Matthew Gordon-Banks

Is Russia Revoking a Nuclear Treaty?

A month ago, I made a suggestion – this is a Blog of course, not an academic paper – about the need to start looking closely at measures to improve the UK’s defence capability.

At that time, I said that “Russia enjoys a massive technological advantage over NATO in terms of electronic warfare, air defence systems, mine laying vehicles and hypersonic missiles” in the context of the on-going conflict in Ukraine. I also mentioned these points below.

We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to be honest about our current capabilities. Quite simply there is a NATO-Russia war going on, albeit a proxy one, but that if it came to a ‘real war’ NATO could not be at all confident that it would win it. We need to re-establish and maintain good Dialogue and re-start some proper, grown-up, diplomacy.

A month ago I said:

  • The Russian economy is robust and healthy despite Western sanctions.
  • Russia’s political influence in the world is growing, not shrinking. BRICS is a case in point.
  • Russia is inflicting enormous casualties on Ukraine’s military and decimating infrastructure critical to the Ukrainian military campaign. They could be much less cautious than they are in their operations.
  • Russia’s defence industry has ramped up to levels of production that the West cannot match.
  • Russia’s seemingly unlimited access to natural resources, energy and rare earth minerals strengthens Russia’s military position in the world.
  • Russia enjoys a massive technological advantage over NATO in terms of electronic warfare, air defence systems, mine laying vehicles and hypersonic missiles.
  • Russian leaders and their people genuinely believe they face an existential threat from the West; primarily America.
  • Ukraine is totally dependent on the West to provide money and weapons to continue to fight.

All this brings me to the point of my post: nuclear and missile issues.

Vyasheslav Volodin, Head of the Russian Duma, the Russian Parliament, and chief law-maker, a man too little known as a result of our very tightly controlled media, stated last week “the situation in the world has changed”. Volodin is a popular man in Russia, who has energy, intellect and good connections. . He stated that the Duma now “needs to consider revoking…” the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. “Consider revoking”? Volodin chose his words very carefully.

After 30 years the US has not ratified the Treaty, Russia has. Russians, understandably, are thinking that after so long waiting for failed promises they might as well revoke it.

The Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union but Russia inherited the biggest store of nuclear warheads at the end of the  USSR/CCCP. Their last nuclear test was in 1990. Since then, the United Nations states that India and Pakistan have carried out two tests each in 1998 and North Korea tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016 (twice) and 2017.

President Putin has recently announced that Russia has successfully tested a nuclear-powered and nuclear-capable cruise missile called Burevestnik. Its capabilities are unmatched by anything in the West. The missile is a ground-launched, low-flying cruise missile. It is nuclear-powered and can carry a nuclear warhead. The project was first announced in 2018. It adds to the already deployed cruise missiles  that Russia has.

The US Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Centre said in a report that if Russia successfully brought the Burevestnik into service, Moscow would have a “unique weapon with intercontinental-range capacity”. Quite simply, Russia can shoot down our missiles but we cannot shoot down some of theirs. I am not suggesting that some of our western nuclear missiles would not get through but we are where we are.

A recent speech by President Putin warning the West, again, that whilst Russia will not use a first strike nuclear missile it will immediately respond if she is threatened or sees missiles heading her way; and the implication is clear that Russia has a significant edge.

As I said, ‘we are where we are’! In UK we talk a good fight, but if we pushed Russia too far the consequences are obvious.

I have always believed that we should maintain our independent nuclear deterrent, but we should look in the years ahead at how much western military equipment has simply failed in Ukraine. Failed because it was not good enough or failed because it was deployed in a manner and location unsuited to its capabilities. The idea of Russian tanks rolling over the plains of Germany is but a memory in reality. We need to look at our own defence procurement and what any future conflict which we might be directly involved in, god forbid, looks like. Drones replacing light-recce for example? We especially need to look at what we might require for “limited interventions” in overseas conflict zones, especially in the Commonwealth, in a UN role and probably have a re-think about NATO. How relevant is NATO today? It is a question that needs asking. It is something I shall look shortly. The ‘threat(s)’ has long changed. We also need to improve our Dialogue and return to better diplomacy. In particular the diplomacy of nuclear non-proliferation.

Russia has a huge history and so does Britain. Yet we must remember, we do not rule a quarter of the world anymore and we simply cannot afford to pretend that we do!

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