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Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signing SALT II treaty, 18 June 1979, in Vienna (Wikipedia)

Moscow might survive nuclear attack, but not Washington

Thanks to an anti-ballistic missile shield erected under an old US-Soviet treaty, Moscow is the city in the world best equipped to withstand nuclear attack by another power. Washington, DC, on the other hand, is not defended against incoming ballistic missiles so that the US would have to rely on a devastating "first strike" in order to win a nuclear war.

Published: April 13, 2018, 7:16 am

    The arms-control agreement known as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, that America and the Soviet Union signed in 1972, limited the number of defensive weapons that each side was allowed to employ. But it also show the very different approaches of its two signatories.

    The most heavily defended city in the world is not Washington, DC, but Moscow. The Russian capital is the only one in the world defended with nuclear-tipped missiles, The National Interest reported.

    Most other treaties dealt with offensive weapons, but the notion driving the ABMT was that if defensive systems were allowed to proliferate, it would also accelerate the number of offensive systems necessary to counter them.

    Limiting defensive weapons, particularly anti-ballistice missiles, eventually became the backbone of the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine during the Cold War.

    The ABM Treaty allowed a single ABM site with up to one hundred missiles and the respective countries could place them anywhere they wished.

    The United States set up the Safeguard system around Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, to shield its most lethal stockpile of missiles from surprise attack. Safeguard protected a single location with an enormously expensive system. It was eventually dismantled shortly afterwards.

    The Soviet Union, on the other hand, decided to protect the country’s capital city. Moscow’s destruction in a surprise nuclear first strike would cripple the USSR’s ability to respond in kind. The Soviets therefore designed a complete air defense network, the A-35 system, to ensure Moscow’s survival in the event of a nuclear war.

    First proposed in the 1950s, the A-35 system was set up to counter American intercontinental ballistic missiles replacing bombers, a major threat to Moscow.

    Four sites with eight launchers each – sixty-four missiles total – armed with nuclear warheads, the Soviet ABM system was designed to protect people and not a lethal stockpile of weapons as in the US.

    The system was initially armed with the A-350 antiballistic missile, designed to intercept incoming warheads at altitudes of up to 120 kilometers, too high to damage the city below in an ensuing thermonuclear blast.

    The A-35 system was designed to protect Moscow and the Kremlin. The Americans had an astonishing 65 200 kilotons of nuclear firepower ready for a nuclear siege of Moscow lasting just minutes. The atomic bomb used at Hiroshima was had only been sixteen kilotons, by comparison.

    The ABM system was upgraded several times. The later 53T6 missiles have allegedly also been replaced with new missiles, also named 53T6, with a range of eighty kilometers and an altitude of thirty thousand meters.

    New York has no such protection, while Washington is swarming with Secret Service agents.

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