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Old Think on New START Implementation
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Volume 2, Issue 5, May 26, 2011

On December 22, 2010, a bipartisan majority of Senators endorsed modest, verifiable reductions in the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. After weeks of debate and careful consideration, thirteen Republicans joined fifty-eight Democrats to approve the resolution of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The New START vote was a step forward for U.S. security. Not only did the vote open the way for long-overdue stockpile reductions and renewed inspections and data exchanges that are critical for strategic stability, but the ratification package endorsed the Barack Obama administration's long-term plan for maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal, called for efforts to reduce the number of tactical nuclear weapons, and  reiterated that it is U.S. policy to seek cooperation with Russia on missile defense.

But now, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio)  and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), are trying to rewrite the New START  understandings adopted by a 71-26 Senate majority less than six months ago.

Kyl and Turner say they simply want  to lock-in long-term commitments for costly upgrades to the nuclear weapons complex and replacement of the strategic nuclear delivery systems and create "speed bumps" for further nuclear reductions.

In reality, Kyl's and Turner's "New START Implementation" legislation is a poison pill for U.S. nuclear security. If enacted, their provisions could effectively block implementation of New START, halt the retirement of excess nuclear weapons, impede future U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense, undercut the authority of the President and senior military leaders to set U.S. nuclear policy requirements and pursue deeper reductions in Russian and U.S. strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals.

Each of the main provisions is counterproductive and counterintuitive. It is not surprising that some of the legislative proposals--now being considered as part of fiscal year 2012 Defense Authorization Act--have drawn a veto threat from the White House.

Holding New START Hostage
Section 1055 of the House Defense Authorization Act would delay the reductions in deployed forces under New START unless the administration's $200 billion, 10-year plan to modernize the nuclear weapons complex and delivery systems is being carried out. Holding New START and U.S. security hostage to full funding for a costly, long-term plan that future Presidents and Congresses may choose to adjust is unnecessary and unwise.

The New START resolution of ratification already addresses the issue of sustaining the existing nuclear  arsenal by stating that: "[T]he United States is committed to providing the resources ... at the levels set forth in the President's 10-year plan provided to the Congress." The resolution requires the President to report on how any future funding shortfall would be addressed and whether it impacts U.S. security.

The Kyl-Turner approach is based on the erroneous premise that if Congress appropriates even a dollar less than the President requests for NNSA weapons activities, the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would somehow be in doubt and the modest reductions in deployed U.S. (and Russian) nuclear forces mandated by New START should be halted.

In reality, the technical strategy for maintaining the effectiveness and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile has been in place for more than a decade. Eighteen years after the last U.S. nuclear test explosion, it is clear that the arsenal can be maintained without nuclear test explosions and without pursuing new warhead designs. Over the past decade, the NNSA's life extension programs have successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads and can continue to do so indefinitely.

Not only do the nuclear weapons laboratory directors have a deeper understanding of the arsenal than ever before, they have more resources than ever before. The Obama administration's $88 billion, 10-year plan to maintain the nuclear arsenal and modernize the nuclear weapons complex represents a 20% increase above funding levels proposed during the George W. Bush administration-era.

While government program managers and contractors will always gripe about funding needs, minor cuts and cost savings in NNSA weapons spending over time won't change the fact that the NNSA weapons activities budget, at $7 billion this year, provides more than enough to get the job done. What is important is that the nuclear weapons labs remain focused on the highest priority tasks and that they pursue conservative warhead life extension strategies that minimize unnecessary and expensive alterations to already well-understood warhead types.

Worse still, the Kyl-Turner legislation would also prohibit funding to retire, dismantle, or eliminate any non-deployed strategic or non-strategic nuclear weapon until two new nuclear warhead component production facilities--the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF)--are fully operational and can produce 80 units each. These buildings are still in the design phase and are not scheduled to be operational until the mid-2020s. The rationale for facilities with such a substantial production capacity is questionable; more modestly-sized facilities would reduce costs.

The bill would also bar reductions below the New START ceilings of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 nuclear-armed delivery systems without Congressional approval. The combined effect of these provisions would be to freeze the size of the current U.S. nuclear force (now at about 5,000 total warheads) and increase weapons maintenance and security costs for the next 10-15 years. It could also induce Russia to build up its force and would complicate the next round of negotiations, which should cover all types of warheads: deployed and non-deployed; strategic and tactical.

Russia will be hard pressed to deploy 1,550 strategic warheads in future years unless it undertakes an expensive ballistic missile modernization effort. Rather than induce Russia to build up, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to pursue further parallel, reciprocal reductions in their deployed strategic nuclear forces and to cut the size of their non-deployed reserve stockpiles.

Complicating Efforts to Reduce Russia's Tactical Nukes
Section 1230 of the House bill would limit the President's ability to determine military requirements in Europe and its flexibility in pursuing reductions in tactical nuclear weapons as called for in the Senate's resolution of ratification of New START. The proposed legislation asserts the U.S. should pursue negotiations  to reduce Russia's tactical nuclear arsenal but asserts that it should continue to be U.S. policy to base tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to contribute "to the cohesion of NATO" and provide "reassurance to allies who feel exposed to regional threats."

Today, the 200 or so U.S. tactical bombs stored in five NATO members  in Europe have no military role in the defense of the alliance. As Vice-Chairman of the JCS Gen. Cartwright said at an April 8, 2010 briefing in Washington, U.S. tactical nuclear bombs in Europe do not serve a military function not already addressed by other U.S. military assets. Keeping them in Europe complicates the task of accounting for  and eliminating Russian larger stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.

The restrictions proposed by Sen. Kyl and Rep. Turner, if in place during earlier times, would have prevented important unilateral reductions in U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal in 1991, which led the Soviet Union to take similar steps, dramatically increasing U.S. and European security.  Such restrictions might have prevented the George W. Bush administration from unilaterally accelerating the reductions in the U.S. nuclear force ahead of the 2012 deadline for the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

Undermining U.S.-Russian Missile Defense Cooperation
Other sections of the House bill would prohibit the reciprocal exchange of missile defense-related data with Russia, even when the exchange of such data may improve the ability of the United States and NATO missile detection  capabilities. Such restrictions run counter the longstanding policy of Democratic and Republican administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan to cooperate with Russia on missile defense. The New START resolution of ratification states that the Senate "stands ready to cooperate with the Russian Federation on strategic defensive capabilities," as long as such cooperation does not constrain U.S. missile defenses.

The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe. However, Moscow is highly unlikely to provide this information to the U.S. and NATO unless there is a two-way flow of data.

Move Forward, Not Back
Rather than unravel the bipartisan consensus on nuclear security that was established through the New START ratification process, the Congress needs to move forward and come together around pragmatic solutions that reduce the threats and the costs of nuclear weapons. -- DARYL G. KIMBALL