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Eleven Reasons to Support New START: Responses to Treaty Critics
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Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 11, July 27, 2010

Ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed in April 2010 by the United States and Russia, is currently pending before the U.S. Senate.  Over the last three months, the Senate ForeignRelations and Armed Services Committees have held over a dozen public hearings and built a formidable case in support of New START. In particular, New START would increase U.S. security by reducing the nuclear threat from Russia, providing transparency and predictability about Russian strategic forces, and bolstering U.S. efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to terrorist groups and additional states.

This Arms Control Association Issue Brief responds to the most prominent questions and concerns that have been raised to date by treaty critics, including former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.).  Close scrutiny reveals that none of these concerns should stand in the way of prompt U.S. ratification of New START.

1.  Would New START reduce the nuclear threat from Russia?  Yes. Russia deploys approximately 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads, not counting bomber weapons in storage, according to the Congressional Research Service.  New START would limit this force to 1,550, meaning that hundreds of Russian nuclear warheads would no longer be deployed on ballistic missiles that could be aimed at the United States.  Moreover, New START would lock in these limits for the next decade or longer.

2.  Would New START provide transparency and predictability about Russian strategic forces?  Yes. Given START I's expiration last December, there is currently no bilateral system for monitoring Russia's nuclear forces.  New START would provide on-the-ground information about Russian strategic force deployments that the United States could not get any other way.  For example, satellites and other national intelligence assets cannot look inside Russian missiles and see how many warheads they carry, but New START's on-site inspection provisions would do just that.  The treaty would provide predictability about Russian strategic forces, allowing better-informed decisions about investments in U.S. nuclear forces and other military capabilities.

3.  Would New START bolster U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts? Yes. New START helps to demonstrate that the United States and Russia are keeping up their end of the bargain under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).  New START would increase Washington's leverage in seeking stronger non-proliferation measures, such as more effective nuclear inspections, tougher penalties for states that do not comply with nonproliferation obligations, and faster action to secure the most vulnerable nuclear weapons materials.  Improving the NPT system is essential to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to terrorists and additional nations.

"The U.S. and the Russians are still the custodians of the nuclear age," former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft said July 23.  "We own 95 percent of all the nuclear weapons.  If we are unable between the two of us to make any progress in stability what [does] this do to our urging others not to proliferate, not to go to nuclear weapons because they're a danger to the world, while we sit there and fiddle while Rome burns?"

4.  Would New START significantly limit U.S. missile defense plans? No. "[T]he treaty will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said May 18.  The treaty's preamble acknowledges the interrelationship between offense and defense, and Russia has made a unilateral statement that if U.S. missile defense activities jeopardize Moscow's supreme interests, it may withdraw from the treaty.  Both sides have the right to say what they want in a unilateral statement, which has no legal impact on the treaty.  Both sides have the right to withdraw from the treaty, just as the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty during the Bush administration.  U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty did not lead to Russia's withdrawal from START I.

Article V of New START would prohibit both sides from converting launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs into launchers for missile defense interceptors, and vice versa.  The United States has no plans for any such conversions in the future.  Even so, some senators have expressed concern about this provision. The Wall Street Journal editorialized April 17 that "the Obama Administration may not currently plan to convert an ICBM silo into a
missile defense site. But Mr. Obama won't be in office beyond 2017, and a future President might want to. [New] START wouldn't allow it."

"It's a limit in theory, but not in reality," responded U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones in an April 20 letter to the Journal. "We have no plans to convert any additional ICBM silos. In fact, it would be less expensive to build a new silo rather than convert an old one. In other words, if we were to ever need more missile defense silos in California, we would simply dig new holes, which is not proscribed by the treaty."

Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger testified April 29, "I don't think that [New START] inhibits missile defense in a serious way."

5.  Is New START effectively verifiable?  Yes. "I think that when the testimony of the intelligence community comes to the Hill, that the [Director of National Intelligence] and the experts will say that they are comfortable that the provisions of the treaty for verification are adequate for them to monitor Russian compliance, and vice versa," Gates said March 26.

Schlesinger said April 29, "I think all in all that the verification possibilities under this treaty, though much more limited than START I, are still adequate."

On Site Inspections. The new treaty allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year for ten years, including direct monitoring of actual Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before.  Some senators have raised concerns about the fact that there are fewer actual inspections under New START than under START I.

However, Gates testified May 18 that, "for all practical purposes, the number of inspections [in New START] is about the same as it was," under START I.  That is because Type One inspections under New START can achieve two goals (confirm data on delivery vehicles and warheads) at the same time, and thus ten Type One inspections under New START equal 20 START inspections.  Together with the eight Type Two inspections, the 18 New START inspections are essentially equivalent to the 28 inspections permitted under START I.

Moreover, START I's 28 inspections had to cover 70 facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, as the Soviet nuclear complex was spread across these four now-independent nations.  Today, all former Soviet nuclear weapons and facilities have been centralized in Russia, and New START's 18 inspections need to cover only 35 Russian sites.

Telemetry. New START does not limit new missile development and thus does not require telemetry sharing as under START I.  Even so, the new treaty still provides for telemetry sharing on up to five missile tests per year as a confidence-building measure. "Telemetry is not nearly as important for this treaty as it has been in the past," said Gates March 26. "In fact, we don't need telemetry to monitor compliance with this treaty," he said.

Votkinsk. Although the Bush administration agreed in 2008 to end mobile missile production monitoring at Russia's Votkinsk plant, under the new treaty Russia must notify the United States 48 hours before a new ICBM or SLBM leaves Votkinsk and when it arrives at its destination, which will facilitate monitoring by national technical means, such as satellites.

JCS Chairman Michael Mullen said March 26 that New START "features a much more effective, transparent verification method that demands quicker data exchanges and notifications."  The Joint Chiefs "stand solidly behind this new treaty," Mullen said.

6.  Can the United States maintain modern, effective, and reliable nuclear forces under New START?  Yes. "The reductions in this treaty will not affect the strength of our nuclear triad," Gates said March 26.  The Pentagon announced May 13 that it plans to meet the treaty's limits and still deploy up to 420 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs, each with a single warhead), 240 Trident Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs, each with multiple warheads), and up to 60 heavy bombers.  Moreover, the Obama administration is planning to invest $80 billion over the next ten years on modernizing the National Nuclear Security Administration's nuclear weapons production complex and refurbishing the nuclear stockpile, and an additional $100 billion over ten years to maintain and modernize strategic delivery systems.

The U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories have sufficient resources to maintain the reliability of all current warhead types through the ongoing Life Extension Program (LEP). New-design warheads and the renewal of nuclear testing are technically unnecessary and would undermine U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts. Gates said May 18 that the budget increases and the warhead life extensions "represent a credible modernization plan to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

7.  Will Russia gain a strategic advantage from the bomber counting rule?  No. New START counts each deployed heavy bomber as one warhead, an arbitrary number since no warheads or bombs are typically deployed on U.S. or Russian bombers.  This is the same counting rule that START I used for bombers carrying short-range weapons.

Concerns have been raised that Russia could use this rule to maintain more warheads than the treaty limit allows.  Schlesinger said April 29 that, "A bomber can carry 16 to 20 [Air-Launched Cruise Missiles]. A force of 65 to 70 bombers could readily carry upwards of 500 additional weapons beyond the 1,550 limit. The official Russian press has already bragged that under the New START counting rules, Russia can maintain 2,100 strategic weapons rather than the 1,550 specified in the treaty."

This is true for both the United States and Russia, and thus does not provide Moscow any advantage.  Moreover, the Russian bomber upload potential is small compared to the United States' upload potential on its SLBMs.  For example, a U.S. Trident SLBM force of 240 missiles with 4 warheads on each would have a warhead upload potential of 960, since each missile has space for 8 warheads.  Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said May 5 that, "in an upload contest, I wouldn't want to bet against the United States of America."

8.  Would New START prohibit conventional global strike?  No. Conventional warheads that may be placed on ICBMs and SLBMs would be subject to the treaty limits, but in practical terms the Obama administration has no firm plans for "prompt global strike" and any future deployments are likely to be small.  For example, the Bush administration had planned to arm 28 Trident SLBMs with one conventional warhead each, and a program of this size would be essentially unconstrained by the treaty.  Gates said May 18 that the treaty "accommodates the limited number of conventional warheads we may need for this capability."

9.  Would theoretical rail-mobile missiles be covered by New START?  Yes. Questions have been raised about whether New START would count rail-mobile ICBMs--if they existed. New START does not define rail-mobile launchers for ICBMs because neither the United States nor Russia currently deploys them. Moscow used to deploy SS-24 missiles on rail-mobile launchers, but the last of these were retired in 2008, and the factory that built rail-based ICBMs in Soviet times is located in what is now Ukraine.

However, if either party in the future were to install an ICBM launcher on a rail car, that launcher would count under the treaty. The treaty limits all deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, defined as "a device intended or used to contain, prepare for launch, and launch an ICBM." Any ICBM launcher would be covered by this definition, regardless of whether it was deployed on a fixed site, on a road-mobile transporter, or on a railcar.  Treaty documents state that "New types of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments, if developed by either party, would also be subject to the treaty."

10.  Should New START cover tactical weapons?  No. By design, New START covers U.S. and Russian strategic, or long-range, weapons.  Russian tactical weapons are a security concern, but they are not as high a priority as strategic weapons.  "In fact, most of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons either have very short ranges, are used for homeland air defense, are devoted to the Chinese border, or are in storage," Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) wrote July 8.

President Obama has said he wants the next U.S.-Russian treaty to deal with strategic and tactical weapons, both deployed and non-deployed, but that work on the next treaty would not begin until New START is in force. Ratification of New START is thus a prerequisite to reducing Russian tactical nuclear weapons, a bipartisan goal.

"But if there's no agreement on [New START], the chances of moving forward to discuss non-strategic nuclear weapons is close to zero," Scowcroft said July 23.

11. Should the Senate wait to ratify New START? No.
Given START I's expiration last December, there is currently no bilateral system for monitoring Russia's nuclear forces. The 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) would remain in force until 2012, but it contains no verification provisions.

Sen. Lugar said April 29 that, "without the New START treaty the United States lacks both the ability to carry out onsite inspections in Russia and the formal consultation mechanisms that monitor the Russian strategic nuclear program. It's essential that a verification system be in place so that we have a sufficient understanding of Russian nuclear forces and achieve a level of transparency that prevents miscalculations."

"If we don't get the treaty, [the Russians] are not constrained in their development of force structure and...we have no insight into what they're doing. So it's the worst of both possible worlds," General Kevin Chilton, STRATCOM Commander, said June 16.

Sen. Lugar wrote July 8, "Rejecting the Treaty would guarantee that no agreement on tactical nukes would occur. It also would mean giving up our human verification presence in Russia that has contributed greatly to strategic stability under the expired START I Treaty. Having inspectors on the ground in Russia has meant that we have not had to wonder about the make-up of Russian strategic forces. New START would strengthen our non-proliferation diplomacy worldwide, limit potential arms competition, and help us focus our defense resources effectively. It offers concrete national security benefits that will make the American people safer, and it should be ratified." - Tom Z. Collina

Additional Resources:

New START at a Glance http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NewSTART

U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START
http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/USStratNukeForceNewSTART

New START and Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Management: A Reality Check 
http://www.armscontrol.org/issuebriefs/newstartrealitycheck

Why New START is Essential to U.S. National Security: What Bipartisan National Security
Officials Are Saying http://www.armscontrol.org/issuebriefs/BipartisanSupportforSTART

The Value of New START Verification
http://www.armscontrol.org/issuebriefs/STARTVerification

New START text and official documents http://www.state.gov/t/vci/trty/126118.htm