THE BLOG
01/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

From Russia, With 70 New Nukes

As we rightfully concern ourselves with how to address this dysfunctional world economy of ours, let us remember this:

Nuclear war will ruin any economic recovery.

But this has been true for decades, you might say. Why worry?

Here is one reason -- from the Associated Press wire:

Russian news reports on Monday quoted a senior government official as saying Russia's military will commission 70 strategic nuclear missiles over the next three years. Vladislav Putilin, a deputy head of the Cabinet's military-industrial commission in charge of weapons industries, said Russia would spend about $141 billion to buy 70 strategic missiles and 30 short-range Iskander missiles, significantly increasing the tempo of rearming Russia's Strategic Missile Forces. In addition, the military will get 48 new combat jets, 60 military helicopters, more than 300 tanks and 14 navy vessels, Putilin said.

It also appears that the new missiles, armed with nuclear weapons, could have new homes. Agence France-Press reported the following:

"If the United States continues to bring elements of its strategic forces closer to Russia's borders, including missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which are aimed at the reduction of our nuclear deterrent, mobile Topol complexes could be placed in Belarus." -- A Russian Defense Ministry official quoted by Interfax

In addition, there is the recent confirmation that Russia is suppling defensive weaponry to Iran including surface-to-air missiles -- though there remains confusion over whether or not Russia is also sending long-range S-300 missiles to Iran -- Russia now claims it isn't, Iran has said it is.

So, is Russia just posturing? Is all this to prepare the scene for negotiations with incoming President Obama? Quite possibly.

Moscow has made it clear that it wants to reverse American insistence on new missile defenses in Europe. Perhaps these news items reflect an attempt to wave a big stick.

And such stick-waving can seem very scary. But I think it's actually just the opposite. And here is where fear gives way to opportunity.

This is what Barack Obama told Arms Control Today magazine in September about missile defense.

In our haste to deploy missile defenses, we cannot lose sight of the real 21st-century threats. The biggest nuclear security risk is not from a rogue state lashing out with ballistic missiles, but a terrorist smuggling a crude nuclear device across our borders.

Then our new President-elect had this to say:

Missile defenses can be a significant part of a plan to reduce these dangers, but they must be proven to work and pursued as part of an integrated approach that uses the full range of nonproliferation policy tools in response to the full range of threats we face.

It only takes a little interpretation to understand that missile defence won't be the top priority with President Obama and that he thinks the system should actually work before we install it. (I have the same theory about my toaster at home.)

So negotiations with the Russians could bear fruit.

One should also pay attention to change.gov, the official Obama transition site. It states these policy goals:

Move Toward a Nuclear Free World: Obama and Biden will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama and Biden will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But they will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. They will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global. (emphasis is mine)

What will US-Russian talks produce? Who knows. This appears to be a remarkable chance for progress on an issue that has casts a shadow long enough to envelope the world.

Of course, the President-elect retains confidence in a "strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist." That is a worrisome approach in itself. For decades, we have operated on the Alice in Wonderland assumption that we are safer with the proliferation of nuclear weapons than in leading the world towards the reduction and eventual elimination of these weapons. Deterence is supposed to be our protection.

But the United States and Russia can't even take care of their own weapons. United States Air Force nuclear weapons units have failed a nuclear weapons inspection five times this year.

And Russia's Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile failed another test recently. So far the Russians are only 5 for 10 with successful launches for the missile which had been set to be deployed next year. Fifty percent would be an excellent NBA field goal percentage, but with a nuclear weapon on board, a mistake could be just as catastrophic and a missile launched on purpose.

Still, I don't wish to be negative or pessimistic.

The nuclear question has divided the world for decades. But it can also bring us together.

Dr. David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, has laid out -- A Nuclear Disarmament Agenda for the first 100 Days of the Obama administration -- it includes a strong call for bilateral engagment with Russia :

But President Obama will need public support to make this major change in policy. We should all speak up in favor of a new policy towards nuclear weapons and Russia.

Imagine future generations marveling that we were the people with the determination, will and wisdom to take action. The goal is nothing short of a just and secure peace in a world free of nuclear weapons. It's a goal we all can share, one that benefits all people.