Ambassador Linton Brooks on New START and the next treaty

Apr 16, 2010

By John K. Warden

This morning, Ambassador Linton Brooks, former director of the NNSA and negotiator of START I, gave a talk on "Nuclear Deterrence Perspectives" as part of the NDUF-NDIA Seminar Series.  Here are some key takeaways:

On New START --

  • Those evaluating the New START should not use Cold War standards.  During the Cold War, the United States did not trust the Soviet Union, was in the middle of an arms race, and though that the likelihood of nuclear use was high.  The United States hoped to use arms control to get Russia to restructure its forces to enhance strategic stability.  The current treaty, recognizing past failure, does not try to alter Russia's force structure, but instead aims to decrease suspicion, increase predictability through transparency, and improve political relations.  It also, unlike past arms control treaties, hopes to show the world that the United States is committed to the legal constraints of the NPT and the President's vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
  • Comparing the number of "warheads" allowed by arms control treaties is a mistake.  All of the treaties, including New START, the Moscow Treaty, and START I, use different standards to determine what "warheads" count toward treaty limits.
  • The verification part of the treaty is unique.  In past arms control treaties, a limit was decided upon, then both sides determined what verification measures would be needed.  In this treaty, access to unencrypted telemetry has nothing to do with verification; instead, telemetry exchanges serve as a transparency mechanism, which is a positive development.
  • While the administration is correct that the treaty has no limits on current or planned missile defense programs, it does include a limit on missile defense.  The treaty forbids using converted ICBM silos or SLBM tubes for missile defense capabilities (grandfathering in current U.S. deployments).  Brooks noted that these deployments are not currently planned and are not a good idea.  Arming subs with missile defense would force them to be in a fixed location, close to the surface, making them less survivable and therefore, a less effective deterrent.  Deploying missile defenses in ICBM silos would be similarly impractical because using the assets could threaten Americans ("there's a reason the United States has never test launched an ICBM from a silo"). 

On the treaty after New START --

  • The Administration hopes that New START will jumpstart another bilateral arms control treaty.  This treaty would aim to reduce nuclear warheads to about 1,000 and include constraints on Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
  • Such a treaty is extremely unlikely:  1) Russia wouldn't agree without significant constraints on missile defense, which the U.S. Senate is unwilling to accept; 2) the United States and Russia have no conceptual framework for a treaty counting nondeployed warheads or nonstrategic nuclear weapons; and 3) Russia is skeptical of abolition, and it's hard to see how another step would be in their interest.
  • If a deal is possible, it will hinge on whether the United States and Russia can make progress on integrated missile defenses.  An agreement like this would have a lot of advantages, but discussions are at an early stage.
  • Brooks remains skeptical of this treaty, saying that abolition is not "politically, strategically, or technically likely to be feasible."

On the FY11 Budget --

  • As a former NNSA administration, Brooks said he "would have killed for the FY11 budget."