Friday was the one-year anniversary of the signature of the New START treaty. I didn’t have any vodka around to celebrate with so I drank some Scotch instead.
Since the treaty entered into force in early February, the two sides have made their first data exchange and began exhibitions (the Russians had a look at a U.S. B-1 bomber, and U.S. had a look at the Russian RS-24 ICBM). And as of April 5, each side is now allowed to begin on-site inspections.
The implementation of the treaty seems to be moving ahead smoothly, but for some reason the U.S. and Russia think it’s an awesome idea not to release either aggregate numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles or a much more detailed Memorandum of Understanding, both of which were available under START I. That makes about as much sense as counting on Brett Favre to lead your team to the Super Bowl. Look for more on this from NoH soon.
Last week in the International Herald Tribune, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called on Washington and Moscow to build on the momentum created by New START “and take new actions to reduce nuclear risk and shape a safer world.”
They propose four next steps, the first being the initiation of early negotiations to further reduce each sides arsenal of deployed strategic warheads to 1,000 apiece. While these negotiations proceed, Albright and Ivanov suggest that the U.S. and Russia reach the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed (New START accountable) warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles by 2014 or 2015, well before the implementation deadline of 2018. They also note that since the number of Russia’s deployed nuclear forces is expected to fall well below the 1,550 deployed delivery vehicle limit, the U.S. should reduce to 1,300 deployed warheads, so long as Russia does not build up above that number.
These are all very sensible steps that in principle the U.S. shouldn’t think twice about taking. But expect Republicans in Congress to throw up every roadblock possible to prevent this from happening. Moreover, the military will also have to be brought on board. As of now they don’t appear to be planning for early implementation of New START – to say nothing about reducing below New START levels.
For example, last week Rear Admiral Terry Benedict told the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee that the Navy is planning to reduce the number of New START accountable SLBM tubes on Ohio-class SSBNs from 24 to 20 beginning in FY 2015, and that they expect this process to take about two years. FY 2015 plus two years gets you pretty close to the implementation deadline of 2018. It’s understandable that the military wouldn’t be pushing an accelerated schedule on its own.
But does this schedule have to be set in stone? It will take direction from the President and support from the Pentagon in response to that direction to reach the New START limits ahead of schedule. The Pentagon’s support will be easier to come by if early implementation saves money.