"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
New START to Be Signed April 8

Tom Z. Collina

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,” Clinton said. Gates said that “the journey we have taken from being one misstep away from mutual assured destruction to the substantial arms reductions of this new agreement is testimony to just how much the world has changed.” The Joint Chiefs “stand solidly behind this new treaty,” Mullen said.

Clinton predicted that New START would win Senate ratification in due course. “I’m not going to set any timetables, but we’re confident that we’ll be able to make the case for ratification,” she said.

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 Geneva had been working on the 100- to 150-page protocol that will spell out technical terms and verification procedures. There will be a technical annex as well. All three parts are legally binding and will be submitted together to the Senate for its advice and consent. Tauscher said the treaty and the protocol, which contain the basic rights and obligations agreed by both sides, have been finished, but the annex is still being negotiated.

Clinton said March 26 that one of the reasons the talks were delayed is that the two sides wanted to complete both the treaty and protocol before declaring success. “We made a decision that we wanted not just the treaty agreed to; we wanted the protocols agreed to,” she said.

Arsenal Reductions

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 United States may do to create a “prompt global strike” capability, and would be counted against these limits. Trident submarines converted to carry conventional cruise missiles would not be counted against this limit, nor would bombers fully converted to conventional missions, administration sources familiar with the details of the new treaty told Arms Control Today.

Compared to currently deployed U.S. nuclear forces, the reductions required by New START are somewhat less than 30 percent. The United States announced last year it deployed 2,126 strategic warheads under SORT; New START would reduce that number by about 27 percent. The United States currently has about 900 strategic launchers, according to administration sources; the new treaty would reduce that number only about 10 percent. According to independent nongovernmental estimates, Russia has approximately 2,600-2,700 deployed strategic warheads. The new treaty would mandate reductions by about 40 percent below this level. Russia is currently estimated to have fewer than the New START ceiling of 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. Russia had originally proposed a ceiling of 500 strategic delivery vehicles.

Warhead Verification

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

“Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty,” Gates said at the White House briefing. Russia made a last-minute effort to limit U.S. defenses after the issue gained prominence in February when Romania announced that it would host one of the proposed U.S. missile interceptor launch sites in Europe. (See ACT, March 2010.) During a Feb. 24 phone call between the U.S. and Russian presidents, described as a low point in the talks, “Mr. Medvedev insisted on issuing a joint statement that would bind missile defense,” according to U.S. officials cited in the March 26 New York Times account. Obama reportedly refused, but suggested separate unilateral statements that would detail each side’s position without being legally binding.

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 U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and subsequent strategic missile interceptor deployments could serve as the basis for Russian withdrawal. (See ACT, March 2010.) In a July 22, 2001, joint statement following a meeting in Genoa, Italy, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin had also agreed that “offensive and defensive systems” were “inter-related matters.”

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.”