by John Isaacs
“The moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia, and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal. The United States and Russia should pursue a step-by-step approach and take a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009.”Final report of the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, May 6, 2009
The United States and Russia should have simply extended START I.
Response: Neither the United States nor Russia wanted to extend START I for the full five years as allowed by the Treaty. Both countries find many of the Treaty’s provisions cumbersome and obsolete and wanted to update and amend them accordingly. In addition to U.S. and Russian approval, an extension of START I also would have required the approval of the three other parties to the treaty: Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Many of the same voices now arguing for a simple extension had no qualms with the Bush administration’s decision not to seek an extension of START I in 2007 and 2008.
The Obama administration should have drafted a protocol to the Moscow Treaty regarding verification and transparency measures instead of negotiating a new reductions treaty.
Response: This approach was a non-starter for Russia. In fact, in November 2008 the Bush administration presented Russia with a proposal that was basically the Moscow Treaty with an informal set of transparency and confidence-building provisions drawn from START I. The Russians rejected the proposal. In any event, provisions from START I could not be used to verify compliance with the Moscow Treaty because they are designed to verify compliance with the limits and rules in START I. What’s more, there is nothing in the Moscow treaty to actually count and verify; the treaty does not define “strategic nuclear warheads” or limit delivery vehicles. Verification and transparency measures that are not associated with any limits would likely be viewed by Russia as a form of legalized espionage.
The New START treaty disproportionately benefits Russia, since the deployed number of Russian delivery vehicles (missiles and bombers) will drop dramatically with or without a new arms control agreement.
Response: First, it is not necessarily the case that Russia would reduce its missiles and bombers without a new arms control agreement. 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 than it would with a new treaty.
Second, while Russia is currently under the treaty’s limit on delivery vehicles, Secretary of Defense Rober Gates has stated on more than one occasion that the number of Russian deployed strategic warheads “is above the treaty limits. So they [the Russians] will have to take down warheads.” In fact, according to open source estimates of the current number of deployed U.S. and Russia warheads, New START will require Russia to cut more warheads from its deployed force than the U.S.
Third, the fact the some Russian reductions might happen in any event is beside the point. Without New START there will be no verifiable limits on or the means of monitoring Russia’s still enormous nuclear arsenal. 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…”
New START requires a lower limit on deployed U.S. delivery vehicles than was originally suggested by some Department of Defense officials.
In July 2009, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright stated that he would be very concerned if the New START treaty reduced the number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles to below 800. However, in a September 2010 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), Cartwright noted that the New START negotiations resulted in three “concepts” that ultimately allowed for a deployed delivery vehicle limit of 700:
- A distinction between deployed and non-deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. This distinction will not force the U.S. to count delivery systems as deployed simply because they are in maintenance, as was the case under START I.
- The ability to easily convert individual launchers of SLBMs such that they no longer count as SLBM launchers under the treaty. This gives the U.S. the ability to reduce the number of SLBM launchers on each of its 14 Ohio-class submarines from 24 to 20.
- The ability to convert heavy bombers to conventional-only roles.
Moreover, by counting actual warheads rather than using START I’s attribution counting rule, the U.S. will be able to retain more delivery vehicles than it would have were START I’s rules still in effect.
In sum, Cartwright concluded: “I believe the treaty limitation of 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles imposed by New START provides a sound framework for maintaining stability and allows us to maintain a strong and credible deterrent that ensures our national security while moving to lower levels of strategic nuclear forces.”
The Department of Defense has established a baseline force structure to guide U.S. planning under New START in which the U.S. will retain up to 240 deployed SLBMs distributed among 14 submarines, up to 420 deployed Minuteman III ICBMs, and up to 60 deployed heavy bombers. This planned force structure would reduce SLBMs from a current force of 288 to 240, deployed ICBMs from a current force of 450 to 420, and nuclear-capable bombers from 94 to 60. The planned force of 720 deployed delivery vehicles will eventually need to be reduced to 700, which the U.S. could do by moving 20 delivery vehicles to non-deployed status (as allowed by New START’s limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed strategic nuclear launchers). The treaty limits must be met seven years are entry into force, so the U.S. military has until that time to make any final decisions on how it plans to meet the treaty limits. The administration has announced a plan to spend $100 billion over the next ten years to sustain and modernize all three legs of the triad.
New START limits U.S. advanced conventional weapons systems.
Response: The George W. Bush administration proposed putting conventional warheads on long-range land- and sea-based ballistic missiles (also known as prompt global strike). Congress has so far refused to fund the Conventional Trident Modification program, which would have substituted conventional payloads for the nuclear warheads on only two missiles aboard each of the nation’s 12 deployed nuclear ballistic missile submarines (two are in overhaul at any given time). Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has proposed to deploy a very small number of conventionally-armed land-based missiles by 2015. The Pentagon is currently studying such a capability in the context of a larger study on all non-nuclear long-range strike capabilities, the recommendations of which will be reflected in the FY 2012 budget request.
New START will count ICBMs and SLBMs whether they carry nuclear or conventional warheads, thus a prompt global strike capability would be subject to the treaty’s limits. However, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated: “the New START treaty does not restrict our ability to develop and deploy conventional prompt global strike capabilities that could attack targets anywhere on the globe in an hour or less. The treaty’s limit of 700 deployed delivery vehicles, combined with the ceiling of 1,550 deployed warheads accommodates the limited number of conventional warheads we may need for this capability.” Moreover Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. James Miller testified that “DoD is also exploring the potential of conventionally-armed long-range systems that fly non-ballistic trajectory, for example, boost-glide systems. We are confident that these non-nuclear systems…would not be accountable…for the purposes of the treaty.”
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 United States will not consider future, strategic-range non-nuclear weapon systems that do not otherwise meet the definitions of the New START Treaty to be ‘new kinds of strategic offensive arms’ subject to the treaty; that nothing in the treaty restricts United States research, development, testing, and evaluation of strategic-range, non-nuclear weapons, including any weapon that is capable of boosted aerodynamic flight; and that nothing in the treaty prohibits deployments of strategic-range non-nuclear weapon systems.”
New START creates an even greater incentive for Russia to field land-based missiles with multiple warheads.
Russia’s deployment of a new, multiple-warhead version of the single warhead SS-27 (known as the RS-24) is a concern. But Russia is moving to a MIRV-heavy force with or without New START. In addition, rejecting New START would only heighten uncertainty about the number and location of these news missiles. The objections raised by some New START critics about Russian MIRVed missiles contrasts sharply with the attitude of the George W. Bush administration on this issue. In an answer to a question for the record on the 2002 Moscow Treaty, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed: “Russia’s deployment of MIRVs has little impact on U.S. national security under current conditions…Since neither the United States and its allies nor Russia view our strategic relationship as adversarial, we no longer view Russian deployment of MIRVed ICBMs as destabilizing to this new strategic relationship.”
New START’s bomber counting rule will give the Russians a strategic advantage.
Response: New START counts each bomber as one warhead against the treaty’s limit of 1550 warheads. Since neither the U.S. nor Russia actually deploy warheads on bombers anymore, on-site inspections of bombers would not have uncovered any warheads to actually count. Thus the two sides had to choose an arbitrary number.
New START’s counting rule for bombers is not a fundamental departure from how START I counted bomber weapons. Moreover, neither side is likely to get a strategic leg up on the other via the bomber counting rule. National technical means (NTM) will still allow the U.S. to track the number of Russian bombers. While NTM will not allow for monitoring of the number of warheads at Russian bomber bases, 15 years of START I implementation has provided us with quite a bit of information about what Russian bombers can carry. Bombers are also inherently less destabilizing than missiles because they take much longer to deliver warheads to their target and can be recalled.
New START does not limit Russian rail-mobile ICBM launchers.
Response: There is no loophole in the treaty regarding rail-mobile ICBM launchers. Moreover, the U.S. and Russia no longer deploy rail-mobile launchers. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. James Miller testified that “The treaty central terms and definitions cover all ICBMs and all ICBM launchers, which would therefore include any rail-mobile systems. In the event that Russia deploys rail-mobile ICBMs in the future, the launchers and the ICBMs they carry would be – and the warheads as well would be accountable under the New START Treaty.”
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 “if the Russian Federation were to again build and deploy ICBMs launched from rail-mobile launchers, those ICBMs would count as deployed ICBMs, and their launchers would count as ICBM launchers.”
Reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles will not prevent North Korea or Iran from attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.
Response: No serious observer of international politics believes that North Korea and Iran will end their nuclear programs because of New START. However, as the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States pointed out, the U.S might not be able to marshal the international support it needs to safeguard and eliminate dangerous nuclear materials, universalize the Additional Protocol, which grants the IAEA far more intrusive rights of access to suspected nuclear-related information and sites, or put added pressure on North Korea and Iran if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the size of its nuclear arsenal. The negotiation of New START has strengthened the U.S. relationship with Russia, which in turn has reinforced U.S.-Russia cooperation in other areas vital to U.S. national security, including tougher sanctions against Iran.
New START limits should not be so low as to invite peer competition.
Response: Even after a New START agreement, the U.S. will still have at least 1,500 deployed strategic nuclear weapons (as will the Russians), plus many more in reserve. Other nuclear powers such as China have only 200-250 nuclear weapons, far from the U.S. total.
New START is being rushed through the Senate.
Response: New START has been extensively reviewed: More than 20 hearings and briefings have been held and the administration has answered 1000 questions from Senators. In mid-September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty by a bipartisan vote of 14-4. A Committee vote on the treaty had originally been scheduled for early August, but Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) postponed the vote at the request of Republican Committee members in order to provide them with additional time to evaluate the treaty and its supporting documents.
There is more than enough time to consider the treaty before the 111th Congress comes to an end. The 1991 START I treaty required four days of debate, while the 2002 Moscow Treaty only took two days. There is no substantive reason why the Senate shouldn’t take up and approve the treaty before the end of the year. To do otherwise would be to deny the U.S. military an important tool it says it needs.