New START Opponents Scrape Bottom

By Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

In a desperate last-ditch effort to derail a likely Senate vote on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a smattering of treaty opponents led by the controversial Center for Security Policy issued a letter today to Senate leaders attacking the very idea of verifiable limits on Russian and U.S. strategic arsenals. Rather than showing opposition strength, the letter is a sign of the strength of New START ratification efforts and the opposition’s willingness to twist the facts regarding the treaty.

First, the list of former officials critical of New START ignores the long, bipartisan list of New START supporters, which includes the current U.S. military leadership, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, former Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State, Secretaries of Defense, and national security advisers, U.S. strategic commanders, and all U.S. NATO allies.

Who opposes New START? Not one former president, not one former secretary of state or defense, and only one former national security advisor (William P. Clark, Reagan administration).

Same, Tired Arguments

The Center for Security Policy letter rehashes the same discredited arguments opponents have been making for months, all of which have been previously addressed by the Obama Administration and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Here are some excerpts from the opponents’ letter and our rebuttal to each charge:

• An “informed and full debate” has been “effectively precluded.”

Claims by opponents that New START has been ‘rushed’ are simply false. The Senate has held 18 hearings and four briefings over the last eight months, and 1,000 questions for the record have been answered. Three months ago the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the treaty by a bipartisan vote of 14-4, and New START has been ready for a floor vote ever since. The committee vote might have occurred sooner except that Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) agreed to delay the vote to allow Republican Senators the additional time they requested to study the record. Now some critics of the treaty charge that because the treaty wasn’t done earlier, it is being “rushed” through. You can’t have it both ways folks.

New START has been fully vetted much in the same way previous treaties have been. In 1992, the Senate held 18 hearings and spent five days debating the original START agreement, what was a more complicated treaty negotiated during the Cold War. It passed 93-6. In 2003, the Senate spent two days debating the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which passed 95-0. Two to three days of floor debate should be sufficient for New START.

There is ample time to debate and vote on New START before Christmas. President Obama has said the Senate will stay in session as long as it takes to pass New START.

• “The Russians are going to undergo a substantial contraction in the size of its [sic] strategic nuclear arsenal, whether we do or not.”

Not necessarily. Russia’s future plans are based on its expectation that New START will enter into force and both sides will abide by its terms. If not, Moscow will likely take a different path, such as building up its strategic forces. And while the number of its strategic nuclear launchers is smaller than the number fielded by the United States, Russia could continued to deploy approximately 2,000 strategic warheads—which is several hundred more than the 1,550 that would be allowed under New START. The United States should pursue policies that mandate verifiable reductions in Russian strategic nuclear forces, not leave it to chance that Russia might reduce them.

• “New START would encourage placing more warheads on the remaining
launchers, i.e., ‘MIRVing.’”

That’s misleading. New START lets both sides deploy forces as they wish, within the limits of the treaty. The Bush administration’s SORT agreement did not limit MIRVing, either, and it provided absolutely no method for verifying Russian compliance with deployed strategic warhead limits, while New START does.

• “New START’s low ceilings on launchers and warheads can only create concerns about America’s extended deterrent.”

False. All U.S. allies in NATO, who are all covered by U.S. extended nuclear deterrent policy, strongly support prompt approval of New START. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote in the The New York Times Dec. 6 that New START would “pave the way for arms control and disarmament initiatives in other areas that are vital to Euro-Atlantic security. Most important would be transparency and reductions of short-range, tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.”

The country’s highest ranking military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, explained it this way:

“I am convinced that New START… permitting as it does 1,550 aggregate warheads and the freedom to create our own force posture within that limit … leaves us with more than enough nuclear deterrent capability for the world we live in. I am convinced that it preserves the strength resident in our nuclear triad and that it retains our flexibility to continue deploying conventional global strike capabilities.”

General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, concurs:

“So both for myself, as a previous commander at STRATCOM, and also for General Chilton, we both feel very comfortable with these numbers [in New START]…I think we have more than enough capacity and capability for any threat that we see today or might emerge in the foreseeable future.”

• “It is certainly ill-advised to make agreements reducing our nuclear deterrent that fail to take [Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons] into account.”

Establishing greater accountability and controls on tactical weapons is important, but it is naïve to expect that President Obama could have or should have tried—for the first time in history—to convince Russia to limit tactical nuclear weapons when he had less than a year to negotiate a replacement treaty to START I, which expired on Dec. 5, 2009.

It is also important to recognize that many of Russia’s tactical nuclear bombs are in disrepair, many are in deep storage, and they cannot be delivered at intercontinental distances. The United States has more than enough nuclear and conventional firepower to deter a nuclear attack from Russia or any other nuclear-armed country. (And by the way, other than Russia, no other potential U.S. nuclear adversary has more than 40 warheads on strategic ballistic missiles, and that’s China.)

Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates, in a joint answer for the Senate record, wrote 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 nondeployed) 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.

• “New START imposes de facto or de jure limitations on such important U.S. nonnuclear capabilities as prompt global strike and missile defenses.”

Wrong again. The Sept. 16 bipartisan Senate Foreign Relations Committee 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 missile 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.

As for conventional warheads that the United States may in the future decide to deploy on strategic ballistic missiles, they 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 Senate Foreign Relations Committee 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.”

• “New START is simply not adequately verifiable.”

The U.S. intelligence community and Secretary of Defense Gates say New START verification and monitoring system is more than adequate. 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.”

Furthermore, without New START there is no verification program adequate to the task. It has been 365 days since U.S. inspectors were on the ground in Russia. The U.S. intelligence community cannot confidently assess Russia’s nuclear forces without this new treaty, which provides more information about Russian strategic warhead deployments than the original 1991 START.

New START allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year, including direct monitoring of Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before. 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.

As Gen. Kevin Chilton, the commander of STRATCOM, stated June 16: “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 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.

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