The missile defense dilemma: Russia offers US ‘hypersonic exchange’

This post was published in Vzglyad by Alexey Anpilogov. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – Moscow and Washington are intensively exchanging signals about the future of the most important international treaty – START-3. The Americans present their conditions to Russia to extend the validity of this document, including the fate of the latest Russian hypersonic weapons. What requirements does Russia make in response to the United States?

According to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry at the end of last week, Moscow agrees to engage in dialogue with Washington on the issue of new weapons systems, in particular hypersonic weapons. As you know, the United States insists that the latest Russian weapons systems – for example, the Avangard hypersonic unit, the Dagger rocket, the Poseidon submarine drone and a number of others – be included in the new comprehensive strategic arms limitation treaty. The current START-3 ends early next year.

In principle, Moscow had previously agreed to discuss this issue in negotiations on the extension of strategic offensive arms. However, in the words of Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, another important remark was made.

According to the diplomat, “the Americans deny the inextricable, invaluable, no matter how much they like, relationship” between such new weapons systems and strategic defensive weapons, trying in every possible way to exclude from consideration, for example, a missile defense system (ABM). “The root cause of our work and our success in creating new systems is precisely the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty,” Ryabkov said.

What kind of “inextricable relationship” does the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry speak of and why are any agreements on new offensive weapon systems impossible without taking into account the missile defense factor?

The dilemma of missile defense

The global thermonuclear war, fortunately, is only a hypothetical scenario. However, it has been worked out “on paper” in all the details.

One of these developments, describing the most likely course of a possible exchange of nuclear strikes, was the assessment of the ABM system’s ability to repel a massive nuclear attack. Such a scenario was calculated in the USSR and the USA in the mid-1960s. After that, both countries had a clear understanding that none of the missile defense systems could provide 100 percent security against a massive nuclear attack.

This was due to a lot of factors. It was possible to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with less labor and lower cost than missile defense systems. Since the latter was forced to start on the opposite course with ICBMs, in the most compressed time mode, and even dynamically calculating the trajectory of a moving target – it turned out to be difficult, intense and super expensive.

In addition, for each ICBM it was necessary to spend one, or even two missile defense, to ensure a confident defeat of the enemy missile. Well, the installation of separate guided warheads, false targets and interference generators on ICBMs altogether turned the missile defense mission into a “war against windmills”.

The result of this calculation was the well-known “missile defense dilemma”: given the impossibility of fending off the first, strongest strike by enemy ICBMs, each of the parties to the global nuclear conflict was compelled to be the first to launch its preemptive and disarming nuclear strike. Then, having destroyed most of the enemy ICBMs even in mines and at launching sites, she planned to repulse a weakened enemy strike with the help of her missile defense system, which in this case could well delay a couple of dozen, rather than a thousand warheads bursting through.

The fight against such logic was laid at the basis of the Soviet-American ABM Treaty, signed in 1972 and reinforced by an additional protocol of 1974. In it, the missile defense capabilities were deliberately limited to only one positional area, in which no more than 100 fixed fixed anti-ballistic missile launchers could be deployed within a radius of 150 kilometers.

Just because both sides of the Cold War realized that any arms race is not capable of leading to a guaranteed victory in the scenario of oncoming nuclear strikes, each of which will have a good thousand warheads. Here already, as they say, “who is destined to be hanged, he will not drown”: really, does it really matter if the enemy can destroy your country ten times if it strikes first, or only twice if its counter strike is weakened? There is absolutely no difference …

US attempts to deceive the USSR and Russia

It should be noted that the United States in the past did everything in its power to “run between the raindrops,” by any means trying to circumvent the provisions of the ABM Treaty. In particular, such an attempt, quite successful in fact, was undertaken in the 1980s, when the United States decided to change the approach to missile defense ideology and make it global, but no longer tied to the Earth’s surface, but located outside the Earth’s atmosphere, in space. This is a well-known Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

Two factors played a role here. Firstly, the creation of promising concepts “near” nuclear weapons (high-speed computers, lasers, kinetic weapons, systems for delivering goods to orbit), sent a military idea in the direction of using all these developments against the enemy’s ICBMs. Secondly, moving the missile defense system into space would circumvent the limitations of two treaties to curb the arms race – the 1967 Space Treaty and the already mentioned 1972 ABM Treaty.

New capabilities of promising missile defense systems developed as part of the SDI program literally “seeped” between the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty and the ABM Treaty.

Thus, the Outer Space Treaty prohibited the deployment of nuclear weapons in outer space, as a result of which most systems of the SDI program did not carry nuclear weapons on board, and the ABM Treaty dispensed with the fact that the SDI program systems were located in space, while the ABM Treaty talked about missile defense deployed on the surface of the earth. In general – the usual Anglo-Saxon legal casuistry, nothing new.

The current evaluation of the SDI program ranges between two extremes, ranging from “the United States would not have succeeded” and ending with “the USSR just collapsed, and the Americans were ready.” Reality, as often happens, is located in the middle. As part of the SDI in the United States, they not only identified deadlock paths, such as nuclear-pumped space lasers, but also discovered a number of promising systems. For example, the atmospheric kinetic interception systems used in the new American missile defense systems with the GDI and SM-3 missiles, which were put into service in 2000-2010, grew out of the developments under the Brilliant Pebbles program, which was part of the experiments in the framework of SDI.

However, the fairly clear position of the USSR, and then Russia, regarding the inadmissibility of the deployment of SDI, led to a slightly different scenario. The US simply went for the denunciation of the ABM Treaty, announcing its withdrawal in 2001. Well, the fact that the USA has been weighed down by the ABM Treaty all the 1990s is a clear fact – back in February 2001, even without officially withdrawing from the treaty, the USA transferred Globus-2 radars tested in quality to Norway missile defense element, which directly violated the provisions of the said treaty. Well, tests of new missile defense systems (for example, GDI missiles) started at all in the mid-1990s.

What Russia demands today

It is worth saying that in the case of hypersonic weapons, Russia took exactly the same steps that were used against the USSR at the time of the threat of the deployment of SDI in the 1980s. Is hypersonic weapons spelled out in any restrictive agreements? No. Can it change the balance of power globally? Yes!

Well then, get to know our own, “Russian workaround.” We will put into service maneuvering nuclear warheads that will make your positional areas of the missile defense system or even the promising global space missile defense system completely useless. After which, oddly enough, the parable of the “happy hangman who is not destined to drown” acquires a different, but similar meaning.

Yes, again, such unacceptable damage to the United States by a retaliatory Russian hypersonic nuclear strike could be conditionally done “twice”, and not ten times — but what, excuse me, is the American hangman the difference?

Hence, the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry is becoming clear. Negotiating separately on the limitation of hypersonic weapons is stupid; it was originally created by Russia forcibly, exclusively as a deterrence weapon, and not the first attack.

Moreover, today it is a trump card in the arsenal of Russia, in the USA the hypersonic systems similar to the Russian ones will appear no earlier than in five to seven years. To remove this “fuse” from the global deterrence system means to return to the situation at the turn of the 2000-2010s, when the United States was fully confident that their missile defense system could repel a weakened retaliatory nuclear strike from Russia.

So the negotiating position of Moscow is defined very clearly. Here is our “fuse”, or, if you like, the “switch” – a hypersonic weapon. We can turn you off in response, even if you try to disconnect us first. Your “switch” is an imbalance in missile defense, from which we have warned you for a good thirty years.

We are planning an exchange. But – exclusively equivalent and making the whole world safer, and not vice versa.


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Original source: Vzglyad