365 Days, Zero Inspections: Ratify New START

Volume 1, Number 40, December 3, 2010

One year ago this Sunday the United States lost its ability to "look under the hood" of Russia's nuclear forces.  U.S. on-site inspections in Russia ended last Dec. 5 along with the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Fortunately, the United States can restore those inspections by ratifying New START, which currently sits before the Senate.  President Ronald Reagan advised us to "trust, but verify," and it is no wonder that his secretary of state George P. Shultz--along with the secretaries of state from the past five Republican presidents--support New START.

Shultz, Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Colin L. Powell wrote in the Dec. 2 Washington Post:

Since the original START expired last December, Russia has not been required to provide notifications about changes in its strategic nuclear arsenal, and the United States has been unable to conduct on-site inspections. Each day, America's understanding of Russia's arsenal has been degraded, and resources have been diverted from national security tasks to try to fill the gaps. Our military planners increasingly lack the best possible insight into Russia's activity with its strategic nuclear arsenal, making it more difficult to carry out their nuclear deterrent mission.

The verification provisions in New START 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.

Closing the Verification Gap

New START allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year, including direct monitoring of Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before.  Although the original START permitted 28 inspections, it 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.

Moreover, 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), for which two inspections would have been required under the original START. Together with the eight "Type Two" inspections of non-deployed systems, the 18 New START inspections would yield more critical data than the 28 inspections under START.

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

Treaty is Verifiable

After hearing testimony in closed session from U.S. Intelligence Community witnesses, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) concluded in its Oct. 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 yawning gap in the collection of strategic information will get wider the longer New START remains in limbo. 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.

Speaking about New START ratification, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said 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 New START is the only way to close this verification gap. Failure by the Senate to approve New START would not only delay the re-establishment of an effective inspection and monitoring system for U.S. and Russia strategic arsenals, but would also kill prospects for limiting Russian tactical weapons, undermine U.S. nonproliferation leadership, and jeopardize U.S.-Russian cooperation in other fields, including containing Iran's nuclear program and support U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan.

New START's 20-Year Bipartisan Legacy

The first U.S. on-site inspection of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles took place 22 years ago on July 1, 1988 as part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  Previous treaties, such as 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or SALT, did not allow for on-site monitoring but principally depended on "national technical means" such as satellite reconnaissance.  Satellites, valuable as they are, cannot look under roofs or inside missiles like human inspectors can.  INF's on-the-ground inspections were a major breakthrough in the Cold War, allowing increased transparency, predictability, and stability between the United States and Russia.

New START and its verification system is a direct descendant of the INF Treaty, which was negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified in 1987 by a Senate vote of 93-5.  After that, START I was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and passed the Senate 93-6.  START II, which never entered into force, was signed by President Bush in 1993 and passed 87-4.  President George W. Bush signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) in 2002, which passed in the Senate 95-0.

SORT limits, which do not kick in until the end of 2012, do not have a treaty-based verification system.  Aware of START I's pending expiration, in April 2008 President Bush agreed with Russian President Putin to seek a legally-binding post-START agreement, which was ultimately not realized before the Bush administration ended.

It fell to the Obama administration to negotiate a treaty to sustain this 20-year, bipartisan practice of intrusive on-site inspections.  New START provides a more streamlined and cost-effective set of verification procedures based on the original START and add new innovations, including direct monitoring of actual deployed nuclear warheads.

New START would modestly reduce U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads, from more than 2,000 today to 1,550 or less each on no more than 700 deployed delivery systems. Approval of New START would open the way to further reductions in other types of nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear bombs, which are a prime target for terrorists.

The Time to Act Is Now

New START was submitted in May, and since then the Senate has held 18 hearings and four briefings, and the administration has answered almost 1,000 questions from senators. If the treaty is delayed into the new Congress, the Foreign Relations Committee would have to hold a new vote and new senators could ask that new hearings be held. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said Nov. 17 there would be "endless hearings, markup, back to trying to get some time on the floor.... It will be some time before the treaty is ever heard from again."

The United States has already gone a full year without on-site inspections in Russia.  We must not wait another year to resume them.

As the five former GOP secretaries of state wrote, it is "in the national interest to ratify New START."  It is 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. --TOM Z. COLLINA and GREG THIELMANN