Nuclear cuts reflect changing US strategy

Issue 

Nuclear cuts reflect changing US strategy

By Steve Painter

The latest US-Russian nuclear arms cuts, announced by presidents Bush and Yeltsin in Washington on June 16, reflect a continuing move by the US towards armaments more suitable to its military strategy after the end of the Cold War. While the Russian cuts are driven by economic necessity, the US reductions will not be accompanied by any cut in the $300 billion-a-year US military budget, about 16% of the total budget, or around $1200 per citizen.

The missile cuts are certainly dramatic, aiming to reduce nuclear warheads to around 3500 on each side by 2003, or sooner. This is a cut of around 70% from the present level of more than 10,000 on each side. Yeltsin implied his willingness to go further but for the cost and technical difficulties of destroying missiles and warheads more quickly.

As in all previous negotiations since Gorbachev came to power in what was then the USSR in the mid-'80s, Russia took the initiative, offering this time to give up its most important weapon, the powerful SS-18 missile, thus paving the way for the US to agree to approximate parity in warhead numbers. While the number of warheads will be about equal, with Russia's most important missile gone the US emerges with clearly superior strike power. Some US strategists wanted Bush to reject any parity agreement on the grounds that it remains a world power whereas Russia is not. However, it appears the post-nuclear strategists won out.

Under George Bush's New World Order, the old, vast and expensive nuclear arsenal is not very useful to military forces that are most likely to be called on to invade or threaten less powerful, poorer and probably non-nuclear countries, usually with the aim of seizing control of strategic resources such as dwindling world oil reserves.

Even so, the US will be left with a handy supply of the tactical nuclear weapons most likely to be useful to such a strategy. Most of the cuts are to heavy intercontinental missiles and multiple-warhead missiles, which are least likely to be of use in the new strategy. The US will retain much of its large submarine-launched missile arsenal and its nuclear-capable bomber fleet.

As well, the US has retained the option of pressing ahead with its Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) under the guise of a joint defence project with Russia. Clearly, given Russia's economic ruin and the fact that it has no technological equivalent to Star Wars, this will remain in reality a US project.