by John Isaacs and Kingston Reif
On March 26, President Obama announced that after nearly a year of tough negotiations, the U.S. and Russia have reached agreement on the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures to Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the “New START Treaty”). Presidents Obama and Medvedev will sign the new agreement on April 8 in Prague, Czech Republic.
New START is a modest but critically important and necessary step toward reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. The treaty enhances U.S. security by verifiably reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles and ensuring a stable and predictable U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship. Moreover, it will allow the U.S. to maintain a robust and flexible nuclear deterrent and will not limit development of U.S. missile defenses or advanced conventional weapons systems.
New START will help reduce the risk that U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons or materials could be stolen and used in a nuclear terrorist attack and buttress global efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. It is also an important means to improve U.S.-Russian relations and sets the stage for discussion on even deeper reductions in U.S. and Russian arsenals in the future.
Because the treaty so clearly benefits U.S. security, the agreement already enjoys broad bipartisan support. As George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn said, “We strongly endorse the goals of this Treaty, and we hope that after careful and expeditious review that both the United States Senate and the Russian Federal Assembly will be able to ratify the Treaty.”
The details of the agreement below are based on recent news reports, materials released by the White House, and remarks from President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
New START replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which expired on December 5, 2009. The new treaty consists of three legally-binding parts. The first is the actual treaty text, which reportedly is approximately twenty pages long. The rest of the agreement is a Protocol to the Treaty and Technical Annexes to the Protocol, which together reportedly will total approximately 150 pages. Reportedly, the treaty and protocol are completed but the detailed work on the annexes will take at least a few more weeks to work out.
New START limits each side’s deployed strategic warheads to 1,550. In a partial departure from how START I counted warheads, each deployed heavy bomber counts as one warhead toward this limit regardless of whether it is equipped to carry air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).
Regarding delivery vehicles (the missiles and bombers used to deliver nuclear warheads to their target) the treaty includes two limits:
• A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
• A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
New START does not appear to require significant cuts in the number of deployed U.S. nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles and it will not require any cuts in the thousands of U.S. warheads in storage, though a more definitive judgment on what will count under the treaty must await the release of the final text.
On paper, the warhead limit will require about a 30% cut in the number of deployed U.S. warheads. The United States currently deploys approximately 2,126 strategic nuclear warheads, with a comparable number of warheads in reserve. Russia is believed to deploy approximately 2,600 strategic nuclear warheads. However, since each deployed heavy bomber will count as only one warhead, under New START’s counting rules the U.S. already deploys far fewer than 2,126 warheads.
New START’s limit of 700 deployed nuclear delivery vehicles is similar to the number of missiles and bombers the U.S. actually deploys. It is estimated that the U.S. currently deploys approximately 800 delivery vehicles, while Russia deploys approximately 600 delivery vehicles. The total inventory of U.S. delivery systems is believed to include an additional 48 missile tubes on the two Trident II submarines in overhaul at any give time, 50 combat-ready nuclear capable bombers, and 100 empty ICBM silos. START I counted all of these systems (and more) against its limit on delivery vehicles, but it remains to be seen which of these systems will count against New START’s upper limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers. We do know that New START will not count U.S. delivery systems (such as B-1 bombers and four Trident I submarines) that have been converted to conventional-only roles.
New START’s counting rules combine elements from both START and the Moscow Treaty. Like START, New START counts each type of missile and bomber as one delivery vehicle against the limits of 700 and 800 delivery vehicles. Like the U.S. interpretation of the Moscow Treaty, New START counts only those nuclear warheads that are actually deployed. The new treaty largely reflects a splitting of the difference between Russia’s preferred approach of counting delivery vehicles, and the U.S.’s preferred approach of counting deployed warheads.
The U.S. and Russia have seven years to achieve the limits in the treaty. The agreement will remain in force for a total of ten years unless superseded by a new treaty.
While New START draws upon much of what was in START I, the new treaty contains new limits and rules. New rules and limits in turn require verification provisions that are actually pegged to those new rules and limits. For example, the agreement contains provisions that allow for the monitoring and verification of actual warhead loadings, which would be a first for a strategic arms control treaty. As Secretary of Defense Gates noted: “The verification measures for this treaty have been designed to monitor compliance with the provisions with this treaty.”
The new agreement is rooted in the facts that: (1) U.S. defense planning is no longer guided by many of the scenarios vis-à-vis Russia (e.g. think protracted nuclear war) that dominated our thinking during the Cold War; (2) the U.S. is starting with a lot more information about Russia’s strategic forces now than it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s when START I was negotiated and signed (thanks in large part to 15 years of experience implementing START I), and; (3) our own national technical means of monitoring and verification have vastly improved.
Consequently, New START contains an updated and streamlined system of verification procedures that are tailored to the new limits, reflect the realities of the current U.S. and Russian arsenals, and, most importantly, will allow the U.S. to effectively verify Russia’s compliance with the treaty. As Gates put it: “I think that when the testimony of the intelligence community comes on the Hill, that the DNI and the experts will say that they are comfortable that the provisions of this treaty for verification are adequate for them to monitor Russian compliance, and vice versa.”
New START also contains a simplified and less demanding provision on telemetry. START I stated that “telemetric information…assists in verification of Treaty provisions concerning, for example, throw-weight and the number of reentry vehicles.” However, the very purposes for which the telemetry provision was crafted in START I likely no longer exist in the new treaty. According to Gates, “we don’t need telemetry to monitor compliance with this treaty.” That the U.S. negotiating team was still able to secure an agreement to exchange telemetric information on up to five missile launches a year is a nice win for transparency and confidence-building.
The Joint Understanding released by the U.S. and Russia in July 2009 stated that the follow-on to START I would deal only with strategic offensive arms. At the same time, it said that the new agreement would note an “interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms.”
New START closely mirrors the Joint Understanding. According to a White House fact sheet on New START, “the Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs.”
Reports indicate that while the offense-defense link is noted in the preamble of the new treaty, the text of New START does not contain any legal limitations on missile defenses. As was the case with START I, the U.S. and Russia may also issue unilateral statements on how they interpret the relationship between the new treaty and missile defense.
RATIFICATION PROSPECTS IN THE SENATE
Some Republican Senators have raised concerns about such issues as verification, missile defense, and modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. But there are reasons to be optimistic about the treaty’s prospects in the Senate. For example, no Senator has taken a position in opposition to the new treaty and Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has expressed support for the treaty.
In response to some of the concerns raised about the treaty, Gates stated: “Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty. And we have in our budget, the President’s budget that went to the Hill for FY ’11, almost $5 billion for investment in the nuclear infrastructure and maintaining the stockpile. So I think we have addressed the concerns that there may have been on the Hill.”
Some Senators have pointed out that the Senate took many months or even more than a year to vote on treaty ratification and should take its time on New START approval. However taking more time does not necessarily mean more thorough consideration but rather normal Senate delays. The Senate should consider the agreement carefully, but it makes sense for both the U.S. and Russia to move expeditiously on ratification. The longer the treaty remains in limbo, the longer the verification procedures remain in limbo.