By Kingston Reif and Jessica Estanislau
In a speech to Global Zero delegates in Washington last weekend, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher issued a stirring defense of the importance of nuclear transparency:
Other countries need to be transparent and as open as we are to provide confidence for deep reductions. Our actions show that transparency and security can go together. Secrecy may sometimes be necessary, but it also can lead to misunderstandings, miscalculations, and mistrust.
Undersecretary Tauscher is right: U.S. steps such as the declassification of the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile at last spring’s NPT Review Conference and the entry into force of the New START treaty and its new and improved data exchange, monitoring, and verification provisions are essential to progress on arms control and nonproliferation. Why then is the Obama administration hesitant to make public information about U.S. nuclear forces that it has made publicly available in the past?…
A key pillar of the New START verification regime is regular exchanges of data between the U.S. and Russia on treaty limited items such as the aggregate number of deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles and warheads and the number of warheads on each deployed missile. The exchanges will also provide information on missile and bomber bases and the much touted unique identifies for delivery vehicles. The first such exchange took place in March and they will occur about every six months during the 10-year life of the treaty.
Hans Kristensen recently asked the administration whether the content of the exchanges would be made public and received the following response:
All exchanges are classified and will not be subject to release. […] There may be some information on very general numbers under the Treaty that could be made public, but that is still to be determined, and will not occur for a least six months if it occurs at all.
How is this transparent? Under START I the U.S. and Russia publicized data on aggregate numbers twice a year.
Better yet, how is this appropriate under the terms of New START? At a minimum the treaty allows the release of information on aggregate numbers for each side. The treaty requires agreement between the two sides to release more detailed information on the other’s forces, but as Pavel Podvig notes, there is nothing to prevent the U.S. from releasing detailed information about its own forces.
Historically Russia has not agreed to release such detailed information, but under START I the U.S. (upon request) released Memorandums of Understanding that contained additional information about each side’s arsenal. According to Hans Kristensen, this information allowed outside observers to monitor U.S. and Russian compliance with the treaty.
We can all agree that Russia should be more transparent. For example, we know that during the New START negotiations Russia sought a weaker verification and transparency regime than what was ultimately included in the treaty. We can also agree that there is some information, such as the exact location of missile silos, that should remain classified. But that doesn’t excuse the unwillingness to release less sensitive information. The U.S. isn’t obligated to follow in the footsteps of a country whose history is very much defined by a sense of suspicion and secrecy.
As Hans notes, “Each new step in the arms control process must increase transparency, not reduce it.” Failure to release aggregate numbers or unclassified Memorandums of Understanding could breed the very misunderstandings and mistrust that Undersecretary Tauscher so eloquently warns us to avoid.