Latest Critique of New START Verification Misses Mark

Volume 1, Number 19, August 19, 2010

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged prompt Senate consideration and approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) which would return to the path established by the original START agreement toward lower, equal, and verifiable limits on the strategic nuclear forces of Russia and the United States. Without the new treaty, Clinton emphasized, "our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode," resulting in increased uncertainty and unpredictability.

In a front-page article published August 17, The Washington Post outlined why Republican and Democratic national security experts are concerned about the inability to inspect Russia strategic nuclear bases for the first time in 15 years, following the expiration of START last December.

The danger of delay in ratifying the follow-on treaty was succinctly highlighted by General Kevin Chilton, U.S. Strategic Forces commander, in Senate testimony June 16: "Without New START, we would rapidly lose insight into Russian strategic nuclear force developments and activities, and our force modernization planning and hedging strategy would be more complex and more costly."

This week, in response to new expressions of urgency, Paula DeSutter, George W. Bush's assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, tries to attack the adequacy of verification provisions in the New START agreement.  DeSutter's latest jabs not only miss the mark, but achieve new heights of chutzpah given her role in the Bush administration's failure to utilize earlier opportunities to maintain and update the U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear weapons verification regime.

Remember SORT?

DeSutter was the senior verification official of the administration that negotiated and promoted the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), a treaty with no definitions, no counting rules, and no verification provisions whatsoever. SORT required the United States and Russia to meet the treaty ceiling of 2,200 on strategic deployed warheads by December 31, 2012, the same day that treaty would expire. When SORT was presented to the Senate, the Bush administration claimed that SORT verification could be achieved indirectly through the ongoing implementation of START verification provisions, even though these provisions, along with the rest of START, were due to expire three years before the SORT limits went into effect.

At the time, DeSutter was highly dismissive of the need to extend START or to negotiate a START-type verification accord in the post-Cold War era. In a March 12, 2004, interview, DeSutter declared: "I don't see any problems at this point that would require us to [extend START beyond its 2009 expiration date]."

In 2007 she reiterated: "We don't believe we're in a place where we need to have the detailed lists [of weapons] and verification measures."  Although the Bush administration informed Russia (and the three other ex-Soviet parties to the treaty) that the United States did not require an extension of START, DeSutter now avers that it was the Obama administration that "let START expire," blithely suggesting Obama could have simply extended the original agreement until New START was ratified.

On-Site Inspection

In an effort to provide a substantive excuse for opposition to New START, DeSutter has also criticized the on-site inspection provisions of the treaty, arguing that "they represent nothing new."

In reality, the procedures, expectations, rules, and goals are indeed new and promise to be very effective. They are streamlined, less costly, and tailored to the specific limits of the new treaty. Moreover, they are more efficient, with each New START inspection permitting not only monitoring of the warhead loading of a deployed missile chosen by the inspecting party but also confirmation that the declared data on the number and types of deployed and nondeployed strategic offensive arms at an inspected base are accurate.

DeSutter mischaracterizes New START's innovative creation of "unique identifiers" for missiles and heavy bombers by stating that warheads would also have unique identifiers, which is not the case. She complains of the lack of warhead loading limits on individual missiles - knowing full well that this aspect of the treaty was sought by the U.S. military in order to be able to retain a hedge for uploading warheads without further reducing the number of Trident missiles and submarines. The greater "flexibility" of the deployed warhead unit of account in SORT was commonly highlighted by the Bush administration as an advantage over the attributed warhead framework used in START. DeSutter also fails to acknowledge that any exploitation of missile warhead upload opportunities by Russia under New START would mean that it would be allowed to deploy fewer missiles and bombers under the treaty's aggregate warhead limits.

The Role of Telemetry

DeSutter also contends that the less stringent telemetry provisions of the new agreement would result in a decline in U.S. insight into Russian strategic nuclear forces. This assertion ignores the fact that telemetry is no longer required to verify the New START limits, which are different from the throw-weight, missile-type, and warhead-counting rules of START. DeSutter's concern here is intelligence, not verification. If one is really worried about losing insight into Russian strategic nuclear forces, then one should consider the insight being lost every day that treaty opponents delay the entry into force of the extensive on-the-ground inspection provisions incorporated into the New START agreement.

Criticism of the Value of New START Rings Hollow

Unfortunately, President Bush and his team, including Paula DeSutter, did not seek to negotiate a new treaty before leaving office or even to extend START's verification system to bridge until 2012 when the SORT limits would apply. As a result, President Barack Obama was handed a strategic arms control verification regime scheduled to self-destruct before the end of his first year in office. The Obama administration wasted no time in negotiating New START within only one year and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee leadership also moved expeditiously to examine the treaty on its merits. It is now up to the rest of the Senate to complete the job, allowing U.S. inspectors to regain on-the-ground access to Russian strategic nuclear deployment sites.

If DeSutter is expected to lead the attack on the verification provisions of New START, she will first have to get her facts straight and then hope that no one remembers the negotiating record of the administration she last served. In the meantime, the fact remains that until New START is approved by the Senate, insight into the only potential existential threat the United States faces will continue to diminish. - GREG THIELMANN