History's End

History will end only when Man does

Location: United States
Blogroll Me!
  • E-Mail me
  • Tuesday, May 25, 2004

    Bottled Sunshine

    Russia currently has round 8,400 operational nuclear weapons, according to the Center for Defense Information. That inventory poses a threat not only to Russia's possible enemies, but to Russia itself. Numerous problems exist with its current nuclear arsenal, and it is entirely possible that we could have Unsanctioned Use of Russian Nuclear Weapons sometime in the future. Nuclear weapons on the open market would be a disaster not just for the US or Israel, the most likely targets, but for Russia as well. The Chechan terrorist groups would love to get their hands on a nuke, and it is entirely possible that a successful nuclear attack in Moscow could throw Russia into turmoil. In my last post I described the status of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seems to have assumed the mantle of Roman style dictator in Russia. Were he to die, and significant part of the the Russian government as well, the entire nation could descend into Anarchy. The country could literally fall apart before our very eyes.

    Now, knowing all of the dangers of its nuclear arsenal as we do, why has Russia been so reluctant to dismantle part of its nuclear arsenal, to downsize and make it more manageable? There are some public reasons, including the cost of dismantling weapons, as well as limits on how quickly they can be dismantled, but there are unspoken reasons as well. One of these is unspoken reasons is the status of the Russian Army. The Red Army is a shadow of its former strength. It was once the most powerful land army on the world, and when it wasn't, it was tied with the United States at number 1. It had millions of men, tens of thousands of tanks, APCs, howitzers, and every other instrument of war. It had an impressive airforce, and decent, but improving navy. Now it is rated as a 369 on the power rating by StrategyPage. China is currently rated at 827, well over twice the rated land power. The US, by contrast, is rated at an impressive 2488. You know understand part of Russia's problem. Its military has atrophied since the end of the Cold War, while China's has blossomed. Already China is rated much higher than Russia, and that rate difference is increasing, not decreasing. And the rating doesn't fully take into account the general status of much of the Russian military's equipment. Much of it is old, from the Soviet Union, is in poor repair, and spare parts are rare or non-existent. Cannibalism for spare parts is common. Only a fraction of the Russian Air Force is flightworthy. In short, the Russian military hasn't been in this bad a shape since just before World War 2.

    How does this relate to the issue of nuclear weapons? Simple: Russia now relies on its Strategic Nuclear Forces as the primary means of defending itself. Rob, of the blog Crushing Dissent, made this comment:
    I see one way Russia could thwart the Chinese. And it involves nukes of course. Mutually assured destruction is a nasty thing.
    That is exactly what Russia counts on when it comes to defending its territory. Russia's large nuclear arsenal is the only thing that has prevented China from making a move on the Far East(Siberian) provinces yet. Only with a large nuclear arsenal is Russian territorial integrity ensured. And much of Russia's nuclear arsenal is iffy at the moment. No one is completely sure just how effective the system is for launching a nuclear attack, many unseen problems could exist. Systems that haven't been fully tested could break down, communications could be more difficult than thought. And many of the weapons may not even work. So only by keeping a large arsenal around can Russia be sure that it has enough working weapons to act as credible deterrence. In a way Russia is hedging its bets: It hopes that in the time necessary to rebuild its conventional forces, none of its nukes are put to ill use. It is a pretty dangerous bet, and no doubt keeps many people up at night.

    So what happens if the central government were to fail? Either in a terrorist attack, or sometime in the future where it loses authority over parts of Russia? Well, in the latter part, I suspect that the government would have moved most of its nukes away from such areas, and kept them concentrated in zones of control. However, some could possibly escape government control, and fall into the black market. What happens then can only be bad. Most likely then it is sold to some third world country or terrorist group, who then attempt to use it as nuclear blackmail against someone, probably the United States. The same would likely happen if the central government were to fall in a terror attack. Initial confusion, and once people realized things weren't going to get better anytime soon, a mad rush by every officer with access to nukes to use them to his advantage. Either set himself up as a warlord, try and blackmail someone, or sell the weapon. Will it happen? Who knows. The Russians don't see many other options, so they took this one. Hopefully the US hasn't been idle, and has been making a real effort to deal with black market trading of nuclear material. I suspect that only in the case of failure will we hear anytime soon exactly what is going on when the nuclear black market is concerned.

    Listed on BlogShares Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com