By midnight on December 4, 2009, the last U.S. inspector had to be out of the Russian Federation: at that moment, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was going out of force. Nearly a year has passed since that day, and in all that time, we have had no data exchanges on Russia’s strategic forces and no opportunity to inspect Russian strategic nuclear bases. Our inspectors are poised to resume their important work, but they can only do so after the New START Treaty—now awaiting a Senate vote to approve ratification—enters into force.
The lack of regular data exchanges and on-site verification measures means that our understanding of Russian missile and bomber forces will diminish over time. As General Chilton, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, has said: “Without New START, we would rapidly lose insight into Russian strategic nuclear force developments and activities, and our force modernization planning and hedging strategy would be more complex and more costly. Without such a regime, we would unfortunately be left to use worst-case analyses regarding our own force requirements.”
For more than 20 years, the right of our weapons inspectors to confirm the validity of Russian-provided data by conducting short-notice on-site inspections of nuclear weapons facilities has been at the core of verification regimes in treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation.
President Reagan famously challenged the Soviets to “trust but verify.” His concept for a strong verification regime that includes on-site inspections was first implemented when on-site inspections began in July 1988 under the Treaty between the United States and the U.S.S.R. on the Elimination of their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (the INF Treaty).
Once the New START Treaty enters into force, we will—after a year-long hiatus—receive extensive declarations from Russia every six months of the number, type, and location of all the strategic offensive forces under the Treaty. What’s more, New START calls for an unprecedented level of information about those forces because, under New START, a unique identifying number will be assigned to each missile and bomber that will allow the U.S. to follow that item through its life. And under the terms of the Treaty, Russia will provide prompt updates to that data so the U.S. can understand activities in Russia’s forces and keep track of Russia’s compliance with the Treaty’s central limits.
On-site inspections are a vital complement to the data the U.S. will receive under New START. They provide the “boots on the ground” presence to confirm the validity of Russian data declarations, thus helping to verify compliance with Treaty obligations, as well as adding to our confidence and knowledge regarding Russian strategic forces located at those facilities. Under the New START Treaty, the United States will have the right to conduct 18 on-site inspections of Russian strategic weapons facilities annually. Without the Treaty, there will be zero inspections – just as there are zero today and just as there have been zero for almost a year now.
For these reasons, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said the Treaty is needed “the sooner, the better.”
Data exchanges and on-site inspections work together with other verification means to ensure compliance with Treaty obligations. Our satellites and other methods, known as National Technical Means (NTM) of verification, a comprehensive data exchange, regular notifications to update that exchange, and on-site inspections, combine to enable us to observe and evaluate Russian activities. Without the New START Treaty, we have been left with NTM alone to give us insight into Russian nuclear forces—a situation we have not faced since on-site inspections began in the late 1980s.
The New START Treaty data exchanges will provide us a much more detailed picture of Russian strategic forces than we were able to obtain from earlier exchanges and the inspections will give us crucial opportunities to confirm the validity of that data. In part, this is thanks to our weapons inspectors, who gained a strong body of knowledge and experience about conducting on-site inspections efficiently and effectively under START and the INF Treaty; they also learned how to improve them. They brought that experience to the negotiating table in Geneva, creating new approaches.
For the first time, we will receive data about actual reentry vehicle (warhead) loadings on Russia’s missiles and bombers and on-site inspection procedures under New START will allow the United States to confirm the actual number of warheads on any randomly selected Russian ICBM and SLBM. This verification task and inspection right did not exist under START.
New START verification measures are adapted to the requirements of this Treaty, while also being simpler, less operationally disruptive, and less costly to implement than the original START verification measures. These new provisions were developed with the concerns and perspectives of the U.S. Department of Defense in mind.
The New START Treaty is a continuation of the international arms control and nonproliferation framework that the United States has worked hard to foster and strengthen for the last 50 years. It preserves the United States’ ability to maintain the strong, credible nuclear deterrent that is a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and friends. The time is now to ratify it.