Analysis of Republican Amendments to New START: All Reflect Lack of Seriousness; Most Are Treaty Killers and Should All Be Rejected

by Daryl G. Kimball

Against the advice of the U.S. military and intelligence community who unanimously support prompt ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, several Republican Senators have filed several misguided, treaty-killer amendments to the treaty itself, as well as some ill-conceived amendments to the resolution of advice and consent for ratification that should all be rejected.

The commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, the command that oversees the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise, says the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia should be ratified immediately. “I think the START Treaty ought to be ratified and it ought to be ratified right now – this week,” said Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, during a visit to Minot Air Force Base this week.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claims he cannot support the treaty but wants more time to debate it. It is hard to understand why more time is needed given the frivolous set of amendments offered by Republican opponents of the treaty.

Sens. Lugar (R.-Ind.) and Kerry (D-Mass) have warned that amendments to the treaty itself-whether to the nonbinding preamble or the binding portions-are unnecessary and would effectively require the renegotiation of the treaty, effectively killing the prospects for verifiably limiting Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

These amendments are unnecessary, ignore the sworn testimony of senior civilian and military officials, and are transparent attempts to scuttle the treaty. The following is a brief summary and analysis of each:

Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Senators Risch, Cornyn, Inhofe, and LeMieux have submitted an amendment to that was debated and defeated today 60-32 that would have inserted new language in the preamble of the treaty “Acknowledging there is an interrelationship between non-strategic and strategic offensive arms, that as the number of strategic offensive arms is reduced this relationship becomes more pronounced and requires an even greater need for transparency and accountability, and that the disparity between the Parties’ arsenals could undermine predictability and stability…”

Another amendment (SA 4847) filed by Sens. LeMieux and Chambliss would amend the treaty by including binding language stating that the “The Parties shall enter into negotiations within one year of ratification of this Treaty to address the disparity between the non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Parties, in accordance with the September 1991 United States commitments under the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives and Russian Federation commitments made by President Gorbachev in October 1991 and reaffirmed by President Yeltsin in January 1992. The negotiations shall not include discussion of defensive missile systems.”

Senators who complain that New START does not reduce Russia’s tactical nuclear warhead levels, which have never been covered by a treaty, fail to understand that New START sets the stage for limits on tactical nuclear weapons. By delaying or killing New START–or pursuing unnecessary amendments–we will never convince the Russians to reduce their old tactical nuclear weapons.

By design, New START addresses strategic nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, some Republican Senators have charged that the Obama administration “completely failed” to use New START to verifiably reduce tactical nuclear weapons and note that during the debate on the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), then-Senator Joe Biden said the U.S. and Russia should address tactical nuclear weapons. However, they fail to acknowledge that tactical nuclear arms reductions were not a priority for the George W. Bush administration. For the years after SORT, it failed to follow up with the negotiation of a strategic arms reduction treaty, let alone a tactical arms reduction treaty.

New START critics also fail to acknowledge that it would have been exceedingly difficult to engage Russia in a treaty covering tactical nuclear weapons for the first time in history and also conclude a follow-on to the original START agreement, which was due to expire less than a year after President Obama was sworn-in in January 2009.

It does not make sense to risk verifiable reductions in Russia’s long-range nuclear weapons by insisting on changes in the treaty asserting there is a relationship between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. It is naive to think that the Senate can insert language into New START binding Russia to talks on tactical nuclear weapons for the first time in history and not expect that Russia will make its own demands regarding issues to be discussed with the United States.

The SFRC resolution of advice and consent already 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 that he intends to work with Moscow to pursue further nuclear reductions in all types of nuclear warheads–including tactical weapons–after New START is ratified.

Furthermore, the number of Russian short-range or tactical nuclear bombs has never been a significant factor in the strategic balance of nuclear forces between the nuclear superpowers and will not be for the duration of New START, which allows the United States to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads; we will retain a roughly equal number in active reserve.

As Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates said in a joint answer for the SFRC record:

“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 non-deployed) as the Obama administration has proposed.

On-Site Inspections: Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) has put forward an amendment (SA 4833) to the treaty intended to increase the number of annual on-site inspections from 10 Type One inspections to 30 inspections; and to increase the number of Type Two inspections from 8 to 24 inspections.

Concerns that New START allows fewer annual inspections than did the original START are based on a superficial understanding and comparison of the two treaties. New START allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year, including direct monitoring of Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before.

However, for all practical purposes, the number of inspections in New START is the same as START. New START’s “Type One” inspections, which occur at bases for deployed missiles and bombers, can achieve two goals (confirm data on delivery vehicles and warheads) at the same time, and thus ten of these inspections provide the same amount of information as 20 START inspections. Together with the eight “Type Two” inspections of non-deployed systems, the 18 New START inspections are essentially equivalent to the 28 inspections under START.

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.

Rail-Mobile Missiles: Sen. Ensign has submitted an amendment (SA 4840) ostensibly designed to ensure that New START limits Russian rail mobile ICBMs. The treaty already does.

The amendment appears to be driven by the mistaken view that if Moscow were to build rail-mobile ICBMs, such as the now-retired SS-24, those missiles might not count under treaty limits because they are not specifically mentioned in the text.

As to why rail-mobile ICBMs are not defined in New START, Secretary of Defense Gates answered for the record that ”Rail-mobile ICBMs are not specifically mentioned in the New START Treaty because neither Party currently deploys ICBMs in that mode.”

Moreover, the Oct. 1 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report points out that the term ”ICBM launcher” is defined in paragraph 28 of Part One of the Protocol as ”a device intended or used to contain, prepare for launch, and launch an ICBM.” This would include any future rail-mobile systems. On this basis, the Committee found that “a new rail-mobile system would clearly be captured under the Article II limits despite the exclusion of rail-mobile launchers from the definition of mobile launchers of ICBMs,” and that “The committee does not believe that there is any disagreement between the United States and the Russian Federation on any of these points.”

Raising the Ceilings of the Treaty: Sen. Thune has submitted two amendments (SA 4841 and SA 4842) that would change a fundamental element of the treaty. One amendment would increase the number of nuclear-armed delivery systems from 700 to 720; the other from 700 to 800. That’s a different treaty. This amendment is unnecessary, runs agains the advice of the uniformed and civilian military leadership, would lead Russia to walk away from the treaty, and should be rejected.

Limits on Converting ICBM Silos for Strategic Interceptors: Sens. Vitter, Risch, Inhofe, and Barrasso have submitted an amendment (SA 4846) that would delete section 3 of Article V of the treaty. That section of Article V prohibits both sides from converting launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs into launchers for missile defense interceptors, and vice versa.

However, the United States has no plans for any such conversions. “It’s a limit in theory, but not in reality,” wrote then-U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones on April 20. “We have no plans to convert any additional ICBM silos. In fact, it would be less expensive to build a new silo rather than convert an old one. In other words, if we were to ever need more missile defense silos in California, we would simply dig new holes, which is not proscribed by the treaty.”

Furthermore, using ICBM silos for strategic interceptors would be dangerous in that it could lead Russia to believe that a strategic interceptor launch is actually an offensive, nuclear-armed ICBM launch, leading to the potential for an accidental nuclear exchange.

No Further Reductions Declaration: Senator Sessions is proposing an amendment (SA 4851) to the resolution of ratification that would have the Senate declare “that it will not support further nuclear reductions that put the United States on a path to zero nuclear weapons, would require the elimination of a leg of the United States nuclear triad, or require significant changes to the nuclear posture or doctrine of the United States in a manner that would undermine the credibility of the nuclear deterrent, the assurance of extended deterrence, or the dissuasive effect of the posture or doctrine on would-be nuclear states or potential nuclear competitors.”

This amendment is out of touch with reality. The U.S. nuclear deterrent is so “credible” and massive that it could be called “overkill.” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Nov. 11 that New START would leave the United States with nuclear forces that are “more than enough for us to handle our military responsibilities.” Besides Russia, the United States’ only potential nuclear adversary is China, which has fewer than 50 nuclear-armed long-range missiles. There are no other nuclear “peer” competitors outside of Russia that should lead the United States to maintain more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads three decades after the end of the Cold War.

Further Commitments on Development of Nuclear-Capable Heavy Bomber: Sen. Thune has submitted an amendment (SA 4852) to the resolution of ratification that would require that “prior to entry into force of the New START Treaty, the President shall certify to the Senate that the President has made a commitment to develop a replacement heavy bomber that is both nuclear and conventionally capable.”

The Department of Defense is on track to replace existing heavy bombers, but has not yet made a decision on what kind. Delaying New START entry into force until Pentagon bureaucrats work out the details is unnecessary and unwise.

Rejecting the Preambular Language on the “Interrelationship Between Strategic Offensive and Defensive Arms:” Moving into the realm of the absurd, Sen. Cornyn has submitted an amendment (SA 4853) that would require the President to certify that he rejects the language in the treaty’s nonbinding preamble “Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”

Yesterday, the Senate rejected a McCain amendment that would have eliminated this language from the treaty altogether by a vote of 59-37. The President wrote the Senate a letter reiterating his commitment to pursuing effective missile defense systems. The language on the “interrelationship” between strategic offenses and defenses does not constitute a limitation on missile defenses. As Henry Kissinger said in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25, 2010: “[I]it’s a truism. It is not an obligation.” Asking the President to repudiate this language is silly.

The bottom line is that New START–as it is currently written–is vital to U.S. security and should be approved overwhelmingly.

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