Twelve Reasons to Support New START

Volume 1, Number 21, September 13, 2010

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed in April by the United States and Russia, is scheduled for a Thursday vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Over the last five months, the Senate has held 21 hearings and briefings and built a formidable, bipartisan case for New START.

As former Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and Madeleine K. Albright and former Senators Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel wrote in their Sept. 10 op-ed in The Washington Post, “The Senate should promptly vote to approve [New START] with Russia for one reason: It increases U.S. national security.”

“The treaty reduces and caps the Russian nuclear arsenal. It reestablishes and makes stronger the verification procedures that allow U.S. inspectors to conduct on-site inspections and surveillance of Russian nuclear weapons and facilities. It strengthens international efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, and it opens the door to progress on further critical nonproliferation efforts, such as reducing Russian tactical nuclear weapons,” Shultz, Albright, Hart and Hagel wrote.

This Issue Brief highlights the reasons why New START deserves prompt Senate approval and briefly addresses several of the questions raised by treaty skeptics:

1.  New START would cap and reduce Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal. Russia deploys approximately 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads, not counting bomber weapons in storage, according to the Congressional Research Service.  New START would reduce 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.

At the same time, New START would leave the United States with a devastatingly powerful nuclear arsenal that is more than large enough to deter an attack from Russia — or any other nuclear-armed state. Aside from Russia, no other state has more than 300 nuclear warheads. Suggestions from some critics that New START would erode the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability are unfounded.

2. New START would resume on-site inspections of Russian strategic forces. It has been 282 days since the United States lost the ability to conduct on-site inspections of Russia's nuclear arsenal. New START would reestablish on-the-ground information gathering about Russian strategic forces that the United States could not get any other way.

For example, satellites and other 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.  New START is effectively verifiable. New START would establish an updated system of information exchanges and enhanced on-site inspections that would provide high-confidence that Russia is complying with the new, lower limits on deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

“The notification of changes in weapons systems—including the movement in and out of deployed status—will provide more information on the status of Russian strategic forces under this treaty than was available under START,” according to a new article by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller.

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, Secretary 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.

Secretary Gates stated in a July 21 letter to Sen. Isakson, “I am confident that the New START Treaty’s inspection framework provides a firm basis for verifying Russian compliance.”

Telemetry. Telemetry, or missile flight test information, was needed under START I to determine the maximum number of warheads that might be loaded onto Russian ballistic missiles.  Since New START requires data exchanges on the actual warhead loading of each deployed missile and allows direct on-site inspections to confirm this, telemetry sharing is no longer required.  Even so, New START 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 Secretary 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.

4.  New START bolsters U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts. 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 revival of U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue has already improved cooperation in a variety of fields. New START will help strengthen our joint efforts to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists, as well as keep pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program, which it could use to build the bomb. Without New START, Russian support will be far harder to obtain.

5.  New START protects U.S. missile defense plans. "[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.  "It's a limit in theory, but not in reality," wrote U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones on April 20. "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."

6. New START allows for modern, effective, and reliable nuclear forces. "The reductions in this treaty will not affect the strength of our nuclear triad," Secretary 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.  The administration has proposed an additional $100 billion over ten years to maintain and modernize strategic nuclear delivery systems.

The Obama administration is also 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.

As a result, 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.

Secretary 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."

The fiscal year 2011 budget request of $7 billion for NNSA weapons activities has already been adopted by the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees.

Linton Brooks, the former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration under George W. Bush administration said on April 7, 2010,  "I'd have killed for that budget and that much high-level attention in the administration."

If over the course of the next several years there are additional program costs, future Presidents and Congresses can make appropriate changes--up or down--to the budget.

7.  New START allows conventional global strike. Conventional warheads that may be placed on ICBMs and SLBMs would be subject to the treaty limits, but in practical terms the United States does not yet have firm plans to deploy "prompt global strike" and any future deployments are likely to be small in number.  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.  Secretary Gates said May 18 that the treaty "accommodates the limited number of conventional warheads we may need for this capability." Allegations that New START “unilaterally disarms” the United States are simply wrong.

8. New START covers theoretical Russian rail-mobile missiles. 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."

9.  New START sets the stage for limiting tactical weapons. Some have complained that New START doesn’t require Russia to reduce its stockpile of “tactical,” or short-range nuclear warheads.  By design, New START covers U.S. and Russian strategic, or long-range, nuclear weapons.

It would not make sense to risk the progress we’ve made on long-range nuclear weapons by insisting that the policy for short-range weapons be settled now as well. New START lays the diplomatic foundation necessary for a future accord on tactical nuclear weapons.

Further, as Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has noted, the vast majority of Russia’s tactical nukes have very short ranges, are deployed to defend Russia’s border with China, or are in storage. While Russia’s tactical nuclear warheads may be a rich target for terrorists, they have little impact on the military balance between Russia and the NATO alliance.

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 work on the next treaty would not begin until New START is in force.  Ratification of New START is a prerequisite to reducing Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

10. New START has the support of an overwhelming majority of U.S. military and national security leaders. The treaty has garnered the support of the U.S. military establishment and former senior national security officials, both Republicans and Democrats, including:

James R. Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense and former Director of Central Intelligence, Nixon and Ford administrations; Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor, Ford and George H.W. Bush administrations; Stephen Hadley, former National Security Advisor, George W. Bush administration; James Baker, former Secretary of State, George H.W. Bush administration; Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Nixon and Ford administrations; George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, Reagan administration; Colin L. Powell, former Secretary of State, George W. Bush administration; with former Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.); former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, Carter administration; former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, Reagan administration; former Senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.); former White House Chief of Staff Kenneth M. Duberstein, Reagan administration; former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); former Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker (R-Kansas); former Governor and 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean (R-N.J.); former Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.); former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming); and former Senator William Cohen (R-Me.), among others.

Seven former U.S. military commanders of Strategic Air Command and U.S. Strategic Command have announced their support for New START.  In a July 14 letter to senators (PDF), the five Air Force Generals and two Navy Admirals wrote that they "strongly endorse [New START's] early ratification and entry into force" because "the treaty will enhance American national security."

11. New START has the support of U.S. allies. Our friends and partners in Asia and Europe have expressed their strong support for New START, which they see as an important step toward reducing the threats posed by nuclear weapons.

12. Stalling New START undermines U.S. security. For all of these reasons, New START deserves the Senate’s prompt support.  In particular, given START I's expiration last December, there is currently no bilateral system for monitoring Russia's nuclear forces. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which is still in force, contains no verification provisions.  The longer New START remains in limbo, the longer this unprecedented strategic blackout will continue.

"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 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." - TOM Z. COLLINA

Additional Resources:

New START at a Glance:

New START text and official documents: