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Home Articles Features Do We Dare Call This Disarmament? Thoughts on New START

Do We Dare Call This Disarmament? Thoughts on New START

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Thoughts on New START:

Do We Dare Call This Disarmament?

John Hallam

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START as it has been known all these years,  has been through three iterations - START-I, II, and III. Only START-I ever actually got going, entering into force around the time that the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1990. START-II was repudiated by Russia as soon as the US repudiated the ABM treaty, and START-III evaporated at the same time.

The START - series of treaties, unlike their successor, SORT (Otherwise known as the Moscow Treaty, negotiated by George Bush and Putin), had large, complex, and comprehensive verification frameworks. Unlike the SORT treaty, which was a mere 2-3 pages depending on print size, the START series had annexes and protocols that brought them to hundreds of pages.

And it was the verification provisions that above all provided a reliable framework within which further negotiations on reductions of nuclear weapons could take place.

START-1 had a 'use-by' date of December 2009. Negotiations on its successor began as soon as the Obama administration came into office. However, its disappearance in Dec 2009 meant that there was no legal framework for verification activities, and as soon as that took place, US verification activities at the Russian missile factory in Votkinsk, ceased. Initially, verification of missile manufacture was to have been mutual,  but the US  missile force is newer than the Russian one, which dates from Soviet times, and Russia is replacing aging Soviet - era missiles (such as the still very lethal SS-19)  with state of the art Topol-M missiles. The lopsided verification activities were viewed by some in Russia's military as overly intrusive.

As the 'New START' Treaty enters into force (if indeed it ever does so), it will replace also SORT.

SORT provided that the US and Russia take levels of 'operational' nuclear weapons down to 2,200-1700 warheads. However:

--SORT did not define what was meant by an 'operational' warhead. At best this means that indefinitely large numbers of warheads that are not defined as 'operational' would simply never be counted by SORT.

--SORT said nothing about intermediate warhead numbers on the way to its date of entry into force of December 31 2012. This means that in effect, indefinite numbers of warheads could simply de declared 'non-operational' on Dec31 2012 and this would satisfy the treaty while making little or not real difference to actual warhead numbers.

--SORT entered into force on Dec 31 2012 and expired on the same day (in fact in the same second). The warheads in question would merely need to be declared non-operational for one second at midnight Dec 31 2012.

--Nothing is said about warheads that are non - operational nor about non - strategic (Tactical) wahreads of which Russia has over a thousand and the US a number of hundreds.

Does New START do any better?

--New Start mandates that there will be 1550 'operational' warheads (but I have not been able to see any specific date for this number).

--I have not seen any discussion of whether or not New START actually defines 'operational'. This may seem like a quibble, but such definitions are utterly vital. We don't yet have the text of the treaty (which reportedly is some 20 or so pages with protocols and appendixes coming to over a hundred pages).

--However, we do already know something very disturbing. The 'counting rules' DEFINE a single US or Russian bomber as being ONE ONLY warhead.

This would appear to be crazy, yet it is there, in the white - house fact sheet.

The FAS blog on strategic security has a photo of a US B-52 bomber, with a total of 24 warheads including 8 air-launched cruise missiles, and underneath a caption that says 'this is one warhead'(!!). Russian bombers can carry appx 16 warheads.

And the FAS blog notes that, by 'attributing' any number of warheads to bombers, either side can 'hide' an indefinitely large number of warheads.

Hans Kristensen notes in his authoritative blog that:

"...while the treaty reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn't actually reduce the number of warheads.  Indeed, the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty."

"....And because there are no sub-limits for how warheads can be distributed on each of the three legs in the Triad, the "saved warheads" from the "fake" bomber count can be used to deploy more warheads on fast ballistic missiles than otherwise."

"The paradox is that with the "fake" bomber counting rule the United States and Russia could, if they chose to do so, deploy more strategic
warheads under the New START Treaty by 2017 than would have been allowed by the Moscow Treaty by 2012."

As I said we don't have the text yet and I will read it with interest.(and a fine toothcomb)

There are seemingly other problems also.

A major one is missile defence.

Russia initially said it would not sign the treaty unless it restrained US missile defence plans.

Various forces in the US Congress and the armed forces insisted that THIER pound of flesh for the treaty going ahead at all would be that Missile Defence (and renewed warhead manufacture) should proceed.

Russia seemed to feel that President Obama was so keen on the treaty that he would agree to their insistence that Missile Defence limitations  be part of it.

It seems to have culminated in an Obama/Medvedev telephone call in which President Obama told Medvedev that if Russia insisted on restraints to missile defence, the treaty would not happen, something Russia would not especially want because lower warhead numbers saves it money that it does not have.

A compromise was agreed in which Missile Defence would be mentioned in the treaty preamble but not in any of the 'operational' parts of the treaty.

Ellen Tauscher in a recent interview said multiple times that the new - START       'does not constrain Missile Defence'.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar Noted that:
"Missile defense will not be part of the treaty, but in the preamble both parties will state their positions and there will be a
mention of offense and defense and the importance of thoseŠthey are in essence editorial opinions."

This is repeated in the 'nukes of Hazard' website blog, 'for the benefit of the folks over at the Heritage Foundation', who have been warning that if it does,  the Senate must not ratify it.

But the body language (and statements) of Russia are to the effect that if the US goes ahead with missile defence THEIR Duma either will not ratify it, or they will walk away from it.

So....the US Congress may not ratify it if Missile Defence is constrained.

....And the Russian Duma may not ratify it (or may walk away from it) if missile defence is NOT constrained.

A joint US-Congress / Russian Duma New START ratification task force might seem to be a good idea!

And under the bomber provisions, (reportedly inserted because Russia did not want verification people crawling over their bombers), just about any number of warheads might be attributed to US and Russian bombers and we would be none the wiser because according to the treaty counting rules, they are all 'one warhead'.

This has other pernicious effects also. Not so long ago a major study by the airforce itself no less, actually reccomended getting RID of the entire US bomber force. Given the stature of those recommending it, and given the supposed changes in the wind, it really seemed at the time (something like a month ago!), that this could happen.

Others have suggested as a way of meeting concerns about operating status, eliminating the land-based ICBM side of things, and relying entirely on submarines, as France and the UK do.

Neither of these wholly desirable things looks like taking place.

The drop in numbers, even forgetting the bomber scam, is modest. (From 2200-1700 warheads in SORT to 1550 warheads) Factoring in the bomber scam it is maybe a step, or a few steps, backwards.

As far as is known in spite of strenuous representations by myself and by some very very distinguished US physicists and NGOs, there is no mention of lowering operational readiness. This means that the apocalypse (in spite of obfuscations by the likes of former Bush admin Ambassador Chris Ford at the Hudson Institute and Peter Huessy of Geostrategic Analysis) - remains firmly on the global agenda. There is also no mention of JDEC (the Joint Data Exchange Centre) where US and Russian officiers watch the same radar screens that include data from both systems, in spite of muliply repeated committments by both governments to operationalise it, dating back to 1998.

So SHOULD  the US Congress ratify New START at all?

According to one commentator:
"Despite this treaty having extensive bi-partisan support among senior foreign policy officials - such as George Schultz, Henry Kissinger,
Richard Lugar (R-IN), Colin Powell -ratification is far from assured.

There are real questions over whether the Senate GOP will seek to obstruct the ratification of the treaty. Treaties require a two-thirds
majority, therefore eight or nine Republican votes are needed to ratify this treaty. If the Senate GOP wants to kill it they can.

Therefore if ratification becomes a fight - it will not be a fight between Republicans and Obama, it will be a fight within the Republican caucus - between moderates and the far right."

Certainly it should NOT ratify it by attatching as a concition to its ratification that the US proceed full steam ahead with missile defence and with the multi-billlion dollar refurbishment of its warhead manufacturing complex. (and if it does so Russia may well walk away from New START anyway).

Yet the only thing worse than Congress ratifying it would seem to be Congress (and the Duma) NOT ratifying it, which may well be what happens.

This would
--leave the Obama nuclear disarmament project in ruins.

--be a triumph for the pronuclear weapons forces in the US

--show that the US STILL sees its primary strategic rival as being Russia (thereby reinforcing the forces in Russia that see the US in the same way).

--potentially lead to a new arms race.

--potentially lead to 'nuclear anarchy'

--be a nonproliferation disaster

--leave the apocalypse still more firmly on the global agenda.

Many commentators have characterised the New START as 'modest', and have expressed the hope that further progess, especially on operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems, progress that would literally take the apocalypse off the agenda   by giving adequate decision-making time to Presidents and senior military during a supposed attack - might be made in subsequent agreements and in the upcoming (Mid - April) nuclear posture review.

I am bluntly not optimistic that the upcoming NPR, (which I have also tried mightily to influence), will at all give us any comfort on operational readiness, or on no-first use of nuclear weapons (with which it is anyway closely linked).

What has been shown mightily is the power of the nay-sayers on both sides. Former Bush admin ambassador Chris Ford of Hudson Inst. in his own blog seems to see not much wrong with the New START, though he still wouldn't seem to mind much if Congress ditched it.  That should be a worry!

The Huffington Post got it right I think,  when it said in a recent article 'Do we dare to call this Disarmament?' 
Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 22:00