Global Insights: Prompt Global Strike Remains Strategically Problematic

Global Insights: Prompt Global Strike Remains Strategically Problematic

On Dec. 20, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov complained that the Bush administration's insistence on limiting the number of operational nuclear warheads, instead of the number of strategic bombers and missiles capable of delivering them, was the "main problem" preventing a new Russian-American strategic arms control agreement.

The question of how to treat long-range strategic delivery systems equipped with conventional warheads, and the extent to which they should be limited by any new arms control agreement, continues to separate the American and Russian negotiating positions. U.S. officials have been seeking an accord that provides both Washington and Moscow with considerable flexibility in converting nuclear-armed strategic missiles for use as long-range, high-speed conventional weapons. Russian political and military leaders, meanwhile, have been adamantly opposed to either side developing this option.

Members of the Bush administration have long seen such "prompt global strike options" as essential for attacking urgent, and perhaps fleeting, targets such as terrorists preparing to use weapons of mass destruction or hostile states readying long-range missiles for attacking the United States or its allies. The need for the capability to strike distant targets rapidly -- generally defined as hitting a target anywhere on earth in under an hour -- was emphasized in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review and subsequent Department of Defense documents.

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