With the original Cold War long faded in the rear-view mirror, there are terms of art that have been forgotten. Two key terms drove the dialogue on the American–Soviet nuclear standoff of the Cold War: “bomber gap” and “missile gap.” They were powerful terms that the average American citizen or average politician could understand.
The ”Bomber Gap” term was used in politics to justify American bomber programs beyond the iconic B-52. The B-52 is still flying today and is about to be totally updated with new engines, avionics, and other components to keep the 76 operational B-52s flying for several more decades. Bombers forgotten in American Cold War history were the B-47, the B-58, the FB-111, the B-70, and others. America had no shortage of bomber programs during the Cold War.
With the CORONA Program, the original spy satellite, American national security leaders were confident by the late 1960s that the Soviets actually had far fewer bombers and missiles than first estimated. Most of the bombers flown over Moscow during propaganda displays of military might were simply the same small number of aircraft being flown in loops. There were many Soviet missiles, but still fewer than the large numbers calculated. There were significant debates over the reliability, accuracy, and safety of the Soviet missiles, but through various measures, the Soviets were brought to the negotiation table and several treaties were signed that capped the number of bombers, missiles, and deliverable warheads.
Russia Walks Away from New START Extension
The New START Treaty comes from a long series of treaties. President Ronald Reagan’s axiom of negotiating from a position of strength is foundational, though, for a truly successful treaty. Treaties negotiated from a presumption that all will follow the treaty or from a position of surrendering an advantageous position with little or nothing in return are foolhardy. The Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 made all the elite signatories feel good, but it was soon swept aside by world conflict. Everyone meant well, but aspirational platitudes are cover for those intent on ascendency or those intent on delaying an unavoidable showdown with ascendant powers.
Russia has now walked away from the New START Treaty. The possible result: Russia is now unrestrained to deploy additional strategic warheads beyond the 1,550 cap. This, while America’s nuclear arsenal is composed of elderly delivery means and warheads, which is being generous.
I would suggest America has been caught off guard by the Russian New START suspension and that the Russian action reveals an under-prepared America. This time the bomber and missile gap is real. It’s even worse though: America is dealing with not one but two large nuclear peers simultaneously—and these two countries have agreed to take down America in their no-limits partnership.
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