Following the Russian Duma’s third and final vote of approval of the New START treaty on Tuesday, the upper house of the Russian Federal Assembly (known as the Federation Council) gave its approval on Wednesday by a unanimous vote of 137-0. The treaty will enter into force once the U.S. and Russia exchange what are known as “instruments of ratification” (the official treaty documents that Presidents Obama and Medvedev actually sign). Last week we speculated that this could happen as early as next weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. (UPDATE 1/31: The speculation was correct: The U.S. and Russia will exchange instruments of ratification on February 5 on the sidelines of the Munch Security Conference. Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov will do the honors.)
The initial exchange of data on missiles, launchers, heavy bombers, and warheads subject to the treaty is required 45 days after the treaty enters into force. The right to conduct on-site inspections begins 60 days after entry into force (i.e. sometime in April).
The ratification of New START is a big deal for all of the reasons the administration, the military, NoH, and so many others have laid out over and over again over the past two years. Yet Keith Payne is pointing to the Federal Assembly’s consideration of the treaty as evidence that he was right to oppose it. For Payne, the politics of churlishness appears to continue to take precedence over the best judgment of our military leadership…
In a parting shot at New START published in the National Review, Payne alleges that the Obama administration misinformed the Senate about the nature of the reductions required by the treaty. “The Obama administration typically presented the treaty as requiring Russian reductions,” he writes, while in reality Russia plans to reduce its stock of deployed delivery vehicles and warheads with or without New START. Payne has been beating this drum for over 18 months, but thinks he’s found the smoking gun in the form of Russian Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov:
“Now — after the U.S. Senate has approved New START — senior Russian officials have confirmed the fears of U.S. skeptics. An Interfax-AVN article entitled “Russia’s Current Number of Nuclear Arms Well Within START Limits” reports that in a speech to the Duma about New START, Russian Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov said that Russia will not eliminate any nuclear launcher or warhead before the end of its service life: “We will not cut a single unit.” The article reports that Serdyukov explained to the Duma that “Russia today has fewer nuclear warheads and delivery systems than the quantity set by the new Russian-American treaty” and that “by all the parameters, even launchers, we will only achieve the level that’s in the treaty by 2028. As for nuclear weapons, we will get there by 2018.” The Duma presumably appreciated the news.”
There is far less here than may meet the eye. First, the administration never argued that the treaty will require Russia to reduce its delivery vehicles. In a June 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated: “The Russians, the number of their strategic nuclear delivery vehicles is in fact below the treaty limits, but the number of warheads is above the treaty limits. So they will have to take down warheads.”
Regarding warheads, it appears that Defense Minister Serdyukov told the Federal Assembly that Russia won’t eliminate any systems before the end of their service life, which isn’t the same thing as saying that Russia won’t have to eliminate any warheads. According to unclassified estimates, Russia currently deploys approximately 2,600-2,800 warheads. In order to get down to the 1,550 limit in the treaty, Russia will eliminate the warheads on its oldest delivery vehicles – namely those on the SS-19 and SS-25 ICBMs and SS-N-18 SLBMs that it plans to retire in the coming years.
As I’ve noted before, the fact the some Russian reductions might happen in any event is beside the point. New START is not in the first instance a reductions treaty, although some reductions in deployed forces are required. Rather, the treaty’s legally-binding limits and data exchange, monitoring, and verification provisions will place a cap on Russia’s deployed forces. The administration has always been crystal clear about this. As STRATCOM Gen. Kevin Chilton pointed out in April 2010: “One thing I was pleased to see in the treaty were these limits because as you look to the future though Russia may be close to or slightly below them already, when you look to the future we certainly don’t want them to grow and they would have been unrestricted otherwise without these types of limits articulated in the treaty…”
Does Payne want to bet that Russia would continue to reduce its missiles and bombers without New START? Our military certainly wouldn’t make such an irresponsible wager. Without limits on the size of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, Russia would have less confidence in its ability to maintain a stable strategic nuclear relationship with the United States. This could prompt Moscow to maintain a larger number of deployed delivery vehicles (and by extension warheads) than it plans to keep under New START. Perhaps this is the outcome Payne hoped to see all along.