Behold the latest anti-“New START” talking point: the Russians are cheaters! So alleged NoH BFF Sen. Jon Kyl in an October 19 speech on the Senate floor:
Finally, I will refer again to the issue of Russia’s multiple-warhead RS-24. In this case, it appears the Russians have cheated–if not in the letter of the START agreement, at least in its spirit–by converting one of their existing missiles, the TOPOL-M, to this new multiple-warhead variant.
However, if you look at the 2005 Section 403 Report, which is also known as the Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments report, prepared by the State Department’s VCI Bureau, there are a litany of other outstanding issues regarding Russia’s failure to comply with START.
Let’s start with the RS-24.
Russia has tested and developed a new, multiple-warhead version of the single warhead SS-27 (known as the RS-24). However, START I would prohibit the RS-24 because it does not conform to the Treaty’s definition of a new type of missile. Since START I limits the SS-27 to a single warhead, a multiple-warhead version would violate the Treaty. Russia plans to begin deploying the missile in December 2009 to coincide with the expiration of START I. Russian officials argue that the RS-24 is central to maintaining the credibility of the Russia deterrent, in part because it will be able to penetrate U.S. ballistic missiles defenses.
First, provided that Russia does not deploy the RS-24 while START I is still in force, it is not technically a violation. Kyl does have a point, however, in noting that Russia’s pursuit of the RS-24 may contravene the spirit of START I. According to Pavel Podvig, though Russia has tested the RS-24 with more than one warhead, it has been exploiting a technicality whereby it can declare the missile a “prototype” until it has been flight tested 20 times. So long as the missile remains a prototype, Russia does not have to attribute any warheads to it. In any event, New START is likely to amend START I to allow for the deployment of the RS-24.
Second, the Bush administration did not make an issue out of Russia’s development of the RS-24, perhaps because it never really had any desire to extend START I in the first place. As former Bush administration official Ambassador Linton Brooks noted recently, “The fact that the Secretary of Defense in the last administration said both publically and privately that we didn’t care [about the RS-24] may have suggested to them [the Russians] that it was ok….We had a long time…to call them on that and we as a government chose not to.”
Regarding alleged Russian compliance violations, the 2005 report cited by Kyl states that “a significant number of longstanding compliance issues that have been raised in the START Treaty’s Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC) remain unresolved.”
While Congress is supposed to receive a compliance report every year, VCI, which during the Bush administration was led by Paula DeSutter, completed only two from 2001-2009, the first in June 2003 and the second (and last) in August 2005. The 2005 report contained far more detail about Russian implementation of START I than previous reports, claiming, among other things, that Russia was not allowing the U.S. to effectively monitor and verify some Russian warheads and missiles.
Yet Russia has also raised unresolved issues pertaining to its inability to verify the number of warheads on U.S. Trident II missiles. Compliance concerns on both sides have existed for some time, which is precisely why the JCIC exists.
As Arms Control Today observed at the time, the 2005 report “contrasts sharply with the Bush administration’s casual verification approach to its May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with Russia. The administration did not negotiate any verification measures for the treaty because it claimed to have confidence that Moscow would limit its warheads by the treaty’s terms.” It’s telling that some of the same conservatives who supported the SORT approach are now accusing the Obama administration of being weak on verification.
Fortunately, there is at least one Republican Senator who understands that some relatively minor questions – in the grand scheme of things – about compliance with START I should not be used as a cudgel with which to beat the Russians (and the Obama administration). In a Senate floor speech delivered yesterday, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) had this to say about alleged Russian cheating:
Some skeptics have pointed out that Russia may not be in total compliance with its obligations under START. Others have expressed opposition to the START Treaty on the basis that no arms control agreement is 100-percent verifiable. But such concerns fail to appreciate how much information is provided through the exchange of data mandated by the Treaty, on-site inspections, and national technical means. Our experiences over many years have proven the effectiveness of the Treaty’s verification provisions and served to build a basis for confidence between the two countries when doubts arose. The bottom line is that the United States is far safer as a result of those 600 START inspections than we would be without them.