its own. The new START agreement will reduce the size of their arsenal, but not its quality or – perhaps even more importantly – its preeminent place in their thinking about warfare. "We need to preserve our strategic capacities," Russian president Dmitry Medvedev recently said in an interview with Izvestia. "Our strategic nuclear component is a highly effective means of protecting national interests. We should not overestimate its importance, but nor should we underestimate the possibilities it gives us and its impact on the global balance of power.”

Our own thinking about nuclear weapons is riddled with illusions, not least about the place that such weapons occupy in the minds of one of our leading potential adversaries. The full costs of those illusions are not yet apparent. And like many policies of the current administration, those costs will be left for our children’s generation to pay. 

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