Today President Obama announced that after nearly a year of tough negotiations, the U.S. and Russia have reached agreement on the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures to Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the “New START Treaty”). Presidents Obama and Medvedev will sign the new agreement on April 8 in Prague, Czech Republic.
The new agreement is a modest but critically important and necessary first step toward reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. The treaty enhances U.S. security by verifiably reducing surplus U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles and ensuring a stable and predictable U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship. Moreover, it will allow the U.S. to maintain a robust and flexible nuclear deterrent and will not limit development of U.S. missile defenses or advanced conventional weapons systems.
And did I mention that it already has strong bipartisan support?
Below are some preliminary comments on what we know so far about the specifics of the new agreement based on recent news reports, materials released this morning by the White House, and remarks this morning from President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…
New START limits each side’s deployed strategic warheads to 1,550. In a partial an interesting departure from how START I counted warheads, each deployed heavy bomber counts as one warhead toward this limit. (Update 3/27: See Amyfw’s helpful clarification on this below!) Regarding delivery vehicles (the missiles and bombers used to deliver nuclear warheads to their target) the treaty includes two limits:
• A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
• A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
The Joint Understanding signed in Moscow last July stated that the new treaty would limit each side’s strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to between 500 and 1,100. Not surprisingly, the two sides settled on the midpoint of their opening positions.
Why are there two limits? Amb. Linton Brooks suggested last year that the upper limit of 800 “will allow the Russians to say that they captured all of those systems and that the United States couldn’t go build a bunch more empty silos and somehow get a breakout capability.”
New START will not require significant cuts in the number of deployed U.S. nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles and it will not require any cuts in the number of U.S. warheads in storage.
On paper, the warhead limit will require about a 30% cut in the number of deployed U.S. warheads. The United States currently deploys approximately 2,126 strategic nuclear warheads, with a comparable number of warheads in reserve. Russia is believed to deploy approximately 2,600 strategic nuclear warheads. However, since each deployed heavy bomber will now count as only one warhead, under New START the U.S. currently deploys far fewer than 2,126 warheads (according to the best estimates we currently have 500 warheads on 60 or 113 bombers – depending on how you count; if you do the math, that already puts us at 1700-1800 warheads)! FYI: Someone please correct me if I screwed this up!
New START’s limit of 800 delivery vehicles is similar to the actual inventory of U.S. nuclear-armed missiles and bombers. It is estimated that the U.S. currently has 800-900 delivery vehicles, while Russia has an estimated 600-700 strategic delivery vehicles. Moreover, New START will not count U.S. delivery systems – such as B-1 bombers and the four Trident submarines – that have been converted to conventional-only roles.
New START’s counting rules combine elements from both START and the Moscow Treaty. Like START, New START counts each type of missile and bomber as one delivery vehicle against the limits of 700 and 800 delivery vehicles. A la the Moscow Treaty approach, New START counts only those nuclear warheads that are actually deployed, save for the bomber twist. The new treaty largely reflects a splitting of the difference between Russia’s preferred approach of counting delivery vehicles, and the U.S.’s preferred approach of counting deployed warheads.
The U.S. and Russia have seven years to achieve the limits in the treaty. The agreement will remain in force for a total of ten years.
As we’ve know for some time, the new treaty draws upon START I’s provisions and includes new provisions that are pegged to the new rules and limits. Secretary of Defense Gates noted this morning that “The verification measures for this treaty have been designed to monitor compliance with the provisions with this treaty.” The White House stated that the provisions “will be simpler and less costly to implement than the old START treaty.” Presumably there are provisions that allow for data exchanges, notifications, and on-site inspections of actual warhead loadings, which would be a first for a strategic arms control treaty.
The new treaty’s verification provisions should be judged on their ability to ensure compliance with this treaty, not a treaty that was negotiated in the 1980s and early 1990s. On that basis Gates thinks that what we got is more than enough: “I think that when the testimony of the intelligence community comes on the Hill, that the DNI and the experts will say that they are comfortable that the provisions of this treaty for verification are adequate for them to monitor Russian compliance, and vice versa.”
New START also contains a simplified and less demanding provision on telemetry. START I stated that “telemetric information…assists in verification of Treaty provisions concerning, for example, throw-weight and the number of reentry vehicles.” However, the very purposes for which the telemetry provision was crafted in START I likely no longer exist in the new treaty. According to Gates, “we don’t need telemetry to monitor compliance with this treaty.” That the U.S. negotiating team was still able to secure an agreement to exchange telemetric information on up to five missile launches a year is a nice win for transparency and confidence-building.
The Joint Understanding released by the U.S. and Russia in July 2009 stated that the follow-on to START I would deal only with strategic offensive arms. At the same time, it said that the new agreement would note an “interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms.”
New START closely mirrors the Joint Understanding. According to a White House fact sheet on New START, “the Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs.” The U.S. could have caved to their Russian counterparts on missile defenses or any of the other complex issues that delayed signature of the treaty well past START I’s expiration on December 5. But they didn’t.
Reports indicate that while the offense-defense link is noted in the preamble of the new treaty, the text of New START does not contain any formal or legal limitations on missile defenses. As was the case with START I, the U.S. and Russia may also issue unilateral statements on how they interpret the relationship between the new treaty and missile defense.
Ratification Prospects in the Senate
I’ll defer to John on this but I too an optimistic about the treaty’s prospects in the Senate. Afterall, no Senator has taken a position in opposition to the treaty, not even Kyl. For his part, Gates seems none too impressed with some of the concerns that have been raised about the process: “Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty. And we have in our budget, the President’s budget that went to the Hill for FY ’11, almost $5 billion for investment in the nuclear infrastructure and maintaining the stockpile. So I think we have addressed the concerns that there may have been on the Hill.”
Some Questions I Still Have…
…most of which will be answered by the treaty text.
-Will the agreement or any of its associated documents say anything about pursuing deeper reductions after this treaty? If not, will the two governments say anything about deeper reductions via some other means around the time when the treaty is signed?
-How explicit is the reported link between offensive and defensive forces in the preamble of the treaty? Will each party state their position on missile defense in the preamble?
-What do the verification provisions re: mobile missiles look like?
-How many on-site inspections will there be to verify actual warhead loadings?
-What does the new counting rule re: bombers portend for the future of the U.S. bomber force? Do we no longer care how many warheads are on bombers?
-Are the Russian’s expected to issue a unilateral statement to the treaty declaring their right to withdraw from the agreement if they believe U.S. missile defenses upset strategic stability? If so, will the U.S. issue a unilateral statement in response?
-Given the current U.S. force of approximately 900 nuclear-armed delivery systems is greater than the reported limit of 800 in the treaty, which leg(s) of the triad will see some cuts?
-If U.S. delivery systems that have been converted to conventional-only roles are excluded from the treaty’s limits, what provisions were put in place to assure the Russians that these systems can’t be quickly returned to the nuclear war plan?
-How will the treaty count – if at all – long-range conventional systems (i.e. prompt global strike)?
-Will the negotiations be completed when Presidents Obama and Medvedev sign the treaty (reportedly in Prague in early April) or will negotiations on some of the treaty’s annexes and other associated documents continue after the signing ceremony?