Close the Verification Gap: Ratify New START

Volume 1, Number 35, November 19, 2010

The United States is approaching the first anniversary of losing its treaty rights to inspect Russia's nuclear forces "up close and personal," which expired along with  the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) last December.  Given that the United States has an opportunity to restore those inspections under the New START treaty, one has to wonder why some U.S. Senators are reluctant to promptly approve ratification of New START. In a stunning upending of President Reagan's admonition to "trust, but verify," critics of the agreement appear not to want to take advantage of the treaty's intrusive inspections to assure compliance.

It is small wonder that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, is "extremely concerned" about the time that has already lapsed without inspections.

U.S. Strategic Forces Commander Gen. Kevin Chilton warned that: "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... the worst of both possible worlds."

At the heart of the urgent pleas from senior military officers and security officials is an appreciation of the need to implement verification provisions in New START , which are crucial to the U.S. ability to monitor Russian strategic forces. There is no substitute for on-the-ground information gathered by treaty-authorized inspections. Satellites and other intelligence assets cannot look inside Russian missiles to see how many warheads they carry, but U.S. inspectors under New START verification provisions would do just that.

On-Site Inspections. New START allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year, including direct monitoring of Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before.  New START's "Type One" inspections, which occur at bases for deployed missiles and bombers, can achieve two goals at the same time (confirm data on delivery vehicles and on warheads), compiling as much data as two inspections under the original START agreement. Together with the eight "Type Two" inspections of non-deployed systems, the 18 New START inspections are essentially equivalent to the 28 inspections under START.

Moreover, the original START's 28 inspections had to cover 70 facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, as Soviet strategic forces were 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. 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.

Mobile Missile Production Monitoring. Although the George W. Bush administration agreed in 2008 to end mobile missile production monitoring at Russia's Votkinsk plant, the new treaty requires Russia to notify the United States 48 hours before a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) leaves Votkinsk and when it arrives at its destination, which will facilitate monitoring by national technical means.

The updated system of information exchanges and enhanced on-site inspections established by New START would, in conjunction with "national technical means," allow the United States to verify compliance with the treaty's lower limits on deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

After hearing testimony in closed session from U.S. Intelligence Community witnesses, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) concluded in its October 1 report that "the New START Treaty is effectively verifiable."  A July 30 letter from Secretary of Defense Gates to the committee reported the same conclusion from the nation's defense leadership:

"The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the Commander, U.S. strategic Command, and I assess that Russia will not be able to achieve militarily significant cheating or breakout under New START, due to both the New START verification regime and the inherent survivability and flexibility of the planned U.S. strategic force structure."

The longer New START remains in limbo, the wider will be the yawning gap in the collection of strategic information. Without New START in force, the U.S. Intelligence Community will not be able to predict with high confidence the status of Russia's nuclear forces, and both sides will be tempted to engage in more-costly force modernization and hedging strategies.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Agence France-Presse on Nov. 16: "I think the earlier, the sooner, the better. You know, my thing is, from an intelligence perspective only, are we better off with it or without it? We're better off with it."

Prompt ratification of the new treaty is the only way to close this  knowledge gap about  the only weapons that pose an existential potential threat to the United States. Failure by the Senate to approve New START would not only delay the re-establishment of an effective U.S.-Russian inspection and monitoring system, but it would undermine U.S. nonproliferation leadership and jeopardize U.S.-Russian cooperation in other fields, including joint efforts to contain Iran's nuclear program and support U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan.

The Time to Act Is Now, Not Later

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee performed due diligence in examining the treaty over a six-month period and voted its bipartisan endorsement by a 14-4 margin in September. Eighteen Senate hearings had been held and over 900 questions for the record had been answered. It is now time for senators on both sides of the aisle to come together to strengthen U.S. and global security by completing the process of "advice and consent" with a floor vote.

Senator Richard Lugar, SFRC ranking minority member, issued a clarion call to his colleagues on November 17 to finish the job in the lame duck session: "Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty."  - GREG THIELMANN