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‘US may be wrong on number of Russian nuclear warheads’

US calculations of the number of nuclear warheads stored in Russia may be wrong by an order of thousands, said former Secretary of Defense William Perry. Washington does not have accurate information about it, he says.

Published: June 14, 2018, 10:05 am

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    “Actually, the US is not yet aware of how many warheads Russia has in its warehouses, and the errors in our calculations can reach up to thousands of units,” he said at the opening the Luxembourg International Forum on the Prevention of Nuclear Disasters in Geneva.

    Reuters reported in February last year that in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump denounced the New START treaty and rejected Putin’s suggestion that talks begin about extending it once it expires in 2021. The duration of the new Treaty is ten years and can be extended for a period of no more than five years at a time. It includes a standard withdrawal clause like most arms control agreements.

    The previous START I treaty expired 5 December 2009, and in April 2010, the replacement New START treaty was signed in Prague by the United States and Russia. Following ratification by the US Senate and the Federal Assembly of Russia, it went into force on 26 January 2011. This Treaty was the first to provide tremendous reductions of American and Soviet/Russian strategic nuclear weapons.

    But US nuclear upgrades have contradicted the rationales for New START. By the time Obama left office in January 2017, Washington had advanced a nuclear modernisation program that is making nearly all of its nuclear weapons more accurate and deadly.

    Both parties were supposed to have limited their arsenals to a combined total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments under the new Treaty. There is also a separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments which is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit imposed in the previous Treaty.

    Although these new restrictions have been set, the new Treaty does not contain any limitations regarding the testing, development, or deployment of current or planned US missile defense programs and low-range conventional strike capabilities.

    Senior Russian officials stated in April that the country had reduced its nuclear arsenal by more than 85 percent in adhering to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, while the US had bypassed certain requirements in the various documents. The Treaty verification provisions are notoriously complicated and demanding as it provides for twelve different types of inspection the US Congressional Research Service noted in 2011.

    START I still remains in effect between the US and Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The latter three became non-nuclear weapons states under the Treaty on the non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1 July 1968 (NPT) as they committed to do under the Lisbon Protocol (Protocol to the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms) after becoming independent nations in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

    The International Forum for the Prevention of Nuclear Disasters began on Monday in Geneva, and brings together 49 experts from 14 countries to analyze current challenges in the nuclear field.

    Not only Russian, but former senior US government officials, legislators and arms-control specialists – many of whom once backed a strong nuclear arsenal — have been warning that the US modernization push which includes “small” nuclear weapons poses grave dangers.

    As George Shultz, Secretary of State for President Ronald Reagan, recently noted, “A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon. You use a small one, then you go to a bigger one. I think nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons and we need to draw the line there.”

    The United States currently has a massive nuclear arsenal of some 4 000 warheads. The administration is in the process of rebuilding this arsenal at an estimated cost of $1.7 trillion. As part of that massive arsenal, it already has about 1000 nuclear weapons with “low-yield options”.

    On Tuesday in Singapore Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un met for discussions of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while the new low-yield nuclear warheads that Trump wants to add to the American arsenal look poised to receive backing from Congress.

    The addition of the warheads to ballistic-missile submarines has become the most controversial element of the Trump administration’s new nuclear weapons strategy.

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in his most detailed justification of the new low-yield W76-2 warhead, said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “potential adversaries have openly discussed the benefits of limited nuclear employment” hinting at Russia.

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