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Strategic nuclear escalation & the multi-polar world
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15:56, July 11, 2007

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Recently, there has been a new wave in the escalation of strategic nuclear weapons. On June 28th, just after Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov announced that Russia will vigorously upgrade its development of strategic nuclear weapons; Russia launched its new "Bulava," submarine-launched, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), for the fifth consecutive time. Before that, Russia had successfully test-fired a new type of "RS-24" ICBM. In addition, France announced, on June 21st, that it successfully test-fired M51 submarine-launched strategic missiles designed with a range of 8,000 km. Strategic nuclear weapons have also been upgraded in the United States. More recently, the United States improved its B-52 bombers. The United Kingdom just approved an update on the next generation of strategic nuclear weapons. India is also stepping up efforts to build a "three-dimensional" strategic nuclear force.

Strategic nuclear weapons are important for the maintenance of global strategic balance and stability. Currently, the United States and Russia each have "three-dimensional" strategic nuclear forces, with about 500 land-based launchers, over 100 naval and air force nuclear energy delivery vehicles, and nearly 4,000 nuclear warheads. Both are nuclear superpowers. France and the United Kingdom have "two-dimensional" (i.e., sea-based and space-based, or single sea-based strategic nuclear force structures). Possessing several hundred nuclear warheads each, these two countries are strategic nuclear powers.

The most fundamental reason for both nuclear superpowers and powers to upgrade is to maintain global, strategic nuclear balance. The US-Russian strategic nuclear weapons campaign is indicative of this. Since the Bush administration took office, it has been actively testing and deploying ABM systems; and seeking absolute military superiority. This year, the United States also plans to expand the ABM system to Eastern Europe and has aroused a strong reaction from Russia.

In this context, Russia will step up its strategic nuclear program. There are two conditions necessary to ensure effective deterrence: endurance, that is, the capacity to strike back; and penetration, that is, the ability to break through the opponent's missile systems. Only under these two conditions can nuclear deterrence become strong enough to ensure true strategic balance and stability.

In fact, the United States has been fighting against the two aforementioned conditions. First, it emphasizes rapid reaction and effective combat, so as to weaken the opponent's ability to retaliate. Second, it stresses the strengthening of the ABM system, so as to defend against the other's second blow. Although the anti-missile system with defense capabilities alone cannot effectively protect itself against Russian nuclear weapons; once combined with the ability to strike first, especially with the fast development of US military forces and the steady improvement of the ABM system, the U.S. could offset Russia's strategic nuclear deterrence.

Strategic nuclear balance is very important. Today, only strategic nuclear weapons can produce a deadly threat to the United States. Therefore, in order to establish its absolute military advantage in a unipolar world, the United States has to break the strategic nuclear balance and seek absolute nuclear superiority. Meanwhile, other countries also understand that once they lose their ability to deter a nuclear attack, they will become prey for the strong and be controlled by others.

Balance helps maintain stability. Without strategic balance, the order of the multi-polar world would be difficult to maintain. To this extent, the issue of strategic balance does not simply indicate a military struggle. It is actually a question of the type of world order that should be established, and a contest between unipolar and multipolar world order.

(The author is research fellow with the World's Military Research Department of the Academy of Military Sciences)

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