by Kingston Reif
Interview published on Daily Kos on November 22, 2009
Negotiators have been working tirelessly and continuously behind the scenes to meet the treaty deadline. Obama and Medvedev met in Singapore during Obama’s recent trip to Asia. Though the leaders downplayed any problems with the negotiations on “New START”, it has become clear that a new treaty probably won’t happen until after the December 5 deadline.
Kingston Reif is Deputy Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The other day, we chatted about New START and how there won’t be a treaty by the deadline. Reif has previously writtenabout possible obstacles that the US and Russia are encountering, which include verification issues, missile defense, advanced conventional weapons systems, and upload capacity (which is our ability to quickly put nuclear warheads that are in reserves back on delivery vehicles).
In our conversation, Reif explained that since the treaty involves only strategic forces, missile defense will not be mentioned in it, except perhaps in the treaty preamble. However:
In recent weeks we’ve seen a lot of stories and reports on some of the verification issues that have yet to be resolved. For example, the Russians no longer want to extend us the right to have monitors at their mobile missile production facility at Votkinsk. I think that’s an issue. That’s obviously something we would like to retain, and the Russians are telling us that “well, we don’t have any comparable ability to do that in the US because you are no longer producing new missiles, you stopped doing that, so it would be one-sided if we were to allow you to monitor what’s going on at our facility.”
Another issue that has arisen with regard to verification is that the Russians have a road/mobile version of their SS-27 missile, which is also known as the Topol-M, and they’re resisting efforts on the part of the US to try and monitor and verify the movements of that particular missile. So I think that’s also still a sticking point.
Regarding upload capacity, Reif said:
The US basically wants to maintain more delivery vehicles and fewer warheads, whereas the Russians have been reducing their forces by getting rid of delivery vehicles but still maintaining a relatively steady number of warheads.
This relates to the Moscow Treaty, which — the limits in the Moscow Treaty [SORT] for warheads were 1,700 to 2,200. Basically, we’ve tried to get down to that limit by taking warheads off of delivery vehicles and just putting them into our reserve. So the Russians are worried that we could just quickly take those warheads and put them back on our missiles and bombers.
But it’s important to keep this in perspective — obviously, there are stumbling blocks, but the two sides should be able to get around them. I think they’ll be able to do so this year, maybe early January at the latest, but I still think there’s an excellent chance for an agreement this year.
Most importantly, to those who would say that this is some sort of “failure”, Reif pointed out that:
It’s important to take into account that the two sides only began negotiating earlier this year, in large part because, as we all know, the Bush administration was not interested in a new arms control agreement to replace START I. They knew that the expiration of START was on the horizon, and they simply weren’t interested in doing much about it. The Obama administration’s negotiating team entered this in a pretty tight spot, so it was always going to be a challenge to get an agreement negotiated before December 5, to say nothing about actually getting an agreement negotiated, signed, and then ratified by the US Senate by December 5.
Reif feels that there is a good chance that New START will be ratified by the US Senate and the Russian Duma sometime this Spring, and that it will be a far less contentious battle than that we’ll see regarding ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Between the time we have a treaty and the time that both sides ratify it, there will be a significant gap. Reif said:
Earlier this month, Sen. Lugar introduced a bill that would give the President the authority to continue to grant privileges and immunities to Russian inspectors to carry out START I’s inspection provisions until June 2010. Once START I expires, Russian inspectors will have no legal authority to remain in the U.S. But at this point this bill is more or less a half measure. It’s not clear that the Russians would reciprocate.
U.S. officials have stated that they are negotiating a bridging agreement in parallel to the actual treaty to cover the gap but they’ve remained pretty tight-lipped about the details of it. START I includes provisions for data exchanges, 12 types of inspections, as well as continuous monitoring at certain mobile missile production sites (see Votkinsk). What’s going to happen to these verification provisions once START I expires? Neither side simply wants to extend all of them. Some of them will need to be amended and some new provisions will have to be negotiated. So the most likely outcome is that the two sides will agree to abide by New START’s provisions on a provisional basis until the treaty is ratified. What these procedures will be remains to be seen. We may not get them until the treaty is negotiated.
Finally, Reif left me with a quote by Linton Brooks, who negotiated START I:
To reiterate, there still are issues that need to be resolved. There’s no question about that, but I still think we’re very likely to get an agreement by the end of this year. As Linton Brooks [the US negotiator for START] I put it,“Arms control’s gotta be a little bit painful; otherwise, why do you do it?”
And another reason why I’m optimistic is that both sides don’t want to live in a world in which there are no legally-binding limits on or the means of verifying their respective nuclear arsenals. The further they stray from December 5, the longer they may have to live in such a world.
Let’s hope that we do get a New START treaty by the end of the year, and that Senate ratification happens with minimal fuss, with as few Republicans as possible taking the hard-line approach that we saw during the Bush years, and that still surfaces again from time to time.