“For 50 years, the Arms Control Association has educated citizens around the world to help create broad support for U.S.-led arms control and nonproliferation achievements.”

– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
New START in Force; Missile Defense Looms

Tom Z. Collina

Two years after pushing the “reset button” on their relations, the United States and Russia on Feb. 5 exchanged the instruments of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), officially bringing the treaty into force. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the treaty documents in Germany during the annual Munich Security Conference.

“With the exchange of these instruments,” Clinton said in Munich, “we commit ourselves to a course of action that builds trust, lessens risks, and improves predictability, stability, and security.” She said the two countries will immediately begin notifying each other of changes in their strategic forces, as required by the treaty. Starting March 22, the countries will exchange full data on their strategic nuclear forces for the first time since July 2009. These data exchanges will include information on the numbers, locations, and “unique identifiers” (serial numbers) for deployed and nondeployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers; the numbers of warheads, aggregated by operating base, on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and counted for deployed heavy bombers (under New START, each deployed bomber is counted as one warhead although it can carry more); the numbers and locations of deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs and SLBMs; and operating bases and test ranges where strategic arms may be located.

With the Feb. 5 entry into force, the United States and Russia, which have not conducted bilateral nuclear inspections since the original START expired on Dec. 5, 2009, can resume inspections in April. New START allows each side to conduct 18 on-site inspections per year and limits each side to 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 strategic missiles and bombers. In addition, the sides are limited to 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers. New START lowers treaty limits on both sides’ deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent from previous treaty restrictions.

The U.S. Senate approved New START Dec. 22 after a lengthy debate. (See ACT, January/February 2011.) Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, approved the treaty Jan. 26.

Further U.S.-Russian Reductions?

Resolutions on the treaty passed by both legislatures, as well as recent statements by senior officials, indicate that the next round of bilateral arms reductions may be more complicated. Since New START was signed last April, the Obama administration has reiterated its interest in a follow-on round of negotiations with Russia to address further reductions in strategic nuclear weapons and, for the first time, tactical weapons and warheads in storage. When the Senate approved New START, the resolution of ratification conditioned entry into force on a presidential pledge to seek negotiations with Russia within one year “to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner” and not to include missile defense in those talks. President Barack Obama made this certification Feb. 2, along with five others required by the Senate.

On Feb. 5 in Munich, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said that the administration had begun talking with Russia about the full range of post-New START issues. Senior U.S. officials say, however, that they are in no rush to begin formal negotiations because the administration needs six to nine months to formulate its negotiating positions and that the Russians are not ready for new talks because of their concerns about U.S. missile defense plans.

For its part, Russia has been slow to embrace new talks. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov said Feb. 5 in Munich that further arms reductions cannot be achieved without “paying due respect” to factors that could harm strategic stability. He cited the possible U.S. deployment of weapons in outer space, U.S. plans to design nonnuclear strategic missile systems, the U.S.-NATO buildup of strategic missile defenses, and the growing disparity in conventional arms between Russia and NATO. Missile defense, he said, tops the list of Russia’s security concerns. “Any attempt to build a shield inevitably provokes creation of a better sword,” Ivanov said, in reference to U.S. missile defense plans and a possible Russian response. “We can break this vicious cycle only through coordinated efforts,” he said.

Using diplomatic language aimed at lowering expectations for near-term negotiations on tactical weapons, Ivanov said, “[W]e are ready to discuss this very complex topic in the framework of a comprehensive approach to strategic stability.” Referring to the estimated 180 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe, Ivanov said that all tactical weapons should be based only on national territory and that “future hypothetical negotiations on tactical nukes must take into consideration not only Russia’s or NATO’s nuclear arsenals, but weapon systems of all nuclear and threshold states.”

North Korea, China, Pakistan, Israel, they are all our neighbors, they are not American neighbors,” Ivanov said, “so we think differently on this balance of strategic power.” Russia is believed to have roughly 3,000-5,000 tactical nuclear weapons; some are operational, and others are in storage.

“Cooperation” on Missile Defense

On missile defense, the respective resolutions of ratification approved by the U.S. and Russian legislatures highlight the challenges ahead. The U.S. resolution expresses opposition to negotiated limits on U.S. missile defenses. But the Russian resolution states that if the United States or “a group of states”—a reference to NATO—deploys a missile defense system “capable of significantly reducing the effectiveness” of Russia’s strategic forces, that would be grounds for Moscow to withdraw from New START and, presumably, reject any future arms reduction treaty.

In other words, the U.S. Senate would likely oppose any future treaty that limits U.S. missile defenses, while Russia’s legislature would not be likely to approve any such treaty unless there were meaningful limits on U.S. defenses. U.S. officials hope this conflict can be at least managed through greater transparency and “cooperation” on missile defense.

The object of Russia’s concern is the U.S.-NATO plan to deploy hundreds of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) theater missile interceptors in Europe and, within a decade, a new version of the SM-3 with limited capability against strategic ballistic missiles. Called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the plan calls for interceptor deployments in four phases of increasing range and capability to counter the evolving Iranian missile threat.

At its November 2010 summit in Lisbon, NATO agreed for the first time to deploy a territorial missile defense, based on the U.S.-supplied SM-3. (See ACT, December 2010.) Moscow is primarily concerned about the last of the four phases, called Early Intercept and Regional ICBM Defense, to be deployed around 2020. The Obama administration says the interceptors deployed during that phase would be capable of intercepting possible future ICBMs from Iran. Lavrov said in Munich that if the last stages of the phased approach are implemented, they would directly infringe on the efficacy of the Russian nuclear deterrent.

To defuse this brewing conflict, NATO has invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense. According to a Dec. 18, 2010, letter from Obama to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), this cooperation “could lead to adding Russian capabilities to those deployed by NATO to enhance our common security against common threats.” The letter points out that a cooperative system with Russia “will not be a joint system, and it will not in any way limit [the] United States’ or NATO’s missile defense capabilities.” The United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia.

Russia apparently remains unconvinced. “We want to be reassured that whatever you do there doesn’t undermine the stability of deterrence, because deterrence is still with us,” Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, said Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va. “We haven’t reached a state...between our two countries that would allow us to abolish it. We would like to see it happen. But that’s going to be a long way [off],” he said.

NATO and Russia agreed in Lisbon to explore ways to cooperate on missile defense and to issue a progress report in June. Clinton, speaking in Munich, said that the United States is talking with Russia about missile defense. “[W]e are eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system. We will work together to ensure that our missile defense systems are mutually reinforcing,” she said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently formed a working group within the Russian government to develop ideas for missile defense collaboration with NATO, according to a Feb. 21 Interfax report. “I hope that by this June, when a meeting of defense ministers of the Russia-NATO Council takes place, the Russian delegation would reach certain progress towards agreements with NATO under which the [missile interceptor] system does not put into question our strategic nuclear potential, which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,” said Russia’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, who is leading the effort.

“Living Separately in Different Apartments”

Russia has made clear that it has in mind a deeper type of “cooperation” than NATO does. Rogozin told journalists after a Jan. 25 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council working group on missile defense that NATO’s proposals “could not be called cooperation. It’s not even a marriage of convenience. It’s like living separately in different apartments.”

Moscow has called for a combined “sectoral” missile defense in which NATO and Russia each assumes responsibility for countering missile threats over a specific part of Europe. Russian-NATO missile defense work “must be a joint system with shared responsibilities, information exchange and decision-making in order to make us an equal and responsible member,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Feb. 7, according to the Associated Press.

“If two separate networks are built, things won’t change for us and we will see a situation when the NATO system could potentially be used against Russia’s security interests. Cooperating on such a system would mean hurting ourselves,” Ryabkov said.

Russia apparently wants to prevent NATO’s interceptors from being aimed at Russian ICBMs, which could reduce Moscow’s ability to respond to a first strike.

“The principle ‘take it or leave it’ does not work here,” Lavrov said in Munich. “If our concerns are not taken into account, if no equitable, joint work is achieved, then we will have to compensate for the emergent imbalance,” he said, referring to the possibility that Russia could build up its offensive missile forces.

U.S. and European officials, however, say that Russia’s concept of a “joint system” is unrealistic because NATO must retain responsibility for its own defense and, in any case, Russia does not have operational missile interceptors capable of defending European territory. Meanwhile, they say, the eastern European states that formerly were in the Warsaw Pact and now are in NATO want to be defended by NATO, not Russia. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, the top U.S. arms control negotiator, told the Arlington conference that Obama has decided that “NATO will protect NATO, and that’s the bottom line as far as we’re concerned.”

Alternative to Turkey

Meanwhile, the first phase of the European interceptor deployment, scheduled to be operational later this year, calls for SM-3 interceptors to be based on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean Sea and for a forward-based radar in southeastern Europe. Turkey, the United States’ first choice to host the radar, reportedly has not granted its consent out of concern that information from the radar, called the AN/TPY-2, might be shared with Israel.

In a Feb. 3 letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), James Risch (Idaho), Mark Kirk (Ill.), and James Inhofe (Okla.) said they were opposed to Turkey’s conditions and that the United States should consider turning to Georgia to be the host country. “We believe that the Republic of Georgia’s geographic location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran, and would offer clear advantages for the protection of the United States from a long range missile as compared to Turkey,” the senators wrote. “What’s more, the Republic of Georgia should be a significant partner for future defense cooperation with the U.S.Georgia is not a member of NATO, and a proposal to deploy missile defense assets there would likely meet with fierce opposition from Russia.

Delay in finding a suitable host for the AN/TPY-2 radar is just one factor that could cause the schedule for the phased approach to slip. According to a Jan. 26 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the deployment schedule is not adequately synchronized with acquisition, infrastructure, and personnel activities. As a result, the GAO found that the Department of Defense “is at risk of incurring schedule slips, decreased performance, and increased cost as it implements the phases” of the planned approach.