Cold War hangover

As we near the Winter Olympics we can expect that Russia is going to be in the news a good bit- even beyond their take on equal rights or this guy cropping up. I have been putting off a post about the strategic relationship with Russia for a while.  The subject is large and calls for more energy than I can really devote. (Which is an indicator of importance and thus the need to cover…)

More than twenty years after the Cold War the dangerous relationship between Russia and the U.S. can seem passé. Nevertheless any discussion of serious potential threats which does not include Russia paints an incomplete picture.  Russia still has the third largest defense budget in the world. They are a world power with serious influence on Europe and Asia. Perhaps more importantly they have 1480 nuclear warheads deployed on 492 delivery vehicles*.

Russian Missiles

Two points about this:
One, if you are concerned about sliding into inadvertent nuclear exchanges on a large scale- the U.S. and Russia should be pretty high on your list of worries. If only because of their numbers and postures. Professionalism, policies, diplomacy and safeguards have thus far prevented disaster, but this doesn’t mean that an unlucky number will never come up. The Russians are still (ostensibly) taking nuclear deterrence seriously: here here and here. There is plenty that can go wrong. Arms Control Wonk did a nice piece: here. (Without even going into the Dead Hand…) There is still plenty of danger in having nuclear armed adversaries with missiles prepared to fire on one another.

Two, don’t antagonize the Russians. The U.S. Russian strategic relationship is dicey enough without throwing missile defense into the mix. Talking to the Russians about this is much better than telling them about it. The risk of provoking dangerous behavior in a crisis exists now I am not sure how that balances against defenses to stop some amorphous threat which may exist later. I’ll go on more about the madness of missile defense another time, but for now- why poke the bear for a system that works in neither theory nor practice? Moving interceptor sites east or west will not suffice- Russia is big and the world is round.

*and tactical, but that will have to live in another article.

Image from Aviation Forum.

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