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This answer argues about Russia's concerns over missile defense systems due to undermining of Mutual Assured Destruction:

The basis for the modern stalemate is called Mutual Assured Destruction. Under MAD, neither side can start a nuclear war because both sides have sufficient firepower to destroy the other side even in the face of a first strike. I.e. they can each fire in response before the first strike reaches them.

Missile defense systems threaten MAD, because they can (at least theoretically) make it possible to fire a first strike and not be destroyed in turn.

This seems like a valid point, but I am wondering if this cannot be counteracted by also building such systems. It seems unlikely for NATO to give up already deployed systems, so instead of issuing concerns why not build more such systems?

Question: Why doesn't Russia build more missile defense systems instead of complaining about NATO's systems?

  • Comments deleted. Please don't try to answer the question with comments. If you would like to answer, please write a proper answer. – Philipp Feb 15 at 20:38
  • I still do not understand why somebody wants to decrease informational value of this page by removing ALL comments at once. The very first one was "useful" to at least 24 users! Sounds like 24 fools do not know what is useful, and what is not. – Sanctus Feb 16 at 12:03
  • "Missile defense systems threaten MAD" : citation needed. – Mazura Feb 16 at 16:08

11 Answers 11

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Complaining is Cheap, Building is Expensive

Simply put, it takes very little money and effort to complain, even on a diplomatic stage. (This is also why the most common reaction to a problem on the international stage is an expression of deep concerns.) It makes RF look more peaceful than it is, implicitly puts a defensive spin on some of the military activity (e.g. when it justifies its conquests as preemptive strikes against expansion of NATO), and also produces positive reactions in the home population (further worsens NATO's image in RF and improves RF's).

Conversely, building more military units - of any sort, including missile systems - is easier said than done. RF, while big, isn't all that powerful economically compared to the NATO opponents, and also happens to have a lot of inefficiencies/corruption, so any major projects will have to take scarce resources from elsewhere.

There's also the matter of not just resources, but the state of technology. A lot of the missiles RF still has date back to Soviet designs, and/or are joint projects that relied on assistance of Second World states whom RF has antagonised over the last 2-3 decades. Suddenly making a new set of missiles that are competitive with the opponents will require changes both in production and likely in design. And the state of affairs in RF's contemporary rocketry designs is controversial to say the least. Consider the criticism of recent ground-to-ground missile developments, or check the number of spaceships that ended up on the sea floor.

This isn't to say that there is no work being done to upgrade various military systems. Of course some stuff gets done. But so, any actual upgrades are likely to be slower and subtler than complaints, because it's the very nature of complaints they are not subtle, and require little in the way of preparation.

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A missile defence system that can intercept ICBMs is a tricky proposition. ICBMs move very high (above the atmosphere) and fast. Hitting them in the orbital coasting phase is nigh-on impossible, certainly for ground-based interceptors. Hitting them in the terminal phase is possible, since their trajectory is well defined at that point, but problematic because a single missile can deploy mutliple re-entry warheads, and can cheaply counter interceptors by deploying additional dummy warheads, making the business of intercepting all of them prohibitive: the cost of improving the defense scales far faster than the cost of defeating that defense.

So the best opportunity to intercept an ICBM is as early as possible in the launch phase, when you have a much larger, slow moving, very visible target where even a small interference could render the missile ineffective. But for that to work you need to be as close as possible to the launch site. And basically, the USA can in principle install systems in eastern Europe, Turkey, Japan, Korea, Alaska (and conceivably even US bases in Afghanistan) which are right on the Russian border, while Russia really has no options for putting defense systems anywhere near US launch facilities.

Also of course, the US military presence close to Russia's borders gives it sites for non-ICBM nuclear weapons (cruise missiles, bombers) which again Russia has no symmetric response to. It can threaten European nations, but can't strike at the territory of the source of the threat.

So an effective missile defense technology benefits the US more than it does Russia - it does very little to defend Russia in any meaningful way as long as ICBMs can't be reliably destroyed in the orbital coasting or descent phases.

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    .. But given the geographical circumstances (i.e. sheer size of the country and the proximity to the US from the "east") - can't it be "solved" by deploying the corresponding offence systems in Siberia where it's too far away from the border but already close enough to US to threaten it's territory? So the immediate post-launch interception is not an option there and it's easy to bolster the offensive capabilities and retain parity? – Alma Do Feb 13 at 13:11
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    @AlmaDo That assumes a polar launch route. Launch missiles from the Pacific using, say, a missile cruiser or submarine and stuff in Siberia might not make it in time – Machavity Feb 13 at 13:14
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    @Machavity .. and that assumes that the exact (or at least approximate) location of the military sites in Siberia is known to the offender in the war scenario plus near-to-border launches (remembering that sea borders also exist). I think it's safe to assume that by the time RF realises there's a nuclear strike incoming, they will be able to react from Siberia - either the intensions will be known well in advance (close launch which requires easily detectible movements) or time too travel for the missiles will be too high (distant launch). – Alma Do Feb 13 at 13:19
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    @NikoNyrh Russia could base systems in Cuba in principle (although I don't know whether that would actually be a useful position for a missile defense system to defend Russia proper). But you might remember the Cuban missile crisis from the last time that the USSR tried to put strategically significant weapon systems on Cuba. – PhillS Feb 14 at 10:21
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    @WhatRoughBeast The US is certainly trying to develop GMD and has deployed systems to that effect, but there is no evidence they are effective. All trials are almost certainly 'proof of concept' where things are set up as fabourably as possible for the test to succeed, and they still fail often enough that the succesful test of SM-3 Block IIA in Hawaii in Dec 2018 was noteworthy (and against a shorter range trajectory than a full ICBM). Plus mid-course countermeasures are cheap and easy. – PhillS Feb 14 at 10:26
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MAD can be considered desirable

Your proposal, where both USA and Russia have effective anti-ICBM systems, would mean the end of mutually assured destruction. This is not necessarily a good thing, as this means that whoever has an advantage (or merely thinks they have one) may be motivated to do a destructive first strike without fearing retaliation, bringing the world to a large-scale nuclear war; or effectively threaten limited application of tactical nukes without risking WW3.

The threat of MAD has ensured (relative) peace between the major powers, compared to what might have been - conflicts and proxy wars haven't escalated because of it. A new world order without MAD means that escalating conflicts up to major wars and even limited nuclear strikes becomes a valid non-suicidal option, so such options will be be likely to be used in 21st century. You could easily argue that the hypothetical risk of MAD is better than real, bloody large scale conflicts without MAD.

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    MAD was the policy employed by the WW1 super powers .... and that worked out really well. – UKMonkey Feb 13 at 14:13
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    @UKMonkey There is a slightly difference between the definition of MAD used before WW1, meaning a huge scale war, and the MAD used today, meaning the literal obliteration of most of the world's population in a few hours. Today a nuclear conflict would litteraly leave the entirety of the surface of the earth uninhabitable for hundreds of years. – everyone Feb 13 at 14:21
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    @UKMonkey The WW1-era leaders (the actual humans) risked politically, but not physically. The threat to politicians' lives and health is the core characteristic of today's MAD, even if often overlooked. – kubanczyk Feb 13 at 14:44
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    @UKMonkey - The WW1 superpowers didn't employ MAD. The key difference is that some WWI powers expected to be able that they were able to win a major war, while the point of MAD is that nobody can expect to win a MAD war. That's why we call it "Assured", and if mutual destruction stops being assured it fails to work. – Pere Feb 13 at 17:37
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    @CaptainMan, the effectiveness of an atom bomb isn't proportional to its yield. Depending on the effect you're looking it, it's proportional to either the square root or cube root of the yield, such that Tsar Bomba only has about 20 times the destructive radius of Fat Man. Because of this, your "super rough estimate" is wildly inaccurate. – Mark Feb 13 at 21:57
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Why doesn't Russia build more missile defense systems — because it costs ₽₽₽₽₽ which may otherwise be spent on pensions, healthcare, education, infrastructure, or other projects that more directly and obviously benefit the common good. Only the military-industrial complex benefits from an arms race, otherwise such a race is a lose-lose situation. Rationally, it is in the interest of all parties (apart from the military-industrial complex) to have less arms, not more. Therefore, if Russia and US/NATO can mutually agree to have less arms, that is beneficial to both, but in particular to Russia, which is economically the weaker party by a large margin (and always has been, including during the times of the Soviet Union, for reasons of history, immense WW II destruction, and an economic system that is worse at generating economic growth).

For the richer party, the economic stranglehood that an arms race puts on the weaker party may actually be strategy, at least in the "I win, you lose" zero sum mode of analysis, but for the weaker party it is a bad situation in any case (again, except for the military-industrial complex that exists on both sides).

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    Apparently, Russia, with about 145 million people has an economy slightly smaller than Canada's. I always thought of Russia and the US as roughly matched (I grew up in the 80s), but Russia is actually quite poor now in relative terms. – rob Feb 14 at 22:27
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    @rob USSR has always been pretty poor compared to the US, even in the 80's. The regulated economy allowed to maintain military parity, but all the civilian sector was far behind. – IMil Feb 15 at 0:29
  • @IMil I know they were always poor, but they put on a good show. – rob Feb 15 at 4:15
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    @rob You might even call it a Potemkin village! – BlackVegetable Feb 16 at 17:16
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Russia complains that the installation of the missile defense system changes the balance of power and threatens MAD. Theoretically Russia could do exactly the same.

But maybe it doesn't have the technology or resources to do so. In any case, why should it accept to engage in an arms race on US terms? The development of hypersonic weapons that would not be stopped and an increase in the number of missiles seems to have been perceived as a less costly alternative. Now, these actions are perceived with equal concern in the West.

The relevant question is simply: Does the missile defense system violate the existing agreements (in letter or spirit)? Is it possible to come up with an updated or new agreement to resolve the current situation?

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Missile defense systems threaten MAD, because they can (at least theoretically) make it possible to fire a first strike and not be destroyed in turn.

This is true, regardless of how many actors have missile defence systems. If Russia did build its own, that doesn't stop NATO from launching a first strike. All it does is allow Russia to also consider launching a first strike.

The argument is that it's better for nobody to have defence systems and MAD, than for everyone to have defence systems and risk being fired upon.

2

Filing an official complaint is a diplomatic tool with great value in negotiation, or justification of own questionable acts or treaty breaches.

Without an official complaint (be it fictitious, i.e not founded) a treaty transgression by the would-be complainant can be viewed as an act of aggression, while supported by such a complaint it can be viewed as an act of defense (by whoever finds it profitable to view it as such).

The complaint also allows third parties to join sides and support the complainant and have an official reason to do so (even if the third party is also aware of the possibly fraudulent claims of the complainant), reducing diplomatic penalties from uninvolved factions, which would otherwise be forced to acknowledge they whitness an alliance with an aggressor (which they really don't want, because they consider neutrality safer).

2

The Russian Federation does not have the resources to engage in a missile defence race with the USA, nor in its strategic or economic interest. They already have highly developed anti-aircraft systems, with operational deployment of the S-400, and the S-500 system in development, which will provide missile defence over limited, areas like command and control, and strategic weapons.

They problem faced by Russian military planners, is the US goal of attaining a massive conventional first strike capability, via the Aegis system, from land and sea based Tomahawk cruise missiles, of the order of 20,000 delivery systems by the early 2020's. This includes the rapid conversion of the Romanian and future Polish ABM launchers.

The Russians have countered by developing a new hypersonic missile systems both conventional and nuclear. The conventional systems are designed to be "Carrier Killers", since any US conventional first strike will require deployment of Carrier Groups in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Sea of Japan, which could be stopped before reaching their launch positions. At a fraction of the $13 billion cost per carrier, the Russian command believes the US would be very reluctant to put their system to the test.

The hypersonic systems are also part of a traditional MAD nuclear counterstrike capability, as well as the new, virtually undetectable nuclear armed Poseidon, an undersea UAV, which can be deployed to coastal regions, in response to any US first strike.

The Russian strategy is asymmetrical and efficient, with a GDP 1/10th of the US, but only 15% GDP in foreign debt. They are relying on cost-effective deterrence, while US continues to pile up debt, over 100% GDP, $22 trillion, building very expensive platforms, that are now vulnerable to attack.

1

It has to due with Russia using proxy nations/organizations to threaten the U.S. safety/influence.

Since the 80's the Russians have had systems have been designed to swamp and make any U.S. missile defense system ineffective. They supposedly have a new model coming out that makes missile defense even more difficult. So it not about nullifying MAD at all. A missile defense system that is 90% effective against hundreds of missiles still would have millions of deaths in the U.S. A system like that is generations away from the U.S. being able to deploy. So its not about MAD.

However, Missile defense is good at reducing the threat of rouge nations individual or a few missals. Russia likes using Syria, Iran, Cuba to threaten the U.S. To our politicians the risk of hundreds of thousands of deaths is more than sufficient for us to not military get involved in another nation. Russian then can use/allow say Iran to be more aggressive. Iran can be way more aggressive at using their revolutionary guard in the region and using terrorism to stop U.S. influence in the middle east since they have nukes to punish enemies that attack them, if need be. This helps protect them therefore the cost of war exponentially increases. So they can get away with more and the US accepts many more casualties, dictatorships, and Islam extremist before we retaliate since it would cost us so much more.

However if there was little risk of say an Iran successfully launching a nuke or two at us or Israel if we invaded. Iran has to be much more careful how far they can push the US and our allies before we use military force to stop their aggressive violate behavior.

Russia does not have the same problem where the U.S./EU is using third party nations as a proxy to threaten Russian influence thru nukes. We could by say give a few nukes to the Baltic states and the Ukraine for the Russia violation of treaties they signed to limit nukes in eastern Europa. Then Russia might have some incentive to create a missile defense system. The problem is they don't have the money. So they are playing a rhetoric game since they can't win on the money/tech side.

0

Because it's not a matter of defending, it's a matter of respecting an agreement (and implicitly of honor).

The systems installed at Deveselu, Romania are capable of attack, there is no doubt about that. Russia can defend against an attack from there, but that's not the point.

Ultimately, what is the purpose of any agreement, or non aggression pact if it's not respected ?

How does the US expect for countries like Iran to respect agreements, if they in turn breach at will any of them, like they recently did in multiple different cases ?

By not respecting the agreement, the parties breaching it practically open the path to a new arms race, a cold war 2.0.

Economically speaking, that actually may be a good tactic because it continues to feed the over-grown arms industry. This industry will soon run out of need for production. The small 'enemy' countries are now extinct and being no enemy, one does not need that many weapons production.

In conclusion, many are looking at the wrong things to draw-up sound conclusions.

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If you ever lived in areas with dangerous wild animals, such as bears, you know that rifle is always cheaper than the fence. Similarly, the power to destroy Iran or Poland or other country with suspicious missile sites looks very affordable when compared to price of interceptors. At the same time, complaining is always a zero cost option, be it in addition to interceptors or in addition to the strike potential.

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