Friday, June 22, 2007

Intel community, Sens. Lugar and Biden back elements of START I

The U.S. intelligence community appears to be less than thrilled with the Bush administration’s plan to replace the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with a less formal agreement that contains weaker verification mechanisms. A recent article by McClatchy Newspapers indicates that disagreements between the intelligence community and the Bush administration are holding up talks with Russia on a subsequent agreement.

The Bush administration views START I as an outdated relic of the Cold War that unduly hamstrings the U.S.’s ability to respond to new threats and charges that strict verification is now unnecessary. The intelligence community, on the other hand, views the treaty -- or at least its on-site and other verification mechanisms -- as a valuable way of peering into Russia’s nuclear arsenal at a time when its resources are otherwise stretched thin.

As I described earlier, START I barred its signatories (initially the U.S. and the USSR, but subsequently Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) from deploying more than 6,000 “countable” nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. It also established an elaborate scheme of inspections, data sharing, advance missile test notifications and satellite surveillance. The treaty is set to run out at the end of 2009 unless the governments agree to extend or amend it.

Although the U.S. and Russia are well-below the limitations agreed upon in START I, the treaty also provided the foundation for monitoring compliance with the subsequently negotiated (and otherwise toothless) Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (aka the Moscow Treaty). Significantly, if START I is not extended or replaced, both countries will lose one of the most reliable ways of making sure that both countries have in fact reduced the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads (on ICBMs, SLBMs, heavy bombers, or otherwise) to 1,700-2,200 by the end of 2012. This is especially notable as SORT doesn’t require the destruction of the warheads, meaning they could instead be removed from service and stored in reserve stockpiles where the warheads could quickly redeployed at a later time.

Judging from his opening statement at yesterday’s hearing on U.S.-Russian relations, the intelligence community has an ally in Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN):

[T]he United States and Russia must extend the START I treaty’s verification and transparency elements, which will expire in 2009; and they should work to add verification measures to the Moscow Treaty. Unfortunately, some bureaucrats on both sides are balking at such efforts in favor of less formal language that is not legally binding. I am concerned that transparency and verification will suffer if legally-binding regimes are permitted to dissolve. The predictability and confidence provided by treaty verification reduces the chances of misinterpretation, miscalculation, and error.

Sen. Lugar correctly concludes the point by saying, “The current Russian-American relationship is complicated enough without introducing more elements of uncertainty into the nuclear relationship.”

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) used even stronger language: ''I think it would be the single greatest negative legacy this administration could leave if it leaves us in a situation where there is no future architecture to follow on to START.”

Bold statement.

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