According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, New START “will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible, nor impose additional costs or barriers on those defenses.” While Russia is concerned about U.S. missile defense plans, the Obama administration kept missile defense on a separate track from reductions in strategic offensive arms during the New START negotiations. The preamble of the treaty notes a linkage between offensive and defensive forces, but the text of the agreement does not contain any formal or legal limitations on U.S. missile defense plans, save for a prohibition on converting launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs into launchers for missile defense interceptors and vice versa (something which the U.S. military has no plans to do).
As is customary in treaties, the preamble to New START is not legally binding. Moreover, the recognition of an interrelationship between offensive and defensive forces is an objective reality that imposes no limits on U.S. missile defense plans. This linkage is not new. For example, in a 2001 press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President George W. Push remarked: “[A]s the President [Putin] said, that we’re going to have open and honest dialogue about defensive systems, as well as reduction of offensive systems. The two go hand-in-hand in order to set up a new strategic framework for peace.” The preamble also states “that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.” This language is a big win for the U.S., as it reflects agreement between the two sides that current U.S. long-range missile defense deployments in Alaska and California are not a threat to Russia.
Article V, Paragraph III of the treaty prohibits the conversion of launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs into launchers for missile defense interceptors and vice and versa. However, this will not have a meaningful impact on U.S. missile defense plans because the U.S. does not intend to convert launchers in this way. Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly testified: “I do not see any limitation on my ability to develop missile defenses.” He added: “from a technical basis…I would say that either one of those approaches of replacing ICBMs with ground-based interceptors or adapting the submarine-launched ballistic missiles to be an interceptor, would actually be a setback—a major setback—to the development of our missile defenses.” In agreeing to this provision, the U.S. ensured that Russian inspectors will not be able to inspect U.S. missile defense sites to verify that they aren’t being converted to launch nuclear arms and vice versa.
As was the case with START I, the U.S. and Russia issued unilateral statements on how they interpret the relationship between the new treaty and missile defense. The Russian unilateral statement proclaims that Moscow could withdraw from the treaty in the event of “a qualitative or quantitative buildup in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America….that would give rise to a threat to the strategic nuclear force potential of the Russian Federation.” In its own statement the U.S. reiterated that its missile defense programs are not intended to undermine Russia’s deterrent and are to be deployed to defend against the limited missile threats posed by Iran and North Korea. The U.S. also stated that it will continue to deploy and improve defenses to protect itself against limited attack. The unilateral statements are not part of the treaty and are not legally binding. As Secretary Gates pointed out, “the Russians can say what they want. If it’s not in the treaty it’s not binding on the United States.” The Soviet Union issued a similar statement when it signed START I, warning that it would withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. withdrew from the ABM treaty (when the U.S. withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2001, Russia did not withdraw from START I).
The bottom line is that there is nothing in the treaty that limits the U.S. ability to pursue the most effective missile defenses. In fact, New START actually helps U.S. missile defense programs. According to Gen. O’Reilly, “Relative to the recently expired START treaty, the New START treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program.” American negotiators could have caved to their Russian counterparts on missile defense or any of the other complex issues that delayed signature of New START well past START I’s expiration on December 5. But they didn’t. The administration is moving full steam ahead with the Phased Adaptive Approach in Europe and is continuing to improve homeland defenses in Alaska and California. As Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. James Miller wrote in response to a question for the record from Sen. James Risch (R-ID), “the United States has repeatedly made clear that we intend to move beyond ‘‘current’’ missile defense capabilities by improving our Ground-Based Midcourse Defenses (GMD), as well as moving forward with the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) in Europe and in other regions. There is therefore no doubt that the Russians understand that the United States plans to move beyond ‘‘current’’ missile defense capabilities both qualitatively and quantitatively. In our assessment, none of the capabilities planned for the PAA in Europe will undermine the viability and effectiveness of Russia’s strategic offensive arms.” In a further demonstration of the viability of U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe, NATO endorsed the Phased Adaptive Approach at its November 2010 Summit meeting.
Moreover, the FY 2011 budget request included $9.9 billion for ballistic missile defense, an increase of nearly $700 million over the amount appropriated for FY 2010, and the administration plans to request even more money for missile defense in FY 2012. In the words of Secretary Gates: “we are putting our money where our beliefs are.”
To alleviate any lingering doubts, the Resolution of Ratification approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 16, 2010 contains an understanding, to be included in the U.S.’s instrument of ratification, that “the New START Treaty does not impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses,” save for the prohibition in Article V, Paragraph III. The resolution also includes an understanding that reaffirms that any further limitations on missile defense would require an amendment to the treaty and a third understanding clarifying that the Russian unilateral statement does not impose a legal obligation on the U.S.
Why shouldn’t the U.S. develop missile defenses to protect itself from a Russian or Chinese missile attack?
In keeping with the approach of its predecessors, the Obama administration is not pursuing missile defenses that could protect the U.S. from a large-scale attack against Russia or China. Secretary Gates remarked that such a system“would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.” Likewise, the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States concluded that “Defenses sufficient to sow doubts in Moscow or Beijing about the viability of their deterrents could lead them to take actions that increase the threat to the United States and its allies and friends.” Even President Bush dismissed the viability of a comprehensive missile shield, proclaiming that U.S. missile defenses are “not designed to deal with Russia’s capacity to launch multiple rockets.”
Is the administration pursuing secret talks with Russia to limit U.S. missile defenses?
The administration has made it repeatedly clear that it is pursuing opportunities for cooperation on missile defense with Russia – it is not discussing limitations. At a June 17 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates stated: “Separately from the treaty, we are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations. But such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans.” These discussions build upon efforts that began during the George W. Bush administration. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen G. Rademaker said in 2004, “We want missile defense cooperation to be an important part of the new relationship the United States and Russia are building for the 21st century.” Significantly delaying or rejecting New START would undermine U.S. efforts to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.
Could the administration agree to limits on missile defense in the context of New START’s Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC)?
According to Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), “The Bilateral Consultative Commission has no power to ‘amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense,’…In fact, the Commission cannot change anything in treaty text or make changes that ‘affect substantive rights or obligations under this Treaty.’ The Resolution of Ratification approved by the Foreign Relations Committee contains a declaration on missile defense that includes the following language on missile defense and the BCC: “the executive branch will provide regular briefings on missile defense issues related to the treaty and on U.S.-Russia missile defense dialogue and cooperation. To help ensure that the BCC is not used in a manner that would undermine U.S. missile defense options, the committee recommends that the resolution also call for briefings before and after each BCC meeting.”
Is the preambular language on missile defense and the Russian unilateral statement problematic?
Our military leadership, including MDA Director O’Reilly, does not believe that the preamble (and the Russian unilateral statement) meaningfully constrains U.S. missile defense plans. The Lugar resolution of ratification reaffirms this. Second, the preamble is non-binding. It is not part of the text. Third, the recognition of a linkage between offensive and defensive forces is an objective reality that has been a staple of previous arms control agreements. Fourth, removing the preamble would not change the fact that Russia could still withdraw from the treaty under Article XIV if it sees it fit to do so. Fifth, amending the preamble would kill the treaty because it would force the U.S. and Russia to go back to the drawing board and renegotiate the treaty. Sixth, there is no evidence that previous Russian complaints about U.S. missile defenses have constrained U.S. missile defense spending or plans. Congressional support for missile defense is too strong for Russian pressure to have any influence in any event. Finally, the Obama administration has made it abundantly clear to the Russians that it is moving full stream ahead in its pursuit of the Phased Adaptive Approach for Europe and defenses to protect the U.S. homeland against an attack from Iran or North Korea.