High-Precision Long-Range Conventional Weapons and Nuclear Arms Control

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-9-14-21

T. Anichkina (anichkinat@gmail.com),
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Acknowledgements. The article has been supported by a grant of the Russian Science Foundation. Project 18-18-00463.

Abstract. The article studies the development, production and deployment of high-precision long-range conventional weapons by the world’s leading military powers – the USA, Russia, and China. These weapons include non-nuclear systems with a range of more than 600 km capable of hitting the target by a single warhead with a probability of 0.5. The article focuses on air-, sea- and ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as hypersonic systems. The latter comprise cruise missiles with a scramjet engine and boost-glide complexes which rely on stages of ballistic missiles to boost a glide vehicle to hypersonic speeds. Hypersonics are less vulnerable for interception by missile defense systems. However, they also have a number of disadvantages of both technical and military-political nature. Existing high-precision long-range conventional weapons – with the exception of a massive attack scenario which is extremely unlikely in the absence of a full-scale war – can hardly have a significant impact on the balance of strategic nuclear forces. In the future, however, improvements in weapons performance, including hypersonic ones, will make it possible to transfer the core functions of strategic deterrence from nuclear to non-nuclear arms. Moreover, systems in question may aggravate strategic uncertainty due to their dual nature: they can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads and utilize support infrastructure for both conventional and nuclear military operations. Therefore, the use of highprecision long-range conventional weapons bears a high risk of a rapid escalation of an armed conflict all the way up to a massive nuclear exchange. The difficulty lies in the fact that traditional arms control measures are not applicable to high-precision conventional weapons. Their regulation should take a form of an incremental process with the final result likely to be less ambitious compared to nuclear arms control arrangements. A legally binding arms control regime for these systems would be hard to achieve mostly because it is virtually impossible to establish an effective verification regime. A more realistic alternative would be some form of parallel political statements on partial quantitative restriction for deployed long-range non-nuclear weapons and possibly limited data exchanges.

Keywords: high-precision weapons, long-range non-nuclear weapons, arms control, international security 


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For citation:
Anichkina T. High-Precision Long-Range Conventional Weapons and Nuclear Arms Control. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2019, vol. 63, no. 9, pp. 14-21. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-9-14-21

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