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300 Days, No START Inspections. How Many More?
 It's time to approve New START
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Volume 1, Number 25, September 30, 2010

Friday, Oct. 1, will be the 300th day since the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) expired, ending direct, on-site inspections of thousands of nuclear weapons in Russia for the first time since the Cold War.

As former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and former Utah Republican Sen. Jake Garn wrote in The Washington Times Sept. 22: "Each side, as a result, has lost an important element of transparency into the other's strategic forces. Transparency enhances predictability; predictability enhances stability. Without transparency, distrust and suspicion grow."

The Senate is now in recess and will not vote on New START until after the Nov. 2 elections.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Sept. 30 they were both looking forward to a full Senate vote on New START during the "lame duck" session.

It is past time to get U.S. and Russian inspectors back to work, and the U.S. Senate holds the key:  it should overcome the partisan atmosphere that surrounds so many other issues and approve New START before the end of the year.  It can be done: on October 1, 1992, on the eve of a presidential election, the Senate voted to approve START I.

Renewing Inspections

The United States took a major step toward ratification on Sept. 16, when, with bipartisan support, the Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-4 to send New START to the full Senate.  Republican Senators Richard Lugar (Ind.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), and Johnny Isakson (Ga.) joined 11 Democrats to pass the treaty out of committee.

After voting for New START, Sen. Corker said Sept. 20  that one of his motivations was to ensure the resumption of on-site inspections.  "When START I expired we lost our ability to know what is happening with Russia's nuclear arsenal and if New START is ratified we will once again have those assurances," Corker said.

On Sept. 28, a bipartisan group of forty-three retired military officers and national security experts sent a joint letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) calling for a vote on New START in 2010.  They wrote that "currently, we have no verification regime to account for Russia's strategic nuclear weapons...and we are concerned that further inaction will bring unacceptable lapses in U.S. intelligence about Russia's strategic arsenal.  Without New START, we believe that the United States is less secure."

Signed by the U.S. and Russian presidents in April, New START would reestablish intrusive, on-site inspections inside Russia and the United States as part of a modern and effective verification system to ensure compliance. It would also mandate new, lower limits on the number of deployed strategic warheads and strategic delivery vehicles.  But New START cannot enter into force without the approval of the Senate and Russian Duma.

For these and other reasons, a long list of current U.S. military leaders and former senior national security officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations have endorsed prompt ratification of New START.

Resolution of Ratification Answers Critics' Concerns

As the case to promptly ratify New START grows stronger, critics' arguments for delay get weaker.  The Foreign Relations Committee's 10-page resolution of ratification (PDF) on New START addresses all of the major concerns that have been raised by treaty critics, whose reasons to oppose or delay ratification simply no longer hold water, if they ever did.

Missile Defense:  The resolution of ratification clearly states the Senate'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 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers for use by missile defense 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.

Corker said Sept. 20 that "while the New START treaty does not limit our ability to develop or field a robust missile defense system to defend the U.S., it was important to reaffirm this fact in the resolution of ratification by stating our understanding that any efforts to limit U.S. missile defense plans would be subject to the advice and consent of the Senate."

Maintaining U.S. Nuclear Forces: The resolution 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 provided to the Congress pursuant to section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010."  That plan calls for the United States to spend $80 billion on maintaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons complex and over $100 billion on strategic delivery systems over the next decade.

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."

Scowcroft and Garn wrote in The Washington Times that New START "permits modernization by both sides. Each side is equally advantaged or disadvantaged. But we will only be disadvantaged by what we choose not to do with respect to modernization. Concerns about modernization, therefore, are not an argument against the treaty. They are an argument for building a political consensus between the administration and Congress on what needs to be funded now and what can be deferred."  They concluded that "rejecting the treaty may well break this consensus and result in no modernization of our forces."

Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) Sept. 30 that increases the FY2011 budget for weapons activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration by $624 million.  Sen. Kerry said Sept. 30 that this funding "sends a strong signal about this administration's commitment to keeping our nuclear arsenal at a viable and suitable level" under New START.  The CR runs out on Dec. 3.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Some critics have argued that New START should have covered tactical (short-range) as well as strategic (long-range) nuclear weapons.  In response, Scowcroft and Garn wrote: "No single treaty provides a 'silver bullet' to mitigate all of the threats we face, and New START is no exception. To condemn it because it fails to accomplish tasks it was not meant to address is to misunderstand the history of arms control and of international relations. And, if we fail to have New START enter into force, we will have significantly reduced our chances of obtaining in the future a treaty that regulates short-range systems."

As to future negotiations, the Senate 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 he intends to work with Moscow to pursue further nuclear reductions in all types of nuclear warheads--including tacticals--after New START is ratified.

Verification: The resolution conditions ratification of New START on presidential certification, prior to the treaty's entry into force, of the U.S. ability to monitor Russian compliance and on immediate consultations with the Senate should there be questions about Russian compliance with the treaty.

Skeptics have noted that START I called for 28 on-site inspections a year, while the new treaty allows just 18.  "But," wrote Scowcroft and Garn, "the critics don't point out that under the original START treaty, there were 70 inspectable locations across the width and breadth of the Soviet Union, whereas today there are just 35 inspectable locations in Russia."  In short, New START actually allows for the United States to inspect a higher percentage of Russian storage locations than START I.

In Scowcroft and Garn's words, "the Departments of State and Defense and the intelligence community were correct in assessing that the 18 inspections a year, in combination with our intelligence assets, will permit the United States to have confidence that Russia is abiding by the treaty--or will provide the evidence we need that it is not."

Foreign Relations Committee member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said Sept. 16 that the intelligence community (IC) had revealed "very serious information" that in his view should have held up committee approval of New START.  Sen. Kerry replied that the new information "in no way alters [the IC's] judgment, already submitted to this committee, with respect to the [New] START treaty and the impact of the START treaty.  It has no impact, in their judgment."

Global Strike and Rail-Mobile Missile Issues: The Senate resolution states nothing in New START prohibits the research, development, testing, evaluation or deployment of Conventional Prompt Global Strike systems, in which conventional warheads could be placed on ICBMs or other strategic delivery systems.  It also reaffirms administration testimony that if Russia should develop any rail-mobile ICBM system, it would count under the provisions of New START. This answers critics who have said that if Moscow were to build rail-mobile ICBMs, such as the now-retired Russian SS-24, those missiles might not count under treaty limits because they are not specifically mentioned in the text.

The resolution also requires prompt presidential consultation with the Foreign Relations committee regarding the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) to ensure that substantive changes to the treaty are only made with the Senate's approval. Treaty critics have claimed that the BCC could make substantive changes to the treaty, for example on missile defense, without Senate consent.

With its Sept. 16 resolution of ratification, the Foreign Relations Committee has now answered to its satisfaction the primary arguments to delay treaty ratification.  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 when they return to Washington in November. - TOM Z. COLLINA

Posted: September 30, 2010