MIRVs Matter: Banning Hydra-Headed Missiles in a New START II Treaty

34 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2017 Last revised: 13 Apr 2018

See all articles by Dakota S. Rudesill

Dakota S. Rudesill

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: September 27, 2017


Nuclear multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) on global-range ballistic missiles are at once Cold War relics, unfinished business of the bilateral arms control regime, and potential threats to strategic stability if the United States and Russia find themselves in a nuclear crisis – a confrontation in which the use of nuclear weapons is a real possibility. By concentrating many warheads on single missiles that present attractive targets, in a crisis land-based MIRVs could undermine deterrence and incentivize shooting first. This article reviews the history of MIRVs and analyzes their limited and abortive regulation in the nuclear arms control legal regime. This article explains that reliance on MIRVs is growing in Russia and China, MIRVs may be fielded by Pakistan and India, and MIRVs could return to U.S. land-based ballistic missiles, at a time when the risk of conflict among nuclear powers is significant and could grow. Nuclear states have operational and cost-efficiency reasons for relying on MIRVs, and therefore it will be difficult to negotiate a partial or full ban. But the stakes dictate that MIRVs should be a top agenda item when the bilateral U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control process eventually resumes. Enhancing strategic stability, lowering potential costs of nuclear accidents, and improving prospects for convincing rising nuclear powers to forego MIRVs are all compelling reasons for Washington and Moscow to make every effort to negotiate a ban on hydra-headed nuclear missiles in a “New START II,” beginning with a ban on more than three warheads per land-based missile.

Keywords: nuclear weapons, deterrence, arms control, nuclear arms control, treaties, Russia, China, India, military, Cold War, detente

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Rudesill, Dakota S., MIRVs Matter: Banning Hydra-Headed Missiles in a New START II Treaty (September 27, 2017). Stanford Journal of International Law Vol. 54, 2018, Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 413, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3043941

Dakota S. Rudesill (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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