250 Days and Counting: Close the Verification Gap

Volume 1, Number 17, August 11, 2010

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) promises to modestly reduce the still enormous number of deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads--from more than 2,000 to 1,550 or less each--on no more than 700 delivery systems. Approval of New START would open the way to reductions in other types of nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear bombs, which are a target for terrorists.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to vote on New START on September 15 or 16 and the full Senate could vote on the treaty soon thereafter.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in remarks earlier today, prompt Senate consideration and approval of New START is vital because it would fill the verification gap created by the expiration of the original START I and its system of on-site inspections and data exchanges.

"When the Senate returns, they must act, because our national security is at risk," Clinton stated. "There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia which only hurts our national security interests. Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will increase. With uncertainty comes unpredictability, which, when you're dealing with nuclear weapons, is absolutely a problem that must be addressed. Ratifying the new START treaty will prevent that outcome."

For these and other reasons, a long list of current U.S. military leaders and former senior national security officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations have endorsed prompt ratification of New START.

Opposing New START Means Opposing Limits on and Verification of Russia's Arsenal

Unfortunately, some senators, including Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who once argued against rigorous verification of nuclear arms reductions with Russia, now suggest that the new treaty may not provide enough and are suggesting New START consideration should be delayed.

In 2003, Kyl called START I and its monitoring provisions a "700-page behemoth" that "would not serve America's real security needs." He now says about New START: "it's not clear that the treaty's verification provisions are adequate."

That assessment is wrong and fails to recognize that for 250 days since START I expired there has been no verification system in place. As Secretary Clinton noted in her August 11 remarks:

"This treaty will provide for inspections that the United States would not otherwise be able to hold. For 15 years, START provided us access to monitor and inspect Russia's nuclear arsenal. START, as you know, expired last December. It, therefore, has been more than eight months since we have had inspectors on the ground in Russia. This is a critical point. Opposing ratification means opposing the inspections that provide us a vital window into Russia's arsenal."

START I Was Then; New START Is Needed Now

Other New START skeptics such as Paula DeSutter, former Assistant Secretary for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation under George W. Bush, claim that New START is "much less verifiable" than START I. They complain that there were more inspections allowed under START I than under New START.

Such comparisons are superficial and misleading. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified May 18, "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 I inspections.  Together with the eight Type Two inspections, the 18 New START inspections are essentially equivalent to the 28 inspections permitted under START I.

From the U.S. perspective, the Soviet Union's strategic nuclear complex was also significantly larger and less well understood than that of Russia today. START I's 28 inspections had to cover 70 facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.  Today, New START's 18 inspections need to cover only 35 Russian sites.

New START's verification system is more than adequate. New START would provide a more streamlined, cost-effective set of verification procedures based on the original START, and add new innovations-including direct monitoring of actual deployed nuclear warheads-that are better suited to provide high confidence that each side would comply with the new treaty.

Bottom Line

Until New START is approved by the Senate, the United States will rapidly lose insight into Russia's strategic nuclear forces, forcing both sides to engage in more costly force modernization and hedging strategies.

Both the United States and Russia should approve the treaty without conditions and without delay. - DARYL G. KIMBALL