Wrapping up a year of intense negotiations and missed deadlines in which the presidents of Russia and the United States reportedly met or spoke on the telephone 14 times, President Barack Obama announced March 26 at a White House press briefing that “a pivotal new arms control agreement,” the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), was finished and would be signed April 8 in Prague. Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, Obama said the two countries had just agreed to “the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades.”
Speaking by telephone that morning, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed that the new treaty demonstrates their commitment “to reduce their nuclear arsenals consistent with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Such actions invigorate our mutual efforts to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime and convince other countries to curb proliferation,” according to a White House account of the call.
“We do not need such large arsenals to protect our nation and our allies against the two greatest dangers we face today: nuclear proliferation and terrorism,”
At a March 29 press briefing at the Department of State, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said, “Our goal is to submit the treaty in the late spring and to seek ratification by the end of the year.”
In a March 28 op-ed in The Boston Globe, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he would hold hearings “in the coming weeks” and that, “with the help of Senator Richard Lugar [of Indiana], the committee’s ranking Republican, I am sure we will achieve the necessary level of certainty to reassure our colleagues and the American people that this treaty will make our world safer.”
In a March 26 statement, Lugar said, “I also look forward to working with Chairman Kerry…so that we can work quickly to achieve ratification of the new treaty.”
Once New START is signed April 8, Senate staffers said the administration could send it to Capitol Hill by May, after completing the article-by-article analysis of the treaty, which explains the administration’s interpretation of the agreement in detail. That schedule would theoretically leave enough time to hold hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and then report a resolution of ratification out of committee before the August recess, with a vote by the full Senate in the fall. The Republican minority, however, may not be eager to open the way for a treaty vote prior to the 2010 midterm elections, which could delay the treaty’s ratification until late 2010 or even 2011, according to Senate staff members from both parties.
The main treaty text, which is said to be about 20 pages, has been essentially ready for months, sources said; negotiators in
Obama said the new treaty cuts “by about a third” the number of strategic or long-range nuclear weapons both sides can deploy. The treaty would reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs to a limit of 1,550, down 30 percent from the 2,200 limit set by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The launchers for these warheads and bombs—ground-based silos for ICBMs, submarine tubes for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers assigned to nuclear missions—would be limited to a total of 800 for deployed and nondeployed systems, such as Trident submarines in overhaul. Deployed launchers are limited to 700, which is more than a 50 percent reduction from the limit of 1,600 launchers set under the 1991 START, which expired last December. The reductions must be completed within seven years after the treaty enters into force; the treaty’s duration is 10 years and can be extended for an additional five years.
Under the new treaty, conventional warheads may be loaded on strategic missiles, as the
Compared to currently deployed
The treaty’s verification regime includes relevant parts of START as well as new provisions to cover items that were not previously limited, the White House said. For example, START did not directly limit warheads, but instead assigned a certain number of warheads to each launcher; a count of the launchers gave an upper limit on the number of warheads that could be deployed but not necessarily an actual count. New START includes direct limits on deployed warheads and bombs and allows for on-site inspections to give both sides confidence that the limits are being upheld.
Mullen said at the March 26 briefing that New START “features a much more effective, transparent verification method that demands quicker data exchanges and notifications.”
“For the first time, we will count the number of actual warheads on Russian missiles,” Kerry wrote in the Globe. Because neither side currently deploys nuclear bombs or cruise missiles on its heavy bombers but instead keeps them in storage, on-site inspections of bombers would find no weapons to inspect. Therefore, New START will count each heavy bomber as one warhead, even though hundreds of bomber-assigned warheads and bombs may be in storage. The treaty does not limit warheads or bombs once they have been removed from deployed launchers, sources said.
One of the more difficult issues the negotiations had to resolve was how much sharing of missile flight test data, or telemetry, would be required. “Mr. Obama’s team assumed that the Kremlin would agree to an updated version of the START treaty’s verification program,” according to a March 26 account of the negotiations in The New York Times. START banned the encryption of telemetry with limited exceptions, and the Russian side opposed this openness, saying the ban had been needed only because START limited the development of new types of missiles, which New START does not do. A compromise formula was incorporated into New START allowing for the exchange of telemetry information on up to five missile tests per side per year, Gates said March 26.
“Telemetry is not nearly as important for this treaty as it has been in the past,” said Gates. “In fact, we don’t need telemetry to monitor compliance with this treaty,” he said.
“I think that when the testimony of the intelligence community comes to the Hill, that the DNI [director of national intelligence] and the experts will say that they are comfortable that the provisions of the treaty for verification are adequate for them to monitor Russian compliance, and vice versa,” Gates said.
“Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty,” Gates said at the White House briefing.
Citing Russian concerns about U.S. missile defense plans and Russian statements urging that New START establish a “linkage of offensive weapons and missile defense,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in a March 15 letter to Obama that “it is highly unlikely that the Senate would ratify a treaty that includes such a linkage,” including “unilateral declarations that the Russian Federation could use as leverage against you or your successors when U.S. missile defense decisions are made.”
Past U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaties, including START, contain references to the relationship between anti-missile deployments and the offensive strategic balance. The treaties also include unilateral Russian statements noting that
Referring to a 10 percent, $600 million increase in the fiscal year 2011 budget request to Congress for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons activities, the McConnell-Kyl letter praised the administration for “making necessary investments in the U.S. nuclear deterrent,” noting that “as President, the safety, security and reliability of these weapons is your responsibility.” Even so, they wrote that the funding increase is “not sufficient” and that administration efforts to “fully” fund nuclear modernization “could have a significant impact on the Senate as it considers the START follow-on treaty.”
Responding to the Senate Republicans’ concerns about missile defense and the nuclear weapons infrastructure, Gates said at the March 26 briefing that “we have addressed both of those.”