On 13 April 2010, the Presidents of the United States and Russia signed the collection of agreements and protocols which aggregated have been popularly called “New START,” following on the heels of the first START treaty, signed by President Bush and Secretary Gorbachev in July 1991, and the Moscow, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in May 2002. To recap those treaties:

I.  START (START I)(full text):

Treaty Structure: The Treaty consists of 19 articles; 38 agreed statements; seven protocols; numerous associated documents (such as letters and other correspondence); 47 Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC) agreements; 36 joint statements; 19 ‘S’ series joint statements; a definitions annex; and annexes to the Inspection Protocol and MOU.

Treaty Objectives: The START Treaty calls for reductions in the strategic nuclear arsenals of the Parties such that, no later than 84 months after entry into force of the Treaty, each Party’s strategic offensive arms (SOA) do not exceed: 1,600 for deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers (including a limit of 154 on deployed heavy ICBMs); 6,000 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, including: 4,900 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, 1100 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs on mobile launchers on ICBMS, and 1540 for warheads attributed to deployed heavy ICBMs. The Treaty also requires each Party to limit the aggregate throw-weight of its deployed ICBMs and SLBMs so that seven years after entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter such aggregate throw-weight does not exceed 3600 metric tons.

II.  Moscow Treaty (full text):

Treaty Structure: The Moscow Treaty consists of five paragraphs. The first preambular paragraph designates the United States and Russia as “the Parties” to obviate the use of their full names throughout the Treaty. The second, third and fourth preambular paragraphs set forth the Parties’ shared commitment to conducting their relations in the new century on a fundamentally different and more cooperative basis than had characterized their relations in the past. The fifth paragraph reaffirms the Parties’ general, longstanding commitment to implementing significant reductions in strategic offensive arms.

Treaty Objectives: The Treaty requires the United States and Russia to reduce and limit their strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 each by December 31, 2012, a reduction of nearly two-thirds below current levels. The United States intends to implement the Treaty by reducing its operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 through removal of warheads from missiles in their launchers and from heavy bomber bases, and by removing some missiles, launchers, and bombers from operational service.

Before the signing of START I, the strategic nuclear landscape looked like this (Reference Date:1 September 1990):

Deployed ICBMs and Their Associated Launchers, Deployed SLBMs and Their Associated Launchers, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs Throw-weight of Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs (MT)
USSR 2,500 10,271 9,416 6,626.3
US 2,246 10,563 8,210 2,361.3

Note that while the numbers in the first two columns, reflecting total Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles (SNDVs) and warheads are relatively comparable, the final column, throweight, is skewed in the Soviet’s favor because of the fact that a substantial portion of the Strategic Rocket Force was comprised of so-called “heavy” ICBMs like the SS-18/R-36M (NATO: “SATAN”) with up to 18 x MiRVs (500KT-1.5MT yield) or a single 20-25MT warhead, and the SS-19/UR100N (NATO: “STILLETO”) with 6 x 550KT MiRVs or a single 2.5 – 5 MT warhead, whereas the US was heavily dependant on SLBMs and ALCMs with a smaller land-based ICBM force.  By 1 July 2009 those numbers stood as follows:

Deployed ICBMs and Their Associated Launchers, Deployed SLBMs and Their Associated Launchers, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs Throw-weight of Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs (MT)
809 3,897 3,289

Besides the reductions in SNDVs and warheads, START I instituted a regime of intrusive, on-site inspections following the example established by the INF Treaty which eliminated an entire class of weapons for the first time (at least between the US and Russia/FSU – not the rest of the world). This is the background against which New START (START II) was negotiated.

The START I Treaty expired in Dec 2009, and while neither side is necessarily bound to continue to observe treaty provisions, the US and Russia have agreed to proceed in the “spirit” of the treaty.  Nevertheless, certain functional areas have ceased – chief of which is verification for both onsite inspection and access to telemetry from tests.

III.  New START (full text):

The Numbers: Under the new Treaty, limits would be as follow (Article II (1a-c):

  • 1,550 “accountable strategic warheads,” i.e., warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers (Article II(b));
  • 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles – deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers (Article II(a));
  • 800 deployed and non-deployed “strategic launchers” – (e.g., a “deployed launcher of ICBMs” means an ICBM launcher that contains an ICBM and is not an ICBM test launcher, an ICBM training launcher or an ICBM launcher located at a space launch facility (Treaty Protocols – Part One (14/66))

Force Structure/Composition: The US and Russia shall have the right to self-determine the composition and structure of its strategic offensive arms (Article II(2)) – meaning the US will retain it’s traditional Triad of bombers, SLBMs and land-based ICBMs.  Modernization and replacement will be permitted (Article V).

Verification: Under the new Treaty verification will return through several means – access to telemetry from tests, on site visits (up to 18 per year), and delivery every 6 months of an extensive accounting of all number, type and location of all the strategic offensive forces under the treaty. Additionally, a unique identifying number will be assigned to each missile and bomber, which will allow the US to follow that item through its life, especially important given the emphasis Russia is placing on land-mobile ICBMs.

Missile Defense: The treaty acknowledges, in preambular language (language found in the Treaty Preamble – see page 2 of the English-language text) that a relationship exists between offense and defense:

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. . .(emphasis added)

and missiles developed and tested solely as interceptors (e.g., the US ground-based interceptors located at Ft. Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg AFB, CA) are not counted:

(a) A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this Treaty apply. (Article II 7(a))

as well as further language in the Protocols exempting the converted silos in Vandenberg from being counted.

IV.  Criticisms

Criticisms of the Treaty have focused on three areas: Tactical weapons (especially Russia’s) are not addressed, Verification is not what START I permitted and US’ missile defense will be limited.  Additionally, a fourth issue arose a few months back with Senator Kyl’s (R-Az) objection over NNSA funding.  Rather than repeat a very detailed review of that criticism, I would instead recommend reading “New START at a Crossroads” by Jeffrey Lewis over at armscontrolwonk.com.

Tactical weapons: Tactical weapons are a problem – always have been and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  From the time they were introduced in the 1950’s, they have vexed planners, operational commanders and arms control negotiators alike.  Able to be deployed with conventional forces and from conventional platforms (e.g., fighter-bombers), they are exceptionally difficult to verify in terms of location, numbers, capabilities and when governments begin to break down, as was the case when the Soviet Union dissolved, their very portability makes them a threat for proliferation and transfer to third-party state and non-state actors.  The US has consistently kept tactical nuclear weapons separate from strategic offensive arms dialogue – in part because of the verification difficulties, but also because of our nuclear guarantee to NATO being backed, in large measure, by forward deployed nuclear forces and our desire to keep the dialogue in a bilateral forum. Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs)  – unilateral declarations by the US and Russia/FSU in 1991 and 1992 respectively, were attempts to remove tactical nuclear weapons from deployed positions (at sea and ashore), but since these were unilateral declarations, each side chose which to count, which not to, pace of withdrawal and decommission, and there are no formal verification protocols in place.  In time, this led to several accusations and minor disputes, the latest being over Russian deployments of the SS-26 Iskander SRBM in the Kaliningrad district as a presumed response to the US announcement of European-based BMD (originally in response to the Poland-based GBI’s under President Bush’s initiative).  Bottom-line — while there is a need for formally addressing tactical nuclear weapons, it should be a separate forum and most likely a multi-lateral one at that.  START is for strategic offensive weapons systems and the current iterations in keeping with the precedence set beginning with SALT I in 1972.

Verification: The biggest change, and in some corners, shortcoming in New START is that it doesn’t provide for the same kind of in-residence, on-site inspectors like we had under START I (e.g., at Votkinsk).  When examined in detail, however, the verification regime for New START is very comprehensive and acknowledges the changes since START I.  For example, under START I we did not have actual data about warhead loading on Russian ICBMs and bombers (viz. SS-18 with 1-18 MiRVs).  RV shrouds could be partially lifted – but only enough to show that yes, there were RV’s under that shroud — actual numbers, not so.  We will have the ability to track individual missiles from birth to death and in so doing, verify active and inactive stockpiles.  We will still have the ability to put boots on the ground — but at times and places of choosing, rather than via a static portal.  Telemetry – detailed telemetry must be provided along with the means to enable reading it. Since December 2009, Russia has carried out several ICBM/SLBM tests – all without having to provide said telemetry.  The longer we wait, the further we get away form our baseline understanding of the weapons and the more uncertainty is injected into decision-making.  Verification is better than no verification and what we are getting with New START appears to provide the granularity needed for current and future needs.
Missile Defense: Probably the most vociferous critiques of the Treaty have come from those saying it will prevent us from developing our missile defenses.  There is nothing in the Treaty that specifically limits our development, current and planned, of missile defense – whether it is the GMD providing limited defense of a threat from NE Asia or the Phased Adaptive Approach for regional and theater defenses, where the threat is very real and rapidly growing in capacity and capability — conventional and nuclear.  The acknowledgement of a linkage between offense and defense in the preambular text again has roots back to the beginning of nuclear arms control talks with the Russians/Soviets and reiterated as recently as the 2002 Moscow Treaty in a Joint Statement by President Bush and President Putin:

The United States and Russia acknowledge that today’s security environment is fundamentally different than during the Cold War.

In this connection, the United States and Russia have agreed to implement a number of steps aimed at strengthening confidence and increasing transparency in the area of missile defense, including the exchange of information on missile defense programs and tests in this area, reciprocal visits to observe missile defense tests, and observation aimed at familiarization with missile defense systems. They also intend to take the steps necessary to bring a joint center for the exchange of data from early warning systems into operation.

The United States and Russia have also agreed to study possible areas for missile defense cooperation, including the expansion of joint exercises related to missile defense, and the exploration of potential programs for the joint research and development of missile defense technologies, bearing in mind the importance of the mutual protection of classified information and the safeguarding of intellectual property rights.

The United States and Russia will, within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, explore opportunities for intensified practical cooperation on missile defense for Europe.

In the context of the recently completed Lisbon Conference (Nov 2010) and the NATO-Russia Council that preceded, as well as ongoing bilateral talks with Russia, we continue to work towards cooperative missile defense as outlined above.  To be sure, Russia did release a unilateral declaration about missile defense:

The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed at Prague on April 8, 2010, may be effective and viable only in conditions where there is no qualitative or quantitative build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America. Consequently, the extraordinary events referred to in Article XIV of the Treaty also include a build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America such that it would give rise to a threat to the strategic nuclear force potential of the Russian Federation.

The subject Treaty article referred to above is the “national soveriegnty” clause and states:

3. Each Party shall,in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to the other Party. Such notice shall contain a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests. This Treaty shall terminate three months from the date of receipt by the other Party of the aforementioned notice, unless the notice specifies a later date.

Same language as in the Moscow Treaty and all the way back to the ABM/SALT I Treaties.  In fact, only the US has exercised this type-option when it stepped away from the 1972 ABM Treaty to pursue a conventional missile defense system.  The fact of the matter is that neither the CONUS-based GMD system nor anything envisioned for the European PAA will constitute a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent in either capacity or capability, the Russians know this and the statement was made as much for domestic Russian political consumption as anything else; and US missile defense development and deployment will continue apace.

One may argue a treaty, any treaty is better than none.  SALT I pretty much disproved that and from that experience, with confidence building measures inherited from the INF Treaty, START I and the Moscow Treaty, we have a new nuclear arms control treaty that while not perfect, is still an improvement over the predecessors, works towards reducing the risks of nuclear war and proliferation and aims to keep a potentially ruinous nuclear arms race in check.  There is little to be gained in delaying or defeating ratification and much to be lost.  I have read in detail the Treaty and its supporting Protocols and in my estimation, believe it is in our interests that the Senate ratify the New START Treaty.


  1. The overall benefit for us is clear to everyone and the Republicans know it as well but I think they will seize the opportunity to point out some of the imperfections as much as they can in order to diminish the victory of the Obama administration. But I am sure the treaty will be ratified in the end.

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