Issue No. 20, November 1997
Russian Nuclear Security:
Press Conference by General Habiger, Commander-in-Chief,
Strategic Command, Department of Defense transcript, 4 November
Briefing by US Strategic Commander
Editor's note: see News Review for background and
further details of General Habiger's visit to Russia.
"I've just experienced something that I never thought possible,
because as a Cold War warrior, I spent most of my adult life
sitting alert with B-52 bombers, and for a period of five days last
week, the Russians showed me a great deal about specifically their
strategic rocket forces from their command and control to allowing
me to be the first, as I understand it, non-Russian to ever go into
a nuclear weapons storage area and to see how they keep their
nuclear weapons secure and safe.
... I first met General Sergeyev [then my counterpart] in
October of last year, when Dr. Perry, then Secretary of Defense,
asked me to accompany him to Moscow for some high-level talks. I
met General Sergeyev privately for about one hour before the
meeting with the principals. ... I extended an invitation to him to
come visit me at Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base,
Nebraska, and in late-March, early April of this year he did come.
... I showed him a missile base. I showed him my headquarters in
some depth, and I took him to one of our nuclear weapons storage
facilities at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
That was the first time that a Russian has ever been in one of
our weapons storage areas, and he saw first-hand the procedures and
the processes we go through to ensure that our nuclear weapons are
safe and secure. He was impressed. During the ministerials a few
weeks ago at Maastricht, Secretary of Defense Cohen and now
Minister of Defense Sergeyev met, and Secretary Cohen asked what
General Sergeyev's view was of the safety and security of their
nuclear weapons; and, as I recall, General Sergeyev said that his
nuclear weapons were as safe and secure as those in the United
States. Secretary Cohen said, Well, General Habiger is going to be
visiting you here within the next few weeks. Could you perhaps show
him how you go about doing that? and General Sergeyev said yes.
I was already scheduled to be in Russia to do some visits, not
expecting at that time to actually go into a nuclear weapons
storage site. On Friday, two weeks ago, that's exactly what I did.
I went to a nuclear weapons storage site at a road-mobile SS-24,
rail-mobile SS-24 missile base at Kostroma, which is a little over
300 kilometers northeast of Moscow. I was taken in the facility. I
was shown the security.
I went into a nuclear weapons storage bunker and saw an
operational nuclear weapon. Actually, there were eight of them on
an SS-24 missile, upper-stage missile. I went in to talk to the
security people who were guarding the facility, as a matter of
fact, and every one of my questions was answered. And I was shown a
lot of things that I was impressed with. For example, in the United
States we have a two-person policy involving nuclear weapons. In
other words, you have to have a minimum of two people in order to
get close to a nuclear weapon. In Russia it's a three-person
In the United States we have a thing called a personnel
reliability program, where we monitor our people medically for any
kind of abnormal behavior that would make them unstable around
nuclear weapons. The Russians do not have a program that's exactly
like ours, but they have a similar program. Before missile crew
members or before security personnel go on their alert tours, which
are three- or four-day cycles, they are personally interviewed by a
medical doctor and a psychologist.
I actually saw a demonstration of the capability of their
security forces. It was not something that was planned; it was
something that I asked for at the spur of the moment, and I was
very impressed with these nine young men, the security force that
was tasked with guarding this particular facility. The detachment
of nine individuals was commanded by a senior lieutenant, all very
professional. They knew what they were doing.
Now, the caveat I would give you is that I saw one facility. Was
it representative? I'd like to think so. They made it very clear
that the facility I was in at Kostroma was very representative of
the missile bases in Russia. As a result of what I saw, I had
further discussions with General Colonel Yakoulev, who is the
Commander-in-Chief of the Rocket Forces, who replaced General
Sergeyev, and we agreed to exchange security specialists from our
respective commands; and hopefully within the next few weeks a team
of four or five of his security people will come to one of our
missile bases and see in depth the procedures and the technical
applications we use in our nuclear weapons storage areas, and he
has agreed that he would host a similar team from my headquarters
to do exactly the same thing. We also agreed that we would
establish a shadow program where we would take the equivalent of a
wing commander, and squadron commander, a flight commander, and a
missile crew member from one of his missile bases to come to the
United States and shadow their respective counterparts for a
one-week period - meetings, fitness center, dining facilities,
everything - and then he would reciprocate with a team from my
...on the down side, we tend to use high-technology devices much
more than the Russians do. For example, we use television sensors,
low-light television cameras to monitor certain areas. The Russians
have not made that capital investment. Manpower is relatively
inexpensive for them, and they use more eyeballs, if you will.
We have a lot more work to do, a lot more transparency, a lot
more details, but from my observations I was impressed and have
confidence that the Russians, from what I saw at that one base,
have a program which is ensuring the safe, secure processes
involved regarding nuclear weapons.
... Every question I asked was answered in depth, and the thing
that struck me about going into their command and control center is
that they are very much geared to a fail-safe mode. And what I mean
by that is that any one of the command centers, from the national
level down to the unit level, can inhibit the launch of an
intercontinental ballistic missile."
© 1998 The Acronym Institute.
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