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US, Russia Reach Nuclear Arsenal Agreement 413

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can't-hug-your-children-with-nuclear-arms dept.
Peace Corps Library writes "The United States and Russia, seeking to move forward on one of the most significant arms control treaties since the end of the cold war, announced that they had reached a preliminary agreement on cutting each country's stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons, effectively setting the stage for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start), a cold war-era pact that expires in December. Under the framework, negotiators are to be instructed to craft a treaty that would cut strategic warheads for each side to between 1,500 and 1,675, down from the limit of 2,200 slated to take effect in 2012 under the Treaty of Moscow (PDF) signed by President George W. Bush. The limit on delivery vehicles would be cut to between 500 and 1,100 from the 1,600 currently allowed under Start. Perhaps more important than the specific limits would be a revised and extended verification system that otherwise would expire with Start in December. The United States currently has 1,198 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-based missiles and bombers, which together are capable of delivering 5,576 warheads, according to its most recent Start report in January, while Russia reported that it has 816 delivery vehicles capable of delivering 3,909 warheads. 'We have a mutual interest in protecting both of our populations from the kinds of danger that weapons proliferation is presenting today,' said President Obama."
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US, Russia Reach Nuclear Arsenal Agreement

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @08:53AM (#28606567) Journal

    The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations. - Robert S. McNamara

    Slightly offtopic but in high school I read a few books by Robert S McNamara who died yesterday [nytimes.com]. It's too bad he didn't get to see this agreement between old enemies. He was Secretary of Defense from 1961-1968. Although I did not agree with a lot of his views he shaped a lot of the nuclear buildup during the cold war. I believe he was responsible for abandoning Eisenhower's policy of massive retaliation in the event of a nuclear war. He was first tasked by Kennedy of explaining nuclear fallout [wikipedia.org]. McNamara favored non-nuclear power and one of the books I read "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam" shed a lot of light on the Vietnam war for me.

    If you haven't seen Erol Morris' "The Fog of War [wikipedia.org]" you should.

    Rest in peace Robert Strange McNamara. You revealed to me the horrors that leadership must face during war.

  • by oneirophrenos (1500619) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:00AM (#28606653)
    Is there really that much difference in having a thousand or having a dozen? Could the country with a dozen warheads not fuck any other country beyond repair or redemption just as well as one with a thousand nukes?
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:22AM (#28606881) Homepage

    As one of the Rand Corporation's stone cold game theorists said, those would be "tragic, but distinguishable, outcomes".

    General Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got 20 million people killed, and the other where you got a 150 million people killed.

    President Muffley: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war!

    General Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

  • by readin (838620) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:22AM (#28606883)

    Slightly offtopic but in high school I read a few books by Robert S McNamara who died yesterday [nytimes.com]. It's too bad he didn't get to see this agreement between old enemies

    Don't feel too bad. He did get to see the far more important breakthrough agreements negotiated and signed by Presidents Reagan and Bush 41.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:28AM (#28606949) Journal
    It is either amusing or disturbing; but that part of Dr. Strangelove is very nearly a string of quotations from actual military theorists [armscontrolwonk.com]. One Herman Kahn [wikipedia.org] in particular.
  • Re:Really?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:33AM (#28606991)
    Also, this is 500 launch vehicles and 1,500 warheads so I assume there are some MIRVs in there.

    'Launch vehicles' also includes aircraft. B-1, B-2, B-52, and F-16. All of these can also be used with conventional munitions. So bringing down the total number of 'launch vehicles' to 500 will, of necessity, bring the numbers of these aircraft down to some very low, possibly unsustainable, number.

    I'd fully agree with bringing down the number of actual warheads. But when you include aircraft that can also be used for other functions, we may be getting into a place where the conventional forces are too small to do anything.
    The argument could be made that this is a good thing, but that's a discussion for another day.
  • Re:Fallout (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kestasjk (933987) * on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:43AM (#28607163) Homepage
    China is also reducing its arsenal, it's the trendy thing since the people like it and you can still keep enough weapons to destroy your enemies several times over.
  • by hessian (467078) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @09:47AM (#28607211) Homepage Journal

    Both sides are developing SDI/anti-missile defenses. This makes many of these weapons obsolete, as they no longer have a guaranteed first-strike capability.

    The old arms race was big missiles and bombers; the new arms race is drones and micro-cruise missiles.

    But it was a nice press opportunity for both men to come out smelling like roses while they quietly plan each other's destruction.

  • by reporter (666905) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:01AM (#28607435) Homepage
    Please read the essay titled "Arms Control Amnesia [wsj.com]" and published by the "Wall Street Journal".

    A member of the bipartisan Congressional Strategic Posture Commission -- headed by former secretaries of defense William J. Perry and James R. Schlesinger -- warns that the preliminary agreement signed by Barack Obama guts part of the American nuclear arsenal but does not demand significant gutting of the Russian nuclear arsenal. Two points of serious note are (1) nuclear launchers and (2) tactical nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear launchers are mechanisms for launching the intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Russians are demanding that we Americans reduce the number of our launchers to 500, but the Russians were already (before the signing of this agreement) planning to reduce the number of launchers to close that number because they cannot afford to replace the launchers that must be shutdown due to reaching the end of their operational life. In other words, the Russians do not make any sacrifice on this matter but demand that the Americans make all the sacrifices.

    As for tactical nuclear weapons, the Russians successfully insisted that these weapons be removed from coverage in this preliminary agreement. The Russians have a 10-to-1 advantage over us Americans in tactical nuclear weapons.

  • by Alzheimers (467217) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:08AM (#28607541)

    The only winning move is not to play

    How about a nice game of chess?

  • by eln (21727) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:44AM (#28608121) Homepage
    Well, as the number of nuclear missiles is reduced, the number of times each country could completely destroy the other is likewise reduced. For example, if the US and Russia could utterly destroy each other 30 times over with their current arsenals, reducing those arsenals by half would mean they could only completely annihilate each other a pitiful 15 times. So, think of it as a mathematics exercise. That's kind of geeky, right?
  • by Martin Blank (154261) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:51AM (#28608225) Journal

    You are really underestimating the power of nuclear weapons, or you're using a different definition of complete destruction than everyone else. If by complete, you mean "vaporized," then you may be correct. However, according to this site [pbs.org], a one-megaton surface blast would leave a crater 200 feet deep and a thousand feet across, and everything within about 3200 feet of of the detonation would be gone except for some foundations. Out to 1.7 miles, only heavily reinforced building still have some remnants. Out to 2.7 miles, some multi-story buildings would still have their skeletons standing, and significant damage to structures would extend out to about 4.7 miles.

    This doesn't get anywhere close to the documented blast of Tsar Bomba [wikipedia.org], which was a 50MT bomb that had a 4.6km fireball, caused damage at significant distances (with atmospheric lensing causing damage hundreds of miles away), and would have caused third-degree burns to creatures 60 miles away. It was detonated on the island of Novaya Zemlya, and it broke windows in Finland and Sweden.

    I don't think that either nation could ever have blanketed the entire planetary surface with nuclear weapons; blast effects and areas just don't match up. But to suggest that nuclear weapons are little more effective than conventional weapons -- which is essentially what your post says -- is dead wrong.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:34PM (#28609835)

    Actually it does.. Just about half of all the uranium used in the US today for nuclear power generation comes from Russian nukes :-)

  • by TheBracket (307388) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:37PM (#28609871) Homepage

    (See The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, and also "The Pentomic Army" for sources on this)

    The 200-300m quoted distance is the "100% probability of kill" range, I believe. Double that range, and the probability halves.

    You also have to remember that Hiroshima was almost perfectly designed to be obliterated in a nuclear blast. The topography is that of a bowl, so overpressure actually wraps around rather than just releasing in an outwards pattern. Also, a lot of the buildings were made of very weak materials - residences had a lot of paper and wood, which a) burned really well, and b) did little to absorb the blast overpressure on the way through.
    Nagasaki actually fared quite a bit better, as have various test ranges around the world.

    In a modern concrete and steel city, the reflective/absorbitive properties of building materials considerably reduce the spread of blast overpressure on a lateral trajectory. Additionally, few cities are built inside a bowl (New Orleans excepted!) - so most of the time, the overpressure only hits you once.

    There really are only four lethal mechanisms that accompany a nuclear blast inside the atmosphere: prompt radiation, fireball, blast overpressure (and sometimes a secondary overpressure from air rushing in to fill the resultant vacuum), and residual radiation.

    Prompt radiation travels in a straight line, and is blocked quite effectively by earth, heavy metals and some types of clay. At larger distances, even curtains can help with the flash. If you are in direct line of sight to the flash, within lethal range - you are dead. If not, you're probably ok - and the radiation types released in the flash typically don't stick around.

    The fireball is typically not very large, but will incinerate whatever it comes into contact with. Most modern designs try to air-burst, and the fireball often won't ever touch the ground.

    Blast overpressure hits just like a conventional explosive: a sphere of rapidly moving blast pressure, reducing in power over distance, and also losing energy as it hits things. The same protections against prompt radiation help here: a good wall of dirt does wonders for stopping overpressure, whether it's from regular artillery or a nuclear explosion. Note that studies have shown that blast overpressure is the primary kill mechanism for regular nuclear bombs, just like any other bomb.

    Finally, you get residual radiation. This can be avoided almost completely with a carefully designed airburst - most "fallout" and residual radiation occurs when dirt is sucked into the fireball and irradiated there. Burst high enough to not have the fireball encompass a lot of dirt, and you don't have very much long-term radiation. It's largely unknown what the long-term effects of residual radiation are; the area around Chernobyl didn't behave at all like the models we had!

    Then there are different bomb designs to consider. A really small nuclear bomb behaves a lot like a really large conventional charge: you could set it off in a football stadium, and probably not worry too much about damage to buildings a few hundred yards away; man-portable nukes were designed on that assumption, as were things like the horribly-design Davey Crockett round.
    "Neutron bombs", which really should be called "reduced blast bombs" focus on enhancing prompt-radiation release at the expense of a MUCH smaller blast/fireball (and consequently very little residual radiation). Why would you want to do that? a) It greatly reduces long-term contamination of your target area (meaning you might get to go there!), but more importantly b) it's FAR more effective at taking out tanks and similar. Tanks are really, very, very good at withstanding blast overpressure (it's pretty much their primary defensive purpose - survive artillery and shells while they move forward). It's not at all practical to burst enough regular nuclear weapons to reliably take out a distributed, dug-in tank force. However, they are almost entirely made of metal - and prompt radiation does a "wonder

  • Re:Fallout (Score:4, Interesting)

    by debrisslider (442639) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:42PM (#28609919)
    The Chinese actually have a really smart nuclear policy: no first use. In a nuclear war, there are different kinds of targets: counterforce (sending warheads to blow up other warheads in an attempt to minimize retaliation) and countervalue (detonating warheads over strategic cities). The Chinese have never had the arsenal necessary to threaten a convincing first strike (the whole purpose of a first strike being to do enough damage to another nation's capacity to strike back that losses are kept to an 'acceptable' amount), but they have had just enough capability to threaten a significant counterstrike to the aggressor's cities. The whole point of submarine and mobile missiles is to maintain the ability to send a large enough retaliatory response if a nation implements a nuclear strike against them; Britain's entire nuclear arsenal is submarine-based so that it would be impossible to wipe out a strategically meaningful amount of their total capacity (submarines carry MIRV'd missiles, which are basically impossible to defend against with any modern antiballistic missile system). Having a hidden, unpredictable, mobile striking capacity is actually a good thing: it keeps everyone honest. While there's always the possibility of limited war, with such a small arsenal, there'd be no way to meaningfully survive a counterattack and hence no reason to initiate war, and similiarly, with a sub and truck based launch platform, there's no way to guarantee you'd be able to take out enough of their retaliatory capacity in a first strike.

    I can't speak to the buildup of their conventional capacity, but China's nuclear intentions are about as honest as you're going to get from a nuclear power.
  • by twmcneil (942300) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:00PM (#28610199)
    I can recommend the book Epicenter of Peace by Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan. While Nazarbayev is not very well liked in certain circles for other reasons, the book is an interesting story of why he decided to lead Kazakhstan to denuclearization.

    One of the many things I learned from this book was the difference between nonproliferation and denuclearization. Kazakhstan didn't simply agree to store away the warheads like the U.S. and Russia have agreed to do, they dismantled them and shipped them entirely out of the country (basically to Russia and the U.S.). Then they dismantled the accompanying infrastructure, reseach facilities, education facilities, etc so that hopefully, nuclear arms would never again be deployed in Kazakhstan.

    It's an interesting story.
  • Question! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hesaigo999ca (786966) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:25PM (#28610559) Homepage Journal

    Would they be able to use up the dismantled nuclear materials to make another reactor with without having to pay for mining of the stuff...(plutonium, uranium, etc..), or is the materials wasted in the making of the warhead to begin with?

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:39PM (#28610793) Homepage Journal

    Blacks come from a history of being ACTIVELY held down, and it's going to be a while before this nation recovers from that.

    Is there a white equivalent of the NAACP? Is there a Caucasian College Fund?

    At a certain point, the effects of ancient history have dwindled to nothing. I'd say that point is already past.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @02:12PM (#28611335) Journal

    By the way, one thing you Westerners should keep in mind.

    In my school days in Russia (which were late 90s, far more liberal and pro-Western than it is today), we still studied things such as an effect of an urban nuclear explosion, complete with a diagram of the bombed city with affected areas, and a simulated aerial photo. We were taught how to behave to maximize the chances of survival during the initial blast, how to find proper shelters and secure them (and what kinds of shelters are good enough at various distances), and so on. I think that's still being taught.

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:47AM (#28617941) Homepage

    Blacks come from a history of being ACTIVELY held down

    That USED to be the case, but not anymore. Today, the actively hold each other down as they accept government hand-outs and cling on to a state of "victimization". Simply put, it's a culture thing. Not race.

    It's the truth. Just look at the numbers. Per 2007 data, Whites make up 80% of the population while blacks make up 12.8%. However, American Indians only make up 1% while Hispanic make up 15%. This is important to point out for the simple fact that three of the four races I mentioned do *not* bitch about their situation even the slightest when put in comparison.

    While I really do feel bad how blacks were treated in America's history, they no longer have any excuse to be clinging on to victimhood in this day and age.

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