START I defined “telemetric information” as “information that originates on board a missile during its flight test that is broadcast or recorded for subsequent recovery.” It required both parties “to make on-board technical measurements during each flight test of an ICBM or SLBM; to broadcast this information using unencrypted telemetry, with limited exceptions; and to exchange copies of telemetry tapes acceleration profiles, and interpretive data from all flight-tests.”
The Russians are arguing that they should no longer be required to share (and broadcast unencrypted?) telemetric information because they are building new missiles while we are not. The Obama administration is under pressure to retain START I’s provisions on telemetry in part because, as Travis notes, “certain [mostly Republican] senators will go nuts without access to the data.”
I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind as we think about this issue – and verification more broadly…
The first is that the U.S. has not negotiated a meaningful arms control agreement since the early 1990s. As a colleague on the Hill put it to me, telemetry is “complicated, and very technical, and both sides are very short on people who remember how to construct this sort of a verification regime.” This lack of expertise has undoubtedly slowed things down.
The second (and more important) point is that people who continue to attack the Obama administration on verification need to understand that while New START will draw upon much of what was in START I, the new treaty will contain new limits and rules. This has important implications for how the U.S. and Russia go about determining what is and what is not necessary for effective verification. As one arms control expert put it recently:
And so the verification provisions really need to be driven by the actual limitations that you agree to, and to the extent that you have different limitations than were in the START treaty, and I think in some ways this new agreement is going to be simpler than the START treaty. That may impose, in some ways, less demanding verification requirements. And that gives the side the opportunity, then, to eliminate the inspections if they make no contribution to the overall understanding of the other side’s compliance with the treaty.
Thus, while our intelligence community would probably prefer to retain such provisions as continuous monitoring at Votkinsk and the exchange of telemetry, they may not be necessary to verify Russia’s compliance with the new treaty – to say nothing about the fact that we have other ways of making up for the loss of much of the information provided by these provisions in any event.
For example, START I stated that “telemetric information…assists in verification of Treaty provisions concerning, for example, throw-weight and the number of reentry vehicles.” Given that New START is likely to have new provisions on throw-weight (in fact it might not have any provisions on throw-weight because we don’t really care about it anymore) and new counting rules for delivery vehicles and warheads, we should be able to live with “simpler” and “less demanding” provisions on telemetry.
Of course, Jon Kyl and company don’t really care about this distinction; they want to score political points. How else to explain the fact that when the Bush administration was in office, Republicans couldn’t have cared less about verification?