Mutually Assured Destruction - the Prelude to Mutually Assured Security


by Laurie Meadows

19 February 2022 0830 NZDT (Edited 7 July 2024)

[ Authors note:This is a very condensed backgrounder to how the two major nuclear powers came to a balanced peace through the threat of mutual annihilation. Emerging dangerous global problems mean it is time to move beyond mutual threats and focus on mutual security.

In january 2022 the leaders of 5 nuclear weapons States made a joint affirmation that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." They committed to progress nuclear disarmament, and, rather curiously, the ambiguous phrase "and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” 

We, the people, put our leaders in place to ensure our security. They must not fail. But any one leader cannot guarantee security for all.These leaders must work together for the common good. Nothing less is acceptable to us.]

INF Treaty      START Treaty     Encircle Russia's Border with US Missiles 

Very few people are aware that the world came to the edge of destruction in 1962. Just before that date, the American Government had placed Jupiter nuclear missiles in Izmir, Turkey, just across the Black sea from the Soviet border. With a range of 2,400 kilometers, these nuclear missiles had a range that could land them literally on Moscow's doorstep.

As a result, Cuba agreed to host Russian nuclear missiles in order to deter USA from making a 'first strike' on Russia - and at the same time deter further USA aggression against Cuba. (In response to the US Governments failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban Government in the 'Bay of Pigs' debacle.) Cuba hosting an allies nuclear forces was a perfectly legal move under international law, and a mirror of Turkey hosting US missiles.

But the USA is a powerful country, and it took the view that while it could 'permit' itself to do anything. other countries were 'not permitted' to do the same thing. The advice given to the US President of the day was to bomb the Cuban - Russian missile facilities. Luckily, President Kennedy rejected such dangerous council. Instead, he put in place a blockade to prevent further missiles being shipped in (he called this a 'quarantine', as a blockade is an act of war). What the American Government didn't know - they only found out later - was that the Soviet Officers at the facility had authorization to launch the nuclear missiles at the USA if they were subjected to a US attack.

If the US Government had carried out the attack, and the Russians launched a nuclear missile at the USA in response, the US Government would probably have launched some of its massive 'strategic' Intercontinental ballistic missiles at the Soviet Union - with the obvious escalation that entails.

It could have ended civilization in both North America and the whole of Eurasia.

Both sides realized how close they had come to destroying the world. Mechanisms were developed to prevent such dangerous situations developing, 'hot lines' set up between the respective heads of state, limits to deployment of long range intercontinental ballistic missiles, agreement to maintain an even-handed 'strategic balance' of mutually assured destruction.


The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

There were very positive steps. In1987 the Soviet Union and the USA signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, banning all nuclear-capable ground-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. At first, at least, all went well.

But President Reagan of the US was concerned that while incoming missiles could be tracked, they couldn't be destroyed. Presumably Russia had a similar concern. So the US decided to develop the an anti-missile shield using ground based missiles to knock in-coming ballistic missiles out of the sky. If successful, the USA could suddenly launch a nuclear strike against Russia, and not suffer any consequences, because Russian missiles launched in reply would never reach their targets. The anti-missile shield proved impractical, but ultimately the US developed a number of space-based technologies to detect, track and respond to ICBM launch.

The US Government claimed such systems weren't aimed at Russia, but rather as a shield against future Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles (which didn't exist then and still don't exist) deploying Iranian nuclear weapons (which also don't exist at this date). It was obvious to the Russians (based on how the systems were deployed) that they were in fact targeting Russian missile responses, not the non-existent Iranian ICBMs.

The Russian President came up with a very reasonable propossal to eliminate this hypothetical threat, a solution which would also retain strategic stability.

"Since the Second World War, peace in the world has been maintained through the strategic balance of forces. Upsetting this balance threatens international peace. As soon as we heard that two systems – a radar station in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland – were to be deployed close to our borders, our military experts began calculating the consequences for our country. We are convinced that this would negatively affect Russia’s security and that of our citizens, and this forces us to think about steps we can take in response.

I stress this point that this is not a Russian initiative; these are counter-measures. What kind of counter-measures could we take? The prime concern, of course, is to neutralise the threats that arise for Russia, and this is why I say that yes, it seems we will have to target our missiles at these facilities. Such a step should not be seen as a surprise. It would be better not to provoke Russia into taking such action in the first place.

But I had a very encouraging conversation yesterday with the President of the United States. What we proposed was to use the Gabala radar station, which is located in Azerbaijan and is leased by Russia. This station fully covers the entire region that causes our American friends and colleagues’ suspicion. If need be, we are ready to modernise this station. We do not see the need at this point, but we are ready to undertake such work. We are ready to transmit all necessary information in real time. This would do away with the need for our American friends to deploy strike groups in outer space, which in itself would constitute a major threat to international security. It would no longer be necessary to build a new radar station in the Czech Republic and to deploy interceptors in Poland. The interceptors could be deployed in the south instead. I am just speaking hypothetically now, and talks with the relevant countries would need to take place, but the interceptors could be deployed in countries allied to the United States through NATO, in Turkey, say, or even in Iraq. What was the war for, after all? At least some advantage could be gained from it all.

The interceptors could also be deployed on mobile platforms, on military vessels, for example. This would have the advantage of not destabilising the situation in Europe and would also cover the entire region that is a cause of concern for our American partners. It would also have the advantage of providing a missile defence shield for all rather than just a part of Europe. This is because such a system would be able to intercept and destroy missiles fired at European territory during the first stage of the trajectory, and this, in addition, means that the remains of destroyed missiles would fall not on European cities but into the sea. This is a serious matter because hunks of metal up to 30 centimetres across can not just punch a hole in the roof, but if they are falling at great speed, could rip through a five or seven storey building right down to the basement, and this is no joking matter.

If our proposals are carried out, the debris would fall in the sea instead. What else are we proposing? We propose that this project should not be a unilateral or even bilateral undertaking, but that a group of interested countries, including European countries, should work on it together. We propose carrying out a real assessment of the missile threats for the period through to 2020 and agreeing on what joint steps we can take to counter these threats. We propose agreeing on equal, democratic and mutually acceptable involvement in this system’s command for all the participants. And finally, as I said to President of the United States George Bush, and at the press conference yesterday, we hope that no unilateral action will be taken until these consultations and talks have concluded. This will not create a delay of any kind because, as I said, Iran has no such missiles. Even if Iran were to begin developing such missiles, we would have timely warning, and even if we did not get any warning, we would soon find out when the first tests were carried out. We would see this, and U.S. satellites would see this. Four or five years go by from the time a missile is tested to the time it is actually commissioned and deployed by the armed forces. This is enough time to deploy any missile defence system anywhere in the world. So why destabilise the situation in Europe today? It seems to me that our proposals are entirely logical, justified, and are made in a spirit of partnership.

Question (RIA Novosti): I would like a clarification. You suggested deploying interceptor missiles in southern Europe or on platforms. Which would be preferable? If they are deployed in Europe, would this not be to the detriment of Europe’s security?

Vladimir Putin: I think I have already given a sufficiently detailed response to this question, but to repeat once more: if our proposals are implemented, there would be no need to build new radars in Europe or to set up new bases for the interceptor missiles. It would be enough to deploy them on floating platforms, on military vessels, or on the territory of southern countries, including the United States’ NATO allies. In this case, we would have no need to target our missiles at facilities of any kind in Europe or the United States. There would be simply no such need at all.

We are not going to deploy our own missiles in the Kaliningrad Region or move them closer to Russia’s western borders.

Question (Voice of America): Mr President, can you believe the Iranian regime when it says that it has no plans to develop missiles with a range of more than 4,000 kilometres?

Vladimir Putin: There is a concept that applies even to specific individuals – the presumption of innocence. If there are concerns regarding Iran, we try to clarify them and get explanations, including through existing international institutions, through the United Nations and the IAEA.

But as I already said, supposing there is a threat – and we are not rejecting this possibility outright; we do not see this threat, but we accept that it could potentially exist – we are proposing a concrete plan for joint action. I have just set out this plan and it is entirely acceptable. If our partners believe this threat exists, the implementation of our plan would completely neutralise it and there would be no need to complicate the global security situation and jeopardise security on the European continent."
Vladimir Putin 8 June 2007


It was rejected out of hand.




The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

Arms control and strategic stability treaties were signed with the US to reduce the risk associated with high numbers of ICBM's on both sides. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed in 1991 was the major instrument, and Russia met its ICBM reduction obligations by the target date of 2018. As a result the Russian nuclear arsenal was reduced by 85%. The US too, has probably met the arms reduction target. Russia disputes this claiming the US side has unilaterally re-classified 100 offensive weapon systems in order to fit in with the required weapons cap. But at least the START Treaty still exists (until 2026, anyway).


Encircle Russia's Border with US Missiles

Whatever the truth, the US focus has shifted from very long distance intercontinental missiles to medium and short range missiles. A land-based nuclear missile placed close to the Russian border

To facilitate this, the US walked away from the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty in 2019. Perhaps because of the difficulty in developing a reliable 'missile shield', the US has switched back to the original plan - placing potentially nuclear-tipped missiles on, or near, Russia's border. The US 'aegis ashore' system has now been placed in Romania. This 'detect, track, and destroy' system is designed to launch standard defensive missiles to shoot down short and medium range ballistic missiles.

But the defensive nature of the system can be changed to an offensive missile delivery system virtually overnight, simply by changing the software. An aegis ashore system in Ukraine, for example, would place nuclear missiles 6 or 7 minutes flight time from Moscow. Barely enough time for any attempt to shoot them down with Russias anti-missile defense systems.

This is intolerable. The Russian Government has the task of ensuring the safety and security of its people, same as any competent State.

So why did the United States do such a dangerous thing? Was it simply to create a one-sided advantage in launch time? Did they really think they could the balance of strategic mutually assured stability without consequences? In my opinion they did it because the United States had become aware that the Russian Government had 'cracked' hypersonic missile technology, a technology the United States trails far behind in. A hypersonic missile travels so fast that it is impossible to intercept by any current US defensive missile. It must have been obvious to the US that eventually submarine launched hypersonic missiles would reach the USA mainland in 4 or 5 minutes, the same length of time as a US missile launched from countries adjacent to the Russian border.

America's plan to place missiles in Crimea failed, and its machinations with Ukraine's internal political struggles have highlighted the need to find a mechanism to deal with the current Russian military superiority. In the meantime, Russia has to deal with the potential for US nuclear strike weapons (and later maybe even hypersonic nuclear weapons) right on its doorstep.

It has drawn up its State policy accordingly.

Russian State policy on use of nuclear weapons is clear. The guts of the policy, dated June 2020,is here (my bolding):

12. The main military risks that might evolve into military threats (threats of aggression) to the Russian Federation due to changes in the military-political and strategic situation, and that are to be neutralized by implementation of nuclear deterrence, are as follows:

a) build-up by a potential adversary of the general purpose forces groupings that possess nuclear weapons delivery means in the territories of the states contiguous with the Russian Federation and its allies, as well as in adjacent waters;

b) deployment by states which consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary, of missile defence systems and means, medium- and shorter-range cruise and ballistic missiles, non-nuclear high-precision and hypersonic weapons, strike unmanned aerial vehicles, and directed energy weapons;

c) development and deployment of missile defence assets and strike systems in outer space;

d) possession by states of nuclear weapons and (or) other types of weapons of mass destruction that can be used against the Russian Federation and/or its allies, as well as means of delivery of such weapons;

e) uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons, their delivery means, technology and equipment for their manufacture;

f) deployment of nuclear weapons and their delivery means in the territories of non-nuclear weapon states.

13. The Russian Federation implements its nuclear deterrence with regard to individual states and military coalitions (blocs, alliances) that consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary and that possess nuclear weapons and/or other types of weapons of mass destruction, or significant combat potential of general purpose forces.

14. While implementing nuclear deterrence, the Russian Federation takes into account the deployment by a potential adversary, in the territories of other countries, of offensive weapons (cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic aerial vehicles, strike unmanned aerial vehicles), directed energy weapons, missile defence assets, early warning systems, nuclear weapons and/or other weapons of mass destruction that may be used against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.

15. The principles of nuclear deterrence are as follows:

a) compliance with international arms control commitments;

b) continuity of activities ensuring nuclear deterrence;

c) adaptability of nuclear deterrence to military threats;

d) unpredictability for a potential adversary in terms of scale, time and place for possible employment of forces and means of nuclear deterrence;

e) centralization of governmental control over the activities of federal executive bodies and organizations involved in ensuring nuclear deterrence;

f) rationality of structure and composition of nuclear deterrence forces and means and their maintaining at the minimal level sufficient for implementing the tasks assigned;

g) maintaining permanent readiness of a designated fraction of nuclear deterrence forces and means for combat use.

16. The nuclear deterrence forces of the Russian Federation include land-, sea- and air-based nuclear forces.

III. Conditions for the transition of the Russian Federation to the use
of nuclear weapons

17. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.

18. The decision to use nuclear weapons is taken by the President of the Russian Federation.

19. The conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation are as follows:

a) arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

b) use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

c) attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;

d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.

20. The President of the Russian Federation might, if necessary, inform the military-political leadership of other states and/or international organizations about the Russian Federation’s readiness to use nuclear weapons or about the decision taken to use nuclear weapons, as well as about the fact that nuclear weapons have been used.

The main defense is deterrence. That is, don't attack Russia or its allies with nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, cyberattacks on crucial nuclear defense infrastructure, or with a large conventional force that destroys State control of the country.

All these are grounds for use of a nuclear weapons.

Note also ballistic missiles launched against Russia or its allies might result in a nuclear response. Why? because if the missile come from a country close to Russia there is no knowing whether it is nuclear armed or conventional.

And the doctrine means that alliances or blocs that consider Russia an 'adversary' - that is, USA and those NATO countries that host weapons, weapon systems, and dual purpose biological facilities (Russia is literally ringed by US-run biological research units involved in, for example, insect vectored disease, use of drone-released RNA molecules to 'inoculate' crops against disease.)

The reference to the build up of adversarial 'general purpose forces groupings' with the means to deliver nuclear weapons systems in states contiguous to Russia is a clear reference to NATO forces ever being in Ukraine.

There are large numbers of issues to iron out to secure security for all. These issues - weapons in space, monitoring and verification systems for weapons reductions, weapons deployment,new weapons and weapon system limitations, weapons proximity to borders and so on.

Russia's advanced and unstoppable hypersonic weapons have already been mentioned. But there are yet more highly advanced weapons in the pipeline. Russia acknowledges that eventually the USA will catch up, and so will other countries. In the meantime, all countries want to be able to securely develop the living conditions of their population. This is the single most important task for all, yet it is also a most difficult task, and is not becoming easier. Every country needs capital, talent, and good management. Precious capital must be diverted to effective defense, but every country will benefit by controlling spending on arms. This must be done in conditions of international cooperation. But how can this be done?

The current lead that Russia has in missile and defensive systems might persuade the US to agree to verifiable arms control, but this is the work of years.

In the meantime, the West provokes Russia relentlessly, across all dimensions of life. This is dangerous. It is time for nations to comply with their obligations under the UN Charter. A mechanism must be found accelerate a move to universal security and the peace dividend it brings.

And Russia did this, in a stunning and unexpected move, a move missed by the entire media. Blindsided by peace.

Sadly, the court imperial warmongers are not interested in peace, in spite of their claims. They rejected the Russian treaties, they have refused security for all, and at no one else's expense. Even while experts from both sides work on nuclear non-proliferation, the American politicians chose a NATO proxy war on Russia, all the while hoping they will be militarily and economically defeated and will come weakened and submissive to the negotiating table.

By early August 2022, the American warmonger class realised their NATO proxy army, the best in Europe, is the verge of collapse. The Russian government is surviving the economic blockade - the Europeans are not. The 'leverage' the American 'neocon' political class thought they had simply does not exist. These inadequate and deluded politicians have failed. It has become clear even to them they will have to sign a treaty with Russia - because USA is militarily inferior and at risk from Russian (and possibly China's) unstoppable hypersonic strike missiles. Perhaps reality is finally starting to sober them up.

"Today, my Administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026.
But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith. And Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression in Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on fundamental tenets of international order.
In this context, Russia should demonstrate that it is ready to resume work on nuclear arms control with the United States.
China also has a responsibility as an NPT nuclear weapons state and a member of the P5 to engage in talks that will reduce the risk of miscalculation and address destabilizing military dynamics. There is no benefit to any of our nations, or for the world, to resist substantive engagement on arms control and nuclear non-proliferation.
President Biden 1 August 2022

"A little more than a month ago, I wrote that strategic security issues, which could not be solved without us, were extremely important for the Americans. And they will come creeping to us with this topic. Well, they did."
Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev  01 August 2022

The Biden neocon warmonger administration still talks in imperatives, even when the balance of military power is in Russian hands. The Biden administration continues to frame Russia as not operating in good faith, when the opposite is true. The USA has no option but to correct it's arrogance, realise it must give written binding committments (with penalties for non compliance), realise it must accept mutual 'no-trust' intrusive inspections of missile and missile deployment, realise if it does not cooperate that the very sanctions it used against Russia could well be used against USA, including blockading critical supplies of fuel of all kinds. No sane person wants that. Except for the narcissistic, irrational, and ideologically driven neocons who, for the moment, control the American people. The time for change will come. But it is no longer now.

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