Monday, March 29, 2010

We Have A New START

Apparently that is what the administration is calling the new arms control treaty with Russia, and the acronym is appropriate. Arms control was badly neglected during the Bush administration, despite the negotiation of the Moscow Treaty, which brought the number of deployed strategic weapons down to 2,200 for each side. That treaty was only three pages long. New START hasn’t been released to the public yet, but it will likely be in the tens of pages, with a protocol (probably longer) and much longer technical annexes.

Trust, but Verify

That’s a Russian saying, Ronald Reagan was quick to concede when he appropriated it. Verification is what those annexes are about, in particular how to count the number of nuclear weapons without actually counting warheads. Each missile of a certain type will be assumed to carry so many warheads, so many to each bomber and each submarine, with limits placed on the number of missiles, bombers and submarines. The details can go down to the power of flashlights provided to inspectors of missile silos. Some of this is still being worked out, and changes will be made; that’s why the details are in the annexes, which will have requirements for modifications written into the treaty itself or the protocol.

Although President George W. Bush said that friends don’t have to count each others’ nukes, the Russians have continued to feel otherwise. So the lack of verification provisions in the Moscow Treaty, and the dodging and weaving on the part of the United States as the end approached for the original START provisions used to verify the 2,200 limit, were taken by the Russians to mean that the United States was abandoning its responsibilities in this area.

Trust but verify isn’t a bad precept all around; we know what they’re doing, we know the limits to what we know, and we know that they know the same things about us. All that makes our relations more predictable and less volatile in an area that needs predictability.

Treaty Highlights
The White House has released a very short fact sheet (pdf) on the treaty. The primary objective of negotiations was to renew the verification capabilities of the original START treaty. Both sides wanted some changes to the verification procedures, to streamline them and make them relevant to today’s context. This seems to have been done, although the fact sheet gives no details.

Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed that New START should further decrease the warhead limits established by the Moscow Treaty, and this has been done.

Key words: deployed strategic. Those words describe the warheads to be counted, the same category of warhead as in the START and Moscow Treaties. These are the warheads that are deliverable and ready to deliver over very long distances. They are not the tactical nuclear weapons, of which the United States has a couple hundred in Europe - and Russia has probably a lot more around its territory. They are not the disassembled pits that are stored at the Pantex plant in Texas, which could be reassembled into warheads relatively quickly. They are not the warheads that are constantly undergoing refurbishment. Roughly, we can figure that the total numbers of warheads held by each country will be three times the number of deployed strategic warheads. From the fact sheet, the limits are:

• 1,550 warheads. Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit.
• A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
• A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

The warhead limit is thus 74% lower than the limit set by the 1991 START Treaty and 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit set by the Moscow Treaty. The limit in the last bullet is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the START Treaty. Not bad for a secondary goal.

But the best outcome may be what got us to this New START . The negotiations themselves are part of moving forward for the two nations. They give both a view into the other’s thinking, and they allow the negotiators to form personal relationships, or at least to become aware of the other’s limitations and strengths. Both sides view these negotiations as the beginning of a continuing interaction.

If the Republican members of the Senate continue as the Party of NO, the treaty cannot be ratified; it needs a two-thirds majority, or sixty-seven votes. But Richard Lugar (R – IN) seems to have signed on, and there is a small indication that Duma members may lobby the Senate.

And I just can’t resist mentioning again that women headed up the United States’ negotiating team. Did a really good job, too.

[Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings and American Footprints.]

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