Guest Post by Meri Lugo: When START Stops

-

lavrov.clinton.jpg
(Photo Credit: United States State Department)
Meri Lugo is a research intern at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last week, the prospect of negotiating a bilateral arms control agreement to replace the 1991 START treaty, was reportedly high on the list of discussion topics.
Admirably, Clinton announced that the two countries would have a START follow-on before the treaty’s expiration in December 2009. That might be pushing it–especially if the new agreement is done right. But first, some background.
START is the most detailed and extensive strategic arms control treaty agreement ever signed between the United States and Russia, limiting both countries’ strategic delivery vehicles, and by extension, the nuclear warheads attributed to such systems. Known for its complicated “counting rules,” (what “counts” as a warhead) it also limits the deployment and movement of delivery vehicles and requires extensive exchange of information.
Neither country wants to extend START in its current form. Some of the strict verification protocol, officials believe, is unnecessarily time consuming and costly. Constructed for Cold War adversaries, Lavrov recently called the treaty “obsolete.”
One reason why a START follow-on is crucial is its relationship to another arms control treaty, SORT. Also known as the Moscow Treaty, SORT limits “operationally deployed warheads,” to between 1,700 and 2,200, and allows Russia and the U.S. to interpret the definition of such warheads as they choose.
A mere two pages, SORT has no independent verification measures. Instead, it relies on the START protocol to give it teeth, meaning that in December 2009, when the START treaty expires, so do all of its accompanying verification and inspection protocols that buttress SORT.
But the chances of reaching a new arms control agreement in the next nine months are slim. Negotiating START took the better part of a decade, and President Obama has yet to even appoint a negotiator.
If negotiations remain incomplete by December 2009, a good interim solution would be to simply extend the verification and compliance measures of START. Though cumbersome, such measures are necessary to buttress SORT while the START follow-on (which would deal with the exact limits on warheads and delivery vehicles) is being finalized. President Obama expressed his support for this type of extension in his September 2008 Q & A with Arms Control Today.
The ideal follow-on to START would encompass the best of both existing treaties – cutting warheads beyond SORT numbers and limiting non-deployed warheads and delivery systems.
These comprehensive limits would fall under a robust and transparent verification system, a la START. But this will be tough. The very reason SORT can require deep cuts is its ambiguity. Calling for numbers below SORT with strict START counting rules would force the U.S. to make some tough decisions about its nuclear force structure.
How could such a strict agreement be implemented? One option for reduction (included in START) is “downloading,” or removing a number of warheads from ballistic missiles. To prevent the U.S. from simply “uploading” the warheads once again, START rules require a “replacement platform” for the downloaded missile if more than two warheads are removed.
This provision ensures that reductions are permanent. The modification, however, is expensive. The cost of replacing the front ends of hundreds of missiles to meet a new treaty’s limit would be astronomical. Another option is to eliminate some of the delivery vehicles themselves, perhaps phasing out one third of the “nuclear triad” (bombers, ICBMs and SLBMs).
Another hurdle to quick negotiations is the thorny issue of missile defense. Though there seems to be some genuine progress in diffusing the standoff over the proposed missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, Lavrov has made plain that Russia views missile defense as inextricably linked to a START follow-on.
Negotiating an entirely new treaty in the next nine months is a tall order, and a lot is riding on this new agreement. Many arms control advocates, as well as international organizations and countries around the world, are hopeful that President Obama will set a new direction in arms control and nonproliferation policy.
Negotiating a comprehensive and ambitious arms control reduction treaty would indicate to the rest of the world that the U.S. and Russia are honoring their NPT responsibilities under Article VI to work toward eventual disarmament “in good faith.” It could also foment increased international goodwill and cooperation in non-proliferation policy, especially regarding Iran.
— Meri Lugo

Comments

16 comments on “Guest Post by Meri Lugo: When START Stops

  1. anon says:

    ericwwk:
    You asked: “I gather the issue concerns the fact the PBV’s have the capability of interchangeability to convert from conventional to nuclear warhead rather seamlessly?”
    No, the issue concerns the fact that, if we don’t change the platform, the PBV would have empty spaces that could be reloaded with nuclear warheads on short notice. This has been the issue since START was negotiated in the late 1980s. Russia has mentioned that it is concerned about our ability to deploy uncounted conventional warheads and replace them with nuclear ones, but that’s a recent issue. The START issue has always been about reloading empty spaces.
    The Russians are (somewhat) correct about this being the right way to count. Its actually not that easy to restore the warheads, and they could probably “see” us doing it, so it would not be a total surprise. The problem is, if we count this way with really low numbers, then we have to start cutting up delivery vehicles. This means cutting back from 14 Tridents, and probably cutting back from 2 bases to one base, which means limiting deployments to one ocean, which means changing our operational patterns, and, to a certain extent, maybe our alliance commitments. We don’t size and structure our nuclear forces based simply on warhead arithmetic. Its not that we can’t change all these things, its just that they would require changes in policy. And decisions about whether or not we should change our policies and our deployment patterns and our operations should come before we pick a warhead number. A random warhead number, based on arithmatic that ignores operational realities, should not be able to determine our policies and operations.

    Reply

  2. erichwwk says:

    Meri:
    Thanks for weighing in. Seems we crossed each other.
    Re “What I’m suggesting is that the U.S. and Russia attempt to incorporate the best of both worlds in a new agreement, and go below 1,700 to 2,200 warheads (and ideally limit delivery vehicles and non-deployed warheads) with START-style rules and definitions. Getting all of that down on paper is a formidable challenge that I don’t think Russia and the U.S. will be able to achieve in the next nine months, despite best intentions.”
    The NPT requires the US and everyone else to eventually go to ZERO. Unless that is still the plan, non-nuclear countries have ZERO incentive to comply with non-proliferation, and held permanently hostage as a second level country.
    Even 1700 to 2200 is an absurd level after all these years. For it to be still a “formidable challenge” is nothing but an indication of US delusion, and its unwillingness to give up US nuclear primacy as a means to US hegemony. THAT is the only challenge, and it is “formidable” only to the extent that the US wishes to dominate, rather than be an equal in determining global policy.
    Lets not forget this would have all been solved at Reykjavick, where it not for folks like Richard Perle and Paul Nitze.
    Formidable???? Hardly. All that is required is for the US to stop insisting on the right to be the world’s policemen, drop its holier than thou attitude, and negotiate in good faith. Again, we know that from what “almost” happened at Rejkjaick.

    Reply

  3. erichwwk says:

    Anon:
    Thanks for your post. I gather the issue concerns the fact the PBV’s have the capability of interchangeability to convert from conventional to nuclear warhead rather seamlessly? (And that is difficult to verify WHAT is in a warhead, or should a warhead be launched, WHICH is it?
    Thus it is the CAPABILITY of whatever nuclear force can be deployed, rather than the instantaneous force that exists at any point in time matters. The instantaneous first strike capability is not nearly as good a metric of nuclear war safety as is the “on tap, soon” capability.
    So why are the Russians NOT correct on this as being the only meaningful count, and why can we not agree to destroy the missile itself? We have 14 nuclear subs, with 24 tubes each, and each MIRV could have 6-10 separate nukes. How much of a deterrent is enough, and would not the use of even ONE nuke change the landscape entirely?
    You say “This is not about the cost of getting rid of nuclear weapons vs. the cost of living with them. This is about the cost of implementing specific Treaty provisions.”
    I don’t see it that way. UNLESS the START provisions are implemented, the effort to “get rid of nuclear weapons” is merely a sham. The Russians are as correct on this as they are on the missile shield.
    That is precisely my point re the CMRR, btw, that what exists as a first strike capability is not as meaningful a measure of the problem as is the speed at which capability can change.
    What is driving the Russians crazy is pretty much exactly what drives the rest of us crazy, unless I miss your point completely.

    Reply

  4. Meri Lugo says:

    Though downloading is an option for warhead reduction, an anonymous commenter aptly explains that the START downloading rules make it an expensive and logistically messy route (especially if employed on a large scale level). Simply taking a few warheads off of a missile and placing them in a warehouse is not a meaningful reduction. While downloading and replacing the platform may be a viable option for gradual and moderate reduction, I’m hoping for a significantly more ambitious arms control treaty that would require more than the hedging, and instead call for broader reduction of delivery vehicles themselves. Hence, I tentatively suggest that the U.S. move toward a nuclear dyad instead of a triad. This will certainly not be without much political and institutional opposition. I am not indicating that downloading (and abiding by the accompanying START downloading rules) isn’t worthwhile, but I think an even more permanent model of reduction is fitting for a new and ambitious treaty.
    Yes, SORT is extremely flawed, though the actual limits are of an admirable level. And yes, SORT does not limit any (or require any information on) delivery vehicles.
    To jhm: As I understand it, the 1,700 to 2,200 bound is not a minimum and maximum range, but the range of the maximum amount of “operationally deployed warheads” each country reports.
    What I’m suggesting is that the U.S. and Russia attempt to incorporate the best of both worlds in a new agreement, and go below 1,700 to 2,200 warheads (and ideally limit delivery vehicles and non-deployed warheads) with START-style rules and definitions. Getting all of that down on paper is a formidable challenge that I don’t think Russia and the U.S. will be able to achieve in the next nine months, despite best intentions.
    At the very least, extending the main counting rules and verification provisions (through a legally binding agreement in accordance with Russian domestic law) in the interim would be a gesture of goodwill between the countries. It would indicate that though there is not a comprehensive agreement in effect at the time, both countries are committed to that eventual goal. It would demonstrate that the U.S. and Russia value cooperation, transparency and exchange of information with their counterpart. In the context of an overall thaw in the icy relations between Russia and the U.S., this gesture, while imperfect, certainly could not hurt.
    For a great discussion on options for a START follow-on, see Alexei Arbatov and Rose Gottemoeller’s Arms Control Today article here: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2008_07-08/CoverStory
    Relatedly, ACT offers excellent news updates on START and SORT: http://www.armscontrol.org/subject/62/date

    Reply

  5. anon says:

    erichwwk:
    She focuses on downloading because, if we operate under the assumption that the Russian view, which is that the START rules should continue to apply in a new Treaty, that is one of the two ways we would reduce our warheads under a new Treaty. We could either remove warheads from deployed delivery vehicles, or we could destroy deployed delivery vehicles (we might also deploy submarines with fewer than the maximum amount of missiles, something that needs serious analysis.) And the START rules on downloading are clear. We either replace the platform on the PBV, or we have to continue to count the missile as if it carries the old number of warheads. And replacing the platform is expensive. So, under the Moscow Treaty, we’ve downloaded without replacing the platform, and used the lower number in our total so as to avoid the cost (and retain the reload capability). This makes the Russian’s crazy, because its done nothing to reduce our “potential number of warheads.” If we follow START with a Treaty that uses START rules, we will have to replace platforms to download and have it count. The U.S. military has objected because the money put into platform replacement is money that can’t be put into other military programs.
    This is not about the cost of getting rid of nuclear weapons vs. the cost of living with them. This is about the cost of implementing specific Treaty provisions.

    Reply

  6. erichwwk says:

    A good recent article entitled “The U.S. nuclear weapons complex: Pushing for a new production capability” by Grego Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group has just been published by “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” and is available here:
    http://tinyurl.com/459pne
    It explains the US dual policy of pretending to move forward on “good faith” treaty negotiations while in fact working very hard to maintain US nuclear primacy, albeit below the radar, and how the CMRR is central to that.

    Reply

  7. erichwwk says:

    Welcome to NAF, Meri.
    It is really encouraging to see young people interested and knowledgeable about nuclear weapons. Kudos to you and NAF! It has always been my contention that the US position has been so dominated old cold war warriors (a few like George Schultz are an exception), who have so deluded themselves in regards to the “Russian’s are coming” that no real progress will be made on ridding the world of nuclear weapons until this generation dies off. So I find your interest commendable, and how it morphs into a commitment that is also a career. The world needs US players who are withought ideological and dogmatic blinders. While Ms. Clinton is new to nuclear weapons, I do see her exhibiting many of the false assumptions on which past US policy has been based.
    I would not even consider SORT a treaty, but an attempt to offer a cheap piece of propaganda fluff to the non-nuclear states in lieu of a serious “good faith” attempt to work towards the ELIMINATION of nuclear weapons, what was offered by the nuclear states to the non-nuclear states for not pursuing nuclear weapons of their own. It has no other meaning or use.
    Some thoughts, in the order you raise issues.
    One, why do you see it is the “downloading” that is expensive? Why do you see the warheads “must” be replaced? In the broader context, is this not an issue of how small conflicts are to be decided, ie military vs. non-military solutions? For many of us, the nuclear weapons issue is primarily one of of US primacy, an attempt to maintain a US monopoly on deciding political outcomes. If you study war since WWII, you will find that the US felt empowered by the belief that a nuclear war was winnable, and as a last resort it’s nuclear weapons would ensure a draw, at worst. It lead us into the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Gulf War I, and now the Iraq and Af-Pak war. We have lost $3Trillion in this last nonsense. How can one argue that dismantling nukes is more expensive? (We have over 1,900 of these nukes near downtown Albuquerque, adjacent to the international airport). In fact, if one looks at the Brookings (Schwartz) nuclear studies one finds that the accounting at that time (1996) revealed that the US at the national level is basically nothing but a military power. Focusing on nuclear weapons alone, we had spent more on nuclear weapons alone than on Health (including Medicare). If one apportions interest to each function rather than as a stand alone item, we have also spent more on nuclear weapons than on Social Security.
    http://tinyurl.com/cxufpa
    Second, while downloading nuclear warheads reduces first strike capability, it contributes nothing to the main issue, that of nuclear states de facto veto over any non-clear states position should the political difference move to military settlement. THIS is the view that is being challenged by the tactic of separating principle from state sponsorship, and moves the conflict into an area in which nuclear weapons are truly obsolete.
    I do hope you sort out what a “missile shield” is all about, and at some point report back on TWN the extent to which such a shield is a meaningful “defense”, and the extent to which it is a provocation of Russia and China. If we are to make true progress, it is imperative that enough of the public understands these issues, to bring pressure and ridicule on those politicians whose primary intent is to obfuscate and pursue hidden agendas.
    And last, but not least, I suggest effort into understanding what drives nuclear weapon industry in the US, focusing particularly on the Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL}weapons program, and the ongoing fight to maintain a weapons capability (in terms on infrastructure and labor force), to quickly gear up to “winning a nuclear war”. Unless that cultural problem, and the extent to which it has become a reciprocal cash cow to finance and ensure incumbents’ re-election, is addressed, and that problem solved, we are merely moving “downloading” into an activity that remains just under the radar, but retains the determination to remain the dominant world player by force, and negates the “good faith” effort to find a path to a non-nuclear weapons world.
    I especially encourage you to look into the funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building. If you fully understand why funding for that project is in the FY2009 budget, despite ZERO funding for the “Reliable Replacement Warhead” [RRW], you will understand the extent to which the public position of the US relative nuclear weapons is quite different from the actual policy it pursues.
    Wishing you all the best, and a thank you for being involved.

    Reply

  8. erichwwk says:

    Welcome to NAF, Meri.
    It is really encouraging to see young people interested and knowledgeable about nuclear weapons. Kudos to you and NAF! It has always been my contention that the US position has been so dominated old cold war warriors (a few like George Schultz are an exception), who have so deluded themselves in regards to the “Russian’s are coming” that no real progress will be made on ridding the world of nuclear weapons until this generation dies off. So I find your interest commendable, and how it morphs into a commitment that is also a career. The world needs US players who are withought ideological and dogmatic blinders. While Ms. Clinton is new to nuclear weapons, I do see her exhibiting many of the false assumptions on which past US policy has been based.
    I would not even consider SORT a treaty, but an attempt to offer a cheap piece of propaganda fluff to the non-nuclear states in lieu of a serious “good faith” attempt to work towards the ELIMINATION of nuclear weapons, what was offered by the nuclear states to the non-nuclear states for not pursuing nuclear weapons of their own. It has no other meaning or use.
    Some thoughts, in the order you raise issues.
    One, why do you see it is the “downloading” that is expensive? Why do you see the warheads “must” be replaced? In the broader context, is this not an issue of how small conflicts are to be decided, ie military vs. non-military solutions? For many of us, the nuclear weapons issue is primarily one of of US primacy, an attempt to maintain a US monopoly on deciding political outcomes. If you study war since WWII, you will find that the US felt empowered by the belief that a nuclear war was winnable, and as a last resort it’s nuclear weapons would ensure a draw, at worst. It lead us into the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Gulf War I, and now the Iraq and Af-Pak war. We have lost $3Trillion in this last nonsense. How can one argue that dismantling nukes is more expensive? (We have over 1,900 of these nukes near downtown Albuquerque, adjacent to the international airport). In fact, if one looks at the Brookings (Schwartz) nuclear studies one finds that the accounting at that time (1996) revealed that the US at the national level is basically nothing but a military power. Focusing on nuclear weapons alone, we had spent more on nuclear weapons alone than on Health (including Medicare). If one apportions interest to each function rather than as a stand alone item, we have also spent more on nuclear weapons than on Social Security.
    http://tinyurl.com/cxufpa
    Second, while downloading nuclear warheads reduces first strike capability, it contributes nothing to the main issue, that of nuclear states de facto veto over any non-clear states position should the political difference move to military settlement. THIS is the view that is being challenged by the tactic of separating principle from state sponsorship, and moves the conflict into an area in which nuclear weapons are truly obsolete.
    I do hope you sort out what a “missile shield” is all about, and at some point report back on TWN the extent to which such a shield is a meaningful “defense”, and the extent to which it is a provocation of Russia and China. If we are to make true progress, it is imperative that enough of the public understands these issues, to bring pressure and ridicule on those politicians whose primary intent is to obfuscate and pursue hidden agendas.
    And last, but not least, I suggest effort into understanding what drives nuclear weapon industry in the US, focusing particularly on the Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL}weapons program, and the ongoing fight to maintain a weapons capability (in terms on infrastructure and labor force), to quickly gear up to “winning a nuclear war”. Unless that cultural problem, and the extent to which it has become a reciprocal cash cow to finance and ensure incumbents’ re-election, is addressed, and that problem solved, we are merely moving “downloading” into an activity that remains just under the radar, but retains the determination to remain the dominant world player by force, and negates the “good faith” effort to find a path to a non-nuclear weapons world.
    I especially encourage you to look into the funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building. If you fully understand why funding for that project is in the FY2009 budget, despite ZERO funding for the “Reliable Replacement Warhead” [RRW], you will understand the extent to which the public position of the US relative nuclear weapons is quite different from the actual policy it pursues.
    http://tinyurl.com/459pne
    Wishing you all the best, and a thank you for being involved.

    Reply

  9. samuelburke says:

    scott ritter over at truthdig adds some granularity to this story.
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090312_barack_obama_meet_team_b/
    Russia did not create the missile defense system crisis. The United States did, and, as such, cannot expect to suddenly receive diplomatic credit when it puts this controversial program on the foreign policy gaming table as if it were a legitimate chip to be bargained away.
    Russia has always, correctly, claimed that any missile defense system deployed in Eastern Europe can only be directed at Russia. While both the Bush and Obama administrations denied that was the case, Poland has all but admitted its concerns are not about missiles coming from Tehran, but rather missiles coming from Moscow. The American “sweetener” for a potential Polish loss of a missile shield is to offer Poland advanced Patriot surface-to-air missiles, whose intended target is clearly not a Persian missile which cannot reach Polish soil, but rather Russian missiles and aircraft which can.
    The proposed U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe has been a highly flawed concept from its very inception. Although it used unproven technology, it was sold as a means of protecting Europe from a threat that did not exist (Iranian missiles), while creating the conditions for exposing Europe to a real threat that the missile defense shield was incapable of defeating (Russian missiles). The fact that Obama would put the missile defense shield up for trade as part of a “Grand Bargain” with Russia on Iran only underscores how little value the system has to begin with. It is a big zero, both from a military and diplomacy perspective. Obama, in making it part of his bargain, was trying to give it value it lacked, and the Russians weren’t buying.

    Reply

  10. Anon says:

    I’d like to add a few comments, which may help clarify the box we are in with START extension. First, the Moscow Treaty does not count anything, not even “operationally deployed warheads.” Russia does not even use this term. Each side simply declares the number of warheads it is counting (on its own) under the Treaty. It does not have to indicate how many are deployed on each missile, each type of missile, or each delivery vehicle. It just declares a total. There is no way to confirm this total, and it can change from day-to-day. That’s why the Bush Adminsitration liked the Moscow Treaty; it does not limit anything. We’ve made our declaratory limit by not counting most bomber weapons, and many submarine-based warheads. Russia does not like this “rule,” because, as Meri said, without any changes to the platforms, we could just restore the warheads whenever we want.
    Second, I would agree that it appears the easiest solution to START expiration is to just extend the monitoring and verification provisions. But that’s not so easy. If we do it with an informal memorandum of understanding (or Presidential handshake), then Russia really can’t let us in to monitor activities at their facilities. Their domestic law requires that our visits to their facilities be attached to a formal MOU or Treaty. Second, if we try to do it with a formal MOU or Treaty, we run into the time constraints. Also, a lot of the monitoring and verification in START is tied to confirming the data exchanged under START and the location and movement restricttions in the Treaty. If there is no underlying treaty, and therefore no limits or restrictions to comply with, then what are we trying to monitor? What are we looking for or looking at when we visit the facilities in Russia? We can’t try to count the things limited by the Moscow Treaty, because, first, the Moscow Treaty doesn’t limit anything and the delcaration it requires has no need for proof (see above), and, second, even if we were trying to count deployed warheads, the START regime does not allow for that. START does allow re-entry vehicle inspections, but these are random, and only allowed on a small portion of the force, and are designed to confirm that the missiles are not deployed with more warheads than allowed in the counting rule data base. We don’t actually get to count the number of deployed warheads.
    The problem with most of the suggestions for what to do with START is that the authors don’t really know what’s in START. Meri gets past that, with far more detail about the Treaty than most people know. I’m impressed.

    Reply

  11. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The embrewing thaw in Washington- Moscow relations is by all means a good omen for the development of international peace and security.

    Reply

  12. jhm says:

    Do I correctly read your statement that SORT places a minimum
    bound on warheads?

    Reply

  13. TonyForesta says:

    Striking image. Clinton though smaller appears dominant. The American flag, though furled is alost preeminant. The American female offering with open eyes, the Russain male accepting, eyes closed. Let’s pass by the strange white obtuse rectangle SecState holds, and examine the blurry landscape receding into the infinite horizon. It is a weird and wild photo>

    Reply

  14. Tosk59 says:

    From 2002: “Thus the “reduction” from 10,650 to 2,000 would be achieved by changing the terms of the debate – while currently all warheads are counted, under the administration’s plan only “operationally deployed warheads” are counted while ignoring all those in testing, being overhauled or upgraded, or in storage. If you continue to count all the categories the US stock will only be reduced from 10,650 to approximately 9,980 by 2012 (see graph, http://www.sibelle.info/oped22.htm
    OK, this is rather dated, but your mention of “operationally deployed warheads” (above) would seem to indicate that the shell game continues… Is there ANY possibility that the TOTAL number of nuclear warheads will be drastically reduced (counting ALL of them)??

    Reply

  15. daCascadian says:

    I echo Katherine’s message. This set of issues needs to be a bit higher on the national interest list given the timing involved & importance of these weapons systems. Since this was an area I followed closely during the Cold War era I will be very interested in the way forward.
    Thanks to Steve for hosting this post.
    “…it’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…” – REM

    Reply

  16. Katherine says:

    Meri–welcome! Congrats on a very informative, interesting post on an under-covered story. Looking forward to more.

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *