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Case for New START Builds; Skeptics Miss the Mark
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Volume 1, Number 45, December 16, 2010

This week, the Senate finally began debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Hours into the ongoing floor debate, it is clearer than ever that the treaty is essential for U.S. and international security.

The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright said today, "we need START and we need it badly."

In the bipartisan tradition of earlier agreements negotiated by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, New START would keep Washington and Moscow on track to reduce their arsenals by about 30 percent below current limits.

Signed April 8, 2010, New START would strengthen U.S. security by limiting Russia to no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles (missiles and bombers) and re-establishing a robust, up-to-date monitoring system to verify compliance. The United States would retain a modern nuclear force more than sufficient in size to deter nuclear attack by Russia or any other potential adversary.

The original START treaty expired Dec. 5, 2009, and with it went START's arsenal limits and on-site inspections. Prompt ratification of New START is the only way to close this "verification gap." The new treaty would establish an updated system of information exchanges and enhanced on-site inspections that would provide more information on the status of Russian strategic forces than was available under the original START accord.

General Kevin Chilton, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, testified in June, "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."

For these and other reasons, a long list of U.S. military leaders, including seven former U.S. strategic commanders and national security leaders from past Republican and Democratic administrations support New START, as do Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Over the last eight months, more than 20 Senate hearings and briefings have been held on the pact, and the Obama administration has answered 1,000 questions from senators. On Sept. 16 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) passed the New START resolution of advice and consent by a bipartisan vote of 14 to 4. The resolution address all major and minor issues raised by treaty skeptics over the past few weeks and several hours of debate.

The top reasons for prompt ratification of New START--and answers to skeptics' questions--are detailed below:

1. New START would make real cuts in Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal.

Today, Russia deploys approximately 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads, not counting bomber weapons in storage, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Contrary to assertions by critics that New START would not reduce Russian forces, the treaty would in fact reduce Russia's force of deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 or less, 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 allow the United States to maintain a devastatingly powerful nuclear arsenal deployed on a "triad" of nuclear delivery systems: intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Nov. 11 that New START would leave the United States with nuclear forces that are "more than enough for us to handle our military responsibilities."  Besides Russia, the United States' only potential nuclear adversary is China, which has fewer than 50 nuclear-armed long-range missiles.

2. New START would resume inspections of Russian strategic forces.

It has been a year since the United States lost the ability to conduct intrusive, on-site inspections of Russia's nuclear arsenal mandated by the 1991 START accord. The 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), still in force, contains no verification provisions.  The longer New START remains in limbo, the longer this strategic blackout will continue.

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 to 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 the United States to make better-informed decisions about investments in nuclear forces and other military capabilities.

Without New START in force, the U.S. intelligence community would not be able to predict with high confidence the status of Russia's nuclear forces, and both sides would be tempted to engage in more-costly force modernization and hedging strategies.

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.

  • 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.  Some senators have raised concerns that New START allows fewer annual inspections than did the original START.

    However, for all practical purposes, the number of inspections in New START is the same as START.  New START's "Type One" inspections, which occur at bases for deployed missiles and bombers, can achieve two goals (confirm data on delivery vehicles and warheads) at the same time, and thus ten of these inspections provide the same amount of information as 20 START inspections.  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 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.
  • 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 George W. 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 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, such as satellites.

After hearing testimony in closed session from U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) witnesses, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 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 reached the same conclusion:

"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."

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."

4. New START bolsters U.S. efforts to constrain Iran's nuclear program.

The revival of U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue has already improved cooperation in a variety of fields. For example, Russia supported the U.S.-led effort to enact U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, and Russia has cancelled its sale of the S-300 air-defense system to Iran. New START will help strengthen U.S.-Russian joint efforts to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists, as well as keep pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle activities.

Without New START, Russian support will be harder to obtain. On Nov. 8, for example, Sen. Lugar said it is unlikely that Moscow would sustain cooperative threat reduction efforts indefinitely without New START coming into force. "The prospects for extending Nunn-Lugar work in Russia after [2013] would be especially complicated without New START's transparency features that assure both countries about the nuclear capabilities of the other," Lugar said.

More broadly, New START helps to demonstrate that the United States and Russia are keeping up their end of the bargain under the 1968 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.

5. New START protects U.S. missile defense options.

Claims that the treaty's nonbinding preambular language on the "interrelationship" between strategic offenses and defenses will limit U.S. missile defense options do not add up. As Secretary of Defense Gates bluntly said May 18, "the treaty will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible."

Any proposed amendment to the treaty-whether to the nonbinding preamble or the binding portions-are unnecessary and would effectively require the renegotiation of the treaty, effectively killing the prospects for verifiably limiting Russia's strategic nuclear forces.

Some treaty critics erroneously suggest that Article V, which prohibits both sides from converting launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs into launchers for missile defense interceptors, and vice versa, limits U.S. missile defense plans in the future.

However, the United States has no plans for any such conversions.  "It's a limit in theory, but not in reality," wrote then-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."

Russia is concerned that future U.S. strategic missile interceptor deployments could undermine its nuclear retaliatory capability, and has made a unilateral statement that it could potentially withdraw from New START if the United States deploys such systems in large numbers.

The SFRC resolution of advice and consent clearly states that it is the committee's understanding that "the New START Treaty does not impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses" other than the treaty's ban on converting ICBM and SLBM launchers for use by interceptors--which the Pentagon has said it has no intention of doing in any case--and that any further limitations would require Senate approval.

The resolution clarifies that "the April 7, 2010, unilateral statement by the Russian Federation on missile defense does not impose a legal obligation on the United States." It also reaffirms language in the 1999 Missile Defense Act that it is the policy of the United States to deploy an effective national missile defense system "as soon as technologically possible" and that nothing in the treaty limits future planned enhancements to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system or the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Indeed, the Obama administration is going full-bore on its plans to increase SM-3 intermediate-range interceptor deployments in Europe. Some may bemoan the decision to revise the Bush-era plan to deploy unproven strategic interceptors in Poland, but the new plan more effectively and more smartly addresses the existing Iranian short- and medium-range missile threat, and opens the way for cooperation, not confrontation with Russia on missile defense.

The Obama administration's request for missile defense funding in FY2011 is almost $10 billion, covering missile interceptor deployments in the United States and Europe.

6. New START allows for the maintenance of modern, effective nuclear forces.

The Obama administration has pledged, pursuant to section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, to spend $85 billion over the next ten years to maintain the nuclear stockpile and modernize the weapons complex. The plan calls for spending another $100 billion over the same period to upgrade strategic nuclear delivery systems.

The administration's $7 billion request for the weapons complex for FY 2011 was 10 percent higher than the previous year.  Linton Brooks, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in the Bush administration, said in April, "I'd have killed for that budget and that much high-level attention in the administration." As Secretary of Defense Gates wrote in his preface to the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), "These investments, and the NPR's strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

Despite this, some senators are concerned that the administration might not deliver on its commitments.

In response, the SFRC's resolution of advice and consent states that "the United States is committed to proceeding with a robust stockpile stewardship program, and to maintaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons production capabilities and capacities."  To achieve these goals, the resolution says that the United States is committed to providing the necessary resources, "at a minimum at the levels set forth in the President's 10-year plan."

The resolution also states that "if at any time more resources are required than estimated in the President's 10-year plan," the President shall submit a report detailing: 1) how he proposes to remedy the shortfall; 2) the proposed level of funding required; 3) the impact of the shortfall on the safety, reliability, and performance of U.S. nuclear forces; and 4) "whether and why, in the changed circumstances brought about by the resource shortfall, it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty."

Moreover, at the request of Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories wrote Dec. 1 that they are "very pleased" with the recently updated $85 billion budget to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile and modernize the weapons complex.  Lawrence Livermore director Dr. George Miller, Los Alamos director Dr. Michael Anastasio, and Sandia director Dr. Paul Hommert wrote that the increased funding plan released in November provides "adequate support" to sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Further efforts to hold up New START in an attempt to secure still more funding for the already well-funded nuclear weapons complex are unnecessary, fiscally unsound, and politically unsustainable.

7.  New START allows conventional global strike weapons.

Conventional warheads that the United States may in the future decide to deploy on strategic ballistic missiles would be subject to New START limits. However, there are no firm plans to deploy Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) weapons, and any future deployments are likely to be small in number. As a result, there is room within the treaty's limits for future CPGS deployments.

In an answer for the SFRC record, Secretary of Defense Gates stated: "As envisaged by our military planners, the number of such conventionally armed delivery vehicles and the warheads they carry would be very small when measured against the overall levels of strategic delivery systems and strategic warheads. Should we decide to deploy them, counting this small number of conventional strategic systems and their warheads toward the treaty limits will not prevent the United States from maintaining a robust nuclear deterrent."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded that it saw "no reason to doubt statements by the cognizant civilian and uniformed military officials that, at least over the ten-year duration of the treaty, the treaty's limits provide sufficient room to accommodate both the strategic nuclear forces and the limited number of CPGS weapons the United States is likely to deploy."

Moreover, the SFRC resolution clarifies that New START does not limit potential CPGS concepts that would not meet the definitions of ICBMs and SLBMs under the treaty, such as "boost-glide" systems that do not have a ballistic trajectory.

8. New START sets the stage for limits on tactical weapons.

Some complain that New START does not reduce Russia's tactical nuclear warhead levels, which have never been covered by a treaty. By design, New START addresses strategic nuclear weapons. It does not make sense to risk verifiable reduction in Russia's long-range nuclear weapons by insisting that the policy for short-range weapons be settled now. New START lays the diplomatic foundation necessary for a future accord on tactical nuclear weapons reductions.

On this question, the SFRC resolution calls on the President "to pursue, following consultation with allies, an agreement with the Russian Federation that would address the disparity between the tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and would secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner."

President Obama has said that he intends to work with Moscow to pursue further nuclear reductions in all types of nuclear warheads--including tactical weapons--after New START is ratified. Moreover, Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates, in a joint answer for the SFRC record, said that:

"Because of their limited range and very different roles from those played by strategic nuclear forces, the vast majority of Russian tactical nuclear weapons could not directly influence the strategic nuclear balance between the United States and Russia... Because the United States will retain a robust strategic force structure under New START, Russia's tactical nuclear weapons will have little or no impact on strategic stability."

To the extent we should be concerned about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons - and we should be because they are a target for nuclear terrorism - we should want to ratify New START so we can move on to further talks with Russia on all types of nuclear weapons (strategic and nonstrategic, deployed and non-deployed) as the Obama administration has proposed. By delaying or killing New START, we will never convince the Russians to reduce their old tactical nuclear weapons.

9. New START covers rail-mobile missiles.

Some critics have argued that if Moscow were to build rail-mobile ICBMs, such as the now-retired SS-24, those missiles might not count under treaty limits because they are not specifically mentioned in the text.

As to why rail-mobile ICBMs are not defined in New START, Secretary of Defense Gates answered for the record that ''Rail-mobile ICBMs are not specifically mentioned in the New START Treaty because neither Party currently deploys ICBMs in that mode.''

Moreover, the Oct. 1 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report points out that the term ''ICBM launcher'' is defined in paragraph 28 of Part One of the Protocol as ''a device intended or used to contain, prepare for launch, and launch an ICBM.''  This would include any future rail-mobile systems.  On this basis, the Committee found that "a new rail-mobile system would clearly be captured under the Article II limits despite the exclusion of rail-mobile launchers from the definition of mobile launchers of ICBMs," and that "The committee does not believe that there is any disagreement between the United States and the Russian Federation on any of these points."

10.  Bilateral Consultative Commission is subject to Senate approval.

Treaty critics erroneously claim that the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) under New START could make substantive changes to the treaty, for example on missile defense, without Senate consent.

First, having a bilateral forum to discuss treaty issues is typical of all arms control treaties, including the original START.  Moreover, no substantive changes could be made to the treaty without Senate approval.  The SFRC resolution requires prompt presidential consultation with the Foreign Relations Committee regarding the BCC to ensure that substantive changes to the treaty are only made with the Senate's approval.

The Oct. 1 SFRC report states that the Senate will have "the opportunity to participate fully in decisions about any use of the BCC's procedures to make changes to the treaty's protocol or annexes, and to ensure that the Senate's role in the treaty making process will be respected."

11. New START has been thoroughly vetted.

Having failed to make their arguments stick, treaty opponents are now complaining that they don't want New START to be "jammed" through the Senate and that "more time" is needed to consider the treaty. Such arguments are ring hollow.

New START has been thoroughly vetted and the Senate has had more than enough time to review and debate the treaty. It can and should act this year - not next year.

The Senate has held more than 20 hearings and briefings on the treaty since May. More than 1,000 questions for the record have been asked and answered. New START has been ready for a floor vote since the SFRC voted for it Sept. 16.

By comparison, the Senate held 18 hearings and spent five days debating the original START agreement in 1992, a more complicated treaty negotiated during the Cold War. It passed 93-6. The Senate spent two days debating the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in 2003, which passed 95-0. Two to three days of floor debate should be sufficient for New START.

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's expiration in December 2009, there is currently no bilateral system for monitoring Russia's nuclear forces. 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, including joint efforts to contain Iran's nuclear program.

It is time for senators on both sides of the aisle to come together to strengthen U.S. and global security by voting in favor of New START ratification. - TOM Z. COLLINA and DARYL G. KIMBALL


For more information on New START, see:

ACA's comprehensive, all-in-one guide to the treaty, The Case for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

America to Senate: Ratify New START Now

New START By the Numbers